Sarah held her youngest son to her bosom and calmed him. Kenny sat nearby, watching. He leaned toward them with excitement building on his face and refrained from speaking. His mom still hushed his little brother.
“There, there,” Sarah said, “a skeleton in the sand, that’s all it was and nothing more. Nothing is going to harm you, baby. It’s alright.”
“Mom’s right,” Kenny said. “The rain and the tide must have collapsed one of the old caves. Probably where the native people who used to live here buried their dead. You can find artifacts in those caves. Did you see any, Mickey? Any dishes or knives or arrowheads?”
“I didn’t stick around to see anything else. I thought the creepy skeleton was going to chase me. I was really scared. But now I know it was my imagination.”
Sarah lowered Mickey to the floor. Then she sat down in a straight oak-bottomed chair that stood against the wall and held him by the shoulders. She looked him eye-to-eye and sharply spoke with accustomed firmness. “You’re not to go to the beach again. If those caves are falling in, then you have no business down there. Promise me, Mickey.”
“But,” Mickey lowered an anguished face from his mother, “I’m not scared anymore.” He pulled the shells from his pockets. “See? I got you these, your favorites. And I could look for native people stuff for Kenny, next time.”
“No, Mickey, there will be no next time for a while. You need to mind me; it’s not safe. You could fall into a cave, be knocked unconscious, and have the tide wash you out to sea.”
“What if Kenny went with me?”
“No. You’re not strong enough to push Kenny’s wheelchair over sand.”
“Well, you know,” Kenny began gently, “I can charge up the battery and use the motor to drive my chair—”
He stopped at the sight of his mother’s face. She was deeply troubled with the situation. And added to that, her task as a single mom was not easy, with himself to care for and only Mickey to help with housework and the vegetable garden out back.
“Mom’s right,” he said to his brother, “it’s too dangerous. You’ll have to wait until the county engineers fix the damage.”
“How long will that be?” Mickey asked.
“It could take weeks. Just like when they repave the roads or fix any damage to the ferry dock, they have to haul their heavy equipment across water.”
Mickey put the shells next to aquarium, then went to the front window and peered out. “I wish Dad lived here. He would let me go to the beach. He would—”
“No.” Sarah went to him and softened her voice. “Promise me.”
Mickey sighed. “All right, I promise.”
He stayed indoors and helped his mother with chores until bedtime. He forgot about skeletons until deep in the night when the bones called him awake. Slipping into his clothes and from the house, he followed the cry of the bones and the white beam of his tiny flashlight.
The tide had swallowed the lower beach. The sand beneath his tennis shoes gasped for air before water filled his footprints. He stopped a few yards from the sea’s edge. The white stick lay at his feet. He picked it up, looked around, and said to the voices calling him, “I’m here. What do you want?”
The calling stopped. He thought he heard the sound of faraway laughter moments before the ground beneath him fell. He plunged beneath sand, into deep, frigid water.
When he came to his senses, he swam toward the water’s inky surface but something like strong, bony hands wrapped around both ankles and pulled him back down. He thrashed and kicked to break free. The hands held fast.
He directed his light at a grinning skeleton pulling him closer to a graveyard of scattered bones on the sandy floor.
He kicked at the hands. He would drown if he could not escape soon. Fire burned in his chest as his lungs begged for oxygen. He held onto his last breath and wished he could communicate with his mother somehow, to tell her how sorry he was for breaking his promise to her. He did not want her mad at him.
Some skeletons were magic and could become invisible.
The stick in his left hand grew brighter than the light of his flashlight.
They were magic because they were magic people once.
The hands tugged and Mickey kicked.
Magic people carried wands.
The light from the stick filled the water.
Wands grant wishes to the pure of heart.
The skeleton released Mickey and exploded. Even underwater, it sounded like the sharp snapping of brittle bones.
The explosion carried Mickey to the water’s surface. The light carried him into the air, across the sand, and to his front porch where it set him down and vanished with the white stick.
Mickey shivered, not because he was wet and cold—he was neither of those—but because magic was real.
He hurried inside, calling for his mother as he went.