“If it’s not a mine…” Laura says; “what is it?”
Toby shakes his head. “Dunno. It sort of looks like a mine, though. Dad was saying about the war and that. Maybe we should report it, or something?”
“Oh, yes, it looks like a mine!” Laura mocks. “Like you’d know what a mine looks like! I think it’s just a box.”
“Yes I do so know what a mine looks like! I’ve got pictures!
The ‘mine’ sits before them in the sand, deposited by the high tide the night before. Whatever it is, its dull metal body will not tell. The children have been watching it for a half hour, waiting for someone else to walk along the beach, but so early on this cold winter morning no-one comes.
“I’m going to find out!” Toby decides.
Laura protests. “Noooo! Toby, DON’T!” All the same, she follows her brother as he approaches the object. “What if it goes off?”
“Then we’ll be blown to bits!” At nine years old Toby has little comprehension of all that implies. He stoops over the object. “It’s got spikes like a mine, but there’s only four.”
Laura casts frightened eyes about her, wishing someone, anyone would appear. She doesn’t want to be blown to bits – she needs help. “Let’s report it, Toby! I’ll run back and tell Dad!”
“He won’t be up yet, and he’ll get mad at us. See this…” Her brother reaches for a prominence on the object at the root of one of the spikes. “It turns, I think.”
Making the prominence turn requires effort because it is rusted or seized by some other means. Toby has to sit down on the wet sand and place his foot against the object to gain leverage. Laura punctuates these moves with further groans of foreboding.
At last a determined wrench plucks the thing from its sandy bed. Toby falls backward. Laura screams. The prominence frees itself suddenly and turns, splitting the object wide open with an angry hiss. Both children are petrified, struck dumb in their horror, waiting for the big explosion.
For several seconds neither child can move: they sit where they fell, staring at the object, which now lies open like a book.
Eventually Laura says. “It was just air escaping. It’s all silvery inside! Look: it’s all silvery!”
“What’s all that stuff?” Toby says. “It’s got stuff in it.”
Some of the ‘stuff’ has spilled out and lies scattered on the sand.
Emboldened by the box’s apparent incapacity to harm, the children recover themselves and edge up to it once more. Together they begin picking over the detritus that has spewed from its interior.
“Its all, like, electrical bits. Do you think it’s an old radio, or something?” Laura says. “Oh, and look, there’s a little packet here with something inside.”
Toby stands over the box, staring down at it, a frown of concentration on his wind-tanned face. “I tell you what it is!” He cries, inspired. “It’s an old navigation buoy! You know, like the one at the headland Dad uses to guide his boat back in the fog? This…” He pulls a large, gold-colored disc from a slot in the top; “this is the thing that makes the bell sound – see?” He flicks a finger at the disc, which responds with a dull metal ring.
Laura has torn the little packet with her teeth and is examining the little piece of metal inside. “Ouch! That’s sharp!” She sucks a drop of blood from her finger and throws the offending object back into the interior of the opened box. “We’ll get into trouble, won’t we? We shouldn’t have touched it!”
Toby’s frown deepens. His sister is invariably right in matters of parental censure. Dad will be annoyed. “I tell you what, we’ll bury it.”
“Where? In the sand? The sea’ll just wash it up again.”
“Not if we bury it in the North Dunes. They’ve been getting bigger every year since Dad can remember. No-one will ever find it there. It’ll be entombed forever.” Toby breathes the word proudly, making a dramatic arch shape with his hands.
“Alright. Let’s do it quickly, before someone comes.”
With some effort the two children drag the object from its sandy bed and away along the beach, and the tide rolls in behind them, washing over their tracks. It will be an hour or more before they have completed the object’s interment among the grasses of the North Dunes, and scuffed and smoothed the sand back into place.
“Time for breakfast.” Toby says. Then he spots the gold-colored disc in his sister’s hand. “Oh, Laura!”
“I couldn’t help it! I don’t want to bury it! It’s so nice!”
“Give it to me!”
“No! I want it!”
“You can’t keep it! You’ll give everything away!”
“I can hide it!”
“Give it to me!” Angry, Toby wrestles his sister to the ground and snatches the disc from her hand; then he strides away towards the rocky shore where the waves break, at the foot of the North Headland. Realizing his intention, Laura runs after him in a tragedy of tears.
“Toby, no, don’t break it! Don’t, please!”
But Toby is determined. He smashes the disc against the sharp rock where the limpets cling, making an edge. Nevertheless the disc resists him, and it requires several blows, with Laura weeping at his arm, before it suddenly splits into five pieces. He hurls each piece, one by one, into the rising tide.
“Now! We’re going back for breakfast!”
Still crying, Laura manages to intercept the final sliver of disc, though her dream of possessing it is shattered. As she turns it over in her hands she makes a discovery. “Toby – what’s this?”
Toby glances disparagingly at the black marks his sister had found. “Nothing.” He says.
“No? I think it’s a speak-mark.”
“Don’t be stupid. You’re just stupid! You can’t speak a mark like that!”
“Just ‘cos you can’t!”
“And you can’t, neither. Come on!”
But his sister lingers. She tries to copy the symbols she has found, scratching them in sand that is still wet between the tides. In the end she has to admit defeat. They mean nothing. Reluctantly she follows her brother back towards their beach-side home, throwing the last shard of disc into the sea and leaving her sand writing to be obliterated by the waves. The ripples are gaining fast. For a while though, for a few precious minutes, the symbols she has inscribed remain, staring up at the waking of the twin suns.
Their message is imparted so the sky alone may read – one word:
Image credit nasa.
© Frederick Anderson 2015. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from the author is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Frederick Anderson with specific direction to the original content.