Treasure in A Photo

Submitted into Contest #144 in response to: Write a story about a wedding photographer.... view prompt

2 comments

Fiction Mystery Romance

Stomp. Crush. Stomp. Crunch.

A dreadful march to our doom.

There's no way in and no way out

Of this place our nightmares call

Home.

"You said it would take an hour." she grumbles under her breath.

You sigh in defeat, weary of the antics and the crying and the tantrums. There was no way to know exactly how long the hike up the mountainside would take or guarantee this was the right place to be hiking. The map was cryptic, old and hand drawn by a schizophrenic treasure hunter after years of isolation.

Or, that's what the woman told you both before you handed over five bucks for the tattered piece of paper. Her tiny shop stood off the road almost thirty miles from the trail. She sold all types of weird knick-knacks and odd finds, things you cannot find anywhere else in the world. Or so she claimed. So, when your wife insisted you stop and look at the cute, little stand on the side of the road, you obliged.

"Can you answer me? I asked like five questions and you've been all quiet and weird about this whole thing." Your wife calls up to you, several feet behind thanks to her ridiculous shoes. As if she did not know that today was the hiking date.

"I don't know. It looks like we could be close but the map is pretty useless."

"Then why did you buy it? Why are we even here?" she yells angrily, hands balled into fists on her hips. Her delicate features twist into an ugly grimace.

"Because you agreed it sounded fun!" You shoot back with equal rage. The forest chirps and whooshes and buzzes around you, chattering on as if it has no care in the world. It was not chained to misery like you are. How annoying. 

"Don't yell at me. It did sound fun but now it's not. Let's just go back." she huffs. 

"No. We are finishing this hike. I didn't spend the money to quit now." 

Without waiting for a response, you turn and continue walking through the thick forest. Up the mountain and to the right. The map had a jagged line racing up the page with three turns. The first turned left, avoiding a huge drop off into a ravine that cut deep through the mountain. Falling in that would be certain death. 

The next was a right turn past a huge cave. Shrouded with tree limbs and foliage, the entrance was hard to spot save for a large, looming rock situated over it. As if daring the brave explorer to test fate and hope that rock did not fall. 

You look at the map one last time before tucking it into your shorts pocket. The last right turn should be up ahead somewhere, nestled between two tall boulders like guardians of a sacred gate. After that, the fated treasure lay only meters away. The shop lady was careful not to spoil the fun by saying what the treasure may be. She smiled, sparkling white teeth too young for her wrinkly face. 

You hope it is a truck full of cash to pay off your student loan debt. 

Crunching sounds from behind you signal that your wife is still keeping up, stomping through the forest like the big bad wolf. You would be one of the pigs, trying desperately to protect your home from such a scary creature. She would argue that it is the other way around. That she is the innocent little pig with a fragile home that needed protecting. Your families would say it was the pair of you that needed help. 

“You do this all the time.”

“Oh here we go.” You mutter. Shoulders tense, ready for that huge burst of wolf breath. 

“You did this last week when we went out to dinner. All I wanted was to go to the pizza place on time and you pulled me into some bar where we ended up losing each other.” 

“And found each other like ten minutes later. We went to the pizza place right after a couple drinks, no big deal.”

“At Christmas, you insisted we try a new turkey and it ended up being rancid and we both got violently ill for days!”

“You said the price was unbeatable! It wasn’t like I tried to kill us on purpose through bad turkey.”

“At our wedding.” 

You stop. Of course it would come to this. She was always complaining about the wedding mistake. It was old news by now, three years old with no chance to rest in peace. It was a habit for her to bring it up every time there was an argument. It all stemmed back to the wedding. 

“Not again. I don’t want to hear this right now.” You keep your voice steady but firm. This is not the time to bring this up. You might still have an hour to trek back down the mountain together. Chances of surviving that without the silent treatment and ruining the date would be abysmal. 

Plus, you wanted this to be a good day. You want to be happy and laugh and be joyous while the sun is out. 

“I do. You pulled this same crap at our wedding. The photographer was booked and everything was ready to go.”

“Seriously, I don’t want–”

“The day of, you called to tell me that you canceled the photographer because you wanted to try a new guy and his basement business versus a seasoned professional.”

“Can you shut up?” This time you almost yell. She glares at you with those dark blue eyes that once captured your heart. They looked gorgeous on the day you tied the knot, even when she hissed at you for the photography situation every chance she got between ad hoc phone pictures, kisses, hugs and attention. 

“Don’t tell me to shut up.”

“I know I messed up. It was a stupid decision I made because I wanted to save a few bucks and he seemed really cool. How would I know he would take the money and disappear. I have said sorry for years now.”

“Then quit doing the same crap over and over and over again!” she yells. 

You do not respond. She was half right. You tend to jump into things without fully thinking, curiosity leading your logical brain until a mistake is made. It was one of your worst faults and a hard habit to break. But today, you were certain this detour would be fruitful. You would both benefit from it and it would make you happy again. Finding treasure is always a good thing. If only she would just listen and be patient. 

“Can we just get this over with? We are both tired, I don’t feel like talking about old news and I want to sit down for a bit. You can yell at me later about it.” 

She stays silent for a moment. The trees sway around you, the gentle breeze of a fine afternoon tugging at their branches. Birds sing to each other as little animals scurry past, avoiding the affair and going about their business. You want to go home but you want to stay in this beautiful forest too. It is too nice to go back and lock yourself inside the nightmare of those walls. 

Stomp. Crush. Stomp. Crunch.

A dreadful march to our doom.

There's no way in and no way out

Of this place our nightmares call

Home.

The poem comes back to you. A little piece you have been working on since last week for your next story. Based on bits and pieces from your life, the poem questions what a home really is. A place where two people love each other and build a life? You wanted that but never got it. The wedding should have brought it into reality. Instead, words filled the home. Filled the bedroom, the kitchen and dining room. Words and arguments and gripes and complaints. Love leaked out, making room for all those hurtful words. 

“Fine. Let’s keep going so we can get out of here.” Her voice cuts through your thoughts like a freshly sharpened knife. You sigh with relief, happy to drop the argument. With that, you both head towards the next turn in heavy silence. 

It only takes a few minutes to find the boulders. Taller than two of you, they stand guarding something mysterious. Your heart starts to beat faster in excitement. Just through these large rocks is treasure greater than anything you have ever imagined. You can feel it in your heart, running through your veins like an electric current. 

As you stop just before the boulders, she smiles. For the first time today. 

“I’m actually a bit excited to at least see what is over here. If anything, we can at least sit for a second and eat a snack before leaving.”

“Yeah. Can’t hurt to check it out.” You shrug. 

Leading the way, you pass through the guards, nodding a silent salute to their brave sacrifice. The forest thins enough that you can see a true path now. As you walk, the sun shines brightly on your face, providing much needed warmth. She gasps in surprise, delighted by the new scenery. The trees were fluffier and wild flowers littered the ground along the path. 

“You know,” You start, turning to face her fully. “I hate when we argue. It’s annoying and frustrating.”

She sighs, crossing her arms. “I know. I think we just can’t communicate very well sometimes.”

“Yeah, you’re right. We both could work on that." You smile at her, wanting to soothe things over now that you had made it to the mystery destination. Treasure is so close you can taste it.  “I think I just get so wrapped up in my own head and forget that there are people around me. As if I am looking through the lens of a camera to capture a moment rather than living it.” 

“Like the wedding photographer.” she smiles faintly, trying to salvage a bad memory into something new. If you think about it that way, the previous attempts to crush your self-esteem and pull you down to rock bottom could be forgiven. Right here, right now. 

“Just like the wedding photographer.” You pull out the map one last time. It looks so promising with its big X marking the spot where your treasure awaits. “He’s here by the way.”

“Who?” she asks, confused. 

“He is. He skipped out on our wedding but he would never skip out on finding his own treasure.”

“What do you–”

***

“So, you done up there or what?” the shop lady cackles into the phone. You rub your forehead, sighing from the long trek up and down the mountain. Leaving her there was so easy. The man promised to keep her safe and sound in her new home. 

It was for the best. Treasure for him was keeping people in his memory boxes, while treasure for you was a safe, quiet home filled with nothing but love. A dream that could overshadow a nightmare. You would never hurt her. She is just away. 

“Yes. He took the picture.”

“Are you going to go back for her one day?” Your Aunt, the lady from the shop whom your wife has never met before, asks casually. You think for a moment.

Would you?

“I don’t know yet, Aunty. For now, I’m going to go home and enjoy myself for once in a long time.”

“The photographer… where’d you find him again?”

“On the trail... over three years ago...”

It was a sunny, breezy day when you set off up the mountain. 

The trees waved as you walked by.

There was only you and no else

To chase the sun good-bye.

Walked and walked you pressed on

Followed by nothing but birds.

And then you saw him sitting there

With a camera in his hands

When something strange occurred.

He put the camera to his face

Snap. Snap. A photo appeared.

The man explained that he loved pictures. 

Stopping memories in time.

His favorites were weddings

Capturing the groom and bride.

But in that moment something shifted

As if the world had come still. 

He looked at me with sullen eyes, 

A face shrouded in ill will. 

Smiling wide he said to me

That his photos come with a special surprise. 

They trap the object inside. 

You shudder, remembering how awful it had been to be stuck in that photo for hours. To you, the sunny day pressed on with no end in sight. You walked and walked and walked until you could no more. The man had watched with blank eyes each time you passed him, desperately trying to find a way out of the forest. Eventually, you gave up and slumped against a tree to calm down. If you were going to be stuck, you were at least going to get something out of it. The poem came flowing out of you like a waterfall as your hand scratched away on the little notepad you carry for inspiration. 

Once the piece was complete, the man finally spoke again, walking over to you with long strides. He wanted to take your picture. 

“Will it get me out of here?” You asked harshly, tired from walking and hungry for food. He nodded silently. 

“But, in exchange, let me take a photo at your future wedding. I do not hurt people. I help keep memories safe.”

You thought about it for all of two seconds before agreeing. The thought of being stuck here for any longer made you care little for others. And who is to say the guy could even find you once you high tail it off the mountain side. Besides, you were not planning on getting married anytime soon, so to heck with him. 

He raised his camera one more time and snapped a picture. 

And then he was gone. The air felt different. You were out of the photo. 

It took less time to scale down the mountain path thanks to your hurry to leave. The man did not appear again that day. Nowhere down the mountain or in town as you drove through. It was as if the whole thing was a nightmare induced by too much sunlight. An illusion thanks to dehydration. The real nightmare was at home with a girlfriend who seemed to be unhappy all the time, so your mind made up something even more terrifying to take its place. 

But he came back. Two days before your wedding later that year. The wedding you never thought would happen. He came back with that camera and asked for his due. He wanted just one photo of the happy couple. When you asked what would happen, if you would be stuck in a never-ending loop of that day for eternity, he smiled. 

“You will be happy forever. I will keep you safe as you live that day for however long you stay in my gallery.” 

So you said yes. Your future wife-to-be could stay happy forever and you would never have to worry about feeling unloved again. Questioning her every move. Waiting for the ball to drop. 

You told her about the sudden change in photographers. She was not happy. She had never let it go. Not a year later. Not two. Not three. The man never showed up that day. The whole celebration was ruined. Sympathetic friends and family used cellphones to snap pictures of the unhappy couple. It was your biggest mistake in trying to make the perfect life. 

Three years later and you could not handle it anymore. The taunts, jabs, full insults about your stupidity whenever the subject of wedding photographers came up. It was a personal cycle of torture that you wanted out of. Then the man came back. It was late, you were alone walking to cool off from another argument. Deciding when to break off the marriage and file for divorce. It was inevitable and it was looming like a dark, thick cloud over your home. 

He asked for a photo. To help you. To become happy. A photo of your wife that he would keep safe. As long as she was happy in the moment the picture was taken. When you wanted her back, he would find you again. 

You said yes. 

May 03, 2022 15:22

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2 comments

Ginger Scharpe
04:14 May 09, 2022

Very well written. You kept me interested and curious to see what was going to happen.

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Elizabeth Lee
20:37 May 09, 2022

Thank you so much for the read and comment! I'm glad the story gave that feeling since that is what I was hoping for from the reader's perspective.

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