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The Photographer

The Photographer

by Barbara A. Steiner

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
The high school's most popular girls are suffering from a mysterious disease and only Megan knows that nerdy Derrick is responsible for their illness. Derrick has come to despise the pretty girls he photographs for the school paper. Driven berserk by snubs both real and imagined, Derrick invents a camera that has the power to take life. After a series of tedious adventures, Megan succeeds in ridding her town of the satanic shutterbug. This comes as no surprise, for the odds are stacked heavily in Megan's favor: not only is she smarter than almost everybody in the book, she's a psychic to boot. So much is spelled out at the beginning that there is little to tempt the reader to finish this predictable exercise in low-grade horror. Ages 12-up. (Oct.)

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HarperCollins Publishers
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The Photographer

By Barbara Steiner


Copyright © 1989 Barbara Steiner
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4976-0982-2


"Cynthia, wait up!" Megan Davidson shouted to her best friend. It was unlike Cynthia to be running down the hall at school. Floating was a better description of the way Cynthia Harlow usually moved. "Are you that hungry?" Megan practically had to grab Cynthia's arm to stop her.

"Oh, Megan, is he gone?" Cynthia looked ready to cry.

"Is who gone? What's the matter, Cyn?"

"Derrick Ames is what's the matter." Cynthia crumpled into a corner near the lunchroom. "He gives me the creeps, Megan. No, that's not right. He scares me."

"Let me get this straight." Megan hid a grin. "Derrick Ames, Derrick with the wire glasses and the kinky hair and brains. The new kid in town? That Derrick scared you? So now you're running down the hall, escaping the dire consequences of his looking at you?" Megan knew her friend Cynthia was often overly dramatic. Megan enjoyed Cynthia's shows, since she herself didn't have an ounce of drama in her body. But this was too much.

"He didn't just look at me, Megan. He's been staring at me ever since he entered Boulder High. I've almost gotten used to that. Or at least I've been able to ignore it. But today he asked me to go to the Homecoming Dance with him."

"Derrick Ames asked you to go to the Homecoming Dance?"

The idea of Derrick asking any girl to go out amazed Megan. The minute he arrived on the scene, Megan had labeled him a super nerd. A guy who had never dated, and maybe didn't even care. But she'd always had a soft spot in her heart for nerds, underdogs, people who marched to a different drummer. Megan had become friendly with Derrick as soon as he joined the annual and the newspaper staffs. Not male-female friendly, but friendly as in I-have-to-work-with-you, as in I'll-make-the-best-of-it. She couldn't say she liked Derrick yet. He puzzled her. But she certainly admired his work.

"Can't you hear? Take the cotton out of your ears and tell me what to do." Anger gave Cynthia some backbone, and she started toward a table in the lunchroom.

Megan followed. "What do you mean, tell you what to do? Did you accept?"

"Of course not. But I was so floored I didn't say anything. He acted as if my silence was a yes. Just because he limits his conversations to ten words, doesn't mean other people do the same."

Megan pictured the scene: Derrick—short, homely—asking out Cynthia—tall, blond beauty, Homecoming Queen. Cynthia, standing with her mouth open. Derrick, turning and walking away, the date settled in his mind. Megan tried not to giggle.

"It's not funny." Cynthia slammed her lunch sack onto the table. "The whole school knows I broke up with Gus last week, so I couldn't say I had a date."

Cynthia and Gus had provided a lot of people entertainment by having a super-great fight at What's Up, the restaurant on the downtown mall. It was where everyone from school hung out after football games, so there were dozens of witnesses. The event couldn't have gotten more attention if Megan had written it up in headlines for the school newspaper.

"Maybe you can tell him you are half-dead of a broken heart," Megan advised, peering into her brown bag, then pulling out a ham-and-cheese sandwich, potato chips, an apple, and a foil-wrapped slice of German chocolate cake. Her lunch was in sharp contrast with Cynthia's cottage cheese, veggies, and fruit. "Tell him you've sworn off men forever. I'm sure you'll think of something."

"You aren't even sympathetic." Cynthia turned her anger toward Megan, but Megan knew she wasn't really mad at her. "Some friend you are. You probably put him up to it. You've been hanging around him enough. How can you stand him? And why didn't he ask you?"

"He probably doesn't consider me a girl, since he works with me. Derrick's okay. A little weird, but all talented, creative people are a little strange. I'm in shock, though, about his asking you out. You and Derrick Ames. Wow, that's news. I think I'll write an article for next week's paper about odd couples in Boulder High."

"Megan, you're disgusting. Just wait until you have a big problem with the opposite sex. Then maybe you'll be more understanding."

"Maybe so," Megan said, pretending Cynthia's comment didn't hurt. She had no problems with the opposite sex, that was true. But she wished she did. She wished she had some romance in her life. She was sure that Cynthia thought photography and writing for the newspaper and school satisfied all of Megan's needs. And usually they did, but sometimes ...

Megan closed her eyes and the lunchroom drifted away. In its place came the dream she'd had about Cynthia the night before. She'd forgotten it until now. There was a sterile box, white, all white. And the smell of disinfectant, alcohol, and Cynthia's perfume. Cinnabar, that deep, red, exotic smell of Turkish harems and fall flowers. But mixed with the scent that matched Cynthia's personality so well was the smell of fear. An image appeared. Cynthia pale, almost as white as the sheets, the sheets in a hospital bed. She was curled up, her blond hair fanned over a pillow, so thin, so weak ...

"Megan, for God's sake, what's wrong? Let go of my arm. You're hurting me."

Megan came back to the lunchroom, with its smells of burritos and refried beans, today's lunch. She shook her head to clear it of the frightening scene.

"What happened, Megan?" Cynthia questioned. "You seemed far away from here. You aren't getting sick, are you?"

"Of course not, but, Cynthia, I haven't been sleeping well lately—ever since school started—and I've had the strangest dreams. I was remembering the one I had last night. You were in this one. You were in a hospital and you were afraid."

"Good grief, Megan. Being a senior is tough, but we've made it this far. Hang on. Look at me. Do I look sick? No, I'm fine. Mad at Derrick. Mad at Gus, too. But I'm not sick. I haven't even had a cold for a year. I don't have time. I've got to go home and sew again tonight or I'm never going to get my dress finished for Homecoming."

"You and Gus will get back together again, Cynthia. Don't worry." Megan played with her sandwich. All appetite for food was gone. "I know you will. You can tell Derrick that."

"I guess we will. We've fought before and made up. But he's the one who's going to have to apologize this time." Cynthia scraped the plastic bowl that had held her cottage cheese.

"Want some of my lunch?" Megan offered.

"No thanks. I'd like to fit into the dress when I do get it finished. Don't tell me you've lost your appetite. You must be the one who's sick." Cynthia laughed.

Megan tried to laugh, too, but the images that had filled her head lingered. She nibbled at a potato chip and let the salty crunch fill her mouth. She let the smell of cake take the place of antiseptic and nibbled a corner of her dessert.

Then she felt someone's eyes on her. Glancing up, she met the stare of Derrick Ames. He was three tables away, but he might as well have been face to face with her. There was something Megan hadn't told Cynthia, and she didn't know why, since they had always shared everything—sometimes Derrick scared her too. She'd tried to laugh it off, put it down to her active writer's imagination. But there was something strange about him, some weird energy that seemed to surround him. Sometimes when she stood next to him, it seemed so real she felt she could reach out and touch it—if you could touch energy. Sometimes it attracted Megan to him, as if he were an Adonis, every woman's dream of the perfect male. She wanted to follow him around, be with him all the time. Other times it repelled her, and she wanted to run just as Cynthia had earlier.

Right now there was a different look in Derrick's eyes that chilled Megan all the way through. She shivered. Gathering her lunch, she stuffed it quickly back into the paper bag. Maybe she was picking up on Cynthia's fear. She did that sometimes, felt what someone near her was feeling. But she couldn't stay in the lunchroom one more minute with Derrick staring at her like he was.

"Let's get out of here, Cynthia. I need to go outside in the sunshine. I'm cold. I guess I don't feel so good after all."


Megan didn't see Derrick again until after school at Photography Club. And then he seemed perfectly normal—normal for Derrick. He didn't seem to have any kind of energy surrounding him at all, but was slumped in a chair ignoring everyone.

"Do you want to stand up, Megan, or sit at the table with the slide projector?"

Robert Brody was helping Megan set up. Each week a different member would present photographs for entertainment and criticism. Megan was giving her slide show from her trip to India with her parents.

"I'll sit and do very little talking. I'm trying to learn to let my pictures speak for themselves." Megan smiled at Robert.

"I refuse to comment on your ability to refrain from talking," Robert said, smiling back.

"Okay, okay, I know I like to talk." Megan took the teasing well. "But just you wait and see."

"Ready, Megan?" asked Mrs. Kloverstrom, the Photo Club's sponsor.

Megan nodded, and Robert killed the lights. She clicked on her first slide. It was a closeup of a cobra rising sensuously from a basket—everyone's clichéd image of India. Then she moved to a close-up of the old snake charmer's face before throwing on her title slide, "India, Old and New."

Soon she was halfway through her show, keeping quiet, as was her resolution. She had arranged the slides so a modern scene was followed by one that could have been centuries old.

"This is one of my best photos." Megan flashed a group of gypsy women on the screen. They were clad in red cotton saris and carried brass water jugs on their heads.

Suddenly she shivered, despite her resolution to forget. The face of one of the gypsy women reminded her. She could still feel the woman's grip on her hand, see the look in her eyes.

"I tell your fortune," the woman had said, holding out her hand for money.

Megan hadn't wanted her fortune told, but the group had urged her to do so. When she had handed over her dollar, though, the gypsy woman had backed away. There had been fear in her eyes. Megan had seen the fear and felt the woman's reluctance to tell her fortune. She'd always wonder if the gypsy had seen the accident that was played out later. She shook her head to keep the awful memory of the plane crash from returning now.

"Megan, are you all right?" Robert was sitting beside her. His hand was on her arm.

"Oh, sure. Sorry." She flicked to the next slide, close-ups of the women adorned with earrings, nose rings, and necklaces. "At first the women said we couldn't take their pictures. They were afraid the camera would rob them of their souls."

"How funny," Candy Gilford said. "How did you convince them differently?"

"Our guide asked if money would help." Megan laughed. "They decided it would."

"So they were willing to sell their souls for a shilling?" Robert quipped. "Not a very strong belief, if you ask me."

"A number of cultures do feel strongly about cameras," said Mrs. Kloverstrom. "I almost had my camera taken in Morocco. And in a Masai village in Kenya, we were requested to take no photographs. Some people do think the image the camera makes steals from their souls."

"I'll bet a lot just want to get paid." Robert helped Megan change carousels.

"I never charge for photos." Bunny Browne giggled, posing seductively. "Maybe I should start saying, 'Three dollars for a piece of my soul.'"

"Wow, Bunny, you left yourself wide open with that remark." Robert laughed.

Megan took a deep breath and focused on where she was. She was safe. The accident the gypsy had seen in Megan's future was over. Think about Bunny, she told herself as she flicked more pictures on the screen. Dumb Bunny had lived up to her name again. But Megan really wanted to go home. Maybe she was getting the flu.

"Slow down, Megan," said Mrs. Kloverstrom. "Especially if you want us to help you choose photos for the competition."

Megan slowed deliberately but said nothing else until the show was over and three of her photos were selected as best.

"Good show, Megan." Robert boxed up Megan's slides. "I envy your getting to travel so much."

"Your pictures of Colorado are outstanding, Robert. A photographer doesn't have to go far from home."

"Thanks, Megan. I keep reminding myself of that, but I do want to travel someday. Maybe be a correspondent for some newspaper or magazine. Want a ride?" Robert offered as they left the empty school building and headed for the parking lot.

"No. Derrick said he'd drop me off. Thanks." The strange feeling Megan had about Derrick at lunch was gone. She knew she must have picked up on Cynthia's dislike for Derrick.

Derrick walked on the other side of Megan. He hadn't said a word the whole meeting or during refreshment time, except for the offer of a ride. He didn't have to say much, though, as far as Megan was concerned. His photos spoke for him. While Megan considered herself and Robert good photographers, Derrick was exceptional. His work was already professional quality. Often when Megan got an excellent picture, she knew it was an accident. She figured from what she had seen so far Derrick did nothing by accident.

Each year Boulder High's Photography Club kicked off the year with a contest. Arriving on the scene in September, Derrick had walked away with first place. Megan came in second, but when she'd seen Derrick's entries, she couldn't complain. One was of an incredibly attractive girl—from his last school, he'd said. His art had enhanced her beauty. Two were ordinary neighborhood scenes made extraordinary by Derrick's eye and camera angle. The fourth was a color photo of clouds. Megan had felt she could reach out and touch their softened texture.

"Do you two want to go to Denver some Saturday soon?" Robert asked, closing the passenger door on Derrick's van and leaning on the open window. "We can photograph some industrial sights for the black-and-white category. I'll drive."

"Good idea," Megan answered for herself and Derrick. She hoped that if she hung around Derrick, she could learn from him. And he'd already mentioned he wanted some new photos for the art museum's upcoming contest. Robert stepped back, smiled, and waved when Megan answered.

Pulling out of the school parking lot, Derrick swerved his old Ford van to miss a pothole. He was draped over the steering wheel like a question mark, surveying the road and manhandling the van. Megan hadn't driven it, but she guessed it took the skill and manpower of its owner to nurse it along, not to mention his mechanical genius to keep it running.

When Derrick had relaxed a bit and headed for their subdivision, Megan teased him. "Wow, you're really talkative today, Derrick. Asking me if I wanted a ride home took three words."

Derrick grinned in his funny way, raising the corners of his lips about an eighth of an inch. "Good show."

"Thanks. I think I'll enlarge that picture of us on elephants crossing the river in Tiger Tops. The fog makes the picture mysterious." Megan thought out loud, knowing Derrick probably wouldn't answer. Being with Derrick wasn't like being with Cynthia, or even Robert; she and Derrick weren't surrounded by a comfortable silence. So she chattered, a habit she disliked in others. She wanted to ask him about Cynthia, but she didn't have the nerve.

He seemed terribly absentminded, in the fashion of real genius. Like now. Even with her talking, it was obvious his mind was a million miles away. He was probably thinking about a photo he wanted to take. Sometimes Megan thought the word obsessed would be a good tag for Derrick. It had taken very little time around him to realize that his work obsessed him. He had his own darkroom and said he spent a lot of time there.

"Isn't Bunny Browne the dumbest blond you ever knew?" Megan attempted to lure Derrick into a frivolous conversation. She'd tried it before, just to see if she could. "She's that cliché personified."

No luck. The funny smile again. No comment.

"Makes me glad I got brains instead of beauty." Megan wasn't fishing for a compliment.


Excerpted from The Photographer by Barbara Steiner. Copyright © 1989 Barbara Steiner. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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