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Double Exposure

A life-long science fiction reader, Lou Antonelli turned his hand to writing fiction in middle age; his first story was published by Revolution SF in 2003 when he was 46. Since then he has had 64 short stories published in the U.S., U.K., Canada and Australia, in venues such as Asimov's Science Fiction, Jim Baen's Universe, Dark Recesses, Andromeda Spaceways In-Flight Magazine, Greatest Uncommon Denominator (GUD), and Buzzy Mag, among many others. He has received eleven honorable mentions in The Year's Best Science Fiction published by St. Martin's Press for 2010, 2008, 2006, 2005 and 2004. His steampunk short story, "A Rocket for the Republic", was the last story accepted by Gardner Dozois before he retired as editor of Asimov's Science Fiction after 19 years. It was published in Asimov's in September 2005 and placed third in the annual Readers' Poll.

His collections include “Fantastic Texas” published in 2009 and “Texas & Other Planets” published in 2010. A collection of collaborative short stories co-authored with Oregon-based author Edward Morris, “Music for Four Hands”, was published in 2011.

Lou is an active member of the Science Fiction Writers of America (SFWA) and Secretary of the Society for the Advancement of Speculative Storytelling. His is the managing editor of the Mount Pleasant Daily Tribune in East Texas. He is married to Patricia (Randolph) and they have two adopted furbabies, Millie and Sugar Antonelli.

His blog, “This Way to Texas”, can be found at www.louantonelli.blogspot.com.

He hefted the handgun up and down in his palm. It felt very heavy and solid. What was it the man in the gun store said just a minute ago? "This will provide excellent self-protection."
"More like self-destruction," he thought as sat behind the steering wheel. He closed his eyes and contemplated his suicide.
"I wonder where I'm going? I hope God forgives me."
He opened his eyes, and something across the parking lot caught his eye. He squinted. "Is that what I think it is?"
There was a little booth in a small traffic island. It had a yellow pagoda-style roof with letters that read: "Kodak Film".
"I haven't seen one of those in at least 30 years," he thought. Without another thought, he put the car in drive and began across the parking lot.
Everyone still used film when he was in high school, back in the '70s when he was dating. That's when he met Diane.
"More like she trapped me," he thought. She was nice to him--very nice--but even then he knew she was high maintenance. And the maintenance fees only got higher and higher over the years.
His first girlfriend had been Amy, but she came from a poor working-class family--and he wanted to go places. Diane's family had money and was well-connected. He married Diane. That's why a handgun lay on the seat beside him and he planned to kill himself.
Her push for money was relentless, but he had been able to keep up for 35 years. Then the Recession started, and he began to falsify transactions. He had gotten away with it for a few years, but the auditors seized his computer yesterday.
Last night he told Diane what he had done. She laughed at him and left him. That morning he hopped into the hybrid and drove to the gun store. "There's no way I'll survive prison," he thought.
He pulled up to the median. "My God, it is an old Kodak booth."
It read "Fotomat" on the ends of the short roof. Beneath it read "Film--Developing--Flash Bulbs."
On the long side, beneath the words "Kodak Film" stacked one atop the other, it read: "One Day Photo Finishing."
The booth looked clean and its colors were bright. He saw the window slide open and a man waved him forward. He pulled the car up.
The man inside smiled at him. "You finally came to pick up your photos, Mr. DeRidder!"
Jake DeRidder looked at him, stunned. "How do you know my name? What photos?"
The man reached behind himself and pulled an envelope from an otherwise empty rack. He read the envelope. "Jake DeRidder--Class of 1976, Senior Class Picnic."
DeRidder shuddered as he remembered. That was the last time he saw Amy. He dumped her for Diane the next week. And yes, he never picked up the photos.
DeRidder furrowed his brow. "Wait, why are you still here? I thought all these booths closed years ago."
The man reached out with the envelope. "We couldn't close until all the photos were picked up."
He leaned out. "Here, take these. No charge--I'm glad to be outta here." The man nodded and smiled.
DeRidder reached out, took the envelope, and squeezed it. It was real. He dropped it onto his lap and pulled out at least three-dozen photos.
"I didn't take that many photos that day," he muttered. He looked up.
The man and the booth were gone.
He was sitting in his car all alone in an empty area of the parking lot. He looked down quickly to see if the photos were still there. They were.
The first dozen were the ones he took at the senior picnic. Amy under a tree. Amy on the beach. Amy at the picnic table.
He kept flipping through the photos. There was one of Amy--at the college with him? Another one showed them eating at the college diner. More smiling scenes.
There they were at the altar in church--being married. "Oh, my God!" he thought as he flipped through the photos. "This is the life I could have had!"
Through the photos--as happens with dying men--his life flashed before his eyes, but it was the life he should have had. The birth of their first son. Then their sweet baby girl. Their lovely house. Another son. Kids on bicycles. And on and on.
He began to cry.
He was startled by the sound of a woman's voice. "Dear, don't get all weepy on me."
He turned and saw a middle-aged woman in the passenger seat next to him. It was an older version of Amy.
"Why did you tuck those photos in your coat when we left home?" she asked.
Jake smiled at her and said the first thing that popped into his head. "I guess I wanted to keep busy while you were shopping, by reminding myself what a lucky man I am."
She kissed him on the cheek. "You've always been so sweet to me."
He looked at her, stunned. "Do you think we can trade places and you drive? I'm feeling very lightheaded."
As she drove, he pored over the photos and reminded himself of the past 35 years that had just happened to him.
"Since you're feeling all sentimental, when we get home, let's get some red wine, hold hands, and go through all the photo albums together," she said.
She looked sideways at him, "If we feel good enough, who know what may develop!"
He puzzled for a moment, and then remembered Amy had been a chronic punster. She looked straight ahead but raised her eyebrows. Jake sputtered and burst out laughing.
"A great way to end the day," he said with a smile. Then he thought for a moment.
"A great way to end the day," he said again, this time very softly.
The End
This story was first published on Monday, June 11th, 2012

Author Comments

Despite the brevity of the form, flash fiction should still have the normal components of any good short story. I wrote “Double Exposure” as a bit of a challenge to myself to put down a story with a coherent plot, a beginning, middle and end, a climax, resolution and a conclusion--all in less than 1,000 words.

The story’s “Maguffin” came to mind as I read reports late in 2011 that the Kodak company was looking towards filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. I’m 55 years old and I remember how ubiquitous those Kodak one-day processing booths used to be. Thinking about how things change and how we get wistful when we think of “What Might Have Been” led me to a photo on the internet of one of these booths from back in the day. I decided I would try to write a story where the last Fotomat booth left in the world would provide the crucial plot twist. (Although we later see things aren't what they seem.)

To make a good plot--I reasoned--takes strong emotions and motivation. The jingle “Times of Your Life” was used by Kodak in its advertising campaign in 1975. It was obviously very good, I still remember it. When I came up with the part about picking up a forgotten packet of photos that showed the life the protagonist could have had, I realized I was on my way to a winner.

Some snappy dialogue and a tight plot combines a morality tale with a Twilight Zone ending that leaves us, I think, feeling pensive and sad at the end.

- Lou Antonelli
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