Shutter Speeds

Three Cheers and a Tiger ~ Gold
Caitlin Wolper

sand hands
Photo Credit: Pixie Bat

From the beginning she knew she couldn’t be the same.

She had this strange habit of touching things just to make sure they were real, and even more often she would photograph them and hang them on strings from the ceiling, so wherever she walked she would bump into memories and pictures with their whispers all surrounding her. It made her feel whole and loved and transported to somewhere better. They were her landmarks, hanging around her, warming her where nothing else could. The only kind of skyscrapers that she could respect, the only landmarks that made her feel.

It took her months to find the picture she had never taken. It hung from the very top of its string, and she squinted at the barren yellow landscape. She had never been to a desert, or known someone who had, so what was this? She pulled over her black stool and clambered onto it, reaching for and removing the photograph carefully. It was definitely the desert, and it definitely was not her picture. The state she knew was buried in perpetual winter.

But she wished she was there. She knew she would enjoy the warmth.

Her fingers dipped into the picture, and suddenly she could feel the sand. She could hold the grains between her fingertips and the sun was beating down on her back and she was there. She was there. For so long she had known exactly where she was; being this lost, it was invigorating.

She ran as though she had forgotten how, gleefully stumbling over the sandy terrain, breathing in the warmth on her back. She couldn’t even say why she had felt so compelled to run, it was just a feeling, a reflex. There was something there, right where land met sky, that she had to go and see. But as she advanced, she realized that that something was approaching.

On the horizon a mass of figures staggered to their feet, swaths of red against the pale desert sky, their thin and scaly arms tensing as they noticed her. Eyes glinted black.

Suddenly she found it hard to breathe. She looked wildly for escape, but couldn’t even discern the direction she had traveled from. It was desert. It was open. There was nowhere to hide, and suddenly she missed the snowy trees of home. She began to run, knowing that it was futile, doubting that she would live.

She was only there until she looked away from the horizon.

As quickly as she had left, she was back in her cold apartment, shuddering, pulling her coat tighter around herself.

It was sleep deprivation. It was mild insanity. It was something, something she couldn’t control. It would never happen again, could never happen again. She wasn’t crazy.

But three weeks later she was crying and the photograph was on the table but it had changed. It had to be the same one. She had left it alone on the wooden table with the mug stains and uneven legs. But there it was, completely changed from before, a silhouette of the city skyline beaming in the twilight.

She knew that if she reached out she could touch it. It was so beautiful and it wasn’t home and maybe it was far enough that she’d never have to be home again. It couldn’t be dangerous. She could be careful this time.


Startled, she dropped the photograph and it fluttered to the floor.

“Adam, what are you doing here? Get out.” Carrie glared at him as he entered the room.

“Hey, hey, we just never finished talking is all.”

“Just leave me alone already. I’m not interested.”

He didn’t seem to hear her as he noticed the room that they were standing in. Impressed, eyes wide in surprise, he went to the window and took a rope of photographs into his hand, inspecting them.

“Geez, I didn’t even know you had a camera,” Adam said. “These aren’t half bad.”

She ignored him, grabbing the photos out of his hand. “Be careful, you’ll get fingerprints all over them.” She gently let go of the string after making sure all of the photos were in place.

“Okay, fine. Calm down. You act like they’re holy or something.” He turned and spotted the photograph lying face down on the floor. “Looks like you missed one.” He picked it up and flipped it over.

“Come on, Adam, leave it alone.”

“Who takes a picture of their own house and frames it? Weird.”

“Don’t—” She stopped, surprised. Quietly, she said, “That’s not a picture of my house. I’ve never taken a picture of my house. What are you looking at?”

“It’s pretty obviously your house. I mean, I’m standing right there.” He jabbed his finger at the photo and she leaned over and looked at it. “But wait. I’ve never been in this room before today. How…?”

She took the photograph from him. “You’re not looking at it right.”

“It was me in there, I know what I look like! You were there too.”

“Oh really? And what was I doing?” she asked.

He was quiet. “Nothing. Don’t worry about it.”


“We should tell somebody about this.”

“What? Stop being stupid.” Her hands were shaking.

“Hey, it’s like a fortune-telling picture or something. You know how much money you can make off of it?” Adam took the picture back from her and enthusiastically waved it in the air.

“Is that all you ever think about? Money?”

“Come on, that’s harsh. This could be worth something, and we both know you could use the money. Just think about it.”

“I don’t want to sell it.”

“Why not?”

She closed her eyes and breathed deeply. “Because,” she murmured, “It’s not showing the future.”

“Then what’s it showing?”

She wouldn’t have known how to answer him before this moment, but the answer suddenly came to her. “It shows you where you want to be.”

He laughed nervously. “No, that’s crazy. You’re just messing with me, right? Are people waiting to jump out and yell ‘surprise?'”

She snorted. “You can believe that it shows the future, but not that it shows you where you’d want to go? I don’t see how one’s more viable than the other. Last week when my heater broke, it was a desert. And I went to that desert. I was there!”

“You went on a vacation to a desert?”

“No, you idiot! I touched the picture, and, I— I was there!”


“I swear! You know there’s something weird about it.”

“We should—”

“Just leave it.” She cut him off. “Leave it be. We’ll think about it tomorrow, okay?”


“Just go already. We’ll talk about it in the morning. I’m tired.”


“In the morning. I promise.” She opened the front door and looked at him expectantly. He sighed in defeat.

“All right, all right.”

After he left, she couldn’t sleep. She took the photograph with her into bed and peered at it, waiting for its shape to change, to tell here where she would rather be. Anywhere, that’s where she would rather be. Anywhere that she could wake up in the morning and Adam wouldn’t be looking over, trying to take what was hers.

She stared, until it was too dark to even see the photograph anymore. She stared for hours, until a knock on the door roused her from her thoughts.

She held the photograph tightly as she made her way to the door. Carrie knew it was Adam, but she looked through the peephole to be sure, her stomach filling with an unmistakable sense of dread. She opened the door.


“Hey. You still have the photo?”

“Wow, nice greeting,” she said.

“Don’t get all snotty. We both need the money, you know that. So you have it?”

She nodded, feeling oddly disappointed. “Right here.” She held up her hand. She wasn’t surprised when Adam took the photograph from her, but she was surprised when he chuckled.

“Nice try, Carrie. Now gimme the real one.”


“This one’s all brown.”

“Lemme see.” She peered over at the photograph and fought the urge to smile. “It is, it’s right. It… whoever developed it didn’t wash off the chemicals well enough. The photo’s gonna be completely brown and ruined.”

“No way. You’re kidding, right?”

She shook her head, still unable to control her smile. “I’m being serious.”

“So can’t you just… wash it some more?”

“It doesn’t work like that, sorry.”

Adam groaned and put his hands on his face. “I swear, this is so my life.”

“Hey,” she nudged him, smiling now. “So you said, in that photo, you saw us standing in my house? What were we doing again?”

He blushed. “Um, well… well, you know, it was no big deal, it was just…”

She stepped closer to him.

For the second time, the photo fell to the floor.


Caitlin Wolper is a 16-year-old junior that attends a high school in New York. Besides writing, she enjoys singing, acting, and reading in her free time. Email: caitlin.wolper[at]