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Camera Obscura (Fairytale, long, in progress)

Discussion in 'Creativity Surge' started by Loreseeker, Feb 24, 2010.

  1. Loreseeker

    Loreseeker A believer in knowledge Veteran

    Mar 7, 2008
    Likes Received:
    [​IMG] Figured this would be a good way to actually sit down and work on this. Far from finished.

    Camera Obscura

    Imagine if you had a camera. A very special camera. One that would let you travel back into the past, to any place and any time, and photograph one special moment. One perfect photo. Where would you go? What picture would you take?

    Now imagine if there were two cameras...

    Chapter One

    Click-click. The sound of shoes on the pavement. Click - click. A child, skipping through a game drawn with a broken piece of brick on the pavement. To the ten and down, through the houses in a row. A little girl, with curly black hair, playing all alone in a bumpy, narrow alley. It's a very narrow alley you see, with walls all around. Separating people. Keeping things apart, as they should be. Click-click-hop. A lonely girl in the alley.

    There is a heavy red mark, an angry mark, drawn across the end of the alley, where the cars roar by and the carts are drawn. A boundary, painted by a heavy, frowning hand in a worried-grown-up clothes. A line which is not to be crossed.

    Ethel doesn't mind. She has always played alone. She likes the walls. And the lines. She doesn't see anything fun in the wide, unknown world. Things should stay where they are. Home.

    Click - click. Hopping on the pavement, in black shoes. A little black haired girl with large, lovely eyes.

    "Would you like to go somewhere else?" - a voice asks, soft, grown up voice, the kind of voice that wears trenchcoats and boots.
    She skips along, slowly, without much energy. Why should she tire herself?
    "Not really."
    "Not anywhere?"
    "Not anywhere."
    "Aren't you curious what lies beyond?"
    "Of course I am."
    "But you don't want to leave?"

    Ethel shakes her head, humming to herself. There were songs that you could only sing with other people. Songs that she liked, but that had no meaning when sung alone. "Tsar, tsar, whose army is that?" "Tsar, tsar, what time it is?" Songs that made perfect sense. Like when the devil knocks and guesses the colour of eggs. Ethel can't sing those songs.
    She hums to herself, a made up song of made up words, only real in her head.

    "But why not? You could see what everywhere is like."
    "I like *here*. If I went elsewhere, I wouldn't be here. And I would miss things that happen here. I won't get another today, you know."
    Ethel had only recently realised that everything will change. And everyone will die. She knows that she cannot stay where she is. Last night, she cried and she didn't know why. Those are some really heavy thoughts for a little head like hers. Good thing they never stay for long. She has gotten better in not thinking. In a way, she feels like she is sinking. Maybe that's what this whole growing up is about, though she is only eight. Pretending that your mind is only good for the useful things.

    Ethel stops.
    "You can go on without me. I am sure there are lots of people who will want to go with you."
    "But I wanted you to come."
    "I cannot come. I don't want to. I am happy here."
    "I am not sure I want to leave, either."
    "You said you'd have to. That's what you do, isn't it?"
    "If you didn't leave, then no one would know of the magic camera."
    "True. And no one would use it. And then, one day, they would come and take it from me and give it to someone else. I've had the camera for a very long time. I almost think of it as "my camera"."

    Click-click-tok. Two pair of feet jumping across the game.

    "It is your camera. We both know that."
    "Thank you, Ethel."

    A pause. You can almost hear the two of them thinking, Ethel and her invisible playfriend.

    "Are you sure you don't want to take a picture? It is magic. True magic. Maybe you'll never get to try it again."
    "When I grow old and sad and forget things because they hurt less that way?"

    Sometimes, Ethel sounded like she was a hundred and eight years old already. She was afraid what she might sound like when she would be twelve. Maybe at twenty three, she'd be a proper child.

    "I hope you'll never forget me."
    Determined shake of the black locks, held in place by a tidy, black hair-frame.
    "I'd never forget you."
    "And the camera?"

    It hovers in the air, when you look with the corner of your eyes, an old, metallic, Soviet camera, black and robust, with gears and lenses and a trigger on a cord. You can almost hear it whirl and see the little black hatch on top open and a mirror spring forth. A magic box, clicking softly, as unseen hands adjust it.

    Ethel watches the camera.

    "Will that make you smile?"


    "Yes. I think it would. Although..." Uncertainty. "I don't know. I had fun here."

    "You'll probably get in trouble if you go back there with no pictures." - Ethel ponders. "I think I'll take a picture after all."

    Unseen hands give the camera to her, slowly rotating it.

    "Oh, no, not that. I want a blank picture."
    "So I can take a picture later - when I decide what I want on it. So I'll know I have a picture waiting. And you'll have to come back to help me take it."

    Soft laughter.

    "I would have come back anyhow, Ethel."
    "I know. But now you'll always think of me. And I'll have a picture, for later."

    Jealous. It was adorable to see her like that. Maybe that's why he didn't really want to go. He wasn't used being considered an integral part of something and Ethel had made him just that. Part of her world.

    He wasn't sure if it was in the rules or not, but he gave her the blank picture. The little silverish scrap of non-existing paper exchanged hands with the solemnity of a secret pact.

    "Do come visit."
    Ethel held her hands up to be hugged. He hugged her, though he wasn't really there for anyone but her.
    "I will. Maybe when you're older, you'll want to come."
    "Maybe you'll stay."

    Ethel wrapped her hands and hugged her invisible visitor as hard as he could. She wished she could keep him there forever. She wished she could keep everything still forever. So nothing would ever change. And all would be well, forever.

    "Farewell, Ethel. I'll try to come back soon."

    So this is what a friend leaving was like. A handful of air and a dull pain in her stomach. Tears wanted to fall, but she didn't let them. He would come back, even if she didn't leave with him now. They were friends.
    A lonely little girl in the walled off alley stood still until the sky was blurry with the lack of sun. Then she turned and walked back home. It was supper time.

    Funny how much you could miss a voice in your own head.

    Far away, he sighed, patting his black camera. He rarely took pictures for himself, but sometimes... on the silverish piece of paper, a lonely eight year old girl was hugging a man in a trenchcoat, who knelt on one knee and looked truly happy and truly sad at the same time. He wondered if Ethel knew how special she was. She brought him forth into this world, when he had long thought he'd been forgotten. She gave him the camera back. The Pales had not yet won.
    They would have to meet, though. And this time, he knew what he would do about it. He had a friend to go back to.

    Chapter Two

    He must have taken hundreds of pictures. Thousands maybe. It was very interesting, seeing what people wanted to see most. It was also tricky, finding those that would be able to see him and believe in what he was offering. Sometimes, it felt like Belief was slowly draining away from the world. Like wet paint. Strange, given that the Pales were everywhere. He could see their work on every step. They hadn't wasted time.

    He wondered how long he had before they became aware of him again, as he floated over the city, enjoying the sun. A day? Seven days? He missed his albums but knew it was too risky to go after them now. The Pales couldn't find them unless he lead them to the hiding spot and as long as they don't find them, the work so far was safe. They couldn't influence what was on the pictures. He could.

    He paused over the old clock tower. It was part of the University once, but now just a nesting place for bats. Bats and stories. A dangerous place for someone like him. An old man was sitting on a bench at the foot of the tower, writing footnotes in a little leather bound book. The Sharper, for that's how the man in the trenchcoat was really called, sighed and patted the lid of the camera. Of all the places in the city, why did the old professor have to spend his lunch breaks here?
    Historians were always excellent for Sharper's agenda. They were surprisingly creative when they really wanted to be and some of his best photos were made on historian wishes. They usually knew how to pick important moments, heavy moments, those that carried enough inherit significance to matter. If they were any good in their work, they were of use to him and Sharper tried his best never to turn them down. If any other man was sitting in the shadow of the clock tower... but this opportunity was too precious to miss.

    The Sharper begun gliding downwards, slowly, excited with the prospect of a new photo. There was something special to each of them and every one was unique.

    A rat scurrying off through a field, carrying with him the Plague to unsuspecting Europe.
    Alexandrian library, as the first flame shot forth.
    The setting of the final stone on Serapis temple.
    Elisabeth on the Eve of the Armada.
    Sekigahura, after the battle.
    A stack of Big Bang photos. Physicists loved wasting film on that one.
    Da Vinci starting the Mona Lisa.
    Greek fire blazing from the walls of Constantinopolis.
    Mammoth's eye, close up.
    Earth, from the surface of Haley's comet.

    Faces of known and unknown people. Reality.

    His boots touched the pavement in front of the man.

    "Good afternoon, professor."
    He smiled, giving the startled old man time to compose himself.
    "Good afternoon... Do I know you?"
    "No. I don't think we've met before. I do know you, however. And your work. I've come to help you."
    "Help me?"
    "Tell me, how would you like an accurate view of the feudal Japan? Would that appeal to you?"
    "Young man, I've spent my whole life studying feudal Japan. Of all the people today, I probably have one of the clearest images of it."
    "But you are not happy with it." - said the Sharper.
    The historian looked up, sun reflecting on his silver framed spectacles.
    The Sharper felt uneasy under the gaze. Too many stories. Old things. Stories stick to them. You can't escape them. People couldn't see them, dragging everything down, weighing and slowing things. The world was slowly consumed by webs. Pale, droning webs which neither sun nor winds could tear apart. He could feel them, dragging around his feet. Soon, he must run. The Pales will sense him.
    "True. I am not."
    "I can show you what you want to see." - there was something in the Sharper's voice. People believed him. It probably came from the cause he served. It must have rubbed off from her. The Truth, though ideals didn't really have a gender. People would hear the Sharper speak and think of Her. It made his job easier.
    "I can take you to one place, one event in the past, and we can take a photo of it, you and I. A perfect photo, from any time. I can show you how the things really were. The history won't change because of this trip - but you will know."

    The old professor looked at the book he was reading. He stayed like that for some time, before he finally nodded and put it aside. Like a child being promised that one toy it really wanted (because, seriously, children don't want mountains of toys, only adults believe that) the professor smiled.
    "Let us go. I know just the place."

    On any other day, the Sharper may have been more careful. He wouldn't have wanted the picture as badly and risk so much to get it. He would have waited. However, today, he was rather desperate.

    It was no wonder that, on that same evening, he found himself running through the alleys, the wolves howling after him. The blood sprayed from his shoulder, unreal blood, which hit the stone and vanished, leaving no trace, but real enough to carry his scent to the hounds. Hounds and riders, for they too came, on a fox hunt. The camera rattled in his hands.

    The city was too pale. They'd been there for too long and affected too much. He'd reach a door only to see the ghostly white chalk marks on it, or a face staring back. He couldn't cross the bridges, for the things that-don't-live there had come to stop him. He couldn't walk in the dark, for it had come alive with all sorts of horrors. The children. The pales must have finally realised who could make the best pictures of the white camera.
    The Sharper tried to remember the rules the children made. That was his one comfort. Unlike adults, the children always made rules for their enemies, for their fears and monsters. They lived under the bed, or above the wardrobe. They came at night or could be bribed with pears. They ran from sunlight. They ran from swords. You know, rules for games.

    He tripped and stumbled along. Ethel. It was good he had left.With Pales this strong, soon they would have found him even in her yard, in the walled off alley. It was good she was not here. He felt sad that he wouldn't be coming back to her.

    Careless, he walked through a stone arc and felt the grate lower itself behind him. The children must play castles here, it dawned to him. They play and one had taken a picture. So now I'm in a castle.
    He looked around and gasped.
    He was in the clock tower, in the dusty, locked room in the basement. Where would the children place a dungeon, if not there?
    At least the wolves did not follow.
    He was disoriented. Why were the snares so effective on him? Why could they fool him so easily, with a child's thought?
    A little voice whispered in his head: Because this time, that's all you are. A child's thought. Spawned in a game and subject to its rules. You may remember who you were or what you must do - but you are weak here, Sharper. This is a city sunk deeply into the Pale and they are everywhere. What did you think? That a single child, or two, or three would dream up a way for you to return? Of all the human minds, it is children who are akin Pales. They keep us alive.
    And the Sharper pulled back and found himself in a cage, chained. And his camera rattled on the floor. And he heard her laugh and knew that she'd found him and that it was all over.
    And a woman in white stepped forth, holding a white camera, not unlike his, but more magical. And she smiled to him with her pale, white smile and took pictures, again and again. And every picture chained him more into that cage that was and was not in the depths of the clock tower until he knew he couldn't escape, even if he tried for an eternity. And she took the pictures and put them in a book on her belt and she seemed happy to see him.
    "Hello, Sharper." - the Lady had said.
    "Hello, Lady." - he told her in turn. What could he have said, to one made of his own story? To a reflection of his own past, carried across countless voices and imaginations? To a white camera, born from the shadows of his black one?
    And the Lady came closer to the bars between them and picked up his black, clicking camera of magic. It looked rather ugly and small in her perfect hands, beaten up and old, like a thing you throw in the trash.
    And the Lady had said: "Let us finish this once and for all. You have lost and this city is Pale now. The whole world is Paling."
    She dropped his camera on the floor and a large, longhandled hammer appeared in her hand - and the Sharper was angry at that. Angry that she could just wish it and receive, although there were no hammers in the clock tower, at least none that glowed silver, as the one that Lady had did. But he didn't say anything, and the Lady kept smiling.
    She took the hammer and swung it at the camera, with enough force to smash it to pieces. The Sharper closed his eyes, so he would not see it done. The camera was his life.
    There was a heavy thud... ...and shocked silence.
    The Sharper opened his eyes and saw his black camera, undamaged, and the Lady, flickering in rage, with her silver hammer in pieces.
    "Where is it?!" - she shrieked at him. "Where have you hidden it? The part that is not here and keeps it whole? Where is it? You were supposed to hold all of it!"

    The Sharper remembered the little silver picture wrapped in Ethel's hand. The blank picture that was from the camera still, because it was not used. The part that was not there.
    And he looked at the Lady and said. "I don't know what you mean."

    And she shrieked and threatened and cursed and yelled, she cried and sulked - for she was nothing but a story and a flimsy one at that, and at the end she stormed out, leaving him caged in the dungeon of the clock tower and taking his camera away.
    She stormed out, screaming at the monsters and scary things to go out and find her the camera's lost piece. She told them of all the wonderful things that she would give them if they did. And she was not lying, and that was the scariest part of it, for the Sharper.

    And he could do nothing but sit and worry, alone in the clock-room, where no one would find him, for the door was always locked and no one ever came. It did not help that he was, for most, invisible, too.
    He sat and worried about Ethel, his only friend. He could not protect her. He could not even warn her.

    And across the pale town, Ethel sat and worried about him.

    Chapter Three

    Ethel missed her friend dearly. She missed him at supper, when her mother told her that she must go to school, despite her pleas, she missed him when she huddled in her room and had no one to talk to - and the next morning, when she went to the horrible school where she had no friends and some people called her mop-head, and the whole next day, when she had to stay in her room for spilling a jar of paint-rinse-water on the teacher, which was all a horrible misunderstanding and something she really hadn't done - only her mom believed the other people.

    By lunch time that day, she was firmly determined to call him back and ask him to take a picture of himself. If he had to go, at least she could talk to the photo.

    With this decision in mind, she hid away at the attic after tea - her sanctuary, where her mother technically, never allowed her to go, fearing that she might fall off the ladder, as she had done when she was younger.
    She sat among her books and took out the silverish photo. She thought of him and called out... but nothing happened.
    He hadn't come.
    She thought he might be busy, so she tried again. And again. And one time more. She sat there until it was evening, pretending to read... but he never showed up.
    Had he forgotten about her already?
    That couldn't be true. They were friends. Maybe something had happened.
    So she sat and worried some more.

    Ethel didn't know what could have happened. He was fearless. Invincible. He always called her to watch thunderstorms with him, when she wanted to run and hide under the pillows. He couldn't get hit by a car - they went right through him. He didn't get sick, not once. She knew because he had stayed to read to her when she was sick - and no one else came, except her mom, because they all would have been sick too. Even her mom was sick afterwards.
    She wondered what was wrong. As time passed, she was growing more and more afraid.

    After dinner, she went to her room and straight to bed.
    Clearly, something was wrong.
    Ethel decided she would go and look for him tomorrow. This made her feel better. She had a Plan now.
    "I'll find you soon, Shap." - she mumbled to herself as she fell asleep. He always said that was a nickname for Old English Shepherd dogs. Well, Ethel didn't care. He wasn't answering when she called - and that gave her every right to call him whatever she liked. After all, he couldn't really be in trouble as Shap.

    The following morning, Ethel's mother was surprised to find her at the breakfast table, dressed up and wide awake, even though it was Sunday and there was no school. She was equally surprised that Ethel wanted to go and ride her bicycle but too thankful for such small life's miracles to inquire further. Getting Ethel to do anything that included her leaving their alley was a chore in itself - and Ethel's mom actually felt a pang of guilt for being so strict with her before. Guilt manifested itself in a heap of pancakes with jam - which was a pleasant surprise for Ethel.

    "I'll be home for lunch, mom." - Ethel declared and ran outside, where her backpack and bicycle already waited. The adventure could begin.
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