For the first time in months, the sun was finally breaking through. It was an unseasonably warm day, so the community would be out en masse. Perfect for people watching. The break from the cold wouldn’t last long, so I knew it was time to get going.

“Let me get that for you, Mr. Banks,” a teenage boy said as he hurried to open the door of my apartment building.

“Thank you, Dexter,” I said in my usual shaking voice as I stepped outside.

The corner of my mouth twitched. To the casual observer, I’m nothing more than an old man, a retiree out for a stroll with my camera. Just someone trying to stay busy, taking shots of birds and buildings, appreciating the little things in life the younger generations tend to take for granted. That’s what everyone expects me to be, what I’m supposed to be.

But it’s not me. Never has been.

My feet scuffed along the cobblestone walkway. It took a long time to learn how to walk with a convincing limp. As people rush by, they smile and tilt their head in my direction, then go about their business immediately forgetting the old man with the halting walk and downcast eyes.

That’s exactly how I want it. The worn-out look, the faltering steps – those are part of the persona. Just like my camera. Behind it, I’m hidden from the world. No one would suspect what I really am.

A thief. I don’t steal money or gems. No. I steal moments. Moments that are supposed to be private, moments that are mundane.

Settling onto a park bench across the street from a popular cafe, I raise the camera and zoom in on the people eating inside, looking for something special.

A middle-aged man wearing glasses had his ankle crossed over his knee while he read the newspaper. He occasionally peered over his glasses toward the door, as though he was expecting someone.

At a table nearby, a young mother tried desperately to calm her toddler who was in the middle of a temper tantrum. Face red from frustration and embarrassment, she tossed her napkin on top of her barely eaten lunch and scooped up the unhappy child, carrying him out of the restaurant. The eyes of several other patrons followed her out the door, probably judging her for being such a lousy mom, as though their children were born with wings and harps.

I chuckled. The mundane can be so amusing. Amusing, but not quite special.

A young woman occupied a table close to the window. She was probably about twenty, although it seems that judging age gets harder with each passing year. It’s funny how aging does that to you. The girl sat alone, absorbed in the book she was reading. She nervously twisted her hair around her fingers.

That must be some story.
I snapped a photo before the moment passed. Only the really special ones have their picture taken.

Sometimes I wonder what the Aboriginals would think of me. I pushed the button again. Certainly they must realize it takes more than a photograph to steal a soul.

I sat on my bench another hour until the lunch rush cleared out and the young woman finally stepped out of the cafe. A gust of wind made her turn the collar of her coat up. She tucked the book under her arm and hurried down the street.


Standing slowly, I stretched my lower back, then began loping along behind her. She would be willing to help an old man in trouble. I could see it in her eyes while I was watching her.

It was time.

I clutched my chest. “Help!”

She turned and raced toward me. When she reached me, I stumbled back into an ally. The concern in her eyes confirmed she was the one I’d been looking for. It was the last expression she had as I raised my camera and smashed it into her head.

The kind girl now lay motionless at my feet. Her eyes were wide and staring, a small stream of blood trickled down the side of her face.

Now she would join the other special ones. Though I’d stolen her last moments, her image would live on in secret.

Looking around to make sure I hadn’t been seen, I picked up my pace, still careful to favor my left leg. After all, you never know who might be watching.

Erin Lanter’s background is in mental health, where she has worked with disorders ranging from schizophrenia to antisocial personality disorder. She has also worked with women in crisis pregnancies. She holds an MA in Mental Health Counseling.

Copyright © 2020 Erin Lanter. All rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part in any form or medium without express written permission of the author is prohibited.