Clovis’ Magic Camera

This story was originally published for The Weekly Knob in

“If one more kid comes in here and shows me a goddamn landscape, I swear, I will fucking lose it,” Andy said as the interviewee stepped out of the conference room.

“I’m with you,” Mike said as he flipped through the pile of resumes on the table in front of them.

Andy rubbed the back of his neck with his left hand. “I mean, if I have to hear one more twenty-something tell me that their ambition in life is to ‘make a difference in the world,’ I’m going to lose my shit.”

It had been a full day of interviews for the two middle-aged men. Unlike most magazines, Andy and Mike didn’t want to rely on freelancers for the pictures that decorated their pages. They were fighting to hold onto their high-minded ideals about the quality of work produced by young photographers who were mentored, but after twenty-two interviews over the past three days, Mike and Andy’s resolve was waning.

“I miss Melissa,” Mike said as he flipped through another resume. “She was just getting good.”

“Yeah,” Andy said, rubbing his neck some more.

“Did you see that shot she did of the mother and daughter at the Independence Day parade? The little girls was reaching out toward the band. The light was perfect.”

“Yep, I saw it,” Andy said, rolling his head slowly from side-to-side in an attempt to ease the pain in his neck.

“I’m bummed she’s gone,” Mike said. “Have you heard from her?”

“No,” Andy said. He stood and walked across the small conference room to the mini-fridge in the corner. He retrieved a Diet Coke from the middle shelf and popped the top. “Why would you ask me that?”

“Because you were banging her?” Mike said with frustrated surprise, shocked that Andy would push back on the question. “I just figured if she were going to tell anyone where she was going –” Mike motioned with both hands toward Andy, allowing the gesture to finish his sentence.

“Well, she didn’t,” Andy said. “I haven’t heard from her.”

“No need to get testy,” Mike replied.

Andy returned to his seat. “I just don’t know why you’d assume that I knew where she went. She was always kind of flighty. We knew she didn’t have a lot of long-term potential when we hired her. It’s not really a surprise that one day she’s here and the next day she’s gone. And she wasn’t that good. Not good enough to go looking for.” He rubbed his neck again, trying to massage out the sharp pain that had been plaguing him for over a week. He reached down to his laptop bag on the floor, retrieved the bottle of aspirin, unscrewed the cap, tossed two of the small white pills in his mouth, and chased them with a long swig of the diet cola.

“You should slow down on that stuff,” Mike said, changing the subject. “I’ve heard if you take too much it can cause kidney problems.”

“The pills or the soda?” Andy asked, looking over the next resume.

Mike thought for a moment and then said, “Both.”

There was a knock at the door. It opened and Melinda, the round-faced office assistant, stepped into the room. “Mr. Knickerbocker is here for the four-o-clock interview,” she said.

“Great,” Mike said looking at his watch. “I like it when their a few minutes early. Bring him in.”

Melinda nodded and disappeared back into the hallway. She was replaced in the doorway by a tall, slender man in his early twenties. The man wore black leather shoes, black slacks, a white dress shirt, and a snuggly fitting grey vest. On his head was a black bowler that sported a small red feather tucked into the ban on the right side. His mustache was waxed and curled at the ends. Over his shoulder hung a tattered, brown leather satchel. The young man looked as if he’d just stepped out of a fashion magazine from nineteen-ten.

“What the fuck do we have here?” Andy mumbled under his breath.

“Hi,” Mike said, rising to shake the young man’s hand. “Come on in and have a seat.”

“I’m really excited to be here. Thanks for having me,” the young man said, using both his hands to accept Mike’s handshake.

“Jesus,” Andy mumbled to himself as he rubbed his neck some more. “This is a live one.”

Mike motioned for the man to take a seat across from them. “So,” Mike said, looking over the resume, “Clovis Knickerbocker. That’s a unique name.”

“Well,” the young man said with a smile, “I’m a unique guy.”

“Oh, we see that,” Andy said, reading over Clovis’ resume.

Mike leaned back in his chair and looked the young man in the eye. “So, why should we hire you to be our next photographer?” he asked. This was Mike’s standard opening question.

“I take pictures,” Clovis said with a mischievous grin, “the likes of which, you have never seen.”

“Alright,” Andy said, dismissing the young man’s self-promotion. He scanned Clovis’ resume. “You don’t seem to have a lot of professional photography experience. It says here your last job was as at a funeral parlor?”

“That’s right,” Clovis said, still grinning. That’s when I discovered my stupendous magic camera.”

Mike, only half listening, said, “Tell us about your dreams. What are you hoping to become?”

Andy braced himself for the standard, “I just want to make a difference in the world” answer.

Clovis’ smile grew. “My calling is to give voice to those who have been silenced.”

Mike looked up. “Elaborate on that,” he said with interest.

“Certainly,” Clovis said, smacking the table. The sudden pop made Andy jump. “Through the power of my magic lens, I see the figures who are unseen. I give them a place to express themselves. I remind the world of their presence.”

“Settle down sparky,” Andy said, rubbing his neck again. The aspirin wasn’t helping. “Did you bring a portfolio with you?”

“Did I?” Clovis said with excitement as he reached below the table and retrieved from his bag an old looking photo album.

“Haven’t seen one of these in a while,” Mike said with a laugh, accepting the leather book from Clovis. The three ringed binder was filled with white sticky pages that were covered in clear plastic sheets. “Most people just hand us a tablet,” Mike added as he placed the book between himself and Andy so they could both see it.

Andy braced himself for more high-definition pictures of trees and sunsets. He didn’t understand this generation’s aversion to making people the subject of their photos. But, to his surprise, what he found in the book were small polaroids.

“This is different,” Mike said as he turned through the pages. The square pictures seemed to be of random people in mundane places: a woman sitting at a desk looking bored, a man standing in the middle of an empty street, an elderly woman sitting at a bus stop. “Do you know these people?” Mike asked.

“Never met them,” Clovis said with a smile.

“So what,” Andy said, unimpressed by the poor quality of the pictures. “You just walk around snapping polaroids of random people? Is that your thing?”

“Not exactly,” Clovis said. “The people my camera captures aren’t actually people at all. Well, not anymore anyway.”

Mike looked up from the book. “Come again?” he said.

“They’re dead,” Clovis announced proudly. “Everyone I photograph is dead.”

“So what?” Andy said, leaning back in his chair and crossing his arms. “Are these like cancer patients or something? You taking polaroids of people right before they die? That’s kind of sick. You know that, right?”

“I’m sorry,” Clovis said. “You’re confused. I’m not taking pictures of people before they die. I’m taking pictures of people after they die. Their ghosts. All the people in those pages, they weren’t actually there. They’re all ghosts.”

“Okay,” Andy said, closing the book. “Thanks for coming in.”

“Wait a second,” Mike said. “This is interesting. What do you mean?”

“Take the one with the boy on the slide,” Clovis said, opening the book up to the seventh page. He pointed at the picture in the top right corner of the page. It was of a small boy sitting at the end of a playground slide. “I took the picture of an empty slide, but my magic camera saw caught the ghost of a boy sitting there.”

“This is absurd,” Andy said, rubbing his neck.

“Very,” Clovis said with a grin.

“I don’t buy it,” Mike said. “You’re saying you just take pictures of random, empty places, but when the picture develops, people appear in the shot.”

“Exactly,” Clovis said.

“Bullshit,” Andy said.

“Calm down, Andy,” Mike said. “How do you know?” Mike asked Clovis. “How do you know where the ghosts are going to be?”

“I don’t,” said Clovis. “But I find I’ve got about a fifty-fifty chance of finding one. There’s a lot of them wandering around.”

“That makes sense,” Mike said.

“No it doesn’t,” Andy said, rubbing his neck again. The pain was intensifying.

“If you don’t mind,” Clovis said, reaching under the table. “I’ll demonstrate the fantastic nature of my magic camera. You can see for yourselves.”

“Sure,” Mike said.

Clovis produced from his bag a black and white, polaroid camera. He held it up to his eye and pointed it at Mike and Andy. “Say cheese,” he said.

“This is stupid,” Andy said, massaging his neck.

“Cheese,” Mike said.

The camera flashed. With a buzz, a small, square photo rolled out from the camera’s base. Clovis snatched it and began to shake it back and forth. “Helps with the color,” he said.

“Oh, I know,” Mike said. “I was using those things before they were retro.”

“And there we go,” Clovis said, looking at the picture. Sudden concern came over his face. “Oh, my,” he said. I’ve never seen one like this before.” With a troubled look in his eye, he passed the picture across the table to Mike and Andy.

“Oh shit!” Mike exclaimed.

There, in the picture, standing behind Andy, was Melissa. Her face was tear stained and raged filled, and with all her might, she was pressing both her fists into the base of Andy’s neck.

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