I’ve been a wedding photographer for nearly ten years and I thought I’d seen it all. Trashy, beautiful, tragic, hilarious, or just bizarre. I have stories. I have the typical groom getting caught getting it on with the maid of honor, family getting into brawls, brides OD-ing in the bathroom, gay couples having no one attend their wedding (or worse, the one uninivited homophobic relative crashing to just be a dick) stories. But we aren’t here for the typical stories. If we were, we’d be here all day. We’re here for the wedding from last October.
Fall weddings are probably my favorite, if I ever get married I’ll probably get hitched in the fall. It was the parents of the bride who came to me, asking for my services for a wedding in two weeks. Their original photographer apparently up and quit on them and they were desperate to have their darling daughter’s wedding immortalized in picture format.
Luckily for them, I had a clear schedule. I did charge them quite a bit extra for the suddenness of it all, but judging by the father’s Rolex it wasn’t that big a deal. One thing I’m good at guessing is a family’s wealth status. And once again I was on point- the Seawrights were rolling in dough.
Not that I really liked them though. I’m not required to like all my clients, although it does make things a bit more relaxing. Harold Seawright absolutely leered at my chest whenever he thought I wasn’t looking and Carol was clearly the trophy wife that was over the hill. I’ve never seen a human being that genuinely looked more like plastic than her. Nothing wrong with plastic surgery or Botox, but there’s gotta be a cut off at some point.
I think I should’ve been more off put by the parents coming to me rather than the bride, but I just figured said bride was busy with other wedding planning shit and didn’t think too hard on it.
Day came and uh… oh boy I realized I was getting into something I didn’t want to be a part of right away.
First time I saw the bride, Tanya, I had a brief moment of ‘I don’t know how old this girl is’. She could’ve been sixteen, she could’ve been just eighteen. Definitely not over twenty though. I’ve seen young marriages when it’s a shotgun affair, but then I met the groom. Marcel Wingate. Who was definitely no younger than thirty. And Marcel was just… something felt off. The man was a giant for one, he towered over me let alone Tanya. With his long, pale face and sunken eyes he could’ve been fuckin’ Lurch from the Addams Family.
When he shook my hand and introduced himself, I barely repressed a shiver. But years of practice helped me to smile and act like there wasn’t something slimy about all of this.
Tanya never said a word when she was made over for her big day. Only Carol did, chirping and twittering about ‘how about you make her hair a little bigger’ or ‘make her eyes pop, she has such pretty eyelashes’. Luckily Carol had to go have a smoke every fifteen minutes so the make up and hair people could have a moment to actually work. By the time it was all over, Tanya looked perfect. Her dress was basically a white ballgown, a tiara was placed in her strawberry blonde hair, cheeks blushing a perfect pink. But unlike most brides, she still hadn’t said a word and those weren’t sure as hell tears of joy she was holding back.
I’m sure you’ve heard about the ‘first look’ photo fad. I find it great to get that perfect expression a groom makes when he sees the bride in her dress for the first time. It’s usually quite cute. This was the first time I’ve shot a first look photo where I truly believe it was the first time the bride and groom have actually looked at each other.
Marcel did seem to have his breath taken away by his lovely bride, but her expression was less than thrilled as he took her hand and give it a tight squeeze. My stomached turned when he leaned in for a kiss on the cheek and she quite obviously flinched.
It’s time I put a pin on the myth that arranged marriages only happen in foreign countries, and only people from certain cultures take part in it. They happen all the time in the US, and more often than not it’s an old man who wants a ‘virgin’ bride, and by virgin I mean ‘still in fucking highschool’. This wouldn’t even be the first one I was hired to photograph.
I managed to catch Tanya alone in the room she got ready in, sitting next to the open window and twirling an unlit cigarette between her fingers. “Need a light?” I offered as I came in.
“No thanks. I don’t smoke, but they say it makes you feel better, right?” She said, looking up at me with those doll like blue eyes.
“It also gives you lung and throat cancer.” I took the cigarette from her and lit it up for myself. “But I’m a bad example, so do as I say, not as I do.”
Now that got a smile out of her, even if it only lasted a second. “How often do you smoke?” She asked.
“Depends on the day. Usually I have two or three. Bad day I can have a few more.” I lowered the cigarette and looked down at her. “How old are you, Tanya?”
“Nineteen. Twenty in a few weeks. I have a bit of a baby face.” She poked one of her cheeks. “Why do you care?”
I glanced at the door to make sure Carol wasn’t going to barge in. “Tanya, are you not okay with this? The wedding?” I asked quietly.
Tanya’s eyes widened. “Damn, you’re good,” She also glanced at the door, “… Harold, my stepdad, arranged all of this. If he had it his way it would’ve happened when I was fifteen, but Marcel kept delaying. Business, apparently. He tried to delay another year but my dad implied he had other offers.” She shivered and wrapped her arms around herself. “If I said no, Harold would kick me out and cut me off, frozen my bank account. I’d have nothing and no one, and… I don’t know what I’d do if that happened.”
I reached into my purse and pulled out one of my business cards. “Flip the card over, it has a number for a woman’s shelter- they specialize in helping women escape from dangerous home situations. Hides them, helps them get started in a new city if need be. Below that is my personal home number, if you just need to talk, okay?”
Tanya took the card and clung onto it tightly before tucking it into her bra. “You might be the nicest person I’ve ever met,” She murmured.
I gave her shoulder a squeeze. “I try,” I said before extinguishing the cigarette on the windowsill. “If you need to escape any time tonight, just ask me to help you go to the bathroom. We can pull a whole runaway bride,” I joked.
That got another laugh out of her, just in time for her mom to pop into the room. “Well, what’s taking so long? Hurry up, the wedding’s going to be starting in fifteen minutes, and I don’t want you to cry and make your face all blotchy and ugly!” She whined.
Tanya’s brief joy faded and she gave me one more sad look before following her mother out.
The ceremony would’ve been so much more beautiful if I didn’t know the dirty little secret behind it all. Tanya didn’t smile once. I don’t think even one of those bridesmaids was an actual friend of hers, or at least not a sincere one. When the priest said ‘you may kiss the bride’, Tanya let one tear slip down her cheek when Marcel leaned down to kiss her.
I was seriously considering calling the cops, but what could they do? Tanya would likely cave and say nothing was wrong, and since she wasn’t a minor they couldn’t label Marcel a pedo and her stepfather a child seller. It still didn’t make the situation any less shitty. All I could do was snap pictures of the worst day of Tanya’s life.
At the reception I was constantly being nagged by Carol about what pictures to take to the point where I wanted to rip her hair out, but I did notice something different about the first dance between the couple.
Tanya at first was stiff as a board, reluctant to even touch Marcel, but he leaned down and whispered something in her ear. Her entire demeanor changed in a blink of an eye to one of surprise and I managed to read her lips- ‘really?’ Marcel nodded and I managed to catch a picture of the first smile Tanya had since she said ‘I do’. By the end of the dance, she was actually starting to get into it, resting her head on his chest as they swayed to ‘A Thousand Years’.
It was a complete 180 change, Tanya was now one of the happiest, and dare I say it flirtiest brides I’ve ever seen. She even leaned up to kiss him on the cheek as they sat down, something that took even Marcel by surprise judging by how he blushed.
I genuinely started to wonder if Marcel slipped something in her drink to get her acting so happy when Carol started to nag me again about where her husband was. She was the kind of mother who forgot this was her child’s wedding instead of her own and she wanted pictures of her and ‘Haaarold’. In order to get the fuck away from her I told her I’d go find him. He’d been hitting the open bar a little hard that night, I assumed he was in the bathroom either throwing up or cheating on his wife. It could’ve gone either way at that point.
When I approached the men’s room, I heard something that sounded like gargling or swallowing. Ew, I know, but I kinda hoped to ruin this nasty bitch’s day if her husband really was cheating so I opened the bathroom door with my camera at the ready.
I made eye contact with Harold.
Or rather, I made eye contact with Harold’s head.
It was sitting in the sink, expression twisted in abject horror. The room was soaked in blood, body parts strewn around the floor. Meanwhile, Marcel had stripped out of his tuxedo and was currently swallowing Harold’s arm. Whole.
Now I was wondering if I’d had something slipped into my champagne. Humans can’t just unhinge their jaw like that, each gulp taking Marcel’s arm deeper down his throat. I saw the tips of Harold’s fingers disappear with a small wave of goodbye… and then I dropped my camera.
Yes, I heard something break, no I didn’t care. I just saw the groom eat the goddamn father of the bride. Marcel’s head shot up and his eyes, before now they were a dull, watery gray but now they were mottled brown and red with slitted pupils. I felt frozen when those eyes looked at me.
“Oh, I’m terribly sorry, one moment.”
Marcel turned to the sink that was free of a man’s head and vomited, I heard several things clatter on the porcelain before he fetched them out and washed them off. With an embarrassed clearing of his throat, he walked up to me and pulled me into the bathroom.
I thought I was dead, but instead Marcel placed several diamonds in my palm. “For the camera, I didn’t mean to startle you,” He said.
“Uh huh,” I managed to get out as I stared at the literal handful of diamonds. This would pay for more than the camera. “… Why did you-”
“Devour Harold? Oh, I’ve wanted to do that for years,” Marcel chuckled as he grabbed some paper towels to wipe off his chin, like that would take away from the fact he was still naked and bloody in front of me. “A terrible person actually tastes quite divine. You would taste absolutely terrible. It’d be like swallowing nails. Meanwhile, a man who offers his own daughter as a sacrificial lamb to something he knows eats humans, he tastes like the richest cut of steak, cooked medium rare and seasoned to perfection.”
Jesus Christ, this twisted situation had taken on a whole new level of fucked up. “Wait, he seriously-”
“Oh, absolutely,” Marcel snorted, “And he’d do it again. All for what happens when my stomach processes human bone.”
I clutched the diamonds. “… You’re not going to hurt Tanya?” I asked.
Marcel shook his head vigorously. “God, no! I kept delaying the wedding in hopes that she’d manage to find a way out, but I think Harold was getting bored with my cold feet. There would be plenty of other people willing to pay for her, even if my payment would be easily thrice what others would offer.”
God, I was starting to feel a little dizzy. Here I was, talking to a human eating groom. I glanced out the door and a horrible idea entered my brain. One that would surely earn Marcel’s good favor and help out Tanya. “… So if I told Carol she could find her husband in the men’s room?” I asked.
Marcel seemed puzzled for a second but caught on quickly. With a nod, he picked up the head and tossed it into one of the stalls. I heard it splash in one of the toilets and I almost started giggling, I was nearing hysteria. “Go right ahead. I’ll be waiting,” He said as he kicked more limbs out of sight.
I almost left when I had to ask one more question.
“What the hell are you?”
Marcel cocked his head to the side before he changed, just for a second. One moment he was a blood soaked man, absolutely horrifing but normal, the next he was a snake… sort of. His body was gone, replaced by the body of an anaconda, but his head was still the same, minus the flick of a slim, forked tongue from his mouth. Then he was back to ‘normal’. He responded with a shrug.
“Funnily enough, I was hoping you’d tell me. I don’t have a clue.”
I left the bathroom and bumped into Carol almost immediately in the hallway. “Well, where is he?” She snapped.
I just pointed a thumb towards the bathroom. “Think he’s not feeling so well,” I said before I was nearly bowled over by the grumpy bitch.
I watched long enough for her to open the door and for a scaled tail to shoot out, snag her around the arm, and drag her into the bathroom before I headed back to the wedding.
The problem seemed to solve itself that night. Marcel came back, the men’s room locked after apparently someone got quite sick in there. Tanya no longer had to behave a certain way to please her mom and I think she had a good night. I used my back up camera to make sure to get all the pictures of her smiling. Carol and Harold vanished into thin air, never to be seen or heard from again. And those diamonds paid for quite the nice new camera.
Like I said, it’s been a year. I sure as hell haven’t forgotten that wedding, but what prompted me to share it was that I got a friend request from Tanya on Facebook. I normally don’t accept friend requests from previous clients, but this one time I chose to make an exception. She does look so much better, she’s going to college, she now sculpts and paints, she regularly volunteers at the woman’s shelter I directed her to when we first me, and every Friday night is group date night at the local arcade with some of Marcel’s friends that now appear to be her friends as well. Apparently Marcel is quite the Dance Dance Revolution master, but is terrible at shooting games.
Her most recent picture was her and Marcel, smiling. And she was holding up an ultrasound picture.