Gerald blinked. It was the first word out of the woman’s mouth since she’d entered his cubicle. He eyed her carefully. He’d take the photograph, but if she couldn’t pay she’d be out on her ear.
“I’m not sure what you mean my dear. Please - place your hands on the sensor pads either side of the seat.”
He twiddled the ends of his fat, ginger moustache. He liked to look smart; it pleased the ladies.
Her face in perfect focus, Gerald snapped. Although her aura would only appear once he’d developed the photograph Ransome prided himself in predicting the results. Deciding his customer was somewhat unhinged he envisioned swathes of volatile purple tinged with morose black and fiery red stains exploding around her head. He leaned in and took a second shot, to keep for himself.
There was no-one there.
Frowning, Ransome stood up straight. The only door was behind him. The woman had been thin, emaciated even, but she couldn’t possibly have got past him to the door without pushing him out of the way. The room only measured eight feet by ten and felt even smaller, crammed as it was with the heavy chair and the recording apparatus. Ransome shook his head, unnerved. There was nowhere else for her to have gone. He opened the cubicle door and stared through the crowds milling around the pier. Ice-creams melted in sticky hands; laughing kids showered the decks with tasteless popcorn. Gerald gave up, flipped his Open for Business sign over to Back in Ten Minutes and locked the door. Inside the cubicle he flicked the development switch on the bulky machine.
The print deposited itself in the tray, glistening with fluid. Ransome let the image dry before picking it up to see if his predictions were correct. The woman’s face, pale as moonlight shone through the dark clouds of her aura. Gerald squinted. Something about her seemed familiar. He peered harder.
The eyes flashed.
“You stole my SOUL.”
The spirit rushed at him; forcing itself down his throat. The entity plunged through his heart, wormed into his brain.
The thing unwound inside his skull, flipping the years back in sheaves. Ransome clutched his head in agony as the slideshow of images projected into his head with relentless speed.
Then he did remember; clearly recalling the body, and his fists, and the blood… so much blood. He howled in shame that he had ever allowed himself to forget.
Claudette. His first model. Ravaged. Left for dead. Buried in a shallow grave.
Ransome clawed his guilty chest as Claudette evacuated his body. He fell - unable to catch his breath, to the ground of the locked cubicle. The machine clicked and whirred into life, developing the second, empty shot.
They found the corpse with a photo lodged tight in its hand. Waves of black, purple and red swam around the image. Its subject’s eyes were missing, the nose had been crushed and the lips torn away. Inside the slash of a mouth, broken teeth studded the swollen tongue. The only feature unscathed in the final portrait of the photographer - Gerald Ransome, deceased - was a magnificent moustache, combed and waxed and curled at the edges, all the better to please the ladies.
A 200-word version of Etheric Fields first appeared in Writers News online forum Talkback's monthly One Word Challenge under the theme 'Waves'. I felt it needed plumping up a bit, hence the above.