Obscura Journal hosts a short-story contest where they provide two pictures and you bridge the gap between those photos.
I entered once before and did not win.
Well, I am nothing if not consistent. I didn’t win again. 😎
But I don’t want my short little story to go to waste. So, I will share it with you.
Click here first to see the pictures (oh and I guess you can read the actual winner’s story if you must) …. then read on for my interpretation of how those pictures make sense together.
Thomas stumbled toward Ryan’s bed, leaned down, and shook his brother to wake him in the wee hours of a misty September morning. He raised his pointer finger toward his mouth and slowly uncurled it. Ryan started to speak but Thomas stopped him with his other hand, which reeked of marijuana smoke and cough medicine.
Ryan stretched his arms above his head and looked toward the retired milk crate next to his bed. The hands on his grandfather’s watch revealed it was only 3:00 am. Ryan tilted his head, listening for the familiar sounds of sirens that often filled the night air. But this night was absent the common warning screech and Thomas’ urgency lost its logic. Ryan rubbed his eyes as Thomas searched for his brother’s shoes. On the way out the front door, Thomas grabbed their sweatshirts and a crumpled brown grocery bag. Ryan grabbed his Rubik’s cube.
They marched through the hazy mist with Ryan leaning back into Thomas’ left-handed push. The older brother was agitated and frantic. As keys jangled in his free hand, he mumbled to himself something about “money, a lot of money” and “how was he going to get it”. He stopped twice under streetlights to look more closely at the keys on the large brass ring, refusing to answer questions or even look at Ryan.
Thomas only let go of his brother’s shoulder when they reached the doors to the library. After a quick scan of the area, Thomas unlocked the glass doors. He returned his grip on Ryan and ushered him over to the olive green couch in the empty reading room. Then he motioned for Ryan to sit down and threw the brown bag onto Ryan’s lap. Thomas immediately started pacing and Ryan nervously worked to solve the puzzle in his hands and in his thoughts.
He knew too well that nothing good ever came from Thomas’ pacing.
Behind them, a man in a striped suit with his jacket tightly buttoned flung the doors open and rushed toward Thomas. But Thomas stopped him just inside the threshold and whispered, “Not yet. Let me leave first.”
“Hey Ryan, I’ll be right back,” Thomas yelled over his left shoulder, as the man escorted him out with the same pushing motion that landed Ryan in the library’s lobby.
Ryan set aside his cube and squinted at the books on the wall. They were all so thick with lots of letters in their titles. Without his glasses he couldn’t be sure but he imagined there wouldn’t be a single picture among their dense pages. He wished he had brought his comic book. Curious, he turned his focus to the bag’s contents – a piece of charcoal, a sketch pad, and a soft green apple.
Thomas knew Ryan loved to draw. He even complimented his work when he wasn’t too busy pacing. Just as Ryan opened the pad and positioned the charcoal, an older man came in through the doors. He walked slowly over and joined Ryan on the couch. As the man started talking about the big wall of books, his dusty scent distracted Ryan and tickled his nose.
Just after Ryan sneezed, the old man pulled out a handkerchief. He covered Ryan’s face with it and Ryan fell asleep gripping the piece of charcoal. His sketchpad dropped easily to the floor.
When Ryan woke up, he found himself on at least the second floor of an abandoned building. He noticed the charcoal was beginning to stain his sweaty palms. In his imagination, the air smelled like home and he hoped it was close by. He scanned the opening to the room below hoping for Thomas but heard only mumbling from beneath the rickety staircase. Out of the corner of his eye, Ryan saw a rat scatter away with his apple. He dropped the charcoal as he screeched.
Instantly, heavy footsteps pounded on the staircase until a shadow appeared over Ryan. His shoulders curled as he scooted into the corner.
The man in the striped suit fanned a stack of money at Ryan’s face.
“Your brother’s a real hero. He owes us cash and he gives us you instead. Turns out you might be worth more anyhow.”
Ryan could barely breathe as the man crushed the charcoal with the toe of his black shoe. Then, chuckling, the man lowered his pudgy finger into the dust and mockingly wrote “Help Me” on the wall and turned to go back downstairs.
Laughter erupted when he returned to the older man below. Smoke rose through the holes in the stairs and Ryan grew increasingly nauseous. The morning sun shone through the slits in the dilapidated walls and shed light on the true horror of his situation.
The rusty hinges on the front door groaned and Ryan heard Thomas’ shaky voice declare, “I have the money. Give me back my brother.”
“Oh thank God,” Ryan thought, grateful that the worst possible truth might not be real and that his older brother could still be his hero.
And then he heard a crack, as the man in the striped suit bent Thomas’ arm backwards to prevent him from reaching the stairs, “No, actually the boy is better. We’re keeping him. Someone’s coming over in a few to check him out.”
Thomas stammered, “No. A deal’s a deal. I have the money.”
“That’s right,” the man agreed, “but you have a lot to learn about the rules. When you’re late, there’s hell to pay.”
The jovial tone of the men shifted when Thomas clicked the hammer on his freshly polished 45.
“Whoa, there. We outnumber you. Don’t do anything stupid.”
“This will fix the stupid that’s already been done.”
Ryan fainted when the third gunshot echoed up the stairs. He collapsed just a second too soon to hear his brother’s footsteps on the stairs and the man in the striped suit pleading, “Don’t just leave me here, man. Help me.”