The Photographer


Introduction

The Photographer woke from a nightmare and went walking under the pre-dawn sky. It was cold, no surprise at this hour, and windy; but beautiful for all that. The quality of the light this morning was astonishing, likely impossible to duplicate on film for all of The Photographer's efforts; still, the small camera fit comfortably in the grey sweatshirt's front pocket, and in the pocket it was brought along.

Shadows were always strange in the morning; elongated patches of lightlessness extending their fingers out into the world, reaching and touching, feeling their way towards the light. Defined as they were by absence, by inversion, they nonetheless seemed to take on a very tangible presence of their own, and The Photographer shivered involuntarily, stopping not far from the Rockefeller Library, through whose doors University students would begin to trickle in another hour or two. It was still cold out, although given that it was May, it should not take long to warm up once the sun rose...

And something caught The Photographer's eye. Across the street, the sunrise was catching Carrie Tower glancingly, creating a very strange and very intriguing effect as the newborn light played along its stone outcroppings. Instantly, the camera was in hand, and with a whirr and a click the picture was taken; The Photographer moved to take another, but realized with some chagrin that it was her last shot on this roll. Carrie Tower glimmered in the light, and was still.

Location: Carrie Tower

Shaking herself out of a dreamlike daze, The Photographer was about to resume walking when metal, nearer by, flashed in the sun. The north lawn of the John Hay library, in which the photographer was all but standing when taking that last picture, had at its center an inscripted plaque which caught The Photographer's interest.

Location: The Lovecraft Memorial

Later, at home, The Photographer could not entirely shake the sense that, for a moment, some greater hidden realm of dreams had rolled over in its sleep, exposing for a moment its glittering depths to mortal eyes. The feeling was very powerful, and The Photographer took care to develop the film immediately; finding, in the process, something very bizarre. To the lens of that small camera, the Tower appeared rather differently than it had seemed to human eyes, stricken from the hues of the picture in stark black and white.

The Photograph

The Photographer's hand trembled slightly, gently taking the picture down from its drying clip. Had that been real? Was anything real?

Carrie Tower

The Photographer dreamed that night, a nightmare as always, spectral forms picking themselves out from the mists of the subconscious and presenting themselves in their unimaginably hideous splendor, writhing and squirming in the emptiness.

From the depths an image rose to The Photographer's attention, a tower in distorted black and white piercing the mind with its flashing shadows. The other nightmares arrayed themselves about its radial symmetry, a mandala of terror, and that was not a clock face but an eye...

The Morning Paper

A Walk Down The Hill

The Photographer had been uneasy all morning, fragments of dream clinging to the shadows in the corners of her vision. She had woken early, of course, white-knuckled hands clutching sweaty sheets, and walked in hopes that the morning air would clear her head somewhat; and indeed, by the time she arrived at the Woods-Gerry gallery, she felt somewhat restored.

Location: Woods-Gerry House

She spent some time taking photographs of the grounds, the mechanical-yet-expressive activity soothing her, and eventually went inside; it had been a good several semesters since she explored these exhibits. She ran into a friend from the School, a member of the faculty, who chatted with her easily about the neo-realist movement, and in time she returned home.

And when the photographs developed, one of them was not right at all. "Gate #1" stood in stark, wavering black and white against the colorful Woods-Gerry garden, the space within its steel maw whorling with unknown energies. It was the same effect that had suffused Carrie Tower with supernatural darkness.

The Photographer lay for more than an hour on her couch, having pinned the two photographs on the opposite wall. The phone rang, and was ignored.

The Gate

Between the sculpture's skeletal jags it quivered, a thing of void, an unlimitedly empty... creature?... writhing in the space between worlds. It trembled, as though in speech, and sounds came, but they were not words. Gate #1 gleamed with an unnatural orange radiance, and the entire landscape around it was a washed-out black and white, bleached of color, unreal.

The sounds came again, louder this time, more insistent, resonating within her soul. "Ia... IA" And with a natal scream and a shaking as though all reality were recoiling, it came through into the world.

The Photographer awoke, a scream frozen unborn on her wide lips.

The Morning Paper

Therapy

"I see... so you do a lot of work with unusual optical effects." Doctor Thomas Weinstein leaned forward, gently but with a kind of quiet intensity, and probed, "Tell me more about these strange results you've been seeing."

The Photographer eyed him, somewhat coldly. She was here to be soothed; why was her psychologist probing so deeply into the very thing that was unnerving her? "It's a visual effect. These two photographs... or, certain parts of them... take on a weird, black-and-white, glassy look."

He nodded encouragingly and inquired, "Is this something you might naturally run across in the course of your work? Some fluke of development, perhaps?"

She bit back her initial, fairly unflattering response and said, "It's nothing I've seen or heard about. The distortion is too specific, too clearly related to a building or an object, not just an amorphous..."

She trailed off, noticing that his attention had been piqued. He was writing very rapidly, and soon looked up, asking, "What building? What object?"

"Carrie Tower, for one, and this..." She stopped again, sitting up and looking at him. "What? Why are you asking me this?"

He seemed uncertain how to respond, and finally said, "Listen. Your life may depend upon what I'm about to tell you. Stay away from these places, or things, that you've seen. There are those who would kill you, just for what you've seen, who would..."

She was scooting back, away from him, and he grabbed her arm tightly; almost involuntarily, she let out a cry. "Listen to me! This is important! Show your photographs to Phillip Dexter. He might know something. Or burn them... there's more going on here than you..."

There was a knock at the door. "Doctor Weinstein? Your three o'clock."

Letting her go, he whispered, "Speak nothing of what I've told you, and for the sake of all that you hold dear, be careful..."

On her way out, she passed a thin, balding man in a long black coat, going to see Doctor Weinstein with a peculiarly determined expression.

Location: Brown University Psychological Services

A Peculiar Vision

The Photographer was, needless to say, quite shaken by the psychologist's strong reaction to her story. She walked aimlessly for a time before coming to rest on the steps of the Christian Science church. As she gazed across the street at the historical Samuel B Mumford House, she felt a strange vision overcoming her; in the night shadows that crawled up and down the boxy building, it began to take on a very sinister cast, the color leeching from its walls and into the shimmering, watery air around it.

She was instantly on her feet, running, only one thought on her mind: to find Thomas Weinstein again, to tell him what she had seen. Clearly he knew something. Maybe he could help her. But when she arrived at the Psychological Services building, it was surrounded by the police... Thomas Weinstein had been killed.

Location: Scene Of The Crime, Brown University Psychological Services

She approached one particularly involved-seeming officer and began to question him.

Contact: The Police Officer

The Morning Paper

Phillip Dexter

The Photographer had hardly slept. Her nerves were shot; every murmur and rustle seemed to her to be a dread, unimaginable, murderous force of horror clawing at her window.

Phillip Dexter. That's what Doctor Weinstein had told her. Surely the man knew something... and besides, who else did she have to turn to at this point? She perused a phone book for a time, and then began to walk.

Location: Dexter's House

"Hello, young lady. What can I help you with?" "Well..." Nervous, ashamed, she began to explain her situation. He sat quietly and listened, but his attention never seemed to be fully upon her; his eager eyes roamed the entire room, although they were drawn most often to a small box locked in a cabinet, a thing of elaborate ornament and beautiful construction. As she talked, The Photographer found that her eyes were also scarcely able to leave it. Indeed, she found that she frequently had trouble finishing sentences; the dully-gleaming beauty of the thing, its perfect proportion, its skillful use of a lack of color, the hinted suggestion of what treasure might lie inside... her mind quivered with the thought.

Dexter's responses to her questions were less than helpful. He hinted at forces of great malice and power, but would give her no details; "better, my dear, that you never know such things." He seemed to accept without question the idea that her photographs might be revealing some deeper, sinister truth, but as to what that truth was, he would give no indication.

The box in the cabinet flashed black and white in her mind, a shimmering, endlessly intricate image; it was the embodiment of the very idea she had always sought to capture in her photography. She excused herself from the conversation and bid Phillip Dexter a good day, and as she left his vine-wreathed house, she could think of nothing but the beautiful box...

Theft

The Photographer awoke around midnight from a sleep so fitful that it hardly deserved the name. Phillip Dexter's engraved box had been so powerfully in her mind that, when she awoke, she at first thought she was looking right at it; only after a moment did she realize that she was staring at the photograph of "Gate #1". She slipped out of bed and began to pace.

How much harm could there be in trying to look at it again? To photograph it, perhaps? It mattered too much, and it would not leave her mind. She could see it everywhere she looked. She stood, and began putting on her shoes and coat. She picked up her camera on the way out, almost as an afterthought.

"The Vault", that eerily vine-encrusted house of Phillip Dexter's, loomed above her. Her hand shook, inches from the doorbell, and finally fell away from it. No. No, there was no reason to disturb an old man in the early hours of the morning. She would just... she would let herself in. She knew from before where the key was kept.

The house was unnervingly silent; listen though she might, she could not hear even the sound of breathing, of a heating system, of creaking boards. Perfectly still. She was almost afraid to open her eyes as she crept into the sitting room where he had previously entertained her; and yet, against her will, she let out a quiet gasp of relief to find that the box was there, gleaming with beautiful unlight within the cabinet, just within her sight.

Before she was entirely aware of her actions, she was standing outside, soaked in sweat; the box, the infinitely precious box, was in her arms now, and from now on she could gaze upon in as often as she pleased. She was about to open it, to finally glimpse what wonders might lie within, when a muffled cry from within the house made her realize that she was standing before it, the door still open behind her. She bolted; and as she ran, the metal box dug into her skin so sweetly, like victory itself...

The Morning Paper

Crystal Dreams

The Photographer had not slept. She sat, somewhat dazed, before a table, upon whose surface lay the hypnotically adorned box. Even now, its contours amazed her, the quality of the light shimmering from it far beyond anything that could be captured on film. Indeed, any picture she took would serve only as a mockery of the piece's true beauty... the very thought made her nauseous. But far more beautiful still was what lay inside.

She stared deeply into the glittering, multifaceted jewel, the crystal carved so perfectly that each of its sides reflected all of the others, a fractalline patterning of broken light. It made her want to weep for the miserable imperfection of her eyes that she could not see, see truly, into the perfect symmetry of its depth.

Thoughts, images, and fragments welled up from her subconscious. The very presence of the crystal seemed vastly more inspiring than any sculpture or painting she had ever beheld. She was afloat on a thundering sea of ideas, all just within her grasp, all shying away ever so slightly from her touch... she leaned farther and farther into her subconscious, reaching... reaching...

She fell asleep, and began to walk.

Sleepwaking

The Photographer's dreams took her from her home, floating through empty streets, drifting quietly on a whispering current. Did she want... something? It was so hard to remember. So easy to release herself, to succumb to the caresses of those beautiful, distant voices... what were they saying? Each time she sought to pick out a single thread, a single voice, from the subtle tapestry, it was gone, a touch of laughter, the unspoken end of a sentence, white noise.

Was she missing something? Was she here for a... a crystal? Panic began to rise within her. Where was the crystal? Where was she? Was this some kind of...

She stood, gently swaying, before a somewhat unremarkable building. "Samuel Mumford House", the plaque read. A man in a long black coat was standing outside, dark glasses concealing his eyes. The beautiful crystal was cradled in his gloved hands. He smiled.

"Welcome."

Location: Samuel B Mumford House

The Morning Paper

Choices

The Photographer stood before the man in the black coat. She was cold in her nightdress in the frigid evening air, and confused, and miserable; and more than anything else, she desired once again to hold in her own hands that shimmering crystal. "Give it back to me," she managed.

The man raised an eyebrow. "What, the Trapezohedron? I think not. It does not belong to you... which is why, in fact, it brought you here."

"It... brought me?" The man only smirked. "You can't just do this. I'll call the police."

"Oh yes, the police, of course. They'll make everything right. What do you imagine will happen to your precious crystal then?"

She quivered. "What do you want?"

He lapsed into distant, dreamlike thought for a time, and then replied, "Perhaps you can have your Trapezohedron. After tomorrow night, I don't think I'll be needing it any more. You like what you see in it, do you? Let me show you something far more beautiful, far more perfect. Show up here, by eleven PM tomorrow, or your chance is gone. Play me for a fool and your art, your dreams, are as good as destroyed."

He was gone. The Photographer began to walk slowly home for some badly-needed sleep.

Longing

The Photographer tossed and turned. Thoughts not sufficiently well-formed to be words hissed through her half-waking mind. Desire... beauty... sleep... light... effect... crystal... change... art...

She started, realizing that she had been whispering to herself, and rolled over fitfully. Gone. It was gone. Her mind struggled to grasp the enormity of the loss; tears began to stain the sheets and pillowcase. For such a brief time, for those fleeting hours, it had been hers and hers alone; she had held within her hands the universe in microcosm. A mirror of the soul, a map, the darkest and the brightest places in the human psyche chained together. She would not give it up.

She had made her decision. She would recover it, no matter what was asked of her. Her eyes faltered closed, and in her dreams she was holding it already.

Finale

The photographer stood, shivering, on the doorstep of the Samuel B Mumford house. Her eyes were haggard; her camera dangled listlessly from one hand. Her watch read 10:58. The door opened.

"Come inside."

She stepped into the cold but somehow soothing shadows, into a room entirely without light. Somehow, her eyes began to adjust; dark forms stood out against the ambient darkness. Repetitive whispers made themselves known to her piqued ears. Someone was there, in the center of it all, tied down; the shadowy figures clustered around, moving, marking, speaking, forming patterns she dared not dream of. She felt infinitely distant, infinitely removed; none of this interested her. Her eyes began to roam the space's wavering corners, the pockets of unlight, and...

There! It glittered in the darkness, more beautiful for the lack of light around it. It pulled the shadows to itself and spoke to them, spoke to her. It was her heart, her joy, the piece that had gone missing from her soul -- the crystal.

The ceremony proceeded, hastened; the air itself began to hum with low dread. Whispers sifted up from some Stygian emptiness below, and the crystal, oh the crystal, assumed forms more spectral, more beautiful in their infinite recursion, than her mind dared fathom. Her eyes belonged to it. She drew closer.

Something was taking form, something forming, in the high recesses of the room. A star-creature of infinite malice. The shadows alone gave it form, and it hovered uneasily, unshaped, above her one love, above the jewel of light and unlight, color and uncolor, the intersection of all perspectives.

There was a gunshot, and another; light flooded into the room. Screams from the cultists, a shriek that shattered minds from the half-formed creature; the crystal only glittered. "This is the police! Surrender yourselves now, give up peacefully, and lethal force will be minimized..."

The Photographer could not bear the light. She leapt for the crystal, tumbled; hit something with a crash, felt blood on her face, but oh, it was in her arms, she had it, it was hers. She screamed, and it was pain and triumph.

"Repeat: this is the police..." More gunshots. She stumbled through a back door she had not known was there, and she was gone. The night embraced her. The crystal glittered in her hands. Guns were fired, far away. Freedom.

She kept the crystal, and kept it, and kept it. It lay beneath her pillow every night, a reassuring lump; she frequently would interrupt her sleep to gaze into it, to watch for the light that may or may not have ever been inside of it, but that she thought she could almost see there. Her days began to blur together, a shadowy wash of day and night, an indistinct gray expanse that she did not find particularly interesting. Only the crystal's perfection got her through; she lived for the moments when she brought it out to look upon it, almost but never quite beholding within it something that she had always sought and always failed to find in the world. The circles deepened under her eyes, and the nightmares stopped entirely.

She never dreamed again.