The bottle on the beach

There had been a storm last night. The wind howled incessantly, huge breakers crashed onto the beach. Together they had kept the boy from sleep most of the night. In the morning, the beach was a mess; normally smooth and clean, this morning it was littered with sea weed, sponges, sticks and shells of every kind.

Finding things on the beach was a favorite pastime. He dreamed of magical places, of pirates and mermaids, of shipwrecked sailors and buried treasure. So, despite only being half awake he wandered aimlessly along the sand, weaving through the treasure that the storm had deposited.

It was not all treasure of course, there were millions of dead jelly fish and other aquatic debris, these he never kicked with his bare feet.

He found a giant cowrie shell and put it to his ear; always there was the expectation to hear the enchanting call of a mermaid, but again, as always, it was just the roaring of the waves, not unpleasant, but not hoped for, so tossing the shell back onto the sand he moved on.

Can you see without looking? I can’t prove it, but you can. It is that aimless half distracted state where your eyes are not really focused on anything but looking at everything. That was what the boy was doing, aimlessly cruising the shoreline, sort of waiting for something wonderful to happen, something that would take him away from the ordinary life he led.

He spied a dark green bottle, half buried in the sand. It was sealed with a cork, lifting it up to peer inside, the morning sun reflected in the glass and he saw something that made his heart race, a note!

Running up to where the sand was dry he sat down and studied the bottle. He looked at the bottom where normally there would be markings of the maker stamped into the glass from the mold, but found none. And the bottom of the bottle was rounded, not flat, and despite being in the sea for what he thought must have been a long time, there was no moss or shells stuck to it.

Though, almost desperate to open the bottle and retrieve the note he hesitated. Like most dreams that arrive on our door step, we are reluctant to accept that they are really there.

What would happen when he pulled the cork? Would a giant Genie pour forth in a towering cloud granting him three wishes; or worse, destroy him with a single slash of some huge magical sword.

At last, he just had to know, one way or the other. He could have taken the bottle home of course to show his mother, but that would only have meant he was not man enough to do it himself.

It took some time to work the cork loose, and with the genie story well and truly embedded in his mind he was not in a hurry to have that gruesome dream come true. It was almost an anticlimax when the small pop of the cork breaking the seal heralded no magical event, not even a strange smell emanated from the dark green chamber.

He turned the bottle upside down and shook, the note fell to the neck and stopped, he shook it harder, the note was playing hard to get. He searched about for a small stick with which he could pry the note from the bottle. Being careful, as the note could be hundreds of years old, or perhaps the map to a vast treasure, but whatever it was, it could crumble to dust in his hands, worthless, the dream then shattered.

Slowly, reluctantly, the note came out of its container, the message from far away had arrived at its destination. Carefully he unrolled the paper so as not to tear it.

No map, “oh well, maybe it’s a message from a cast away,” he thought. It was not a long note, no story of despair, no longing for freedom or salvation from isolation. It simply read, “If you seek me, you will find me.”

“If you seek me, you will find me.” What kind of message is that!”, he thought. The boy turned the paper over and over hoping for some clue to solve the riddle as the message went over and over in his mind.

“Seek who, find what?”, after all, he was a just a boy, not some old philosopher trying to solve the riddle of life and everything. It seemed the bottle had got it wrong, the cryptic teaser ended up in the wrong hands, or did it.

The thing about messages in bottles is they always get to the right person; the mermaid always finds the right fisherman, and Alice always gets to Wonderland.

Mysteries are one thing, but hunger is another. Soon the boy gave up solving the riddle, pocketed the note, and went home for breakfast.

For some reason, he never told his mother about the note, he would certainly have never told his sister. She would have ridiculed both him and his special find. You could call her practical I guess, but really, she was just a bore with absolutely no imagination what so ever.

She was constantly telling him that he was a useless dreamer, wasting his time, not with his head in a school book, and, would in the end amount to nothing at all, while she would go onto college and university to become someone of importance.

“I suppose that means she really does have a dream,” he thought sometimes, even if the dream always had both feet on the ground.

Sitting on his bed, he pulled the note from his pocket. Now, in the quiet of his room he studied it carefully. The hand writing was very neat, the ink pale but not faded. The paper was old looking, “certainly not from Officeworks,” he smiled at his own joke.

He studied the writing intently; hoping that the meaning would jump out at him, then he noticed what seemed to be a smudge on the page. This struck him as unusual as the rest of the note was pristine, perhaps the mysterious author wanted to find someone special, someone who would not gloss over even the smallest detail.

Something was very odd about the small smudge. He put the paper up to the light. It looked like tiny words! Quickly, he put the note on his desk and went rummaging wildly through his cupboard for that magnifying glass that came with the bug kit he was given on his last birthday, a vain attempt to get him focused on a worthwhile career.

The box was under a pile of other little used presents for which he had no time, he was living his dream.

His hand now shaking in expectation he hovered the glass over the smudge. It was writing! How could anyone write so small he wondered, trying to hold his hand still so he could read the words.

“Come to the rocks at high tide.” He was sure that was what it read. Again, he concentrated on the smudge, holding the paper up to the light. Yes, that is what it read.

He felt a wave of disappointment roll over him. The tides come and go he knew, and surely that magical tide which would have brought the seeker to his prize was long gone.

Still, a little voice inside his head prompted, “you just never know, like the ad says, if you never go, you will never know.” The tide was still going out when he was on the beach this morning so it would be about three this afternoon when the tide would be in once more.

“Waiting is so hard!” he thought as he sat on the pier waiting for the tide to change. With the note from the bottle tucked right down into the pocket of his coat for safe keeping, and having already retraced his morning footsteps, still clear in the sand above the high tide mark, he could do little else.

By now, a clear unmarked band of sand set a boundary between the rubbish that had arrived last night and the water’s edge.

Walking back to the rock breakwater he collected the carefully hidden bottle. Turning it over and over, holding it up to the sunlight, not really sure what he was looking for; it was the note after all, not the bottle, that had drawn him here, alone; except for the seagulls squabbling over some morsel they had found in the seaweed.

Settling onto the sand, the bottle between his feet, the peaceful lapping waves of the incoming tide made him drift off into sleep.

“What are you doing here?” The voice coming from above the breakwater rocks startled him. It was a familiar voice, with a tone he had heard many times before.

“Minding my own business, why don’t you try it!” he sarcastically replied. It was his sister, returning from visiting a friend on the other side of town.

“You will never get anywhere in life sitting on a beach you know,” her common-sense approach to life had always been an annoyance to him, and she knew how to stir him into responding.

“Why don’t you go home and stick your head into your microscope, it may be the only life you will find!” With that, he stood up and walked down to the water, kicking the waves, as if it was the fault of the sea that he could not get along with his sister. For her part, she got back on her bike, “Loser!” she called back over her shoulder and rode off.

It was clearly some kind of gender thing. Her room always neat and tidy, his more like a war zone, his mother constantly at him to clean it up. A boy in a house with two women was always going to be a recipe for confrontation. Still, she was pretty much the only company he had, and now after the heat of the cross words had cooled he regretted the sharp barbs he had hurled at her.

After venting his frustration on the waves, he walked back up the beach to where he had left the bottle and sat down to watch the endless waves creeping their way closer and closer to the high tide mark. As the appointed time grew closer he became more anxious.

“Who would be there to meet him, if anyone? What would happen if it was some dangerous criminal!” the thoughts prodded his already heightened imagination.

Dragging the note from his pocket he read it over and over again, “If you seek me, you will find me.” It was hard enough to find some reason in the words, and as for the invite to meet at high tide, well that was just plain confusing, but too tempting not to be complied with.

Maybe his sister was right after all, maybe he was just like the driftwood he found on the beach, going in and out with the tide, but really going nowhere, and basically good for nothing.

The gap between the water and the seaweed shrank smaller and smaller, even if he changed his mind, the sea would not. The meeting time had been set, and could not be changed.

The rock wall was quite high, made with huge granite boulders, some weighing many tons. He had always loved to climb them, maybe dreaming of being a great mountain climber, but not today, today the rocks were menacing.

The boy knew he didn’t have to stay, but he couldn’t leave. He really was seeking, maybe seeking for just about anything, something that would bring a change into his life. Watching the incoming tide was like seeing the hands of some great clock relentlessly approaching the time when the bells would chime the hour.

He started shifting nervously on the sand, “Maybe I should stand up in case I have to run,” he thought but continued to sit and look around with anxious eyes.

“Are you waiting for someone?” a voice called from the top of the sea wall. It was his sister, sitting on the rocks looking down at him. Her words cut through him. It was not her fault she was here at the very time he was to meet the writer of the note.

“No, I’m just sitting, well, OK, so maybe I was sort of hoping to meet someone,” his eyes now downcast as if all the magic of the moment had vanished with her arrival.

“What’s that you have?” she peered down at the object at his feet.

“Oh, it’s just some old bottle I found on the beach, useless, just totally useless.” He tossed to the bottle onto the sea weed. Dejected and disappointed he was about to get up and walk back home when she softly called to him.

“If you seek me, you will find me.”

He froze, it was the message from the bottle! Turning, he looked up at her, “You put the note into the bottle, you set up the meeting!”

“Microscopes are good for more things than just looking at cell structures you know,” she smiled down at him.

“Is this just some mean trick of yours?” His emotions now rising.

“No, my brother, no mean trick. We need to get along like a real brother and sister, we are all we have, and this seemed to be a good way to get you involved.” She quietly climbed down the rocks to where he was.

“You know,” she invited, “maybe we can even do things together, might even be more fun than sitting on the beach,” she smiled and looked into his damp eyes. “It must be hard without Dad, just mum and me.”

“It’s OK, I don’t mind,” his reply unconvincing.

“Do you want to look for stuff on the beach?” he offered. “Sure, we have time,” came the reply.

Barefoot, they walked past the high tide’s offering. “Don’t kick the jellyfish, they can still sting,” he warned her as she prodded and poked the seaweed with her foot.

Nothing much more was said as they walked. Now and again, a fleeting look into the eyes of the other; seeking, hoping to find something, someone.

Finally, he reached out and took her hand. Saying nothing, he just kept looking down at the seaweed; she squeezed his hand in silent agreement. They had found each other.

“At least there is no one seeing me doing this,” he smiled to himself as they walked back to the house.

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