THE MINDHUT SHORT FICTION CONTEST 2ND PLACE WINNER: "The Past is Now" by Anna Thompson
I’m always a sucker for a story that involves both a paradox and seemingly unexplained magic. Though this is a science fiction/fantasy story that deals with photographs, it reminded me of Alfred Hitchcock’s old show Night Gallery where a painting was often the subject of a quasi-horror story. This story isn’t “creepy” or “scary” in a conventional sense, so instead it actually ends up making me feel good. But it was unsettling in a way that reminded me of the best Kelly Link stories, or Neil Gaiman. A great blend of styles with images (literal and figurative!) that I couldn't shake.
"The Past is Now"
by Anna Thompson
The photographs on the wall seemed normal at first. But as she thought about them more, something seemed different. The golden frames were covered in dusk, and the photographs were dark grey and light grey. She felt drawn to them, like they were calling her in. Lightning crackled in the background, and thunder roared. She dropped her umbrella, took off her white satin clothes, and let her dark blue rain coat fall to the floor. She began to feel warmer as she walked towards the photographs. She felt an urge to touch them, to feel the warmth they projected. Closer and closer she walked, until the heat became so intense, she could hardly believe it. Then, she touched the photograph. Then she was gone.
Lily had heard the story of how her mother disappeared plenty of times. One day at a museum, a rainy day, her mother left them. With no trace. The police had looked for her. But still, something seemed almost fake. Lily was born fourteen days before her mother's disappearance, her older brother, four years and sixteen days. Her brother was four years old when the mother disappeared. He still could barely believe it. Lily however got used to it. She had a stepmother now, and four half siblings, two boys, two girls. Her father took a while to get over the disappearance, but remarried instead, her mother's college friend. And now they lived in a mansion in New York. And her mother was somewhere else in Connecticut.
But this year, for her fourteenth birthday, she was going to go on the ninth grade architecture trip to Connecticut. It happened to be a one week long trip, a week after her birthday. Lily would miss the yearly thing her family did to remember her mother. But, Lily had wanted to go so badly. She was worried at first that they might go to the museum that her mother disappeared at, but the trip was going to be mostly outdoors. She packed in her bag the usual things for spring weather on the East coast, but her stepmother convinced her to pack some rain gear, just in case. Weather was slightly unpredictable there.
The first few days of the trip were spent exploring Connecticut architecture, as that was the main focus. They explored multiple cities, and also went to an outdoor sculpture garden. But on the last day it rained. It rained hard, and powerful, and they could no longer go to the architecture fair that Thursday. So the architecture suggested we go to the Photography Exhibition, which has been there for about fourteen years, which had some cool architecture photos. Lily tried to convince the teacher not to go there. But, he said no, and they went in.
Their was no bucket to put the umbrellas in, so they had to carry them in. Lily began to get nervous. She dug through her mind, trying to remember the name of the museum of her mother's disappearance. Her partner, Claudia, had to use the restroom when they were in the pictures of Hawaii. They had one room for each state, and their architecture. Lily was the only one in the room, and she began to get nervous. Outside the storm howled. Lily continued to think about her mother, and then she felt sun. She looked outside the window, but all there was was rain. She felt warmness, happiness, and noticed the photographs. She felt as if they wanted her to come closer. She slowly walked towards them, towards the photographs. Then she thought, I would feel warmer if I put down the umbrella. She took off her jacket. And walked to the closest photo. She then stopped, confused by the infinite heat. She heard Claudia's footsteps, and then they disappeared. She had touched the painting.
Years had passed since she had seen anyone younger than her. The museum closed down after the second disappearance of a young girl, of the same family. But she had not really disappeared. She was here with her mom, in Hawaii. Her grandmother, and her great grandmother as well. But one day, or at least she thought it was a day, a young girl showed up. Fourteen, in fact she looked like her, Lily. Rain poured outside. She was confused at first, how did she get in here? She remembered her brother and his girlfriend, and assumed this was her niece. Though no one could see through the photographs, Lily and her female ancestors, who all were about the same age, were all holding hands, producing warmth, light and energy. Her niece took off her raincoat and touched the photo. She was here. Her niece, she fainted. Lily laughed, she did the same. This is how it happened. How she rejoined her family. This was their past, and her past, now.