Photo of the Dead

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Fantasy  |  House: Booksie Classic
Doctor Bernard's daughter Alice has died and he goes to have her picture taken which was quite common in the Victorian time period.

Submitted: October 04, 2009

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Submitted: October 04, 2009

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This was as sad as it could be. The daughter of Doctor Bernard, 7 year old Alice, had died. She was her father's favorite child out of five and now she was lying on her deceased mother's bed, dead for three hours and already cold.
He decided to take his dead daughter to the photographer who had specialized in photographing dead people. It may sound perverted, but it was quite common at this time, i.e. the end of the 19th century. His brother had done the same when their mother had died in his house as had several of his friends.
After having told the Nanny, Ellen Birch, and the other servants of his plan, he wrapped Alice in a blanket and carried her out to the hackney carriage. The coachman didn't budge when he saw him as he had been on such special trips before. On the contrary he helped him place Alice in the carriage.
"My condolences, Doctor Bernard. I'm sorry to see the wee one like this. She was always such a cheerful one."
"Thank you. Yes, she was a jolly girl, such a sprightly soul, but the flu got her. She died in just two days."
The coachman shook his head in a compassionate manner. "Oh yes, when we are summoned, we have to go ..."
Doctor Bernard was an agnostic, and chose not to comment this remark.
"Do you want Mr. Smith for your photographer or would you like to try out the new man in town?"
"The new man?" Doctor Bernard wasn't aware of any new photographers of the dead so he looked very surprised.
"Yes, he is supposed to be extremely clever at these matters. He is from a far-off Scandinavian country, I don't know which one, but he does speak English. His photos are very popular, besides his studio is closer by far."
Doctor Bernard thought the matter over for a little while, then he, actually to his own surprise, said: "OK, let's go there."
Only 10-15 minutes later the carriage arived at a green wooden house in the old part of the town. The coachman knocked on the door and a heavyset, old woman answered it. He told her about little Alice and she looked at the dead girl and her father. Then she came over to tell him that he was welcome and that Mr. Sturlaison would see him right away. Actually, she said something about him being expected by Mr. Sturlaison, but Doctor Bernard made up his mind that he must have mistaken her because of her thick accent.
They carried the dead child into the studio of the house and the old woman went for the photographer. In the meantime Doctor Bernard browsed the exhibited photos of dead people in the studio. They really were amazing. All the ones who had been photographed looked more alive than dead. Some of them had a certain dreamy facial expression, others looked almost haunted, like they were alive and scared of something. For a split second he even felt that a couple of them followed his movements, gazing out at him.
Suddenly Doctor Bernard heard a noise behind him and he turned around. What he saw surprised him: A very young and very handsome man was standing right behind him. He looked much too young to be an expert on photography, but nevertheless he introduced himself as Mr. Sturlaison and asked how he might help him.
Doctor Bernard pointed at Alice who had been sat in an arm chair.
"Oh, what a pretty child," Mr. Sturlaison said, "my deepest sympathy and condolences to you and your family."
Doctor Bernard thanked him and then asked him to photograph Alice.
Mr. Sturlaison looked concerned and then said that he would do his utmost to take the photos of the dead child.
"How would you like them?" He asked him.
"Well, like these, they are superb," Doctor Bernard answered, pointing at the exhibited photos.
"Like these? Oh, but they are special ..." He stopped and looked at Doctor Bernard with a strange, intense look in his very blue eyes. "I take it that someone has told you about my work so that you know what I do?"
"Yes," Doctor Bernard answered, thinking of the coachman and his recommendations.
"Really? And who was that?"
Doctor Bernard told him of the coachman.
"And he really told you ...?" The photographer looked surprised, but also concerned. "Well, then I take it that we understand each other ..."
"As you may know, I need to be alone with the deceased, at least for three hours."
That surprised Doctor Bernard, but he didn't comment it. "Ok," was all he said, "then I shall run some errands, and be back later today."
"Fine," Mr. Sturlaison said, already setting up Alice in a more upright position. He also brought a comb to her golden tresses, making her look pretty. Her father tiptoed out of the studio, tears almost blinding him at this sight.

Doctor Bernard went to his bank to get some financial transactions over with. He needed to buy a coffin for Alice and to plan the funeral. The cashier, Mr. Simons, who had known him for ages condoled him on the sudden death of Alice and they talked a little. Doctor Bernard told him of Mr. Sturlaison and noticed that Mr. Simons' eyes diluted at the mentioning af Mr. Sturlaison. "The Faroese photographer Mr. Sturlaison?" he asked.
"Yes," I saw his work. Quite astounding."
"Oh yes, nothing quite like it ..." Mr. Simons looked that unwell when he said this that Doctor Bernard was quite surprised. "Do you know him?"
"Certainly, certainly ... A good customer for the bank. Very clever, indeed, but something quite special. Not like the others ..."
Doctor Bernard didn't pump him as he felt that wouldn't be accepted by this clever banker. Instead he went to the funeral parlor and ordered a pretty children's coffin. That buy made everything very real for him. What had seemed a nightmare, but still nothing but a dream, suddenly became only all too real. His child was dead, and he, as her father, was obliged to place her deep in the ground. The thought was torturous to him.

When he arrived at the door of the green house once again he had been away for four hours. As he stepped inside he felt that the house had changed and he also noted the smell of some kind of perfume or maybe rare oils. As he was ushered into the studio by the heavyset, elderly woman he heard a child's laughter, like from far off, but very distinct. The chair that Alice had been put into was now placed in the middle of the room with its back towards the door by which he had entered.
Mr. Sturlaison was standing by the chair, his hand on the back of it. He smiled, but for some reason or another Doctor Bernard all of a sudden didn't feel like smiling back at him.
"Here I am, I hope I'm not too early."
"Oh no," Mr. Sturlaison said. "We are quite finished." With a swift movement he turned the chair so that it faced Doctor Bernard. What was in front of him was not the photo, but Alice, smiling at him. He gave out a short, but piercing scream. "What, what ..." he stuttered.
"You asked me for one of my specials," Mr. Sturlaison said, "and that you've got."
"She is ... she looks alive," Doctor Bernard stuttered as his dead daughter rose to her feet and started to walk towards him.
"Papa," Alice said in her little girl-voice. "Are you not going to embrace me?"
Overwhelmed he opened his arms and held her close to his heart. He felt her small body, cold as ice. Once more he screamt and now he pushed her back while he fled out the door of the studio. Outside in the hall his legs crumbled under him and he fell down in a stupor.
When he came to he was lying on a coach in the parlor of Mr. Sturlaison. The woman he had met before was tending to him, but as soon as he woke up she put one question to him: "Why did you ask Mr. Sturlaison to make a photo like those in the studio if you don't like what they imply?"
"I don't understand you. All I wanted was a photo of my daughter to remember her by. Now I've got God-knows-what."
"You've got her personality, yes, her very soul preserved ..."
"She is dead!"
"Yes, her body is dead, but Mr. Sturlaison knows how to connect to her soul and to invite it to stay in the photo. We took for granted you knew ...."
"But ... but that was her body, not a photo."'
"Her body hasn't been interred yet, she is still here, both in body and soul."
"Set her free at once!" he yelled.
"Impossible," the voice of Mr. Sturlaison suddenly sounded from the doorway he himself had entered the room by. He then stepped inside and went over to Doctor Bernard. "She is here by her own free will, and here she stays, no matter what."
"Destroy the photo, please," Doctor Bernard said. "She is nothing but a zombie now. It's unworthy."
"Can't be. What was done, can't be undone."
Doctor Bernard felt a terror and a compassion for his dead daughter that once more made him fall down in a stupor. However, this time he didn't wake up on the coach, but in the chair in which Alice had been put before he went to the bank. In his arms he held his daughter and she was smiling at him. This time it didn't shock him and he returned her smile, even kissed her cold forehead.
She pointed at the exhibited photos and he looked up at where she pointed. What he saw didn't even make him wince: A wonderful photo of himself sitting with Alice, both of them dressed in the clothes used for dead people about to be buried.
"Together for ever," she said and he knew she was right.

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