Sarah fitted her old twin lense into its hard leather case and slipped the strap over her shoulder.
“Don’t be gone so long this time,” her mother called after her as she let the screen door fall shut. “The Adamsons are coming for dinner. Blaine will be there,” she added in a tone meant to make Sarah blush.
Sarah kept walking. She was blushing, and her mother didn’t need more fuel for teasing. She paused to snap a picture of a dandelion pushing through the sidewalk and continued on to the old rail yard where she wanted to catch the sideways rays of the sunset through the cracked windows of the retired passenger cars. She checked her watch and decided she’d give herself an hour before heading back.
The light was amazing, and the anticipation of developing the images after dinner made her nearly giddy. As the sunlight outside diminished, though, errant flashes began to confuse her shots. She looked around for passing cars but the road was empty and the woods on the other side of the rusting fence were dark.
Suddenly, a bright flash lit the trees like stringy silhouettes. Sarah had explored the neighborhood all around the edges of town in her hunt for photographic moments, but had not thought to cross this fence. As far as she knew, nothing should be back there.
“Shoot,” she muttered as she glanced again at her watch.
She’d lost track of time again and would have to run to get home in time. She was going to be sweaty in front of Blaine. She wondered for a second if it wouldn’t be better to miss the dinner completely and be in trouble rather than stink in front of Blaine Adamson. Another flash lit up the trees and she hesitated with indecision. Leaving a wistful sigh hanging in the dwindling light, she turned and ran homeward.
“Where’d you learn to do this?” Blaine asked as Sarah dropped the paper in the stop bath.
After dinner, Sarah’s parents had suggested that she show Blaine the makeshift darkroom she had built in the downstairs bathroom. She was self conscious at first, but as soon as Blaine saw the images ease into existence, his enthusiasm matched hers.
“I took a class a couple summers ago,” she said, turning her attention to the next negative.
Blaine fished the finished image out of the water and clipped it onto the string web-work Sarah had woven above the tub.
“It’s amazing how much detail there is,” he marveled. “There’s a weird reflection in this window.”
“It’s the larger negatives,” she explained, turning to study the image. “The bigger the negative, the more detail it holds.” Blaine was right. She checked the other drying photos and frowned. “A lot of my shots were skewed by some kind of light flashing in the woods…”
She slipped the negative back into the enlarger and turned the crank, expanding the image and focusing the reflection. She exposed the enlarged reflection on a new sheet and dropped it into the developer tray. The silhouettes of trees blackened onto the paper, backed by a round light source.
“I’ll have to check it out tomorrow,” she muttered.
“What, alone?” scoffed Blaine.
“I always go on photo shoots alone.”
“That’s not safe. I’m coming with you.,” declared Blaine.
Sarah opened her mouth to argue. “Really?” she said instead, thankful for the red light, which was now covering an embarrassing warmth in her cheeks.
Blaine met her at the rail yard the next afternoon and soon they were skirting around the fence. Autumn had thinned the usually dense woods somewhat. Before long, a meadow opened before them, strewn with huge, half buried boulders.
“This has to be it,” said Sarah, climbing a cluster of boulders at the center.
There was no sign that this meadow had been touched by mankind at any point in its history. The spotted old stones were worn from weather and time. The tall grasses fell in random patterns without even deer paths. The only external presence was the line made by Sarah and Blaine.
“I don’t get it,” she said. “The…”
Whatever she had been about to say vanished when a man appeared before her, swathed in light. Beside her, on one of the boulders, seemed to be the light source. Shadows shifted and swayed around them but Sarah could only focus on the man. He had been doing something, but he straightened in surprise. Just as quickly, it all vanished. The man, the light, everything. When her eyes focused again in the dim evening light, Blaine was cowering in the tall grass with his arm over his eyes.
“What was that?” he gasped.
“I don’t… there was a man…” Sarah couldn’t form a complete thought.
Blaine grabbed her hand and pulled her away from the boulders. He kept pulling until they stood together in the shade of the trees. The meadow lit up again, only for a second. The world seemed especially dark afterward. Three more times the meadow flashed, and when it didn’t light again for a half hour, they stumbled back the way they had come.
“I don’t like it,” Blaine said repeatedly once they had reached the relative normality of the road.
Sarah wasn’t sure how she felt about it. She had questions. Millions of them. She also had cameras. She crossed her fingers when she promised Blaine that she wouldn’t go back to that meadow ever again. She crossed them again when she told her mother the next morning that she was bringing the bulging camera bag to school for a project. She crossed them one last time at the end of the school day when she told her friends she had to do something for her mother and couldn’t meet up with them.
She positioned three digital cameras around the meadow and set them all to record. Then she sat and waited. By the time the first light flashed, Sarah had paced the meadow in its entirety, as well as circling it four times within the woods. Paths now crisscrossed the grasses. She raced up the boulders and stood atop the center one, waiting for the next flash.
“Sarah, no!” Blaine climbed up the boulders and yanked her down. “I told you not to come!” he shouted, pulling her away.
Another flash lit behind her, blinding Blaine. She wrenched her arm free and turned back but the light had already gone. Blaine had hold of her arm again and this time he didn’t let go until they were well into the trees.
“We have no idea what it is,” he hissed into her ear. “You’re crazy coming out here alone.”
“What are you doing here?” snapped Sarah.
“You weren’t with your friends and you weren’t at home,” said Blaine, guiding Sarah more gently through the trees toward the rail yard. “It didn’t take a lot to figure out where you’d go. You promised,” he added, sounding wounded.
“My fingers were crossed,” admitted Sarah. She couldn’t see the look Blaine gave her in the darkening light but she had an educated guess. “Sorry,” she added.
“We can come back tomorrow for the cameras,” he said. “We’ll come back together, okay?”
“Okay,” Sarah agreed.
Sarah and Blaine hovered over her computer until her mother interrupted them for dinner the next day, and directly after being excused, returned to continue breaking down stills from the video feed. The pictures took refining once they had been isolated. Pulling back the contrast, a scene began to take shape. In some images the man seemed to work over a globe of some kind. It was large, standing to his waist. There were other shadows at play, though. In some frames they seemed to be looking at him through a stand of tall plants that looked an awful lot like sunflowers. Other images looked as if there were up to three women helping him. They were all tall, with light hair and similar features. It could have been a refraction of the same woman.
In the shots during the third flash, the man turned toward one of the cameras. In the fourth flash, a broad grin spread across his face. In the fifth flash, he was no longer visible in any of the pictures. The women were, and at times the sunflowers and the top of the globe, but not him.
“What do you think it is?” Blaine asked.
“Don’t know,” said Sarah, flipping through the images from the fifth flash one more time. “Whatever it is, it doesn’t make a lot of sense.”
“It’s the most precious treasure this world will ever know,” said a voice behind them.
Sarah nearly fell out of her chair and Blaine scrambled backwards until his back met the wall. The man stood in the center of Sarah’s room, grinning as he took in the photographs she had plastered across her ceiling.
“Nice,” he said, turning to take in the full array. “A gifted eye. Name?”
“S-Sarah,” she stammered.
“Blaine,” added Blaine.
The man nodded. “Walk with me,” he said.
Sarah and Blaine followed him downstairs and out her front door.
“I should tell my parents where we’re going,” she remembered on the doorstep.
“No need,” said the man. “They won’t remember tonight. Neither, for that matter, will you.”
“Why? What’d you do to us?” asked Blaine, his voice thick with fear.
The man just smiled and started walking in the direction of the train yard.
“It’s dark out,” said Sarah, still hovering on her doorstep.
“Do you want to satisfy your curiosity or not?” asked the man. He continued walking.
Sarah and Blaine shared a long gaze. They followed his silhouette down the darkened street.
“What’s your name?” Sarah asked to keep herself from panicking once they delved into the trees on the far side of the fence.
“John,” said the man.
“What’s the treasure?” asked Blaine.
“Indescribable,” said John.
“Why do you only show up five times a night?” asked Sarah.
“Do I?” John’s voice sounded genuinely surprised. “Time works differently between each dimension.”
Sarah heard Blaine stop walking, and then rush to catch up after a minute. Her mind was spinning. As much as she wanted to scoff at the idea, this being an interaction between two different dimensions seemed as reasonable explanation as any.
“Is your globe thingy in the other dimension?” asked Sarah.
John laughed heartily. “It’s an egg,” he said, “and it exists in all dimensions. I told you. A treasure. A fixed point. It’s the dimensions that are the inconsistency, which is a beautiful discovery. You have no idea.”
“That’s true,” said Sarah, and John laughed again.
She felt his hand pat her shoulder. “You’re fun, little Sarah.”
Blaine made a rude noise behind them. “Where’s this treasure?” he asked.
“The treasure is the egg,” guessed Sarah. This earned her another pat on the shoulder. Moonlight began to light their way as they approached the meadow.
“What’s the egg made of?” asked Blaine.
“See for yourself,” said John, stepping aside at the edge of the meadow and sweeping his arm wide to welcome them forward.
Sarah went to the central boulder eagerly. Blaine followed hesitantly, with John close behind. The meadow began to brighten. It was gentler this time, a lightening rather than a flash. Tall sunflowers drifted at the corner of her vision, but the moment Sarah tried to focus on them they melted to unshaped shadows. The light source began to solidify beside her. It was the size of the boulder on which it sat, and as tall as her shoulders. She saw movement within the egg as its inhabitant shifted and she gasped.
“What is it?” asked Blaine.
Sarah turned to him, tears welling over, and found him staring at her with a look of concern.
“It’s so beautiful,” she whispered.
“What is?” asked Blaine.
“The…” Sarah gestured toward the egg, but the light and the egg had faded away. “Didn’t you see it?” She could tell by his expression that he hadn’t.
“I’ll see you two home,” said John.
Blaine peppered them both with questions on the walk back, growing agitated when neither Sarah nor John bothered to answer. He stormed into his house without a backward glance. John walked Sarah to her house next.
“Thank you,” she said when they reached her walk.
“You’re welcome,” said John.
“It won’t appear here anymore,” said Sarah. It was a statement. She didn’t know how she knew it, she just did.
“Probably not,” agreed John.
“I won’t see you again,” said Sarah. This was a guess, and she hoped she was wrong.
John shrugged and gave her his wide grin. “I don’t know about that,” he said. He took her fingers and executed some form of courtly bow, and with a wink, receded into the shadows of the street.
Sarah returned to her room and fired up her computer. After staring at her screen for a length of time she shook her head, trying to remember what she’d been working on. She opened her photo folders and browsed through them, pulling up the most recent addition, her trip to the passenger cars. She’d gotten some good shots, she remembered, though looking through her scans now she realized she hadn’t snapped nearly as many pictures as she’d thought. She checked her film, and was surprised to see that she’d cut out each negative individually, and seemed to be missing nearly half of the roll of film. She found the over-exposed negatives in the bathroom garbage. They were black, as if she’d been shooting the sun. She set down the trash can and laughed at herself. It made sense, she just wished she could remember tossing the negatives.
“I’m losing it,” she muttered as she climbed the stairs to her bedroom. She was tired. She could barely account for what she’d done all day. Her thoughts felt scrambled. Tomorrow would be better. Tomorrow things would make more sense. She flopped onto her bed with a grateful huff, and were she less tired, she would have laughed at herself again. For some reason, she’d just had the urge to say, “goodnight John,” to her empty room. “Losing it,” she mumbled as she drifted off to sleep.
“Don’t worry,” said a voice from the shadows, “I’ll help you find it.”
Written by W. C. McClure http://www.wcmcclure.com. This may be shared (and please do); just please be sure to share it in its entirety, unaltered (and including this fine print), with credit given to W. C. McClure. Comments are welcome at http://www.farsideofdreams.com. Oh, and if you want to show your support, tell your friends about this short story blog – and pick up a copy of “The Statues of Azminan” by W. C. McClure. Thanks!