Flash Fiction Challenge: Time and Tide

beach play 1980s photo by K.S. Brooks
beach play 1980s
photo by K.S. Brooks

That kid in the picture is my little brother, Andy. In 1987, he got carried away by an undertow at this very beach. The authorities never recovered his body.

I took this picture of him yesterday, when he walked up out of the water as if nothing had happened.

In 250 words or less, write a story incorporating the elements in the picture and/or the written prompt above. The 250 word limit will be strictly enforced.

Please keep language and subject matter to a PG-13 level.

Use the comment section below to submit your entry. Entries will be accepted until Tuesday at 5:00 PM Pacific Time.

On Wednesday afternoon, we will open voting to the public with an online poll for the best writing entry accompanying the photo. Voting will be open until 5:00 PM Thursday.

On Friday afternoon, the winner will be recognized as we post the winning entry along with the picture as a feature. Then, at year end, the winners will be featured in an anthology like this one. Best of luck to you all in your writing!

Entries only in the comment section. Other comments will be deleted. See HERE for additional information and terms.

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14 thoughts on “Flash Fiction Challenge: Time and Tide”

  1. Title: Reflections

    I stared at the picture. It was blurred, but it was because my hand was shaking. Andy was really in the picture, smiling as if it was just minutes earlier.

    However, it has been twenty seven years since I last saw him. When I was old enough to drive, I made a promise to come back to this beach, each and every year, to remember that day, and to wonder what could have been.

    People would stop and stare, wondering why I was crying. Some would just nod, or point in my direction. The ocean never noticed or appreciated my contributions.

    I remember building sand castles that day. I remember you covering me with sand except for my face. You were really enjoying that day, and I was too. You said you needed to cool off, but I was buried.

    I looked at the picture again, noticing what looked like an orb over his head. Having looked at that picture for hours, I guess I thought it was just a reflection. It was hard to see the detail, but your smile was radiant.

    “Mom, why are you crying?”

    “Its okay Andy, I’m just looking at a picture of your uncle.”

    “Mom, Dad told you the picture never took. There’s nothing there.”

    I looked at the picture and then at my son. They looked identical. God has given me a second chance. “How would you like to build a sand castle?” His smile, gave me the reward I needed.

  2. “Brian?” Andy asked.

    “Yeah, Andy, it’s me,” I replied, choking back the tears. “Where ya been, little buddy?”

    “I dunno. I remember swimming, and getting pulled under. Then, this little white dog swam under me and pushed me up so my head was above water. I don’t know where we went after that.”

    I had to be hallucinating. Maybe the trauma of it all had finally cracked me.

    He put his hands on his hips. “Can we get some ice cream? I’m hungry.”

    Just then, a little white dog yipped. He stood next to a tall man wearing long black pants and a long-sleeved blue shirt. They were both soaking wet. “I told you that further calculations were necessary. The age converter altered the coordinates slightly.”

    “Yip!”

    “Indeed.” The man tilted his head and shook the water out of his pointed ears. He smoothed his black hair before heading towards the boardwalk.

    “Yip!”

    “No. I was quite clear when we first communicated that it would take me 26 earth years to travel from the galaxy I was exploring to assist you in returning these humans to their points of origin.”

    “Yip.”

    “I am aware that I owed you a favor. I was, however, on the verge of a breakthrough discovery.”

    “Yip.”

    “Discover some French fries for you? I do not find your sarcasm amusing.”

    “Yip!”

    I watched them volley until the dunes blocked my view. Then I turned back to Andy. It had been a long wait, but I planned on making up every second to him.

  3. “Why is everybody yelling and running?”

    I swallowed warm spit and fought for an answer that would make sense to him. “It…ah, it’s…you’ve been in the water a long time, Andy. Years. Decades.”

    “No I haven’t. I just went in a couple minutes ago.”

    Trying not to breathe in his stink, I just shrugged. “Don’t I look any different, Andy?”

    My little brother shook his head, and a pale gray crab dropped out of his eye socket. It scuttled toward the water. “Who’s that?” he asked, pointing with a ruined forefinger over my shoulder.

    My confusion and loathing turned instantly to terror. “Stay BACK!” I shrieked at the approaching Jonah, whose face crumpled into shocked misery. “Go back to your mother. Now!” I’d apologize later. If there was a later.

    “You know that kid?”

    My first instinct was to lie. “No.” A quick glance showed me that Sara was hustling Jonah away. “Well, yes, actually. He’s my son. He’s only four. Look…Andy…”

    The remaining parts of Andy’s face that still had flesh on them writhed in bewildered amusement, as if I’d made a joke that he was on the cusp of getting. “Very funny. Let’s go swimming.”

    I slipped my camera into the pocket of my swim trunks. “Who’s that coming out of the water?”

    “Just some friends I met. They’re really cool.”

    I didn’t wait for the octopus that was trying to wriggle through the splintered gap in his ribcage to free itself. I just ran.

  4. LİPSTICK KISSES

    It was Mama who wanted to come.

    We had all tried. Daddy, Gerald and me to convince her that a little party or a nice outing would be the perfect way to celebrate her fifty years.

    She had shaken her head. Her gaunt, hollow expression, her lifeless eyes, a once beautiful face, according to Daddy, capped off with wisps of grey hair that made her look closer to eighty than a woman in the prime of her life.

    She sat hunched up on the blanket staring at the sea.

    I didn’t remember Andy, and Gerald only vaguely recalled a brother.

    Most of our memories were from old photographs, curled at the edges and smudged with lipstick kisses.

    Mama hadn’t let them out of her sight for twenty seven years. Not since Andy was lost. Her first born. Her baby.

    Daddy rested his arm around Mama, the woman who had stopped being a Mama to Gerald and me when Andy died.

    “Will we take some pictures today Eadie? Make some new memories for us?”

    He nodded to Gerald who started to click a couple of shots of our parents and was about to turn to me when Mama cried out and pointed to the sea.

    As Daddy calmed her Gerald focused his lens on the shoreline.

    We took Mama back to the psychiatric home soon after.

    She was holding that last image of Andy when she passed. He had come for her.

    But to us it was just a boy.

  5. I was trying to nap on the beach to the tinny sound of “La Bamba” coming through my husband’s earbuds. He was bent on singing karaoke some time before he died. My little brother, Andy, sang “La Bamba” every night in 1987, until he disappeared.

    He’d twirl a lock of sun-bleached hair down his forehead, sing butchered Spanish, play air guitar, and twitch still-innocent 7-year-old hips on his hearth stage. My parents always laughed, then.

    We’d heard the song at every reunion, wedding and Bar Mitzvah for the last 27 years. Punishment. “La Bamba,” like the guilt over my brother’s disappearance in the waves one carefree summer day, would never die. I was supposed to be watching him, but I was 14 and kissing my first boyfriend.

    My husband’s foot beat time. I squinted at him.
    “Can you see the kids?” I asked.
    “Andrew just survived a gnarly wipe out. He’s coming in.”
    “Where’s Claire?”
    He scanned the beach, my stomach clutched. “Building a sandcastle; she made a friend.”

    I sat up to watch, he pulled off his earbuds and smiled.
    “They’re safe,” he said.
    “Will you learn a different song?” I asked. “Something in English.”
    “Harder to fake.”
    “Try “Don’t Stop Believing.” You can almost talk it.”
    He looked at me and nodded, “Okay.”

    I took a picture of Andrew splashing out of the baby waves. I did that every summer, always. Always hoping Andy would come with him, singing and smiling, with grown man hips. Maybe he did.

  6. “Andy?”

    My heart raced as the little boy skipped out of the water. He smiled the carefree grin of every other child, then turned and waved at the ocean. My limbs felt frozen in place. The camera hung from my wrist, saved from a watery death only by the safety cord. How could this be?

    Thoughts tumbled like tiny shells in a crashing wave. Andy died twenty-seven years ago, sucked into the waves and out to sea never to be seen again — Until today — On the very same beach.

    It was my fault. I was supposed to watch him that day, keep him out of the rough surf. Instead I flirted with some guy I couldn’t even remember.

    “Andy!”

    The boy turned. His smile faded and confusion twisted his face. “You’re not Mama.”

    I stumbled over and threw my arms around him. His blue swim trunks felt cold against my skin, but I didn’t care. “Andy. It’s Sarah, your sister.”

    “You’re not Sarah. You’re old. Mama!” Andy twisted in my arms, searching up and down the beach for Mama. But Mama wasn’t there.

    A million questions, but all I got out was, “Where?”

    Andy’s stopped struggling and bit his lower lip. “Playing with Melody. I wasn’t gone long, was I?”

    Tears streamed down my face. Not long indeed.

    ***

    Far off the shore another pair of eyes watched the boy. “Bye Andy,” she whispered. “Come play again.” Then with a splash of her tail she vanished.

  7. For just a moment I’m sure I’ve lost my mind. The boy, it’s Andy, my twin, but it can’t be Andy. Andy died. When we were kids, Andy died. The undertow took him from us, never to be found again.

    I draw near, wary that a grownup approaching a young boy might look suspicious. But I can’t stay away. I have to see this boy. This ghost I’ve just captured on film.

    As I suspected, a woman rushes up, grabs the boy’s hand, and asks me what I’m doing. The boy pulls away and runs further up the beach.

    “It’s just… He looks like my brother, Andy. When we were kids.”

    Never taking her eyes off the boy, the woman must sense my sadness.

    “That’s funny.” She smiles, nodding toward the boy. “His name’s Andrew. But we call him Andy. For some reason, his father was adamant he be called Andy, wouldn’t consider anything else.”

    “Daddy, Daddy,” the boy shouts holding up a starfish. “Look what I found.”

    The father looks up from where he sits on the beach, and waves at the boy.

    There’s something about the father. I move closer.

    The man stands, picks up the boy, and my heart skips a beat. Can it be? My brother, Andy, fully grown, my twin, stands before me. I walk up to him.

    Hugging the boy safe, he extends his hand. “Name’s George. Can I help you?”

    My mouth drops open. “Were you adopted?”

    He frowns. “How’d you know?”

  8. The moment is suspended, timeless. My heartbeat is rattling my teeth. My heart would leap right out if it could. Right to Andy. Behind my brother—this waifish, golden boy who cannot be—is a dazzle of water and sky that is quite ugly compared to his light. For Andy is radiant; light bleeds from behind his grin and eyes as if he has swallowed a mystery. I know then, that this is not entirely him. I take a step back as his voice, broken and wise—not a child’s, not his own—says my name.

    “Paul.”

    “Who are you? What are you?”

    Andy frowns. There is no easy explanation, it seems.

    “Are you an angel?”

    He shakes his head. The sky suddenly blackens. We are cast into shadow. How dark he now looks; his light is gray.

    “A devil?”

    Andy shrugs; this does not fit, either.

    Perhaps the clouds are conflicted as well; they rumble with the sickness of thunder. People are running and screaming like hens before a storm. I should be worried about what they fear. Instead, I have a fitting memory: Andy and I, as muddy fools chasing chickens on our father’s farm. An inappropriate smile finds me in the chaos.

    Andy smiles too, and offers me his hand. “It’s falling apart. I need your help to fix it, Paul.”

    Enough of his sly, sweet charm belongs to the boy whose picture hangs in my memory. I take his hand and he leads me away.

  9. “Time is like the constant rhythm of tides; coming in, going out. Future rolls in. Past rolls out. Life is lived in the pauses between the two. Within those pauses we take our life-steps, sing the next note of our life-song.”

    “I don’t understand, grandmother,” Laughing Girl said.

    “Imagine the universe as a symphony in which all of creation has its part to play. Each note is either going to be added or it has been added. In between each note is a pause. You take life-steps in that pause.”

    Grandmother Spirit Woman pointed to a tree bearing blackish brown egg-shaped fruit, “Pick a few,” she said.

    “It’s Myristica,” she said deftly shucking the outer hull. Feeding the hull to expectant animals that gathered near her, she continued, “It’s magic is in the seed. Keep it whole. Grind what is needed when needed. A small sprinkling to calm, too much can harm. Cinch visions use a pinch.”

    She giggled at her rhyme, “It extends pauses.”

    Grandmother tucked a seed into Laughing Girl’s medi-bag saying, “Spirit Women wear it thus. Its ever-present aroma promotes increasingly longer pauses. When enough space exists, your mind adds more notes, allows more steps. Your song-walk becomes fuller, richer more self-assured.”

    She squeezed the medi-bag releasing Myristica’s poignant perfume. In the momentary vision she stood in the tidal pause. “I see it grandmother, life is not the future or past. Life is lived in the pauses between. Time is the pulse.”

    Grandmother Spirit Woman smiled.

  10. The Frisbee whacked me in the side of the head.

    “Dad, pay attention,” my ten-year old son Andrew called. “Hey, get the Frisbee before it floats away!”

    The reincarnated Andy scooped the Frisbee out of the water and spun it back to me. It bounced off my shaking hands and splashed in the ocean at my feet.

    “Nice catch, spaz,” he laughed. He stood next to me as the surf receded, staring up into my face. He was the Andy I remembered, except for his eyes. No longer a deep brown, they reflected the secrets of the sea, a greenish aquamarine that held fish tales of ocean adventures.

    “Dad, who’s this kid?” My son eyed his uncle warily. “He looks like me.”

    I didn’t know what to say. My son had grown up with stories about Andy. There was no logical way to tell him that the boy who stood there on the beach with us was my long lost brother. Andy guffawed, the odd snorting laugh I had missed these twenty-seven years.

    “Dad? Gross, you like girls! Girl cooties, girl cooties.” He danced across the wet sand, waving his hands in the air.

    My son laughed along with him. They ran in circles around me, taunting me happily.

    “Hey, Dad, look at that.”

    My son pointed out to the ocean vista. A line of dolphins jumped through the air, competing playfully, flying higher and higher. The impromptu entertainment stopped suddenly, and I looked down for Andrew. He was gone.

  11. “Andy,” I said. “Is that really you?” The look on his face, terror, he didn’t know me, not anymore.

    “My mom told me not to talk to strangers,” he said. He scanned the beach. When his eyes came back to mine, I saw the fear in them again. “You look familiar…”

    What could I say? His brother, the one he remembered would have been about 3. I’ve been told over the years that I look like my mom. Did he see that? God, he wouldn’t know about her. She passed away a couple years back. “It’s me, Jimmy,” I said.

    “Jimmy who? You know my dad?” He studied me, eyes traveled up and down my body. “They were just over here a few minutes ago.” He waved his hand toward a couple girls laid out in the sun.

    “Mom and dad went home a while ago,” I said. “We looked for you, looked for you everywhere.” I stepped toward him and he pulled away, eyes still locked on me. “I can take you to dad.”

    “I want my mom,” he said. He stepped back again. “Thanks anyway, mister.” He turned and sprinted further down the beach.

    “Andy! Andy, come back!” I shouted but he still ran. I lost him to a swell of people. He disappeared into the crowd further down the beach.

    This year was the same as every year since he disappeared. The brief encounter and lost again. I didn’t mean it Andy… I didn’t mean it…

  12. Was I seeing things? My stomach felt queasy, my eyes gloopy. Had I fallen asleep? I straightened up and approached Andy. As I got closer, my entire body sagged at the realization this was not my brother.

    He wasn’t even wet. And his shorts were all bulky around the waist.

    “Okay folks, it’s time for the Nathan’s annual hot dog eating contest!” came over the loudspeakers behind me. Beachgoers migrated towards the contest.

    My gaze followed them. There had to be thousands of people there to watch. I turned back to the Andy lookalike. He had a blank expression and glazed-over eyes.

    Just then, I got hit from behind. My neck snapped back and I was propelled face first into the sand. The little boy landed next to me.

    “Sorry, mister,” a huge man with a Russian accent said. He pulled me up back onto my feet. We both looked down at the little boy. There was a hole between his eyes.

    A woman approached, carrying a rifle. She kept it pointed at the boy. “You okay?” she asked the goon who had tackled me.

    “Da. Nice shot.”

    “Nice shot? He was just a little boy!” I could feel the anger welling up into my face.

    “He was just a little suicide bomber,” the woman said as a man in a bomb disposal suit came up behind her.

    “Special Agent Night, please clear the scene.” His voice was tinny from inside his helmet.

    I looked down and again saw Andy’s face. I’d lost him twice, now.

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