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The prophetic camera, p.1
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       The Prophetic Camera, p.1

           John McGreevey
 
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The Prophetic Camera


  Produced by Greg Weeks, Mary Meehan and the OnlineDistributed Proofreading Team at https://www.pgdp.net

  THE PROPHETIC CAMERA

  By John McGreevey

  [Transcriber Note: This etext was produced from Imagination Stories ofScience and Fantasy August 1953. Extensive research did not uncover anyevidence that the U.S. copyright on this publication was renewed.]

  [Sidenote: Joey knew the old man had somehow faked his pictures; afterall, nobody could photograph the future. But then the future began tohappen!]

  Joey Barrett set his camera carefully to one side and swung onto theedge of the desk. He knew this annoyed Nugent, and, at the moment,nothing gave him greater satisfaction than his ability to irritate theeditor.

  His heels thunked against the highly polished sides of the desk, and heshook his head very deliberately, in rhythm with the heel-hammering.

  "No," he said. "I don't think so, Nugent." He decided the drumming hadlost its impact, so, he crossed his legs and turned to face the baldingman behind the desk. "Why should I? This assignment's out of my line andyou know it."

  Nugent nodded. "I know. But this is an unusual story, Joey, and I'd liketo get a photographer's slant on it."

  "Want to find out how the other half thinks, huh?"

  Nugent referred to a memo. "This is the address." He pushed the slip ofpaper toward Joey. "I think you'll find this Jason Ewing mostcooperative."

  "He's a crackpot." Joey shied away from the memo and slid off the desk."That's why none of your brainy reporters will touch the assignment."

  "He's eccentric." Nugent didn't bother to hide his impatience. "Whatinventor isn't?"

  "He's an inventor?"

  "New kind of camera. That's where you come in, Joey." Nugent leaned backin his swivel chair. "I want a photographer's reactions to it."

  "What's so special about his camera?"

  Nugent didn't look at Joey. "It photographs another dimension."

  There was a moment's silence. Nugent was abruptly preoccupied with hishands. Joey moved slowly toward the desk.

  "Another dimension! You mean stereoptican stuff? With depth?"

  Nugent stood. "No. I don't think that's what Ewing means." He moved fromhis desk to the window. "I want you to find out what it is. Get all theinformation you can."

  "Are you sure this doesn't belong on the comic page, Nugent?"

  Dusk was settling over the city. Nugent stared out at the darkeningskyline. "I admit it sounds crazy. But, it'll make a good human interestyarn." He turned back to Joey. "Just bring in the facts and one of there-write boys will put them in shape."

  Joey Barrett's chin set doggedly. "You've got no right to ask me to...."

  But he didn't finish. His editor had abruptly moved in very close."You're in no position to quibble, Joey."

  "What does that mean?"

  Nugent's thin lips were tightly compressed. "The management's not happywith you." Joey's laugh was brittle. Nugent walked slowly back to hisdesk. "I've had more and more complaints about your work."

  Joey was close behind him. "I take the assignments you hand me. Andthere's no one on the staff gets a sharper shot."

  Nugent waved this aside. "It's your manner." He pushed a glossy eight byten print toward the photographer. "You play up the grisly, themacabre."

  Joey stared down at the picture. A slow smile narrowed his eyes. "Iphotograph what I see. I figure it's what your readers want to see,too."

  Nugent sat heavily. "We had a hundred phone calls about that picture.Brutal ... sadistic ... morbid."

  The print fell face up before Nugent. He turned it over. Joey laughed."Sure. It's all those things. And they loved it." He leaned very closeto Nugent. "You didn't have to print it."

  "It was the only shot I had. It was print it or be scooped on one of thebig stories of the year."

  Joey's outward nonchalance failed to mask entirely his inner tension."When I take a picture, they remember it."

  "There's a difference between memorable photography and cheapsensationalism." The editor picked up the memo with Ewing's address."All things considered," he said, "I think you'd better get thisinterview for me."

  Joey stared at Nugent for an insolent second. Then, he took the memo. Hechecked the address, jammed the paper into his pocket, and moved quicklyto the door. Hand on the knob, he paused.

  "Oh, Nugent," he called, "if you can't see the story I bring back, justremember: it's in another dimension."

  He slammed the door on Nugent's anger.

  * * * * *

  Early evening traffic was heavy as he pulled into the quiet,old-fashioned street where Ewing lived.

  Sober brownstone houses, their front steps rising steeply to stain-glasspaneled doors; heavily curtained bay windows; weather-stained androtting gingerbread; an atmosphere of reluctant decay and genteelsenescence. Ewing's house was like a dozen others in the same block.

  Joey was not a man given to hunches, and yet, as he climbed out of hiscar and stood staring up at the silent house, he could not repress ashiver of apprehension.

  He looked up the street. Nothing marred the quiet. A middle-aged womanhurried home with her armload of groceries. A man paraded an ancient dogon a leash.

  Slowly, Joey climbed the steps. His apprehension was no more than theresentment he felt for the assignment. He yanked the old-fashioned belland listened for its echoes dying deep in the house.

  He fidgeted impatiently. Perhaps old Ewing wasn't at home. Or, maybe hewas so eccentric he no longer answered the bell. Joey jerked it again.

  On the traffic-noisy boulevard a block away, he heard a raw squealing ofbrakes.

  Joey sighed and turned away. He'd wasted an hour. He started down thesteps. And the door opened.

  Jason Ewing was very old. His incredibly blue eyes seemed alien in theyellow parchment face. His clothing, his manner, even his speech werearchaic.

  As Joey shook the bony hand, Ewing was apologizing for the delay.

  "I was in my dark-room," he said--the voice strangely resonant to comefrom so frail a chest--"and I had to get the developer off my hands."

  Joey nodded and stepped inside. The atmosphere of the house was acurious mixture of chemical and decay. There was a layer of dust on thebric-a-brac, and as Joey followed the stooped figure from the entry-hallinto the living-room, he saw Ewing as a kind of insubstantial ghost,moving through the deserted rooms so carefully that the dust was notdisturbed.

  Ewing gestured to a chair which looked prim and uncomfortable in itsyellowed antimacassars. "Sit down, please, Mr. Barrett." He switched onan ornate table lamp. "It's most kind of you to be interested in mywork."

  Joey gave him the automatic smile. The room was a combination studio andparlor. A bulky, antique camera lorded it over the conventionalfurnishings. Its unblinking eye regarded Joey coldly.

  There was a fireplace, with massive brass andirons cast to resemblegriffon-heads; purple draperies at the window were faded by sun andtime; the heavy furniture was defiantly shabby; even the antiquephotograph album with its plush cover and gold-plated clasp and lock wasright for the room. This was Jason Ewing's world and Joey felt himselfto be an alien.

  * * * * *

  Ewing hovered nervously, white fingers clenching and unclenching,reaching out, now and then, to touch the album on the dusty table-top."I know you are a busy man, Mr. Barrett," he said, "so I'll come at onceto the point."

  Joey relaxed as much as he could in the old chair. "I should tell youfirst, Mr. Ewing, that I'm not a writer. I'm a photographer. My editorthought maybe you and me would talk the same language."

  Ewing bobbed his head up and down. "Excellent. Excellent." He
pulled upa small chair. "Believe me, Mr. Barrett, I hesitated a very long whilebefore I decided to make my discovery public."

  Joey disguised a grin. "What finally decided you?"

  Ewing closed his eyes. "I'm not well. Heart. Most unreliable. Doctortells me I may ... may die ... at any time."

  "I see."

  "But, before I die," the old man said, leaning forward again, "I mustshare my secret." He seemed to have difficulty in finding the words hesought. "It's ... it's so extraordinary, Mr. Barrett,
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