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They say the camera never lies, but Tate knows that isn’t true. These days, a tog like him has as many tricks up his sleeve as your average Instagrammer, from polarizing filters to adjusting white balance to colour saturation. It’s no longer simply a question of how much light you let in through an aperture, the range of a lens or the power of the flash. That’s why when he got back to New York, the pictures he’d taken in Mørkfjord puzzled him. The shrine on the isthmus, no more than a pile of old rocks, had been cramped and dark. Hell, all of Norway was dark, the days swathed in the depthless blue of the polar night. He’s no amateur, but still. The photos shouldn’t have come out as clearly as they have.

He’s scowling at his laptop when Walt hunts him down in his study, a wineglass swinging under his nose as his arms close around him, a chin resting on his shoulder.

“Are you gonna sit here all night? You’ve been gone for weeks, Tate.”

“Got a date with Unseen Globe in the morning.” This is probably a good enough excuse; freelance photojournalism pays the bills and boy, is the mag going to love these shots. A Nordic Bronze Age shrine where no one has set foot for thousands of years? Where even the locals never set foot? Come on. “Took enough to get a pitch meeting. I want to straighten my pics up a little.”

He remembers the little old man on the jetty. The knot of his face, his salt-stiffened beard.

No one goes out there, he said. Some things should go unseen.

“Mm. There’s something I want to straighten up a little.”

Tate laughs, but holds his ground. “Walt, it’s kind of a once-in-a-lifetime deal.”

And it is. The magazine is going to pay a heap of bucks for his snaps of Mørkfjord. But that’s nothing compared to the exposure, the name for himself he’s on the verge of making. Tate Miller. The new Ansel Adams. He’s wanted this ever since leaving high school in Queens. Walt can understand, but not feel it.

“Weren’t you cold up there? Bet it made winter in the city feel like a sauna.” Walt sets his glass down on Tate’s desk, close enough to his Sony Alpha 9 that he winces. It cost him six thousand bucks, after all, and Walt isn’t going to pay for a replacement on a Brooklyn schoolteacher’s wages. His hands are moving towards his lap now, broad and smooth. “Don’t you wanna warm up some?”

That’s when Walt’s head comes level with the screen and he sees her. Sulta. Sulta is what they call her in Mørkfjord, anyway. In lowered voices. With hooded looks. It means ‘starving’ as far as Google Translate goes. No wonder it took so long to tease it out of the villagers. A finger of ice from the isthmus creeps into his West Village apartment. Then under his cashmere sweater, his skin prickling like the day he found her.

“Jesus. What the fuck is that?”

The image on the screen should be a blur, considering the conditions when Tate reached the shrine, the sun conquered by the horizon for weeks on end and the afternoon gloom sinking into black. Remarkably, the carvings inside came out OK. The petroglyphs too, strange and looping, that surround the graven stone. The cracked disc of the idol’s face, her hair snaking across the surrounding wall. Her mouth a broad slot of shadow. A hole through which the wind sings, arctic and shrill.

No one visits her now.

“Not a what. A who.” Tate shuts the laptop lid, the altar eclipsed. “Sulta. She’s a goddess. They call her the Hungerer.”

Walt releases him. He’s standing and looking down. To lighten the mood, and because the camera on his desk reminds him too much of that hollow mouth, he swivels in his chair and raises it before him.


The flash goes off, painting Walt’s revulsion in white.

Anywhere north of Trondheim is nowhere or so his guidebook tells him. It’s November and the steep slopes, which are practically dayglo green in summer, only show in patches through the snow. Tate loads his hired jeep up with food, blankets and gas. The long winding road through the mountains makes him worry whether they’ll be enough. He passes stave churches with layers of triangular roofs. Forests of pine so closely packed they form a wall of darkness. High twisted crags. Waterfalls and rustads, the little hillside farms. The place is a far cry from New York and the task ahead of him nothing like the fashion shoots or the urban scenery he’s been snapping in the city, turning them over for a quick buck. When he caught wind of Unseen Globe’s open call for a feature on ‘hidden places’, he bit his lip and bought the camera. Then a plane ticket. North of Trondheim is where he must go.

Walt asked him not to, but Kasper, the boatman, is more explicit.

“Even the Vikings avoided the place.” His English is good, but he sounds edgy like everyone else’s he’s spoken to in Mørkfjord whenever he brings up the old tale. About the shrine. The Hungerer. He came across it in Troll Country: Rare Myths and Forgotten Places, borrowed from the Hudson Park Library. Now the book is well-thumbed and past its return date. “The standing stones on the headland,” the old man points as if Tate can see through the mist coiling off the water, “warn against going there, each one carved with a rune. This is highly irregular. If the locals hear of it, they won’t talk to me for months.”

Bundled up in his Parka, Tate weighs the camera around his neck as if to convey the deal they’ve made. Good job I paid you in dollars and not krone then, he wants to say. Made it worth your while. The environs, grey ripples and shrouded land, don’t lend themselves readily to sarcasm. It’s a shrine he’s going to and the air itself feels sacred, untouched. The cold grips him like a rebuke and he’ll disturb it with his breath alone, ragged and steaming.

“I’ll be ten minutes. In and out.”

The keel bumps against shoals. A stunted tree emerges to greet them. The shallows lie as still as a mirror, reflecting cloud. Kasper has brought him to the isthmus.

“Half the village is empty and no one visits her now,” the old man says, shivering. “Might be worth heeding the old ways, son. If you want something from her, maybe give something in return. That’s the custom.”

A joke to scare tourists? A way to get more cash? Tate can’t tell. The boatman’s beard, salt-stiff and white, is a briar of secrets.

“I’ll give her the cover of a national magazine.”

Then Tate is stepping from the boat, stepping into dreams and memory again. He doesn’t hear Walt groan in the night, a warm weight shifting beside him. He doesn’t hear the rattle in his throat or notice the silence that follows.

Tate sleeps on, as oblivious as when he was straying onto holy ground.

In the old days, Tate heard, some cultures used to believe that the camera could steal a person’s soul. Tribespeople would scream and duck out of sight on the plains, in the jungles, if an explorer tried to snap them. Did they think the lens would snare them forever, trap them behind glass? The idea springs to mind the next morning when he wakes up and finds Walt. It doesn’t seem half as quirky when he lays eyes on the corpse.


Fingers gripping the arms of the chair, Walt is sitting in a rigid position before Tate’s desk. The laptop remains closed. The camera is a black bug, watching. Walt stares back, dumbstruck and cold. Whatever he’s seen has snatched the life from him. There is no blood. No sign of struggle. Only pallid skin and gaunt cheekbones. Tate can see the veins in Walt’s temples, blue like the northernmost skies after a Finnmark sunset.

A heart attack? A stroke?

It hits him. A gasp and Tate is falling into the bookshelf, airport bestsellers and ‘How To’ guides raining down. He lets himself slide with them, his gaze fixed on Walt. He sits there for a long time, counting his shuddering breaths. His thoughts ricochet. The smart thing to do would be call 911. Except it’s 10am. He has the appointment of a lifetime with the magazine. Can he reschedule? Can he afford to do that? Really? Tate is on his feet and heading for the shower, second guessing his every move. Telling himself he can’t change anything. Walt isn’t going anywhere, no. His camera, shiny and black, reflects him in miniature as he shoves himself trembling into his suit, picks up his kit and shoves the Alpha into his backpack.

“Fuck. I’m actually leaving the apartment.”

Stupidly, he says this to himself in the elevator. It doesn’t change his mind. His heart is a jackhammer, but Walt would understand, wouldn’t he? He didn’t go all the way to Mørkfjord for nothing. Later he can discover the body. Yes. Later, he can tell the cops he stayed at a friends near the airport, came home to his apartment from the pitch meeting, found his dead boyfriend. Later, he’d have sold the photos and have some kind of future ahead of him. Walt wouldn’t want to stand in his way…

Yeah, a tog hears all the stories. In the old days, people used to believe you could scrape the very last image a person saw from the back of a corpse’s eye.

Collar up against the rain, Tate wonders what it was that Walt saw as he shouts for a taxi.

In the boardroom on the sixth floor of 67th street, Tate sweats and makes his pitch. There’s a large, framed picture on the wall of a breaching whale. Corny. Headshots line the room, each one the Photographer of the Year at some point. The envy Tate feels keeps him upright before the long polished table, braced against the judgement of the agents who sit there (and pushing his guilt about Walt—poor, dead, abandoned Walt—to the back of his mind). There are three of them, two men and a woman. In their sharp grey suits, their faces are masks of corporate interest. The blinds are closed, but their eyes gleam in the glow of the widescreen TV. If eyes are the windows of the soul, then he can tell that they’re bored already. He’s one of a hundred that Unseen Globe will see this week. He has to knock it out of the park.

“Thousands of years before the Christian era,” he begins, “we worshipped hungry gods.”

He’s hooked his Alpha up to his laptop and his laptop to the TV, courtesy of USB. Onscreen, the first shot reveals a huddle of snowy rooftops around the leaden Norwegian bay, setting the scene. Isolated. Below zero. The untouched places of the world. He tells them the village is called Mørkfjord and that humans have lived in the area since the Stone Age. Next there’s a shot of the isthmus, a bleak narrow strip winding out across the mudflats and the water beyond. There’s the boatman, Kasper, unsmiling. He clicks the wireless presentation pointer and reveals the exterior of the shrine, the low stone dome with the iron crosses around it (a later addition, he tells them. 16th century). One of the guys is halfway to stifling a yawn when Tate clicks again and reveals the interior.


“Is this some kind of joke?”

The agents sit back in their seats, aghast. In the split-second between Tate’s faltering spiel and the realisation that something is wrong, a smile flickers at the corners of his mouth. The altar has got their attention. Sulta has got their attention, just like she got his breath when he first stepped into the shrine.

‘She is the wind. The sky. The sea.’ That’s what the old man said, repeating the story, the myth. ‘She is the emptiness that cannot be filled’.

Tate’s pride shrivels up as he turns to regard the image of the cold black stone, the carvings on the wall, and he sees the problem. Captured in HD, the altar, a slab of weatherworn, frost-speckled stone that he found on the day he entered (trespassed, a voice whispers in his head) is no longer bare. Instead, a riddle of flesh adorns the surface, naked and pale. He sees bodies stacked like sides of beef, their limbs entwined in what might’ve been ecstasy if not for the blood. With a gasp, he makes out the torn remnants of breasts. Raw holes in place of eye and phallus. Caught in the glare of the flash, Tate sees legs hooked through arms, each one threaded together by elbows and knees in a loose knot before Sulta on the wall, her howling mouth in 24.2 megapixels. He meets her graven eyes like a penitent and fights the urge to kneel, to beg. Please. It’s the object in the middle distance, crowning the heap of offered meat, that stuffs his scream back down his throat.


An infant rests there, shrunken and blue. It’s this grim cherry on the gruesome cake that he guesses the agents are mostly reacting to, one of the men climbing to his feet.

“I hope that’s art,” he says, a finger shaking at the screen. “Either way, we’re not making a horror movie here, Mr Miller.”

“Wait. I can explain.”

Can I? A dark miracle is unfolding in the boardroom, because when Tate stepped into the shrine at Mørkfjord it sure as hell was empty except for the ice and the wind. Except for Sulta. How the fuck can this be?

Frantically, he clicks the pointer. He wants to erase the sight of the slaughter, the sacrifice. Could someone have meddled with his camera? Was it some elaborate prank? But Walt wouldn’t know how. And besides, Walt was –


The woman, hand over mouth, has forgotten her professionalism. Another photo has replaced the interior of the shrine, Tate realises. It’s Walt. A closeup of Walt in the worst of all snapshots. His eyes are orbs devoid of pupils. His mouth a maw of silent agony. Veins stand out on his forehead, his cheeks. Tate can see there’s something off about the image, a distortion that lends it its terrible weight. It’s as if Walt is made of cellophane and someone has taken the end of a vacuum cleaner to it, leaving it shrivelled, sucked inward.

“Mr Miller, we’ve seen enough.”

Agent number one reaches for the camera on the laptop stand. Before Tate can stop himself he’s leaping forward, snatching at the device. It’s more than possessiveness. More than the expense. Somehow he knows that. The woman yells, nonsensical. There’s a moment of struggle, a ridiculous scuffle.

“Don’t…” Tate forces the words through his teeth. “Don’t touch…”

The stand tips over, the laptop crashing to the floor. The screen blinks out, a welcome black if Tate had paused to notice it. In his grip, the camera pulses. The flash goes off, lightning bright in the shaded confines. For a moment, everything goes white. Tate blinks, his vision clearing, and he realises he’s been released. The silence is so sudden it’s profound.

The agents are on the floor. Unmoving.

Out on the isthmus, Tate trudges across the spongy ground, his camera clutched to his chest like a second heart. The air is empty, but full of knives, each one keen to sink through his Parka, through his fleece and into his skin. A man could freeze out here in minutes and Kasper said he wouldn’t wait long, his commitment palpably waning the closer the boat drew to the shrine. In turn, his muttering increased, crazy backwater talk of wind and sea and emptiness.

There’s no path, he said. The ones who came this way are centuries dead.

This bears out as Tate makes his way to the dome up ahead. There isn’t even a suggestion of a path, only brambles and tufts of sedge. Twice, he falters, wincing. Around the crumbling site, someone has driven crosses into the ground. Fifty, a hundred crosses surround the shrine. Lutheran pilgrims in the 1500s, according to his research. The crosses peep through the mist like raised swords, challenging his progress. Salt and time have rusted them black. Snap. Snap. Tate takes some pictures and continues, but he isn’t watching his feet like he should be. He nicks himself on metal, once on his upper arm, once on his calf. He swears, but presses onwards. He doesn’t see it, but blood speckles the frozen earth.

Steam coils off the grass.

Don’t touch her. That’s what Tate was going to say to the agent. How crazy is that? Now, he’s on Line 4 going under Greenpoint, sat in a crowded subway carriage and shaking his head. There are executives behind newspapers. A kid playing around a pole. With his gear hastily packed, Tate fled the building, leaving security to discover the bodies. He should’ve alerted someone, he knows. It was the same way with Walt. When he saw the state of them, slumped and withered on the floor, their terror forever etched on their faces, rationale flew from him. How could he have explained it? How could he have related to some secretary or other what his dread was telling him, seeping into him like Barents sea ice among the rattling, huddled passengers.

I’m not thinking straight. No shit. It’s the camera. Something got into it.

Something . . . But it’s true when he touches his precious Alpha in his lap—and he is always touching the Alpha—that his panic subsides, his heart slows, fading into a background hum of unease when he should be screaming, when his mind should be falling apart. Likewise, his feelings for Walt seem clouded. He loved the guy, didn’t he? The guy who is currently growing stiff on the floor of his study. But no tears have come and the camera feels warm, throbbing slightly. A comfort.

He mutters to himself. “If you want something from her, maybe give something in return.”

Opposite him, an old lady who shares the colour of his skin looks at him like he needs help. None of it makes any sense. Except, in a horrible way, it does.

When the cops get on at Nassau Avenue, Tate climbs to his feet. There are two of them in black caps and jackets, guns holstered on their hips. He’s sweating again, his breath coming hard. The old lady tuts at him. She’s had enough of his nonsense already and maybe she’s right. There’s no way he can tell that the cops are looking for him. No way to know if security discovered the bodies in the boardroom and called them, spluttering out his description, his address. The route home he’d probably have taken. He can’t know that for sure.

The cops are making their way up the carriage down the corridor of knees. The kid stops swinging on the pole, his mother’s hisses returning him to his seat. One of the cops notices Tate, standing further up the carriage, a trembling, glistening figure. Shit. It’s his stare, his tension, that’s lent him a spotlight. The man reacts, an instinctive motion, reaching for his gun when he sees Tate raise the camera. There’s a little distance between them. Can the cop tell it’s a camera?

The flash goes off before he finds out. Before the cop can shout, draw his gun. Electrodes spark. Xenon ignites. White light stutters down the length of the carriage, quick as a chameleon’s tongue. There’s a familiar split-second of nowhere, a world suspended in blankness. In its wake, Tate watches the cops fall to the floor. Executives lay in a litter of rags. The kid is slumped in his mom’s lap, her head lolling on his back. Every head in the carriage lolls. It’s as if everyone has fallen asleep at the same time, but Tate knows they aren’t sleeping. The old lady has slipped off her seat, sprawled at his feet in a mess of scattered shopping.

The camera thrums as though sated.

Sulta. His head goes. Sulta. Sulta.

‘The old ways,’ Kasper told him.

The train rattles on and Tate wonders what the hell he’s given her, what she’s taken in return.

The subway isn’t safe. People are screaming on the platform. Other cops will come and soon. Before anyone can stop him, ask him what went down, Tate disembarks and switches to the M-Line, then jumps off at Marcy Avenue. He’s back in Queens, but he doesn’t mind. It’s home, after all. Where he began. The buildings around him feel like shelter, grey and grimy wings. Heading west down Broadway, he passes under the shadow of the Williamsburg Bridge, the skeleton of some gigantic prehistoric snake or so he’s thought of it since childhood. Now another monster has come. Older.

Traffic honks. Pedestrians pass by. He doesn’t look at them. Feels guilty now. He looks at his feet and clings to the camera around his neck.

Hush, she tells him, a whisper in his head. Hush, my servant.

Surely he’s imagining it. Part of his breakdown. Lightly, his fingertips graze the buttons. The LCD display is a dull black rectangle, as inviting as it is repellent. Dare he look at the shots he’s taken? Walt, petrified. The agents, fallen. Cops and forty or fifty passengers on the subway, all of them drained. And whatever it is he snapped in the Mørkfjord shrine—the shrine that was there before there was a Mørkfjord. The altar. The petroglyphs. The one who dwelt within.

Sulta. The Hungerer.

At the entrance to Domino Park, Tate steels himself and clicks. The LCD display blinks into life. He’s expecting to see his last shot, the interior of the train carriage, and his bark echoes through the day. Pigeons flutter, sharing his alarm. The screen, as it happens, is far from still. It’s moving. Moving in a way no photo should move. Hands, white as the hilltops of Finnmark, are pressing against the inside of the glass, shrunken and tiny. The image teems, desperate, and beyond the scrabbling fingers and palms, Tate thinks he can make out faces, little faces spectral and drawn, swirling in the depths of the camera. In the guts of the device, the Alpha. But that is insane.

“It isn’t a camera anymore,” he tells himself. “It’s a mouth.”

Yes, it is fucking insane. But that doesn’t mean it’s untrue.

Tate wants to get rid of the camera. It’s an obvious decision. Sure, he could press ‘delete all’. Somehow, he knows it won’t do. There’s a vampire round his neck, sucking at the world. Groaning, he hurries through the park to the railings, looks out over the East River, another grey expanse. The skyscrapers of the Lower East Side stare back at him, indifferent titans. An airplane pisses smoke across the sky. Tate tears the Alpha from him, winds back an arm to hurl the thing into the water, into the depths where it belongs. Fuck the six thousand bucks. The camera throbs, warm and fleshy in his grip. Tate wants to get rid of it, but he can’t.

That wasn’t part of the deal.

In the shrine, in the gloom, out on the isthmus beyond Mørkfjord, Tate sucks in his breath and raises his camera before the altar. Black stone regards him, shaped to resemble the face of a woman, raging and pained, her hair weaving across the wall. But it’s her mouth, a broad black slot, that flows with the wind, the air howling through the ingress. Flakes dance in the darkness. The granite rumbles. Age reeks here. Tate doesn’t hear the words she speaks. He’s too awed by the sight, an ancient marvel that no one has laid eyes on in hundreds of years according to the villager, the boatman. His heart is a ball of excitement, tight with the thought of the magazine’s reaction, the fame and the money that must surely follow. He has travelled so far. To the end of the world.

The flash lights her worn features, her hollow glare. The wind never ceases and Tate lacks the knowledge to decipher her imprecations, the way she commands him to kneel, the curses she will heap upon him. Do you not know me, she shrieks? Can he not see down the tunnel of years, of centuries, to measure the ones she’s devoured? Men, women, children—people who came to these shores in flimsy ships and laid flowers and stones as if that was enough to appease her. Before that, beasts who strayed into the shrine for shelter, wolves, seagulls and snakes. And before that, the stars, the cold accursed stars, the consumption of which led to her imprisonment. Into her, all of them have gone, all that she surveyed. Their souls siphoned, drawn down her undying black throat.

Fool! Of course no mortal can see it. All they can do is witness the silence in the wake of her hunger, the divine emptiness, and keep a fearful distance. Have they written of her in their books, she wonders. Fragile, fleeting as they. Are there tales and maps that led the man to her, inviting him to stand so mindless and bold, so impudent before her restless tomb?

Will you release me, dust-bones? She is weak, it is true, and starving. What shall I grant in return?

Tate hears none of this. He only hears the wind. He points his camera and clicks, and clicks, and clicks again.

It’s the light that sucks at the shadows, a bridge from stone into glass.

They say the camera never lies. Tate knows that isn’t true. A tog like him has learnt plenty and now, standing by the river in Domino Park, he has learnt that some things should go unseen. That some things are unseen. The device does not see all. Neither does the eye.

He thinks of Walt. Sends him a silent apology for the death he brought into their home. But there’s no time now, no time to turn back. Unspoken things have bound him. He has walked where no man should. The goddess has made him her own.

In his hands, the camera pulses like a heart, black and eager. Hungry. It boils with those consumed. And it will never be enough. Never enough for Sulta.

Cold, weeping, Tate raises the camera. Through the viewer, he can see the teeth of the city, the buildings holding up the sky. How far can her tongue reach, tangled, knotted in light?

All that she sees she will feast on.

About the Author

James Bennett is a British writer raised in Sussex and South Africa. His travels have furnished him with an abiding love of different cultures, history and mythology. His short fiction has appeared internationally and his debut novel Chasing Embers was shortlisted for Best Newcomer at the British Fantasy Awards 2017. James lives in Spain where he’s currently at work on a new novel. Feel free to follow him on Twitter: @JamesBennettEsq.