The John Harper Series: Poisoned Web (1)

For this Guest Photographer & Short Story Series project, the guests were asked to submit three sets of photographs, the choice was entirely theirs and were not confined to any particular genre or theme. The short stories that ensue are based on the set of photos submitted, and the title of the photograph is imbedded in the story. The project has been dormant for a while but it is back with the Class of 2020, as a tribute to the outstanding work of the photographers and a celebration of enduring friendship!

John Harper is a portrait, wedding and family photographer based in Wiltshire, UK with a passion for street photography. His signature poignant black and white photographs that always capture expression, emotion, and thought in a single image have a haunting beauty about them that leave a lasting impression, inviting you to return to the moment time and time again. Visit John Harper Photography to view more of his work and read the delightful Leica Biker Blog.


“Time of death, 10:56” declared Dr. Jakob Bobinkski furiously as he stepped back from the operating table and kicked the instrument tray. “What a waste! Four hours of surgery and you had to give up on me just like that?” he shouted, “How dare you give up on me Dana! Not now, not today.” The rest of the surgical team stared at the cardiothoracic surgeon in silent horror, paralysed in fear for all of three seconds before they snapped back to attention and began closing up the now deceased patient. It was rare that Jakob lost a patient on the table, and even rarer still for him to lose this temper. 

Known for his friendly and caring demeanour, Dr. B, as he was known among the staff, not only commanded respect from his fellow surgeons but was admired by nurses and patients alike for his charming bedside manner, baby face good looks that made him look years younger than his 62 years, and the ability to patiently give instructions and explanations without being arrogant and condescending. Jakob was blessed with the uncanny ability to exude grace under pressure, never afraid to push new boundaries and explore new technology in the field of cardiothoracic medicine.  A risk-taker by nature, he never backed down from a complicated procedure, and would take the chances other surgeons refused to take. It wasn’t about competition or landing on the cover of the next medical journal, but to Jakob it was all about saving lives and leaving his mark on the family, extending their time together. If that meant sourcing funds for a rare procedure, finding housing for the patient’s family from out-of-town, or fighting legal battles on behalf of the patient then Dr. B was willing to go out on the limb. Anytime. Anywhere. 

Bornemouth ©John Harper Photography 

Most newcomers to the surgical team inevitably blurted out at some point “All that and brains too?”. It was the running gag in the hospitals, perhaps even the county, that just about every doctor or nurse had tired their hand at flirting with the famous surgeon, offering him the moon and the stars for a chance to stake a claim on the man’s body, fame, and heart – to no avail. In the 15 years that Jakob had lived and worked in the Dorset area shuttling between Bournemouth and Christchurch, and often consulting for Weymouth, Poole, and a select few in North Dorset, he had never been linked to anyone, been seen with a partner, thus generating the air of mystery around the elusive bachelor. 

He slammed the door to his office shut, turned the lock, and leaned against the wall, slowly sliding down until he sat on the floor with his long legs stretched out in front of him. Using his toes to kick off his trainers while stripping the rest of his scrubs, Jakob placed both hands behind his head and let out a cry that resembled an injured lion in despair. He didn’t care who heard him or what the others might think was going on, but he could no longer suppress the bottled up emotions. Dana Collins had been his patient ever since she was eight years old. Borne with a congenital heart disease and rare degenerative muscular disease, she had only been given a year to live by all the other paediatric cardiologists who had seen her the day he met her. 

Boscombe Pier ©John Harper Photography 

It was sheer fate that their paths crossed six years ago while strolling along Boscombe Pier. He had just finished a particularly difficult by-pass and needed to clear his head before heading back for the next surgery. An agonised wail at the edge of the water caught his attention and he instinctively looked down to see if anyone was drowning. It was early on a Sunday morning, the last drunks had trudged home and the fitness addicts were not out for their runs yet. This was his magic hour and when he could always find his peace, except today apparently. 

Following the sound, he came upon a small family of three, with a very distraught father and a young girl hugging her sobbing mother. “Pardon the intrusion, but is everything alright? I couldn’t help but hear the cry from where I was standing and being a doctor, I just assumed somebody needed help.” 

Two See ©John Harper Photography

“Thank you, that is very kind. Today is Dana’s eighth birthday and we wanted to bring her for a bit of fresh air after her long confinement” explained the father, “it has been a rough year for all of us and we are at our wits end. I grew up in the area and my parents and grandparents used to bring me here as a child for special occasions. Dana doesn’t have much time left, and although we are going against doctor’s orders, we wanted to keep up the family tradition where sit together before sunrise while Two See if they can spot a dolphin in the water before the first seagull descends from the clouds. The family lore is that the dolphin brings the magic, which you can put in a cup and bring it home.”

The Strip ©John Harper Photography

“It is probably my last birthday, so I was hoping for the best sunrise on The Strip ever!” Said Dana cheerfully, clutching a stuffed hedgehog in one hand while the other was draped around her mother’s shoulders. “You see, I am going to meet Nana and Grandad soon but Mummy and Daddy don’t want me leave yet.” Jakob swallowed hard, stunned at the acceptance of death of this child, making it sound as if she was just going on a holiday. 

He extended his hand out to Dana, who took it willingly, and they sat down on the pier, legs dangling over the sand, and within earshot of her parents. “Tell me what’s wrong Dana. What is making you so sick.” 

“Oh, a bunch of things I can’t even pronounce properly, but basically I have a useless heart, was borne with leukaemia and for some reason, my arms and legs don’t work the way they used to. I basically grew up in hospitals you know, have never been to a proper school because I might catch something that will make me terribly sick again, so I have been home-schooled. That way I can have my lessons in hospital, which is what happens most of the time.” 

“Well, guess what young lady, since it is your birthday, it is your lucky day today and I am going to give you a very special present. My name is Jakob and I think every birthday party should have a magician or a clown. I am a little bit of both and will try my very best tricks to fix that heart.” 

It had been a long uphill battle, and Jakob reached out to the experts in the field to coordinate Dana’s treatment, leaving no stone unturned, sacrificing all his free time to do more research and explore other possibilities and innovative treatments for Dana. He had promised to fix her heart and that on her 18th birthday she would go dancing with her father. She was a fighter, there was no denying that, and on some days he thought she had more strength that all of them combined. Today was Dana’s 18th birthday and Jakob felt as though he had thoroughly and utterly failed her. 

Pigeon Fancier ©John Harper Photography 

Staring down at his nakedness, Jakob got up slowly and walked over to his desk to pick up his mobile phone. Dialling a number saved in his directory as Pigeon Fancier, he spoke curtly, dispensing with all formalities, “I need five grams of your purest in 15 minutes and make sure Xavier is free in an hour, I don’t care if he is with another client. The chamber better be ready.” 

To be continued…

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