Friday Flash: How to Capture a Soul

angel2

Tonight, I am afraid of myself. I am afraid I’m not strong enough to fight what’s coming. What has come for the past six years on All Hallows’ Eve.

Dusk falls. My skin has gone slick and pale; nausea stalks me. At twenty-five I’ve learned no one wants to see me like this, so I am alone. The metamorphosis has become a private ritual. Pain should be private, shouldn’t it?

I push the tip of a Virginia Slim into the candle flame. The smoke slides down my throat. The room spins. I don’t smoke. Except for this night when I begin to be less of myself and more of someone else.

Dip, wipe, stroke. Painting my toe nails with a thick layer of Eggplant Frost has become part of the ritual, the unbecoming of me. Also the dark rum. Any other time of the year, I wouldn’t touch the stuff.

Time strikes. It is nine p.m. My tiny, cold apartment smells like a brothel. I light another candle.

Walking on my heels so I don’t disturb my toes, I carry my digital camera into the bathroom. One last drag on the Virginia Slim and I toss it into the toilet bowl to sizzle out.

I’d like to hear some jazz.

       “I don’t like jazz.” I watch my hips sway in the mirror to some big band swing humming in my head.

I know it’s best to just keep going, so I twist the stick of mulberry lipstick from its gold case, lean into the mirror awkwardly and apply. Smooth as velvet, bitter taste. I let my eyes meet their reflection in the mirror. This is always the startling part. I do not recognize the flecks of gold, the swimming sadness. “Gotcha,” I say. These parts recede quickly and I am there once again; grey orbs, ringed in dark blue with a strange mulberry mouth.

I lift the camera as the music becomes more insistent. Thinking becomes movement in mud. I have lost time. There’s the cigarette floating in the toilet bowl. Click. My eggplant toes against cracked floor tile. Click.

Why must you do that?

“It’s what I do.” My voice is raw, husky from the late hour, the rum, the smoke. But I still recognize it as my own. Not the one I am answering, though. This one is foreign to me. A long line of mental health professionals have assured me I’m not schizophrenic. I’m just stressed, anxious. Apparently only on Halloween.

“Oh no.” It’s coming. The part I hate. I feel T.S. Eliot’s hollow rumble of wings. Darkness descending, a crushing weight. It is swelling, seething hopelessness. I fall back against the towel rack and slide down the wall. Lift the camera. Point it down. Click.

I’ve blown out my face with the flash, erased all the freckles, the etchings. I feel invisible and it is soothing.

Set me free.

“I don’t know how!”

Sobbing echoes off the thin plaster walls, reverberates in the shower. My vocal chords. Her pain. I scratch and claw at my neck, my chest. Long, streaks of blood pool at the surface. I have hidden the sharp objects but now I realize I could tear myself apart with my bare hands. Just to escape. “Please,” I whimper, out of breath. “Leave me alone.”

A sudden stillness within my head startles me. And then, she whispers:

Okay. I will show you. Watch.

A movie begins to play. She is dragging out my memories, sliding them into the cue.

I am in graduate school. Photojournalist is what I want to call myself. Dreams, goals, hope. These things fill my thoughts like cotton candy. I am practicing with my new camera, dressed as a Hippie, snapping shots of trick-or-treaters in New York. I have wandered off from my group of friends, toward the park. There is an angel there on the bench, moonlight shining through transparent wings, sparkly silver halo glowing over a bowed head. The breeze is lifting the edges of her blond hair. I snap some shots from behind. The bench, the wings, the full moon. Click. Click. Gorgeous shots. I still remember being pleased with them.

And then I sit up. “Oh,” I pull myself up to the mirror. “Was that you?” My eyes are full on brown and gold now. Her eyes. My head nods in answer. I rush from the bathroom, tripping over things in the darkness. I pull out box after box from the bedroom closet to find the ones from college. Tear the right one open. Black film canisters spill out, falling around me. I find the one labeled 10/31. The familiar smell of film fills my nose as I pull out the amber negatives and hold them uncoiling like a flattened snake. I hold them up to the bare closet light bulb and see her. Six shots. Slightly different angles.

Set me free.

       I carry the film back to the bathroom, put it in the sink and throw a lit match on it. The fire eats a hole in the emulsion and the hole spreads slowly. I lift my head back to the mirror. She is watching me. Crying with my eyes.

“How? Please tell me, before you go…how did I do this to you?”

I can feel her slipping from me. The darkness lifting.

Suicide.

“Suicide?” And then I get it.

Death.

Click.

                                                                                                                                                          (photo credit: Nevit Dilmen)

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  1. #1 by David G Shrock on October 30, 2009 - 5:45 am

    I like the somber tone, the slow pace. Reading the words feels like drifting along with the story.

  2. #2 by Marisa Birns on October 30, 2009 - 11:17 am

    There is a lull to the story that takes one along in an almost soothing way.

    The first paragraph does grab one. Here’s a piece where the danger comes from a spooky scary “other” who is one with the protagonist, and therefore inescapable.

    Love all the little details such as the color of the nail polish and eyes.

  3. #3 by Dana on October 30, 2009 - 1:07 pm

    Aww, poor ghost.

    I quite liked the pacing as well.

  4. #4 by Laura Eno on October 30, 2009 - 2:03 pm

    I really liked this, but I’m confused about the ending. Is the angel telling her to commit suicide to free her?

    • #5 by soesposito on October 30, 2009 - 2:23 pm

      I struggled with the ending, trying to figure out how much to explain. The idea is, the girl dressed as an angel committed suicide on Halloween night. The protag took her picture as her soul was leaving her body and “captured” it on the film. So, it was the girl’s soul that needed release, not actually an angel.

      Some cultures believe cameras steal your soul.

      • #6 by Mark Kerstetter on October 30, 2009 - 8:40 pm

        It is a little vague, but this is what I got out of it. I like your writing.

  5. #7 by Laura Eno on October 30, 2009 - 2:45 pm

    Ahhh. Thank you. That ended my confusion (at least, in terms of your story). 🙂

  6. #8 by G. on October 30, 2009 - 4:32 pm

    I’m glad for the explanation, too. I wasn’t thinking it was a command to the pro, nor was unfamiliar with the souls on film, but found the end a disconnect some, just the same. The story flows well and wonderfully, though, and, again, I just always have a great appreciation (and get such enjoyment) out of the little tidbits you always include in this, like the toe nails in this one. It gives your stories more poignancy. Apart from being thrown some at the end–and I’d like to see it drawn out a little more, as cutting it that way, rather than esoteric, just made it feel hurried to me–this ranks up there on those I’ve been reading since my return to the land of cyber-living. Hope you are doing well. I think you’ve disappeared this time, rather than me (and you were all worried on my count. lol).

  7. #9 by G. on October 30, 2009 - 4:34 pm

    “Toenails,” even… apart from other poor grammar mistakes. Sheesh.

  8. #10 by Eric J. Krause on October 30, 2009 - 5:44 pm

    Very cool story (though I have to admit I needed your Cliffs-Notes explanation, too–I read it again after reading that and enjoyed it much more 😀 ). I loved the picture that goes with the story, too.

  9. #11 by Michael J. Solender on October 30, 2009 - 6:14 pm

    Oh I like the ending – don’t change a thing. cool tale and very cool photo!

  10. #12 by Linda on October 30, 2009 - 6:32 pm

    Ghost? Inner demons? Mental illness? I see your explanation, and like. So many ways to interpret. Very moving, and very calm. Like a river. Peace, Linda

  11. #13 by Deanna Schrayer on October 30, 2009 - 7:08 pm

    I love your descritions Shannon, and am learning a lot from your writing. I understood the ending – my grandmother was one who believed the camera stole your soul. She absolutely freaked out when someone took her picture. This made me think of her.
    Fantastic job!

    • #14 by soesposito on October 30, 2009 - 7:14 pm

      Cool, Deanna…thanks!

  12. #15 by Deirdre on October 30, 2009 - 9:11 pm

    I was totally, breathlessly, caught up in the story until I hit three typos in two lines. (For a while, I was a typesetter for a living; I don’t think I’ll ever stop having typos jar me out of a story, except in my own stuff, where I know exactly what’s supposed to be there, and sometimes see that instead of what actually is there.)

    I suggest tweaking the end, slightly, so it doesn’t leave us wondering if the ghost “suicides” the photographer before she leaves. My other suggestion is to get a proofreader. (A spell-check program won’t catch stuff like wonder instead of wander, or Hippie (a type of person) versus hippy (overweight), or tricker-treat when it should be trick-or-treat.)

    But other than those picky details —

    Bravo! Nicely done. There’s not many stories that get me that caught up, and you would have kept me on the edge of my chair to the end if not for my unfortunate obsession with typos and grammar.

    • #16 by soesposito on October 30, 2009 - 10:29 pm

      Yeah, we can’t really ignore what we’ve been trained to notice. 🙂 Thanks for catching these, going to fix them.

    • #17 by Kaite on October 31, 2009 - 5:06 am

      {smile} I believe you meant “there’re not many stories….” (sorry D – could resist! have my own grammar mania!!” -K

  13. #18 by ~Tim on October 30, 2009 - 10:55 pm

    I like this but have to admit I didn’t fully get it till I read your explanation. Now it makes perfect sense!

  14. #19 by Kaite on October 31, 2009 - 5:02 am

    very, very nice! I had only one suggestion and that would be to leave the T.S. off of the Eliot reference (just as a tribute to him…he was so referentially rich, and the reader simply had to find out what the reference referenced if he/she were so inclined. I think you could very well just say “I feel Eliot’s ‘hollow rumble of wings.’ ” and the rhythm would be held throughout… just my two cents!

  15. #20 by Cascade Lily on October 31, 2009 - 9:42 am

    A very cool story. I love the Toblerone eyes. The end had me stumped too. I thought maybe the angel was waiting for the photographer to kill herself. Glad you explained it. I wouldn’t drop the TS from Eliot. I’d have had no idea which Eliot you were referring to! Showing my ignorance now, aren’t I?

  16. #21 by karen from mentor on October 31, 2009 - 2:26 pm

    Shannon, don’t change a thing. I thought it was wondrous. I got the ending . I loved how you showed us her transformation and the desperation of it. The unstoppablility of it was mesmerizing.
    This line punched me in the gut ” Pain should be private, shouldn’t it?”
    And this one made me grin
    “Walking on my heels so I don’t disturb my toes”

    Holy cow girl. This was breathtaking.
    Karen :0)

  17. #22 by Jodi MacArthur on October 31, 2009 - 5:15 pm

    Very chilling. I struggled with the ending a bit too – but your explanation cleared that up. Very sad. ;(

    (On an up note, you dazzled my senses with your descriptions – well done)

  18. #23 by mazzz_in_Leeds on October 31, 2009 - 7:53 pm

    Lovely piece – I needed the explanation too, but that didn’t take away from my enjoyment of the story

  19. #24 by Chance on November 1, 2009 - 11:20 am

    Another one for the needed the explanation club, but I relaly like the descriptive nature of this piece , especially the attention to detail.

  20. #25 by Laurita on November 1, 2009 - 7:43 pm

    I’ve always been intrigued with the idea of a camera capturing the soul. This story perfectly fit the tone of that idea. Very nice.

  21. #26 by J. M. Strother on November 2, 2009 - 7:29 pm

    Another excellent piece! I loved this one. Not the typical ghost story, a lot to sink my teeth into here. Just an excellent, excellent piece.

    I understood the ending, by the way. I though it worked quite well.
    ~jon

  22. #27 by Anticrombie on November 2, 2009 - 7:45 pm

    Very nice… subtle like the color of her toenails.

    I wouldn’t change the ending either. Most of your stories could continue on, and I like that feeling… not being confined to the paragraphs written, but free to explore the ideas implied.

    My mind was already moving toward the soul captured on film before the protagonist recognized it, so the ending was not confusing to me.

    • #28 by soesposito on November 6, 2009 - 4:51 am

      So glad you got it! They do continue I’m sure…in a parallel dimension. 🙂

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