In December 2008, I self published my first piece of fiction. Since then, I have published several other works including a collection of my cartoons. You can find these for purchase or to read selections from each at lulu.com and the Amazon marketplace.
The Brothers Key
Round two on the 2-hour Writing Game. Having survived the first, I felt a little more prepared this time around. The first time, keeping to the two hours the first time around was tough. Thinking up an idea and rolling with it confidently was a challenge. But this time, I let the wheels turn and my hands go, and I'm pretty proud of this one. I may just use it as the backstory for another piece I have been working on with Jason.
I present this like the other, unedited.
A key that unlocks any door
Things that go bump in the night
A long lost family member is found
“The Brothers Key”
He awoke in the night as he did every night. He awoke suddenly and with fear. His eyes were wide, yet he could not see a thing in the darkness of his room. As he lay motionless – motionless so that he would appear to still be sleeping, though the deep gasps of breath would fool no one who would be watching him there. His eyes scanned the room rapidly and his breath continued to come in short yet heavy gusts. There were tears in his eyes, but from where, he could not say. The nightmares? The memories?
Scooting back under his comforter, he leaned into the wall behind him. It was cold against his bare back. Slowly, he began to make out the shapes of his bookshelves and his unlit lamp and the closet. The shapes of his room became easier to recognize, and his heart slowed.
I am awake again, he thought.
He pressed his watch and the indiglo showed the black digital numbers 3:17.
Three in the morning, he groaned and pressed both hands to his sweaty face.
The clouded memories of the dream that woke him flickered in his mind’s eye and he tried to recall the details. But they faded.
I know that Colin was in it. I know that. He is always there. He is always calling out to me.
Hmph, he grunted. He didn’t call out. There was maybe a shocked gasp, but he never said my name. He just…
His heart thumped harder.
These memories haunted him like the demons of a horror movie.
But this was no horror movie.
His hand fumbled to the nightstand, and he pulled the lamp on with a click-click.
Time to wake up.
Rising from the bed, the comforter fell off his bare chest. He slipped his slippers on and with a stretch – his arms over his head He walked across the room to his cluttered workbench.
Seated there, he looked down at the electronics, wires and metal that lay haphazardly across the long raised table. His left slipper fell off, his feet dangling off the stool.
He touched the key.
He pushed the switch on the desk lamp and the lamp flickered momentarily sleepily not wanting to wake either.
I should change that bulb soon, he thought.
With both hands, he lifted the small metal key off the table and closer to the desk lamp. He turned it in his hands and gently plucked it off his palm. Holding it close to his face, he squinted at the strange device.
It was not a simple key. It was thick like five house keys pushed together. The welding lines were barely visible. The tiny hole at the base where the ring would normally be inserted was more like a headset jack like on the side of a computer.
He turned in his stool and faced the door to the hall. It was closed, the lock pushed in.
He rose and without looking, reached back on the workbench and snatched a small battery pack with a one-inch chord come off of it – a chord like the end of a headphone.
The lock made a loud click as he turned the knob and opened the door.
The hall was empty.
On the wall, he could make out the faint shape of the picture frame – he and Colin at the lake.
He turned on the spot, faced the open door, and pulled it shut, pressing the lock on the inside just before the door slamed shut, his hand nearly caught in the doorframe.
In the black, he took the end of the battery pack – the chord – and pushed it into the base of the key.
There was a whine, high pitched, practically inaudible.
He tested the knob.
The door was locked.
Carefully, he raised the key.
No, I’m ready.
The key entered the lock. The whining from the device grew sharp and then is so high, he could not hear it anymore.
The door unlocked.
He pushed it open only a fraction.
He realized he is holding his breath.
It will work.
He pushed it open.
The light was blinding.
It was the sun.
Standing in the doorframe, he waited a moment in amazement.
Carefully, he stepped into the grass with both feet. He walked from the door and without looking shut it behind himself. He looked about in excitement.
I’m here. I’m…
He felt the dampness on his left toes. He never put his slipper back on. Turning to kick his right slipper back into the hall he gasped.
The door was gone. There were only the oak trees and their lush branches.
Left and right he looks, but the door had vanished.
Damn, he thought.
But it was a momentary displeasure. A whiff of the water, and an anxious smile crawled over his face.
Turning quickly, he ran through the trees attempting to slap branches aside, but his hand seemed to miss each one and they whapped against him anyhow.
He didn’t care.
Breaking through the trees, he saw it.
As perfect as he had always remembered it from the summers there: Starkweather Lake.
Lined with trees nearly up every shore, the lake was like some hidden oasis in the north country. A boat with a loud motor was rumbling somewhere in the distance around some bend in the shore. It sounded like it was speeding along probably towing some skier.
Stepping out into the sand, he grinned wide.
I made it.
He looked down at the key.
I knew it was ready.
“Jake! Jake!” Some small child squealed to his right.
Turning, he inhaled sharply in shock.
Running across the sand were two small boys. The smaller one was shouting after the taller, “Jake, come on! Mom said you have to wait!”
“Keep up you little turd,” the older boy chided and splashed full speed into the water.
“My god,” he said again and watched the little boy follow the other.
They were brothers, and they were ghosts of his past.
The little one was Colin. He was the older one.
“Hey,” the younger Jake said quietly and leaned close to the little Colin. “You wanna learn something cool?”
It was the summer of Colin’s seventh birthday – the summer he taught him how to open his eyes under water.
“No way!” Colin squealed with a laugh, “I’ll get a fish in my eyeball!”
Little Jake laughed.
The older smiled tenderly, two tears dripped off his chin.
I can’t take this from him.
There’s still time.
“Ready? One… two…”
“Three!” Colin shouted and dove into the clear water. A whole two seconds later he splashed out wildly. “I did it! I opened my eyes!”
The brothers laughed wildly, and slapped water into each other’s faces.
He watched them and stepped back.
No, I can’t take this from him.
I have to wait.
He walked up the shore toward the cabin. It looked so new. The paint still glistened in the sunlight not haven faded yet. He knew his parent would be around the back barbequing. He wouldn’t disturb them. He needed to go.
On the porch, he touched the front door knob. It turned in his hand. Taking a moment, he pushed it open a foot and peered within.
There it all was. There was kitchen table he and Colin would play cards at until Colin got better at Texas Hold ‘em. There was the couch he was going to leave his little brother and the Eldridge girl on – Colin’s first kiss watching Shaun of the Dead. There was the fireplace they would burn marshmallows within.
Clearer than any dream ever allowed them to be.
He locked the door and pulled it shut.
Taking the key, he pressed it into the hole and turned it.
“Hun? Did I hear the door close?” his mother’s voice from the side of the house.
Had she heard?
Quickly, he turned the knob and moved through the door. He shut it swiftly and as quietly as he could.
He turned around and sighed. He was back in his room. The workbench bulb had finally given out and was no longer lit. The bedside lamp glowed softly.
I have to go further – have to… to…
The light closed in around him.
He blacked out.
He awoke suddenly. He was in his bed, the comforter over his bare chest. A bead of moisture rolled over his temple and dripped to the pillow.
Where was he…
“Colin!” he screamed – he screamed loud. “GAAAAAA!” His chest hurt so much.
He is lost.
No! I can fix this!
He screamed again.
His heart throbbed.
The nightmare haunted him still.
I can fix it.
He slid out from under the blanket and stood in his dark room. He turned on the lamp and walked to his workbench.
The key sat there, the battery pack still connected.
He shook himself.
Stop screaming like an idiot, he berated himself. The neighbors will wonder…
No, no they wouldn’t. They knew his pain. The Youngs had lost someone too. Robin had died not a month ago.
Scream your head off. They understand.
Back to the mission.
He did not want memories
No, I won’t scream.
He grabbed the key and pack and moved to the door. Opening it, he walked into the hall and to the bathroom. He yanked the door closed and touched the knob. The door opened again.
No, he snorted and pressed the lock and pulled the door closed again, locked this time.
The key was inserted. There was a click.
The whining began and vanished as before.
He did not hesitate this time. He pushed open the door and exited into the woods once again.
The trees were different now.
They were thicker. The leaves hung differently. There was a smell of metal in his nostrils.
He pushed through the trees.
He knew when it was. It had to be the summer of –
“You knew what I wanted, Jake! You damn well knew! And you did it anyway!”
“Bite me, you shit. I don’t care what you want. It doesn’t even matter anymore!”
There they were, the brothers once more. Colin had his stupid blonde goatee, and the younger version of himself had on the jean jacket with the patches all over it.
They were teenager. Colin was fifteen.
He looked from the boys to the lake. It was different now. The lush forest was more open now. Houses had been built. Decks and docks lined the shores now. It was no longer their hidden adventure place. It was a getaway for many families now.
“It was my car to have. You can’t buy it out from under me!” Jake shouted angrily at his little brother.
“I’ve wanted dad’s car since I was ten!”
“And I’m a year older, so I got it now – paid him for it and everything.”
Their parent’s had separated. Dad had played favorites. He loved the older Jake. Colin was always the afterthought.
“How could you do this to me?”
He watched his younger self scoff and walk off.
So much heartbreak.
Colin was weeping in frustration. “I wanted that car, Jake!”
But the older brother walked down the beach throwing stones and ignoring the please.
Colin stood in defeat and cried.
From this distance, he could see Colin’s body tremble. He was so hurt.
He won’t know for a year.
He had bought the car before Dad could junk it. He bought it for Colin. A gift for his sixteenth.
Go to him, he told himself silently. Comfort the kid. He will hate you for this.
Here could be the divergence. What would he miss? The pain of a whole year apart? The pain of Mom remarrying?
The joy of the car.
God, the car.
It was the car.
But Sydney? College? The master’s program at Harvard?
He has to have those.
There is still time. It is ten years from now. There’s still time.
He ran up the hill toward the house. The rocks beneath him seemed to jostle under each hard step.
One moved fully.
Colin turned and looked at it.
He froze – ceased running.
Colin looked right at him.
He swallowed, ready to say something.
But Colin did not see him. He could not see him.
His younger brother looked down at the rock that had suddenly moved on its own.
He looked about curiously.
He could not see him.
How am I going to…
Was all this fruitless.
Colin picked up the rock.
No, the rock moved. You can do this. Go, there is still time.
On the porch, he shoved the key in the lock and forced the door open. As he turned to shut it, he could see Colin staring up at the cabin in wonderment. “Jake?” he asked aloud.
The door slammed shut.
“NOOOOO!” he jolted up in his bed. He lashed out and his hand smashed against the lamp hard sending it to the floor. Leaping up, he thrashed over to the workbench and grabbed the key. Stumbling wildly into the hall, he rushed to the closet next to the front door. He locked it and fell inside. He gasped and felt out in the darkness for the knob.
The key slipped in.
There was a horn blaring somewhere. The woods tossed the sound around and it seemed to come from everywhere.
The horn was the one from his nightmares.
It is now!
He whipped about and catapulted himself through the wood. Each branch whipped against his bare chest and cut him again and again. His feet were sliced open from the dead twigs below, but he did not stop. He ran with all his might.
Time is up.
It is now.
Exploding from the trees, he was on the shore.
He looked left – only the back side of the Wal-Mart.
He looked right.
His heart stopped.
The car. Dad’s car.
The water was bubbling as the nose of the car sank furthering into the lake. Smoke rose from the sides. The horn blared.
“NO!” He screamed and ran toward the drowning car. He screamed again, “Colin!”
How did it happen?
They were laughing.
He was engaged.
They were happy.
I don’t remember.
How did it happen?
Time is up!
He dove into the cold water. The whole front end was submerged. Water was already in the backseat. They were drowning.
He swam to the driver’s side.
His eyes fell upon himself face first into the airbag, a hole forcing air into his face – keeping him alive.
He swam frantically over the hood. He looked into the passenger’s side.
Colin was hanging limply.
He screamed under water.
Colin’s head bobbed. His eyes opened.
He stopped mid-scream.
Colin looked him swimming there, and then at Jake in the airbag.
The car shifted and sank further.
Colin shook his head slowly and gently lifted his arm to Jake.
Colin was surrounded by it.
He shook his head and mouthed, “Go.”
And he died right there.
He wanted to cry, but underwater, he could not. He swam close and shuddered. The dashboard had broken open. It had cut his little brother in half.
He was dead, his final moment used to place his hand on Jake’s in the diver’s seat.
It was over.
He was gone.
On the shore, Jake pulled his double onto the sand. There were sirens approaching.
He cried hard. His chest heaved.
He couldn’t save him. Leaving the unconscious Jake on the beach, he ran to the cabin. It was in shambles now. They had not been there for a long, long time. Mom had stopped coming too.
Slamming into the door, he fell into the darkness again.
He was in his room.
He screamed in rage.
He had lost him.
He pounded his fists into the ground.
He felt himself blacking out.
“You look so stupid right now, you know that?”
He froze. He held his breath and lay face down on his carpet.
“Seriously, it’s kinda funny.”
He jolted up.
“My god…” he gasped, his face wet.
He looked at the man and he would not believe it. He could not. He pushed away and against the bed. “It’s – it’s not possible…”
“Hey, Jake,” Colin smiled his boyish smile.
“You – you died,” he whimpered like a child. His whole body was shaking. “I – I saw it. You died. You’re dead…”
“Yeah,” Colin nodded with a shrug. “I am.”
“You’re dead!” he gasped from the floor.
“Yes, I am. But you’re not, brother.”
He felt himself blacking out again.
“No you don’t,” Colin said and knelt closely. “I only have a moment, brother. I need you to stay with me.”
He reached up with shaking hands to his brother’s smooth face. Colin smiled as the hand passed through his cheek.
His hand trembled as he recoiled.
“You’re dead,” he said again. “Lost…”
“I was lost a long time ago,” Colin smiled on warmly. “It’s time for you to let go.”
“But no! I just found you!”
“Jake!” Colin’s voice was stern, but his face retained its comforting kindness and he repeated softly, “Jake.”
“I tried,” he began to weep again. “I tried so hard, Colin. I tried to get you back, but I couldn’t – Couldn’t take away everything that made you who you are. I waited too long. I tried, but –but I failed you.” He sobbed into his knees.
“It’s time to move on, brother. You have work to do.”
“You can do something truly incredible with your time now. You have created a way to change everything.”
“I couldn’t change this,” he said.
“And you won’t,” Colin said plainly. “This time has passed.”
“Stop it, Jake,” Colin said in his authoritative sternness. You have work to do. My time was up, but yours it just beginning.”
He looked up at his ghostly little brother. “I love you, Colin.”
“I love you too, Jake.” He stood and stepped backwards, darkness enveloping him. “I have to go now.”
“What do I do now?” he whimpered.
“You have the key. You can do anything.”
And he was gone.
Jake wept into his arms.
But only briefly.
When the tears stopped, he felt a wave of relief wash over him.
He closed his eyes and he fell asleep.
The sun woke him the next day.
He stood and yawned – stretched his arms high over his head.
He dressed in a button down shirt and jeans.
Walking to the front door, he opened it and stepped into the hall. Closing his door, he walked to the neighbor’s and touched the knob. It was locked.
He placed his key into the knob.
A young woman was bent over a broken down Toyota Corolla. Smoke was crawling out from underneath it. She exhaled sharply and slammed the hood. “Shit,” she said.
“Looks like you threw a rod.”
She looked up at the sudden voice.
Walking down the desert highway was a man in a white button down shirt and jeans. He was handsome, but she only noticed that for a moment. They were in the middle of the desert.
“Um… where did you come from?” she asked cautiously.
“Oh, I’ve just been walking along. You looked like you could use a hand.
She looked him over as he approached closer. For a moment, he seemed to flicker, but that was surely the heat playing trick with her eyes.
“Let me take a look here,” he said and popped the hood.
They stood side-by-side looking at the smoky engine.
“Hm, this doesn’t look good,” he said plainly.
“Ha,” she smiled. “That your expert opinion?”
He looked at her with a warm grin. “How about we just call for a tow?”
“Great idea,” she rolled her eyes.
“I’ll hang out with you while you wait, if that’s all right with you.”
She looked him over again. He really had a kind look about him.
“Name’s Jake,” he extended his hand.
“Robin,” she took his hand and shook is. “Robin Young.”
Posted by T.C.