Jillian Seeger held her youngest son to her bosom and calmed him. Kenny sat nearby, watching. He leaned toward them with excitement building on his face and refrained from speaking. His mom was still hushing his little brother.
“There, there,” Jillian said, “a skeleton in the sand, that’s all it was and nothing more. Nothing’s going to harm you, baby. It’s alright.”
Kenny nodded. “The rain and the tide must have collapsed one of the old caves,” he said. “The native people here buried their dead in those caves. Did you see any artifacts, Mickey? Any dishes or knives or arrowheads?”
“I didn’t stick around to see anything else, Kenny. I just thought it was going to get up and chase me. I was really scared. But now I know it was just my imagination.”
Jillian lowered Mickey to the floor. Then she sat down in a straight oak-bottomed chair that stood against the wall and held him by the shoulders. She looked him eye-to-eye and sharply spoke with accustomed firmness.
“You’re not to go to the beach again. If those caves are falling in, then you have no business down there. Promise me, Mickey.”
“But, mom,” Mickey lowered an anguished face from his mother, “I’m not scared anymore.” He began to pull the shells from his pockets. “See? I got you these, your favorites. And I could look for native people stuff for Kenny, next time.”
“No, Mickey, there will be no next time. You’ve got to mind me; it’s not safe. You could fall into a cave, be knocked unconscious and have the tide wash you out to sea.”
“What if Kenny went with me?”
“You’re not strong enough to push Kenny’s wheelchair over sand.”
“Well, you know,” Kenny began gently, “I can charge up the battery and use the motor to drive my chair—”
But he stopped at the sight of his mother’s face. She was deeply troubled with the situation. And added to that, her task as a single mom was not easy, with himself to care for and only young Mickey to help with housework and the vegetable garden out back.
“Mom’s right,” he said sadly to his brother, “it’s too dangerous. You’ll have to wait until the county engineers fix the damage.”
“How long will that be?” Mickey asked.
“It could take weeks,” Kenny replied. “Just like when they repave the roads or fix any damage to the ferry dock, they have to haul their heavy equipment across water.”
Mickey put the shells next to aquarium, then went to the front window and peered at the beach. It had been his playground since the three of them had moved to the island three years ago, right after Kenny had been discharged from the hospital after being hit by a car in New York. Mickey always forgot the name of the city—Ebony, or something like that—but he never forgot how sad he was when his mom took him and Kenny away from their dad.
Dad would let me go to the beach, he thought. He would go with me and we could look for treasure together and he would make sure nothing happened. Not like when he let Kenny skateboard in the street.
Mickey sighed. “All right,” he said heavily, “I promise.”
But that night he broke his promise. That night the bones called to him. Slipping from the house he followed the cry of the bones and the white beam of his tiny flashlight.
The tide had swallowed most of the beach. The sand beneath his tennis shoes gasped for air before water filled his footprints. He stopped at the ocean’s edge and said to the bones there, “I’m here.”
He thought he heard the sound of faraway laughter moments before the ground beneath him fell. It came like the snapping of brittle bones before he plunged beneath the surf and deep into the sand and sea.
He never got a chance to cry out for help.
Inside the sea, bony hands grasped his feet and pulled him deeper into the cold and inky tomb around him. He kicked at the hands as his brain told him he would die if he couldn’t escape soon. He was only able to hold his breath for forty seconds. He felt his time running out.
He directed his light below and saw three grinning skulls looking up at him. More bony hands and arms pressed his legs together, stopping his kicks.
Fire roared in his chest as his lungs begged for oxygen.
When he could hold his breath no more, the skeletons pulled him down into the graveyard of bones in the sand.