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Alissa takes a deep breath as she raises the photograph in her hand up to her eye level. She’d only done this once before (and she wasn’t even sure she’d done it the first time). Alissa was a photographer, and so she always had photographs with her. Bored in class, she stared listlessly at a photo she had on her desk: a beautiful picture of a forest framed to make it look magical. The first time she’d done this she’d been looking at that photo, and then suddenly she was in that forest, magic touching her fingertips. It had been glorious, and magical, and when it was over she thought she had magic powers. The longer she thought about it, though, the more she started to doubt that she had actually been inside the photo.
So that’s where she is now—sitting crosslegged on her bed with her hair up in a loose bun staring at another photograph. It’s one she had taken herself, depicting a dark haired woman smiling at something off camera. Said woman was Alissa’s crush, and she had taken the candid photo when she was laughing at something her friend had said. It was a bad habit of Alissa’s, taking photos of her crush when she wasn’t looking.
She stares at the photo in concentration, wondering if this will even work. And then it does. Within a moment she’s no longer sitting on her bed, but standing in front of her crush. It takes Alissa a moment to realize that this is real. Though, this world is not the same as the one she took a photo of; there’s no one else here.
“Nicole?” Alissa asks tentatively.
“Alissa?” She says back, confusion in her eyes.
Alissa hesitates, she didn’t think she’d get this far and now she doesn’t know what to do. She looks around at her empty school and wonders what this means. Has she gone back in time? Has she simply portaled into the moment she depicted in her photo? Is the Nicole here the one she knows in real life? And most importantly, is this even real?
She shakes her head and smiles at Nicole, “Hey, you wanna get out of here?”
Nicole smiles, nodding emphatically, “Yes.”
The “Picture-World”—as Alissa has dubbed it—turns out to be very similar to the real world. The only difference is that it seems to have no other people beside the two of them. And everything else seems to run almost by itself.
Alissa drives them both to an old crumbling building at the edge of town. With the mindset that with no other people here, they could therefore do whatever they want, she pulls over and laughs at Nicole’s confused look.
“What are we doing?” Nicole asks.
“This building is usually off limits.” Alissa starts, climbing up a ladder on the side of the building, “I’ve always wanted to climb up it.”
She gets halfway up the ladder before she realizes Nicole isn’t following. Alissa looks back down at her, holding out a hand for her, “Well? Are you coming?”
Nicole contemplates it for a moment, and then she sighs, taking Alissa’s hand and climbing up the ladder behind her. They make it to the top easily, and Alissa finds the roof of this building is everything she’d imagined it to be. It’s the kind of place that she could call her own, that she could put some plants up here and put down some blankets, somewhere she could escape to.
“You sure it’s a good idea to be up here?” Nicole asks, and something in her voice makes a chill run down Alissa’s spine.
“Yeah, why wouldn’t—” Alissa falls. Straight through the roof.
It’s not that tall of a building, but it’s tall enough that she falls long enough to land hard. She feels her ankle twist beneath her as she lands, hears it snap loudly in the empty air. Alissa screams out in pain, clutching her ankle as she gets her bearings. The decrepit building around her glitches, shakes, flashes to a different image before returning back to what it was. Only it’s not. It’s dirtier, rotting, blood on the walls and the smell of death in the air.
“Didn’t I tell you this was a bad idea?” Nicole is suddenly in front of Alissa, and her sudden appearance makes Alissa gasp.
“W-what’s happening?” Alissa asks, struggling to pull herself to a standing position. She grabs one of the broken support beams to help her but immediately recoils when she feels something sticky on her hand.
“You shouldn’t be here,” Nicole’s voice whispers behind her, suddenly no longer in front of her.
Alissa squeaks and spins around, putting her weight on her bad ankle and then toppling back to the floor when it gives way beneath her. Nicole looms over her, dark hair falling into her face, and Alissa feels the fear course through her. She tries to get up again when inky white hands erupt from the ground and wrap around her torso. They tug, pulling her through the floor and into the dirt.
Alissa tries to wake up, to pull herself out of this photo. This isn’t what she wanted. Alissa just wanted to have a fantasy trip with Nicole, she didn’t expect this to happen. When she was pulled out of the photograph last time it was because the bell had rung and one of her friends had shook her awake. But this time she went in when alone in her house, and her mother wouldn’t be home for hours. There’s no one to pull her out. She has to do this on her own.
She can taste the dirt in her mouth. She can’t breathe anymore. Her lungs burn and she feels her body struggling, trying to draw breath into her lungs, trying to escape the hands that drag her down. Eventually everything stops, and she can breathe again. It takes her a moment to realize she’s suspended in the air in the void. Alissa feels weightless, like a feather, like she’s suspended underwater but she can still breathe.
She almost feels at peace until the pain starts.
It’s a ripping feeling that starts in her toes. A tearing of her flesh from her bones that works slowly from her feet up her legs and further. It’s hands gripping her roughly, pulling, tugging, tearing, ripping, and Alissa opens her mouth to scream but an inky hand covers it. She swallows the ink that drips into her mouth, chokes on it as it forces it’s way down her throat, gags as it sticks to her tongue.
There are tears that run down the side of her face and she wonders if she’ll ever make it out of this.
And then she does.
Alissa blinks and she’s in her room, sitting crosslegged on her bed with a picture held in front of her face. Her arm is sore, heavy, and she can feel it creak as she sets the picture down on her bead. She lets out a shaky breath, and looks around her room warily, taking solace in the sun shining into her room. Alissa feels uneasy, feels a little disturbed, still feels the ghost of the hands on her and the ink tumbling down her throat.
She shakes her head, takes the photo on her bed and rips it up before finding a lighter and burning the pieces just in case. And then she pulls the hair tie out of her hair and shakes it out, trying to shake the residual fear out of her bones. Alice looks at the burnt remains of the photo and decides that jumping into photographs is not something she will do again.