He closed the door to the dark room behind him and held the still dripping development up to the suspended bulb.
‘Describe it to me,’ he said, pulling the gag from her small mouth, her eyes gaping.
There was no scream, her eyes fixed on his. Moments ago she had been up on the mountain, having ignored tales of missing hikers.
Finally she turned her eyes to the photograph, remembering how excited she was when taking it.
‘It’s a field of tea plants,’ she said, wincing from the pain in her arms, tied tightly behind her back.
‘You can do better than that,’ the man said, his eyes softening. He was not unattractive, with a large chin and thick arms. ‘There must have been a reason, a feeling that compelled you to take it.’
She looked back at her photograph, puzzled.
‘Go on,’ he said.
She tried to concentrate on the image, to take herself back to the moment. It felt a world away, the distance between wonder and fear. Words floated around her head and her eyes shifted, only the scene in her vision, everything else faded to black.
‘I see an immaculate green carpet of tea leaves. So bright and vibrant you can see each blade… The field is lined with trees and carved in half by a trickling stream. Beyond, the rocky edge of the mountain looms up to the sky… The bony crevasses and folds are sprinkled with hairy tufts of undergrowth, like the back of an old dog… The bright white sky leads you in, urging you to discover what lies beyond…’
She continued to stare at the photograph, still lost in that moment.
‘Good,’ he said, appearing out of the darkness. ‘Now, what does this view mean to you?’
Her head sunk, the pain spreading through her body. Again she returned to that spot, looking back down the path towards her town, where her parents waited for her. She saw herself as a child looking back up at her and the mountain in wonder.
‘When I was young the rain would pour down from the mountain. My mother would call to me from the house as I skipped down the flooded path… I would lie on my bed and look up from my book through my window knowing that the mountain would always be out there. Even when the fog came down thick and heavy. It was always there… I celebrate new year with my parents by sending sky lanterns up into the night. They cascade up over the mountain, lighting it’s dark corners and we would sit outside and drink hot tea.’
She closed her eyes, pushing the tears down her cheeks and thought of her mother and father and the way they would smile at each other when they thought she wasn’t looking.
‘I knew you could do it,’ he said, dropping the photograph to his side. ‘That was beautiful. You could describe that scene to anyone in the world. They wouldn’t need to see this.’
She nodded, fixing the view from the top of the mountain in her mind. It is a fleeting sight, one she was snatched from too soon.
‘If people want to see the view they can come themselves,’ he said. ‘Photographs only cheapen this beautiful planet for lazy people. One day everyone will learn to use their eyes.’
A day later two policemen responded to a call from one of the tea farmers. A female body had been sheltered in one of the crevices near the foot of the mountain. Shining a torch over her body they leaned in closer.
The older policeman looked away, shaking his head.
‘Didn’t the lieutenant say there was body found last week without its eyes?’, he said. ‘I’m sure of it.
‘I think he said they also found a photograph in the victim’s mouth,’ the other said, reaching his fingers towards her blue lips.
Written for the Short Story and Flash Fiction Society 8th Flash Fiction Contest.