An Extra Day Off
Tad Flannigan is a little boy in a big ol’ world. He likes to run around and play outside with his friends from school, he likes dogs more than cats (but he still loves Fluffy!) and his favorite video game is Wii Sports, especially the baseball game. His mom likes the bowling best and they play together at least once a day; usually she beats him, but he’s getting better. One time he bowled three strikes in a row and Momma Flannigan picked him up and hugged him and spun him around in circles. He loves to play games, and he’s definitely getting better at bowling.
Tad and his mom get to play video games together every day because his mom is a stay-at-home mom. Tad’s dad is a bigshot at a local warehousing company and Tad is very proud of him – not just anyone gets to be the head compounder, you know – and after he gets home from work, Poppa Flannigan likes to take his son on hikes in the woods. There’s a whole crazy trail system back there in the forest around Fricker Drive, all the trails are lined with logs like a magical garden and they always see butterflies and squirrels, and on days after it rains there are always little orange salamanders out and about. Tad’s dad used to take Tad and his older brother Johnny for walks, but after Johnny turned thirteen he stopped wanting to go. Johnny stopped wanting to do a lot of stuff after he turned thirteen, especially hanging out with his little kid brother, but that’s okay. Tad understands; Tad may only be seven, but he can still understand.
One thing Johnny still likes to do is go to the beach. Everybody likes to go to the beach, that’s one thing Tad understands perfectly well, and one day when he and his mom were playing Wii tennis together – Fluffy was playing too; every time one of them would swing she would try to jump up and slap the remotes, but she never won because Fluffy has a tummy – Tad’s dad came home in an exceptionally good mood. He said he got a raise which included an extra day off each year, and since it was the beginning of summer and a Thursday, he wanted to use it tomorrow and give himself a long weekend.
“Guess where we’re going, honey!”
Tad likes it when his parents call each other little pet names like that. Johnny used to call Tad buddy, but he stopped doing that when he turned thirteen.
Tad’s mom was already smiling, but her smile grew even wider. “Where are we going?”
“Darlin’, we’re goin’ to Sandy Hook!”
On their walk through the woods that day, Tad asked his dad what Sandy Hook was, and he explained how it’s a really popular beach that curves out like the shape of a pirate’s hook – that’s all well and good, but Tad was sold as soon as he heard the word beach – and since they were going on a Friday when everyone else was working, they would have the whole beach to themselves! Tad was excited, so excited that he ran ahead and his dad chased him all the way to the Johnson’s back yard, except the Johnsons don’t live there anymore because their oldest son got lost in the woods and never came back, so his dad picked him up and put him on his shoulders and back into the woods they went. They told Johnny about the daytrip at dinner that night and, to Tad’s absolute glee, Johnny smiled at the idea. Tad doesn’t get to hang out with Johnny too much anymore, but he likes it when he smiles. It always lights up the room.
Can We Play a Game?
Sleep did not come easily for Tad that night. It was like the night before Christmas; he couldn’t manage to keep his eyes closed for more than five seconds at a time, he was so excited! In the past – before Johnny turned thirteen, that is – whenever Tad couldn’t sleep he’d go down the hall and into his brother’s room and they’d hang out for a little while, maybe play a boardgame or have a duel with Johnny’s Yu-Gi-Oh cards. It’s been a while since they did anything like that, but Tad figured he should try anyway, even though Johnny sleeps with his door closed now.
Tad knocked gently three times and got no answer. He put a little bit more force into it and heared a stirring behind the door. A moment later, Johnny opened the door and looked down on his little brother from the one eye his hair doesn’t cover and asked, in a very sleepy, perturbed voice, “What.”
“I can’t sleep, Johnny. Can we play a game?”
Johnny closed the door without saying another word, which worked out – Tad was still excited for tomorrow, but he found he could keep his eyes closed now. Maybe he was getting too old for games, maybe he needed to grow up like his older brother. Maybe he needed to stop being so annoying.
Tad keeps playing the memory over and over in his head until he falls asleep. It comes quickly enough.
The Flannigans got the SUV loaded and hit the road before the sun came up. They had their chairs, their towels, a fitted sheet, a cooler full of goodies, four five-gallon pails and a whole mess of plastic beach toys. They didn’t pack an umbrella because they didn’t own one, plus, usually there’s a guy with a permanent tan chillin’ on the beach who rents ‘em out. Tad’s dad just got a pay raise, after all – they can afford it.
The traffic is kind of bad during the first leg of the drive because of rush hour and all, but after the sun comes up and they hit the highways it’s all smooth sailing. That doesn’t make the ride go by quickly though – Tad doesn’t have anyone to talk to the whole drive. Johnny brought a pair of headphones (even though their parents have the classic rock station cranked on the radio) and he’s totally unresponsive. Maybe he’s tired from Tad waking him up last night, Tad and his stupid games.
Only three other cars are parked in the Sandy Hook parking lot when they pull in – Poppa Flannigan was right, they have the whole beach to themselves! Well, more or less; there’s a few sunbathing couples, one of which should not be wearing the bathing suits they are wearing, and down on the far end there’s a lone guy with his dog. The ocean is clear and prime for swimming though, and that’s just what Tad does. Before his family even sets foot on the beach, Tad rips his shirt off and takes off in a mad dash towards the water. Tad is the very definition of a water rat (that’s what his dad likes to call him), and he spends the entire morning diving into waves and flopping around like a baby dolphin. When he finally comes back up on the shore his hands are dried prunes and his hair feels like seaweed, but he doesn’t mind. It’s all part of the fun.
The Flannigans have their spot all set up. While Tad was out swimming, Johnny filled the four fivers with sand and put ‘em down in the corners of the fitted sheet, creating a little sandproof arena for him to lay in and listen to his headphones while he stares at his phone through his one eye his hair doesn’t cover. Momma Flannigan is sprawled out on a towel, catching them rays, and Tad’s dad is propped up in a beach chair reading a fat paperback underneath the umbrella they rented. Could the day be any more perfect?
After lunch, Tad’s parents decide to go on a walk down to the hook of Sandy Hook and they leave Tad in Johnny’s care. Tad watches them go, and he can’t help but smile at the way they hold each other’s hands. He wants to have a girlfriend one day – not yet, definitely not yet, but one day after the cooties have all died off – and he wants to hold hands with her just like that. In the meantime though, Tad is just a little boy in a big ol’ world, and he has a whole gaggle of beach toys to play with. He tries to get Johnny to leave the fitted sheet but Johnny doesn’t want to build sandcastles, doesn’t want to play frisbee or toss a foam ball around, doesn’t want to go wave hopping like they used to, he doesn’t even want to go hunting for sand fleas! He just wants to lay on the sheet and stare at his phone and hide in his headphones, but Tad understands. Johnny is too old for little kid games. Maybe Tad is too old, too.
“I’m gonna go for a walk, Johnny. Wanna come?”
“Nah. Don’t go too far, I don’t want to have to chase after you if you get abducted.”
So Tad goes for his walk alone, but in the opposite direction of his parents because most of the other beach-goers are stationed down there. Tad wants to be alone for a little while anyway.
He follows the shore all the way down to the big black jetty, and when he gets there he totally ignores the warning signs and climbs up on the wet, slippery rocks. There were a few seagulls perched near the ocean end but they all took off when Tad mounted the jetty, even though he wasn’t gonna try to catch ‘em. Honest, he really wasn’t! He does look for crabs in between the rocks though, and he does find a couple, but they all disappear underneath the sand before he can grab ‘em. Tad guesses the crabs don’t want to play any games with him either… but that’s okay. Tad can keep himself entertained by playing pretend, and on this lovely beach day, Tad pretends to be a pirate with a hook on his hand like the hook of Sandy Hook, and the jetty is his mighty pirate ship.
“Avast, ye matey!” Tad shouts to the wind with one leg up on a boulder that’s slightly taller than the rest. His right hand is curled into a fist, except for his pointer finger, which he holds in a curve. “I’m Captain Flannigan, and I’m goin ter get me berried treasure! Arr!”
Tad walks up and down the jetty at least four times, miraculously staying on his feet all the while, but his game of pretend abruptly comes to an end. As it turns out, there was some treasure left behind to be found on this pirate ship of slick rocks; out on the ocean end of the jetty, it’s smooth bottom sticking up from a crevice and reflecting the sun’s rays like a diamond in the rough, is a little empty glass bottle. Tad yanks it out and sees there’s a painting on the side of it, a little boy who actually kind of looks like Tad if Tad was a clown, with the words Noooo and Oh painted beside the boy’s head, not in that order. There’s an old cork stuffed in the bottle’s mouth too, but Tad can’t get it out. He’s not quite strong enough.
But you know who might be? Johnny, Tad’s older and more mature brother. Bottle in hand, Tad hops into the water, swims to the beach and runs back to their little camp, his blue eyes glimmering with excitement.
“What the hell is that?” Johhny demands as soon as Tad returns.
“It’s a pirate’s treasure!” Tad exclaims, his smile stretching for miles. “I found it in the rocks! Neat, huh? I can’t get the cork out, though.”
“Gimme that,” as Johnny snatches the bottle out of his stupid brother’s hand. Pop, the cork comes out with ease. “Wow, you must be really weak, dude.”
Tad’s smile fades. “Nuh-uh, maybe my hands were just a little wet. Give it back!”
Tad reaches but Johnny holds the bottle up over his head, too high for Tad to get even if he jumped.
“Buzz off dude, this is mine now. I gotta send a picture of it to my girlfriend and I don’t want you in the background.”
“You have a girlfriend?!” Tad asks, his voice engulfed in envious disbelief. How come Johnny gets a girl to hold hands with?
And so Tad scrams, and no, those aren’t tears coming out of his eyes. His face is just a little wet from the ocean is all. Honest.
Tad hears his parents calling his name over the crash of the waves. After Johnny told him to scram he went back into the ocean where he could be alone with his thoughts. He didn’t do much wave diving, nor did he swim around; he just sat out there in the shallow waters, letting the waves topple over him. He got knocked down a few times, but it didn’t hurt. Not like Johnny’s words did, anyway.
After being called a few times, Tad finally gets up and walks deeper into the ocean to get all the sand out of his trunks, then heads back for dry land. He can see the camp from the water, and his parents are back, but Johnny seems to be gone. Did he go for a walk?
“Where’s Johnny, dad?” Tad asks, but he doesn’t listen to the answer. His attention is grabbed by the glass bottle, the one he found with the painting of the little boy saying Oh noooo, his pirate’s treasure. The cork is back in the top. There’s also a little bit of sand in the bottle, it’s about a quarter of the way full. ‘Why did Johnny put sand in the bottle?’ Tad wonders to himself. ‘We could have put a message in it and thrown it into the sea, like the pirates did.’
The rest of the day is spent scouring the beach for Johnny, but he’s never found. The elder Flannigans get the umbrella rental guy involved, and the loner with his dog comes up too when he notices all the commotion. The dog sniffs the sheet and gets Johnny’s scent, but according to the dog’s sniffer, Johnny never left camp. He just… vanished, like he was abducted by aliens or something, and he left the bottle behind. Tad tells his mom about the bottle and, in hopes that Johnny is playing a trick on them, she pops the cork out and spills out the sand, but there’s no clue hidden within the chamber. It’s just plain old white sand, the same color as the rest of the beach.
Tad doesn’t like seeing his parents freaking out like they are, so he decides to go back into the ocean for a little while. He stays out there for a long time, longer than he can keep track of, and nobody calls him back. When the sun starts to set, he finally drags his soggy butt out of the water and returns to his camp, but his parents are gone. He looks down the beach and all the beachgoers are gone too, but there are a few police officers here and there. Probably looking for Johnny. Tad almost goes to help them, but then he notices the bottle sitting on his dad’s chair, right next to his book. The bottle is corked again, and it’s three quarters of the way full.
Tad picks it up, the weight of the thing heavy in his tired hand. “Why would they put sand back into it?” He puts the bottle back on the chair and decides to take a walk up to the hook of Sandy Hook, maybe that’s where his parents went.
They didn’t, and although the hook is pretty cool, the sun’s getting real low and the sky’s starting to turn pink; Tad has to go home soon. He wishes the hook a good night and returns to his camp, but his parents still aren’t there. What’s taking them so long?
In a last-ditch attempt to run out the clock, Tad picks up the bottle and goes back to the jetty. He wants to return it to where he found it because that’s what his mom says he should do when he finds something that doesn’t belong to him. The seagulls fly away when he climbs up on the rocks, and he almost slips a few times on his way down to the end of the jetty, but he never falls.
Tad’s about to put the bottle back down, cork end first, but he hesitates. Why did his parents put so much sand in the bottle? And why did Johnny only put a little bit? It just doesn’t make any sense, but Tad guesses it doesn’t matter. It was empty when he found it, so he uncorks it and empties the sand out into the water. He tilts it up towards himself and peers into the mouth of the bottle, just for the heck of it, and the vile thing that he sees, the utter, ghastly horror of what lurks in Tad’s pirate’s treasure, the soul-sucking, innocence-rotting putridity of the demented thing cannot be described with mere words; not those spoken by moral men, at least.
The bottle, now full of white sand and firmly corked, falls back to the rocks and lands with a clank in the very same crevice from which Tad pulled it earlier in the day. The Flannigans never pack up their camp, and when the police come back to report they’ve found no trace of their son Johnny, they have nobody to report it to. The umbrella guy comes back to get the umbrella when the cops are still there and they let him keep all the stuff the Flannigans left behind to be rented out in the future.
“They must have found the boy and just ran off,” says the umbrella man. “We get some weird folks up here, sometimes they like to stir up attention for no reason other than causing trouble.”
The cops shrug their shoulders, that sounds about right. The umbrella guy locks up all the Flannigan family’s stuff in his little shack and goes home with a new book to read (Stephen King’s It, a classic) and the thought of the Flannigan family leaves his mind – and the minds of the police officers, the lone man with the dog, and everyone else who ran into them that day – by the time the moon rises over the ocean’s crashing waves.
After sitting vacant for months on end, the Flannigan household and property are seized by a local bank and put up for auction. A guy who recently moved into the neighborhood, a Mister Hilter Odolf Williamson, snags the house for a hell of a deal and moves in right away. He originally came to Fricker Drive to live with his mother, but taking care of her proved to be a full time job and he hardly had enough time to conduct his research (which is the only reason he could afford the house in the first place), so he hired a hospice nurse and moved himself down the road. Having the second house is nice – especially because he rents half of it out to traveling businessfolk who don’t want to pay out the ass for a hotel – and Hilter can’t imagine why the family would just up and abandon the place, but so be it. More money for Hilter.
One day, a few weeks later, he decides to do a little digging into the disappearance of the Flannigans. He doesn’t find much – they seemed like a normal family; had two kids, the mom stayed at home and the dad worked in a warehouse over in the industrial park on the other side of the reservoir down the road – but after going to the beach, they just vanished. There were some rumors that the police were called about an older brother who may have gotten abducted, ‘Just like the Johnson boy…’ but the rumors were never confirmed.
“Could something strange be happening to the families living on Fricker Drive?” Hilter Odolf wonders aloud to himself. Then, he shakes his head. “No, stop it now. That’s just the schizophrenia talking, they probably had their reasons for leaving. I can’t imagine that warehouse job paid enough to afford living here, the taxes are outrageous.”
Before he closes the browser and shuts his laptop down for the evening, Hilter finds a picture of the Flannigan’s beach camp with a couple cops and a dude with a dog standing around it. He notices a small glass bottle laying beside a book on one of the beach chairs that has a picture of a little boy on it. That bottle sticks out to him – although he doesn’t know why, he decides to save the picture on his hard drive. Maybe it’s nothing, but maybe it’s something.
But it’s probably nothing.
Hilter goes to bed early. When he wakes up in the morning, he can remember having a dream about four figures, but he can’t remember who they were or exactly what the dream was about. Oh well, no matter – Hilter’s got a lot of work to do today, and that’s after he visits his mother. It’s a big ol’ world out there, and Mister Williamson has no time to play childish games with himself. He feeds his new cat Fluffy (she came with the house, it couldn’t be helped) and then sets off on his daily walk up the woodsy road called Fricker Drive.
Be well Commons~