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.
Hermans’ fingers began to twitch with impatience. Not only did he hate waiting inside churches, because of all the reminders of wrong turns he took in life, but also because he was behind schedule. Jakob was taking far too much time chatting with the two women outside, almost as if it were a delaying tactic. Jakob had joined The Brotherhood, almost 25 years ago, still wide-eyed from his surgical residency and eager to impress. His unique talent and vision had surfaced early on, and many of the older attending surgeons sensed that this was going to be a legend in the making. Just when Jakob’s career was on the rise and he could have had his pick of top hospitals around the world, he dropped suddenly everything and joined a prominent medical corps doing humanitarian work in the Middle East. Rumour had it that a nervous breakdown was behind the sudden shift, while others were of the opinion that it was a broken heart, either way, nothing was ever proven, and Jakob walked away for three years. It was in an improvised medical station in the war-torn Sarajevo that Herman and Jakob first met, with Russian as a common language in the beginning, until Herman discovered that Jakob spoke fluent German.
Herman was already way in over his head with The Brotherhood by then, resigned to his fate with this underground network of surgeons dedicated to organ harvesting that operated entirely in the black market. Initially harvesting from injured soldiers before resorting to kidnapping of women and children, he smuggled the organs out through the safe passage provided by the assorted weapons dealers and drug mules he had met along the way, meeting the couriers Under the Pier in broad daylight, since curfew was always tricky to work around. Setting up a beach chair with a few drinks and snacks deflected all the attention away from him, and the passers-by summarily ignored the man with the visor watching the children build a sandcastle nearby.
Lucrative though the business was, Herman struggled to keep up with the demand and requested permission from the Elders to recruit another surgeon, his trained eye already fixed on the young and very talented Jakob. It was breeze to recruit the eager young surgeon by selling him the idea of an elite fraternity of surgeons that would always have his back and ensure that his career trajectory continued its stellar rise, no matter what country he chose to settle down in. He would never have to worry about financial or job security, Jakob was told, but there were two small catches to the whole deal. First, he could never marry, family was just too risky and had always proven to be a source of security breaches. Disposing all the spouses, partners or children who were understandably outraged at the type of “employment” the surgeons were involved in, became tiresome so it was easier to demand the vow of singlehood from everyone. Second, leaving The Brotherhood was a lifetime commitment and therefore resignation was completely out of the question.
Herman thought back to a meeting he had with another Brother last Christmas 2019 to discuss the upcoming assignments. They had met outdoors and hiked up to a hill to sit on a bench that overlooked the breath-taking landscape below while children and families cheerfully passed by wishing everyone happy holidays. It was during this conversation that Herman recounted how he had built up his rapport with Jakob in every way possible back in the Bosnian days, introducing him to the cornucopia of drugs available in the black market. Once he discovered Jakob’s preference for the BDSM scene, Herman set him loose among the bondage dungeons and torture gardens that Sarajevo and other neighbouring cities had to offer. What Jakob didn’t realise in the beginning was that Herman had paid exorbitantly to have the activity filmed, his trump card so to speak. Once Jakob saw the footage he became painfully aware that his fate was sealed. Forever.
The jangling of a coin dropping into the donation box brought Herman back to reality. He was tired, not just from the journey, but from the work. He stood up and walked out of the Oratory, crossing the road to enter the tattoo shop. Jakob entered less than a minute later, his brow wrinkled in annoyance as he dropped the black leather surgeon’s bag on the table. “So, where is the body?” He asked.
“Technically there is none, since this is a live harvest, but the generous donors are in the next room, and I took the liberty of sedating them already to give you a head start. It is crucial that the two hearts be harvested while they are still pumping for a live transplant three hours from now, but you only have two hours to do the work because I need travel time. The third harvest is a liver, the woman, and from the fourth one you harvest the pancreas and left lung. Start with the hearts while I do the liver.”
Jakob stopped dead in his tracks when he entered the next room. His heart sank as he surveyed the people in front of him: two children, toddler perhaps around three years old and an older child possibly around six or seven. The woman looked as though she was barely out of her 20s, and the man was slightly older. “Children? You want me to harvest the live hearts of these children?” There was something vaguely familiar about them, especially the young man. Then he remembered. It was summer last year when he had taken a drive out to Knapp Hill on his way to Bath for a consult. The weather had been so beautiful that day that he pulled over and watched the paraglider jump off and sail into the landscape, it was almost poetic. It was Brian’s first solo jump and he was both excited and nervous, but his girlfriend Melissa, the woman now laying next to him about to get her liver harvested, was there to cheer him on. The children he did now know, but this was the first time he was harvesting organs from someone he knew.
“Come now Jakob, don’t get all sentimental on me now. Not at your age and after everything we have seen and done together. Stop blabbing and get to work. You can scrub up in the kitchen, and the disinfectant is in the bag as well.” Jakob nodded as he put on his scrub cap, tied his mask and washed up. The conditions were far from ideal but Herman was right, this was not the time to get squeamish, let alone sentimental.
An hour later, Jakob looked up, squeezed his eyes closed as he sutured the body of the three-year-old. Herman had already harvested the liver, placed it in the transport box, and was about to do the incision for the lung harvest. As he opened his eyes again, Jakob felt his body tremble with uncontrollable rage, his perspiration trickling down his neck. He moved silently over to the next child and lifted his scalpel. Suddenly he felt the cold barrel of a gun touch the back of his head. “Don’t even think about it Jakob” hissed Herman, “I may be old but I am not senile yet. I know you hate me more than anyone else in this world, and I for that I cannot fault you. But killing me will not solve your problem. You can Never run from The Brotherhood, you know that, they will always find you, just as they did me. Now be a good doctor and put that scalpel into the child’s chest before I blow your brains out.”
Jakob turned around swiftly and stabbed Herman in the heart, as he felt the bullet enter his neck and back of the mouth. He stumbled onto the table, grabbed the scalpel Herman had used for his harvest and used the very last strength he had to slash the old man’s jugular vein before everything went black the pools of blood merged.
The Fiumicino International Airport in Rome was anything short of peaceful and organised. It never seemed to sleep and was always pulsating with drama, comedy, and utter confusion. The nun adjusted her habit and straightened her cross as she took a seat in the departure lounge and began fiddling with her rosary beads. It was going to be good to get out of Europe again, a change of scenery was just what the doctor ordered.
The instructions had been very clear – do not return to the UK for the next three years, leave no trace of the former identity. What a pity, it had been fun being Xavier while it lasted.
A gripping tale and fitting end for Herman, being killed by a scalpel is almost poetic justice, possibly too good for him. I admire not only your writing skills, but also the fact that you’re tackling subjects that I suspect few would attempt. I remember when you asked me to proof read your book ‘Wings at Dawn’ and was taken completely by surprise by the journey.
Thanks very much for using my photographs, it’s an absolute honour to be invited to collaborate with you.
The honour is all mine John. The story would not have seen the light of day without your photographs. Hoping you follow Ethan’s journey!