Guess Where We’re Going
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 he likes 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 and around in her arms. 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 lil’ orange salamanders out and about. Tad’s dad used to take Tad’s older brother Jimmy along on the walks too, but after Jimmy turned thirteen, he stopped wanting to go. Jimmy stopped wanting to do a lot of stuff after he turned thirteen, especially hanging out with his little kid brother, but that’s all right. Tad understands; Tad may only be seven, but he can still understand.
One thing Jimmy 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, Fluffy would jump up and try to slap the remotes, but she never got them because Fluffy has a big 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 the summer and a Thursday, he wanted to use it tomorrow and give himself a long weekend with his family to celebrate. With shining suns in his eyes, he excitedly told his wife, “Guess where we’re going, honey!”
Tad likes it when his parents call each other little pet names like that. Jimmy used to call Tad buddy, but he stopped doing that when he turned thirteen.
Anywho, 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 on the idea 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 where the trails end in the Johnson’s backyard, 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 Jimmy about the daytrip at dinner that night and, to Tad’s absolute glee, Jimmy smiled at the idea. Tad doesn’t get to hang out with Jimmy 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 Jimmy 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 Jimmy’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 Jimmy 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 heard a stirring behind the door. A moment later, Jimmy opened the door and looked down on his little brother from the one eye his hair doesn’t cover and growled, in a very sleepy, perturbed voice, “What.”
“I can’t sleep, Jimmy. Can we play a game?”
Jimmy 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.
Now that he’s back in his bed, Tad keeps playing the memory of today 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 take a beach umbrella because they don’t own one, plus, usually there’s a guy with a permanent suntan chillin’ on the beach who rents them out. Tad’s dad just got a pay raise, after all – they can afford it.
The traffic is kind of terrible during the first leg of the drive because of rush hour, but after the sun comes up and they hit the highways, it’s all smooth sailing. That doesn’t make the drive go by quickly, though – Tad doesn’t have anyone to talk to the whole time. Jimmy brought his headphones (even though their parents have the classic rock station cranked on the radio) and he’s totally unresponsive. Maybe he’s just tired from Tad waking him up last night, little 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 darn beach to themselves! Well, more or less; there’s a few sunbathing couples here too, 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, but the ocean is clear (well, the water is green) and prime for swimming, 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 the crashing waves and flopping around like a baby dolphin. When he finally comes back to 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 camp all set up. While Tad was out swimming, Jimmy filled the four fivers up with sand and put them 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 catching rays sprawled out on a towel, 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 while they’re gone, they leave Jimmy in charge. Tad watches them go, and he can’t help but smile at the way they’re holding hands. Tad 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 Jimmy to leave the fitted sheet, but Jimmy doesn’t want to build sandcastles, he doesn’t want to play frisbee or toss a foam ball around, he 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. Jimmy is too old for little kid games. Maybe Tad is getting too old, too.
“I’m gonna go for a walk, Jimmy. Wanna come?”
“Nah. Don’t go too far, I don’t want to have to chase after you if you get abducted by some creepy kid-sniffer.”
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 soaked, slippery rocks. There were a few seagulls perched down 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 looks for crabs in between the rocks though, and he does find a couple of the little shelly buddies, 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 all right. 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 salty black jetty at least four times, miraculously staying on his feet all the while, until 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 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? Jimmy, Tad’s older and more mature brother. Bottle in hand, Tad hops into the water, swims to the beach, and runs all the way back to their little camp, his blue eyes glimmering with excitement.
“What the hell is that thing?” Jimmy demands as soon as Tad returns with the bottle.
“It’s my 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 Jimmy snatches the bottle out of his stupid little 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 Jimmy holds the bottle up over his head, too high for Tad to get, even when he jumps.
“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.”
“Wait, you have a girlfriend?!” Tad gasps, his voice engulfed in envious disbelief. How come Jimmy gets a girl to hold hands with? Is it because his hair covers one of his eyes?
And so Tad scrams, and no, those aren’t tears coming out of his eyes. His face is just a little wet from swimming in the ocean is all. Honest.
Tad hears his parents calling his name over the crashing waves. After Jimmy told him to scram, he went back into the ocean where he could be alone with his sad thoughts. He didn’t do much wave diving this time, nor did he swim around; Tad just sat out there in the shallow waters, letting the cold waves topple over him. He got knocked down a few times, but it didn’t hurt. Not like Jimmy’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 Jimmy seems to be gone. Did he go for a walk?
“Where’s Jimmy, 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 clown boy saying Oh Noooo, his pirate’s treasure. The cork is back in the top. There’s also a bit of white sand in the bottle, it’s about a quarter of the way full. ‘Why did Jimmy 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 Jimmy, but he’s never found. The elder Flannigans get the umbrella rental guy involved, and the loner with his dog – now that the guy is close, Tad can see he’s wearing a full business suit, like, with a fedora and everything, what the heck? And why didn’t he get his dog a matching suit? – comes up too when he notices all the commotion. The dog sniffs the sheet and gets Jimmy’s scent, but according to the dog’s sniffer, Jimmy never left camp. He just… vanished, like he was abducted by aliens or something, and he left only the bottle behind. Tad then tells his mom about the bottle and, in hopes that Jimmy 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. Tad wonders where Jimmy got the white sand from – Sandy Hook’s sand is sandy, not white – but doesn’t say anything. The adults probably noticed, anyway. He doesn’t want to annoy them like he annoys Jimmy. That’s probably why Jimmy ran away in the first place.
Tad doesn’t like seeing his parents freaking out like they are, and he’s starting to feel the want to be alone again, so he decides to go back into the ocean for a little while. He stays out there for a good long while, longer than he can keep track of, and nobody calls him back. When the sun starts to set, Tad 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 almost all the beachgoers are gone, too, but there are a few police officers here and there. Probably looking for Jimmy. 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 is getting real low and the sky is starting to turn pink; Tad has to go home soon. He wishes the sandy hook of Sandy Hook a good night and returns to his family’s camp, but his parents still aren’t back yet. 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, and as much as Tad likes his pirate’s treasure, it doesn’t rightfully 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, corked end first, just like he found it, but he hesitates. Why did his parents put so much sand in the bottle? Why did Jimmy only put a little bit? And where did they get the white sand? 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 easily – it must have loosened up from being opened and closed so many times today – and empties the sand out into the water. He then tilts it up towards himself and peers into the mouth of the bottle, just for the heck of it, and the vile thing that looks back, the utter ghastly horror of what lurks in Tad’s pirate’s treasure, the soul-sucking, innocence-rotting, horrible putridity of the demented monstrous thing skulking past the narrow mouth of the glass bottle with the little clown painted on the side cannot be described with mere words; not those spoken by moral men, at least.
The glass 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 that they’ve found no trace of their son Jimmy, they have nobody to report it to. The umbrella guy comes over 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 ran off,” says the umbrella man. “We get some weird folks out 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). The thought of the Flannigan family leaves his mind by the time the moon rises over the ocean’s crashing waves.
After sitting vacant for weeks 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, one 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 write out his research reports (which is the only reason he could afford the house in the first place), so he hired a hospice nurse for her and moved himself down the road. Having the second house is nice – especially because if and when he gets around to starting a general psychotherapy practice, he can use the living room to host his patients – and Hilter can’t imagine why the family would just up and abandon the place, but so be it. Hilter’s never been one to turn away a gift from the Universe.
One day a few weeks later, Hilter 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, the dad worked in a warehouse on Melanie Queen Road 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, ‘Another missing older brother…’ 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 and you know it, Hilter. They probably had their reasons for leaving; I can’t imagine the man’s 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 – the dude’s wearing a business suit on the beach for some reason, how odd – standing around it. He notices a small glass bottle with a picture of a little boy on it lying beside a fat book sitting on one of the Flannigan’s beach chairs. That bottle sticks out to him – although he doesn’t know why, Hilter decides to download the picture and save it 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 five humanoid figures – they were just shadows, or shades, more accurately. Four of them were in holding hands in a circle and the fifth was standing in the middle. He didn’t know who they were, as they had no physical features at all – none that Hilter could discern, anyway – and he got the funniest feeling that the one in the middle was trying to tell him something, or perhaps even warn him.
But that would just be silly, wouldn’t it? Dreams aren’t always prophetic, after all; sometimes dreams are just dreams, and Hilter can be very paranoid when he wants to be.
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 mind games with himself. He feeds his new cat, a little tuxedo fuzzball named Fluffy (she came with the house, he couldn’t bear to send her off to a shelter) and then sets off on his daily walk up the woodsy road called Fricker Drive.