Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Short Story: Snap Shut


A demon.

A digital camera.

Teenage angst.

Nuff said.


Snap Shut
by Paul Darcy

"Get out of my face with that thing, you freak!" Sally gave Henry a blistering look and her body language radiated impending bodily harm for Henry. He was about to snap a close up photograph of Sally with his new digital camera, thinking that doing so would be a harmless exercise for the school yearbook. But after gauging her hostile reaction his flight or fight instincts informed him that flight was the best option in this situation. Getting beat up in the schoolyard by the big male bullies was natural. Getting beat up in the schoolyard by a girl was another. It would be catastrophic not to mention a world shaking major humiliation.

"Sorry," he said, backing away incase she decided to throw a punch at him. "It was only for the school paper. I took over from Jena after she came back from Bali and qui—"

"Look, moron," continued Sally taking one step toward Henry. Henry took two hurried steps back. "I don’t care if you are the world’s most famous photographer, or something. Go play with your toy someplace else and leave me alone." Sally turned away and walked to join some of her cool friends by the school steps. She was part of the in crowd, that elite social clique Henry would never be part of unless he woke up one morning as somebody else.

Henry went away and took some photographs of less threatening subjects; trees, benches and the lawn. They couldn’t call him a moron or beat the crap out of him, so as photographic subjects, they were what he needed to calm down after Sally’s vitriolic reaction.

That night at home, Henry popped the flash card out of his camera and plugged it into his card reader. He downloaded the image collection, resized some of them and added them into the appropriate folders all neat and orderly. He really was a geek, he knew, but this new hobby of his was something he really enjoyed. After years of reading books and sitting indoors, this pursuit was much better for him he rationalized. It got him out of the house and moving around, something all the years of his mother’s coaxing had not achieved. Henry was becoming much less of a risk for heart attack and stroke later in life. Now if only his subjects for the school yearbook would be a little kinder . . . But years of being bullied had trained him not to take it too seriously. They all had issues. They had to fit into there respective groups. One day some of them would grow up.

Smiling, Henry looked at two pictures he had taken of Sally before she got close enough to physically threaten him. They weren’t great, being distant shots, but he liked them anyhow. Well, he liked Sally actually. The pictures themselves kind of sucked. But a few tree pictures had turned out well, and the bench with all the shadows looked . . . Henry sat back. Henry, the outcast from pubescent society. How could anyone get excited about this stuff at his age? Shouldn’t he be going to parties, drinking with buddies, chasing, catching and then doing things with girls? Isn’t that what the cool crowd did? He closed down his computer system and went to bed. Tomorrow was Saturday so at least he got a break from the torments of school for two days.

Henry woke to the sounds of birdsong outside his window and clanking pots from downstairs in the kitchen. His mom was up making breakfast. It was a bright sunny day. Hastily dressing and then taking up his camera, Henry shot a few pictures out his window at the birds in the tree branches. After reviewing the pictures on the camera’s viewer and deleting a couple which didn’t turn out right, he went downstairs.

"Good morning, Henry," his mother said pleasantly. "How did you sleep?"

"Like a log, one of those double clean burn ones." Henry joked. Saturdays were his favorite.

"Well, Im glad," said his mother. "But please don’t start on fire at the table, okay?" she joked.

"Deal." Henry sat and ate a muffin. That was followed by a bowl of cereal then a couple scrambled eggs. His mother sat down to eat her breakfast too.

"So, any girlfriends I should know about?" his mother asked innocently, like any conscientious probing mother would of her teenage boy.

Henry answered, "Only three. Two are pregnant, but the last one has a steady night job . . . on the corner of sixth and avenue road. I’m going to pick her up tonight, so can I borrow a hundred bucks?" Henry loved to tease his mother like this. And she was a good sport about it, though he actually thought she was somewhat sad that he hadn’t yet brought home some wholesome, pure sweet innocent girl she could fuss over. Actually he had yet to bring home any girl, though he did almost try two years ago to ask Jena out. But in his mind then, and still now, Jena’s probable rejection would have lead to terror and excruciating psychological pain.

"Henry," his mother faked true horror, "how could you possibly do such things to your poor mother. I raised you to be a good boy, and well, asking for a hundred dollars. You are not supposed to ask your mother for money . . . Well!" Both of them broke into smiles but his mother’s didn’t last as long. I won again, thought Henry finishing the last of his breakfast.

Along the sidewalk to the library, Henry took a few good pictures of automobiles. One, a vintage firebird formula 500, was restored to its factory look. Bright red paint shining against the brown and green background of suburban bliss looked especially picturesque. He took several pictures from different angles then proceeded on down the street.

The library was only a couple of blocks away. It was a grand old building and Henry snapped a few long distance pictures capturing the entire structure and the two ancient oak trees out front. The library had been built at the turn of the century and sported extremely interesting architecture, to Henry anyway. To most kids at school it was just a big building to meet at before heading off to do cool things on week nights. And shouldn’t he be more interested in girls than ancient buildings? Teen thoughts. Push them down. I am a photographer, Henry thought, snapping another closer library picture as he casually moved down the street looking for neat photo opportunities.

Using the small camera image to frame up another picture of the columns at the library’s entrance, Henry paused when a lovely figure of a girl entered his cameras viewer and began to climb the library’s steps. Lowering the camera, Henry stood transfixed by the girl. He couldn’t tell who it was from this angle and so far away but the way she moved, the shape of her legs quite exposed with a mini skirt hiding very little, and the sway of her hips . . . Maybe girl thoughts were okay after all, and well, she was going to the same place he was.

She entered the library door and Henry jogged down the street to catch up, though he didn’t know what he would do once he did. Probably be some awkward moment of him coming around a stack of books finding her right there and then . . .

Henry arrived at the entrance to the library. The massive height and a half doors were solid wood and had no windows in them. He slung his camera around his neck and grabbed the massive portal and gave it a tug and stepped inside the building.

In the entrance of the library all was quiet, as it should be and always was. He really didn’t expect any wild parties to be going on, but his heart was racing as though one was. Who was that girl anyhow? Looking around, he could not see where she was. In fact the only occupants of the library consisted of the librarian, himself and one old man he recognized but didn’t know the name of in a comfortable chair by a side window. Other than that, the library appeared empty. He needed a plan to scour the facility without appearing to be searching for the girl.

Walking slowly past the first row of bookshelves trying to appear nonchalant, Henry didn’t look down the aisle trusting his peripheral vision to forewarn him of the girl’s presence instead. Six aisles later he detected her. He feigned interest in the books at the end of the aisle she was in. Oh great cover, he thought. They were knitting and needlepoint craft books. Henry pulled one out and started leafing through it while all the time looking down the stacks of books at this enchanting girl he still couldn’t identify.

The girl, exuding sexuality and revealing very little, was holding a large leather bound book and facing away from Henry. He couldn’t see very clearly what section she was in or what the book may be. He was strangely interested in what book had held her attention so completely. She was too far away and he was petrified of being caught spying on her by walking closer. Then he had an idea. He very quietly and carefully replaced the knitting book, upside down in the shelf, and took out his digital camera. It had a twelve times optical zoom. Maybe with that he could get a closer look at her . . . book. A slight flush of color came to Henry’s face. This was all so not right, but he couldn’t help himself. She was bewitching.

Palms beginning to sweat, Henry raised the camera to his face and pressed the zoom in controls. The tiny servo motor sounded loud as a jet engine to Henry, but the girl didn’t seem to notice. At full zoom the girl’s entire body fit into the three inch digital view panel and Henry stared like a deer in the headlights.

Without thinking he pushed the button on the camera and took a picture. The flash was like lightening in the dark aisle of books. Henry couldn’t have announced his presence more clearly if he had yelled at the top of his lungs and started pitching books at her. His flushed face turned cherry red and the girl slowly turned to face him.

It took Henry a moment to recognize who it was, and when he did his eyes nearly dropped out of his head. Henry stared into the face of Jena, but not the Jena he remembered. The Jena he remembered was always fully dressed in corduroy pants and sweater and from what he could remember worn little if no makeup. This Jena was dressed in cleavage exposing, mini skirt thigh exposing provocative skin tight alluring man-eating ensemble ever stretched skin-tight across a female form. And her face was painted up like a fashion model. She admired him with such a sexy and seductive look, Henry could feel his body temperature rising beyond safe levels and his cheek color had now passed beyond infrared.

Jena reached up and took a clip from her hair. Her brown locks fell out beautifully framing her face perfectly and Henry’s body struggled to regain a bit of involuntary muscle control, particularly his heart which seemed to have forgotten how to beat properly and under one hundred beats per minute. Jena lay the clip in the large book she had been reading, closed it and returned it to the bookshelf. She licked her lips making them moist and brighter red, then began to walk, though it was more like a erotic saunter, up to Henry fixing him with bedroom, no more like den of iniquity, eyes. "Henry," she said moistening her lips again and running a hand up the side of her tight blouse to gently rest on her right breast. In the most allure voice he could ever have imagined Jena said, "Come here, Henry. I want you . . . right now." Jena began slowly unbuttoning her blouse.

"Yeah, me." Henry managed to gasp out nearly tripping backward over nothing. Jena’s eyes had fastened him like a pin through a butterfly in a display case. They were radiant boring points of hypnotic comeliness and Henry felt utterly helpless staring into them. But her eyes were not normal and it wasn’t just the makeup and the way she was coming over to him, though at this moment he couldn’t be sure of too much, like what day it was, his name or which planet he was standing on. But Henry recalled Jena’s eyes as he remembered them. They were not like this, not glowing with some inner light. He couldn’t look away. She was only three feet from him now and he could feel heat radiating off her body as she began to undress and lick her lips moaning softly to him with desire smoldering in her eyes. Henry almost fell, his legs like wet clay, his heart racing like he had just finished a marathon. Henry lost the ability to speak and he may have stopped breathing altogether.

His hands, still clutching the camera, moved upward involuntarily to reach out for Jena and while doing so he inadvertently pushed down on the camera’s button. A flash of light from the camera startled Henry out of his trance. He had just taken a picture of Jena close up. And she had only one more button to go.

Jena stopped moving and licking her lips. She looked at Henry with a stunned expression. "Henry?" she asked in a demure voice, much more like the Jena he knew. She sounded frightened. Looking down at her clothes, shock registered in Jena’s eyes and she defensively brought both hands up to cover her almost exposed bosom. She looked at Henry imploringly, then at his camera. Gone was the seductive temptress and in her place the bashful girl he knew, in clothes she would never where, at least not in public. Here eyes had lost the glowing quality.

"Jena, you okay?" Henry managed to croak out. His vital organs and systems were slowly returning to normal and he was once again able to speak.

"What am I doing here like this?" Again Jena looked at her cloths. She hastily buttoned up her blouse. "Why are you taking pictures of me? Henry, what are you doing?" she was beginning to panic.

"I . . . We . . . I," Henry babbled, bewildered. He tried to begin explaining, but Jena bolted down the aisle and out of the library before he could regain full use of his mind and body. Standing in the aisle for a few minutes, Henry couldn’t understand what had transpired between he and Jena. Was this some kind of prank? If it was there was nobody around to laugh at him and Jena was not part of the cool school in crowd, so this incident would not be relayed to them so they could torment him at school next week. Then what? Why had she behaved like that at all? It was so not like her in any way he knew. It was like she was possessed. Come to think of it she had been acting quite strange since she came back from her family trip to Bali. Maybe something happened to her when she was there. It really wasn’t like her to quite the yearbook committee. After all she had been part of it for the last two years and had always seemed to enjoy it.

Henry took some deep breaths trying to calm down and spotted the large leather bound book Jena had been reading protruding from the bookshelf at the end of the aisle. What could Jena have be looking at? Walking over and taking the book down, Henry couldn’t see any markings on its cover anywhere. He cracked open the old leather casing to find out what it was. When he did, he was a little mystified. It was titled, Witchcraft and Demonology; writings and incantations throughout time. What a strange book for Jena to be looking into, and what a strange book in general. Someone had gone to a great deal of trouble making this book as the detail inside was uncanny. Henry could see Jena’s hair clip jutting up from a marked place, presumably the place she had been reading when Henry found her. Gently parting the book at that spot, Henry could see the chapter title. It read, Demonic Transference and Host Permanence. Now that, thought Henry, is pretty damn odd.

After spending the next hour reading over that section it occurred to Henry that something may indeed have happened to Jena when she was in Bali, for the book mentioned ancient island rituals from that part of the world indicating a suffusion of a demon into the host of a living girl. But this was surely ridiculous. How could this be? It held no more validity than the zombies of Haiti or the Loch Ness Monster. Still, that unnatural light in Jena’s eyes, referred to in this text as, the cool fires of hell reflected. He couldn’t have described them much more accurately himself. Placing the book back in its place, Henry rushed home.

It seemed that his computer was taking an extra long time to boot up, but Henry realized it was only his anticipation of reviewing his library pictures on the monitor which made the machine appear to be taking extra time. Henry popped the flash card out of his camera and inserted it into the card reader. A few seconds later the computer was ready and Henry eagerly downloaded all the images onto his hard drive into the temp folder he used before sorting and filing his pictures. This process too seemed far to long as well, but finally ended with a little pop up box indicating all files successfully transferred.

Henry clicked on his image viewer program and used the browse function to enter the temp folder. He had taken thirteen pictures and he viewed them from the first. The antique car shots, then the library from far away, then Jena climbing the steps of the library. There was only two pictures left to view.

The second last picture was the one he had involuntarily taken of Jena’s back in the library aisle as she casually read the large leather bound book. Henry stared at the picture a while. He still couldn’t believe it was really her. He had known Jena since she was seven but in the library she looked and acted and dressed so completely different from anything he could ever recall he had to wonder it that old leather bound book was actually touching on the truth. Looking at Jena in those clothes made Henry desirous of her, something he had never seriously thought about before. He never realized that hiding under all those loose sweaters and bulky corduroy pants was this lovely figure of a girl. Funny how it took a demonic possession, if he could accept that reasoning, to make him see it.

Clicking on the final image, Henry sat back and waited for the couple seconds it would take to load. He wondered if that unnatural light he had seen in Jena’s eyes would show up in the image, or would the camera’s flash have erased all traces of it? And she had been almost undressed. And it was an extreme closeup. And by taking the picture her personality had completely changed as well. That was the strangest part of this little play, one he still was trying to deal with at an intellectual level. What the book suggested . . .

Suddenly the final picture sprang to life on his computer screen. What he saw, for a split second before his computer crashed, was a vision straight out of hell. Jena, or what he thought the image of Jena, one button to go, should have looked like, was not Jena at all but some vulture headed creature with luminescent blue eyes and serpent like tongue. The body was certainly the almost exposed Jena’s body, but the face and head were most certainly not. He sat stunned as his machine began a re-boot process. What the hell had happened? A virus maybe? His machine had never done this before. And how could his picture have been altered? This was insane, he thought looking at the camera’s flash card secured in the flash card reader. He had cut and pasted the pictures so they were no longer on his flash card but only in his computer. If that image was corrupted in the copying he would not be able to retrieve the original now. Damn, he shouldn’t have done that.

Henry could hear from downstairs the front door slam. A moment later he heard voices. His mother was obviously not alone. Maybe she was having a friend over for supper as she sometimes did. A few seconds later he could hear multiple footsteps on the stairs then down the hall outside his room. His computer was still going through the process of booting up.

"Henry," his mother’s voice called at his bedroom door. "I’d like you to meet Francesca, and her daughter Neva." Henry swivelled around in his computer chair to see his mother enter his room followed by another lady he didn’t know and then a girl, about his age.

"Ah, hi." He was feeling a little trapped and crowded in his room with the three women. His mother was trying to play matchmaker again, and it would most likely end badly though the girl looked as embarrassed and awkward as he did. She was quite pretty though.

"They just moved to town last week," his mother continued, "and Neva will be going to your school in the same class too." His mother smiled.

"I’m Francesca," his mother’s friend said. "Your mother was so kind to us and invited us for dinner. Glad to meet you, Henry."

"Hi," He responded even though he had already said hi. This was going about as well as Henry predicted.

"Hi," Neva said looking over at him from beside her mother. Her face was a little flushed and they broke eye contact after the initial millisecond stare.

"Ah, hi Neva. Nice name," Henry blurted out. He too was turning into a bright red tomato head. Could this get any worse?

"Well, now that we are all acquainted, Francesca and I will go downstairs and make supper." Henry’s mother said. "Henry, you can tell Neva all about school. We’ll call you down when supper is ready, okay?" His mother left his room with Francesca close behind. Neva stood still, not sure what to do and Henry sat looking at the wall beside Neva wondering how this could have happened.

"Um," Henry began, "where are you from? I mean before you moved here, cause now you are from here. I already know that." If a rock had suddenly appeared in Henry’s room he wasn’t sure if he could beat Neva under it.

"Oh," Neva began, "ha, ha." she laughed. "Yeah, I’m from here now, but we moved from Baltimore last week, and . . ."

A beep from behind Henry alerted him to his computer’s final loading. "Are you okay, Neva," Henry asked. Her face, a moment ago quite red, was suddenly ashen and her eyes stared over his shoulder at . . . At his computer monitor. He looked more closely at her eyes, they were, oh no, slightly glowing. Swivelling around more quickly than was safe, Henry saw on the monitor the picture of Jena nearly undressed, only this time it was just Jena and nothing more. Which meant, if the old tome in the library was spouting truth not fables Neva may . . .

The light touch of fingers caressed Henry’s neck. He was so absorbed in Jena’s image that he hadn’t even heard Neva walk across his room. He could feel her breath on his neck and a second later the lick of her tongue. He bolted up from his chair which caromed across his room and into his bed. He turned to face Neva, and the transformation of her personality was obvious. She ran her hands down her front and licked her lips, very much like Jena’s behavior at the library.

"Oh, you again," said Neva, who was not Neva. "You are not getting away from me this time. I will have you right here, and you will love it." Neva stepped back from Henry and lifted off her sweater revealing her bra and shapely body underneath.
"Are you two doing okay up there?" his mother yelled from the top of the stairs at that moment.

Neva was at his bedroom door quick as a cat, "We are getting along great," Not Neva answered. "Henry was just going to show me how his equipment works." Not Neva was purposefully sounding a lot more like the shy girl than the sultry demon within. Henry had to think fast. The camera had somehow trapped the demon inside it. He had to take her picture, but only of her eyes because that’s where the energy or demon or whatever emanated from. The pictures Henry took of Jena didn’t change anything until it was a picture of her eyes. So that was it, the way to trap this thing. While Neva was answering his mother Henry snapped the flash card out of the reader and frantically searched the room with his camera. It was sitting on the bed. He was about to make a go for it when Neva closed his door and locked it. She turned toward him once again.

"Now my rescuer, it’s time for a little reward." Not Neva walked slowly and began to peel off the rest of her cloths and Henry walked backward, transfixed but struggling to concentrate on the task at hand; getting the flash card into the camera. Henry bumped into his bed and fell backward onto it. Not Neva had crossed the distance to him and was now down to wearing only her underwear. She crawled onto the bed overtop of Henry. Her luminescent eyes penetrated his mind, and he was nearly overcome with desire for her right there but his raised hand bumped into his camera which jolted him back into some form or resistance, however feeble, against the demon’s powers, or maybe it was the close proximity of an almost nude girl which was overpowering his will.

Not Neva giggled a little girl giggle and began to unbutton Henry’s shirt. She tickled his flesh with each undone button, and Henry trying desperately to open the flash port on his camera was nearly undone with each touch. He only managed to keep trying by recalling the vulture headed creature he had briefly seen on his computer. That was what was in control of this girl, he desperately reasoned as she tickled him once more and licked her lips.

Henry felt overwhelming and conflicting emotions. For one he felt like a helpless prey held fast in the claws of a lion waiting for the lion to strike its killing blow while at the same time he felt such desire for this girl’s flesh he didn’t know how he had managed to retain any control over himself at all.

The camera flash card port popped open at the same time his last shirt button did. "Oohhh," Not Neva moaned lowering her full body onto his. Henry, if he hadn’t just taken a breath, would not have been able to. Her head rested on his revealed chest and her tongue darted out to tickle his skin. No teenager should ever have to endure such sweet torture and Henry felt the shields on his will peeling back like the sheets of a book in an inferno.

Picturing that vulture head and making the supreme effort and sacrifice, Henry used both hands to force the flash card into the camera and snap it shut. All the while Not Neva had moved farther down his body tickling and licking all the time until she moved down to his pants which she was now working on. My unholy god, mother of all things pure, jumping Jesus on the parallel bars, give me strength, Henry moaned as Not Neva nearly had his pants down.

It was now or never. Henry raised the camera, pushed the start button and the tiny servos readied the camera for action. "Neva," he croaked out using the little breath that could manage to stay in his body during this ordeal. He pushed the camera’s button not sure if he wanted this to work or not.

Not Neva stopped working on Henry’s pants and looked up licking her lips. The camera’s flash caught her straight in the face. She was not quick enough to avoid the picture. Neva’s horrific expression indicated that he had trapped the demon once again. Neva leaped back off the bed looking at Henry then down at herself. How could he ever explain this?

Both of them silently scrambled to get dressed again. It was a tie. Henry did up his last button as Neva finished struggled back into her sweater. They stood for a moment looking at each other, faces red, not having the slightest clue what to say. Henry looked at the camera on the bed and knew what he had to do. He picked it up, snapped the flash card out of the slot, and grasped it hard in his hand. Neva watched stunned, unable to comprehend. "I need to do something," Henry said unlocking his door. Neva did not answer as Henry exited the room and went down the stairs two at a time.

"Where is Neva?" his mother asked as he dashed past for the front door. "Where are you going? What are you doing?" But Henry was out the door and onto the sidewalk. His mother stood in the doorway watching in amazement. Henry had no time to explain as he grabbed a fist sized rock from the rock garden and threw the flash card down on the sidewalk. Smashing the card was the only way he could think of to ensure this demon would not escape again, if it really was in there and this had not all been some horrible dream. On his twentieth swing he heard jibing laughter. He looked up to see three of the cool girls from school staring at him like he was a three headed antelope.

"What a weirdo," said one as she walked across the lawn to avoid him. "Yeah," said another, "totally psycho." They giggled. "Should we call the police," said the third. "Naw, I think the asylum," answered the first again and the three walked away giving Henry a few backward glances and lots of laughter. Oh great, he though and to take out his frustration gave the flash card four more solid whacks. When he was done, Henry tossed the mashed card down the sewer drain and headed back to the house. Neva and her mother had gotten ready to go.

Henry approached, wondering what on earth he was going to say when Neva approached him. "Um, thanks Henry." Henry looked like she had just kicked him in the privates.

"What?" Henry said, stunned.

"I think I know what happened. At least I could feel my mind taken over, and well, you stopped it. So thanks." Neva gave Henry a genuine smile with no licking of the lips.

Henry smiled back, "um, you are welcome. I think." The awkward moment ended as Neva’s mom took Neva by the arm.

"Let’s go Neva. Thanks for having us over. When we are more settled in we will invite you over as well. Goodbye." Neva stopped her mom for a second and turned back to Henry.

"See you in school, Henry." she smiled again and Henry got the distinct impression that she maybe liked him.

"Yeah, see you in school. I’d like that." Henry said and waved goodbye to Neva and her mother as they got in their car and drove away.

"Nice girl isn’t she?" Henry’s mom asked putting a hand on his shoulder.

Henry recalled her body fully pressed onto his. "Very nice," he replied smiling. "Very nice indeed."

***

A large brown rat scurried along a dark sewer tunnel in search of scraps to eat. Its nose twitching in all directions, it was sniffing for a meal or a mate. It scurried some more until it came upon a mangled piece of metal. It sniffed the piece with its pointy nose and took a jolt of static electricity for its curiosity. The rat teetered for a moment, then stabilized. It stood on its hind legs and surveyed its surroundings. As it turned around, its two luminescent eyes seemed to hold terror and surprise. It began to squeal as loudly as its little rodent body could squeal. The echos of its tiny voice reflected off damp walls, insects, other rodents and floating sewage.
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