I looked down at my watch; it was already five past six. Where are they? It was starting to annoy me that they were late again. The plan was that we would meet at the bench under the third streetlight at exactly six o’clock to go swimming. The ocean was at low tide at exactly six so every minute that ticked by, the tide came in and the waves became rougher and rougher.
I stuffed my hands in my pockets and rolled onto my side. The bench was hard and creaked under my weight. I stared up into the dull light of the old streetlight. Hundreds of mosquitoes swarmed around it. My eyelids drooped and felt ever so heavy.
* * *
“Hey, Martin! Sorry we’re late. Let’s go!”
Martin’s eyes popped open and he sat up with a jolt. A boy was sprinting down the street towards him and was shouting at the top of his lungs. A much smaller boy was trailing behind him, huffing and puffing as he struggled to keep up.
“What took you two so long? I’ve been waiting here for at least fifteen minutes!” Martin said, as he got up and started running alongside them.
“It wasn’t my fault. Danny couldn’t find his dumb flip-flops.”
The three friends raced all the way up the street, onto the path and right onto the beach. None of them stopped until they were at the water’s edge.
A dark wave swelled on the rolling ocean and crashed down upon the sandy shore where the three best friends stood and were staring out into the deep blue ocean. The youngest of them, Danny, was only eight years old, with thick layers of dark hair covering half of his face. He was the shortest of the three, no more than four feet tall. His eyes lay hidden beneath the mat of hair, but they were constantly moving. Left, right, left, right, always taking in the surroundings.
Next, was his older brother, Steve, who was just over four years older than Danny. If one looked at the pair of them standing right next to each other as they were then, it would be impossible to determine any family relationship. Steve was Danny’s exact opposite. He was tall and slender, almost six feet in height, and stood like a giant to the other two kids. Steve also had a short crew cut and deep blue eyes; almost as dark as the ocean they were staring into.
Finally, there was Martin. He was Steve’s age but was always very dull with a blasé expression on his face. His hair was a wild mess that hadn’t been washed or combed for weeks. Martin’s eyes never seemed to be able to look at something directly; they were always staring off into the distance.
Another wave swelled and crashed down, this one more powerful than the one before, and managed to knock Danny off his feet. This small incident seemed to send a spark of life into the trio.
“Let’s go in the water!” Steve exclaimed, as he yanked off his shirt and tossed it in the sand at his feet.
“I think I’ll pass,” mumbled Martin with his usual lethargy. “I might have wanted to go in at six, but since you guys were so late, now I don’t want to. Besides, the lifeguards left hours ago and it’s already starting to get dark.”
“So what?” Steve kicked off his flipflops and dashed into the dark water. Danny rolled up his pants above his knees and slowly waded out into the shallows. He had to hop over the rolling waves to avoid getting his clothes soaked.
Martin lazily flopped down and buried his hands and feet in the cool sand. When Steve got smashed by a wave and fell under water, Danny started to laugh out loud and Martin let a smile slip. But, after a moment, neither of them saw Steve come back up and their shared laughter subsided. With the exception of the usual waves crashing upon the shore, there was no sign of movement in the water.
“Steve?” Danny called in a soft voice. He frantically started searching in the water, forgetting about his wet clothes, as he went farther out. “Steve?” Danny called again in a much louder voice. All this while, Martin was still sitting in the sand. He stood up and used his hand as a shield to block the small amount of remaining sunlight as he stared out into the vast ocean, searching for Steve.
Then, at the exact spot where Steve had gone under, the ocean changed colors as if someone had just put dye into it. The color of the water in that area had changed from a dark blue to a deep red, the color of fresh blood. Danny was about to let out a scream, when suddenly something that looked like a finned hand from Martin’s perspective emerged from the water and wrapped its scaly fingers around Danny’s ankle. The thing made one sharp tug and pulled him down. Just before he was yanked under water, he managed to suck in a breath. Martin’s eyes were wide with fear and his jaw hung agape as he slowly inched his way from the water. He wasn’t able to see Steve or Danny who had both been standing right next to him just moments ago.
Suddenly, a small hand shot out of the water, desperately groping for something to grab hold of, something it could not find. But, as another wave rolled by, the hand slipped back under the water, almost as quickly as it had come out. After a brief pause of absolute silence, except the steady lapsing of waves, Danny’s head broke the surface. He had a deep gash on his forehead and was rapidly losing blood. He was struggling to get air and was choking on the ocean’s water. A monstrous wave crashed over him, sending his body swirling into the shallows. He managed to crawl out of the water and flop down on his back. Danny’s breathing was labored and he was constantly coughing up seawater, unable to move from his position at the edge of the ocean.
Meanwhile, Martin had turned away from the scene and was sprinting off the beach, screaming for help . . .
* * *
“Hey Martin! Sorry we’re late. Let’s go!”
My eyes popped open and I sat up with a jolt. A boy was sprinting down the street towards me and was shouting at the top of his lungs. A much smaller boy was trailing behind him, huffing and puffing as he struggled to keep up.
I pulled my hands out of my pockets, my palms were wet. I noticed that my shirt was drenched with sweat and beads of water were running down my forehead. I glanced at my watch; it was quarter past six. The two figures slowed as they came to me.
“Hey man, what’s wrong? You don’t look so good.”
“Steve, I’m not so sure we should still go to the beach tonight.”