I walked without knowing where I was going for a while, shaken but trying in spite what had just happened to remain lucid and rational.
The good news was that I was now sure I wasn’t crazy, the bad news was that the others were.
What I had also learned is that this was perhaps a case of… (what was the expression poor Chunk had used? Oh! Yes:) mental manipulation, and the identity photos strangely seemed to have a connection.
But how could I be sure? And how would I find the link between Chunk’s case and my family’s?
The answer came to me suddenly, without warning, as if it had been written in a book:
My parents and my sister had also had identity photos taken.
My mother and father needed some to renew their passports – I remembered that now – and Julie needed one for her school bus card. And that afternoon, I bet you’ll never guess guys, all three of them, each on their own, had planned to visit the photo booth in the shopping centre…
My head was spinning as if I was stuck between Jim and Will on the crazy merry-go-round in Something Wicked This Way Comes. However, at the same time, I felt excitement come over me. I had the feeling that the pieces of a giant mysterious puzzle were slowly coming into place and that I had a role to play in it.
I made myself breathe slowly, to calm the fever invading me, and, a few moments later, I decided I would risk going back to my house to check out my theory.
I had no other choice. If the photo booth was the cause – and, in a way, I was hoping it was the cause – the proof of its wrongdoing would be somewhere on a piece of furniture, in my living or dining room.
I ran towards my house only to stop, out of breath, in front of the garden gate.
It was almost night-time now and my parents, generally, are not night-owls. The living room’s light was peeking through the closed curtains. Hidden behind the hedge, I patiently waited for it to be turned off. Then, sly as a fox, I made my way towards the front door. It was locked, of course, but that did not stop me: I always keep a copy of the key with me, attached to a carabiner.
A few lock squeaks later, I was in the living room, groping my way through the dark, looking for the chest of drawers. My knee found it before I did, bumping violently on the hard wood. I stifled a volley of swear words, that don’t need to be repeated to you, and my hands found the drawer. I opened it and took out the flashlight my mother always kept in there.
Guided by the beam of light, I began a thorough search of the room, but I did not have to look for long: it was right there, in front of me, left on the coffee table, the incriminating evidence.
I seized the three series of identity photos and shined my light on them, studying each face with feverish attention.
My suspicions were vividly confirmed: my family’s pictures showed the same transformation as my buddy Chunk’s. On the first picture their expression was neutral, almost stern, and appropriate for any shot that you know will someday end up in the hands of a customs officer or a bus driver. But as for the other pictures, yes, all the other ones, there was – in the look and in the facial features – a progressive and terrifying descent into alienation.
(Go to PART 12)