The image captures the true essence of the person: as the soul bleeds into the frame, the pixels incarcerate the unwary. Darius Umbete knows this truth. It is both frightening and exhilarating to think of the eternal imprisonment facing all upon whom he focuses his lens. The unsuspecting victims of his art. Another candidate stands before him now.
‘How much is it?’
‘$495,’ replies Darius half heartedly. He is the only salesman in New South Wales, perhaps even in the whole of Australia who does not require a sales pitch or a personality. Darius knows photography. Cameras, lenses, auto exposure, auto flash, backlights, catch lights, APS, CCD, latitude, length, compensation value, pixels and the list goes on. He smiles at himself.
The customer smiles, albeit cautiously and asks ‘Is that negotiable?’
Darius stares at him. The camera is already too cheap and this man clearly too incompetent for such a superb piece of photographic technology. Too much of a simpleton.
‘Maybe, you’d like to see a less expensive model. This one’s probably more than you need, anyway. Overkill, you know?’
Darius laughs and the man’s bemused look intensifies. ‘You only want to shoot family and friends, don’t you? And capture some scenery when you’re on vacation?’
The man nods, and Darius recalls the first time he shot a friend. He hadn’t known at the time what he was doing or what he was capable of doing, even though he’d seen his father do it. It was terrifying. He gulps hard, feeling a cricket ball in his throat, and reminds himself that he has, since that awful day, never again photographed anyone he loves or even anyone he likes.
The customer is staring at Darius as though there is something wrong with his face. He resists the urge to take a clumsy swipe across his countenance.
‘I said, okay. Show me another one.’
As he returns the Nikon D5100 to the display case, Darius hopes that he only imagined irritation in the customer’s voice. The crap that he has to endure from Neanderthals like him is more than he can bear at times. He grabs a Panasonic DMC LX5 and summons a quantum of patience.
‘This one is two hundred dollars less and has many of the same features as the Nikon. It only offers 10.1 megapixels though. Whereas the Nikon gives you 16.2.’
With a childlike brightness in his eyes, the customer says, ‘More megapixels means better pictures, right?’
Darius almost calls him a philistine but instead manages a cordial affirmation. ‘Precisely.’
After the man decides to purchase the Panasonic, Darius asks him if he would like a demonstration of some of its features. He declines with abruptness: reeking of arrogance. Darius is offended and insists that a brief tour of the device will stand the customer in better shape for photographic adventure than if he simply goes home, and reads the instructions. ‘They can be a little confusing you know.’
The customer is unconvinced but hasn’t left yet. Darius knows that is because, although he has taken the man’s money, he has not handed over the camera. He presses on, attempting to filter out the urgency from his voice. Why doesn’t anybody properly appreciate what cameras do? Why don’t they understand the power in their hands? A feather touch on a small button kidnaps a moment in time. He has seen it. He has done it. His father showed him how. He spent every spare moment teaching Darius about photography, and not merely instructing him in the mechanics but instilling him an awe of the deep, dark magic of the camera. He remembers the first time his father shot an animal and how he forced him to watch the disintegration of life, piece by piece, cell by cell, pixel by pixel. Darius had felt both mortified and enchanted.
‘Look, I need to get going. Thanks for the offer but I’ll figure it out.’ He reaches for the bag with his camera in it. ‘How hard can it be?’
Darius forces a smile and reluctantly hands it over. ‘If you have any problems, give me a call.’
The pleasantries end, and as soon as the happy customer turns away, Darius’ smile dissolves. He’s sold another camera but he doesn’t give a dingo’s kidney about sales figures. He sells loads of cameras and he earns juicy commissions and bonuses on a regular basis. That much is easy. The problem is he knows that the cameras he sells will not be treated with the respect they deserve. They will be underutilized. Dishonoured. Most of the Cretans to whom he sells cameras do not deserve such high quality equipment. Darius thumps his fist against his thigh, and glares down at the counter. He sees the coiled sales receipt then glances at the computer where the customer’s details are still on display. His jaw loosens.
Darius offers to stay late and close the shop. This offer is generously accepted by his colleagues who see their job as a means to an end. Darius also sees it that way but his end is dramatically different to theirs. By the time he has rung off the till, secured the shop and activated the alarm, he has already rehearsed his plan dozens of times. He has the address and he has his camera: a custom built model which he started to assemble following his father’s premature death when Darius was fourteen. It had taken more than a year and had caused him incredible frustration. The money had been a problem too especially after his mother caught him stealing from her purse. Other sources of funding presented themselves. Finally, he had completed his project, having employed everything his father had taught him about the power: how to summon it, how to harness it and how to use it. He had shot twelve people before he even started working at the camera shop which was two years ago now. Five more people had since fallen victim to his camera. As his obsession grew, his control waned. The passion which raged in his veins, barked and howled inside his head like a rabid dog. It boils.
He feels it now. His body is humming with the power, struggling for freedom, to fulfill its calling. Darius walks faster. He has the customer’s address and he knows the street. It isn’t far. Soon he’s standing on the lawn, staring at the house, shaking and sweating, reaching for his camera. His thoughts lose coherence. He feels nothing as he walks to the window. He sees the man at the dining table with his family: a picture book cliché. Darius wants to take a photograph. He knocks on the front door and waits. He doesn’t know who will answer. He doesn’t care. He raises the camera to eye level and feels its energy vibrating through him, rattling his bones. Light appears in the viewfinder as the door swings silently open and Darius stops breathing as he hits the capture button.
The flash illuminates the doorway and temporarily blinds him but then he sees it happening. He’s seen it before but it never becomes less thrilling. Pieces of a woman disconnect from her body and flutter away, like dust beaten out of a pillow. Little bits fall towards the ground but vanish before they reach their destination. Cells break down. Skin melts like cheese in a pizza oven. A woman. Her clothing evaporates thread by thread. It takes so long, Darius feels impatient again, and tired. It’s a woman. He has shot a woman. Not the man he wanted. He realizes he must leave. The show is almost over. She is nearly gone but if he stays too long he may be seen. He can’t be seen. Darius rushes away into the night clutching his camera in one hand and his head in the other. He feels cold now, and weak. Very weak but still a whisper of triumph blows in his ear: an ecstatic resonance in his twisted mind.
D.A. Cairns is married with two teenagers and lives on the south coast of New South Wales where he works as an English language teacher and writes stories in his very limited spare time. He has had around 30 short stories published (but who’s counting right?) He blogs at Square pegs http://dacairns.blogspot.com.au and has authored three novels, Devolution, Loathe Your Neighbor, and his latest, Ashmore Grief which is available from Artema Press at http://dacairns.weebly.com/ashmore-grief