Albums and memories

“Bryan! Are you listening to me?”

Bryan nodded, his lips pursed tightly. He was getting increasingly irritated with his father. These reproaches happened almost every day now, with his stepmother sitting quietly in the corner.

His father kept shouting. Shouting until Bryan’s head ached, and his legs wanted to give out from under him.

“That’s it. I’m tired of arguing with you. Go to your room.” These words escaped his father’s mouth in mere seconds, and it was in those seconds that he got mad.

“Tired?! Of arguing? There was no argument. You just yelled at me for who knows how long,” thought Bryan, directing his outrage at his father.

As he stormed up the mahogany staircase to his room, he promised himself not to speak to his father. As much as it was an immature promise, he wanted to do it.

Since his mother passed away, his father had grown distant. Then, less than a year later, he married Su. Whether it was to cope with the pain of losing his wife or he genuinely loved her, Bryan didn’t know, but he resented him for it.

Recently, however, his father had become angry all the time. Shouting at Bryan for the tiniest reasons, giving him lectures, and getting triggered when he disliked the slightest thing.

As he flopped down on his bed, Bryan snapped out of his thoughts and sighed into his pillow. He had just come back from the public library. Seeing as his exams were coming up, he had hoped to have a tranquil sleep. How he wished that that would happen.

Bryan scanned his room, looking for something to take his mind off his dissatisfaction. Not finding anything, he was about to lie back down when he thought of something. He’d have to go past his father’s room to do it, but it was worth it.

Rummaging through the pile of junk, Bryan grinned as he found his treasures. Holding them close to his chest, he slipped out of the room and, in the haste and excitement, forgot to shut the door.

His footsteps as light as a feather, the already soft thumps muffled by the thick wool of his socks, Bryan crept past his father’s room and back into his, shutting the door quietly.

Bryan smiled glowingly at the stack of photo albums in front of him, the memories they brought back, washing over him in a wave of reminiscence. He reached out and carefully picked up the first book on the stack.

“Wah, Ma’s old photo album. Why hadn’t he thrown it out yet?” Bryan flipped it open and looked at the first page.

He giggled softly at the first picture, one of himself as a toddler in his undergarments, running around the house, a smile on his face matching that of his present self. He continued to flip through the albums, finishing one after another, the pictures evoking a million thoughts and emotions.

By now, he had reached the bottom of the pile of albums. However, it was at this part of the stack that Bryan grew wary.

What remained were two strange-looking albums. He picked up the one closest to him.

The book was black, its rough exterior covered in a crusty layer of brown muck. Bringing the book closer to his eye level, he noticed that the brown muck wasn’t actually muck at all.

His eyes widened and he dropped the book. He moved away from it, almost as if the book could harm him.

What is that? Is it blood?

Pure shock etched on his face, his eyes were wide orbs of fear. Bryan spent minutes staring at the photo album, not knowing his next move. Finally, he decided to go back and pick it up.

Inching back to his original spot, he reached for the book hesitantly and picked it up. Only now did he notice a strange symbol drawn in white in a corner of the book. It was an ‘X’ with a long line striking it through the middle.

He touched it gingerly and decided to open it. He gasped, his previous fear washing over him tenfold. Dozens of photos, each depicting horrid things.

Photos of people split open, of dissected organs. And all of them covered in blood. There were also printouts of scans.

Hands trembling, he flipped the page. More gruesome pictures. More people. People in lab coats and some in an operating theatre. All of them with the same symbol on their coats.

The emblem he saw on the cover. And now, he saw it littering the pages.


Editor’s Note: This is an excerpt from ‘Albums’ by Keerthanaa Surendran. It is part of a series of short stories – Secret & Lies: A Young Writer’s Anthology. Priced at RM31.90, the book is available at BookXcess. Royalties from the sale of the book will be channelled to Thrive Well’s (formerly SOLS Health) community centres.

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