“I’m a Photographer. You mind if I take a picture of you and your family?” Simon asked.
“Oh, sure,” the mom answered. “Tom, kids, gather around and smile.”
Simon lifted his camera, took a quick look around to make sure no one was watching, and snapped the picture.
He pulled up the picture on his camera screen, smiling as he examined the picture of the screaming family on the small display. They will look great added to his collection.
Before he walked away, he took a quick picture of the giant tree that the family had been standing in front of.
He spent the rest of the afternoon walking around the park, taking pictures of various plants and some animals that he thought would look great in his collection.
When he was done, he was excited to get home and play with his new toys.
Though he had plenty of money from the life insurance that had been paid out when his wife died, he lived in a low rent apartment in the shitty part of downtown.
He only needed a place to sleep and play. He never had any intentions to entertain, and where he lived, the neighbors rarely talked to each other, which suited him just fine.
He plugged the USB cable into his computer, his smile growing as he clicked on the picture folder and opened his newest collection pieces.
“Ah, come on, Steve,” Lisa began. “Let’s go to the park. It’s a beautiful day.”
Steve really wanted to just relax and watch some college football, but he couldn’t resist her infectious smile.
“Fine,” he relented.
“Yay,” she replied, hopping up and down.
Steve loved the way Lisa loved life. She was always smiling, and always wanted to be outside, whenever the weather permitted. Living in the northeast, fall was creeping in, soon to be followed by winter.
They walked arm in arm down the street, enjoying the tree’s changing colors and the sunny clear sky.
Once in the park, they took their time walking the paths, greeting everyone they passed. People always seemed in better moods in parks.
“I’m getting hungry and my legs are sore,” Lisa said, stopping in front of an empty bench.
“I’ll go get something from the vendor,” Steve replied. “Rest here and I’ll be right back.”
As he walked away, his smile faded a little.
Lisa had been in remission for six months now, but he knew that could change at any time. The only positive that had come from cancer, was that they appreciated the time they had together much more.
He looked back, giving her a quick smile and wave before he rounded the corner and out of sight.
Simon was slowly walking through the park, looking for more people, or animals, that he could add to his collection.
He knew it was only a matter of time before the police found the common denominator of all the missing people. Soon the park will become the focus of search efforts to find the people he had been taking.
While they wouldn’t be able to link him to any of the disappearances, he knew once the park began to become infested with police, he would have to pick a different locale to find new collectables.
The logical part of him told him he should take a break from adding to his collection, and just enjoy the ones he had until things cooled down, but he couldn’t stop. It was like an addiction. All he could think about was finding the next collectable.
He was pretending to take casual photos, when he noticed Lisa sitting on the bench by herself.
“Excuse me, do you mind if I take a picture of you for my collection?” Simon asked.
“Sure,” she replied. “What kind of collection is it?”
He smiled proudly, “It’s a compilation of people, animals, and the energy of the park. I’ve been coming here my entire life, and I find the energy the park provides beautiful.”
Lisa couldn’t agree more.
“That’s awesome!” Lisa said, with a broad smile of her own. “I’d be honored to be a part of your collection.”
Yes, you will be, Simon thought.
He took a few steps back, raised the camera, and took her picture.
His smile didn’t fade as he enjoyed to the beauty of the now empty bench.
Steve returned to where he had left Lisa, holding a hotdog in each hand. Not seeing her there, he looked around to see where she may have wondered off to.
He saw a photographer off to the side taking pictures of trees, so he approached him.
“Excuse me,” Steve asked.
The photographer turned to face him.
“Can I help you?” Simon asked.
“Did you happen to see where a woman that was sitting on that bench went?” Steve asked.
Simon’s smile faltered.
“I’m sorry,” Simon said, a unnoticeable tremor in his voice. “I’m afraid not.”
“Ok, thank you,” Steve replied.
Simon had never run into this problem before, and he was unsure what to do next.
Simon decided to add the man to his collection, but as he was bringing the camera up, more people walked around the bend. By the time they had moved on, Steve was too far away.
Simon considered following him and taking him later, but decided that it didn’t matter in the grand scale of things.
Flustered, Simon left the park, no longer enjoying the scenery.
Simon walked through the front door of their flat.
While it was unusual for Lisa to walk off without telling him, she often still got tired easy, and it wasn’t uncommon for them to cut walks short, so she could get home and rest.
“Lisa?” Steve called out.
He walked around the entire flat, but there was no sign of her.
He had already called her cell phone several times, but had gotten her voicemail each time.
His first instinct was to call the police, but he knew they would just make him wait twenty-four hours before they could investigate.
The air outside had gotten much cooler as he walked back to the park to look for her.
Maybe she went somewhere and then came back, he thought.
Once he was back at the bench where he left her, and seeing she wasn’t there, he tried calling her again, but still only got her voicemail.
“Screw it!” he muttered to himself and called the police.
“911, what’s your emergency?” a lady’s voice came across the line.
“Yes, my wife is missing,” he stated.
“And how long has she been missing, sir?” she asked. He could hear typing in the background.
“A couple of hours,” he answered already knowing what her response was going to be.
“Sir, I’m afraid we can’t do anything until she has been missing at least twenty-four hours,” she confirmed.
“I know, but this isn’t like her,” he said. “We were at the park, I stepped away for a few minutes, and when I came back, she was gone.”
He was expecting exasperation, but instead got silence.
“Ma’am?” he asked.
“Sir, did you say she went missing in the park?” she asked.
“Yes, ma’am,” he replied.
“Please hold,” she said, and then only silence.
After a few moments, a man’s voice came on the line.
“This is Detective Andrews, to whom am I speaking?” he asked.
“My name is Steve Dawson, and my wife’s name is Lisa Dawson,” he answered.
“Are you near the park now?” he asked.
“Yes, sir,” Steve replied. “I’m actually here now.”
“Okay, stay there,” the detective said. “I’m heading over now.”
Before Steve could say anything else, the line went dead.
A very long twenty minutes later, Steve saw the detective arrive.
“Mr. Dawson?” he asked.
“Yes, sir,” Steve replied.
“Can you tell me where you last saw your wife?” he asked.
Steve pointed to the bench. “There.”
“Did you happen to see anyone else around at that time?” the detective asked.
“No, sir,” Steve said. “Wait, I did see a photographer, but that was after she was missing.”
The detective looked around the area for a bit, and then returned to where Steve was waiting.
“I’m afraid I’ve been following a few missing people cases where they had been last seen either in the park, or last told they were coming here. I don’t know if your wife is part of that, but I’m afraid so far we don’t have much to go on. We have yet to have a witness, and there are never signs of foul play. They’re just here one day, and then gone the next. I wish I could say these were isolated incidents, but in a city this big, it unfortunately happens more often than not,” the detective explained.
He questioned Steve for a little longer, gave him his card, and left.
Steve once again found himself alone in the park.
A few days past, and there was no sign of Lisa. Steve had taken time off from work since he couldn’t concentrate. He spent each day walking through the park, hoping to see some clue that would help lead him to Lisa.
As Steve sat on a bench thinking to himself, he saw the photographer in the distance taking pictures.
He didn’t think the man had taken Lisa, but there was something odd about his behavior when he had asked about her sitting there.
He sat in a way where he could see the photographer, but the photographer couldn’t easily see him.
What else can I do? Steve asked himself.
He watched as the photographer took pictures, and then stopped to talk to a couple who was walking by.
He said something to them, the couple smiled, and then took a couple of steps back to allow the photographer to take a picture of them.
Steve gasped as he saw the photographer look around briefly, and then within a split second, the couple vanished.
Steve couldn’t believe what he had just seen. One moment the couple was there smiling, the next, nothing but air.
Instinctively, Steve hid himself.
He peeked up and saw the man walk away.
Confident that was how Lisa had disappeared, he decided to follow the man.
Simon couldn’t wait to get back to his apartment. He hadn’t added to his collection in days. The man asking about his wife right after he took her had freaked him out, but now he felt it was time to get back to collecting.
He walked, wearing a broad smile, and unaware someone was following him.
As far as Steve could tell, the photographer didn’t know he was being followed. He didn’t look around once and seemed to make a straight line for an apartment building.
Steve watched him go into the building, and then picked up his pace, not wanting to lose him inside.
He peeked inside the door and saw the man walking up the stairs.
The front door wasn’t locked, so Steve was able to enter the building and quickly make his way up the stairs just far enough to see where the photographer went.
The man walked down the hallway of the second floor, and approached a door. He turned the key and began to walk through.
As soon as Steve was sure he couldn’t be seen, he sprinted down the hallway to reach the door before it closed.
Simon flew back as something came bursting through the door before it had closed all the way.
He fell to the ground hard, and before he could understand what was happening, a strange man was on top of him.
Simon looked to the door, hoping someone would see what was happening, but the door was closed. Steve had slammed it closed behind him as he ran through.
“Where’s my wife?!” Steve seethed into Simon’s face. He purposely kept his voice down, so that no one would hear him.
Simon began to call out for help, but before he could get a peep out, Steve punched him hard in the face.
“Where’s my wife, you son of a bitch?” Steve asked again.
“I, I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Simon replied.
“I saw what you just did to that couple, and I know you did the same thing to my wife!” Steve said again, slamming Simon’s head into the ground.
Simon was sadistic, but he wasn’t brave. It didn’t take long before he told Simon everything.
“She’s in there,” he said, pointing to the computer.
“How do I get her out?!” Steve asked firmly.
“I don’t know,” Simon began. “I only know how to put them in.”
“Why do you do it?” Steve asked.
Simon knew there was only one answer.
“Because I can,” he said.
Steve punched him again, and grabbed the camera.
“Well, guess what?” Steve said, only inches from Simon’s face. “I’m going to put you in there and see how you like it.”
Steve raised the camera like he was going to take a picture of Simon, but Simon stopped him.
“Wait, wait,” he begged. “I’ll release them.”
“I thought you just said you didn’t know how?” Steve said.
“I lied,” Simon replied. “I lied. Please, I’ll release them.”
Reluctantly, Steve let him up.
Simon walked over to the computer, took the SD card out of the camera, and put it into the computer. He typed some commands into the Command Prompt, and then took the chip out and put it back in the camera.
He flipped through the settings, and showed Steve which setting to use to release them.
Before he did anything else, he flipped through the pictures until he came across Lisa’s. His heart sank as he saw her once smiling face was now contorted into a scream.
He clicked the button and in an instant, she was standing before them.
Once she had gained her bearing, she ran into Steve’s arms.
“Steve!” She yelled, unable to contain herself.
Steve returned her hug, but kept his gaze on Simon. He wasn’t about to let him try anything.
“Is everyone you took in here?” he asked.
“Only the ones that survived,” Simon replied.
“Survived what?” Steve asked.
Simon reluctantly walked to the computer and pulled up a game application. It was like a battle game where you were able to choose your combatants.
Steve looked over at Lisa.
“Do you remember this?” he asked her.
“No,” she replied, shaking her head. “The last thing I remember was him taking my picture and then immense pain.”
Steve’s blood boiled. He fiddled with the camera settings, and without any warning, he took a picture of Simon, who quickly disappeared.
Lisa’s heart momentarily stopped when she saw the man just vanish before her.
Before she could say anything, Steve began destroying the computer, breaking every piece, picking them up, and breaking them some more. He used his hands for most of it, but he took the hard drive to a table and using a hammer, he broke it into a thousand pieces.
“Let’s go,” he said, leading Lisa out the door.
Steve and Lisa found a vacant part of the park, and released everyone one by one, except for Simon.
The small crowd of people stared at each other, unsure what was happening, and no memory of what had happened to them.
Once he was sure everyone, but Simon was released, he took out the SD card, and broke it in half, throwing half into a trash can, and putting the other half into his pocket to throw away later.
Everyone jumped when he smashed the camera onto the ground.
“Let’s go home,” he said to Lisa, leading her away from the dumbfounded group of people.