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15 December 2014 @ 02:12 pm
LJ Idol Season Nine: "Wish You Were Here"  
Wish You Were Here
lj idol season nine | week 31 | 1336 words
“The future outwits all our certitudes”


Before the age of eight, Danny Ruthers was forbidden to go into the attic. Once he was older, his mother let him come along with her as long as he promised not to touch the things on the shelf at the back. They didn't look very interesting anyway, Danny thought, and they were all out of reach. But when he was nine, his curiosity got the better of him. He moved a box over and climbed on it to get a better look, and discovered that there was more on that shelf than dusty knick-knacks and an old, broken clock. There was a small chest the size of a shoebox hidden at the very back, and it was not the least bit dusty.

The chest was also locked.

That chest turned Danny into a detective and a sneak. He poked in and around the other things on the shelf, but saw no sign of the key. Then he searched the various bags and boxes around the attic, quiet as a mouse and carefully putting everything back exactly as he'd found it. He figured his mother must open the chest from time to time, since it was so much cleaner than everything around it, and he didn't think she would keep the key somewhere that took a lot of digging. But he didn't find the key in the attic, so it had to be somewhere else, perhaps his mother's bedroom or the kitchen or his father's old desk?

He sighed. To search those places, he would have to wait until the right moment came along.

Danny's mother left the house more often than most mothers, on account of Danny's father being gone and her having to work to support the two of them. She'd never said where Danny's father went, just that he was gone, although she'd promised he wasn't dead. But if that was so, Danny thought, then why hadn't his father ever come back?

On Tuesday, Danny's mother went to the butcher shop, so he looked all through the desk. Nothing. Thursday night was spent rifling through the kitchen while his mother played canasta at Mrs. Bentley's. On Saturdays, his mother had her hair done at the beauty parlor, and was away for hours. Saturday morning, Danny was up off the living room floor and into her bedroom as soon as he heard the back door close.

The nightstands held lozenges and a bible, but no key. The bureau drawers contained sweaters and undergarments and even a paper bag filled with money, but it wasn't until Danny opened his mother's jewelry box on the vanity that he saw something promising. The small, golden key lying under her bracelets seemed just the right size. Danny took it and closed the jewelry box, then dashed up the stairs with the key in his hand.

He pulled a worn-out armchair over to the forbidden shelf, climbed up, and lifted the chest down and sat on the floor with it. Then he put the key in the lock, and turned it. It worked!

Danny opened the chest and peered inside. It seemed to be a collection of photographs. Why on earth would his mother make such an effort to hide them? He looked at each of them in turn, but they were just pictures of streets and people. His parents were in a few of them, and he recognized the Eiffel Tower from geography lessons at school. The pictures must have been from his parents' honeymoon in Paris.

At the very bottom of the pile was a postcard, also of the Eiffel Tower. It had no stamp or writing on it, and it gave off a strange golden, shimmering light. "Wow," Danny said. He fingered the edges of it, his skin going pins-and-needles with every touch. Then he looked closer at the actual picture, where there was a man facing him—a man who looked just like his father. Oh, how Danny missed him. His father had been gone for five years, now.

"I wish I could see you again," Danny whispered. His head suddenly felt fluttery, and then there was music and so many people talking that he couldn't think straight. When his head cleared, the man in the picture was right in front of him.

"Daddy?" he said.

"Danny, is that you?" His father squeezed the boy's shoulders. "You've gotten so big…"


Danny's mother arrived home just after noon. "Danny?" she called from the kitchen. "Have you had lunch?" There was no reply.

She went into the living room, where she found a collection of toy cars and army men, but no Danny. "Sweetheart?" She climbed the stairs to check his room, and noticed that the door at the end of the hall leading to the attic was open.


Her heart pounded as she darted up the attic stairs and found exactly what she'd been afraid of all these years. The chest of hidden photographs lay open on the floor, and Danny was nowhere to be seen.

"Oh no, please no!" she cried, approaching the spilled photos and hoping she might somehow be mistaken.

The postcard from Paris was there, still glowing as mysteriously as it had ever since she'd found it next to Earl's favorite chair the day he'd disappeared. Earl had been part of the postcard's picture after that, but he wasn't there anymore. One of the other photographs was glowing now too, though, the one showing the carousel adjacent to the Eiffel Tower. A man and a boy stood in front of it, grinning at each other and waiting for their turn to take a ride.

They looked exactly like Earl and Danny.

Danny's mother hand went to her mouth. She'd been so careful, so very careful all these years to keep Danny away from those pictures, but now he was gone, too.

She sat down in a heap on the attic floor, tearfully surveying her surroundings. Junk and memories, those were all she had left. None of it was as important as what she'd lost.

She brushed her fingers softly over the photograph. Earl and Danny would not come back, she knew that after so many years of waiting for Earl to do so. Maybe they simply couldn't.

The world inside the postcard and photograph seemed real enough. Perhaps it wasn't, not the way life was truly meant to be, but Earl looked happy for the first time since he'd vanished, and he and Danny were together again. She was the only part of the picture still missing.

It might not be life in the real sense, but she supposed that didn't matter anymore. Any future in this world without her family would be sad and lonely, she had no doubt. She'd already lived it once before, when she'd longed to follow Earl but knew she had to stay and look after Danny.

She picked up the postcard, and held it next to the picture of the carousel. I want to be in that photograph, she thought, desperately hoping that the postcard's magic would work for her, too. Her fingers began to tingle, and then she felt so dizzy she no longer knew which way was up. She heard music, and smelled sugar and the aftermath of rain, and she squeezed her eyes shut and wished so fiercely that it made her head hurt. Please, she thought, oh please, take me too.

Everything stopped spinning, and she slowly opened her eyes. The carousel stood in front of her.


She turned, and there was Danny, with Earl right behind him. They rushed over and held her so tightly she could hardly breathe. At last, she thought. At last, after all these years!

They looked as giddy as she felt, and who knew how it had all happened? But the how and why would not change the truth of what really mattered.

Whatever time and place this might prove to be, her family would find a way to make it their home.


If you liked this story, you can vote for it along with many other fine entries here.

bleodsweanbleodswean on December 15th, 2014 10:18 pm (UTC)
Ha! I just KNEW you could write upbeat and happy ending! Not quite HEA but soooooooo close. This moved along very nicely. You certainly hooked me with Danny's curiosity and determination. I liked how you set the scene with all the small details - lozenges, beauty parlor, canasta. Made it more vintage and seemingly more innocent.
The Coalition For Disturbing Metaphorshalfshellvenus on December 15th, 2014 10:24 pm (UTC)
Fastest reader in the West! Geez!

I thought it would be nice, especially for this prompt, to have someone whose certitudes were of preventing a terrible thing from happening... only to accidentally nudge it into action. Finding out that the semi-unknown was better than the loneliness of the very-well-known was a kind of beautiful irony.

I'm glad those details helped make it clear that this was a much earlier era. Really, too, it was an era of far less parental 'hovering,' a middle ground between now and my parents' childhoods (where if kids did not drown or get eaten by wolves, parents felt they were doing pretty well!)

Edited at 2014-12-15 10:24 pm (UTC)
rattsu on December 15th, 2014 10:56 pm (UTC)
I am smiling so widely now, you were so good at building for disaster that the eventual happy ending was all the sweeter.
The Coalition For Disturbing Metaphorshalfshellvenus on December 15th, 2014 11:04 pm (UTC)
Yay! I'm glad it had the effect of being both threatening and then a relief when the ending was so much better than Danny's mother could have forseen. :)
C.x: Heartitsjustc on December 15th, 2014 11:13 pm (UTC)
That was a lovely read and just the tonic I needed!

Loved it. x
The Coalition For Disturbing Metaphorshalfshellvenus on December 16th, 2014 12:48 am (UTC)
Thank you! I'm glad it put you in a happy mood. :)
cindy: misc fictsuki_no_bara on December 16th, 2014 05:05 am (UTC)
awww. ^_^ also, paris. :D the locked box was really suspicious - altho so was the paper bag of money in mom's dresser - so i was expecting creepy and weird, which i kind of got, but with a really sweet and happy ending.
The Coalition For Disturbing Metaphorshalfshellvenus on December 16th, 2014 07:41 pm (UTC)
A locked box is virtually a guarantee that something interesting is in there, so you can't really blame the kid for wondering.

The paper bag of money is probably not so strange for someone whose parents have lived through the Depression (this is set in the early '50s), or even any earlier era when things were more likely to be paid for by cash. Now though? Sounds like a quick getaway is in the future.

I'm glad you liked it, and I seriously _had_ thought about writing horror this week, but this story came to mind instead. :)
(no subject) - tsuki_no_bara on December 16th, 2014 09:19 pm (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - halfshellvenus on December 16th, 2014 09:21 pm (UTC) (Expand)
i_17bingoi_17bingo on December 16th, 2014 06:50 am (UTC)
... it wasn't until Danny opened his mother's jewelry box on the vanity that he saw something promising.

Mentally, I did a fist-pump and said, "Yes!" That's how invested I was.

When his head cleared, the man in the picture was right in front of him.

Oh, my.

This was adorable and lovely, with a fairy-tale feel, particularly in those details of what the mother was doing. Grimm's fairy tales (not the scary ones--this is not a scary one) had a tendency to make those kind of seemingly meaningless observations.
The Coalition For Disturbing Metaphorshalfshellvenus on December 16th, 2014 08:59 pm (UTC)

I know I was the kind of kid who would have searched relentlessly for something like that key, and it's such a victory to find it after all of those places that did not bear fruit.

The mother's activities were partly to show the era and also indicate sufficient time for the boy to do serious searching, but in Grimm, I think they may also be a way of indirectly indicating the passage of time. Kind of like "Groundhog Day," where if you thought about watching the same day repeat again and again, you'd think, "Kill me now." But when it's varying snippets of slightly morphing events from each day, the effect is different. And the very concise scene in which the guy just goes downstairs in his pajamas and carries the toaster upstairs to the bathtub, and that's the whole day right there... that's just pure genius.
lriG rorriMlrig_rorrim on December 16th, 2014 03:55 pm (UTC)
I really loved this one. It wasn't until "butcher shop" that I went "ah! This is YesterTimes here..." but after that point, it was super vivid. There was a nice sense of tension, and the payoff at the end was perfect.
The Coalition For Disturbing Metaphorshalfshellvenus on December 16th, 2014 09:19 pm (UTC)
Hee-- I'm so glad the 'butcher shop' clue worked as intended.

It's funny how something magic can be as dangerous as it is wonderful... and with the right turn of events, as wonderful as you once thought it dangerous.

suesniffsgluesuesniffsglue on December 16th, 2014 05:03 pm (UTC)
I was not expecting that happy ending! Beautiful story. Even when life isn't what we expect, we can find ourselves making our own happiness. Nice work!
The Coalition For Disturbing Metaphorshalfshellvenus on December 16th, 2014 09:51 pm (UTC)
Thank you! I see that a few other people took that approach as well, in the larger sense. The unexpected-- even the lesser, in the case of at least one story-- can still be good. You just have to embrace the new "possible."
Laura, aka "Ro Arwen": KY Postcardroina_arwen on December 16th, 2014 09:09 pm (UTC)
Great, now I'm going to have to be on the lookout for shiny magical postcards when I get one via Postcrossing!

A fun story!
The Coalition For Disturbing Metaphorshalfshellvenus on December 16th, 2014 09:51 pm (UTC)
I totally would like one of those myself!

Is Postcrossing an exchange with people you know, or a random assortment (possibly even more fun)?
(no subject) - roina_arwen on December 17th, 2014 12:24 am (UTC) (Expand)
dmouseydmousey on December 16th, 2014 11:12 pm (UTC)
I LOVED this! 'Nuff said. :)
The Coalition For Disturbing Metaphors: Xmas Penguinhalfshellvenus on December 16th, 2014 11:33 pm (UTC)
thank you very much!

And thanks for critter icon, too. :D Festive!
rayasorayaso on December 17th, 2014 01:01 am (UTC)
What a wonderful story! I loved the details, and the twist at the end. I was expecting some kind of disaster. I'll never look at family photographs the same way, and I'll always be careful what I wish for!
The Coalition For Disturbing Metaphorshalfshellvenus on December 17th, 2014 06:13 pm (UTC)
Always make sure you know where the people in the photograph are! In case they've been "added" to the picture. :D

So glad you liked this one. :)
(no subject) - rayaso on December 17th, 2014 11:50 pm (UTC) (Expand)
Jemima Paulerjem0000000 on December 17th, 2014 03:03 am (UTC)
Awww. :)
The Coalition For Disturbing Metaphorshalfshellvenus on December 17th, 2014 06:13 pm (UTC)
:) Thank you. :)
Direst Ryl: Cleopatra's Needleryl on December 17th, 2014 02:06 pm (UTC)
I just knew that Danny's mother would be left outside the postcard. I'm so glad you let her join them.
The Coalition For Disturbing Metaphorshalfshellvenus on December 17th, 2014 06:14 pm (UTC)
Anything you tell a child to stay away from is sure to pique their curiosity. Though if it's dangerous, you don't want them to accidentally stumble onto it either! There's no way to win that one.

But it turned out to be a good thing for all of them, in the end. :)
Teo Sayseternal_ot on December 17th, 2014 02:59 pm (UTC)
Wow! I was so keeping my finger crossed for Danny's mother..I actually went "Yippie". Thanks for a happy ending and put a smile on my face.. Loved this one!
The Coalition For Disturbing Metaphorshalfshellvenus on December 17th, 2014 06:15 pm (UTC)
I'm glad it left you with a nice happy feeling. I just couldn't be so cruel as to leave that poor woman stranded. What is a house, a job, your belongings, when your family is elsewhere?
gratefuladdictgratefuladdict on December 17th, 2014 09:06 pm (UTC)
This made me smile. :)
The Coalition For Disturbing Metaphorshalfshellvenus on December 17th, 2014 11:14 pm (UTC)
Yay! It's nice to give people a warm, happy feeling instead of "yikes" or just happiness through humor. :)
alycewilsonalycewilson on December 17th, 2014 09:15 pm (UTC)
Aww! I like that it had a happy ending. This reminded me of the Twilight Zone.
The Coalition For Disturbing Metaphorshalfshellvenus on December 17th, 2014 11:15 pm (UTC)
I can see why the Twilight zone might have come to mind! I never watched it, but the 50s-ish setting and the inexplicable unreality were the show's trademarks.

Boy, I did not expect KFP's hair to be so red. Was it always like that?
(no subject) - alycewilson on December 17th, 2014 11:28 pm (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - halfshellvenus on December 17th, 2014 11:34 pm (UTC) (Expand)