Short story: Super Bright

At the beginning of April, I participated in the SCI-FI-LONDON 48hr Flash Fiction Challenge. It’s basically a competition where you need to write a short story of 2000 words in about 48 hours. It has to be a sci-fi themed story, and the organizers provide you with a title and a dialogue line that you must integrate into the story. You also get a science fact (or something the organizers call a ‘science fact’) that you can also use for the story if you like. Well, I don’t really know what devil led me to sign up for this challenge as sci-fi genre is a bit outside my comfort zone (I did prepare a bit by reading and watching some stuff) and I am a total novice at writing fiction of any kind. But I’m glad that I did because it was thoroughly interesting experience: from the moment I read my story title till the last minutes before submission when I couldn’t care less about my commas and wording. You can find the winners (or the well written stories) on the SFL Awards 2017 page, but read on to check-out mine!

Title: Super Bright

Dialogue: I need a camera and a fuck-off big lens

Science (optional): A man’s genealogy test results suggest an unknown species, his paternal line ends with a grandfather he never knew…

Super Bright

“Mr. Braddock!” the nurse called out loud.

“Yes, that’s me,” Liam answered.

“Please, go to Room 205. Dr. Penwright is ready for you.”

Liam thanked her and got up from his seat. He wasn’t sure why he needed to come back in. They said that he’ll get a copy of his genealogy test results in the mail, but then he got a phone call from the research center yesterday. He was slightly nervous and quite a bit annoyed. It took him more than an hour to get here which meant taking half a day off work for nothing. I should never volunteer for another freaky research program again, he thought and knocked on the door.

“Come in!”

“Hi!” Liam said, entering the room.

“Hello, Mr. Braddock. Please, sit down. I really appreciate you coming in the second time,” Dr. Penwright said.

“No problem. I understand you have my test results?”

“Yes, I do. And that is the reason we called you. There seems to be a slight problem,” she said hesitantly.

“What kind of a problem?” Liam asked anxiously. “Am I sick?”

“No, no, Mr. Braddock. You’re not sick. We just can’t figure out your ancestral background,” Dr. Penwright continued. “Your test results show that you are 38% English, 14% Irish, 12% Scandinavian, 9% German, and…” she paused.

“And what?” Liam was getting impatient.

“And 27% something else,” she finished.

“What do you mean something else?”

“Well, we don’t know. We ran the test several times and nothing. We even cross-checked your DNA with that of other species, and still nothing. We…” Dr. Penwright started, but Liam interrupted her.

“You’re saying that you’re so incompetent that you cannot match my DNA with any other human race or nationality?” he said angrily. “Are you sure you should be running the National Genealogy Program? My parents are human beings! Figure it out or stop wasting my time!” Liam almost shouted.

He didn’t wait for Dr. Penwright to answer, but got up and walked out of the room. He was angry and distressed and nearly ran out of the building. His flight instinct had kicked in although he didn’t know what he was running from. Those stupid researchers can never get anything right, Liam thought as he headed for the nearest train station.

By the time he got back to work, Liam had managed to compose himself. He felt he might have overreacted to the whole situation. It was clear that someone in the research team had made a mistake, but it was no reason to shout at Dr. Penwright and storm out like that. She’ll get over it and I have a job to do, he said to himself when getting out of the elevator on his office floor. Liam was working as a project manager in Data Solutions Ltd. which was an IT company developing software for big data analysis. He had recently landed his first real project and had been working long hours for the past few weeks to stay on top of things. This morning had shown that maybe he should start taking things a little bit easier on himself to avoid similar outbursts. But Paula, his secretary, was already waiting with half a dozen messages and a grim face.

“What has happened now?” Liam asked, pushing all other thoughts out of his head.

It was around 9 p.m. in the evening when he had managed to sort out the most recent work conundrum. The office was already empty, and he was about to leave when his smartphone gave out the all too familiar new e-mail notification sound. Liam wanted to ignore it and just go home, but the name of the sender made him think twice. It was Dr. Penwright.

He sat down and opened the e-mail on his laptop. Dr. Penwright had not bothered with any niceties. It just said: “You might not believe my words, but I think you will believe the data!” He was a bit confused until he noticed the e-mail attachment. Liam hesitated but opened the document. It was a DNA test report, his DNA test report. He scrolled through first few pages that were full of technical details he barely could understand. Should have paid more attention in biology classes, he thought. The fifth page contained a large table with paternal ancestor names, haplogroups and all kinds of codes and numbers. Liam might not understand most of it, but he knew what a word ‘unidentified’ meant. He felt a chill creeping up his back, but he kept scrolling down to the next page. There was a visualization of DNA combinations going back to his great-grandparents, except something was missing on his mother’s side. There was no information about his mother’s father, his grandfather. He kept staring at the screen not knowing what to do. He had never known his grandfather on mother’s side. In fact, his mother didn’t also and his grandmother never spoke much of him. He was something of a mysterious legend in the family.

Liam thought about calling his parents, but it was already late and he didn’t know what to ask or say. Instead, he opened the National Family History Centre’s web page and typed his name in the search box. He pressed ‘Enter’ and sat there waiting. Thirty long seconds later a family tree appeared on the screen. It was quite extensive on his father’s side but very short on his mother’s. His mother’s father’s name was given as Shay Bright. Liam racked his brain, but couldn’t remember hearing this name before. But he recalled his mother once saying that her father’s name was so weird that she thought his grandmother had made it up to hide some secret affair with a married man. It all started to seem like a bad dream.

Liam’s grandmother had passed away four years ago at the age of 83. She had lived most of her life in a small cottage just outside the town. He remembered spending quite a lot of time there as a kid. The house was now sealed off and empty. Granny had left it to him but he had not decided what to do about it. Liam had fond memories of the house and always taught he might live there with his own family one day. But now he didn’t know what to think or do. He checked his watch and it showed a couple of minutes past 11 p.m. He picked up his things and headed for the door. It was time to go home and get some much-needed sleep.

The morning brought an awareness that the mysterious grandfather situation was not a dream after all. There was still an e-mail from Dr. Penwright in his Inbox and he was still 27% unidentified. Liam drank his morning coffee and tried to come up with some rational explanation. But most of all he tried to remember anything that his granny had told him about his missing grandfather.

His childhood memories were quite foggy, but he remembered well the final months before she passed away. The doctors had diagnosed her with some form of dementia which required full-time medical care. They had moved her to a nursing home soon after, and he had visited her once a week. They hadn’t talked much. She mostly told him to visit the house and not to leave him alone. Liam always taught she was mixing up some words and wanted Liam not to leave her alone in the home, but now he wasn’t so sure.

While contemplating his grandmother’s final months in the nursing home, he suddenly remembered that she gave him a photo album during one of his last visits. He had almost thrown it away. It had been old and full of black and white pictures with nothing on them, but a bright splotch of light. They all looked like someone didn’t know how to use a camera, but took pictures anyway. Liam got up and went to his junk closet. He knew the album must be in there somewhere. After some digging around, he found it at the back of the bottom shelf. He dusted it off and brought it back to the kitchen table.

Every rational brain cell told him that this was nothing, but the curiosity got the better of him, and Liam flipped the album open. The first picture was exactly as he remembered it – bright splotch of light in the center, but along the margins, he could recognize granny’s living room. The picture was dated 24 May 1948, approximately two years before his mother was born. He started flipping through all the pages in the album. Each page had a similar picture on it, but with a different date written at the bottom. This cannot be just coincidence, he thought.

“And what is this bright thing in each picture?” he said out loud, surprising himself.

Before he knew it, he was getting dressed. He found the keys from granny’s house in the kitchen drawer, grabbed his car keys and was out the door. On the way to his car, Liam called the office.

“Paula, I won’t be in today,” he told his secretary on the phone.

“Is everything alright? You sound a bit strange,” she asked.

“I’m fine. I just need to take care of some family business,” Liam said and hung up.

He couldn’t believe what he was about to do himself least explain it to his co-workers. He got into the car and drove to the nearest Currys. It was half-way to his granny’s house anyway. He walked into the store and approached the first sales assistant.

“I need a camera and a fuck-off big lens,” Liam said.

“May I ask what are you going to use it for?” Dan, the sales assistant, inquired.

“If I told you, you’d never believe me,” Liam answered. “But I need a bad ass camera that can take high-resolution images of bright objects. Maybe something they use to photograph stars?”

“Ok, let’s see what we’ve got in stock at the moment,” Dan replied, leading the way to the opposite side of the store.

Twenty minutes later Liam emerged from Currys carrying a new camera with all the accessories Dan said he needed. For an IT guy, he didn’t know much about tech beyond his beloved computers. He got back into his car and drove the rest of the way to granny’s place.

It was nearly 10 a.m. when Liam arrived at his grandmother’s house. He sat in the car trying to decide if it was a good idea to go in after all. You’re not scared of an empty house, are you, he thought to himself and got out of the car taking the camera with him. He walked up to the house and unlocked the door. It was slightly stuck and he had to push it open.

“Hello? Is anybody in here?” he shouted entering the house.

There was no answer and he started to feel stupid standing in the corridor with an expensive camera in his hand. He wanted to turn around and go back home, but something inside his head told him not to. He closed the front door and started walking around the house taking a couple of pictures in each room. There was nothing abnormal about them, no bright light. Then he heard a weird sound in the pantry. Probably some damned cat, Liam thought and yanked its door open. He nearly dropped the camera trying to shield his eyes from the super bright light coming out of the pantry. He took a few steps back trying to see more clearly, but couldn’t.

“What are you?” Liam said, not expecting the creature to answer.

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