When we walk in it’s like passing out, falling into darkness and then falling some more.
Danni isn’t happy. She wants me to be suitably impressed. She slams the door, sealing us in.
“Let go of my sleeve,” she says.
“But it’s dark. I can’t see.”
“There are lights.”
But they’re red, I don’t say. She would ask me why it mattered.
“When can we go?”
“We’re not going for ages, stupid. I’ve got a full roll to do. I need to do them all by tomorrow.”
“What do you mean, why? Because I do, OK? Pass the scissors.”
“How long will this take?”
“Probably an hour or so, and then I’ll have to wait for them to dry.”
My head starts to spin at the thought of a whole hour spent in this strange room with the hellish red lights that turn my sister into a demon. I look for the door, but it’s disappeared into the blackness.
Danni adjusts the equipment, like she’s preparing a torture chamber for its next victim. She dips the strange shiny paper into swirling potions, removing them with another torture instrument.
She sees me watching.
“What?” she says. “They’re just tongs.”
Think of the damage you could do with those.
“Why the hell did I bring you along?” she grumbles. “Stop staring at me, will you?”
“It was your idea.”
“You agreed to it.”
“I didn’t have a choice.”
“Sure you didn’t.”
Danni can say what she likes, but she did make me come with her. She wanted to show off to someone, and I was the only one who wasn’t busy. I said I had homework, but she laughed and said nine-year-olds didn’t know what homework was. She thinks she’s above me because she’s three years older.
My palms start to sweat, quickly followed by the rest of me. When I reach up to touch my forehead, my hand comes away slick with moisture.
The walls are moving inwards.
“This room is getting smaller,” I say.
Danni rolls her eyes. “I always said you had an overactive imagination.”
But it’s true.
“Let me out!”
“I can’t open the door, the light would ruin everything. Calm down, will you?”
She pins the dripping paper on strings that run from wall to wall. The red light colours the droplets. They make gruesome puddles on the floor.
Gruesome. I learnt that word yesterday. Mrs Collins said it wasn’t a nice word. I don’t care, though, because it’s a good one. It sounds like what it means. And those puddles are definitely gruesome.
Danni is going back and forth between the torture equipment and the potions. Back and forth, back and forth, like a pendulum.
“Quick,” she says, “this is the last one. Come and see how I do it.”
I stand on tiptoes and peek into the first potion. Danni lowers the blank paper into it, pushing it under the surface.
Drowning it, like this room tried to drown me.
“Look,” she says.
Something is appearing on the paper. A face begins to form, grinning evilly. The monster is watching me.
I scream and stagger backwards.
“For God’s sake, Brett, what is it?”
“There’s a monster on the paper, can’t you see?”
“That’s Louise! My friend!”
I look back and the monster is just a girl, smiling unthreateningly at the camera. I try to speak, but no sound comes out.
“What’s got into you?” Danni demands. “Just a few minutes more, that’s all. Then we can go. OK?”
I try to steady my breathing. A few minutes more - that’s not long. I close my eyes so I can’t see the darkness. It helps a little.
“Brett,” Danni says.
I stay very still. Maybe she’ll forget what she wants to tell me. Whatever it is, I’m almost certain I don’t want to know.
“Brett! Open your eyes.”
Maybe it’s time to go. If I don’t open my eyes, she might leave me here in the torture chamber. I snap my eyes open, alarmed by the thought.
“Good,” she says. There’s a click. I scream again. Is it a gun?
A blinding flash freezes my face in place.
“I was only taking a picture!” Danni says, but I hardly hear her. My head is spinning again. I fall backwards and crack my head on some torture equipment, and that’s the last I remember of that day.
That one hour is preserved for all the world to see – like I could ever have forgotten it. When Danni developed the film, my screaming face appeared on the paper, which must have been quite a shock for her. At least she knows now how I felt when I first saw the ‘monster’ materialise in front of me.
I still have that photograph, twenty years later. I keep it in the drawer next to my bed. I finally got over the claustrophobia when I was sixteen or so, and the picture helped me get through it. It still helps me to this day.
Look – you were afraid then, but you aren’t anymore.
And it feels good, not being afraid. Danni is a professional photographer now; she still uses film. Digital photography just isn’t the same, or so she says. Sometimes I go with her to the darkroom just so I can watch her, and smile, and feel fearless.