First Place, Adult Division
"Ahh, ahhhh!" the bloodcurdling shrieks came from the attic. Clarissa. I kicked over the box full of books I had been unpacking in my mad dash to get to my little sister, morbid images of accidents that befall little children in attics causing me to bolt all the harder up the wooden staircase and rickety attic ladder. Fear more than exertion made my heart pound painfully in my chest.
Fear morphed into relief once I cleared the attic opening in record time and viewed the scene before me: Clarissa standing on an antique drop-leaf table, pointing a quivering finger at a pile of newspapers strewn across the dusty floor. No broken bones or gushing wounds.
I put my hands on my hips. "What is this, Clarissa? You know you're not supposed to be up here unless someone is with you. It's dangerous."
A look of indignation that only an eight-year-old's pout can truly master replaced her fearful expression from before. She pointed at the newspapers. "I wanted to help unpack, but then I saw an African cave-dwelling spider scuttle under those newspapers. Really, Sissy!"
I was about to remark that those were only in Africa and that maybe she should lay off the National Geographic when I saw the papers move. Deciding I had to be the braver of the two of us since I was much older, which belittled my loathing for spiders in no way, I walked over to the pile and kicked at it. A roiling mass of granddaddy longlegs fled from under the loose pages and out of sight.
"African spider, huh?" I couldn't help but rub it in as I helped her off the table. Then I noticed shattered glass on the floor. I sighed.
"Sorry, Sissy," she mumbled, knowing she might get in trouble when our parents returned from town.
"It's okay, but we'll need to clean this up. I'll go get--hey what's this?" I spied an old cigar box lying overturned on the floor, photographs peeking out from the under the gilded lid. I stepped my way around the broken glass to get a look.
Some of the pictures were printed on what looked like tin, others on thick papery material stained with water spots. Most of them were pictures of people who looked like they belonged to an era long gone.
"I wanna see. Can I see, Sissy?"
I walked back to the table and laid the photographs down as I looked at them, pausing when I came across a photo of a vast empty city. Empty except for a single tiny figure in black posing with his back against an old fashioned lamp post. I felt odd looking at this photo, almost as if I were intruding on something I was not supposed to see. The absence of other people in the photo seemed very ethereal. There should have been thousands of people milling past the man, enjoying the luxuries that the large city had to offer. The more I looked at this photo the more uneasy I felt.
Clarissa picked up on the vibe I was feeling. "Where's all the people? Is it a ghost city? Oooh, I bet it's a ghost city--why else would there be no other people?"
Right then it clicked in my mind, and I felt ridiculous. "Oh! I bet this is a Daguerreotype print! Duhhhh, that would explain why no one else is in the picture! See, it's such an early photograph that it took forever for the picture to develop; so really the city is full of people, but because they are all moving too fast to be included in the exposure time, it just captured that man. And he had to have stayed in the position for like fifteen minutes waiting for this picture to develop. Wow, I wonder how these photos got here. Even better, I bet they are worth something!
"Well, now that we've established that we found something cool up here, I'm gonna go grab the broom and sweep up this glass. Stay put, okay. I'll be right back."
Clarissa was not there when I came back up with the broom. I scanned the attic but did not see her anywhere. The lonely figure lay separate from the other photos on the table, and I felt uneasy again as I approached it. There was another, smaller figure next to the man. What looked like a little girl....
Silence answered me.