Autumn 2007 Volume One Issue Four
Photomancer - Bartholomew von Klick
I lined the McKoys up in the camera's viewfinder. They were dressed nice, but they still reminded me of a rural 19th century family. They all looked nervous, as if they believed the old maxim about photographs stealing souls. Bad Rudy! No stereotyping!
"That's it. Perfect. Say -- "
A woman with a hole in her head, drenched in blood, crossed behind them. My jaw dropped and so did the camera.
"I -- " must be seeing things. The girl wasn't there anymore. "Nothing." I picked the camera back up and brought it to my eye.
The dead girl yawned and leaned against the senior McKoy. He didn't appear to notice. The girl smiled right along with the rest of them and I snapped the picture. If she was in the negative, I'd look into seeing a shrink.
"You okay, mister? You're lookin' mighty white."
"I'm alright. The pictures'll be ready at my studio around noon tomorrow. See you then?"
I pulled the negative up out of the stop-bath. The girl was there, leaning against McKoy with her eyes shut. I hung the picture on the wire and stared.
The girl shot upright and stretched. I fell backwards with a gasp and knocked a pile of developed pictures onto the floor.
"Oh, hey you." The girl walked toward the front of the picture as if she were walking toward a TV camera and then poked her head out. The hole in her head made me want to look away; her sly grin made me not. "Gotta thank you, mister, gettin' me up n' out o' that old house. Why, as soon as they said, 'we hirin' a photo-graph-er,' Ah knew it was my shot at freedom, yes-sir." She pulled herself out of the picture as if she were climbing out of a very small hole.
"Uh . . ."
"Don't you worry none 'bout a thing, you. Jus' as soon as I get myself a bath, I'll be up n' out of your hair, sir. Honest-to-goodness."
"You're, um, dead."
The girl gave me a concerned look. "Ain't as bright as I took you for, slick." Then she smiled and extended a hand. "My name's Cassandra-Marie, but everyone jus' calls me Cassie, n' my real close friends call me Cas. Why don't you call me Cas? Seein' as how you pulled me out o' that nasty ole house n' such."
Her hand was warmer than I expected it. And more solid. "Uhhh. Ok, Cas. I'm Rudy. Um. Are you -- ?"
"Don't look all dumb-struck, now. N' finish yer sentences. Are I what?"
"I'm asleep. That's it. I'm asleep."
Cas rolled her eyes and then walked toward the door. "I'm gonna get me a bath. Don't you worry none about showin' me where it is. I'll find it."
She walked out of the darkroom and vanished like a puff of mist. I rubbed my eyes; I'd have thought I dreamt the whole thing if my hand hadn't been covered in blood.
Cas stayed in my studio a good, long time. My friends all picked on me. Said I'd picked up a southern twang. Didn't bother me none, though. Cas and I got along just fine, until I brought a girl home.
"Poltergeist Attack" -- that's what the papers said. Damnedest, dumbest thing I'd ever read. They were right, of course -- Cas just about ripped the studio apart chasing the poor girl out, and then spent a solid hour giving me the banshee treatment -- but it was still a stupid headline. Cas and I had to find a new place; the landlord wasn't too keen on having an angry ghost living in his building.
But studio apartments are cheap enough, and a hell of a lot cheaper when you're a celebrity. That's just what that headline made me, too, cuss it all. I'll never be remembered for my photography, no -- I'll never get to take pictures for National Geographic. I'll always be, "Hey, ain't he the guy married to the ghost?" And no matter how much I tell them I'm not married, they just laugh and talk over me. But they ignore me when Cas comes along. That's always nice.
I'd been wrong about not becoming famous for my photography, though. With Cas around and talking to the other ghosts -- however the hell they talk to each other -- we made our first million inside a year.
Ghosts can't pay directly, of course -- but they don't have to. For instance, when Blackbeard called, he showed me where to dig to find over $50,000 in Spanish Doubloons. Not a bad haul for a twelve hour flight and a snapshot. Ghosts are stuck wherever they die. In Blackbeard's case, it was an old jail cell. One good photo -- I comfort myself at night saying that skill factors into this somehow -- and he was free to haunt some other place.
I sold the film to an amusement park so they could have Blackbeard in their horror house. That was our second million.
Blackbeard sent a very nice thank-you letter a few weeks afterwards. He's a charming guy. I can't imagine why they locked him up.
Cas and I tied the knot a few years later. Why not? She was nice enough company. It wasn't like I could bring home another girl.
The vows were a bit awkward, though. Especially the line about "Until death do us part." Cas wouldn't stop laughing, and her laugh has a certain chill to it -- the kind that quiets a whole room and echoes, even when there isn't a lot of reverb.
I love Cas. Wouldn't trade her for anything, living or dead. And a ghost can still have triumphs. Like when she realized that her allergy to cats didn't matter anymore. I got her three kittens, and I still remember the grin on her face.
Kinda sucks, though, never being able to take a picture of her.
Oh well. That's how it is.
- END -
Bartholomew von Klick lives in Kansas with his sixteen cats, and is regularly burned in effigy by the mayor. This is his first fiction sale, and in his spare time he reads for Coyote Wild, and generally otherwise does MacAllister Stone's bidding. (Ed. note: This is what happens to writers who don't send me bios.)