The Terrible Secret of Ian Punt

By Ciaran

Write a short story in which a photograph, or a set of photographs, plays a part in the plot.

Ian Punt was born with a gift. Ever since he could remember, Ian had the unique and somewhat concerning ability to freeze time whenever he put a finger to his forehead. As long as his finger stayed on his forehead, time would completely freeze until he removed the finger. When he was still just a child, he hadn’t realised that this was something most people couldn’t do and he used to freeze time with total abandon. He always assumed that whenever anyone else put their fingers to their heads, they were pulling the trick too. Whenever he saw a detective on TV put their fingers on their heads, he assumed they were giving themselves time to think. That was what made sense to him. All of that changed however, when he offhandedly mentioned his ability to his mother once and she stared at him like he had three heads. He hadn’t seen much of his parents that day, and when he next saw them, it was that evening where they sat him down and had a firm chat with him about his ‘powers’. They told him that his ability was completely unique to him and that he couldn’t tell anyone about it or he would be in big trouble with them. They were dead serious about it, even 9-year-old Ian could figure that out. Unfortunately, Ian knew he wasn’t good at keeping secrets and knew that if he made a friend that he grew close to, he would inevitably spill his secret in passing, without even realising it.

Therefore, Ian resolved to isolate himself from the other kids his age and, as a consequence, grew up miserable and had a rougher teenage period than most. He was constantly bullied in school for being a loner and never having anyone to talk to about his problems. His only friends were his parents and the outside world. Ian would spend hours on end in the countryside, simply admiring the view and committing it to memory. This was such an important part of Ian’s life at that point that his parent’s got him a camera for his fifteenth birthday, so he could remember all the views he wanted to. That had truly sparked Ian’s passion for photography and that passion would only get stronger as he got older. Ian started to become a truly talented photographer as he grew up and started spending all his time perfecting his craft and it became less of a hobby and more a way of life for him.

10 years later, that would be the story Ian would tell the press when they questioned him about his incredible photography skills, apart from the time-freezing bit. Now that Ian was a grown man, he realised revealing his skill to the world wasn’t a case of getting in trouble with his parents: it was a matter of living his life out in the nature he loved so much, or living his life in a quiet and empty test chamber and never seeing the outside world again. Ian knew without a doubt that if word of his curse got out to the press, the government would be quick to hoist him off to parts unknown to perform all sorts of tests on him and he would never live a normal (well, almost normal) life as a result. So when talking to the press, Ian always came off as reclusive, when in reality, he was just being careful with his words. Alcohol was off-limits too. You never know what you might say in that state and Ian didn’t want to ruin his years of silence just because of a night out with his mates.

The truth was, of course, that Ian had been using his gift to take the perfect photographs. Around the age of 17, the thought had occurred to him that if he combined his ability to freeze time with the photography technique he’d found out about called The Decisive Moment, he could create perfect photographs. Most photographers have to just press the button whenever they think the decisive moment is occurring but, for the most part, it’s a shot in the dark for them. For Ian however, his ability to freeze time was basically like a real life preview of the shot he was about to take. He could just apply his finger to his forehead and get a look at the picture he would have taken in that split second. It didn’t make the process easy by any means, he still had to take an estimated guess at when the decisive moment would occur but it certainly helped. The rest, and Ian didn’t mind bragging about this, was pure talent on his part. Whenever Ian used his gift to frame the perfect photograph in his head, he always felt like he didn’t have it so bad after all. So what if his social life in secondary school was dead in the water? Ian had his photography skills and his fame and his fortune and no one suspected a thing! Life was good.

Ian was admittedly a little surprised when he found himself blowing up in certain circles online for his photography. He started gaining traction back when he was just 16, before he had even started using his gift to help and, looking back, he was completely baffled at how he had gained even a small following without his power. Of course, once he had his Eureka moment and started using his gift, life just kept getting easier. At the age of twenty-one, Ian’s following had grown so large that he started getting attention outside the photography circles. It wasn’t long after that he was being invited on talk shows to discuss his talents and being called ‘The King of the Moment’ by his adoring fans. Every time Ian released a new photograph onto the world through his social media or through other means, the world stopped for a moment and for once, it wasn’t his direct doing. For the first time in his life, Ian felt wanted, needed, even loved unconditionally. His parents, for all their qualities, never truly loved him unconditionally after he revealed his curse to them. They were always cautious around him, never quite sure if they were safe or not. Of course, they needn’t have worried. Ian hadn’t talked to his parents in years, partly out a sense of nobility. After all, if Ian wasn’t near his parents, the government wouldn’t have any reason to go after them for information if they ever figured out his secret. But mostly, he hadn’t kept in touch out of resentment. If they never needed him as a child, why would they need him now, except to mooch off of his wealth and hide him away from the world again. Ian couldn’t go back to that life of solitude. Not now, not ever.

In hindsight, he should have been more careful. But the fame had gotten to his head a bit.  After 10 years of photography, Ian had assumed he was in the clear. His photographs got more and more risky and unbelievable. He had heard a lightning storm was coming around his neighbourhood so he grabbed his camera, and with the help of his gift, he had taken a photograph of every single lightning strike that came down that night. Pretty unrealistic for a normal person, but Ian felt like a challenge. After that, things just got more unbelievable and somewhat shady. A photograph of a gun the second it fires a bullet, a photograph of a crocodile right before it caught its prey in its huge jaws, a photograph of a man getting punched in the face at the exact moment of impact, the list went on and on. Ian wasn’t sure what it was about these violent photographs that grabbed his attention but they did and, bit by bit, his audience started to lose faith in him. Not in his abilities of course, they were better than ever, but his choice of subject seemed off-putting for some people. Looking back, he supposed that the photograph that was the last straw was the one of a man just before hitting the pavement in a freak accident. The man had slipped while window cleaning an apartment building and had fallen all the way back down to ground level. Now, when Ian had seen the man falling, he thought to use his abilities to save him, but he knew that if he did, his powers would have been exposed in an instant and his life would have been over. Instead, he decided to commemorate the man’s last moments with a momentous photograph. He never expected people to be filming at that exact moment and when people see a video where a man puts his finger to his temple and then a camera appears out of nowhere with the man suddenly in a completely different position, people will start asking questions that Ian would have no answer to. The backlash started small and worked it’s way up. It started with the comments of sociopathy, not just letting a man die, but taking a photograph too. They called it ‘the height of tastelessness’ but they just didn’t get it, really. Ian was an artist, he knew what he was doing. Of course, the main trouble came when people started questioning the sudden appearance of the camera, and Ian’ jerky movements and Ian knew the jig was up. It wouldn’t have been long before the government took notice and got in contact with him, whether he wanted them to or not. As a matter of fact, it was only two weeks later, before Ian had time to make a public apology for the photograph.

He had woken up like it was any other morning until he opened the curtains and saw the SUV’s waiting outside his mansion. They entered without being invited in to ask him some questions. Of course, Ian denied everything, as anyone would but he hit a brick wall in that tactic when the men asked him to put his finger to his temple and then remove it. After all, they said, if this ability of his was just camera trickery, then nothing would happen if he did so. Ian couldn’t talk his way out of that one so he tried to stay as still as possible while he did the trick. Unfortunately for Ian, as still as possible wasn’t still enough to fool the government agents who clearly noticed some movement. He was taken then, but he didn’t know where to. He never got to say goodbye to his adoring fans or his media buddies or anyone he knew, he was just put to sleep and when he next woke, he was in a high-tech facility with no windows or any natural light. Surprisingly, after a few hours, or maybe days, or maybe weeks in that chamber his parents showed up. They told him that the agents had tracked them down so that they could say goodbye to their son. They hadn’t told them what their plans were for him but they promised he wasn’t in any immediate danger. His father tearfully reprimanded him about getting caught, telling him that it was the one thing he had asked Ian to do but Ian was having none of it and told them to leave him be as he had no need for them anymore. They had failed him as parents and now they had failed him again by not negotiating for his release. As they left, his mother buried her face and his father’s chest and cried her eyes out while his father looked like he wanted nothing more than to do the same. Ian found that odd. He knew they didn’t care about him, so why were they upset now? He thought about that for a while, but never figured out what it meant. Ian didn’t know what was going to happen now. He didn’t know what the agents had planned for him, he didn’t know where he was, he didn’t know anything. Mostly, Ian just lay on his bed, sleeping the time away. He hadn’t used his curse in ages. For him, time had already stopped moving.