James Holden: Flashbulb Eyes

Ruth wasn’t sure where she was. Opening her eyes she was met by a blue sky, occasional  clouds meandering across the sky. She struggled to remember what she’d been doing before she fell asleep – all she had was a vague memory of walking down a road and a speeding car.

Standing up, behind her was a lake at which a rowing boat was moored to a post. On the other side of the lake there was a tall hedge which spanned as far as she could see to the left and right. In the middle was a wrought iron gate, a small hut painted pristine white just outside.

Ruth decided that boat was the best way to get there and after sitting down she picked up the oars and began to row. When she reached the other side she stepped out of the boat and went up to the hut. A man was sitting inside pouring himself a hot drink from a flask. “Excuse me?” Ruth said.

He turned round, looking startled. He was wearing a navy jacket, buttoned up to the knot of a tie, his face covered in a large white beard. “I wasn’t expecting anyone, please forgive my manners,” he said, consulting a clipboard. “Your name is?”

“Ruth – Ruth Mills. Where am I?”

“Oh, let’s just say it’s The Garden. There’s a man inside who’ll explain more.”

Ruth walked up to the gate in the privet hedge, and she could see a formal garden, white marble busts of world figures lining wide avenues, people promenading in the distance.

“I’m really sorry about this, but you’re not on my list. I can’t let you in,” he said.

“But … but … If you let me in maybe I could find someone who’ll help me?”

“The thing is, Ruth, and there’s no easy way of saying this, I don’t think you’ve got a soul.”

“What on earth do you mean? Who are you to say I’ve got no soul?”

“Well – my name’s Peter,” he said pointing at the name badge, “in case you wanted to make a complaint. It turns out that having your picture taken takes away a part of your soul. These days people are having so many taken that there’s no soul left for us to deal with when people pass away. You shouldn’t really have come here at all.” Ruth looked shocked. “Sorry, you have had your photograph taken at some point in your life, I presume.”

“Well, yes … but this is really unfair. And not just for me – there must be millions of people affected by this.”

Peter shook his head with a sad smile on his face. “The clues were there. The Aborigines did try to warn people. And the Native Americans. They do a bit better in Mexico – not letting people take photographs inside churches. But no one seems to listen, do they? Anyway – here’s me gassing away – you’ll be wanting directions. Take your boat back across the shore and you’ll see a big wall – there’ll be a gatehouse – bit like this but with barbed wire on the roof – they’ll sort you out. Their manners are a bit brusque but you’ll soon get used to that, I daresay.”

“But I don’t want to go there – I’d much prefer the garden!”

He’d already gone inside the hut, and, having no other choice, Ruth got back into the boat and started rowing across the lake, her sense of foreboding rising as she got closer to the unfriendly looking wall in front of her with every stroke.


(As inspired by Arcade Fire’s Flashbulb Eyes)


About James Holden

Brought up in Yorkshire, James has washed up on the shores of London. He spends his days working as a political geek. His short stories have previously been read by the Liars League.
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