“Did the Geographic run this shot, Ryan?”
Ryan turns, laser pointer in hand. He smiles, chuckles, spots the woman in the first row who’d asked the question.
“No, they didn’t.” He looks at her again, tilts his head. “I remember seeing your work,” he says. “Flowers, right?” The woman’s eyes light up; but after a moment, she realizes this wasn’t the compliment she thought she was getting. Ryan turns back toward the screen, draws an irregular red circle with his pointer. “This woman in the photo — this was in a village outside Harare. A marketplace. She’s spread her blanket, selling spices, very nice colors.” The red dot moves jerkily through bowls filled with pixels of red, yellow, black.
“Strong face, as many of these people have, very deep-set eyes. I was about to shoot when she noticed me, pulled one of those bowls up to cover her face.” Ryan chuckles again. “But I got the shot, focused on those dark eyes. Some local superstition about not being photographed, losing their souls to the camera. My editor said it was a great photo, but he didn’t want to run it in the magazine. Not like it was in private or anything, for Chrissake, a marketplace! Anyway, I’ve never shown this one to a camera club before, so here it is. Hope you like it!”
Ryan clicks the remote, goes on to the next shot. “We’re in Harare, now, a hamburger stand in the central square, partial shade, tricky lighting. Fill-flash. This one brought me up short: all the help is white, all the customers are black. That’s about opposite of what we see here in America, isn’t it!” He laughs. Ryan’s audience shifts uneasily in their seats; a few frown. “That one was in the magazine,” Ryan says. He looks at his watch. “I’ll run through a few more of Africa, then I’ll show you some I took in China. Any questions?”
“What f-stop did you use?” asks a man named Arland. Ryan makes up an answer that sounds about right.
“How many lenses do you carry?” “How much do batteries cost there?” “Any problems getting through Customs?” And so on.
Twenty minutes later Ryan is talking from his notes, not paying attention to the screen. He glances out at the audience. They look puzzled. He turns to the screen. There is the spice seller again, carved wooden bowl just below her eyes. Has he been showing his shots backwards? Ryan clicks the remote. “OK, don’t know what just happened, but — ah — we’re back in the right place now.” He flips through his notes. “The Jub-Jub or something like that.” He smiles. “That’s the fellow they pray to.” Click. Click. “Not in the cities, of course, but out in the bush–.” Click.
“Now we’re in Bulawayo,” Ryan says, “the Khami ruins. And–,” Click. He looks up at the screen. The spice woman is there again, staring out at him. “Ah, I must have taken two of her, I guess, because in this shot we’re zoomed in a little, I see, and the bowl — she isn’t holding a bowl, not in this one.” Ryan stops, seems confused, a little tired. “Jeebo. Jub-Jub. Something like that.” A few more frowns. “They call on him,” Ryan says. “I’ve heard them do it, even the spice seller–.”
Click. The pointer makes a large circle around an elephant, up close. “Don’t worry,” Ryan says, “this one’s dead. Shot and stuffed. He pauses, recognizing the unintentional pun. “Shot, and stuffed, and shot again!” He smiles faintly, turns around with a quizzical expression. The audience seems distant, blurred, a little out of perspective, as if through the wrong lens. He wipes his forehead with a handkerchief. He looks around for a chair to sit in, but there aren’t any chairs on the dais.
Click. Click. More elephants. A zebra. “This one’s alive. I was shooting through a fence.” His voice slurs slightly. “Alive — when I shot it, anyway.” Ryan stumbles, recovers his balance. He shuffles his notes. Click. “And–.” The woman, the spice seller again. Click Click. The woman. Click Click Click Click Click. The woman, eyes almost filling the screen.
Ryan puts out a hand, steadies himself on the lectern. He leans forward slightly, looks out at the audience, tries to focus. He slumps forward, holds on. “I guess — there’s something wrong with the projector. I’ll have to complain–.” Click. The eyes. Closer. Click. “Well, we’ll have to end the presentation here. Sorry for the nuisance, but as I said, the digital projector–. Problems.” He pauses. “Problems.” He seems tired. His head nods slightly. “‘Jeebo,’” he says to no one in particular. “Some kind of spirit. When they want to curse someone, if you believe in that sort of thing.”
“So let’s–.” Ryan peers at the audience. He looks around uncertainly. His voice is suddenly loud, “So let’s all have some more coffee! I think everyone here should have more coffee!” He hangs on to the lectern with both hands. “All I wanted was–,” he says, too softly for anyone to hear, “to get the shot.” He pitches forward. The pointer falls from his hand, colors a bright red line on the ceiling in its tumble to the floor. He tightens his grip on the lectern. He doesn’t seem to realize how light the lectern is, its sturdy-looking frame only wood-grained paper over some recycled substance. With an expression of surprise, Ryan pulls the lectern toward himself. He loses his balance and falls off the dais, the lectern following his downward arc. Ryan lies still, face down.
The audience, by now only an unfocused blur, stirs. Close-up of someone in the back row, apparently startled by Ryan’s collapse, dropping a cup of coffee. Zoom in on a man in the front row named Bradley. He is in the process of standing up. Flash. Red-eye. He runs to the dais, tugs at the lectern lying partially on Ryan, pulls it away. It clatters to one side. Ryan’s notes go flying. Bradley’s face blurs as focus shifts to the back of Ryan’s head. He laboriously turns Ryan onto his back. Pan to the audience, now hub-bubbing in confusion. Two unrelated persons named Russell move toward the dais. The first Russell fumbles with Ryan’s collar, feels for a pulse. The second looks into Ryan’s face. Closeup of Ryan’s blank and staring eyes.
Fingers on Ryan’s neck, the first Russell looks concerned. Head-shot. Says “Ah — I’m not getting any — maybe I’m not–.”
“I think he’s dead! He must be dead!” Bradley shouts, eyes in disarray. Angle up at the second Russell, who nods solemnly. On the screen behind them, the woman from the marketplace, her bowls of spice in red, yellow, black; her eyes, the darkness in her pitiless eyes. A grim smile spreads slowly across her face, across the screen.
Terence Kuch is a consultant, avid hiker, and world traveler. His publications and acceptances include Clockwise Cat, Colored Chalk, Creature Features anthology, Dead Bells anthology, Encounters, From the Asylum anthology, Marginalia, The Next Time anthology, Noctober, North American Review, Northwest Review, A Pint of Bloody Fiction anthology, qarrtsiluni, Sonar-4, Timber Creek Review, and others. His sci-fi novel “The Seventh Effect” is scheduled for publication in March, 2011.
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