Cal was in the living room with his brother, Mike, and Mike’s wife, Char, looking at old photo albums. The one on Cal’s lap went back to their youth. Some of the pictures had faded, and they all smelled like smoke; their parents had been heavy smokers.
“You should scan some of these before they lose more detail,” Cal said, turning a page. The wine with dinner had made him mellow and happy, and he was enjoying this trip down memory lane. Mike sat next to him with half the album on his lap. Char hung over his shoulder, pointing and giggling at their dorkiness as kids.
Cal squinted at a photo of them on bikes. “I’d forgotten we put playing cards in the spokes to make noise. Think any of them would be worth money now if we hadn’t trashed them that way?”
“Who knows? People collect everything these days. Look at the scrape on my knee. I remember skinning it climbing down from the tree fort. That sucker bled like crazy, and it ached so bad the first night, I could hardly sleep, but the next morning, I was up in the fort again.”
“I played with dolls and had tea parties when I was young,” Char said. “I think I would have preferred your childhood.”
Mike flipped to the next page, and Cal suddenly felt lightheaded. He was looking at a dark beach with a line of trees bordering it at the far end. A wave broke on the sand, glittering with blue light. Even as he struggled to breathe, he remembered taking the shot, recalled how excited he’d been to capture such beauty with the new camera he’d gotten for his twelfth birthday. He hyperventilated while a wave of heat went through him and broke into a sweat, feeling like he might throw up.
Mike moved the album to the coffee table and turned to him, concerned. “Cal? What’s wrong? You look like shit.”
Forty years later, Cal remembered what he’d witnessed, walking home through the woods that night with pants wet to the ankles from standing in the ocean to take that picture. Remembered hearing harsh voices–a girl screaming, a young man yelling in anger–and how he’d silently moved forward through scratchy bushes to finally stand behind a tree, heart pounding, to see his older brother Mike, fifteen then, choking a girl whose name he’d never known. He’d opened his mouth to order Mike to stop, but nothing had come out, and when Mike dropped the girl to the ground, where she’d sprawled like a rag doll, Cal had pissed himself, knowing she was dead.
How had he forgotten that horrible incident until this minute? He stood abruptly. “I gotta go.”
Ignoring their puzzled looks, he hurriedly left, got in his car, and drove to the police station, where he told the sergeant behind the desk his brother was a murderer. In his hand was the photo of the beach and the phosphorescent blue water. He didn’t remember taking it from the album, but of course he must have.
He laid it on the desk. “She’s buried in those woods. I can take you there at first light.”
Read more flash fic based on this photo here.