The Picture of Dorian Graying

A Short Story for Throwback Thursday


Portrait of the artist as a young van

Photography has become an obsession of mine — capturing light and shadow, suspending images in space and time. Birds, landscapes, sometimes people. But mostly details of things that people scarcely notice. Crystals of frost on the threads of a bolt. Patterns on a bluejay’s feathers. Flaking paint and pitted rust on an old truck fender.

Why do I do it?

A dream I had last night answered that question. Or not.

I was sleeping in the back of my car and awakened to see an incredibly beautiful bird perched on a branch outside the window. It was black and white like a magpie, only larger. Much larger. I fumbled for my camera, moving slowly and trying not to startle the bird. I got the bird in focus and took a shot just before it took off and flew around to the other side of the car.

I looked around to see where the bird had gone and there was an old man dressed in black and white standing beside the car. He made a winding motion with his hand, signaling me to roll down the window. I did.

“Put your clothes on, I need to talk to you,” he said.

The man walked over to a park bench near the edge of the woods and sat down. I got dressed and joined him.

“Wait here,” he said, then wandered off into the woods.

After about 15 minutes I grew impatient. I went to my car and grabbed my camera. I looked to see how the shot of the bird had come out, but it was just a picture of an empty branch.

I scrolled through the other photos on the camera. They had all been altered. Empty tree limbs, poorly lit landscapes, out-of-focus macro images. Even the people I had photographed looked different — bloated and cadaverous.

The man in black and white returned.

“What the fuck did you do with my pictures?” I asked him.

“Nothing,” he said. Then he proceeded to tell me about my life in great detail. A lot of it was right on the money. But some, like the altered photos on my camera, seemed blurry and distorted.

I wasn’t about to argue; I just wanted my photos back.


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