A computer glitch, she thought.
A file that came with the machine, a crystal-clear something to show off the display, or a piece of bloat-ware fluff that never got erased, and wound up being sucked up into the cloud with the video of her family and the pictures of their vacation.
She changed her password.
And assured herself that the video was a fluke.
Afterward, she sat and stared at the list of files in her cloud drive, and tried to remember what she’d been looking for in the first place. She made herself a cup of coffee, and told herself she was more shaken than she had any right to be. A file she didn’t remember. She’d been using the computer for nearly five years.
She watched the video again.
There was something familiar about the old house, about the cast-iron fence that surrounded it. She watched the camera move slowly down the sidewalk outside the house, sliding past each bar of the fence in slow-motion. So steady the camera might have been moving on wheels. The photographer got to the corner, and turned, without moving the camera off the fence. In the background, the front of the house came into view.
An old house.
Just an old house.
Maybe, it was stock footage from one of the games her kids played.
She paused the film, and looked again. She should know the house from somewhere. From an old movie or a painting.
A trace of recognition.
She knew the house from a family vacation a few years before.
The video wasn’t hers, but she had been to the house. She’d parked where the video began. She’d stopped just inside the fence, and snuck a few seeds off one of the plants in the garden. At the time, she’d had every intention of planting them, but they’d disappeared along the way. How long had it been? Years. Five, six at least.
In the video, the plant’s flowers were fading, and the leaves from the trees around it fluttered free around the sidewalk.
Whoever had taken the video had been there at the same time of year. Maybe on the same day. Whoever they were, they’d followed the fence into the garden, and paused to take note of the dying flower she had stolen.
She fought off a chill, and reminded herself it was coincidence. Two cameras, maybe on the same network, taking video in the same time and the same place. Maybe the video just got uploaded to the wrong place. She’d heard stories about things like that happening. The odds were astronomical, but it was still a coincidence.
She pushed play, and let the video run.
The camera moved slowly up the sidewalk to the house where the writer, or artist, or actor had lived their childhood years.
She should remember why they went there, but she did not. A roadside-sign, maybe. Maybe her husband or one of the boys knew who the museum was for.
In the video, the camera turned, and focused on an upstairs window in the house. It zoomed in slowly, and for just a second, she could see the curtains move.
Cold tingles ran up her spine. She paused the video again, and zoomed in on that single frame, where she thought she could see a face in the window.
She clicked closer and closer, until the window was the only thing on her computer display, and she could see the petunias on the antique curtains.
A little boy in the window—barely tall enough to see out.
She clicked closer, until she could see the cartoon mouse on his sweatshirt, and the impossible cowlick in his fine, blond hair. The grin that always made him look like he was up to something.
Her youngest son, peering back at her from another tourist’s video.
She laughed until her sides hurt. Spooked over nothing.
She slammed the computer shut, took a gulping breath, and pulled herself together. The boy would have nightmares, if she told him the story. Even—she knew—if it ended so ridiculously.
“Mommy, what are you doing?”
“Nothing. Just watching some funny videos.” She chuckled, again, and stood up.
When she turned, he was grinning, almost as if he understood the joke. She smoothed his cowlick, and kneeled down to talk to him. “I can’t believe you’re getting so big.”
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