Soul Sipped Not Sucked

Submitted into Contest #144 in response to: Start your story with somebody taking a photo.... view prompt


Drama Horror Sad

This story contains themes or mentions of suicide or self harm.

Soul Sipped Not Sucked

“All photographs are memento mori. To take a photograph is to participate in another person’s (or thing’s) mortality, vulnerability, mutability. Precisely by slicing out this moment and freezing it, all photographs testify to time’s relentless melt.”

The detectives enter the house through the front door when no one answers the doorbell or their incessant knocking. The one in charge snaps a picture to document the condition of the possible crime scene. Click! They continue on into the dark silence.

"What the was such a desperate call for help." And now what?

As they walk through the front foyer, the size of most apartments, their eyes furtively survey the living areas, from the luxuriously appointed velvet feminine settees to the richly hued oriental rugs to the luminous silken draperies. Proceeding on through the living room they stop in front of the stunning portrait covering the wall.

On closer inspection it seems to be one of those photographs, blown up to enormous wall sized, and then artistically painted, like a paint by number, to create a larger than life mural sized oil painting.

"Wow! Amazing!"

A twelve feet wide, eighteen feet tall reproduction of Celia, lifelike enough for anyone to expect her to just put one of those carefully pedicured feet forward and step right off the wall on her immaculately hot waxed bronze-tanned legs. The two detectives step back to take it all in and almost gasp as realization sinks in.

"Yeah, this is HER house!"

When they can tear themselves away from her mural, they make their way down a long dark hallway. One of them pulls out his flashlight.

" Amazing!" The walls down this seemingly endless hallway are lined with glamor shots, obviously posed candid shots, and expensive professionally shot studio photos. All of Celia, just Celia, Celia alone, Celia without anyone nearby to distract the eye of the onlooker.

The cameras just loved her. Can’t imagine how many hours she must have stood, laid, and sat, face in posed expressions, waiting for the photographer on the other side of that lens to snap that one perfect picture, the one that will freeze that perfect moment for all time.

Further on down the hallway, the flash light beams on framed magazine covers and movie theater posters, some nearly life-sized.

The detective and his burly partner, enter the master bedroom, flashing lustful eyes at that lush satin-covered super king- sized bed with the profusion of stuffed toys. Jarring!

Tearing hungry eyes away, imaginations suffused in sexual imaginative longings, the one gives the other a shove towards the opened sliding glass doors. An acrid, sweet, very identifiable stench assaults their nostrils as they push aside the heavy draperies to step out onto the patio.

"No wonder the neighbors called to have this checked out." Such an odor is easily traced to the far side of the infinity pool.

They both react by turning off their emotions, beginning to compartmentalize what they are sure they are about to encounter. It will be impossible for them to imagine that out there in that very spot just forty-eight hours ago...

Finally! Such a “Natural Beauty!” Celia’s ‘luminous emerald eyes in her sculpted face stares off the slick magazine covers out into the wide unknown. Recognition! Fame! Immortality? All easily within her Cherry Red lacquered nailed grasp .”. Nominations for an Academy Award and then the Grammy have topped off this year’s achievements.

She has worked hard to attain this pinnacle. Success is difficult to come by and harder to keep from slipping through one’s grasp, like quicksilver or water through a leaky sieve. She was careful, through her career, never to “sell her soul to the devil.” Is it possible that while she was protecting it from being sold, that something had just weasiled inside and stole it little bit by little bit. Such a damning thought!

The paranoia, because that it what it has developed into fullblown, started out years ago, like the tiny seed, a miniscule seed of doubt. A "what if," planted like an insidious seed in her young mind. She hated to admit it, but it had happened at the foot of her Gango, her favorite grandmother. Gango was a unique character in a family of unusual people. Her claim to fame was as the weird chronicler of family history.

Most of what she broadcast was never fact checked, but accepted as Gango’s truth until her stories reached the territory of weird and outrageous right before she needed to be ushered into the home for the elderly a couple years before she died.

As a youngster, Celia spent hours at her Gango’s feet, watching her rock and tell her stories, watching her shuffle her loose dentures and listen at her sibilent whistles as the dentures shifted. Celia was especially drawn to the story about her supposed native American ancestors.

Just a quick look in a mirror throws some light of truth about her heritage. The tawny skin stretched across the sharp high cheekbones do more than just hint at her native American ancestry. Extremely exotic, especially when paired with her uncharacteristic green eyes.

She is convinced. A little native American with a smidgin of Mayan. Her favorite tale was the one told about the time during the civil war and right after the invention of the camera. Great Uncle Amos, as the story goes, rode with Crazy Horse. And everyone knows Crazy Horse was never photographed while alive, not even on his deathbed.

When this seed, planted into a young, fertile, imaginative mind began to sprout and grow, Celia was tempted to ask her tech assistant to fact check this story; but, too embarrassed to reveal her developing doubt and distress, she had stolen out of her bed in the middle of one Ambien resistant night, booted up her laptop and just researched the thought herself. And the fact-checking did nothing to allay her fears and doubts:

"Some Native Americans still refuse to be photographed. One of the most famous Native Americans in history, Crazy Horse was never photographed while alive. He never allowed his photograph to be taken, even while on his deathbed."

And also

"The religious belief that a photograph can steal a soul, imprisoning it within its amalgam of polyester, celluloid, salts and gelatin (or perhaps a CCD if you are into digital photography) is still shared by many cultures across the globe. From Native Americans to the Aboriginesh of Australia, there are those who refuse to be photographed.

This belief evolved in different ways for many cultures, occasionally revolving around the beliefs in the power of mirrors. In folklore, mirrors have the power to steal souls. The superstition of breaking a mirror and causing bad luck stems from the belief that a mirror contains the soul and breaking it causes damage to be sucked out.

Celia lays all the blame on her Gango. She should have listened to her more carefully, remembered how she cautioned:

"Celie, girl, remember what your Granny tells you. Uncle Amos and Crazy Horse both knew the truth and now I share it with you. Pitchers are dangerous. They suck the soul. It will start out small, so tiny and quiet that you don’t even notice. Like just a little sip with the first pitchers. Then before you know it, it starts taking bigger sips, then swallows, onto gulps, and guzzles, and towards the bitter end it is full on sucking the very life and goodness out of your soul. You won’t even be aware, you will be nearly all sucked out, hollow and dry, like a musky husk, empty and rattly. You just listen to your Granny and don’t even start."

But what does a child know or remember?

Celia lies on her padded lounge alongside her olympic- sized infinity pool, radiant sun shining down on her pampered, waxed, well-toned body. Her thoughts and memories are assaulting her in sporadic, disjointed fragments. She is finding it difficult to hold a thought. Where was she? Oh, yeah...

Six days a week pilates and alternating days of yoga have paid off in this luscious body that every celebrity photographer longs to capture in their lenses. For years the glossy magazines and youtube and facebook entries have heralded me and raised me to the realm of celebrity recognized worldwide as “Natural Beauty.”

And, well, if we’re being transparent here, perhaps there was a little restalin involved in the face sculpting. And perhaps a little microblading of the famous winged eyebrows. And a little deftly done tattooing of eyeliner. Perhaps, even, some expertly applied eyelash extensions, difficult to distinguish from her own lush eyelashes. And maybe just a wee bit of underchin fat freezing, but that was just to satisfy our curiosity. And, let’s not forget the cold fat body freezing.

And thank God for liposuction. And we have grown almost addicted to Oops, almost forgot the electrolysis. Oh, my gosh, and the celebrity veneers. Not to forget the expert hair extensions. As well as every cosmetic know to (wo)man.

She wonders how many photographers have banked their careers on her photographs, how much money she has made with posed candid shots taken by amateurs. The selfies taken with adoring fansl Thousands? Hundreds of thousands? No, probably untold millions, maybe even billions.

In this vapid tinseltown, you can’t cruise down a thoroughfare in your new Tesla without catching her fifteen foot visage on a blinking billboard. You can’t scroll through the latest Netflix offerings without catching a glimpse of her perfect face and body. You can’t catch the latest celebrity happenings without being bombarded with a montage of selfies or videos starring “yours truly.".

The airways are bombarded with her newest recording of “My Way,” an old Frank Sinatra favorite. It's become her new personal anthem.

She tries to enjoy these few moments of solitude remembering back to when her name, just the surname Celia, had become a household name. Her youtube channel, Seeing Celia, with millions of subscribers, has boosted her popularity and visibility.

Every red-blooded American feels that they know her inside and out. No part of her life has been left undiscovered or unknown. Suckers! So naive and so easily misled. Talk about misinformation. That should be her name: Miss Information! She chuckles. How strange to find near the end that she actually might have a sense of humor. But she's never been known for her personality or her intellect.

She has fashioned a persona, an image, and even has her own set of imogees. Her personal favorite was the one with a peacock wearing sunglasses and a tshirt with the logo Whatever Celia Wants.

Reflecting on that motto, more like her anthem, she experiences a moment of clarity. No, NOT whatever Celia wants. For years now, her every move, motivation, and action had been carefullly crafted, choreographed, molded to enhance her public image.

What was that hunk’s name, anyway. Boy, he would have made such beautiful babies...too bad he had such inconvenient timing. At the time, she had thought she was head over heels in love with the handsome professional photographer. He left her, broken hearted, when she told him she had aborted their babies, and that left him broken hearted. And disillusioned. How many other victims of her climb to fame had fallen to ruin with nary a thought from her. She fails to conjure up the face of even one she has crushed or ignored. Will they remember her well enough to forgive her? Does she even have the humanity left to ask their forgiveness?

Her tech assistant has raised her following to over twenty-five million followers, world wide, waiting on news of her every move, her next romantic hook-up, the latest hue her colorist has concocted.

Her publicist has assured her that she has almost reached the pinnacle as the “it girl,” the annointed one, the most recent vessel to receive the rapt, though fickle, public attention and adulation. Her adoring public

Throughout her childhood, played out in a small midwest town, Celia steeped herself in back copies of film and movie magazines that used to line the shelves and racks of newsstands and grocery store checkout aisles. She had fallen in love with the mystique of Marilyn Monroe, the Black Dahlia of Old Hollywood, Dorothy Stratten with her beautiful face blown off with a rifle shot in a murder-suicide with her jealous husband. Then there was Jayne Mansfield, who was decapitated in a freak auto-truck accident. Maybe leave that one alone.

She adjusts her newly coiffed mane, mussing it just a little to look casual, unplanned, an unposed pose. You know, for when those photographers come. To show the world she'd done it "my way."

She’s been penning some melancholic last Hurrah type good-by notes. Made sure to use her expensive old-school fountain pen with her signature emerald green ink. It’s the small details that count. She lays each out arranging them in a graceful fan shape on the lone lounger beside her.

That’ll photograph well. The letters that encapsulate her life, justify her existence, artfully arranged. Just like her. They’ll be a monument, the perfect proof that she had actually existed.

She checks them off:

To her hair dresser.

To her make up artists

To her stylist.

To her analyst.

To her gynecologist.

To her plastic surgeon.

To her aesthiscian.]

To her aesthetic dentist.

To her embittered personal assistant.

To her publicist.

To her tech assistant.

To her agent.

To her pilates instructor.

To her yoga master.

To her friends???

To her lovers, past and present.

To her unborn children. This one was especially poignant. How does one apologize to a part of you that you rejected before it even had a chance to be born?

To her...isn’t there anybody that will really care?

Yeah, the proprietor of the floral shop she’s contracted to deliver floral tributes to her monument ...a specified genus of flowers, specific type of bouquet, contracted in pepetuity into the forseeable future. Monday, for daisies, Tuesday for pink carnations, Wednesday for sunny yellow jumbo Russian sunflowers, Thursday for forget me nots, Friday for red roses for passion, Saturday for white roses for purity, and Sunday for mixed bouquets with baby’s breath, a tribute to her unborn children.

Her limbs are numbing as she begins to lose her ability to will them into action. Ooops, the wind blows her perfectly, non chalantly arranged dressing gown chosen for its unique ability to match the emerald green of her eyes, matching the color of the bikini beneath. Toes manicured with a serious, staid french manicure? Check. Feet crossed demurely at the ankles? Check. Arms gracefully aligned along her sinuous sides? Check. Hands posed gracefully, a rosary posed in the right with the second draped artfully over her heart? Check.

Is she forgetting anything? To guarantee that she is found and photographed at her peak, when she is in full bloom, she has secretly choreographed this last photo session.

Even checked the weather for today. She needed the optimal lighting, a light breeze was acceptable, not enough to mess up that perfect hair, not too much sun to melt or disfigure her expert make up routine. Details, it’s all in the details.

Towards today, she has been aware that she must escape before she is consumed. Gango was right about warning her of the dehumanizing sucking of the human soul. Gango was wrong thinking it was just the camera that performed its perfidious action, when it was actually the pictures and the accompanying fame.

Well, she’d outsmart the evil that sipped, gulped, and sucked away at her very soul. She’d go out on her own terms, doing it “my way,” documented in the photos she was sure would be snapped soon.

But when the weatherman on Channel 666 is off by a day or two and fails to forecast today’s torrential downpours, Celia is caught off guard.

She concentrates to get her eyes to focus upward, the muscles beginning to languish. Huge, anger-darkened clouds come rolling in, desecrating that usual cloudless azure sky that covers Tinseltown in a sleek, sleazy cover. The storm is roiling in, spewing cold drops that mount to a torrential downpour. All the while the winds are revving up to work their tragic magic.

The encroaching winds pick up the letters and scatter them helter-skelter over the pool deck. The following rains soak and then wash away her words leaving mere greenish smudges, conveying nothing. She watches in horror, unable to will a limb to move. It's just too late.

As the cocktail of pills renders her senseless, unable to reverse its progression into her last pathetic pose, Celia’s last cogent thought is " Oh, shit, I should have positioned this lounger under the overhang. Could have avoided the chaos this raging storm is going to unleash."

The publicist is unable to avoid the dalluge of curious photographers and reporters who descend like a contagion on the mansion. The detectives are helpless to prevent the inevitable publicity. The photographs of the decaying, mutilated body of the once paragon of feminine beauty perfection circulate worldwide. They are soon as forgotten as her claim to fame and fortune, simply replaced by the next syncophant searching and succumbing to the soul sucker. And they have no Gango to warn them!

The epitath inscribed into her tombstone says it all:


See, Gango, My Way:

Leave them guessing and wanting more.

May 05, 2022 19:31

You must sign up or log in to submit a comment.


Lavonne H.
17:54 May 14, 2022

Hi Maureen. Catching up on reading. You did such a fantastic job with the prompt! Left with a deep and intense feeling of sadness for those who are caught up in this vision--forever young (and beautiful.) All the details and touches you gave to Celia's suicide blew me away! The flowers, the photos, the posing on her lounger. This was a true life horror story. Yours in writing, Lavonne


Felice Noelle
18:03 May 14, 2022

Lavonne: I need to stay off of Netflix or promise not to let it influence my writing. I just watched a documentary on Marilyn Monroe and that sparked some memories of Dorothy Stratten and Jayne Mansfield. But they probably don't hold a candle to many of today's influencers on Facebook and whatever. I meant this to be a cautionary tale as well. Think of all the teens that curate every activity in their lives, like the Kardashians, or the families that prostitute their younger children to their online presences. Someone on Reedsy awhile ...


Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Chris Campbell
01:43 May 09, 2022

Maureen, This is an excellent commentary on vanity and the modern desire to be famous. Each captured moment and described character is like a discarded polaroid photograph carelessly tossed to the ground as another chapter of self worth disappointingly ends. I used to love my photo being taken when I was young and vain. Nowadays, the truth of the camera, makes me shy away from the lens. However, growing old gracefully is better than fading into a newspaper headline of yesterday. Well done on this piece!


Show 0 replies
Cindy Strube
00:06 May 09, 2022

You did a great job portraying the false, empty life of Celia - how it came about that she was emptied gradually, not all at once. So sad… there are too many people very much like her. I read/watch a lot of true crime stories, and thought this moved along very realistically. Quite different from your memoir style, but I did enjoy it also! If you’d like, check out “Life in Black and White” from the same prompt.


Show 0 replies
Michał Przywara
20:40 May 06, 2022

I like the interpretation of "cameras steal souls" in this piece. Representing it as a ruinous pursuit of fame and vanity makes sense, and it fits with the idea of gradual sips. While Celia seems to recognize this, it's become a habit so ingrained that she even has to pose her death. It's tragic on several levels then, because a) having recognized this she might have been able to turn things around, but instead felt driven to suicide, and b) her last attempts to reach out, her letters, are destroyed. Kind of the ultimate expression of disp...


Felice Noelle
20:54 May 06, 2022

Michal: You did such a perfectly accurate precise of my quickly written story that no one needs to read it...ha! I guess I was a little heavy-handed and obvious, but I was pressed for time this week. I 'm glad it was easy to understand, I just lacked the time and interest to edit it. Not one of my better thought out stories. I had just watched Netflix's video on Marilyn Monroe and was always fascinated by the empty lives these beautiful women end up with. And I also just read "The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo" and I really seem to get...


Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply