Annora was not quite the daughter her parents had planned on - they just wanted a normal child - was that too much to ask? In fact, Annora seemed at times to strongly take after her grandparents - much to her parent’s dismay - but that’s another story. When Annora was barely five, the comments from outside her family ranged from the nosey to the obnoxious. She was "different". She was "unusual". She was “not like the others”. Although people could be hurtful, Annora didn’t seem to notice or care what anyone thought. She was just who she was - a chubby little girl, with features that didn't seem to work and pale, almost translucent skin. With her dull, unmanageable, curly hair, oversized glasses that she loved, and slightly protruding front teeth - well, she was not quite what most would call a classic beauty.
If her physical appearance wasn’t enough, she had a rare recognition impairment called Prosopagnosia, more commonly known as “face blindness”. She did not have ability to, and indeed could not, recognize faces. She saw features but they didn’t seem to come together in any coherent manner - the features did not make a face to her - she could meet someone one day, and the next, she would not recognize them.
Despite her impairment, growing up she was an outgoing, friendly child but her condition led most to believe that she was at the very least shy and at most, well, unfriendly. No one could deny, however, that she was a true artist - in fact, something of a prodigy. Annora could paint and draw brilliantly for a child. Even at a very young age, she had a sophisticated eye for art and style. She also loved fashion; not the stuff forced on the public by mall stores, but unique things, some she made and some she found, but all with gorgeous textures and colors. Kids at school made fun of her because she didn’t dress “normal” but she paid them no mind. Clothing was exactly how she was going to tell the world just who she was.
Slowly at first and then quickly, things began to change for Annora when she turned 14. She hit a growth spurt during which she grew almost six inches in a year--the once chubby child became tall and willowy. The dance classes that her mother forced her to take were starting to pay off for the once awkward little girl; she became almost graceful. The braces came off and revealed a dazzling smile. The long loved and worn glasses finally fell apart and her mother could talk her into contacts (through which, she discovered she could change her eye color). And, her unruly hair, thanks to a family friend, Dante (who happened to be a very good hairstylist) Annora was transformed into the envy of all who have ever had a bad hair day. In short, the once awkward little girl became a stunning young woman.
It was at about this time that Annora discovered photography. Of course, she was always taking pictures with her phone, but she loved vintage cameras and the process of developing prints in a dark room. Perhaps it was because of her recognition impairment, but what set her photography apart was that she seemed able to see beauty in settings and situations that others could not.
Although her looks dramatically changed as she grew, two parts of her life never changed - her impairment and her friendship with Bardett. Bardett was Annora's best friend throughout her childhood and remains her most loyal confidant. Through the years they dreamed of moving somewhere exciting and doing wonderful and amazing things. Bardett, however, had no artistic talent. Computers, games, comics and math were her loves but she did admire Annora’s creative sense.
Creatures, great and small - that’s what the two girls bonded over in the beginning and the cause that drew them together. It was a frightened kitten that they rescued and as they got older, thru grade school and high school, they grew to be advocates for all animals, but they were most concerned about endangered wildlife.
A fairly normal story so far…
It was at a rundown junk shop, a store that they frequently visited, named after the Dickens novel, The Old Curiosity Shop, that the world changed for the two young women. Annora loved combing through every nook and cranny of a shop like the one they found themselves in; Bardett liked being out with her friend but spent most of her time on her phone. It was odd then that Bardett saw the camera first. She didn’t know why, but it caught her eye - it looked like a normal camera but something was different about it. She carefully picked the camera up and her hands started to tingle. “How bizarre”, she thought. And then she looked through the lens -and what she saw wasn’t what she pointed at. She saw an exotic jungle, lush and colorful.
By this time, Annora noticed that her friend seemed riveted by an old beat-up camera (she did think the camera was kind of cool…)
“Look at this” Bardett said as she handed the camera to Annora.
Annora took the camera and she also felt her fingers tingle. She raised it to her eye and gasped at what she saw. It was not the dusty, crowded shop but the same riot of green that Bardett saw. But she saw more - there seemed to be, in the corner of the frame, someone (something?) looking right back at her. Annora gasped again and almost dropped the camera. But the eyes she saw were captivating and she couldn’t look away. Ever so slowly, more of the little face came into view - the big black eyes and the fuzzy little ears - this little creature, this, well, it looked like a panda bear - was the cutest thing she’d ever seen.
Neither Bardett nor Annora knew what to make of this camera and the image inside. They spent nearly an hour passing the camera back and forth watching the little panda in his habitat, eating and playing. Not long after that, the little animal wandered off and out of view.
The women were stunned. What had they just witnessed? Where was this place, the camera seemed to show them - and why? So many questions. But one thing they did know, was that they had to have that camera. Finding no price tag, they headed for the checkout at the front of the store. They were more than a little surprised to not find Mr. Handler in his usual chair - instead, there was an elegant, eccentric older woman busy behind the counter. In all the years they had been coming to the store, they had never seen anyone else behind the counter - in fact, Mr. Handler was very strict about how close you could get - and they’d never seen this woman before.
Annora immediately liked this woman’s style - she wore a mix of color, texture and opposing proportions.
“Excuse me,” Annora said, trying to get the woman’s attention. “Excuse me?”
“I heard you, Dear. Just putting a few things in order. How may I help?”
“Well, we usually work with Mr. Handler. Is he going to be back soon?”
The woman responded, “It’s hard to say. He could be back soon, or not at all. Again, how can I help?”
Bardett and Annora looked at each other. They were a bit perplexed by this exchange, but then the entire time they’d been in the store - well, the entire experience was bewildering.
“We just wanted to know how much this camera is.” Annora asked.
The woman looked at the camera and seemed startled. “That camera? I don’t think you want that camera - it’s broken. Yes, it’s broken and you can’t see anything through the lens.”
Bardett and Annora looked at each other. “But we can see through the lens. In fact, we can see a lot thru the lens.”
“Are you saying you can see, well, an image, not just darkness?” The woman asked.
“Yes. We do see an image - and it’s strange - what we see is not what we’re looking at. I mean, the image is different than what we point the camera at - I know it doesn’t make any sense but…”
The woman interrupted her. “Whatever. This camera is special - I guess you’d call it a trick camera - it was meant as a novelty for parties and such. Most people see nothing thru the lens - and here are the two of you who claim you can. Interesting.”
“Do you have a price for it?” Annora asked. This conversation was more and more disconcerting.
“It’s not for sale. These cameras are very hard to acquire and I don’t know when I’ll see another. No, not for sale.” The strange woman said and turned away.
Bardett and Annora were about to protest when the phone rang. And that was another thing—the phone was an old fashioned rotary phone that they’d never seen before. Mr. Handler, they knew, had a cell phone.
The older woman said hello, listened intently and then said, “No, I will not.” In quite a final tone but then continued. “Yes, I know. I KNOW. But they are just young women, not more than girls really. There is no way they would know what to do with it…” She was silent and just listened to whomever was on the line.
“All right,” she said. “I’ll do it but I don’t think it’s right. They are not what I had in mind.” The woman hung up the phone and turned to Annora and Bardett. “It seems I’ve been instructed to sell it to you.”
Even more baffled by this point, Bardett said “Well, we don’t know if we can even afford it…”
The woman behind the counter waved her hand as if to brush off this concern. “Nonsense. The camera is five dollars.”
Both young women were shocked. “Five dollars? Are you sure?” Annora asked. “It’s a beautiful antique and like you said, it’s rare.”
“Really, you’re going to argue about the price? Do you want it or not?” She asked, starting to lose her patience.
“No, no, we’ll take it. We didn’t mean to upset you.” Annora said and pulled the five dollars out of her bag and handed it over quickly.
The woman took the camera and began to wrap it, very carefully. “Please, take care of it - it’s a very special camera.”
“Oh, we will. We love it.”
This seemed to please the woman. She wrote out a receipt and handed them the package.
Annora and Bardett talked about the incident all afternoon, and the more they talked, the more questions they seemed to have. The camera was unusual - they went online and tried to research the brand but found nothing - nothing about the company and no camera quite like it. And the odd way the strange woman sold it to them…it was all just plain weird. Regardless, Annora could not wait to try it out.
The true value of the camera became apparent when Annora put film in the camera (which was not easy to find) and looked thru the lens once more. She could see the lush green jungle again, but this time something started to change…the jungle scene dissolved and she found herself looking at Bardett. And, she could truly see Bardett. Her best friend’s face was not just a jumble of features to be promptly forgotten, but her real, honest to goodness face!
The story begins.