This is the first story in what I call the ‘Soul’ series, based on artwork by Kleg.(DeviantArt)

Artwork: City Lights, by Kleg. (DeviantArt)


I picked up speed down the gentle incline, leaning into the wind as the skateboard carried me faster and faster. At his hour there were few pedestrians out, and I slalomed back and forth, weaving past them. A shout, a curse, a whimpery gasp of fear as I whipped by pedestrians. I ignored them.

My hair streamed in the wind. The air tasted like freedom. And my mastery over the board under my feet, the hard-won affinity for this extension of my body, that tasted even better.

Then I was there. I pivoted my board and slid until I reached a full stop. I kicked the nose up and lifted it, slipped it through the cargo netting on my pack.  My other hand raised the camera from my hip, holding it before me.

I took a moment and absorbed my surroundings. Behind me, cars whizzed up and down the overpass.  The sun was setting, and I stood in the single place from which I could see the entire city.  From this angle, I could see fragments of the city beyond and around every high-rise and office building.

Headlights crawled up and down the roads, and the building lights shone, turning on and off.  There was not a single cloud, and the wind off the mountain had swept away the smog, leaving only a faint halo around each bright city light. I was not going to get a better shot.

I pulled the lever to advance the film and put the viewfinder to my eye. I adjusted the zoom and the focus, found my frame, and exhaled, steadying myself, then snapped the shot. Modern cameras made this too easy.  I preferred the knowledge and experience that real photography required.

“What are you shooting?”

A male voice, with that particular tone that said he was looking to make more than friends. “Pictures.”  I adjusted the aperture settings and clicked on long-exposure mode, and set the camera on the rail to steady it, holding it perfectly still.  I focused on an intersection, waiting for the light to change, then clicked the shutter open.  This intersection had an intricate traffic pattern.  The long exposure would reveal it to a glance, show the complicated–

“Pictures of what? The city’s ugly and smoky, it stinks. If you went up to the mountains–”

“If I wanted pictures of animals, I would have taken a picture of you.”

A moment of stunned silence, but no footsteps. I turned, camera in my hands, and took a picture of the boy’s face. Short dirty blond hair. Blue eyes. Freckles. Cute, but not handsome. Baby-faced, but older than he looked. “Look, sorry. That was rude. But don’t tell me how to do self-expression.”

“Yeah . . . that’s fair. I’ll accept your apology if you accept mine. I’m sorry.”

He sounded so sincere in his apology that I took pity. “Deal. I’m Sarah. And yes, I’m shooting the city. The lights, the traffic, the busy-ness. It’s like a hive, self-organizing and busy. This is the first day in the three weeks since I’ve found this place, that there hasn’t been fog or smog or rain.”

“You’re serious about this.  My name’s Brian. Think I can see some of your photos sometime?”

“Look, Brian. I’m not in the market for a man to make me feel whole. I don’t need you.”

I waited for the moment it took him to begin wrestling with that. It was all painted on his face. His features were mobile and expressive, showing everything he was thinking without guile. I could see his mind begin to gain traction on how to respond to more rudeness when I interrupted his train of thought.

“But I don’t mind hanging out. A bunch of people get together at the library and share photos sometimes. Nine o’clock on Sundays, Central Library. But I am not–” I poked his chest.

“–your girlfriend, and this is not–” I jabbed him again.

“–a date. Are we clear?”

He smiled and spread his hands. “You saw right through me. But I can be friends. I’m really interested in seeing your photos.” He had that tone in his voice. He was talking about friendship, but he still thought he would convince me to go out with him. I lifted my camera, taking another picture of him, and dropped my skateboard, kicking into motion. I did not bother saying goodbye; I would see him Sunday, or I would not.

Later that night, bathed in the red light of my darkroom, I looked over the photos I had taken of him. I held the two up, side-by-side, considering the range of expression in his features, and how his eyes stood out even in a black-and-white photo. I remembered how clearly his features expressed every thought and feeling that seemed to enter his mind.

The first photo showed him responding to my insult, shocked, and the second showed him just as his mind retook the idea that he might have a chance with me. Then I remembered that I would probably see him at the library on Sunday, and was surprised to find nervous butterflies in my stomach.

Dammit, I thought to myself. He might be right.

Author: Eric Eshleman

I'm not real.

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