Friday, August 24, 2007

Day 25 of virtual book tour: Picture Perfect by Cheryl Kaye Tardif

The following is a sinister Amazon Short

by Cheryl Kaye Tardif…

Picture Perfect

© 2006 Cheryl Kaye Tardif

When my sister, Belle, vanished back in 1956, I lost more than you could possibly imagine. And in the last fifty years, I've never told anyone what I saw. That summer day, I lost a part of my family, a piece of my heart…and I think I lost my soul as well.

In 1956, on the morning of the Calgary Summer Carnival, my baby sister and I were so giddy with excitement that our mother threatened to ground us for bad behavior. There's no worse punishment on the face of this earth than being left behind on Summer Carnival day.

Well, maybe there's one worse thing.

That morning, in the front seat of my father's pickup truck, we were crammed together like cattle at an auction. Some of the stuffing in the seat had escaped, but my father made a half-hearted attempt at fixing it by placing strips of black tape across its gaping wounds. Black tape, however, couldn't fix the broken windshield. It had rock chips in it the size of plum pits. A long spidery crack ran across the passenger side in front of me, cutting the trees and road in half. I had visions of the windshield breaking and driving sharp pieces of glass into us.

"Caroline, you have such an awful imagination," my mother scolded me when I told her my fear. "Why can't ya be more like Belle? She's not worryin'. Are ya, baby?"

Belle, in her new blue dress, patted my arm and then smiled up at our mother. "It's gonna be a perfect day."

I glared at my sister. Traitor!

Pouting all the way to town, I refused to even look at Belle. I plotted all the terrible things I would do to her―like make her eat candy until she puked. I'd make Belle pay. Somehow.

Upon reaching the Summer Carnival grounds, the truck lurched to a stop and dropped us in the middle of the parking lot. The scorching sun beamed down on us, and I swear we could have fried eggs and sausages on that road.

My father's heavy hand clamped down upon the top of my head. In his other hand, he held out three dollars.

"You watch your sister now," he said sternly. "Me an' your ma have to talk to somebody about some hay, so Belle's your responsibility. You hear me, girl?"

Belle’s always my responsibility, I wanted to say. But being only eleven years old, I didn't have the courage.

So I nodded and snatched the money before he changed his mind. And then I spent the entire morning following my sister around the carnival grounds. She picked the rides we went on and the treats we ate. Everything was about Belle, and by lunch, I was tired of it.

Midway through the afternoon, I had a strange feeling. It felt like hungry eyes were watching us―devouring us. Every now and then, I made Belle stop walking, just so I could peer into the crowd. Faces came and went, but I saw nothing out of the ordinary. No one was paying any attention to us.

Or so I thought.

By suppertime, the feeling that we were being watched was so intense that I was sure I'd be sick. I tried to ignore the strange uneasiness tugging at the pit of my stomach. But it was impossible. I could feel a storm brewing. Yet, when I looked up at the sky, there wasn't a cloud in sight.

Belle's easy laughter caught my attention and I turned to watch her while she rode the Spinning Tops. After the ride was over, I followed her to the candy store, unable to take my gaze off her sparkling eyes and cherry-pink smile.

I had always been envious of Belle―with her long, blond, sun-kissed hair and sky-blue eyes. At five years old, my sister was the apple of my father's eye. And according to my mother, you could have made a whole pie out of her. I, on the other hand, was a 'plain Jane’, as my father often reminded me. I was cursed with dirt-brown hair and my eyes were the color of ripe manure sizzling on the pavement. I'd never be the apple of anyone's eye.

When we reached the candy store, a woman behind the counter gave Belle a lollipop. I had to pay for mine, but my sister's was free.

"Because you're just so pretty and sweet," the woman told Belle. "An angel from Heaven, if I ever did see one."

She squinted at me, shook her head slowly and then looked back at Belle. I could almost hear the woman's thoughts. That poor, plain child. How could she possibly be related to this little beauty?

Barely concealing my jealousy, I pulled Belle out of the store. Outside, I plucked sticky cotton candy from her hair. Then I gave her an angry shove and watched her trip in the tall grass. When she picked herself off the ground, her brand-new dress was ripped and stained.

I almost laughed.

"Follow me," I said, heading down the wood-planked sidewalk.

I don't know why, but I felt such an irrepressible desire to hurry. Years later, I made myself believe that Destiny had called us. I told myself it was Fate―laughing and mocking me―that had thrown us like windblown corn seed into an old building at the end of the street.

Grandpa’s Tymeless Fotos.

Inside the wooden framed building, brass oil lanterns cast eerie shadows on the rough pine walls. Deep burgundy and sapphire-blue curtains hung heavily on two walls, while black and white pictures lined the third. Some of the pictures were charcoal drawings. But most were somber, yellowed photographs of another time―another era. In every photograph, the women all wore fancy dresses that dragged on the ground. In the foreground of each picture, a bearded black-eyed man leaned in the doorway or against a post outside the buildings. Not one person smiled.

"Picture…perfect," a gravely voice said behind us.

I whipped around, startled.

An old white-haired man stepped from behind the burgundy curtain. He wore clothes like the people in the photographs and looked like no Grandpa I'd ever seen. He patted my sister on the head, and before I could say a word, he handed her an Orange Twist―my favorite candy―and Belle greedily plopped it in her mouth.

"Belle!" I protested. "We're not supposed to take anything from strangers."

Holding my head high and proud, I scowled at the old man. "Mister, you shouldn't be givin' candy to children when you don't know 'em."

His black, beady eyes twisted my heart with their intensity and turned it into ice.

I nudged Belle. "Let's get out—"

"Caroline!" the old man interrupted. "Dontcha want yer picture taken?"

I wondered for a moment how he knew my name. I was going to ask him, but Belle slipped her gooey hand into mine.

"Please, Caroline?" she begged. "A perfect day, remember?"

Sighing with resignation, I realized that we weren't leaving until my sister had her picture taken. After all, what Belle wanted, Belle always got.

I snuck a peek at the old man.

He nodded. Then he smiled―if you could call it a smile…

Read the entire Amazon Short.

Please check my virtual book tour schedule at:

Please note: This tour is to promote my latest release Whale Song, an Amazon bestseller. A portion of my royalties for Whale Song is going to 3 nonprofit organizations to help combat poverty, homelessness and addictions. To order Whale Song, please order from, or from your favorite bookstore or other online retailers.

And if you read Whale Song plus two other Kunati titles, you can qualify to enter Kunati’s Great Summer Reads Contest.

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