The little house sat, cloaked in the shadow of London’s leviathan towers. It was just another neighborhood at the outskirts of the fortress of wealth where the residents lived under the heel of the lords and merchants who lived as their rulers and used their blood to spin the gears of their machines. Death and pestilence were the neighbors of everyone who lived on this damp foggy street. The house sat along the Thames close enough to be constantly immersed in the vile water’s stench of feces and sulfur. The two story house was a like brick box adorned by a broken window that was covered with torn frilly drapes.
They were on the second floor in a tiny brick cell with no window. The little space was furnished a child’s bed standing on a floral pattern throw rug. It had once been Henry’s bedroom. He had turned eight just twenty-one weeks ago, but somewhere along the line it became apparent he wasn’t going make it the thirty-one more weeks to see nine. His frail malnourished body was overtaken by an illness that seemed to swoop in and take the boy the same way an owl descends on an unsuspecting field mouse. He had died yesterday in the bed. His Father was at work, and his mother was doing one of the odd sewing jobs she took in to earn extra money. Henry was alone when his soft blue eyes turned to ice and what was behind them slipped away forever dissolving into darkness.
His bereaved parents saw fit to memorialize their only child. Elliot Designine was one of London’s renowned death photographers, and Henry’s parents decided his services were worth the rather exorbitant price. When Elliot looked at Henry’s father, in his tattered vest and stained white shirt that had one of the buttons missing, he could see they didn’t have much. Elliot came from similar circumstances, and he had a son of his own so he cut Henry’s family a deal at 10% off. He knew that was hardly going to make a difference in the long run, but he reasoned there was only so much he could do. There were many death photographers in London, but Elliot had a special talent that put his services at a premium. Elliot was able to capture the image of the soul of the deceased as it left this world. Well at least that’s what the clever photographer had lead people to believe.
Henry’s parents stood at his bed side while Elliot readied the lighting in the room. Henry’s mother stood at her husband’s side clenching his hand and biting her lower lip trying to keep her weeping from becoming an episode of full blown hysteria. Henry’s father stood with his head lowered with his eyes clenched shut trying to hold back the flow of tears. Elliot looked through his lens and figured the picture would develop fine. As he began mentally working the length of this session into the rest of his schedule, father Andrews walked through the door. He was a stocky balding man and his priests collar barely fit around his girthy neck. He had round sweaty red face that was adorned with small round glasses that barely covered his large bulging eyes.
He approached Henry’s parents with his hands clasped and his head bowed solemnly, but not hung so low as to make eye contact impossible.
“Father,” Henry’s father greeted him. Henry’s mother let go of her husband’s hand and ran over to Father Andrews and cried into his chest. “Thank you, thank you,” she
sobbed. Father Andrews embraced her and lightly patted her on the back. This is why Elliot had enlisted the priest’s help. When it came to the world of spirits he knew no man’s word carried more weight then a man of the cloth.
Her husband came over and gently pulled her away. “Forgive her Father. She’s very distraught, as you can imagine.”
Father Andrews nodded his head, “there is no greater pain then losing a child,” he said. “but we know the Lord works in ways we can’t even begin to imagine. Just remember the beauty of his plan is always there, even if were blinded to it by our own personal pain. Though our pain is great, just remember Henry is by the Lord’s side now. Now we must mind the task at hand,” said the portly priest.
“Yes f-f-father,” Henry’s mother said through her tears. Henry’s father nodded and lead his wife out of the room. “Oh Father, just one thing,” said Henry’s father from the doorway.
“What is it son?” Andrews asked. “Do you think you could possibly arrange Henry by his bed side in prayer? When his spirit leaves we want him to remember he’s a child of God.”
Andrews smiled softly, “Of course,” he replied. After the grieving parents left the room, Elliot and Andrews set about the rather unpleasant task of arranging the body locked with rigor mortis into prayer. They had to break his knees to bend them and snap his fingers to fold them together. Then they glued his lifeless blue eyes shut.
“Where do you want me?” Andrews asked. Elliot stroked his bearded chin with his thumb and index finger for a moment, “Hmmm, over there will be good,” he said pointing to the upper left corner of the bed. “Fine,” Andrews replied.
“Oh,” said Elliot as if just being struck by a thought. “Let’s say this time you flail your arms a little bit.”
“Flail my arms?” Andrews said arching his brow.
“Yes, you know, a bit like the ghosts from the children’s tales.”
Andrews stared at him blankly. “Like this,” Elliot said, as he began waving his arms around in a ghoulish parody.
“Don’t you think that might be a bit much,” asked Andrews. “Well perhaps, but it might not hurt to try,” replied Elliot.
“Alright then,” Andrews said with a bit of a skeptical tone. Andrews took his position, and Elliot shrouded his head with the camera’s black curtain as he focused the shot.
This was the secret to Elliot’s method of capturing the spirits of the recently deceased departing their earthly bodies in his photographs. He had found out early on that any figure that stood in the frame just long enough would appear as a kind of apparition in the picture, a kind of unearthly specter. Very few knew this and certainly no one in the slums of London had any idea. In almost all the spectral photographs Elliot had done Father Andrews had played the role of the ghost. The few times it hadn’t work the good Father was there to offer a properly spiritual explanation. The first time he had something to the effect that the deceased had gone to hell, but with Elliot’s gift for public relations they
tweaked the explanation into something a bit more palpable for the bereaved.
After they finished they said their goodbyes to Henry’s family and collected their payment. Andrews took his cut and returned to the church, while Elliot found his way to a pub. He stumbled home to his posh London flat late that night. This London was quite a bit different from poor Henry’s city. Burning kerosene lamps kept the streets brightly illuminated. Business men in neatly pressed clothes escorted ladies dressed in the height of fashion. It was a small enclave of candle lit luxury surrounded by a sea of drab misery.
He practically fell through his door where he saw his wife pacing frantically back and forth in the living room,
“Elliot!” she gasped.
Elliot looked down at her chest and grinned “I love the way that bustle pushes them together” he thought, but the mood quickly passed when he saw the tears running down her fiery red cheeks.
“Oh my god ! Elliot it’s Jack! Elliot, it’s Jack!”
“Wh…, what about Jack” he murmured.
Elliot’s infant son Jack had died in his crib that evening. Under the pale pink blanket was an ashen lifeless shell. His chubby baby eyelids hung over two glassy orbs that could see nothing. His flesh was cold and colorless and his mouth hung open but he made no sound.
“Oh Elliot, we have to get Father Andrews over here as quickly as we can!” Clair cried.
Elliot said nothing. He was distraught, but clear minded enough to think now was not the best time to tell his wife that he was a fraud. He found Father Andrews and they had their death photography session. The photo became his wife’s prized possession. The sole connection between her and her lost infant son. She spent every night soaking it with her tears, but for Elliot, it served only as a reminder that he was a fraud and a profiteer of misery. Grief had once been his bread and butter, now its heavy presence weighed on his home and gripped his heart in its icy hands forever.
Now, a little note from the author:
About seven years ago two stories I submitted were printed by an Australian based literary magazine called Skive. Just a few months later more of my work was accepted by a publisher in Scotland and another in Kentucky. That’s when I knew the first time hadn’t been just a fluke! From then on I wrote as much as I could and submitted work anywhere I could.
As it stands, my work has been printed in 11 different volumes and has been featured in numerous ebooks as well as distributed on literary-themed websites. I try and be as industrious as possible and strive for at least two short stories a month. Usually, these are about 1,000-3,000 words. I have no plans to commit myself to a novel my style just works best at that length. So take a look at my work. If you donate, you have my undying gratitude! Even if you don’t but at least come back and see what I’ve written from time to time that would be greatly appreciated as well.