This young man wants to have a choice--his destiny begs to differ...
|She lay rigid as a rock, etched in forever, and she'd only wanted to run. She looked like the kind of girl who ran to clear her head, to engage endorphins that made her feel better. Blonde hair-from a bottle, of course-was strewn across asphalt in a tangle, and hazel eyes with little flecks of black were startled at nothing. Lines around her eyes told her approximate age; freckles and blotches said she used the sun too much.|
Terry looked down at her, hands jammed into his pockets, and felt immeasurable sadness. No matter how often he encountered carnage, he couldn't seem to distance himself. The mantra kept running through his mind: she only wanted to run. It was running that had done her in, slammed her against the wall of time. He looked up when he heard approaching footsteps. "Found another one, huh?"
He nodded slightly at the speaker, dark hair falling into his squinting eyes. He pushed it away with shaking fingers and thought inanely about getting a haircut later. "I'm going to stop looking for subjects around here. It's killing me." He didn't think about the morbid pun until it was out of his mouth, and then he wiped his lips with a trembling hand, hoping to erase the rancid taste that had accumulated. "I'm sick of this. I might as well be on your payroll."
"Yeah," the big man next to Terry agreed, "You should be. I can't believe you found another one. You've seen more dead bodies than I've seen in ten years on the force." The big man in his dark policeman's uniform peered at Terry through slits in his wrinkled eyes. "What you got, radar or something?"
"I hope to hell not." Terry stepped away from the woman, or what used to be the woman, and began to search for his camera. He'd dropped it when he found her and it was one of his best. "Damn," he muttered as he searched through the grass. He still hadn't found it when the Crime Scene Unit truck pulled up or when two more police cars and a plain black car arrived. When the ambulance rolled to a stop directly in front of him, he was startled and looked up, amber eyes wide.
A small man, all elbows and knees with one of those hooked noses that resembled a beak, stepped up to Terry and tried to be jovial. He pumped Terry's hand and asked how things were for him. Not too great, he responded, his eyes creased with haunting. "I hear this is your third body," the detective commiserated.
"Yeah, I'm not going to shoot around here anymore. I can't take it."
"Don't blame ya." The detective chewed on the inside of his cheek and looked off into the distance. "It's weird, though. We looked into you the first time, and even more the second. That doesn't surprise you." He looked sideways and got the expected nod. "Nothing on ya except a couple dead bodies found by you back in Minnesota. Weird. You seem like a good enough guy." He puffed out his chest and exhaled. "Just want to figure out why bodies seem to be finding you."
"I wish I knew." Terry's face was sagged, new wrinkles developing as he stood in dawn's twinkling, multi-colored light. "You don't know what it's like. I guess maybe you do, but I'm not a detective. I'm not even a cop." His shoulders jumped in a sort of shudder. "I only want to take pictures."
The detective looked at him again, took in the jeans, the reeboks, the simple red jacket bulging with camera equipment. He shook his head, muttered to himself in an unintelligable language. He didn't believe in chance, didn't believe in luck or the lack of it. He'd been hardened by experience. But he had nothing on this boy; he was everything he seemed. He told Terry to wait around and his statement would be taken. "Sure does seem weird, though." He repeated. And he moved back into the crime scene.
* * *
He couldn't stop thinking about her, the woman. The other two had been different. They'd been derelicts, drunks who'd spent years out in the open. It didn't really surprise Terry when he found them curled into fetal positions, frozen like popsicles, eyes wide in disbelief at their mortality. The cops were suspicious, especially after the second one. Like he was going around offing the drunken slobs he only wanted to shoot with his camera. He never even knew how they died, wasn't on that "need to know" list.
He was a kid in Minnesota on his father's fishing boat. They were docking for the night and Terry saw something bobbing in the water, something he discovered early in life: that frozen, shocked look of disbelief apparent on two bodies washing up to shore days after they'd been reported missing. He understood death.
He became a photographer, desperate to freeze life into his subjects, almost frantic in his endless search for their souls, his quest for life. How ironic that he kept stumbling into their deaths.
A day after Terry found the woman, he couldn't stop shivering. He turned the heat all the way up, but it didn't help. He sat on the listless gray couch in his apartment, trembling in an old caftan his mother sent him. And his eyes, they wouldn't cooperate at all. He kept seeing that woman whether they were opened, closed, staring at t.v. Nothing stopped her image from crawling around in his head. He even tried showering, scrubbing and scrubbing until his skin had an angry raw glow. He lay on his couch with the caftan around him, and he shivered.
When he finally slept, he wished he hadn't. The dreams were worse. He dreamed about the woman and the others. They were playing some sort of game, a ring-around-the-rosie, and he was in the middle. Their faces were hazy but he knew who they were, could pick out the drunks, the drowners, all of them. Then he saw the woman pointing at something behind him, and he turned to stare-his dream self-at a crush of humanity. They were moving towards him, and they were pointing, too. Some of them were young, some were old, and some were like the woman, at mid-point in their lives. One of those, a man in an expensive suit, was on a cell phone that glowed with a bluish tinge. The cell phone and its bluish tinge seemed to grow, blinking at him with a relentlessness that bore into his eyes and caused a dull throb. But they all had a commonness about them and as they approached, and Terry knew. Empty caverns where their souls should be, dark pools in their eye-sockets, all of them. He awoke mid-scream.
For the next few weeks Terry was stuck in his apartment. The police kept forcing him out to visit with them and he had to recount his experience over and over. He wasn't surprised to find some gray hairs on his twenty-eight-year-old head one morning. He kept asking about his camera, but no one seemed to have discovered it. The detective, that thin one with a beak nose, assured him it would be returned if found.
Her name was Stephanie, such a staid name that Terry tried to name her something more exotic, like Marrissa or Destiny. He thought she'd been beautiful, but when he took a look at her picture in the newspaper, he realized his mind played tricks on him. She'd really been quite plain with the dyed hair, the sun damage. He read that she was married but separated. Maybe, Terry considered, she was unhappy in her life. Perhaps if she'd lived she would have been lonely, unhappy, would have faded away to old age with a musty smell some people get when they age unhappily. That was it, Terry decided. Fate took her before she could perish in loneliness.
After his revelation about Stephanie he started to feel better. He began to eat again and started to think about working. He wasn't going to shoot in the same area anymore, but he could move up, shoot "the human condition" in a better part of town. He mulled over possible assignments until he felt a moment of clarity while perusing through "Time" magazine. Corporate America. He'd showcase Corporate America and changing elements in the 21st century. He thought of several editors who'd snap it up, and he began to feel positively buoyant. He was back on track. It felt good, really good.
Terry moved up to offices that held movers and shakers. He captured them eating, drinking, laughing, even crying. He found her crying in the hall, on the floor, when most of the staff was gone. She was pretty in a generic sort of way, with shoulder-length brown hair and big blue eyes that were dripping water. She told him she was pregnant by her boss, and she let him shoot her then wanted the film. He convinced her he could do things with the film to make her boss feel like scum, that no one would have to know her. She let him keep it.
He got complacent, going about his work and enjoying himself. He was happy, truly happy for the first time in a long while. Six months exactly after Stephanie's demise he sold the spread on Corporate America. He was true to his word; the woman in the hall was captured with her head down, anguish apparent through a veil of hair, enough to disguise her identity. Other photographers and journalists slapped him on the back and told him how wonderful his spread was, how he could find some real business now.
Eight months after Stephanie, Terry actually won an award. He bounced out of Sardi's after a wonderful meal, lots of comradery, and new job offers. Whistling a tuneless melody through rosy cheeks, he rounded the corner of his apartment building and felt a gloved hand land flat on the lapel of his black trench coat. He frowned at the hand. He looked up at the woman's face and experienced a vague sense of recognition.
"I had to find you." The woman's eyes were darting back and forth, reminding Terry of a pinball machine. "I need you."
"What do you need?" He still couldn't place her and was perplexed.
"I did something terrible." Her eyes were wide, eyelids fluttering like butterflies.
"Okay." He took a step forward, and his eyes caught her full face in the amber glow of a street lamp. He relaxed with knowledge. "I hope you weren't angry about the spread. No one could have known you."
The woman stared at him. "But he did." Her breath got shallow and she started to pant. "He did. He fired me." She looked away, turned her body from Terry. "I went a little nuts, I guess. I've been following him, I didn't know what else to do." Tears began to streak her face as she turned back. "He confronted me tonight." Her voice became hoarse. "In Sardi's. You were there, I saw you." The tears were coming fast and she was heaving. "I followed him in there, just wanted--" She folded into herself, hunching with arms held tightly to her. "I hurt so much and he doesn't give a damn."
Terry felt something, a jolt of electricity. "What did you do?" He heard his own breath begin to quicken, tried to calm himself by taking air deep into his lungs.
The woman snivelled. "I shot him," she finally croaked. "I shot the bastard." She began to sob openly, bawling with a howl that sent shivers down the spines of two alley cats who were yards away. They scuttled past her with their eyes wide, ears flat.
"Oh God." His head felt like a helium balloon that was growing lighter, and black spots were dotting his eyesight. "Where is he? What did you to to him?"
"He's over there," she pointed to the alleyway between Terry's building and the one next to it.
"He found me outside the restaurant and started yelling at me. He pulled me over there and started screaming at me, told me I was ruining his life." She began to laugh into her tears. "Like I'm not the one with no job, no life, no nothing." Her breath was ragged. "I had to do it. I had to." She looked up, into his eyes. "You understand? He made me get an abortion." She shivered, teeth chattering. "He told me he wouldn't fire me, it would blow over, we'd be fine. Bastard." The last was said in a whisper, and she was gone. She turned before Terry could react, gone into a foggy, soggy November dark.
He huffed into the alleyway, hoping she was delusional, praying she was fanciful in an insane way. But he was there, lying in an Armani suit and a pool of blood that was already congealing, eyes frozen in familiar shock. Terry noticed a cell phone on the pavement, open with a bluish tinge. That was when he screamed.
* * *
"Hey Jack, did you ever take the camera back to that kid?"
"Not yet," the detective answered, his gaze involuntarily sliding to the bottom drawer of his desk, where he sat finishing another load of paperwork. "I haven't had time, haven't thought about it."
"You want me to get it to him? I don't live far from him."
"Nah. I'm gonna drop it by one of these days. See if the twerp dug up any more bodies." Both detectives laughed.
"Shit. What kinda luck would he have if he found another freakin' body?"
"I dunno." Jack sighed. "Sure does seem weird, though."