by Rick McQuiston
Theresa loved to hang around
her older brother Ronnie. It annoyed him sometimes but he did worry about her and with her tagging along he could at least
keep an eye on her. Their father was a harsh man, almost to the point of being militaristic, which caused Ronnie to develop
a strong protective feeling about his little sister. Sometimes he felt that it was the only good thing he ever got from his
dad who was a bad tempered perfectionist who didn’t hesitate to scold his wife or children for the slightest infraction.
A sock on the floor, an unfinished plate of food, a window left open, anything not adhering to his strict guidelines received
strong verbal and sometimes even physical abuse. This situation caused Ronnie to develop a strong sense of protection for
his little sister, always doing what he could to keep her safe, both from their father and the world.
“Whats we doin today?”
she would ask, her baby blue eyes momentarily obscured by her dangling, golden locks.
“Oh all right. We’re
gonna go down to the beach and look for shells and rocks. A couple of the guys said they’d meet me there.” He
waited for a response hoping she wouldn’t be interested.
“Oh goodie, shells and
rocks, shells and rocks.” Like a lost puppy she followed him out the back door of their sprawling colonial house down
to the beach.
Ronnie had always wondered
what his father did for a living, he was certainly good at it whatever it was or he wouldn’t be able to afford a house
like theirs. Their mother wouldn’t say, probably because she was scared. Ronnie did, however, see his dad talking with
smartly dressed men on many occasions. They would go into his study and close the door behind them. Even an eleven year old
boy could figure some things out, like when your dad is involved with the mob.
This realization troubled
Ronnie for quite some time before he finally learned to accept it. There was nothing he could do about it and as long as he
wasn’t involved things would be okay. So he turned his attentions to looking after Theresa. After all if he didn’t,
who would? Their mother didn’t seem to care, all she did all day was drink and clean the house.
They reached the shoreline
after zigzagging through a small obstacle course of rocks, driftwood and seaweed. Theresa immediately began to play in the
“Let’s make a
sand castle,” she announced. “We can decorate it with shells.”
Ronnie didn’t answer;
he was hypnotized by the beauty of the water tirelessly rolling up the beach.
make a sand castle. Ronnie?” She had resorted to tugging on her brother’s arm.
“What? Ohh, you go ahead.
I wanna look for the guys.”
After his sister’s attention
was diverted back to her castle building he again looked out at the vast body of water that lay in front of him and let his
mind wander. This water has been washing up on this beach for millions of years without any break or change whatsoever. I
wonder how many animals have lived and died here. I wonder what stories the land could tell. Could there have been some strange
form of life that washed up from the sea right here and migrated inland without anyone knowing, maybe even before man walked
the Earth. His train of thought was interrupted by his two friends calling out to him.
Ben and Scotty came strolling
down the beach; each wore a loud Hawaiian shirt and cut off jeans. Scotty was carrying a radio the size of a small car on
his shoulder and Ben was swinging his head back and forth to the music. Both were the perfect stereotype of California beach
they said in unison.
“Not much,” he
Ben squatted down by Theresa.
“Hey, cool castle.”
Scotty set his radio down
next to his buddy, “we’re gonna go down past Gumbman’s Pier. We hear there’s a neat cave about a half
a mile past it.” A small glint of mischief shone in his eyes. “You wanna go check it out with us?”
Apprehension filled Ronnie.
“Well, I don’t know, that’s kinda far.” He knew his face betrayed him, displaying his fear like a
painting. He could only hope his friends would understand.
“Ah come on. Ya don’t
have to go in if ya don’t wanna,” Ben chimed in.
Ronnie looked at Theresa and
then thought about what his father would say, and then he agreed to go. “Come on Theresa, we’re going to go exploring
in a cave!”
Theresa was no different than
any other six year old with a short attention span so the prospect of a new adventure had her deserting her castle in a heartbeat.
The beach seemed to roll on
forever. One mile quickly stretched into one and a half miles and began to approach two. Ronnie’s feet were getting
sore and Theresa was starting to whine in his ear.
“Are we there yet? Dad’s
gonna be mad. We’ll miss dinner,” she warned. “And I’m hungry too.”
Ronnie was also getting worried.
“How much further guys? We passed Gumbman’s Pier a mile ago.
Ben and Scotty both glanced
back at him. “It’s right around those rocks,” they replied together, motioning to a huge outcropping of
stone about fifty yards away. Enormous slabs of moss covered rock towered over the four young investigators.
“Must be a couple hundred
feet high,” Ben declared.
Scotty placed the radio on
a large rock, out of the reach of the incoming tide. They snaked their way through the rocks and debris that was strewn along
the shoreline and eventually passed the protrusion of boulders, allowing them to finally see the goal of their journey. It
was set deep within a rank smelling recess, offering its doorway, and its secrets, to any passersby who were brave enough
to venture into it.
“Check it out man,”
Scotty said as his thin blonde hair was tossed from side to side by the alcove’s winds. “Who’s gonna go
Ronnie and Ben exchanged glances.
“All right dudes, I’ll
go first,” Scotty declared. “But you guys gotta be right behind me.”
Ronnie saw the fear in his
sister’s eyes. “Don’t wanna go in there,” she pleaded. “There might be a monster in there.”
he said, trying to cover his own fear. “There’s nothing to be afraid of.
Imagination struggled with
his mind as he tried to build up his courage and enter the cave. Visions of cannibalistic creatures and horrible monsters
began to filter through his common sense but he forced himself to take the first step.
Scotty was in the lead followed
closely by Ben and then Ronnie. Each felt the undeniable pressure to prove to their friends that they were not scared but
nobody was doing a good job of it. All three wandered slowly into the cave.
Dank walls surrounded the
three boys illuminated only by Ben’s pocket flashlight. The faint beam bounced off the surface of the walls and refused
to reveal any clues as to what lay ahead.
“Smells like bad breath
in here,” Scotty nervously laughed. He looked back at his friends but received no reaction to his joke. They continued
on, slowly but steadily.
The entranceway behind them
soon appeared to be no more than a bright square of light no larger than a small suitcase.
“We must be a hundred
feet in by now,” Ben exclaimed. “I don’t think there’s anything in here.” He looked at his friends
hoping they would agree with him.
“Yeah he’s right,”
Ronnie said. “Besides, I don’t wanna leave Theresa alone any more.” Ben and Scotty both nodded in agreement.
Despite their feeling of failure
at finding anything of interest in the cave all three boys still felt relieved that they had ventured as far as they had.
They started to work their way back to the entrance.
Suddenly Scotty blurted out,
“hey wait a minute guys, there’s no echo in here.” His astonishment lit up his face like a Christmas tree.
“My voice has no echo.”
“Who cares,” Ben
snorted. “Let’s go.”
Eventually they reached the
entrance. Ronnie sighed in relief when Theresa came running up. She had been sitting in the wet sand trying to build yet another
sand castle. A wide smile covered her face when her big brother emerged from the cave.
“Should we tell mom?”
Theresa asked through tears.
“No!” Ronnie snapped.
“I mean, I’ll tell her. You don’t say nothing, all right?”
Theresa bowed her head as
strands of her hair stuck to her wet cheeks. “Okay, I won’t say nothin.”
As the two approached the
back door the sound of glass shattering rung throughout the house. Their father was hitting their mother again. Ronnie looked
at his little sister and wanted to take her away to safety right then and there but he knew he couldn’t leave his mother
alone with his father. And then he came up with an idea.
“Theresa, just go along
with me,” he whispered. She nodded.
“You dumb broad, you’re
drunk again. I’ll teach you!” The words flew out the door like a hail of bullets. “Some wife you turned
out to be.” Ronnie and Theresa entered the house.
“Dad! Dad! Come quick!
There’s been an accident!” he shouted. “Ben and Scotty they’re hurt! Down past Gumbman’s Pier,
He was most surprised to see
his brute of a father running behind him with a concerned look on his face. Granted, it wasn’t too believable but he
was following and that’s what mattered.
“What have you punks
done this time,” he bellowed between gasps for breath. “You just wait till I get you home later.” Ronnie
ignored him and kept running as fast as he could.
Eventually they reached the
huge protrusion of rock and worked their way around to where the cave was.
“Where in blazes are
they?” his dad angrily shouted.
in the cave. They slipped and hit their heads while exploring,” Ronnie lied.
His dad grunted in disgust.
He hated enclosed spaces and a cave fit into that category perfectly. He hesitated and then withdrew a gleaming nine millimeter
from his inside coat pocket. “How far in are they?”
“About a couple hundred
“Great, just freakin
great! You wait till I get you home mister.”
Ronnie smiled as his dad entered
the cave. His plan was working perfectly. A small bit of remorse crept into his mind but was quickly dismissed as he remembered
the years of abuse. Besides, he had no choice now. He had already thought of what to tell the police and his mother, now it
was just a matter of finishing the job. He turned and started to walk away.
In the corner of his eye he
noticed the two enormous slits in the rock above the cave. He stopped and watched as they creaked open to reveal deep red
eyes underneath. Ronnie grinned.
appetite,” he mused to himself as the cave slammed shut.