It’s promptly penned time again. Now, despite my determination to always use the prompt in the first lines.. this one is just a setup.. it’s not really a useable prompt… it’s a conspiracy, I know. Anyway, here is the prompt and here is the resulting flash fiction…no idea what’s going to get written on the page, folks, but… let’s have a look.
You stumble upon old home videos of you and your siblings as toddlers. Nostalgia fades when you realize something isn’t quite right.
Sarah Lewis cringed. She knew that tone. Once Jory made up his mind about something, the man rarely changed it.
She crossed her arms over her chest, hitching out one hip. “Jory—”
“You know how I feel about watching that stuff.”
She sighed, walking over to where he leaned against the door. “And I wouldn’t normally ask, but you know it’s for the ceremony. They want some footage of dad outside of his military career, and that’s the only stuff I have access to. Some of the few items that haven’t been lost or destroyed.”
Jory huffed. “The man’s been dead for twenty years. Why now?”
“You ask me like I know. It’s the military. They didn’t explain. They just demanded. And with mom the way she is…”
Jory looked away. Sarah knew their mother’s condition was a sore spot with Jory. Especially with him being a doctor. Something about watching his mother succumb to a disease he couldn’t fix affected her brother on a level Sarah hadn’t witnessed before. Regardless that Jory was a trauma surgeon, not a infectious disease specialist. Hell, no one seemed to know what was wrong with their mother. Just that she was dying and there wasn’t much anyone could do. No treatment that seemed to work.
She palmed his shoulder. “We’ll be quick. I’ve already gone through two of the videos. There’s nothing useable on either one. Dad’s hardly in them at all.”
“He was hardly ever here. I don’t know why you think he’d be on any of those films.”
She did her best not to react to the anger colouring his words, not when she’d spent her life watching him try to be the man of the house. To pick up the pieces every time their dad left on an assignment, only to be relegated back to a kid once the man had returned. Until he hadn’t. She’d only been five at the time, and Jory had seemed so old to her, then. Ten going on thirty.
“I know it wasn’t easy growing up—”
“Easy? The man chose his career over us. Over everything. Never once stopped to care that mom cried herself to sleep every damn night for the first month whenever he went away. He made a vow, Sarah. It should have meant more to him than just a place to keep his damn boots when he deemed it convenient. Family isn’t convenient.”
“And that’s why you’re going to be an amazing father. Meg’s a lucky lady. Trust me, I know. I can’t find a guy to stick around for longer than a few weeks.” She gave him a nudge. “Face it, bro. Men like you are an endangered species.”
He snorted, some of the tension easing from his shoulders. “Fine. One video, but that’s all. And you’d better have a case of beer.”
“Since when have I ever asked you to help me out without the aid of alcohol?”She placed her hand on her chest. “That hurts, big brother.”
He headed for the sofa, settling on the grey material as she detoured to the kitchen, grabbing a six pack out of the fridge. She glanced around the kitchen. Soon, she’d be standing in the room, deciding what to keep and what to get rid of. Which memories meant the most to her.
She shoved aside the painful thoughts, walking back to the living room. She gave her brother a bottle, twisting her cap off as she settled beside him. He gave her a playful kick like he used to do when they were kids then nodded at the television.
She took a swig, allowing the cool liquid to ease the sudden dryness in her throat as she pressed a couple buttons on the remote. The unit flashed to life, flickering nothing but static for a few seconds before her brother’s image filled the screen.
She laughed. “Damn, you had big ears back then. Thank Christ you grew into them.”
He stuck his tongue out at her, pointing to her younger self as she appeared on the footage. “At least I had hair. I can’t believe you let mom chop all of yours off.”
“Pretty damn sure there was no ‘letting’ involved. I was all of two.”
She smiled as the movie played on. A rare moment with them all together in the yard, with laughter that actually sounded genuine. Their dad appeared halfway through the video, the line of his jaw so much like Jory’s Sarah had to place her hand over her mouth to keep it shut. Damn, her brother could have been the man’s twin.
Of course, that’s where the similarities ended. Jory was compassionate. Loyal. The only person she knew she could honestly say had never let her down. Had always been there when he’d promised—stood up for her when no one else would. Sure, her mom had tried, but after their dad had died, the woman had never quite been the same. As if a part of her had been taken away.
She frowned. Even watching the home movies, it had never seemed as if her mom had loved her dad to the point she’d mourned his death as much as she had. A reason why she’d allowed it to dictate the next twenty years of her life.
The screen turned black. She sighed. Shit, she hadn’t really been paying enough attention over the last several minutes to know if there’d been any good footage. Sure, her dad had been in the frame, but…
Jory leaned forward. “We done?”
She glared at him. “God forbid you stay an extra minute. Just…”
Her voice faded as the screen flashed back to life, some garbled voices sounding before the images stabilized. She stared at the footage, watching an even younger version of her mom smile for the camera.
Jory nudged her. “What’s this?”
“I have no idea. I’ve never seen it before. The couple of times we ever watched that movie, mom always turned it off.” She smiled when a small boy bounced across the frame. “Oh my god. Is that you?”
“Guess so. Shit, I can’t be more than four.”
“Which means I wasn’t even born yet.”
Jory laughed as the camera panned back, revealing a swaddled bundle of pink in their mother’s arms. “Correction. You were brand new. Bet you had that smell and everything.”
“Wow. I wonder why mom never showed us this. I’ve never seen any pictures or videos of me before I was five. It’s like I just appeared on the doorstep.”
Jory gave her a playful shove. “Trust me. You were there from the start. I…”
His mouth kept moving for a moment but nothing came out as he stared at the screen. Sarah frowned, glancing back at the television when the picture sent ice sluicing through her veins. Her mother was still holding a bundled baby, only this blanket was blue, as was the matching cap. The woman cooed at the infant, holding a tiny hand in hers.
“Damn it, Martha, I told you not to get too attached. You know we can’t keep him.”
Her mother looked up at their father, anger creasing her forehead. “Of course we are, John. They can’t make us hand over a child. Our child.”
John’s expression softened. “We have an agreement.”
“That was before I knew they wanted to take one of my kids. I never agreed to that.”
“Medication. I was only supposed to take their precious medication. Suffer through those hideous injections. They never said I’d have to…”
She dissolved into tears, holding the baby close.
Their dad placed a hand on her shoulder. “It’s because of them we have Sarah. You never would have gotten pregnant again if they hadn’t intervened. You know that.” He bushed the blanket back from the baby’s forehead. “They’ll take good care of him. I promise.”
She jumped off, giving John the baby before scooping Sarah up and rushing off. John stared at the infant then glanced toward the camera. “Oh, for fuck’s sake, turn off the damn camera. We can’t have any record of this—”
The screen went black again, nothing but their father’s words echoing in the room like a bloody death rattle. Sarah stared at the television, mouth gaping open, a dull roar sounding in her head, when Jory swore and pushed to his feet.
“What the fuck was that?” He turned to face her. “You did see that, right? I wasn’t dreaming?”
“You mean the part where it looks like we have a brother?”
“A fucking twin brother. Jesus, Sarah. How…” He stalked around the room, finally punching the couch. “I don’t remember any of that.”
Sarah pushed up. She stepped in front of her brother, stopping him from pacing the room again. “Jory. You weren’t quite five, and from the looks of it, whoever this mystery baby was didn’t stay long. I’m not surprised you don’t remember. No one ever mentioned anything.”
Jory clenched his jaw then collapsed on the sofa cushions. “I can’t believe this. Do you think he’s still alive? Does he even know about us?”
Sarah hit some buttons, rewinding the video and pausing it on the baby’s face. She shook her head, finally looking back at her brother. “I don’t know, but I fucking intend to find out.”
And that’s it for me. Glad I didn’t claim it’d be short again. One day. One fucking day it will be short. In the meantime, check out the other ladies….