Bones in the Sand, 1 of 2

It rained on the island for five days. On that fifth day, water stood in the furrows between the rows of vegetables in the garden behind the house. Although it was July, Jillian added a log to the fire in the fireplace and pushed Kenny closer to it, for the dampness inside had made the boy’s breathing worse. She wrapped a quilt around his shoulders and sighed gloomily at the rain that made her ­house cold and cheerless.

But Mickey, the youngest, ran and chattered and blocked the TV when he wanted Kenny’s attention. Never annoyed, Kenny always smiled or laughed at Mickey’s antics. In fact, Mickey and Kenny behaved as though they liked rainy days best. Perhaps because it was the only time the two boys spent time together. Today, they seemed to share a cheerful bond that almost annoyed Jillian Seeger. She never had a sibling while growing up—not even a close cousin. She sighed again, more deeply.

“A lot of rain,” she said, listening to it drum upon the rooftop.

“How much rain would it take to sink the island?” Kenny asked.

“Don’t make jokes,” Jillian replied a little sharply. “We may have to run the sump pump if the basement walls get any worse.”

“Yippee!” cried Mickey joyfully as he gazed out the window next to Jillian. “We can go swimming in our yard.”

Jillian didn’t have to look to know the side yard was submerged. It had been that way for two days.

“Come on,” she said to Mickey. “Help me do the breakfast dishes. Then we can figure out what to have for lunch.”

“I want eggs,” Mickey said.

“We had eggs for breakfast,” Jillian replied. “I was thinking a hot, homemade vegetable soup would be nice. Some carrots, peas, corn—”

“No broccoli,” Mickey cried out. He made a face.

“No broccoli. No. Just your favorites.”

“Potatoes, diced,” Kenny said. “Those are my favorites.”

“Yes, of course. Now come on,” Jillian said to Mickey, “let’s get going on the dishes.”

The young boy followed his mother and the two spent the next hour in the kitchen while Kenny watched TV. During that time, Kenny was the only one to notice when the rain stopped. Jillian noticed when a warm, glowing sunbeam came through the kitchen window above the sink. She whistled while she prepared lunch, and smiled when she and her boys ate their soup in the living room.

Mickey shoveled away his soup and asked to go outside.

“Stay on the porch,” Jillian said.

“But I want to go to the beach,” he said, pouting. “A lot of neat things get washed ashore during a storm. Maybe I’ll find a pirate’s sword.”

“Stay where I can see you. And be careful. And, by the way, I get half of any gold or silver or doubloons you may find.” She winked at him. “Now take your bowl to the sink and be back in an hour. No longer. Don’t make me have to whistle for you.”

Mickey hurried his bowl to the sink and ran outdoors. Much of the mainland was under several inches of water, but the water along the upper beach was receding already, and Mickey made his way on wet, sandy ground to the lower beach, making sure his house behind him remained in view. Along the way, the deeper sand was sopping wet and oozed between his toes like the mud did last summer when he stayed at his dad’s place in New York.

He skipped around lots of seaweed and driftwood, examined several stones that looked like flattened marbles, and found some unbroken shells during his hunt for pirate treasure. He put the prettier shells into his pockets to give to his mother. She would likely add them to her aquarium of tropical fish that sat next to the TV.

He collected more shells until his watch told him that his hour was nearly up. As he started toward home, he passed two large boulders that jutted out of the base of the upper beach. There, half visible in the shifted sand, was a hu­man skeleton.

He stood for a minute frozen with uncertainty. The skeleton’s jaw was gaping, as though the person the skeleton had been—man, woman, kid?—had died while laughing.

Mickey ran from the bones, his breath coming in great pants as he shouted for his mother. He even yelled help a few times when he was certain that the skeleton had risen from its grave and was now chasing him, determined to keep him from reaching his house.

Sunlight had dried and softened the sand already and it slowed his escape. A shaking Mickey ran out of breath when he reached the front porch steps and dropped in an exhausted heap there, terrified of the strong bony arms that would snatch him up and hurry him away, never to be seen alive again.

He sobbed and pushed his way up the wooden steps. Any second those skeleton hands would grab him by the ankles and pull him away.

He looked behind him and saw no skeleton there. But that didn’t matter. Some skeletons were magic and could become invisible. Gasping, he crawled to the outer door and beat against its solid frame until his mother came and found him sobbing.

“There’s a skeleton,” he said when she took him into his arms and carried him inside. “A real life skeleton’s in the sand!”

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