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Exposure

Alex Smith struggles to keep on top of things. His alarm doesn't wake him up, his toothbrush vanishes in mysterious circumstances, and his cupboards seem perpetually full of too much pasta and not enough sauce. Worst of all, though, are his stories; they clamber out of his laptop when he isn't looking, and take turns playing tricks on him. He lives in Lancaster, England.
She really did mean every picture. I picked up the closest photograph from the scattered pile and had a closer look. It took a few seconds to spot him amongst all the people, but my eye caught a shock of black hair near the upper right of the picture, and there he was. Late sixties, well-dressed, messy hair--a figure in the distant background, one face in a thousand, caught with his mouth half-open. He seemed to be talking to the person next to him, hidden by the crowd.
I turned to her. "Are there any more?"
She nodded absently, as if to herself. Her eyes were wide and anxious, studying the photographs.
"I think I saw a binder upstairs," I said.
"Could you--?"
Before I could finish the sentence, she turned and hurried out of the cramped basement. The old staircase creaked as she left. I dropped the photograph and picked up another. This one was closer to the crowds, most of the shot obscured by an enormous festival banner. Somebody near the back was holding it up, balancing on their friend's shoulders. The friend was laughing, stumbling a little under the weight, leaning against the man next to her. He was late-sixties, well-dressed, messy hair.
Footsteps creaking again. I looked up. She had returned with a photo album, heavy and streaked with dust. She dropped it amongst the sprawl of papers in front of me.
"It just doesn't make sense," she said.
"Thanks." I picked up the binder and turned over the cover. A list of dates and times and years was scrawled inside. I flicked through, page after page stuffed with grainy photographs. Some were from the festival, like the ones scattered in front of me. Others were from holidays, day trips, a wedding. I didn't check them all: by this point, I was sure. Late-sixties, well-dressed, messy hair, every time.
I closed the album and looked up at her. She stood with her back turned, facing the far wall.
"I think he's an echo," I told her. "I know that sounds like nonsense, but I'm certain. He's trapped somewhere, out of sync with time or reality or, I don't know, something. He's trying to get your attention."
She didn't respond, her shoulders rising and falling. Then she turned, looking back over the photographs strewn out across the floor.
"I don't understand," she said, quietly. I got to my feet, brushing my suit down.
"He's desperate. Scared. He wants you to help him--even just to notice him." I waved my arm at the pictures. "This is the best he can do."
Before I had even finished talking she was walking away from me, back up the stairs and out of the basement. I heard the stairs creak, and I heard the door lock click as she turned the key. A moment later, the lights went out.
I ran a hand through my hair. It was a mess, as always.
"Clearly," I sighed, "it isn't enough."
The End
This story was first published on Tuesday, October 11th, 2016


A friend was telling me about a pride parade she'd attended, going through photographs from the event on the internet. She said something like "I'm in every single picture they took," which turned out to be an exaggeration--well, you couldn't be in literally every photograph, could you? This story grew out of that; a silly thought in an interesting conversation.

- Alex Smith

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