A story by Ellie Crystal
Shortly after 9/11
Hello. My name is Samantha Stone ... but you can call me Sam.
I'm a 29-year-old freelance photojournalist living in Manhattan. My life has been one giant adventure with a feeling that the best is yet to come.
I've always been a free spirit having traveled the world in my quest to take that special photo, the one that opens the minds of humanity to endless possibilities.
In recurring dreams since childhood, I have seen a photo whose image remains hazy, as if waiting to be developed, like an old Polaroid picture that was just beginning to focus. I can make out the faint outline of some kind of ancient inscription on a large stone, but that is all.
Last year my aunt Catherine, 72, died unexpectedly, naming me sole beneficiary to her estate.
Imagine my surprise when her lawyer told me I had inherited four million dollars and her old 4-story brownstone on the upper west side of Manhattan.
Aunt Catherine had always lived a life of simplicity, never married, spending her free time lost in the many books she accumulated over the years, some of which dealt with esoteric subjects. She had once said, "The mind can journey anywhere that words take you."
My inheritance from aunt Catherine created a doorway through which I could follow my dreams, journeying as my soul guided. I have always known there was something special I had to accomplish in this lifetime and perhaps, just perhaps, this would give me the opportunity to find it.
My first order of business was renovating the old brownstone while maintaining much of its 19th century charm and integrity.
My friend named John, an architect and contractor, was the perfect man for the job. He has the ability to see beyond the physical and create a living space based on the energies of the person who lives there.
John and I spent several days creating a blueprint for my new reality.
It took John and his co-workers nine months to complete the major renovations. At last, I moved in.
The energies were exactly what I wanted and then some ... a skylight, 3 fireplaces, old hardwood floors in unique patterns, old wooden banisters and moldings, antique chandeliers, built-in bookcases, 4 bedrooms, a large modern kitchen, and a dark room to complete my projects.
I particularly enjoy taking pictures of the large stained glass windows as the light flows through them at different times of the day.
This was indeed my dream home and I was ready for the next step of what felt like a journey of great importance.
One could feel that aunt Catherine's loving spirit was still in the house, as experienced by both John and I. Sometimes I spoke to her, thanking her for the gifts she had bestowed on me and hoping she liked the changes I made in the house.
There had always been a private mystical side to aunt Catherine, her shelves replete with books written by Aleister Crowley, Helena Blavatsky of the Theosophical Society, Edgar Cayce, among others.
On the summer solstice, I was guided to an upstairs bedroom where some of aunt Catherine's belongings had been stored.
As I opened the door, a scent of roses permeated the room. The closer I walked to the closet, the stronger the fragrance. I opened the door and found a shoebox on the floor. Inside the box Catherine has placed several old newspaper clippings, now yellow with age. She was indeed a collector, someone who saves everything ... just in case.
As I looked at the newspaper advertisements, I paused at one for an antique camera, as photography was my work and passion.
Suddenly I felt a light tap on my hand, causing me to drop the paper. In my mind I wondered if it was aunt Catherine trying to contact me with a message.
I carefully picked up the paper and discovered it was an advertisement from a New York newspaper dated July 4, 1954.
I dialed the phone number in the ad, to see if the store was still in business, and was not at all surprised that it was.
As a woman who believes that synchronicities bring adventures that nurture the soul, I set off at once to see what this was about.
The journalist in me stirred as I jumped into a taxi and headed downtown.
The day was hot and muggy, but I didn't pay attention as the cab pulled up in front of the store, "The Projected Eye". A sign in the window read, We specialize in antique cameras.
It was a quaint little shop that looked like something out of a vintage 1940's movie.
When I entered, the sound of a bell was heard just above the open door; this was indeed a step out of time.
A curious little old man, in his mid-seventies, clean-shaven, wearing wire rimmed glasses, a white shirt, a vest with a pocketwatch hanging on a chain, and funny black trousers, greeted me as I entered.
"Hello, I am Hans," he said. "How can I help you today?" he asked in a humble voice.
"My name is Samantha Stone. I'm a photojournalist in the city. I'm looking for an antique camera." I replied, glancing at the two old wood and glass showcases on either side of the room.
Hans directed me to the showcase on the right, as I began my quest.
"Please let me know if I can be of assistance," he added.
I surveyed the antique cameras trying to find one that matched aunt Catherine's newspaper clipping. I enjoying looking at all the old cameras, imagining what it would have been like to have used them as a photojournalist in the past.
Hans walked over and glanced at the paper in my hand. "May I have a look?" he asked.
I handed him the paper and watched his expression. "So you knew Catherine," he said.
"I am her niece. You obviously knew her too."
"Catherine and I met a long time ago," he said as if reflecting on a distant memory. "How is your aunt these days? She used to call me, but I haven't heard from her in almost two years."
"I am sorry to tell you that she died of a stroke, 18 months ago."
There was a silent pause as Hans' eyes welled with tears, which he wiped with the handkerchief he kept in his pants pocket. "She was a good friend. We had known each other for many years and perhaps many lifetimes. There is much we shared through the years."
I was intrigued by Hans' words, my mind filling with many questions and memories of aunt Catherine. As she had never married, I wondered how close their friendship had become and what they had been involved with, in the days when esoteric matters were often hidden behind closed doors. I chose to not intrude, unless he were to offer more information.
Hans led me to a private room at the back of the store. There, he unlocked a small safe and removed an antique camera, one that matched the newspaper clipping.
"I believe this is yours," he said, carefully handing me the old camera.
Just touching it, sent chills through my body.
Hans looked deeply into my eyes as he spoke. "This camera belonged to Catherine and meant a lot to her. It is what brought us together many years ago. There was always something mysterious about it though she never let on what it was. The last time I saw her, she brought it here and asked me to keep it safe. She told me that one day someone would come for it. That was the last time we spoke."
"Thank you for sharing about Catherine and taking good care of the camera. I promise you, I will find out why it was so important to her."
"When you do, promise to return here and tell me what you discover."
I promised Hans that I would return one day with answers.
As I left the store, a strange sensation came over me. It was almost magical.
I returned home and carefully examined the camera, finding nothing unusual.
I was drawn back to aunt Catherine's shoebox of articles, where I found a brochure for a trip to Tibet. I remember her taking a trip there with friends many years before, but was there a connection for me? I wondered.
I had always seen myself in Tibet, taking photos and creating a tabletop book. Tibet, a place of hidden mysteries, is just right for this part of my journey.
Two weeks later I flew off to Tibet with aunt Catherine's camera in tow, complete with several rolls of film I had managed to acquire online.
My friend John, who was putting the finishing touches on the brownstone, promised to look after things while I was gone.
At last, I arrived and set off on what I believed to be a spiritual quest.
On a sunny day I slowly started to climb up one of the many mountains. I stood there alone taking pictures of planet Earth as we all like to think of her, in her original state of creation, untouched by human tampering.
Suddenly a Tibetan man walked up. He was tall and slim, looking about 50 years old, though I had to wonder if he wasn't much older.
He bowed and smiled. I returned his gesture.
"I am Zanchu."
"Samantha Stone. You speak English..."
"Quite well. I have been expecting you," he said with a knowing smile.
Zanchu invited me back to his home, not far away. He had lived there for many years with his wife, who had died several years before. He looked on with pride as he showed me her picture.
I would remain with Zanchu for four weeks, during which time he would become my spiritual teacher.
Zanchu taught me how to take a picture capturing the soul essence of the person in my photograph.
Each night, my dreams about the stone and its symbols became increasingly clear, enabling me to finally draw them for Zanchu. He told me that I would travel far to understand the meaning behind the symbols, but the time would come when their message would be revealed.
The time came for me to take my leave.
"Always remember that the reality in your photos is not merely black and white, and the colors seen by the naked eye. There is something more that will now be shown to you that is of another tone." These were Zanchu's parting words, ones I would never forget. I didn't quite understand what they meant, but knew I would find out. It was here, in his home that the images I had tried to remember had finally come into my consciousness, the rest to evolve in time.
I took one final picture of Zanchu standing beside his home.
As we parted, we bowed and I knew that one day we would meet again.
I was now ready to return to New York, my work, my new home, and a special destiny that seemed to reach out to me from beyond the parameters of the physical.
I returned to New York to find John completing the brownstone.
I took a picture of him to finish the last roll of film I had started in Tibet.
After he left, I went to the dark room, anxious to develop the pictures I had taken.
You can only imagine my surprise when the last picture of Zanchu had showed his wife standing next to him.
Upon developing the photo of John, again the image of a spirit of a woman appeared next to him, too. The next day, when I showed John the picture, he began to cry. John told me that he had lost his mother in 1996 and there she was standing beside him in the picture, a loving smile on her face.
I quickly discovered that for some unexplained reason aunt Catherine's camera could take pictures of people and when developed by me, the spirit of someone they knew who had crossed over would appear in the photo.
In the months that followed, people found out about my photos and came from near and far to pose for pictures hoping to see the spirit of someone they loved who had passed on.
The demand for my work increased as everyone wanted to see who was in the photos I took of them.
Many of the photos were published in magazines, books, and on the internet, along with stories told by the living person in each photo. Overnight I became the most famous photojournalist of my time, though there were always skeptics. Though I consulted several psychics and other professional photographers, no one could explain this strange phenomenon.
My camera never failed me. Oddly, if I allowed anyone else to use it, the pictures developed without spirits.
I was living in a time of spiritual awakening and my photos seemed a wonderful extension of this reality into the next.