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“Move to the right a little.”
The photographer stood behind his camera, huddled beneath the dark robe. The camera flashed, immortalizing Alec Nealson’s image on paper, looking rather dashing in his Corporals uniform.
“There we are,” the photographer said, finally stepping out from beneath the robe, “It will take about a day to develop, but I won’t change you any for that. Can you come back tomorrow to pick it up?”
“Shouldn’t be a problem,” Alec said, taking off his wide-brimmed hat, “But I’ve got to leave for the Northwestern territories in a few days.”
“I guess that means you don’t want it framed?” the photographer asked.
“I didn’t say that man. Just make it a strong frame.”
Alec walked out of the camera shop, into the dusty air of noon. The street was crowded with horses and wagons, trying to get supplies in or out, churning the street until it was almost mud like in texture. The sidewalk was just as crowded as he walked along toward the local bar. He would be serving in the wilderness for six long months, and he planned to have some fun while he could.
The bar, unlike the street, was almost empty. Only five people, sitting around playing cards, broke the stillness. The bartender leaned on the bar, looking slightly bored.
“Hiya Phil,” Alec smiled, walking to the bar.
“Man, when are you going to stop bugging me?” Phil laughed, pouring him a whiskey.
“Only you would tire of looking at me, Phil.”
“You young pups and your looks,” Phil chuckled, “None of you give a thought to anything but that. Someday you’ll have to though. Everybody gets old.”
Alec choked slightly on his whiskey as it slid down his throat. Getting old was not something that he allowed himself to think about. Losing the tone muscles of his youth, the color dulling in his eyes and hair. No, these were things that he refused to consider. Worrying about it would age him even more.
“Not everybody needs to get old, you know.” One of the men playing poker turned round, “There’s an Injun witch doctor over on one of them reservations. It’s said that he can make a man so that he won’t age.”
“‘S a bunch of bull hockey,” Phil spit at the man, “You never get something like that for nothing. I’d be d***ed suspicious of any man offering that sort of thing.”
Alec sat silently, pondering. Was it possible that such a thing could be accomplished? Could he be eternally beautiful? It wouldn’t do any harm to check it out at least.
He threw a silver dollar on the bar and stood up to leave.
“Hey, kid,” Phil had a hold of his coat now, a look of serious concern on his face, “Your not thinking about it, are you?”
“Thinking about what?” Alec pulled away, and walked briskly out the door.
The starry sky stretched above him, so wide and uninterrupted that it seemed to go on forever. The medicine man supposedly lived alone, having, apparently, been shunned by his own people for his terrible power. Though, what was so terrible about it, Alec could not imagine.
Out of the abyss of darkness, a small triangular shape materialized. Alec drew up and dismounted. He staked the horse, and finally walked through the buffalo hide flap that covered the door.
Inside, a small fire burned, casting an eerie reddish glow around the small space. Bottles were scattered around and, on the other side of the fire, looking at him with eyes of black coal, was the medicine man.
“I hear you know the secret to eternal youth.” Alec whispered softly, unsure of how exactly to proceed.
The medicine man only nodded his head slowly, his onyx eyes never leaving his face.
Alec rummaged in his pack, and finally withdrew the picture that had been taken only two days before. Cautiously, he handed the picture over.
“I also heard,” he said, “That you need some sort of picture in order to cast this spell?”
Once again, the man nodded. Then, with wrinkled leather hands, he took the picture, and picked up a small vial from beside him. He then poured its contents on the new paper, and yet it did no damage. Another vial replaced the first, and he stretched his hand toward Alec.
Alec did as he was told, choking on the foul tasting liquid as it burned his throat. When he was finished, the man began to chant softly, in a language that he did not understand. This lasted several minutes, and when this too ended the old man looked at him again and said.
“There. Now your soul is lost.”
It had been twenty years since that night. Another century would begin in ten minutes, but Alec was not going to live to see it. In the end, the price of his soul was just too much.
Alec stared at the picture. It was the only picture he had of himself, for he had never allowed another to be taken. The paper was still as new as it had been, but it was a picture of a crippled, wrinkled and hideous man in a moth eaten uniform, not of his beauty. Of course, this was his true form, his real soul, so he did not dare complain.
What had made the picture this ugly I wonder? A voice sneered into his ear, what made it so bad? Could it possibly be the hundreds of innocent people you pushed off their land and murdered? Was it that comrade that you shot in a blind drunken rage? Or could it possibly be the women’s lives that you have torn apart through your unfaithfulness?
It doesn’t matter now anyway, he retorted. I am about to make all of it right.
He brought the gun to his head. Once again he glanced at the mirror of his conscience and soul, the ever taunting view of his true nature.
“I hope you didn’t take any more souls, medicine man.”