The Photograph

Another prompt short story. The challenge was to pick a photograph and write a story about it.

Photo by Ansel Adams

THE PHOTOGRAPH

They’d climbed for days in spite of the warnings of their father and mother. They’d carried nothing but a backpack with food, a tent, some rope, and most importantly their camera. It had taken days to climb through the thickets and brambles; traverse perilous waterways and steep cliffs, but they’d finally found the spot. 

They’d finally found the spot where they would take The Photograph. 

Lind had started the week staring out a window, absently cleaning the dust out of their camera. It had been a dull month, in an even duller year, and they anticipated that the remaining half of the year would be just as dull.

Lind had bought the camera a couple years ago in a moment of capricious spontaneity and had probably taken about three hundred photos from around the city and the small confines of their family home. Their parents had been supportive of it at first but after Lind had casually mentioned going out to the mountains to take photos their parents had balked at the idea. Lind was supposed to be the good child, the responsible one, the one who would eventually take over the family name and business. Sitting at home and learning to crunch numbers with father, or walking through the square with mother to learn how to speak to the common people, that was their lot in life. But it wasn’t what they wanted. Lind wanted to explore, to find things that no one else had seen in years, or at least take photos of those things in new ways. Everything east of the city was explored, travelled, and seen. But to the west, the mountains were untamed, treacherous, unknown. 

No person had walked those reaches in decades, the city where everyone lived was all that anyone needed, why would anyone need to go out that way? That was the thought of the people who lived in Lind’s city.

After the Great Fall, pockets of humanity had created footholds in domed cities, and the cities had become isolation chambers of not just people but also ideas. Few left the domes anymore. There weren’t explorers anymore. There weren’t adventures anymore. The psyche of humanity believed it had fallen like Icarus. Too big, too bold, too arrogant. It now believed and stuck to small things, small cities, small movements, small lives. 

Lind felt trapped. They didn’t want to be stuck in this small city all their life. The dome was safe, yes, but Lind wanted to find adventure. The camera had been part of that desire. But as soon as they had started hinting and seeking ideas about going towards the mountains, their parents had shut the ideas down, filled them with anxiety about going out into the unknown, and discouraged any of the freedom seeking.

“Stay inside the dome where it’s safe, stay inside the dome where there is no danger, stay inside the dome where strange ideas can’t hurt you.”       

So years passed while the camera sat on a shelf and collected dust. It was an old camera, still needed the messy chemical processing to turn the negatives into images, and Lind had learned everything they could about the process. 

Sometime last year Lind had gotten an idea. The idea had been a seed after seeing an ancient documentary about a photographer. A photographer who had taken his ancient camera out when the camera was still new, and walked through nature, unafraid. 

The seed had grown into a sprout, into a sapling, into a tree. 

In spite of their parents, Lind was going to do something that few people had done since the Great Fall. They were going to leave the relative safety of the dome and explore a part of the world that had been left to nature’s devices. 

Over the course of a few months, Lind started taking hundreds of photos a day, developing them at night, keeping up appearances, and then going right back to work on improving their understanding of photowork and development. They’d met a nice woman named Leecia at a compounding apothecary on the far side of the dome who could make and procure the chemicals they needed to develop film. She’d even let them use a storeroom for developing when their parents had started to complain about the smells. 

Lind began looking over old archival maps of the terrain, mapping various potential routes, planning contingencies, and letting the idea grow bigger and bigger.   

Leecia surprised them one day with a specially made backpack and camping gear set and that’s when it all became real.

Lind didn’t know if they should say anything to their parents about what they planned to do. Their parents wouldn’t understand. Their parents would try to stop them. So instead, they woke up early one morning, the day that they would finally begin the first great adventure, wrote out a quick note and left it on the counter near the coffee maker and left. 

Lind would be back, and hopefully their parents would understand why Lind had chosen to do this. Though the hope of that seemed slim. 

Leecia met Lind at the westerly gate to the dome and two exchanged a few parting words. Lind was so appreciative of Leecia’s friendship, understanding, and care. Leecia was more family than their own at times. That was something special.

With a wide brimmed hat, a backpack full of food and gear, a coat and big rubber boots, Lind began the long trek across the hills towards the mountains. 

There is a saying from before that Fall that Lind was ever so fond of. “All it takes is one drop in an overfull bucket to send the water cascading over the brim.” Lind wasn’t thinking of this saying as they walked over the hills and entered the tall redwoods and sequoias, but it was a saying that would follow Lind for the rest of their life. Because what Lind was about to see and do would turn the tide of a scared and overly safe world.  

As Lind walked, they took every opportunity to take pictures of unassuming plants, trees, rock features, river banks. Through the lens of their camera, everything had an unusual soul to it. They’d seen pictures from before the Fall, and most of the digital archives had trillions of exabytes of pictures, videos, and text about the world outside the domes before the Fall. But nothing prepared them to see it all in person. They knew no photograph would capture what they saw, but it didn’t matter, because all the photos they took over the next couple days were unique and earned. 

It rained heavily on the third day of the journey. Lind was scaling the side of a mountain surrounded by other tall mountains. They were about to stop but as they came over the crest of a rocky outcrop they knew. It was raining so hard and darkly overcast and they could barely see the mountain, but they did a quick analysis of the map and decided then and there to wait on that spot for the sky to clear.   

Lind set up camp in the rain, soaked through with only a small burner to warm up food and themself they waited. It rained for three days and Lind was sure it would never let up. On the morning of the fourth day Lind woke up to the sound of gentle droplets falling from the trees beyond their camp. Lind scrambled to look out the tent flaps and gasped. True dawn was probably a half-an-hour away but the light in the sky was just beginning to make the shape of the mountains beyond appear. The sky was clear except for some low-lying clouds so Lind took in a deep breath, nodded to themself, and began to set up their camera. 

The rain had chilled the air tremendously so Lind sat on a rock next to their camera, wrapped in a blanket watching the craggy peaks and curves of the mountains slowly light up from the sun rising behind them and the line of trees. 

It appeared through the clouds like a shy god peeking through white silk curtains. It was snow capped and frigid. A still, megalithic monument to geologic time and grandiosity.  It had probably been close to fifty years since any human had laid eyes on those magnificent features. How these mountains had gone forgotten in all this time, how these shapes had been lost to the human psyche, how these feelings had been dashed from the collective consciousness. 

Lind felt like they were being reborn and in a flurry of awe began to take photo after photo of the mountain range appearing from the dark.

They took photos until the sun was starting it’s descent from the top of the sky. They had exhausted all but one cartridge of film. 

They didn’t move for hours except to eat, to relieve themself, and to consider using the last roll of film on the mountain. They barely took their eyes off the mountain range the whole time. 

Until night fell, and the moon began to rise, did Lind begin really thinking about the journey home.  There on that rock, next to the camera that had been an impulse buy, Lind cried for the first time in years. They didn’t want to go back to the boring little dome, to live a boring little life as just another businessperson. This is what they wanted, to fill roll after roll of film with images like what they were seeing now. 

As they wiped tears from their eyes Lind saw something even more amazing. 

In the dome, there was light everywhere. Light was safe. 

In the dark there was too much uncertainty. 

But in the dark way out here, far from the overbearing light of the dome and sky clear of clouds, stars that had been obscure and vaguely talked about shone clear. Lind was floored. Nothing had prepared them for seeing the full expanse of the Milky Way appear above them. 

Lind hadn’t practiced night photography so didn’t know how to capture the sight with a camera set up to only take photos in daytime. They didn’t want to waste a precious roll on it, so instead they just set their bed roll out and stared up at the night sky, as little flickers of shooting stars streaked across the sky. 

“All it takes is one drop in an overfull bucket to send the water cascading over the brim,” Lind said out loud to themself. 

Lind knew they were no longer the same person out here as they had been in the dome. And returning it would be too easy to fall back into safe patterns. So Lind began a new plan. 

The return journey the next three days was arduous and tiring, but it set Lind’s resolve. This tiredness was worth every bit. 

Lind returned with little fanfare. They met up with Leecia at her shop, developed the photos, and set them all out on Leecia’s countertop. Lind returned to their parents’ home and weathered anger, frustration, and disappointment. And then Lind showed them both the photos. 

Lind’s parents had seen many of their photos before, but all of them of familiar things. The photos set before them now were new, and different. Their parents didn’t want to recognize them and Lind was disappointed that they didn’t seem as taken with the pictures as Leecia had been. 

Lind was frustrated. But they didn’t give up, and took an idea to the city’s conference hall. With Leecia’s help they made bigger versions of the best photos and invited as many people as they could to a viewing. 

No one showed the first day of the exhibition. 

Nor the second.

Nor the third.

But on the fourth day, a gaggle of children from a nearby school wandered in and they walked down the aisles of pictures and they spoke to Lind about what they had done. It was a drop in a bucket. One that would not be felt for many years. But it was enough, it was something, it was everything.

–el fin–

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