Palo Alto Weekly 15th Annual Short Story Contest
The Sand Dollars
by Jessie Carr
I hated church for one reason. There was a huge window next to our family's pew, and through it, you could see the ocean. The ocean was the road to my place of solitude, my place to think, to relax, to live. So, seeing the sea, seeing it crash, seeing the waves topped with white foam, soaking the powdery sand the moment the water hit it, taunted me.
Always, the moment I got home from church, I tore off my dress and pulled on old cutoffs and a sun-bleached T-shirt over the bathing suit that I always wore under my dress. So, it was no surprise that I did it that day.
"Goin' fishin!" I told my mom.
I would bring home fish, though that was not the main purpose of the trip. But it was safer if she thought that it was. Because if Mom knew of it, it would no longer be my place. All the family would go to it.
I ran outside and pulled up my small 'fishing' boat, a kayak that could speed across the water like lightning. In moments, I was flying across the water, laughing and racing the dolphins into the wind. I turned and saw that I was now out of sight of populated land, and I could only see bare beaches were nobody walked.
There! I saw it. I paddled faster, eager to get there. The dolphins followed, circling around it as I beached. I pulled the boat up to the shore and hid it behind some bushes. I was happy to be back, after the week long storm that had raged around our town and the bay keeping us housebound. I was glad to be back on my island. Having two younger sisters and an older brother, I needed a peaceful place where I could do anything. This was it.
I walked along the path, thinking more about the storm. Five fishing boats had been lost, for it was sudden enough to catch even Old Tom, who had made it through 16 storms. At least twelve people from our town were presumed dead, and even more, because a boat of tourists had been caught at sea, carrying 24 passengers.
Suddenly, a flash of black caught my eye. I whirled around and came face to face with boy who looked about my age, 13. He had tangled hair and a smudged, sunburned face. His eyes stared at me hungrily.
"Who are you and why are you on my island?", I asked him.
"I'm from Utah and my name is Brad," he poured out to me in an endless breath, "and I was on a "guaranteed you see a dolphin" trip with my little sister Sarah when a storm came up and we were shipwrecked and Sarah can't swim and I couldn't see her in the storm, so I swam here and I don't know if Sarah is still alive!"
"Do you have any food?" he asked me.
"Yea," I told him and gave him my whole lunch. He devoured it and then told me that he didn't know how long he'd been here or what time it was.
"It's 12:06 on April 3rd!" I replied and made him tell me his story agai more slowely and in greater detail. From that story, I learned that he had been up in Corton, about two miles north of my town with his little sister visiting his aunt and uncle. He'd been babysitting Sarah one day and he decided to go on a "see a dolphin trip". During the storm, when it had become clear that the ship would sink, he helped Sarah onto a float but then she floated away from him. He swam hard and long, dragging a float so he could rest when he got tired. He remembered that when the boat sank, they were in the middle of the two hour trip, which had started at 3 p.m., and he saw the island just as the sun came up the next day. He crawled onto the island and slept on the sand until sunset. When he woke up, he was drenched from the rain, so he moved to the cover of the trees and explored the island. I had come five or six days later, today.
"I really want to find my sister," he told me. "I can't go back without her."
"The Search and Rescue boats have searched everywhere," I said.
"Then why didn't they come here?" he challenged me.
"Well," I said, looking at the pounding waves, "from the spot the ship sank to here is 28 miles. They search only 25 miles around the estimated sinking spot. And you said yourself that your sister can't swim."
"Isn't there another way?" he begged.
"I'II think about it. Well, why don't you come to my house and then you can sleep on a bed instead of the sand," I suggested.
"No, I can't. If Sarah is out there suffering, I want to be as near as I can be to her."
"But you can't help Sarah by staying out here!"
"But what if she floats up in the middle of the night?" he asked.
"She might. I'm staying."
I glanced down at my watch and read 3:15 p.m.
"Oh my gosh, I've got to get home!" I told him. "I think I can bring you lunch tomorrow. What do you want?"
"Meat sandwich, fruit, orange juice, and chocolate chip cookies!"
"'K, bye!" I yelled as I sprinted to the boat, pulled it down to the lapping waves, leapt into it and paddled off.
That night, I looked up at the dark ceiling of my room, thinking hard. I sat up and looked at my dresser, seeing a light, a large shell, and two sand dollars. Suddenly, I remembered the time when I was swimming and found them. As I swam back to shore, they were pulled out of my hands by the current. Current! That was it! The winds and currents in a storm were very strong, and that could push a six-year-old girl on a float very far, farther than anyone might be able to swim. The Search and Rescue boats wouldn't have expected her to be on a float and not to try to swim, so wouldn't look as far as she could
have been pushed!
I ran to my cupboard, and pulled open the doors. I rummaged around and found what I was looking for, a map of the bay that nestled against our town. I hurried to my desk, grabbing a pen. I drew a square around the estimated sinking area and pushed the button for my computer. I waited and finally I saw my desktop. I clicked on a bookmark, and started reading . . .
The next morning, I pulled on my bathing suit and clothes, spent two minutes packing a double lunch and adding some extra clothes for Brad in my backpack, and was on the water. I paddled to my island and reaching it, pulled the boat high on shore. I grabbed the bag of lunch and the map and ran up the beach calling, "Brad, Brad!"
"I was up'till 1:30am last night figuring all this out. So listen. Because of the wind and currents that night, your sister could be anywhere from here to here!" I pointed to two dark dots with a line between them on the map.
"The span is 12.7 miles. It should take us about 2 1/2 hours. That's about four islands."
"OK," he smiled.
I jumped in the kayak and he followed me looking shaky.
"Stay in the middle," I told him, "and put your feet here and here. Lean back and just relax."
I held the map so Brad wouldn't drop it in the water. After we reached the first island, we would turn southeast and go until we reached the next island. Sarah could be there.
She was not. Neither was she in the ocean between there and the next island, 4.3 miles away. We were in a string of islands, six miles from each other at the most. The islands were small, 20 to 40 feet long. We searched the islands carefully, looking for any sign of survival. After 20 minutes at each island, we left. We would search between them, and then we would go back. Mom would not like me to be back late at all and she would question me endlessly, so it was better safe than sorry.
At the next to last island, we heard a rustle.
"It's....," he shouted, about to say "Sarah."
"A bird," I finished for him.
He kept looking, but my eyes followed the bird. Suddenly, I ran after it I came abruptly to a stop when I saw the sight before me. A pale, thin child lying asleep on a sandy beach.
"Sarah?" I called softly.
The small golden-haired head turned toward me and the eyes opened.
"Sarah!" I called again. "Your brother is here, he came for you!"
"Brad?" she called softly.
"Sarah!" he yelled as he came crashing through the underbrush onto the beach. "It's you!" He ran over and hugged her. "Come on Sarah! She brought her boat, and we can go back home!"
When we got home, she ate ravenously, like a baby bird eating food after a week of not eating at all, in big gulps. She opened her mouth wide and stuffed all the food she could into it. Then she chewed, swallowed and started all over again. Watching her, I realized that she probably hadn't eaten in a week. After she ate, we talked. I confessed everything to Mom and Brad and Sarah told their stories.
"What's your telephone number?" Mom asked when we had finished.
"434-2581" they replied in unison.
Mom left the room and we could hear "Hello, is Mr. Takech there? I'm Mrs. Halstead . . . We've found Brad and Sarah . . . " she continued talking. She told them where we lived, how I found Brad and Sarah, and called each of them in to talk with their dad.
"He's coming here on the next flight!" she yelled to us.
"Yippee!" they shouted. "Thank you, Amber," said Brad.
"You're welcome," I told him.
Later, after they left, I felt sad and empty. I thought I would never see them again after we'd gone through so much. Suddenly I remembered the sand dollars on my dresser. I remembered finding them, and carrying them and then the rough feeling on my fingers when they slipped from my grasp. I had thought them gone forever. The next day, I had found two more, and for some reason, I was sure that they were the same two. I realized that Brad and Sarah were like the two sand dollars. When I first said goodbye, I had thought I would never see them again. But then I realized that once you rescue someone from an island and find his missing little sister, your lives will be intertwined forever.