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Fiction

“What’s this?” I pick up a piece of paper from the dusty floor. No, this is not a paper. It’s a photograph!

I squint my eyes as I look at the faded picture, and I recognize the face of Aunt Clara. She looks younger than the last time I saw her, and she’s holding hands with a man. A man?

This is a first. Aunt Clara was always single. She did not like or love anyone – at least that’s what I know. Hmm, perhaps this man is family… I squint my eyes again, the dust in the room is making my eyes water, but I can make out the features of the man in the picture.

He has large, doe-like eyes. He can’t be Uncle Herbert, Aunt Clara’s brother. He’s not dad either.

He’s got a flat nose that makes me wonder if he can breathe with a nose like that… He’s not Uncle Maxim, Aunt’s best friend. Uncle Maxim always reminds me of Pinocchio when he’s lying.

This man looks like he’s in his early twenties, with messy hair – he looks like Anna (from Frozen) when she just got out of bed. Strange, I thought Aunt Clara was a devout believer of tidiness. Even when she grew old, I remember that Aunt Clara was always the first to frown at untidy, unkempt hair. She would tell us to tuck in our shirts and comb our hair one hundred times.

Even when Uncle Herbert passed, Aunt Clara remained fastidious, even as she was grieving. Would Aunt Clara take pictures when the other party was messy like this?

I take a closer look at the stranger, and I notice that he’s holding a dagger in his left hand. Behind the two, I spot a small raft that looks like it’s seen better days.

I flip the photograph, and I notice small, curly handwriting that makes my eyes flinch. This can’t be Aunt Clara’s handwriting. She writes clearly and with large letters, especially as she grew older and her eyesight grew worse.

“October 21, 2061 – We are almost home.”

2061? Isn’t that… the future?!

I gulp and frown at the picture. I look back at Aunt Clara’s face. She looks young, and happy. Her dimples are showing in this picture. I haven’t seen her smile this broadly before. I gently put the picture inside my bag and look around the room.

Am I dreaming? I touch my forehead. Yes, this must be it.

Looking up, I notice the dust and spider webs hanging from the ceiling. Cobwebs are the masters of this room. For a short moment, I wonder if I’ve gone through time and space. Perhaps I’ve woken up one hundred years later, like Rip Van Winkle – only to find everything different and strange.

But then I snap out of my reverie and clench my fists. Taking a deep breath, I calm myself. I take out my phone and check the date.

July 19, 2021.

I take out the picture, my heart expecting for the handwriting to show a different date – but it’s still the same as before.

“October 21, 2061 – We are almost home.”

The year 2061 seems to be glaring at me, making my stomach churn. It’s this place; this whole house must be making me feel awful, I reason.

Calm down, Alice. One week ago, Aunt Clara, who had just turned 75, passed away. She left you a letter telling you to take good care of her belongings, and she gave you this address. You simply followed her words and collected all the things in this godforsaken, dusty place.

Yeah, that’s it.

I look at the dust-filled room. There are books, books, and books. Aunt Clara was really a book lover. The pages of the books are all brown and ancient, reminding me of paper that disintegrates into dust the moment it is touched. I’ll have to bring boxes with me next time and move these books to my apartment. Hopefully I’ve got enough room for these things…

I still have other things to do. Perhaps this ‘2061’ isn’t a year. It could be a telephone number. It could be a prank. It could also be written or spelled wrongly in some way…

With that thought in mind, I walk away from Aunt Clara’s strange building.

***

Aunt Clara is my favorite Aunt. She always greeted me and my cousins with a sage-like smile and gave us cookies. As far as I remember, her house always had cookies, even if we didn’t tell her in advance that we were coming to visit. She was not like Uncle Herbert, who would ruffle my hair and squeeze my cheeks until I wondered if I still had them.

Aunt Clara loved books. She lived far in the country, but her house was modest and cozy. Her house always smelled like cookies, paper, ink, and occasionally hot chocolate. Aunt Clara never got married. Dad told us somewhat jokingly that she was already married to her books.

She made no enemies, said her prayers before bed, and took good care of us when we visited her. She did not live extravagantly, and she was not poor either. She worked as a math teacher in a local school until she got too old to do so. She lived well enough with her pension money, and sometimes her students would visit her and bring smiles to her wrinkled face.

I was quite close to her, close enough to help her bake her cookies when I was old enough, but not that close to be her best friend. Among all our cousins, maybe I was closest to her… But then again, she treated all of us warmly.

Other than that, I can’t recall anything special about Aunt Clara.

So imagine my surprise when Aunt Clara stated in her will that all the things in her spare house would be given to me! It was surprising enough that she had another house, one that was the total opposite of her character! The house that she lived in was neat, tidy, and cozy. The place I had just been to had been… well, it reminded me of a dark house from a horror movie.

This all seemed like a strange mystery, and as I went to bed that night, my thoughts drifted to the photograph again. Who was the man? What is his relationship with Aunt Clara? What did the words at the back of the picture mean? ‘We are almost home’?!

Was Aunt Clara shooting some sort of movie, hence the strangeness of it all? Or was this some sort of prank? But Aunt Clara does not seem like the type to play pranks…

My thoughts were in a mess, but soon, I was pulled into the world of sleep, and my mind rested.

***

It’s a new day for me. I eat my usual breakfast of cereal and milk, and the photograph of Aunt Clara resurfaces in my mind. “Maybe I was dreaming yesterday…” I reason.

My stomach is churning with anticipation as I take the photograph out, the page with the words was facing me. I expected to see something – anything else than the weird sentence I had seen yesterday, but what I see sends my heart close to a halt.

“October 22, 2061 – We stopped in a small island to rest.”

I can’t help but let out a small gasp.

“What the…” My mind is spinning.

I quickly flip the picture, and find myself staring at a different picture from yesterday.

There’s Aunt Clara and that strange man, but they’re in a different setting. The man is sitting beside a fireplace, and Aunt Clara is proudly displaying some fruits and fishes. Did she catch them herself? Aunt Clara and this man are on a grassland with no trees in visible sight. I think there’s a river, though, because the raft from yesterday is there.

I’m not sure what to think. The photograph changed. The date changed. And the words changed too! Is this… magic?

“Seriously…” What am I, a kid?

It’s way past my age to think about finding a different world when I go inside a magic wardrobe, right? I take a glance at the photograph and make up my mind. I’ll throw it away.

I put the photograph inside the dustbin and walk away. I have other things to do, after all.

Several minutes later, I reach inside the dustbin and take out the photograph. I wipe it clean and place it on my book shelf. I’m not doing it because I’m curious. I’m just… respecting what Aunt Clara gave me. I’m sure she wouldn’t want her items to be thrown away recklessly like that, right?

I grab my things and head out, trying to put the photograph out of my mind.

***

I’m home after a long and tiring day, and I can’t wait to complain. Whoever made the phrase ‘out of sight, out of mind’ was trying to scam people. I did not see the photograph, but my mind kept drifting to Aunt’s Clara’s smile, and the strange man, and of course, the strange date. Late at night, I brought the picture to my bedroom and lie on the bed. Now is the year 2021… I’m 20 years old. In the year 2061, I’ll be 60 years old.

So this picture of Aunt Clara is taken 40 years from now. Let’s say that she lived up to the year 2061, by that time, she would be 115 years old. A person who turns 115 will have a wrinkled face, and unless there’s a magical serum that makes your face look young, then…

What am I thinking? Aunt Clara passed away last week! This whole scenario is impossible. I take a look at the photograph and reach for my phone. Using my phone, I take a picture of the photograph, along with the writing. Tomorrow, if this photograph changes again, I can look at my phone for reference. Maybe I’ll need it to convince myself that this isn’t a dream.

And if I’m convinced, I’ll do something.

***

“October 23, 2061 – We met the only man on the island – Gituku.”

“Haha…” I run my fingers through my brown hair, not quite sure what to say.

Flipping the photograph, I stare at the picture of Aunt Clara, the strange man, and a new stranger, possibly Gituku. Or maybe Gituku is the name of the island…? No, I’ll just consider this new stranger as Gituku. Gituku looks to be in his 30s, with a beard and brownish skin.

I open my phone and check the picture from yesterday. Right, so I wasn’t dreaming. The picture did change, and I’m going to do something about this.

I grab my bag and walk out with the photograph gripped tightly in my hands. When I arrive at the police station, I ask an officer to take a look at my photograph.

“Sir, can you tell me who these people are?” I ask.

“What’s wrong, Miss? Why do you need to identify these people?”

The look of the officer is one filled with expectation. He probably thinks I’m here to report a crime of some sort. I quickly explain that I found this photograph in my aunt’s deserted house, and that I was merely curious of who they were. The officer nods and tells me that he’ll contact me if he finds anything.

I leave the police station and think of something. How about using Google Lens to find out who these people are? Who knows, they could be famous people or someone on the internet. I wish I had thought of this before going to the police station, but anyway, let’s try this…

I scan the photograph with my phone and wait for the results. Found it.

A picture of the man – not Gituku, comes out along with the results.

‘Robert Johnson, a normal student who went missing in the year 1964. The police investigated his disappearance with great enthusiasm, but no clue was found about him. His friends say that he was last seen going to the basement of his house to make a time machine. The case of Robert Johnson still remains a mystery until today.’

Well, not much is written about him. I scroll down and find out that he went to YY University and was considered smart for his age. YY University… Aunt went to a different university, which means Aunt Clara did not meet this Robert in university. How did they meet?

What is their relationship?

It seems like every time I dig deeper, I find myself with more questions and no answers.

I’m still clutching the photograph as I head back home, my phone safely tucked inside my bag. Wait, I don’t want to go home just yet. I’ll stop by a grocery shop and buy some of my needs first. I turn around and walk briskly, and then – thump!

I bumped into a tall man, hurting my nose in the process.

“I’m sorry, sir,” I murmur. I don’t bother to look at him, though, because my nose is throbbing. It hurts, and then I realize that I’ve dropped the photograph. I bend down to take my picture, and at the same time the man bends down, too.

He reaches the picture first, and his eyes widen as he sees it. He looks up, and I take this chance to take a good look at his face.

That hair... the skin color... the beard...

It’s… Gituku!

July 23, 2021 07:11

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