broken branches of the family tree

Submitted into Contest #98 in response to: Set your story on (or in) a winding river.... view prompt

29 comments

Friendship Contemporary Funny

Luca blows out a long breath, relaxes his shoulders and leans against the bench's backrest as the ferry pulls away from the Everett City pier. Astrid sits next to him, her curly red hair whipping across a freckled face, her nose buried in a tattered copy of The Peanut Butter Falcon. In front of them, Bobby, his brown hands gripping the side of the boat as the waves rock the deck. He insisted on wearing a life jacket, even after Luca told him that only kids had to put them on. The straps Luca had to loosen to fit over Bobby's belly flap in the wind making a snap, snapping sound.


“Bobby, why don’t you sit?” Luca offers, patting the bench.


“Do you like clouds?” Bobby asks.


“Yes.”


“Do you like squirrels?”


“Sometimes.”


Bobby rocks back and forth, heel, toe, heel, toe.


“Okay, yes, I like squirrels,” Luca says.


Bobby stands still. “It rained on this day in 1907. It was a Wednesday.”


“Wednesday is woman climbing a hill with a heavy bucket of water,” Astrid whispers. “Nineteen, oh seven… a rabid dog chasing a chipmunk.”


“What about 1908?” Luca asks.


“A family holding hands as they walk down a long road.”


“Morning. Tickets, please,” a voice beside Luca says. It belongs to a uniformed man holding a rectangular electronic device.


“Uncooked potato face,” Astrid says.


“Pardon me?”


“Ah, pay her no mind, kind sir. She's....practicing spoken-word poetry,” Luca says as he stands up, brushing the creases from his suit. Bowing slightly he reads the ticket takers's name tag, R. Simmons. "Mr. Simmons, just a moment while I unlock my phone and retrieve the information you seek."


Mr. Simmons scans Luca's phone, squinting at the information that flashes up on the screen.


“Mr. Esposito, I see you’ve bought a family ticket,” he says.


“Yes, yes indeed I have.”


Mr. Simmons looks from brown-skinned Bobby, to pale Astrid, to olive-skinned Luca.


“Do you like sugar?” Bobby asks, turning from the railing to face the ticket taker.


“I…yes,” he says.


Bobby nods and twitches his fingers like he’s counting.


Mr. Simmons begins, “Family tickets are reserved for—”


“Do you like magazines?” Bobby asks.


“What? No.”


Bobby smiles and says, “You were born on January 9th, 1972.”


The ticket taker stares at Bobby. “How…how could you know that?”


“An old man limping up a spiral staircase, a boy fishing from a pier," Astrid adds.


Mr. Simmons shifts uncomfortably from one foot to another. "Are you some kind of—”


“That’s a Sunday,” Bobby says.


“A mountain climber with two teeth missing,” Astrid continues.


Luca stands up, blocking Mr. Simmon's view of Bobby. “My brother works at a fair ground, guessing people’s ages. Odd choice of career I know, but he's gotten rather good at it," he says, as he straightens his bow tie. "I can discern from your demeanour that you question our origins, and I can assure Mr. Simmons, that these are my siblings and we are related, not by blood, but by merit of cohabitation lo these many years."


Mr. Simmons leans to this right, looking past Luca, trying to catch sight of Bobby, but he’s already turned back to the railing.


“Alright, Mr. Esposito," he sighs, "you’ve got a family day ticket, no return, that’s good until ten this evening.”


“A sleepwalker on a tightrope,” Astrid says, just above the wind.


He glances at her, then back to Luca. “Have a pleasant journey,” he says shaking his head as he walks away.


“Guys, we discussed this, remember?” Luca says. “Bobby?”


Bobby turns from the railing and asks, “Do you like tomato soup?”


Luca looks up at the sky and back to him. “Yes.”


“Do you like clowns?”


“Most definitely not.”


“On February 5th, 1953, a ferry crashed on this river, during a storm. That was a Thursday.”


“An opera singer in the spotlight, a one-eyed owl in the bell tower, strawberry ice cream melting on the pavement,” Astrid says.


“Astrid, Bobby…we agreed that you would not say anything. That I would do all the talking. We don’t want call unnecessary attention to ourselves. Right?”


Astrid shrugs, Bobby nods.


“They will have seen that we’re not in our rooms by now. They’ll be calling the police. Lots of people will be looking for us.”


“Luca,” she asks, “how long do we have. Before they find us?”


“I dunno. Everett City isn’t that big. They’ll probably check the hospitals and then the bus depot. They won’t think to check the ferries right away, because they think I’m hydrophobic,” he laughs, looking at the brown choppy river.


“Classic misdirection,” he says, pulling out a deck of cards and shuffling. “Once we make it to Emerald, we’ll get new IDs.”


He fans out the cards and turns to Astrid, who selects one, looks at it, and returns it the deck. He shuffles for several minutes, staring at the far shore. “Astrid, you can get a job as an astronaut. Bobby, you can work as a zookeeper.” He slips a card from the deck and shows it to Astrid. She smiles.


“And me? I’ll be a famous prestidigitator, pulling elephants out of top hats and making the Eiffel Tower appear in our backyard,” he laughs. “And we’ll all live in one house, together, like a real family. We can go out when we want, and we won’t have to take the pills and go to group sessions and—”


“I like group sessions,” Astrid says. “People talk about dates, past and future. It’s like a mini-series in my head.”


“Okay, well, the three of us can be a group. From Tuesday, June 15th 2021 to Thursday, July 30th 2050.”


“July 30th 2050 is a Saturday,” Bobby says.


“An honest werewolf, a bald TV-presenter, a wingless crow—”


The blast of the ferry horn interrupts Astrid’s imaginings. A voice on the loudspeaker announces that the next stop is Emerald. People disembarking should do so from the back of the boat.


“Alright, here we go,” Luca says as he removes Bobby's life jacket and they make their way to the gangplank.


Luca walks behind Bobby who takes small shuffling steps over the footbridge, sliding his hands along the railing, either side of him. Astrid waits for them on the pier, eavesdropping on a teenage couple.


“Mr. Esposito,” a voice says behind Luca says. He freezes for a moment, then whispers to Bobby, "Can you go faster, please."


“Do you like trees?” Bobby asks.


“Mr. Esposito!”


Luca finally turns towards the voice. It’s Mr. Simmons. “You need to tap your phone against the reader as you leave,” he says, holding the electronic gadget.


"Oh right, this new-fangled technology," Luca smiles, hovering his phone over the reader, waiting for the beeping to confirm his exit. "Good day to you kind sir," he says, tipping his top hat.


“You have a nice trip now, with your family,” Mr. Simmons says.


Luca joins Astrid and Bobby on the pier and they watch the ferry pull away, boiling the water beneath it.


“Do you like trees?” Bobby repeats.


“Yes,” Luca says, "very much." 


"On this day 20 years ago, June 14th, 2001, lightening struck the tree in my backyard. A branch cracked off and hit me on the head," Bobby says. "That was a Thursday."


"A bonfire, a tree swing, three people roasting marshmallows," Astrid says.


"That's what I picture too," Luca says as the ferry disappears around a bend in the river, churning its turbulent way to the next town.





June 13, 2021 15:32

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29 comments

Beth Connor
20:27 Jun 14, 2021

What a fun read, I really enjoyed its quirkiness. The story kind of reminded me of a Star Trek-DS9 episode where a bunch of genetically altered humans escaped, and Bashir tried to help them. (my nerd moment of the day haha) I think the biggest question I had was Mr. Esposito's motivation for bringing Astrid and Bobby.

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H L Mc Quaid
17:04 Jun 15, 2021

DS9!!! Yes. Yeah, Luca's motivation, on the surface, is that he doesn't want to live in the group home anymore, being told what to do, what pills to take, etc. Does he have another motivation...we'll have to wait and see...or not. haha.

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David G.
19:38 Jun 14, 2021

This feels like the opening scene to a much larger story. There’s just enough here to draw me in and make me want to keep reading. What are they running away from? And where are they headed? Are their savant skills going to help them on their adventure? I want to know more.

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H L Mc Quaid
17:05 Jun 15, 2021

Perhaps they'll pop up in a future story, and we'll get to see more of their backstory. :)

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Shea West
04:10 Jun 14, 2021

This gave me Peanut Butter Falcon vibes😍 It was a quirky, yet fun read that left me with a lot of questions? Is Mr. Esposito a good guy? Is he "kidnapping" the others?

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H L Mc Quaid
09:15 Jun 14, 2021

Yeah, lots of questions, ha! I pictured Luca (Mr. Esposito) as a fantasist, but not bad guy, per se. thanks for commenting. :)

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18:24 Jun 20, 2021

Well done. Very light and wholesome and clever read. A perfect exemplar of how to creative vivid characterization -- just with dialogue! I could absolutely visualize Bobby, the whole child, as he asked his questions. Wish there were more to read about this little tribe. :)

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H L Mc Quaid
18:51 Jun 20, 2021

Thanks! I managed to avoid swear words and violence, quite an accomplishment. ;) I'm thinking of creating a TV/streaming pilot featuring these characters, as my first foray into screenwriting for the small screen. Doing a 24-minute episode seems more probable than a 90-minute feature film, but it's all talk until I actually do it.

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Nina Chyll
19:59 Jun 19, 2021

I read and then immediately moved on to going through the comments which I rarely do as not to taint my view of the story. But I was confused at the end, not knowing who the characters actually were. I picture this as some jolly crazy circus / fair ground escapees, too genius to be able to tie their shoelaces properly but smart enough to be able to tell the day of every date in history. Either way, it was a fun read. I would consider revealing a little more for the reader to work with, just because it's fun to have one's theories validated /...

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H L Mc Quaid
20:03 Jun 19, 2021

yeah, fair to say it's half-baked, nay, quarter-baked story. I pictured them as escaping from a group home for folks with cognitive issues, who maybe can't be trusted to live on their own. I'm glad, despite the lack of context, that you warmed to them. Their story continues in this week's prompt in "Roadside Attractions". I hope you still want to give them a big, fat hug. :)

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Nina Chyll
20:04 Jun 19, 2021

Yeah I just read the second story. I would put something on top to direct the readers to story no. 1, just because I'm not sure no. 2 can live on its own, but perhaps it's being too close to them right now. Doesn't feel quarter-baked, to be honest. I have also been struggling this past week and barely made the deadline!

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H L Mc Quaid
20:09 Jun 19, 2021

but your story is really, really good. :)

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Nina Chyll
20:10 Jun 19, 2021

Thank you for the kind, kind words!

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K. Antonio
01:05 Jun 19, 2021

I was going to critique this, but then I started reading and just wanted to pay attention to what was happening and enjoy the ride. So there you have it, I had fun!

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H L Mc Quaid
15:57 Jun 19, 2021

Oh, thanks K. I struggled to write the past week, but happy that I got something out, and that it's a fun read. :)

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K. Antonio
17:02 Jun 19, 2021

It was really amusing and I loved reading everyone's comments about the story. It brought me comic book vibes, because the dialogues were so short and rapid that I was forced to just piece everything as I read. It was wicked fun, for reals!!

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Ruth Porritt
08:27 Jun 15, 2021

p.s. I loved the choice of random questions in this story. All of these questions made me smile. p.s.s. I am a huge fan of asking people random questions. (This is the way that my brain works.) I enjoy teaching elementary students, especially, because they also enjoy asking curious and creative questions.

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H L Mc Quaid
17:06 Jun 15, 2021

haha. I like random questions too, but in my head, they aren't random, they make perfect sense. It's only the people around me who thing the Qs are random. ;)

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Ruth Porritt
00:55 Jun 16, 2021

LOL! :) Have a great one, and catch you later, Ruth

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Ruth Porritt
08:14 Jun 15, 2021

I think this story is all kinds of great. The narrator's voice (and the voices of the characters) are fully formed and compelling. The pacing of the dialogue, along with the pacing of the description, led to an extremely enjoyable read. Can't wait to read the rest of your work, and have a wonderful day, Ruth

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Ash Jarvis
22:00 Jun 13, 2021

So many questions! An autistic savant, a synesthete and …a werewolf?! These three escaping from a group home/hospital is really interesting, and I was definitely rooting for them not to get caught. However, I definitely want to know more about the narrator—is this someone who can make this work, or are they all headed for disaster? Of course I’m also afraid that there is some incredibly smart allusion to mythology and I missed it…wouldn’t be the first time!

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H L Mc Quaid
09:13 Jun 14, 2021

A werewolf? A werewolf! That would have made it more interesting. Ah, I imagined Luca had a personality disorder (compulsive liar, fantasist)...but it's difficult to convey that in First person POV (I tried to hint with the card trick, that he probably didn't pick Astrid's card, and that he imagined improbable careers for all of them). Might be a way to dial that up somehow... No mythology that I know of...Bobby was based on an observation at a corner store on Saturday. 'Bobby' was ahead of me in the line, asking the cashier/manager loads o...

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Ash Jarvis
15:09 Jun 16, 2021

The changes you made and the depth you added to the narrator really work—I can definitively see his diagnosis/character now. Because these three have vulnerabilities and really interesting flaws it would amazing if you took them on a longer adventure!

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H L Mc Quaid
16:03 Jun 16, 2021

Thanks so much for coming back and seeing the revision. I agree, these characters turned out more interesting than I initially gave them credit for, so I'll seriously consider building out their adventures in the future. :)

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E. B. Bullet
03:31 Jun 21, 2021

Aahhh what a fun read! When writing quirky characters it is all too easy to fall into weird, eye rolling cliches or dialogue, but this was entertaining all the way through! I got attached to all of them. This feels like a kind of story that would make me cry at some point. Dunno why, it gives me those viiibesss. Wonderful job~! Your writing flow is superb and your dialogue is delish. Few sentences that are missing a word though! Such as "We don't want call unnecessary attention to ourselves."

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H L Mc Quaid
10:38 Jun 21, 2021

Thanks, Erick. I have great affection for all of them, too. Thanks for pointing out where I omit small words (I do it ALL the time). The editing period is closed for me, but I can edit the original file.

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H L Mc Quaid
18:15 Jun 13, 2021

Oy, struggled to write this week. Not particularly pleased with this, but at least I wrote something.

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Ruth Porritt
08:23 Jun 15, 2021

I think this story's grand. I would like to read future stories about these characters, but I also enjoy this story on its own. I am struggling to find time to write this week...I am a teacher and there are a lot of events at the end of this school year. (I might wait two weeks to write, unless the writing mood strikes me on the weekend.) Have a great Tuesday/Wednesday, and catch you later, Ruth

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H L Mc Quaid
16:41 Jun 15, 2021

Thanks, Ruth! A few others have wondered whether this could be expanded, so who knows, perhaps some (or all of these characters will pop up in another story). And yeah, waiting for inspiration is frustrating, but I can't write until I have an idea (or character) that interests me, and I imagine you face similar challenges. :)

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