“Bones In the Sand” is another short story from the 1990s. I wrote this one in 1991 for my children, especially for my son. Now it’s here for the rest of the world to read. And it has skeletons in it for all you bone lovers to enjoy on this Halloween.
It rained on the island for five days. On that fifth day, water stood below the straw scarecrow in the vegetable garden behind the house. It was late October, so Sarah 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 shared a cheerful bond that almost annoyed Sarah. She never had a sibling while growing up. 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 our island?” Kenny asked.
“Don’t make jokes,” Sarah replied sharply. “We may have to run the sump pump if the basement walls get any worse.”
“Yippee!” Mickey cried out as he gazed out the window next to Sarah. “We can go swimming in our yard.”
Sarah did not have to look to know the side yard was submerged. It had been that way for two days.
“No one’s swimming this time of year,” she said to Mickey. “Now, come on and help me do the breakfast dishes. Then we can figure out what to have for lunch.”
“I want scrambled eggs.”
Sarah shook her head. “You had scrambled eggs for breakfast. I was thinking a hot, homemade vegetable soup would be nice. Some carrots, peas, corn—”
“No peas,” Mickey cried out. He made a face.
“I like peas,” Kenny said. “They’re my favorite vegetable.” He stuck out his tongue at Mickey.
“Yes, of course. But be nice to your brother.” Sarah turned back to Mickey. “Come on. Let’s get going on the dishes.”
The boy followed his mom 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. Sarah noticed when a warm, glowing sunbeam came through the kitchen window above the sink. She whistled a tune while she prepared lunch and smiled when she and her boys ate their soup in the living room.
Mickey gave Kenny his peas and shoveled away the rest. When his bowl was empty, he asked to go outside.
“Put on your jacket and stay on the porch,” Sarah said.
“But I want to go to the beach. 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,” Sarah winked at him, “I get half of any gold or silver or doubloons you may find.” She and Mickey laughed. “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 into his fall jacket and ran outdoors. Parts of the island 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, making sure his house behind him remained in view. Along the way, the deeper sand was sopping wet and oozed under his rubber boots.
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 mom. She would likely add them to her aquarium of tropical fish that sat next to the TV.
A white stick with no bark on it caught his attention when he picked up a conch shell next to it. The stick was shy of being a foot long, and it had tiny carvings of animals on it, which were mostly birds. He carried it with him while he collected more shells, and he peered at the world through a large piece of beach glass until his watch told him that his hour was nearly up. As he headed toward home, he realized he had left the carved stick behind. He would have to come back some other day and find it.
Along the way 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 gaped, as though the person 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 now chased 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. He had seen it happen on TV. Gasping, he crawled to the outer door and beat against its solid frame until his mom 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!”
Sarah held her youngest son to her bosom and calmed him. Kenny sat nearby, watching. He leaned toward them with excitement building on his face. “Where’d you see a real-life skeleton?” he asked.
Sarah hushed him and said to Mickey, “There, there, it’s okay. A skeleton in the sand, that’s all it was and nothing more. It won’t harm you, baby. Everything’s alright.”
“Mom’s right,” Kenny said. “The rain and the tide must have collapsed one of the old caves. Probably where the native people who used to live here buried their dead. You can find artifacts in those caves. Did you see any artifacts, Mickey? Any dishes or knives or arrowheads?”
Mickey sniffed. “I didn’t stick around to see anything else. I thought the creepy skeleton was going to chase me. I was really scared. But I remember now that skeletons only come to life on TV and in movies.”
Sarah lowered him 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 you’ll stay far away from the beach.”
Mickey lowered a sad face from his mom. “I promise. And guess what? I’m not scared anymore.” He pulled the shells from his pockets. “Look. I got you these, your favorites. And I could look for native people stuff for Kenny, when it’s safe again.”
“When I say it’s safe. Not until then.”
“What if Kenny went with me?”
“No. You’re not strong enough to push Kenny’s wheelchair over sand. You could fall into a cave, be knocked unconscious, and have the tide wash you both out to sea.”
“Mom’s right,” Kenny said to his brother, “it’s too dangerous. You’ll have to wait until the county engineers fix the damage and Mom says it’s okay.”
“How long will that be?” Mickey asked.
“It could take weeks. 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 out. “I wish Dad lived here. He would let me go to the beach. He would—”
“No.” Sarah went to him and softened her voice. “You need to mind me; it’s not safe. Promise me.”
Mickey peered up at his mom’s face. She was deeply troubled with the situation. And added to that, her task as a single mom was not easy, with himself and Kenny to care for. He remembered his dad telling him to always listen to her and to not be a burden. He sighed. “I promise.”
He stayed indoors and helped with chores until bedtime. He forgot about skeletons until deep in the night when the bones called him awake. “Mickey. We have gold and silver for your mother. She will be happy to have it. Come and get it before it washes out to sea.”
Slipping into his clothes and away from the house, he followed the cry of the bones and the white beam of his flashlight.
The tide had swallowed the lower beach. The sand beneath his boots gasped for air before water filled his footprints. He stopped a few yards from the sea’s edge. The white stick with the animal carvings lay at his feet. He picked it up, looked around, and said to the voices calling him, “I’m here. Where is the silver? The gold?”
The calling stopped. He thought he heard laughter moments before the ground beneath him fell. He plunged beneath sand, into deep, frigid water.
When he came to his senses, he swam toward the water’s inky surface but something like strong, bony hands wrapped around both ankles and pulled him back down. He thrashed and kicked to break free. The hands held fast.
He directed his flashlight at a grinning skeleton pulling him closer to a graveyard of scattered bones on the sandy floor.
He kicked at the bony hands. He’d drown if he couldn’t escape their hold. Fire burned in his chest as his lungs ached for oxygen, but he held onto his last breath. He wished he could let his mom and Kenny and his dad somehow know how sorry he was for breaking his promise. He didn’t want them to be mad at him.
And then the stick in his left hand grew brighter than the light of his flashlight. The animal carvings danced in the light. The bony hands that held him released their hold. The stick propelled him to the surface, out of the water, and into the air. It carried him across the sand and to his front porch where it sat him down. Its light vanished.
Mickey shivered for a moment, not because he was wet and cold—he was neither of those because of the stick—but because magic was real.
He hurried inside, waving the magic stick above his head, and calling for his mom and brother as he went.
# # #
That’s all for now.
Have a safe and happy Halloween.
This post “Fantasy Short Story 006-2022-1031” copyright © 2022 Steven Leo Campbell at stevecampbellcreations.com – All rights reserved.