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Rated: 18+ · Short Story · Contest Entry · #2205520
Detective Callaghan solves the case. Winner of SCREAMS!!! 11/15/2019.
Snapper and the Ghoul

"I'm a photographer. I take pictures of dead people."

I rubbed my eyes to hasten their clearing from the flash of the camera. When I opened them again, I could see the photographer preparing for another shot. A slight figure with tousled, ginger hair sprouting haphazardly from his scalp, his clothing shabby and worn, he appeared quite harmless. I held up my hand to prevent another photo.

“That’ll be enough, I think. Are you saying you’re the official crime scene photographer?”

He nodded several times. “Yes, that’s me.”

“And how long have you been doing the job?”

“Umm, two weeks.” His foot traced vague circles in the dust as though he wanted to avoid my questions. I asked the inevitable.

“Is this your first body?”

He nodded reluctantly.

“Your name?” I asked.

“Arnold Snapper.”

I grinned. “Your real name.”

“It’s true,” he protested. “I know it’s funny but Snapper really is my name.”

For a few moments I stared at him. He shifted again under my gaze, obviously uncomfortable. Then I let him have it.

“Snapper, you’re supposed to take photos of the body, not the chief detective.”

It was now his turn to rub his eyes. He did so, had another look at me, and stepped backward. When he spoke, his voice was hoarse and cracked before he got control of it. “Well, sir… Have you looked at yourself in a mirror recently?”

“What the hell are you talking about?” This was becoming annoying. I glared at him in the way that usually reduced underlings to tears. He took another step back and began to fiddle with his camera.

“Hang on - I can show you.” He found what he was looking for, advanced towards me and turned the camera so that I could see the view screen.

Staring back at me was a face mutilated beyond recognition. One side of the face was a sticky mess of blood, flesh and bone, the result of a shotgun blast at close range, I’d guess. The other was so obscured by gore that it was completely unidentifiable, but the remaining eye was open and fixed on me. Snapper’s voice intruded as I took in the horrific details.

“That’s the photo I just took, sir.”

I looked up at his scared face. “You saying that’s me?”

He nodded.

“And I’m still alive?” The injuries made this seem impossible.

“Look again, sir. The blood has congealed. You’re not bleeding.”

Another glance was enough to tell me he was correct. The blood was not even oozing from the hideous wound. In desperation, I turned away and searched the ground for a real body. There was none within the yellow police tape surrounding us. I was alone with Snapper.

“This is ridiculous,” I said. “It’s a crime scene, I can see that. But where is everyone? The place should be crawling with uniforms and the M.E.”

“They ran when you got up, sir.”

“And you stayed?” It seemed unlikely that the only one with any guts would be this half-baked young photographer.

“I couldn’t ignore the chance. I was the only one with a camera and how could I miss an opportunity like this? Any photographer would do the same.”

He had a point. I grunted as indication of agreement with his choice. No doubt the first photograph of… What was I? A zombie? A ghost? Most like Bruce Willis in The Sixth Sense, really. Not that it mattered. My photo should make Snapper a millionaire. No doubt my young friend would happily share his good fortune with me too. I wondered if I would have any use for such wealth.

Snapper’s voice brought me back to reality. “What happened? How did you get killed?”

Good question, I thought. Very quickly, I realised that I had no memory of how I’d reached my present circumstances. Memory was still there with all the usual faces and events but those few hours leading up to my death were gone. I remembered going to bed the night before and then, zap, I’m struggling to my feet and Snapper was firing his flash in my face.

“I don’t remember,” I confessed. “Is it important?”

As soon as I asked the question, I realised that it was a strange thing for a detective to ask. It seemed I’d lost my interest in solving crimes. Death does unexpected things to the mind, apparently.

“Well, I was kinda hoping we could work together to catch the murderer,” said Snapper.

“Oh, good idea. That would get you almost as much fame as selling my photo to the media.” It was a brutal way to pop Snapper’s bubble but I had to figure out quickly what I did from that point.

Snapper came back without hesitation. “Thought of that. But I can do it anytime. Solving the crime has to be done now or not at all. When the others come creeping back, our chance to work it out goes up in smoke. You sure you remember nothing?”

There was some sense in what he was saying. It gave me something to do while I found out what was next on my agenda. “A total blank, Arnold. Sorry. But I can give you some advice. Have a good look round the crime scene. Anything within the tape could have a bearing on the matter. Forensics…”

Shit! That was a problem. What about the damn post mortem? Would I have to let them cut me up in the hope of finding evidence? That would put an end to Snapper’s dreams, for sure. And I was not sure what it would do to me. Kinda ironic if it killed me properly after my rather weird survival. Probably best if I were not around when the cops returned.

I told Snapper about my problem. “I’m not really ready to risk losing whatever I have left. Then there’s the matter of where I go to hide from the living. I can’t just wander around with my head looking like this.”

“You can stay at my place,” suggested Snapper. “At least until you’ve worked out what to do next.”

That was the moment I had my first stirring of ambition in death. I could see it all - the famous crime fighters extraordinaire, Snapper and the Ghoul. If things were to become that silly, I’d better vacate the scene pronto.

“It’ll do for the moment,” I told Snapper. “Give me your hoodie so I can hide my face.” We stepped over the police tape and kept to the thickest parts of the wood as we left. Once into the more open area of the park, we increased our speed, hurrying along the pathways and out into the city. Snapper’s apartment proved to be quite close and we reached it without anyone noticing my face.

Inside, Snapper directed me to the bathroom and I cleaned up my face as well as I could. The wound still looked terrible but the other side was great, if you only saw me in profile. At least I could recognise myself again.

Snapper yelled out that he had to go back to work so I expected to be on my own when I emerged from the bathroom. The front door slammed as I answered. It was a surprise, therefore, to find a woman sitting on the couch in the living room. It was too late to hide so I had to brazen it out.

“Hi there,” I said. “Sorry about the face but I had a little accident.”

She started back, genuinely shocked at my appearance, I thought. So it was a mindpunch to hear her next words.

“You can see me? What the…?”

What can you say to such a question? For a moment I was struck dumb, unable to think of an appropriate answer. Then the automatic reflexes kicked in and I blurted out, “Of course I can see you. Why shouldn’t I?”

She ignored the question and stared at me. “Shit, he got you good, didn’t he? How’d he make that mess of your face?”

“Shotgun, I think. To be honest, I don’t remember. Whole thing’s a blank. But who’s he? Are you saying you know who did this?”

She shook her head. “Nah. But it’s always a guy, isn’t it? Women don’t usually blow half your head off.”

I couldn’t argue with that one. But who the hell was she? Mousy young photographers don’t often have beautiful girlfriends hidden away in their apartments. And she was beautiful, late twenties with raven hair curling around her shoulders, a flawless complexion and, from what I could see under her sweater and jeans, a statuesque figure supporting her gorgeous head.

“You don’t find me repellent?” I asked. “Even I think it’s a bit on the disgusting side.”

She said nothing. Just reached up to the neckline of her sweater and pulled it down so I could see her neck. The telltale ligature wounds told me everything I needed to know.

“You’re dead too? Who strangled you?”

She shrugged. “I don’t know. Can’t remember, just like you. Maybe it’s part of the deal. What’s your name?”

“Dean Callaghan D.I. At least, I was a Detective Inspector. Guess I’m not anymore. And who are you?”

“Call me Sophie Bergoni. Or the late Sophie, if you prefer.”

There was something familiar about the name. “Bergoni” especially rang a distant bell in my brain. And then I remembered. Sophie Bergoni was suspected to be a victim of the serial killer I was hunting when alive. She’d disappeared about six months ago in similar circumstances to the seven others. Her body hadn’t been found.

I sat down in a chair opposite the couch. It seemed I’d found Sophie’s body at last. Plus the person inside it. A pity this was all a bit too late to do any good. But she needed to know. I told her what I knew about her case and she listened, apparently without emotion.

“It all seems so far away now,” she said as I finished. “But it makes me think you can help me with a little project of mine. Have a look at this.”

She stood and walked towards the entrance way. I followed her as she turned away from the front door and stopped at a closed door at the other end of the short passage.

“It’s locked,” she explained. “I’ve been trying to get it open but I can only move small things. It seems I’m fading away as time passes.” She passed her hand through the doorknob to demonstrate her problem.

I pinched myself as reassurance that I was still solid enough to tackle the door. The pain seemed to indicate that my physical presence was much the same as in life. Indicating that she should make room, I sized up the distance to the door and let fly with a powerful kick just to the side of the handle. There was a sound of tearing wood and the door flew open.

We approached and looked into the room. It was dark but I reached to the side, found a light switch and flicked it on. Light flooded the small space in front of us. At the far side, a bench was pushed against the wall. It was piled with paper and photographic equipment.

But it was the walls themselves that drew our attention. There were photographs taped to every upright surface. Terrible photographs of beautiful faces marred by expressions of agony. Dead faces that held forever the awful moment of their last living seconds. And each of them had ligature wounds to the neck.

I recognised some of the faces. Victims of the strangler that had terrorised the city for two years. Some were unknown to me, presumably those yet to be discovered. And there in the midst of the mayhem, the beautiful features of Sophie Bergoni.

It seemed that Snapper was much more than just a photographer.

Word Count: 1998
Screams! Contest - Prompt: "I'm a photographer. I take pictures of dead people."

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