Working on My Story, Part 2

Here is the next little bit of the story I’m working on. NOTE: If you haven’t read part one, read it here first! All feedback/comments gratefully received!

Darcy dashed home (a nondescript semi-detached house a few blocks away) with his prize. He pulled the camera out of the bag, picked up a roll of the vintage Agfa Pan film and removed it from its faded but still intact wrapping. Using a thumbnail he slit open the old paper tape that sealed the roll. He opened the back of the camera, hoping there would be an empty take-up spool (even those were expensive collectables these days!) and smiled in relief when he saw that yes there was one there. He transferred the empty reel to the take-up position, loaded the roll of film into the camera and threaded the paper leader, then closed the camera back and wound the film to the first exposure.

The camera had a beautiful feel; despite its age, the lubrication of its mechanism had not dried up, the lens focus and the film wind were smooth and supple. Darcy had purchased cameras in the past that had obviously spent decades on a shelf or in a box, or had been heavily used by photojournalists, and it often took a lot of work to get them into usable condition. This camera had obviously been taken care of and it felt alive and responsive in his hands, like no other vintage camera had before. He literally couldn’t wait to start shooting with it, so he grabbed his coat and headed out.

He decided to go back to the same area where Bill’s SecondHand Shop was located. It was a gritty, eclectic place, simply referred to as “The Neighbourhood”  by its collection of eccentric characters who seemed to go through life on an angle, twisting reality to suit their purposes, utterly unaware or uncaring at the oddity they projected. Darcy loved taking pictures here: despite his own nondescript, average appearance, decidedly non-eccentric,  he felt more at home with the people of this neighbourhood then he did with the people at the office where he worked.

When he arrived  he went to an old bench in a street corner parkette at one end of the Neighbourhood. The iron of the bench was rusted, despite many layers of paint, and the wooden slats were grey and textured, any paint or stain just a distant memory, worn away by the weather and passersby. On the bench was sitting an old man with a long white explosion of a beard, and only a few meagre strands of hair, like stragglers leaving a party. His face was seamed and wrinkled and his textures matched those of the bench: a perfect pairing for a picture. Normally, Darcy tried to take his pictures like this in stealth mode; he envied those street photographers who would just go up to strangers and ask if they could take their picture, but today for some reason he felt emboldened, and to his own surprise he heard himself asking if he could take the man’s photo, and to his greater surprise heard the man say yes. He estimated the exposure settings, framed the image looking down into the small viewfinder, and clicked the shutter button. The shutter made a quiet but authoritative sound when it fired. Darcy asked to take one more, and moved back to get more of the bench into the image. He reframed the image, and clicked the shutter button. A couple of other people in the background had ended up in the frame, but he didn’t think it would matter, and he didn’t want to press his luck so he said thank you and moved off. Darcy finished the rest of the roll framing shoppers and Neighbourhood residents strolling around in front of various faded shops, then went on his way home, to develop it. He walked again past the old man on the bench, gave a quick wave, and quickened his pace: he couldn’t wait to see how the film would turn out!

Once Darcy had left, the old man looked up at his retreating figure and gave a small, sad and knowing smile.

As soon as Darcy arrived back home, he went immediately to his basement darkroom: a rather cramped and dingy space, containing random boxes of photographic paper, various developing tanks, measuring flasks and cylinders, and many bottles of different darkroom chemicals. On the walls were pinned random prints of images he had thought were worth printing, but in the end not worth framing or showing to anyone. Darcy stood for a moment with the roll of film he had shot in his hand. What would this combination of film, camera and developer bring? In the past on more than one occasion Darcy had discovered that an antique camera was defective, or old film was longer sufficiently sensitive, or that chemicals he had bought had gone off. Darkroom disappointments had a way of keeping one humble, and he hoped that everything would work this time around.

Darcy took the old bottle of Rodinal developer that had come with the camera and film. The label on the bottle was yellowed and discoloured, and many layers of dust covered the brown glass. He tried to unscrew the bottle cap and found that it was stuck in place, probably from not having been opened in decades. He applied more pressure with his right hand and eventually the cap gave, with a strange cracking noise that seemed louder than it should have been in the basement quiet of Darcy’s darkroom. It sounded almost like the echo of something awakening. Darcy paused for  moment. Why had that thought occurred to him? He shook off the feeling, and went back to unscrewing and removing the bottle cap. Just for a second Darcy thought he felt a slight stir in the air behind him, as if someone or something had moved silently behind him, watching. He turned, but saw nothing, so he turned back to his task, again feeling vaguely rattled.

He measured out 10 millilitres of the Rodinal developer into his graduated cylinder. The old liquid was as dark and opaque as India ink. He took the cylinder and poured it into a container  of water he had measured out before, and immediately things started getting strange: normally, developer added to water would dilute instantly, but this time as the developer began to dilute in the water he thought he saw the mixture start to ever so slowly turn and stir of its own volition, before he had even reached for his stirring rod. Within the water, instead of mixing instantly it seemed as if tendrils of the developer were forming the fingers of a large skeletal hand, pointing at him as the mixture turned lazily. Darcy looked at the mixture, transfixed, and sensed a presence, a patient malice that he had somehow invoked by opening the bottle. Shaking his head at himself and wondering about his imagination, he quickly stirred the developer water mixture thoroughly and set it aside.

Darcy placed his developing tank, lid and film reel in front of him on the bench, reached into his pocket for the roll of film and turned out the lights in the darkroom, as this part of the developing process required total darkness. In the dark, operating by touch, with a practiced hand he unfastened the seal on the exposed film and unrolled the paper backing until he felt where the film was attached to it. He pulled the tape off and removed the film from the backing, then felt on his bench for the developing reel, to spool the film onto it.

Again he felt the movement of air behind him, slightly cooler this time, like the backside of a talon running slowly and lightly, almost teasingly across his shoulders, feeling menacing and delicate at the same time, like he was being toyed with. He turned but of course in the total darkness of the darkroom there was nothing to be seen. He turned back to his task and carefully spooled the film onto the developing reel,  placed the reel in the developing tank and put on the lid. He then turned on the lights, to complete the rest of the film developing process.

Dazzled by the momentary brightness, Darcy thought he say a shadow, a shape, maybe eyes, in the corner of his darkroom, but it was gone in a moment, and was so transitory that it was easy for Darcy to convince himself that he had seen nothing. Of course he had seen nothing.

Darcy completed the rest of the development process: twelve minutes in the developer, a one minute water rinse, and then six minutes in the fixer. After he had poured the fixer from the developing tank back into its bottle, he removed the lid from the developing tank. Did he hear a slight sighing sound as he did so? Like releasing a captive presence …. No! He thought to himself. Why was every sound, random air current and trick of the light unsettling him today? Again pushing the unease to the back of his mind, he removed the spool from the tank and looked at the negatives. A smile arose, and he exhaled, not even aware that he had been holding his breath. The negatives looked perfect, almost better than they should have from such old film! The prints were sure to be fantastic! He put the reel back in the tank, and put the tank under the running tap for the final twenty minute water rinse. Leaving the running tap to do its work, he went back upstairs, all his uneasiness forgotten.

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