In all of his life Mr Mellon had pretty well avoided being photographed.
There had been some childhood snaps, of course, but apart from that, Mr Mellon’s face was a blank. And, for as long as he had any say in the matter, that was fine by him.
Mr Mellon hated his face. His nose was absurdly long, his ears looked like they had been borrowed from an elephant and his Adam’s apple bounced up and down like it was on a trampoline. And none of this is to touch, even lightly, on the runaway chin and the five o’clock shadow which usually started growing around eleven in the morning.
Mr Mellon had always known, even as a tiny child, that he was ugly. ‘Pug ugly’ was how he used to put it. ‘Beyond the reach of repair,’ he was used, self-deprecatingly to mutter. But then, Mr Mellon was almost annoyingly self-deprecating. At least he used to annoy the few people, mainly from the office, it has to be said, whom he actually knew. Or knew him.
Mr Mellon had very few friends and, as far as he knew, not a single admirer. All of which made it all the more puzzling when, one bright summer’s morning, as he walked to work, he worked for the Council, always had done, probably always would do, he had the distinct and very clear impression that someone had taken his photograph. He sensed the ‘flash,’ maybe he even saw it. Out of the corner of his eye, that is.
Mr Mellon had just been to see a film about a man who wanted to avoid being followed, so he had varied his route. The man in the film, that is. So, Mr Mellon had done the same. Varied his route. Like a spy, or a secret agent.
In fact, Mr Mellon was just beginning to enjoy his little secret game of ‘catch me if you can,’ when ‘Flash!’ it happened again. Same place, same time.
As Mr Mellon had begun to learn, there is only a limited number of variations available on a fifteen minute walk as far as the council offices. So all the phantom flasher had to do was wait and ‘bingo, there’s Mr Mellon coming into range again.’ Easy, really. ‘Flash!’
Throughout the ensuing autumn, it happened several more times. ‘Flash!’ ‘Flash!’ ‘Flash!’ Mr Mellon was running a bit out of patience. But, whereas, at first, Mr Mellon hadn’t a clue where the flash was coming from, ‘lack of experience,’ reasoned Mr Mellon to himself, ‘not used to that sort of thing, not in my line of country,’ later he got a bit smarter and worked out where ‘flash!’ was coming from. He pinned down not just the general area but which window, on which floor of which block of flats.
The obvious thing to do, of course, given Mr Mellon’s photo-shyness was to avoid going down that street. Ever again, indeed.
But Mr Mellon wasn’t that sort of person. Deep inside him, Mr Mellon was a maelstrom of churning emotions. Curiosity vied with vanity vied with a stubborn streak vied with an inherent neatness, which hated loose ends. And the flashes and the photographer in particular, for Mr Mellon, constituted a very palpable loose end, which cried out to be tidied up.
‘Right,’ said Mr Mellon, to himself, mainly because there was no-one else to be resolute to, ‘I’m going to fix this guy,’ and wondered, if push came to shove, whether he would be committing an offence, a seriously indictable offence, if he were to punch the man on the nose.
‘Anyway,’ reasoned Mr Mellon, there aren’t any police round here and, if they were they wouldn’t be interested. So that’s alright then.’ Of course, he could always smash the wretched man’s camera, instead. Catch him unawares and go for the camera, while the guy was worrying about his hooter.
The very next morning, Mr Mellon walked resolutely down the street where the photographer was plying his nefarious trade, with murder or if not murder, anyway assault in the very front of his mind. And, blow me down, just at the very same spot as before and right on cue, ‘Flash!’ There wasn’t even the faintest shadow of doubt about it, someone had just taken another photograph of Mr Mellon. Of the ugly Mr Mellon and without his permission and without even a ‘by your leave.’
‘Right O, me hearty’ you’ve gone too far this time,’ Mr Mellon talked to himself like that under the influence of whatever film he had just seen, so he clenched his fists and set off in pursuit of the ‘flasher.’
Mr Mellon knew exactly where had to go and in no more than a few seconds, he had bounded up the stairs and was hammering on the door of a second floor flat, facing east and overlooking what used to be Mr Mellon’s daily walk to work.
The door opened immediately and there, right in front of Mr Mellon, but a good few inches shorter than him, stood, to his intense surprise, a young and exceedingly pretty girl.
Mr Mellon, in spite of all his best intentions, looked nonplussed, rather speechless and somewhat taken aback.
‘Come on in,’ said the girl, ‘come on in.’ ‘ Actually, I was hoping we’d meet face to face. All I’ve got, so far of you is some slightly blurry images and they’re not all what I need. Far too out of focus. Anyway, you’re always in a hurry and I want repose, that’s what I really want from you, repose.’
‘Blow the repose bit,’ was what Mr Mellon should have said. What he actually said was absolutely nothing at all. He just stared. And his mouth, which was supposed to be set firmly and resolutely, merely sagged open. Gaped, in fact. Which made Mr Mellon look even uglier
The flat smelled a bit too, which further distracted Mr Mellon. It smelled of Developer and Fixer, a familiar smell from Mr Mellon’s school days when, to avoid the other boys, young Mellon used to pretend an interest in photography and lock himself away in the school darkroom.
‘Would you like to see my darkroom?’ said the girl, brightly and in a trice, she had opened the bathroom door and there, lying in a dish of fixer was a picture of one of the ugliest men Mr Mellon had ever seen in his life. The man looked even more awe-inspiringly frightful than Mr Mellon. And he had bad acne. ‘Beautiful, isn’t he. Isn’t he just perfect?’ drooled the girl, ‘what a totally gorgeous creature. I saw him on the circle line this morning and followed him home. Lives by himself in a flat in Bayswater. Not that you’re far behind,’ enthused the girl, peering at Mr Mellon in the red darkroom light. ‘You’re, both of you, as lovely as we can find, you two. Amazing, quite, quite amazing.’
‘I’ll have to email his picture back right away, as soon as we’ve got it washed and dried. In case they want him. In person, that is.’
‘Back?’ queried Mr Mellon, ‘back to where, precisely?’
‘Oh, of course, I quite forgot, you haven’t a clue, have you. Oh you really are a totally gorgeous creature, sorry to keep staring but I simply can’t keep my eyes off you, I hope you don’t mind.’
Mr Mellon, who thought he should say something, muttered ‘no, no, that’s fine by me, you go right ahead, young lady.’
‘Zeecon, that’s where. I have to email everything back there, otherwise there wouldn’t be any point in me being here. Think about it. Logic, don’t you see? Oh you are beautiful. Sorry, but I simply can’t help it.’
‘And, pray,’ said Mr Mellon, ‘where the hell is Zeecon?’
‘Oh, you poor darling, God you are quite stunning to look at. Of course, how could you know where we come from? Zeecon is miles away, light years away from here. Zeecon is in a completely different galaxy, it’s so far away from here, none of your chaps have even found out what Universe it’s in. Sorry about the stare, can’t help it, you see.’
Actually, your whole planet is absolutely swarming with beautiful creatures, look here, I’ll show you.’ And the girl took Mr Mellon by the hand and led him all round her flat.
And on every single surface and hanging from every possible hook and tacked to every bit of wall space was the most disgusting display of the ugliest human males Mr Mellon had ever hoped not to see in his whole life. He had thought he was a bit of a gargoyle but he was in a different league to these chaps.
‘Where on earth did you get that lot from?’ asked Mr Mellon.
‘Oh, round and about, over the years and the centuries. Chap called Breugel used to use them as models. Artist fellow. I used to hang around with him at one time. Not that they knew about photos back then, They thought I was stealing their souls. Got chased away eventually.’
‘Then I worked in one of those freak shows. All those stunners going to waste, couldn’t believe it.’
‘Nor could the chaps back home. So they made a decision. I should email some of them back, in person, the ones that wouldn’t be missed too much. Which I did. Actually, I don’t think they were missed at all, or not a lot.’
‘Now there’s this whole colony of them on Zeecon. Mind you, caused havoc with the girls, they did. Have to keep them all locked away in a compound, to stop the girls getting in amongst them. Odd thing is they get even more stunningly beautiful as they get older. And back here, all you can think of to use them for is Gurning Contests. You lot are really most peculiar.’
Mr Mellon’s mouth finally came to a sort of rest. ‘But, you, how do you fit in?’ he asked.
‘Oh, I’m only here for a while, doing my National Service, actually. Quite an interesting assignment, on the whole. And now they want me to come home and the really lovely thing is that they say I can bring one of you back with me. As a sort of reward for doing so well.’
‘I say,’ said the girl, ‘Mr Mellon, you wouldn’t like to come back with me, would you? I know I’m an ugly old hag but I do rather like you. Been studying you for ages and you’re quite a stunner to show off to the girls back home. Show them even I can do it, if I work hard enough.’
Mr Mellon needed no second asking and that was how, moments later, the two of them had emailed themselves back to Zeecon, where they lived happily ever after.
And the really wonderful thing about this whole story is that, from that day on, each of them thought the other the most beautiful and attractive thing they had ever set eyes on.
Back in the council offices, it took them three weeks to realise Mr Mellon was missing.