I belong to a Toastmasters group with an emphasis on writing. We call ourselves the Rough Writers. Every year we have a “Bragging Writes” contest, in which we are given a randomly generated sentence as a writing prompt. This was this year’s prompt:
The whacky antique dealer took pictures near a broken refrigerator about an hour ago to discover the secret.
The goal was to come up with a short story based on that prompt. You can use the sentence in the story if you want to, but you don’t have to. However, it is encouraged to use as many of the elements of the prompt as you can. What follows was my entry.
The Colorful Adventures of Zachary and Zeno: Chapter One
It was strange to watch Zeno skulk about in the backyard of the antique store. But his wacky behavior of late had gotten me so curious, I couldn’t resist spying on him.
Every night this week, I doubled back after leaving the shop where I helped out with cataloging and cleaning. I’d climb under the back wire fence where it was bent and easy to move. And then I’d sit there with my binoculars trained on the back window and munch on a turkey and cheddar sandwich.
Most nights, I’d see him simply tinkering around the store. There was an intensity to his movements, so I knew something was up. And finally, tonight, my waiting was rewarded.
The moon was full and dimly lit the various old contraptions Zeno had collected over the years. Old appliances. Rusted agricultural equipment. Abandoned bits of boats and cars. Some of these things he was able to sell. Others not so much. It didn’t matter. Zany Zeno had a passion for his chosen vocation, a dealer in antiques.
Tonight, just about midnight, he stepped out of the back door. He was wearing an old, brown leather jacket and a matching brown Kodiak oilskin hat. He turned around and locked the door, and then headed my direction. I knew he couldn’t see me, so I didn’t panic.
I noticed he had an old Polaroid camera hanging around his neck. As he made his way through the maze of societal detritus, he kept looking furtively around, as if making sure no one was following. Finally, he stopped in front of a broken 1953 Coldspot refrigerator. Rust showed here and there through cracks in the paint and the door hung precariously on one hinge.
Zeno lifted the camera and aimed it just to the left of the frig. I saw the flash of the camera’s bulb. And then he was gone.
And I mean gone. The frig was there. But Zeno was not.
I closed my eyes and shook my head. When I opened my eyes again, he still wasn’t there.
What had happened?
~ ~ ~
That took place an hour ago.
Now I was standing by the broken Coldspot. I could clearly see the impressions of Zeno’s shoes just two feet from the frig. I saw the trail of his footprints leading up to that spot. Unless he was a master of walking backward in exactly the same places he stepped moving forward, there was no way he had walked away while I was momentarily blinded by the flash.
Being a geek, I had peeked inside the refrigerator to see if it was hiding a portal to another world or perhaps was bigger on the inside. It wasn’t. It looked like an ordinary old frig that had seen better days.
I scratched my head and went back to the antique shop. I felt around the top of the window frame to the right, feeling for the spare key. It fell to the ground and I almost lost track of it in a tuft of weeds.
I unlocked the back door. The back room was a mess, as usual. There was no sign of Zeno. In one corner, there was a table with a pile of old cameras. Tossed to one side of the pile was what looked like a map.
Upon closer inspection, it was the wackiest map I’d ever seen. It was covered with glyphs I didn’t understand and images that looked like they were taken straight out of the Sunday comics.
In the middle of the map, was a caricature of a refrigerator with what looked like a ball of light floating at its side.
Its left side.
I felt a tingle run up the back of my neck.
What did it all mean? Had Zany Zeno found some secret worth finding in the junk he collected?
I rummaged through the pile of old cameras and found a Brownie Hawkeye camera. It reminded me of something you’d see used by a reporter in a 1950s B movie. There were a couple of flashbulbs on the table that fit it, so I decided to try a little experiment.
I took the camera out to the old frig, carefully stood in Zeno’s footprints, aimed the camera to one side of the frig and snapped a picture. Nothing happened.
Then I remembered, he had pointed it to the left side. After inserting the last flashbulb into the flash holder, I re-aimed and snapped another picture.
The world exploded with color.
I was no longer standing in the moonlit backyard of the antique shop. I was standing on the top of a small hillside covered with fresh, green grass and a multitude of wildflowers.
~ ~ ~
A moment passed and I realized that these were not ordinary blades of grass nor common wildflowers. They looked like cartoons! I suddenly found myself in a world reminiscent of Song of the South or, more accurately, The New Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.
I looked around, and far off in the distance, prancing along a brick-laid path, I could see wacky old Zeno. He hadn’t gone far in an hour. Perhaps because he kept stopping to smell or pick a cartoon flower. I shouted his name and ran down the hillside after him.
It didn’t take long to catch up to him. When he finally heard me, he stopped and waited as I caught up. As I huffed and puffed and caught back my wind, he said, “Zachary! What took you so long!”
NOTE: I wrote this as a standalone, with no intention for there to be a Chapter Two … kind of like Mel Brooks’ History of the World, Part 1.