This story is by Maxwell Dyke and was part of our 2017 Spring Writing Contest. You can find all the Spring Writing Contest stories here.
The white letters flashed upon the screen, casting a sudden light on their faces. They sat holding each other under the old woolen blanket, both transfixed on the film they could have acted out scene for scene by now.
“Lost treasure has ever lured the adventurous,” he began to mouth to himself. They both startled as the door crashed open, cold winter air spilling into the hall of the small urban home. The man stumbled forward and threw his hand up, catching himself in the open doorframe. They gripped each other tighter. He breathed heavily, hunched over as if he was about to puke. They watched in silence, the symphony from the wordless black and white movie building on itself in the background, as classical music does.
He looked over in their direction and seemed to stare right through them with a pair of soulless eyes. He lurched to his left, grabbed the railing and stumbled up two steps before falling face first into the stairs.
“Daniel,” she began to say in a helpful but timid tone.
“I’m fine. Now shut up and watch your stupid movies bitch,” he silenced her as he crawled his way up the rest of the stairs.
They held each other and turned back to the movie. He wiped a tear from her cheek and whispered how they’ll be all right together. They stared at the screen, letting the all too familiar feeling of palpable anger slowly dissipate from the dusty old room.
A gust of salty sea air smacked George in the face as he pushed his cabin door open. He breathed in deeply through his nose, relishing the feeling of freedom and possibility the smell the open ocean stirred deep in his soul. Whistling, he reached out his left hand and grabbed the staircase railing, propelling himself 4 feet down to the main deck. He walked over to Arnold’s cabin and gave it a loud knock. No answer. George looked around, squinting as the rising sun shone brightly in the cloudless sky, and knocked again, louder.
“Arnold!” he shouted. “ Get your ass up! I’m not cleaning this whole deck by myself!” he hollered, hoping the captain might overhear and know not to blame George for shirking their duties. No answer.
Muttering profanities, George glanced around, reared his leg back and kicked in the cabin door. “Sorry Arny but I had to do it. Now get your ass up and…” he trailed off as his eyes adjusted to the dimly lit cabin and he realized it was empty. “Arnold?” he said quietly, with all the confidence drained from his voice. He walked into the cabin and peering around noticed some strange markings etched into the bedside mantle. “Houdini?” he voiced out loud, “Wonder what that could mean.”
Alan had always been an introvert, a quiet kid that never seemed to bother making friends, so no one bothered to befriend him either. People would talk to him from time to time, but for the most part everyone seemed to act as if he wasn’t there, including his teachers. The first time he walked into school with a black eye his teacher asked if he got into a fight. When he came in limping a month later, the kids all looked at him strangely. After a few months, no one asked questions and no one looked at him funny anymore. They ignored him, and he was fine with that.
“Well done, Alan,” his teacher said in an unemphatic tone as he dropped another A+ test onto his desk.
Alan walked home alone on his usual route. Although his old jacket was practically worn through, two sizes too small and with holes he remembered making years ago when he first got it, he still took his time. Stalling to kick a lumped up pile of snow, he thought about what it might be like if things were different. He hated when he thought of that, and even though he constantly tried to think of something else, his mind would always wander back to imagining a different life. He thought of the big houses he saw in pictures or when the bus would drive through the nice part of town. He dreamed of pools, big screen TVs, of sailing away and never coming back.
He looked up. It was getting dark, and he hated leaving her alone with him for too long.
As the door slowly creaked open, Alan pressed himself against the doorway and slid himself inside, trying desperately to make as little noise as possible. The way the house was designed made it almost impossible to sneak in unnoticed. There was a short hallway past the door, and on the left was the kitchen with the small table they would eat dinner at sitting right in front of an open doorway. To the right, another open doorway, this one leading to a small living room consisting of two borderline ratty chairs facing an old brown TV with the antenna sticking up awkwardly towards the sky, almost as if it were two outstretched arms reaching from the darkness of an underground cell towards the freedom of the light.
“There you are,” Alan froze as he heard the grumbled words spill out of the kitchen. He slowly turned his head to see his father sitting at the table with a bottle of cheap whiskey hanging loosely in his grip. His chest and shoulders were slumped on the table, and even as he began to mumble a few unintelligible words his head suddenly became too heavy for his neck to hold up. There was a crack as it made contact with the table, and Alan used this moment to dart upstairs and into his room.
He tossed his backpack to the ground by his desk but left his jacket on. They hadn’t had the heat on for a few months, and besides, his dad had told him, the liquor keeps me warm enough. Alan opened his bag and took a scrap of paper out. “Harry Houdini, the Handcuff King, Does it Again,” he read aloud as he posted it to the wall beside all the others. A creak of the door opening caused him to jump in his seat.
“Shhhh, it’s ok,” a soft voice said as Alan whirled around still in his chair, bringing it just to the tipping point before the look of panic drained from his eyes and he settled back down. As the woman walked over to embrace him, he noticed a slight hitch in her step.
“Are you ok?” he asked.
“I’m fine, I slipped on the stairs earlier and fell down the last few steps,” the lie came out of habit, and they both let it sit there for a moment, hanging in the air.
“Is it true that he’s my grandfather?” he said, looking at the wall dedicated to the escape artist.
“Your grandfather’s brother,” she corrected.
“Then why cant we just escape like he did?”
She paused for a moment, not sure what to say.
“It’s not that simple A, you know that,” she finally said. Then she looked at him in a way she never had before and whispered, “but some day, we will.”
“Alan, please come to the principals office,” the school microphone blared into the classroom, “and bring your things.” The “oohhs” and “aahhs” that typically accompanied that message didn’t come for Alan, and the class just stared at him as he awkwardly made his way to the door.
“Alan,” the principle said when he walked in, “Come sit down, please.” The tone was off, the scene was off, nothing was right. He looked at the principal strangely. He could feel it.
“Alan, I don’t really know how to say this, and I’m so incredibly sorry, but your mother Alan. Well, she’s passed.” He watched the principal offer condolences, heard something about a car crash and her not being able to brake in time. He watched the school counselor come in and start talking to him, and he watched them give each other long looks when he failed to answer. He did not cry.
Alan walked home alone on his usual route. He thought about what it might be like if things were different, and he let his mind wander. He let it wander so far that when he remembered what had happened, what his real life was, he felt a punch to the throat and choked back a sob. He stumbled through the front door, half expecting this to all be some prank, some sick joke the rest of the world devised. When he found the house empty he thought in some ways, maybe it was. Maybe his whole life was.
The door crashed open and Alan cringed, falling back as if set upon by a wild animal. He ran to his room and started throwing the few things he owned into his bag. He paused when he reached the scraps, letting himself a moment for the days events to wash over him.
“Where do you think you’re going,” he heard menacingly from his doorway. Alan turned just in time to duck the whiskey bottle flying towards his head. The thick bottle of Jack Daniels hit the wall with a thud and fell to bed.
“It’s your fault!” he shouted, barely recognizing his own voice and next thing he knew he was charging at the man and screaming with a rage he had never known. The man stood there calmly and as Alan got closer he reached back and swung a burly fist right into his cheek. Alan reeled backwards. Dazed, he stumbled back and forth but kept his footing.
The man shoved Alan against the wall. For the first time he could remember, he wasn’t afraid. He felt numb, not from the freezing cold temperatures of the outside and not from the hardwood wall that had smacked the back of his head, but from a loss so powerful the he could feel his heart wrenching itself from his chest.
He felt something solid touch his hand so he grabbed it and swung. There was a soft but resounding thud as the bottle of Jack connected with the man’s skull. Alan fell to his knee panting, and then noticed the growing pool of blood forming by the man’s head.
He cursed and dropped the bottle, wiping his hand vigorously on his jacket as if to wipe it clean of the act itself. After a moments pause, he grabbed his things and ran out the door.
“Boy!” the captain shouted, “Yes you. Who are you, what are you doing here?” The boy looked at him shivering, but didn’t say anything. The kid looks frozen half to death, he thought. “Didn’t you hear me? I said, what’s your name, boy?”
“A-A-A,” he stammered.
“Out with it!” the captain commanded, though as he looked at the kids face he noticed more than just physical pain behind the darting eyes.
“Al-Al-nold…Arnold,” the kid finally managed.
“Arnold aye?” the captain said skeptically, “Well Arnold, where’s home? And what are you doing around the docks so early in the morning?”
“I have no home,” he barely managed to get out. The captain looked around, wondering how he always seemed to get himself into situations like this. He looked back at the kid, apparently homeless and shivering in the cold Boston air.
“Why don’t you come aboard my ship and get into some warmer clothes, then well sort all this out. Alright?”
“Thank you,” the kid mumbled, his wildly nodding head and shaking body making for a pathetic sight. But as he looked up and met the captains gaze, the captain felt a strong sense of power in the young man.
“Come on then. If you really don’t have a home, might be I can find something for you to do until you get everything figured out. Just don’t think this is for free, we men work for what we get around here.”