(Written for the Flash Fiction Challenge on terribleminds.com.)
I hate family vacations. You know, the kind where you sit in a car for twelve hours with people you’re related to; you spend twelve hours ignoring them the best you can, and even though you pledge to only interact when forced, you have to speak up for restroom breaks and food orders, and by the end of the trip your nerve-endings are fried, like you’ve been trapped in a metal box listening to fingernails scrape along a chalkboard and Justin Bieber sing “Baby” one hundred gazillion times in a row.
You know, those kinds of vacations.
So when the five of us crawled out of the rented Chevy Cruze at 7:00pm, I grabbed the keycard from my dad and ran off into the building before anyone could load me down with luggage and fuss at me to be careful going up the stairs.
The condo was a crappy hole in a crappy building. The only view of the ocean came from one little window facing the side of the neighboring hotel. We couldn’t afford a unit that looked out over the water.
But we had three bedrooms, mainly because Mom had booked the place during a promotion. Annie and the little monster could share a room. I was the oldest—I’d get my own. When I stepped in, I saw why the unit had been discounted: it sucked. Wallpaper bubbled off the walls, wicker stuck out of the chairs. Tile flooring that would never quite be free from sand. One of the kitchen drawers didn’t close all the way. I went into the bedroom nearest the kitchen and locked the door.
Finally. Five minutes to myself, if I was lucky.
The little monster banged on the outside door. “Daffy! Daffy! No! Nooooo!” he screamed in his high-pitched little voice.
The door opened, and the rest of my family fell through it into the living room. I stayed quiet, wishing they would forget me for a while.
“Oh this isn’t so bad,” Mom said. “And the beach is right there!”
“Yeah, babe, you did a great job in picking out this place.” Was Dad being sarcastic or was he just trying not to hurt Mom’s feelings? Sometimes it was hard to tell with him.
I sighed and walked out of my room. The little monster saw me and screeched “DAFFY!” again.
“Daphne, Daph-NE!” Annie corrected. Her bookish, blonde little twelve-year-old self couldn’t stand hearing a word mispronounced.
“He can’t say it, honey,” said Dad.
“It’s okay,” I said. But it wasn’t okay. Janie had heard the little creep call me Daffy at Walmart the other day. I’d wanted to melt into the floor. Janie, the I-Snapchat-after-I-brush-my-teeth-because-everyone-likes-to-see-my-dazzling-smile girl who’d transferred to my school last year. She probably Snapped my nickname to the entire ninth grade.
“Daffy! Pick me. Pick me.” The monster raised his arms to me. A booger oozed out of his nose.
“Oh honey, will you get him?” Mom asked.
I picked up the monster and carried him to the bathroom to wipe the snot train. He fought me, grabbing my hand when I attacked his nose with a large wad of toilet paper. “No, Daffy!” He cried big, soupy crocodile tears. More snot poured out of his nose. I gave up and put him down. Mom would be mad. But hey, he wasn’t my kid.
“I’m going down to the beach,” I said, hoping no one would really hear me so they couldn’t stop me.
“Take Annie with you.”
“Come on Annie.”
“Wait, I gotta change my clothes!”
“I’m just going down there to sit.”
“I don’t want to get sand on my dress.”
My stomach rumbled. I hunted through mom’s snack bag to see if something had survived the trip. One piece of beef jerky left. I popped it in my mouth and chewed. It was stale and hard.
“If you wait a bit, we’ll all go down to the beach and check it out before supper,” Mom said.
I looked at Dad. He’d settled himself onto the couch and had turned on the TV. He wasn’t going anywhere after that long drive. I chewed harder, my jaws aching with the effort of grinding up the food. “Just come down to the beach with us now, Mom.”
“I’m going to get us settled. You girls have a good time.”
“And stay out of the water,” Dad added.
“But Daaaad!” Annie whined.
My parents were the only people on the planet who could drive eight hundred miles to the ocean and not get in it. They’d seen Jaws too many times.
“Maybe tomorrow. We’ll see.”
Annie took a long time to change her clothes. By the time she emerged from her room wearing a plain t-shirt and shorts and found her bucket and shovel, the sun was setting over the water. We walked out on the beach, passing sunbathers who were calling it quits for the day.
My sandals slung sand all over my legs. I took them off and carried them. Annie hummed as we walked, lost in her own little world, swinging her bucket beside her.
At the water’s edge, I sat down on a beach lounge—a bare one because they’d pulled all the cushions—and watched the waves. Three-foot swells rolled in, crashing unendingly on the sand. Some sort of dead plant washed up with them. Annie searched for shells.
“Stay out of the water, Annie.” I lay back on the lounge and closed my eyes. Waves rolled in, crashed. Rolled in, crashed. Somehow I was reminded of a rocking chair. Mom used to have one for the little monster. But he never liked being rocked, so she sold it in a yard sale.
Earth was a giant rocking chair.
The wooden lounge bit into my back. No danger of using these without paying for the cushions. Not for me, anyway. My stomach rumbled again—the beef jerky hadn’t helped. I sat up.
“Time to go in,” I said.
Annie sat in the surf, her body wet up to her waist. “I’m not ready.”
“Aren’t you hungry?”
“What is hunger, Daphne?”
“It’s what I’m feeling right now. Let’s go.”
“It’s just our bodies telling us we haven’t eaten yet,” she said in a sweet yet practical voice. “But I already know I haven’t eaten. And since I’m not in danger of starving, I’d rather be out here a little bit longer, thank you.”
I rolled my eyes. “Well, I’m hungry, and I am in danger of starving. Get your butt up and let’s go.”
“No.” She continued digging, facing the ocean, her back to me.
What would happen if I grabbed her hair and dragged her back inside?
No. I was too old to get away with that.
“Okay, then,” I said. “I’m going inside. You can stay out here until the sea monsters come and drag you into the water.”
“There’s no such things as sea monsters. I’m too old to fall for that.”
“Fine, then. Just stay here.”
“Mom will get mad if you leave me out here by myself.”
How could I not murder her? No. No. That’s bad, Daphne.
“Really, Annie, strange things happen on the water at night. But if you think you’ll be okay, I’m going up. If you see anything, be sure to call out. I just hope I’m not too far away to save you.”
I marched toward the beach access, fuming. Let Mom get mad. Annie was a little butthole sometimes. Maybe I should call her the Big Monster. Wouldn’t it be fun if the sister monster and the brother monster grew tentacles? At least then they’d be interesting.
The beach was officially dark now. Lights on the balconies showed people walking in and out of their condos, hanging beach towels on the railings to dry. We didn’t have a balcony. If we did, I’d take a blanket out there and sleep on it.
Annie caught up with me. She was out of breath from running.
“Scared, huh?” I said.
“No, I’ve decided I’m ready to eat now.”
“See something on the water?”
Annie was silent.
“I told you. Night time isn’t safe to be on the beach by yourself.”
“I saw a fin. In the water.”
“Probably a shark.”
“Stop it! No, it wasn’t. It was a dolphin fin.”
“But it’s really too dark to tell, isn’t it? Just think: tomorrow you’ll be out there wading around in the surf. I bet that shark lives right out beyond the breakers.”
“Shut up, Daphne! Just SHUT. UP.” She marched ahead, her chin stuck high in the air.
I smiled. We were even.
When I reached the beach access, I stopped to look back at the water. I couldn’t really see it. The waves sounded strange in the dark. It was easier now to believe the water was a dark, rolling giant that covered the entire world. I shivered and turned back toward the sidewalk.
Maybe I wouldn’t go in the water tomorrow, either, like Dad said.