Nancy Kilpatrick

The February Special Guest Writer is Nancy Kilpatrick

Please feel free to vist Nancy HERE


by Nancy Kilpatrick

Amanda had worked in this same restaurant located in the small city where she had been born, serving the same section of tables for the two long years Stan had employed her. Shifts consisted of days—lunch through late afternoon, stopping just before the dinner rush began. The worst time of day for tips, the best time for people because they were the regulars and predictable. But money wasn’t everything, even though she had little; she needed to be home when Josh got in from school and the timing was perfect for that. Besides weekdays, she also worked Saturdays, and Sunday brunch, which was team-waitressing. On Sundays, the shared tips were good and the crowd bad. It was a bare-bones existence for her and Josh, but it was better than the measly welfare checks other single moms tried to live on. Besides, she wanted to keep busy. Had to.

This Sunday’s brunch crowd was a pack of demanding yuppies, none of whom had obviously ever worked at a so-called menial job in their lives. At least she judged that to be so because of how they treated her. Amanda and the salt and pepper shakers. Of the same value in the eyes of too many customers. But then there was table thirteen.

The frail old woman had come in from the snowy streets sprinkled with white, wrapped like a mummy in scarves twisted around her neck and head and even one at her waist holding closed an obviously second-hand coat. She was dirty as if she’d slept in the gutter in mud and car oil. She couldn’t have looked more like a bag lady if she’d had a shopping cart in tow.

Stan, the owner, glared in the old lady’s direction and Amanda figured he was about to toss her out. Amanda hated that but what could she do? It was Stan’s restaurant, she was just an employee. But the phone rang and he then got busy with customers paying and seemed to forget about the woman, who made her way right to Amanda’s section as if she’d either been there before, or she had scouted out the place quickly. She plunked herself down at thirteen, a table for four making Carolyn, the other regular brunch waitress with whom she shared tables, snarl as she leaned into the kitchen’s open window, “That’ll be some big tip!”

Amanda watched for a few seconds as the old girl spent time untwisting the scarves, removing the hat, the torn, stained gloves. Under the hat was straight hair, grey pale as the car exhaust tinting snow outside, pulled tightly into a bun. Once the woman had taken a small grey plastic bag from her coat pocket and placed it on the table, she then removed her coat without standing and draped it behind her over the chair back. Underneath she wore what could only be described as a threadbare dress, much-washed institutional grey with a white collar and Amanda thought that but for sixty or seventy years, this could be Wednesday Addams. Hell, her own grandmother had a dress similar to that. Maybe it was generational fashion.

The order board flashed; one or more of their orders was ready. She grabbed three menus, for the old girl and the couple who had just entered and stared non-plussed at the small soiled woman before carefully placing themselves a safe two tables away.

Some people! Amanda though. She would enjoy serving the bag lady and making them wait!

“Gettin’ crazy,” Lenny, one of the cooks, commented.

“You bet,” Amanda agreed.

Carolyn got to the food first—three feta omelets, this week's brunch special—and took them to the table of three happy gay guys drinking champagne and orange juice.

Amanda passed a table of four women, high-powereds, one of whom called out without even bothering to look up as if this were a boardroom and she addressing a secretary, “More coffee.” It always got Amanda’s back up when customers didn’t say please. But she figured that was silly because most of them didn’t and even when they did it seemed automatic and insincere and she should be used to being treated like the air in the room by now.

She reached the three women from one side as Carolyn came at them from the other. Carolyn poured coffees. “Thanks hon,” one of them said absently, which made Amanda feel a little better; at least someone realized that a waitress is a human being.

On her way to the coffeemaker she tried to place menus before the yuppie couple but the man waved his hand as if he were shooing a fly and said while looking around the room, “We know what we want, we just need service. Two brunch specials. And coffee. How hard is that?”

“I want tea,” the yuppie woman said.

“I thought you were off tea.”

“Not for brunch, silly! But maybe you’re right. Tea does bother my stomach sometimes.”

“You could have decaf tea.”

“That stuff is vile. Do they even have decaf tea here?” The last with a slight glance that could have indicated the question was for Amanda, who had just opened her mouth to respond when the man answered, “Decaf Earl Grey,” as if he worked at Stan’s. “I’ve had it here.”

“More vile! Do you think they have others?”

“No,” Amanda said, and started to move away.

“Wait! I know! A cappuccino,” the woman said.

“What about an espresso? Or better yet, a latte?” the man suggested.

And on and on, another four or five sentences, taking up Amanda’s valuable time as two teenage girls operating at the speed of a New York minute who had been frantically signaling for their check stood and put on their coats.

“I’ll be right back,” Amanda said, and hurried away.

“I’ll have a latte, then!” Then to the man, “The service here is terrible.”

Amanda barely stopped at the old woman’s table, almost throwing the menu onto it. She hurried to the computer, punched up the girls’ bill and the bill for another table, grabbed them, stuffed her apron pocket with creamers and milkers, snagged the coffee pot and headed back into the room.

Bills were slapped onto tables, there were no coffee cups to refill, the yuppies must have made a somewhat final decision and that order had been relayed to the kitchen by Carolyn and finally Amanda turned and realized that she’d forgotten to stop back at the old lady’s table again.

And she felt guilty. Stupid, impatient customers! The street person deserved the same attention as everybody else. She was a paying customer.  At least Amanda hoped she was.

She approached the old woman from behind who had been quietly waiting, her gnarly hands clasped at the edge of the table. Amanda marveled at the grey hair pulled so tightly that she imagined it must hurt the woman’s head. When she reached the side of the table she said, “I’m very sorry for the delay. What can I get you? Coffee?”

The old woman moved her head slowly, up and to the side, until her eyes locked with Amanda’s. Such startling ash-colored eyes that Amanda gasped. Amazingly, their color mimicked the distressed clothing, and hair the color of a dove. Everything about this woman spoke of fading.

Those piercing eyes left Amanda mute and at the same time trembling as if she were seeing someone from another world, someone she recognized. She noticed the coffee pot she held shaking.

The woman said something and Amanda realized she had only seen her pale lips move but hadn’t heard the words. “I’m sorry?”

“You need help.” Said in the softest voice, like a lullaby. The tone of the words reminded Amanda of dusk, neither day nor night, a twilight world, as pearly grey as the woman herself, and left Amanda stunned again. And not just by the words. Everything about this woman reminded her of her grandmother.

“Miss. Miss!” The yuppies.

Amanda glanced at them then back at the woman who with an almost imperceptible nod of the head seemed to say, go to them if you feel you must.

Amanda turned and headed to the table and was greeted with another dialogue, as if she wasn’t standing there waiting. “Why’s this taking so long? It’s a simple order.”

“The chef is pretty busy,” Amanda said automatically because if the food were ready it would be served and there was no other excuse. Unless, of course, one of the cooks missed an order, which happened sometimes.

“It’s not that busy,” the man said, glancing around the restaurant.

Jeez! Amanda thought, but bit her tongue and explained as if to a moron, “It was busy but now everyone’s starting to disappear. You came in at the end of the rush.”

“Thanks sweetie!” the nice gay guy called on his way out the door, waving to her or Carolyn or both of them, mouthing “Check the table!”

“Thank you,” Amanda mouthed back gratefully, more for the distraction than for the actual money, which would be a standard tip of fifteen percent, maybe twenty from a generous patron. “I’ll just see how your order is doing,” she told the yuppies, and hurried off towards the kitchen.

The order was ready—thank God! She wouldn’t need to listen to any more squawking. Before she could pick it up, Carolyn did and delivered the food, went and got the ketchup for the man, and once she’d handed that over was asked for mayonnaise, which she went and got and then was asked for more coffee for him, another latte for her, making three trips instead of one, Amanda knowing all the while that they were going to not leave a good tip.

As Carolyn headed back to the work station she snarked to Stan who was walking to the washroom, “You know, we could use some help here.”

“Yeah,” Stan said, and kept walking.

Suddenly Amanda remembered the old lady whom she had totally forgotten!

She spun around, only to see an empty chair where the faded woman had sat. She hurried over. The menu lay on the table, and also the little plastic bag the woman had pulled from her coat pocket. Amanda looked around. She couldn’t have gone to the washroom because her coat wasn’t on the chair.

Picking up the bag, she rushed towards the door and stuck her head out. Icy cold blasted her as she glanced south then north, and across the street. No sign of the woman. “Great!” she said, thinking that all her time was spent with demanding assholes for the most part. And in her haste she had actually ignored a nice sympathetic human being. A woman who might be down on her luck but was obviously kind and caring. And one who reminded her uncannily of her grandmother!


The following Sunday as Amanda was leaving her shift at the restaurant, Stan reached under the counter and pulled out the grey plastic bag the old woman had left. “Hey,” he called out to the staff in the restaurant empty for once of customers, “anybody want this disposable camera? If not, I’m tossing it.”

He placed the bag onto the counter and, on impulse, Amanda took it, thinking that Josh would enjoy taking pictures.

She turned up her collar and headed out into the blizzard, a real clipper.

By the time she’d gotten home, the icy wind had her cheeks, hands, toes, everything numb. “Josh!” she called as she locked the apartment door behind her and placed her keys on the vestibule table. “Josh?” No answer. He must be at Bobby’s place where he often went for the Sunday supper that Bobby’s family ate around two.

Amanda opened the freezer and pulled out one of the single-portion freezer-to-microwave bowls of chili that she’d made last month. Josh loved her chili, which is why she made it. But since he wouldn’t be here for dinner, she only had to feed herself. She could have eaten at the restaurant but Amanda liked to be home for Josh, just in case. A parent should always be available for her child. She believed that to the roots of her being. What kind of mother would she be if she wasn’t there for her son when he needed her?  What if there was an emergency? The thought made her shudder.

She took a spoon from the drawer and poured a glass of filtered water. While the chili heated in the microwave, she opened her purse to count out the tips. A little over thirty dollars. She would sock two thirds of it into the jar above the refrigerator, as she did every day she worked, just to make sure she didn’t fritter away what she would need for rent, lights, food. The other ten she’d spend on Josh. Already he needed a new pair of runners. Boys grow so fast…

Suddenly, inexplicably, Amanda felt depressed. It was as if a dark storm had moved inside the kitchen with her, something unseen but felt to the marrow. A pressure almost.

She shook her head to clear it. With a sigh, she began to put some of the money back into her purse and saw the grey plastic bag. She took it out, opened the bag and removed the camera. Twenty-four exposures, 400 ASA. Disposable. She turned it over in her hands and read the words printed across the front: HAUNTING IMAGES. A NOVELTY CAMERA. A GHOST IN EVERY PICTURE. GUARANTEED! “Great! It takes pictures of ghosts!” and a small laugh erupted from her. But suddenly she felt cold. Very cold. To the bone. As if the temperature in the apartment had rapidly plummeted.

Amanda shook herself again. This is ridiculous. It’s just a camera. Josh can play with it. She’d just wind it to the first number for him. But when she got to the ‘1’, on impulse, she turned the lens towards her, held the camera at arm’s length, and snapped a self-portrait just to make sure it worked. Then she put the camera onto the counter, walked into the living room, turned on the TV and fell asleep under an Afghan, so tired she forgot that she had left the chili in the microwave.


Monday at 11:15 in the morning Amanda was about to head out the door to the restaurant for her shift when she spotted the camera next to her keys. Josh must have put it there. She picked it up and saw that all twenty-four exposures had been used and that the film had been rolled back. She might as well drop it at the drugstore two doors down from the restaurant. They had a one-hour development service; she and Josh could look at the photos when he got home from school this afternoon.

The day was a long one, and Amanda felt tired, as if she hadn’t had much sleep, but that wasn’t the case at all. It was almost as if she’d spent the night dreaming, heavy, charged dreams that left her even more exhausted, drained, and yet she couldn’t remember one detail. She only knew that a sense of foreboding enveloped her all day, as if some disaster was about to strike and everything would be lost.

At the end of her shift she headed to the drug store to pick up the pictures. She looked at the price on the envelope and blurted out, “Wow, that’s cheap. How come?” But the clerk was busy with the customer ahead of her. Amanda pulled out a five and enough coins to cover taxes and slid the money across the counter at the clerk who was still gabbing with the customer. She’d been expecting the price to be at least triple.

Despite the budding whiteout, Amanda took her time walking home through the lovely pure snow, crystalline and twinkling like stars under the afternoon sun. The day reminded her of her childhood. The crisp air in her lungs cooled her inside and left her feeling not much physically, which wasn’t a bad sensation at all.

Josh wouldn’t be in until near supper time today. He had basketball practice, unless they cancelled it because of the weather, which almost never happened; here it snowed much of the winter and people were used to harsh conditions. When she thought about her growing boy, so tall and lean like his dad, a bitter-sweet emotion spread through her chest. She distracted herself from looming somber thoughts by wondering how the pictures turned out. She considered taking a peek but then decided it would be more fun to see them for the first time with Josh.

The apartment felt chillier than usual when she took off her coat. She cranked the heat and heard knocking in the rads. It would take a while for the place to warm from the biting cold seeping through gaps in the old windows so she slipped on her bulkiest sweater and made herself a cup of tea in the good China tea cup. Earl Grey. The tea her grandmother had introduced her to when she had been Josh’s age. The China had been part of a set that over the years suffered so many broken and cracked pieces that her Gram declared, "Like everything does, it expired." Gram had given her the last remaining cup and saucer, and one dessert plate, the pattern blue and red flowers, the dishes edged in a gold filigree design. Amanda treasured them, kept them safe. It was like having her grandmother here with her.

This was another time she’d thought of her Gram lately. The old lady who had left the camera must have inspired those thoughts.

It had been a while since she and her grandmother had talked and Amanda felt a sudden longing for connection. She picked up the cordless phone, returned to the couch, and dialed Gram’s number. Ring after ring but no answer. Unlike her gram, Amanda had an answering machine. They’d talked about it once. Her grandmother said, “They’re too complicated to work and I don’t get enough calls to make the learning curve worthwhile. Besides, everybody knows I’m here all the time, ‘cept when I go to the store, or the library for one of my romance novels. Or when you come over and we go for a ride in my beat up jalopy! I’m amazed that engine hasn’t given up the ghost yet.”

Amanda had to agree. About the car. And about the answering machine. She probably didn’t need a machine herself but this had been a Christmas present from her mom who recognized that she wasn’t about to fork over hard-earned money for voice mail. Amanda had no close friends anymore, and everyone in the family knew her work schedule. The rest of the time she was here alone, or with Josh.           

The minute she put down the phone on the coffee table, it rang. She pressed Talk but there was no one on the line, so she turned it off. Within two minutes the flashing red light on the answering machine in the corner caught her attention. She went to it and pressed Playback. Instantly her mother’s high-pitched voice came over the line in the usual running monologue, starting with, “Amanda? Are you there? I wish I knew where you were.”

“Yes, mom, I’m here. Where else would I be?” she said, but of course her mother couldn’t hear her.

“I’ve been trying to reach you for so long. Calling and calling. I’ve left a million messages, and come by. Hoping you’d respond.”

“I’ve been working, as always. You know my schedule.”

“It’s so sad.” Her voice softened, then broke, and words tumbled out in broken sentences between sobs: “…accident… storm… grandmother—”


“—Sunday a week ago, early in the afternoon…”

While I was working, Amanda thought. And then thought: While I wasn’t serving the old lady who resembled Gram.

“After, we’ll just go someplace for lunch, maybe Stan’s, like we used to. Just the family. What’s left of us…”

Her mother went on, her voice broken, but Amanda was no longer listening. She couldn’t stop thinking about her grandmother. The woman who had been like a mother to her when her own mother had been so busy working that growing up, Amanda rarely saw her. Her grandmother had always been there for her, the few good times, and the many bad ones. And now her Gram, the sweetest woman on the planet, was gone. In a car accident. She was too old to drive and that’s why she rarely did. Mostly she waited for Amanda and Josh to visit and take her someplace—

Her mother stopped talking abruptly. The pause felt heavy, emotive. An invasion. “We’ll all see each other again soon. I just know it.”

The end of the message beep and Amanda just stared at the machine, numb. Her brain felt lobotomized, her soul frozen. Behind that she knew sadness and grief raced like a squall to bury her. She had been here before. She knew how grief could absorb everything until there was nothing to life but the sadness of loss, leaving behind only a hint of a person…

A desperate glance at the clock told her it was getting late, very late. Four thirty. Josh would be home in an hour, if not earlier. She should get up and start dinner. But she couldn’t move. Thoughts of her grandmother, of times they’d spent together, little details, all of it intruded on her intentions. She began to shiver and cried out, “Why won’t those damned rads heat up!” The despair in her voice cut the air and a small sob slipped out from deep in her throat.

She had to get up. She had to do something. Action was the key to keeping grief at bay. Her mother told her that. She had learned that before, that other time, and it would work this time. Keep moving. Just keep moving and the pain can’t get you.

She would go make dinner. Josh had to eat, even if she wasn’t hungry. Thank god she had Josh, otherwise she might slip into irreversible despair.

As Amanda stood, accidentally she knocked her purse off the coffee table and it tipped over. She sat back down with a sigh, picking up the items that had fallen out, including the envelope of developed photographs. On impulse she opened it. Inside was just one photograph. The one she had taken of herself.

“Where are the others? The ones Josh took?” She searched the envelope and folder again, and scanned the negatives, which were all black but for one.

The hand holding the single photo dropped helplessly onto her lap. “It’s so disappointing,” she said. “Everything is so very disappointing. Life shouldn’t be this empty.” Cold tears pressed at the back of her eyes, threatening to move to the fore and freeze her eyelids shut forever.

Amanda lifted the photo. There, in center of the shot, her face pallid, her features gaunt, stark. Lips thin, bloodless. Eyes colorless orbs, hopelessly staring into infinity. She looked more carefully at the photo. Where was the specter? There was supposed to be a specter in every picture. That’s what the box promised! “Where’s the ghost in my photo?” And then she knew. It was so obvious she laughed, the sound tortured, lonely. “Look no further,” she said. “I’m the ghost in this picture.” She had been dead a long long time.

“You needed help.” She heard the voice of the old woman and recognized it at once—her gram. The hairs at the back of her neck rose.

“Mom?” Josh, calling to her. “Mom, are you here?”

Trembling with fear and cold she pulled the photograph close to her face. Yes, in the background. Right behind her image. She could just make them out now. They were both there, like grey blotches on a transparency, flooded by light that made them translucent. A light that revealed everything. The accidents. The horror of what had occurred. Both times she had been too busy, and they were alone. How could they ever forgive her? How could she forgive herself?

Her body began to freeze as the marrow in her bones turned to ice. But at the same time relief flooded her; she had been buried beneath an avalanche and rescue was, at last, at hand. Seeing them, finally seeing them, made everything alright. Her Gram and Josh were here. They wouldn’t leave her, even if she had left them, inadvertently, stupidly, regretfully.

She watched the Amanda in the photo turn towards them, her beloved grandmother, and her dear son who meant the world to her. They both reached out and Amanda reached back. And when the three touched it was as if all the warmth she would ever need began to spread through her. Grey, the color of everything, expanded and broke apart like ice in spring, fading into pure white light that melded with a prism of colors sliding down her face, scorching her skin, penetrating her shattered heart.

Gram had been right: Amanda needed help. Aching loneliness raw as a lingering winter abated, the ice and snow giving way to the blazing heat of the sun. Amanda’s breath was a sigh. No longer alone, she was no longer invisible. At least to the dead.

First Published in The Devil's Coattales, 2011

Award-winning author Nancy Kilpatrick is a writer and editor in mainly the horror/dark fantasy field. Her 23 novels include her current six-book series Thrones of Blood, recently optioned for film and television. She has published over 220 short stories and 7 collections of her stories. She is also an editor with 15 anthologies to her credit.

Check out her two new novellas, Wild Hunt and Vampyre Theatre, available in print and eBook. You can connect with her on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, and check out her website where you can subscribe to her once-a-month, pithy newsletter: nancykilpatrick.com.




















































































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