art by Melissa Mead
by Amanda C. Davis
There were four men in the tintype studio, but only one was dead. The dead man sat strapped into a wooden chair where the photographer had abandoned him to fuss over a plate of chemicals. The other two living souls, who had carried in the dead man for his portrait, occupied a duvet across the room. The older and smaller of them sat rigid as a poker. The younger, slouching beside him, said, "We ought to of put him in the ground straight away, Doctor Bern."
"Phillip, your incuriosity is a constant astonishment to me," said Doctor Bern. He wore a neat tweed with just a few smears of blood and grave dirt on the cuffs. "I'd say you were entirely unsuited to this business if not for your talent with a hammer and stake."
Phillip grunted and tipped his cap a bit lower over his eyes.
"And sit up straight." When Phillip failed to do so, the doctor said: "This portrait has more import than a mere memorabilis, you know. If my theories are correct, the tintype will prove that Mr. Yustinov is permanently, properly deceased, and that knowledge is to the benefit of us all."
"Could of just buried him," said Phillip, crossing his muscular arms. "Deep."
The older man sniffed and straightened his bow tie. "You recall, I trust, how a man of his type--I dissemble with the term 'man,' of course--is known to have no reflection in a mirror?"
"Yuh huh," said Phillip, gazing into the great infinite horizon of the opposite wall.
"Now, the folksy fearful types attribute this to a supposed lack of soul. Superstitions for the superstitious.... But we must not be so hampered by belief in the intangible, the unverifiable. We must be scientists, must we not, Phillip?"
Doctor Bern shifted in his seat. His studious face brightened the longer he spoke. "I theorize," he said, "that the failure to produce an image in a mirror comes from the creature's sensitivity to particular metals: silver, of course, but also mercury and cold iron, and the simple tin of a crucifix has had perceptible effects, you see? If we remove the extra-natural elements of his nature--which I believe you have done quite handily with the stake, thank you, Phillip--so should his aversion to metals vanish, allowing him to appear in any mirror, or--" He snapped his fingers. "--in the positive image formed on a tintype. Now in an ideal case, we would have a comparative tintype from Yustinov's life...or semblance of life! But I have great confidence in my theory. I predict that the tintype process will succeed; that Yustinov's image will appear, clear as crystal; and that we may be sure that not only are my thoughts on the matter empirically sound, but that Yustinov is now, at long last, as mortal as any child of Adam."
Phillip said, "And then we can plant 'im."
The doctor sighed. "Yes, Phillip. Then we may 'plant' him."
The photographer emerged from his developing booth. Both men got to their feet to meet him. "Well?" said doctor.