Cara Michaels’ Picture Choice:
Title: Dream Catcher
“Claire Jennings!” The strident call barely pierced the roar of the Gulf tide. “Claire? Where are you girl?”
Nowhere you’ll find me.
Well, short of stepping on me in the dark. Always a possibility, given my mother’s stubborn streak. I smiled at the starry sky above me. Yes, I’d come by my pigheadedness naturally.
I stayed silent, feeling the water slide up to play with my toes. Footsteps pounded over the sand, maybe ten feet farther ashore from where my head rested. I didn’t see her and she didn’t see me. I had nowhere I wanted to be, so I waited for her to give up. She had demands to satisfy. Dad would be making dinner for our rowdy family unit, and he expected Mom to put aside her latest world-saving cause for an hour to join. Her shouts faded, the occasional muttered curses drifting to me. Then those were gone, too.
I’d hear about missing dinner when I got home. Didn’t matter if I lived in the garage apartment Dad had made for me—complete with my own kitchen and stash of food. She’d still be pissed at me for skipping out on her first night home in three months. Not that she didn’t have anger to spare. She’d come home around midnight and I’d heard her and Dad yelling into the wee hours. I’d gone to a meeting with my grad advisor, Dr. Winslow, with an emotional hangover. If I didn’t start making progress on my thesis and exhibition soon, I wouldn’t get my Master’s this year.
I couldn’t bring myself to blame my lack of advancement on Mom and Dad. I’d sucked up Dr. Winslow’s tutting disapproval and watched my photography dream slipping through my fingers.
The tide crept farther in, licking along my calves. More stars appeared in the sky. The sky was so clear tonight, promising a spectacular view of the Milky Way at some point. Maybe I should have brought the tripod out, done some time lapse work. Winslow loved that kind of crap. As with every day, I toyed with the idea of showing him a portfolio of work I hadn’t shared with anyone. The real reason behind my lagging grad school progress.
“Hey, Claire-bear.” Fourteen-year old Ronnie dropped onto his butt right by my head.
“Fucking shit!” I bolted up with a gasp, setting my baby brother to laughing like a loon. His changing voice cracked, rising and falling like a broken soundtrack. He rolled around in the sand, hands clutched around his abdomen.
“How the hell did you see me, you little shit?” I gasped, hand over my heart, the Leica M6 camera hanging from my neck swinging. I shoved him in the back with my foot.
“Uh, because I don’t have Mom’s dinosaur vision?”
I thought about how I hadn’t seen Mom—and made a mental note to see the optometrist.
“Besides, Sis,” he said, “this is your spot.”
“My spot.” I crossed my arms.
“Four hundred steps south of the pier. Your east to west position depends on the tide.”
“You counted my steps?”
“Phssht.” He rolled to his knees. “I read your journal.”
“I—you—” Flummoxed anger rippled through me. “I’m gonna kill you, Ronald Jr.”
“Brotherly obligation and all. Oh, relax.” He waved a ‘calm down’ hand at me. “I keep your secrets.” In the low light, I could just make out the serious expression he leveled at me. “All your secrets.”
I understood his meaning.
“Did you find the pictures, too?” I asked.
“No. I didn’t look.” He shrugged. “The journal was a happy accident when Dad had me helping with laundry one day. I waited to see if you’d tell us.” His forehead bunched up as he frowned. “Why didn’t you tell us?”
“I can’t explain it,” I said.
“You know, it doesn’t matter what time of day it is,” I said. “If I point my camera at the right spot… it’s always there.”
“You don’t know what it is?”
“I have no idea, Bro.” I lifted my camera, searching the horizon for the glimmer—there. I snapped three quick shots. “Maybe my camera’s just broken.”
Maybe all my cameras were broken.
“And maybe we could be kajillionaires if you sold the pictures.”
“What, and have Mom’s little slice of heaven swarmed with tourists, scientists, and who knows how many government agencies coming to investigate?” I imagined this place overrun with people. “No way.”
“Why do you even care what Mom thinks? She doesn’t give two shits about us.” Ronnie kicked the sand as he stood. Eight years younger than me, and already half a foot taller than me.
“Watch your mouth,” I said.
“This is our home too, Ronnie.” I rubbed a hand over his back, felt him lean in a fraction. “No matter what Mom says or does.”
“Or doesn’t say or do,” he muttered. He looked over his shoulder at me. “What does it look like?”
I took a deep breath, considering.
“You know when you close your eyes? And sometimes it’s like you see stars—universes or nebulae or whatever—moving right there behind your eyelids?”
“Uh-huh.” His teeth flashed in a grin as he covered his eyes. “Like who needs a Hubble telescope, right? I got a show right here.”
“Something like that, yeah.” I gave a quick laugh. “It’s a dream come to life. And all I do is point and click and it’s captured for anyone to see.” I snagged my camera bag from the sand and fished out my cell phone. Opening the photo gallery, I pulled up the very first picture I’d taken here. One button pushed wrong, and I’d snapped a pictured of the dark sea. But instead of a black screen, I saw an explosion of light, color, and stars. “Here.”
Ronnie crowded next to me, sucking in a breath as he saw the screen. His head snapped eastward, eyes wide on the vast black.
“That’s what your cameras see out there?”
A familiar yearning rose inside me. A longing to see inside the dream, to know its secrets.
“I wonder what it’s like inside,” he said. He turned bright eyes on me. “Wouldn’t it be amazing to see it with our own eyes?”
“Damn it, there you are.”
Mom’s voice broke the bubble of conspiratorial goodwill. Ronnie drew away, every inch the moody teenager. I stuffed my phone and camera in my bag.
“Here we are,” I said.
“Not Ronnie.” She bit off the words. “I saw your brother at dinner. A dinner you missed.”
I shouldered my bag and stepped toward home. “I didn’t miss it, Mother,” I said. “I promise.”
I cast one last glance at the Gulf, then left the dreams my little brother now shared behind for another night.
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Cara Michaels is the author of the Gaea’s Chosen sci-fi romance series and host of the #MenageMonday flash fiction challenge.