Message in a Bottle

Prompt: You’re enjoying making sandcastles at the beach when the ocean waves wash up a message in a bottle. You pull out the message. What does it say?

They had been enjoying their day away from the farm. It was nice of Ingrid’s mother to let them have the day, she knew it was a sacrifice on her mother’s part for farming wasn’t easy. That was why Ingrid had insisted on helping with the morning milking before they left instead of going the night before. Her mother hadn’t really put up much of a fuss aside from the obligatory objection, but was probably somewhat relieved that Ingrid had been happy enough to do the milking this morning. The rest of the day wouldn’t be just as hard and anything that wasn’t done could always be caught up on tomorrow. And Andrew, the neighbour’s boy always came along to help with the evening milking once he finished school so that should make things easier too. Still Ingrid considered, they’d packed so much into the day already that they could head back in an hour or so and help with the last of the milking without feeling that they’d missed much of their day off, and if they weren’t too early back her mother wouldn’t feel put out at the offer of help. Of course if they came back too early, before the milking started, her mother was liable to take offence – she was determined to be independent and adamant that they have a proper day away. Ingrid knew it was with their best interests at heart but also knew that her mother, although by no means past it, was no spring chicken either. The last thing Ingrid wanted was for her mother to do herself a mischief being too determined not to accept when something might require more than one pair of hands. Ingrid had warned her mother and had left clear instructions for enough things to keep her mother busy during their brief absence but it would be just like her to try something silly like washing the first floor windows. Ingrid didn’t need her mother falling off a ladder at that particular caper – nor any other for that matter.

Ingrid and Andrew – her husband, not the neighbour’s boy – had really enjoyed their day away from the farm. They caught the matinée in the theatre, had an interesting lunch experimenting with sushi – turned out to be a pleasant surprise that – and then a leisurely walk along the promenade gazing out to the sea, eyeing the horizon. Andrew bought them a couple of ice creams and they’d settled on the beach to enjoy them. Ingrid had been absentmindedly piling sand between them both as they chatted casually over nothing of consequence – another pleasant change brought on from being away from the farm – and before they knew it the pair of them were building a fully fledged castle with turrets and a moat. Andrew even bought a couple of little plastic spades from one of those pop up stalls further up the beach. It was coming along nicely and just when she thought they were finished Andrew decided to add some grounds to their sandy property and began constructing some mounds which were eventually to represent a menagerie of animals owned by the castle lord. Ingrid was headed down to the water to replenish the little plastic cup they were using to help dampen the sand to help it stick together when a glass bottle caught her eye, bobbing in the surf. Unusual to see, she considered. Focusing on it further as she approached, her brow furrowed. Was that… paper in the bottle? It couldn’t be, that sort of nonsense was for children’s tales. No one really communicated that way. Ingrid stopped as the bottle washed closer to her, dragged further up the beach with the approaching tide. That really did look like paper. Curiosity getting the better of her, Ingrid took a final few steps, bent at the waist and picked up the bottle, straightening again. A furtive glance in either direction confirmed that no one had noticed that she had been taken in by such a childish fantasy. She held the bottle upside down and the quarter bottle of salt water was reunited with the rest of the sea. The paper didn’t budge. She shook the bottle to encourage its departure but it stood firm. Well, soggy but determined to remain in situ. Ingrid took her wooden stick from her ice and used to it poke the paper to the mouth of the bottle where she hooked it out with an index finger. Before it was fully unravelled she knew she would be disappointed. It was soggy and threatening to turn to mush. And yet, considered Ingrid, there was the suggestion of a note having been written on it. Holding it up to the sun she was sure she could see the smudgy remains of some kind of message. Too bad that she couldn’t make any of it out. She sighed to herself, half a smile playing at the corners of her mouth as she put the thoughts of reading a real distress message out of her mind. Filling the cup with water and secreting the paper in her pocket as a silly memento she returned back up the beach towards Andrew. Absentmindedly she turned the now empty bottle in her hand. It was strange, she thought, the idea of sending messages in bottles. Where would someone stranded on a remote island get a bottle from? Or paper? Or a pen to write a note? Or anything to stop the bottle so that, unlike this one, the message wouldn’t be erased by the sea? She smiled and sat down by Andrew who was still working away on their impulsive creation. Childish stories, she mused. Suppose children don’t really need logic when they can so easily suspend the beliefs of reality. All the same, curious that someone appeared to have attempted some kind of communication in that manner – apparently without the bottle stop. Chatting with the mermaids, Ingrid smiled. Now that could well be an interesting story.

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