A Picture Can See A Soul
Jack and Maddie Fenton were a lot of things. Eccentric and insane had been thrown around. Obsessive was one of the harsher descriptors. When it was announced that a little Fenton was on their way, the town broke out in rumors and dark whispers. Many disapproved of the life the two scientists led and claimed it inhumane for children. But that didn’t stop them from having two children, whom they loved dearly despite their relentless chase of ghosts.
But against everyone’s worry about their approach to parenting, they managed to rear two intelligent and beautiful kids. It was a family trait, they said. If one thing was certain, the two scientists were nothing short of geniuses – sometimes.
The key word was ‘sometimes.’
For all their genius, there were many shortcomings in the way they brought up their kids.
They were inexplicitly in love with their children. They would do anything for them. They were very proud of both Jasmine and Daniel.
The only problem was that they didn’t know what they were proud of.
Jack and Maddie would dote on their children, give them praise, and send them up to their rooms at night with a kiss on the cheek. But they never checked to see if they really went up to their rooms, if they really went to bed, and nor did they ever really look at what they were praising.
When report cards were brought home, they were never opened by the two ghost hunters. Jasmine took to overseeing her and her brother’s grades. When night fell and the two Fenton children sat at the kitchen table – or what was left of it, because some days it was blown to pieces, or cracked in half, or covered in ectoplasm – it was Danny who jumped up and scavenged for food, because they were alone and Jack and Maddie were busy in the lab. At night the two Fenton children never went straight to their bedrooms, as Jack and Maddie always assumed they did. They would lay together in Danny’s room, quietly enjoying the glow-in-the-dark stars that they had plastered to the walls themselves and would fall asleep together because they were scared of the monsters their parents often spoke about.
One day Jasmine – who wanted to be called Jazz, but her parents didn’t know that – came across the word ‘negligence’ in the dictionary. She was eight years old when she turned to look at Danny, who stood on a precariously balanced stack of books trying to reach the ectoplasm-infested cereal for the two of them, when she was hit with what was happening. And she was angry.
This was not normal. She had been led to believe it was normal.
That was the day she took an interest in psychology. That was also the day she began pestering her parents to just pay more attention to them.
And it worked at first. Kind of.
Until it didn’t.
Their solution to the problem was to track their children’s growth from then on, as if they were some sort of experiment that they wanted to look back on fondly.
But Danny and Jazz played along with it, if not because they were getting real recognition from their parents, then because the fights against having their picture taken felt somewhat normal. And wasn’t normal the only thing they sought from their parents?
Jack is completely smitten with the idea. As with everything else, he does it with gusto, and insists on taking multiple pictures with them dressed up, looking their finest and also in their hazmat suits, because it just made him feel so proud. Maddie likes looking at the pictures, but sometimes complains about how they don’t serve a practical purpose.
Pictures are taken everyday, but not at the same time. Jack and Maddie’s schedules are too hectic for that. But Jack always pulls his kids to the side for the briefest second, to just snap a picture.
Even bitter, Jazz admits she likes looking back on how her little brother has grown.
It brings a glow to her heart – it makes her feel love and pride.
And it goes on like this for years – this picture ritual, the only routine and normal thing between the Fenton children and parents – and Danny and Jazz eventually stop dogging after ways to make their parents normal, because that wasn’t how it worked.
As they grew up, they even began to appreciate how much freedom they had because of their parents’ negligence to their children, however much it made them bitter. Their friends would often comment on how lucky they were, that their parents were so lax and cool. Because their friends always had to go to stuffy family reunions, and had to eat dinner as a family, and were forced to share their grades with their parents and go to parent-teacher interviews. Everything Danny and Jazz never had to deal with, because apparently, those kinds of things weren’t worth it. And the two Fenton siblings would share a look, and would plaster smiles on their faces, and nod. Because they were lucky, weren’t they? Luck was sometimes all they had.
But then The Accident happened, with a capital ‘A.’ And the only one there to comfort Danny the night he died was his sister – his sister, who for all intents and purposes, had filled in the role of mom.
The next day, the picture was different.
Jack ushered the two in front of the newly turned-on portal, excited and bouncing out of his hazmat suit, and insisted they take their picture there to celebrate the momentous occasion. As if the Ghost Portal deserved more praise than the Fenton children.
Danny goes pale.
He doesn’t want to face the portal again.
He doesn’t like being where he died, he realizes pretty quickly. But the two are forced into their own hazmat suits – and Danny feels like his skin is burning when he puts his on.
Jack snaps the photo and allows them to leave, still fawning over the swirling green ectoplasm. Jazz quickly helps Danny up the stairs and tries her best to comfort her scarred brother. And her heart clenches with just a bit more bitterness, because this wouldn’t have happened – shouldn’t have happened – and it was all their parents’ fault. There was no other excuse.
Unknown to the Fenton siblings, downstairs, Jack makes a funny discovery.
When the little polaroid prints out the picture, he does a double-take, because he could have sworn – but no, he isn’t seeing things. Because Danny’s eyes, in the picture, are not the familiar blue like they’ve been for so many years. No, Danny’s eyes are a burning green. Ectoplasm green.