The Sunburn

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Other  |  House: Booksie Classic

Submitted: February 23, 2018

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Submitted: February 23, 2018



"In the early morning hours, at approximately 7:30 a.m., a family of four was gunned down outside the Roxbury Seaside Fair as they awaited admission." 

The daytime news program transitions from an apathetic news anchor to showcase footage of the on-topic crime scene: boardwalk, typically packed with lively beach-goers, now stuffed with emergency vehicles and personnel (lively, still); the familiar, red-blue strobe of emergency lights bites into the cool, somber-grey backdrop of the silver morning sky, as it is penetrated by the rapid, illuminating rays of the rising sun; inexcusably overweight EMS personnel shuffle like slugs through corridors of parked vehicles to unload emergency equipment---their minds elsewhere: possibly ruminating on breakfast items they and their partners would be grabbing from 7-Eleven after the paperwork is in order; officers of the law maintain what little peace survived the massacre by directing congested traffic.  And in the midst of the chaos, and in spite of the plethora of crews, no one allows the swarm of media cameras to secure a shot of the family of four, butchered on their summer trip. 

C'mon, show a body, thinks the adolescent viewer from the comfort of a rented hotel room.He's giddy with anticipation, imagination grand, infatuated with all things gloom and macabre, and eager to have his fantasies teased at the expense of someone else's death. 

 But the images that dance across the television do not feature any bodies covered by those ceremonious sheets.He feels slightly disappointed. 


The voice of the anchor returns.The daytime broadcast continues:  "Police on the scene are ruling the attack random act of violence until more evidence can be uncovered to prove otherwise.  Eyewitness reports suggest the perpetrator(s) were armed with handguns and operating 1997, dark-green Ford F-250." 

Another person in the room stirs behind the boy.  Given the heaviness of the sound, he concludes it to be his father, positioning that poorly maintained, obese body towards the edge of a coffee table which centers their cozy living space. 

Parent's mugs of morning coffee, magazines and nonsensical décor only his mother would admire, litter the small furnishing.  A small pad of paper and pen rest among the junk as well.  He imagines his father writing down the description of the vehicle at-large, as if a truck that ancient would be difficult to spot given the magnitude of its backfires. 

We have a civil duty as Americans to protect our communities, the adolescent imagines his father preaching.An admirable sentiment, for sure, if he didn't get flustered whenever a cop pulls him over after being caught doing 55 through an active school-zone.  Not the 'best' role model for an aspiring adult, but he was of good sorts: hard-working, honest and a great provider; the most desirable traits for a middle-aged man living in suburbia.

"How awful," squeaks a second person, breaking the silenceThe voice of his mother. 

As the daughter of two immigrants, the boy's mother learned at an early age the value of a stoic life and self-preservation.  Still, she is not immune to the effects of despair.She shifts about on her side of the couch, inching towards the television, seemingly intoxicated by the broadcast.They all seemed a little intoxicated by the broadcast.  So was the nature of humans and violence.She props her head with the palm of her hand, studying the television with a focused gaze. 

"Who could do such a thing? they were just there to have fun.The pitch in her voice rises out of apparent distress and the adolescent can sense it.A rhetorical question and an empty comment.  He rolls his eyes.  His fists clench and his teeth gnash.Why give a damn?  they're gone already. 

Anyone accompanied by a television--tuned into the morning news--was struck with the reminder of how fragile their lives were.  The teenaged boy imagined them all engrossed in the newscast just as he and his family were.  Eyes glued to the screen with gratuitous amusement, spoon-fed horrific details of murder and misfortune all to enforce paranoia and develop excuses as a means for not living a savory life.  Would parents hug their children tighter?  Would children behave more often for their parents?  Would the two neighbors bickering about where the property-line ended come to an agreement?  Would the obese woman accept responsibility for her condition, not blame fast food chains and make an effort to get healthy?A rapidly developing, immature cynicism made the adolescent boy doubtful.  When someone else's misfortunes are just a remote control click away, why worry about your own life? 

The father takes hold of his mug and seats himself beside his wife."There's a lot of crazy, angry people out there," he says, "I don't think I need to remind you of that.  But we won't know much more unless they're caught."  He wraps an arm across her shoulder width, pulls her close, and plants a little kiss on her head.

The anchor's image reemerges:  "The identities of the victims are being withheld as the investigation is ongoing.Police are reaching out to local communities for help.  If you have any information regarding the shooters' whereabouts and/or identities, please contact your local law enforcement." 

A door down the hall creaks open.  The sounds of footsteps against wood flooring soon follow.  It isn't typical, groggy, time-to-face-the-morning shambling, but rushed, excited footsteps.Within moments, the family's youngest addition emerges: body decorated in a feminine, one-piece bathing suit---ready for the day.  She steps in front of the television, cutting off the remainder of the broadcast.No one seems to mind; the exciting bits have already been shown.The girl greets her family with a flurry of excitement which is atypical of her morning behavior if it was any other day, but today is different: today, there is something to look forward to.Today starts the first day of their summer trip. 

"Beach time!  Beach time!  Beach time!"  Her squeaks of joy are complimented by little hops. 

The girl's enthusiasm stirs the remaining family members from the grog of sleep."Someone's up early," says the father, as he reaches out to rest a hand on his daughter's little head. 

The girl stares.  Her lips pull back in wide grin to reveal the gaps where old baby teeth rested. 

"Uh-huh!  I could hardly sleep all night!It's gonna be a great day today!I'm going to go on all the rides and eat all sorts'a food and get big 'n' fat just like you, Dad!"  

She laughs awkwardly, her excitement making her oblivious to the comment's potential sting.  Her father laughs it off as he always does; making it a habit as large as he is. People admire him for that. 

"So... uh... can we go now?" 

He glances at the news program's on-screen time."Yeah, we better get going.  Don't want to get held up in traffic." 

She hugs him, then hops back to the room she shares with her brother to collect her things.  The remainder of the family is soon at work loading up their belongings for the drive to the beach.  Rental car, ample and devoid of clutter when accepted, soon becomes jammed and well-equipped for their summer escape: coolers of snacks, umbrellas, blankets, and bags--- occupy every facet of space that would have remained empty for any family less interested in being prepared.  A day of fun and jubilant undertakings are upon the family But for the teenaged boy, as he runs a hand over a cylindrical can of sunblock, his mind becomes occupied by the thing he dreads every summer (and something which he can never seem to avoid): sunburns. 

The mere thinking of such a dilemma makes his blood run with chill.  That familiar gnawing, burning throb along the back of his neck, or upon his forehead often sparked arguments with his parents regarding his attendance to their family outdoor outingsfearful of overexposure to the sun's oppressive heat.To the 'average' person, a sunburn was nothing short of trivial; apply a little sunscreen and the threat would be shrugged off as easy as a pesky mosquito.  But to the adolescent, sunburns transcend triviality; they're in league with phobias.  Often mocked by friends and family, but to them, it's somehow permissible to fear spiders the size of thumbnails or falling from a thirty-story building one would not realistically be in a position of falling from anyway.  Such fear keeps him in his head for too long—missing out on experiences others are envious of.  To him, the sun is tyrannical dragon coming to lay siege to wellbeing---and the shade, his sword and shield.In the midst of his pathetic rumination, under the protection of a thick shadow cast from a palm tree overlooking the hotel, his thoughts are interrupted.

"Go up to the room and make sure all the lights and television are off," orders his father, who is already seated in the driver's position of their rental, car on.  The boy does as he is told, albeit sluggishly and unenthusiastically, scaling the bountiful steps with keycard in hand.  When he enters the room, all but the television remains on.

The room is bathed in cool shadow from undrawn window blinds, sheltering the interior from the intensifying sun.  Rays of light break through to decorate the furnishings in disordered patterns.  With the exception of the broadcasting television, the room is quiet--- deliciously quiet.Chilly, too, the air conditioner hums---in stark contrast to the escalating heat outside.He much prefers this than being at the mercy of the boiling sun.  He makes his way to the living space where the television is, picks up the remote, and aims it at the television set.

That family's murder is still being discussed.  Some forty minutes later. 

He tightens his grip on the remote as the same details flash across the screen.Nothing about the reporting has changed, nor the case.  A simple, cynical thought rolls through his mind, one which he does not care to banish: why do news outlets always seem to report on the bad things?  He could understand this particular story, sure; however, he could not understand why someone being robbed at gunpoint was more important to hear about than the local YMCA holding a canned food drive for struggling families.  Was it to remind him how dangerous a world he lives in, to keep him in line?  Was it because people love hearing stories of violence? To foster an audience?There are more questions than answers, and that is even more true by the look on the anchor's face as she melts back into view, reading from a script that wreaks of indifference.

"I'm Diane Wallace, and we'll back with more right after these messages." 






The ride into Beacon Hills Beach was, as expected, wrought with complications.  If having missed several exits, and the constant are-we-there yet's? from the daughter wasn't enough to send the family over the top, the traffic was.Roxbury Beach was effectively closed following the murder of the Madisons (identified early by a radio newscaster who happened to be the brother-in-law of the slain father; naturally, he had a very professional, on-air meltdown) and the influx of traffic was due to those would-be beachgoers driving the eleven miles from Roxbury to Beacon Hills. 

Traffic was brought to a crawl.

The airwaves fill with the roars of engines and infuriated honking, as vacationers merge, determined to free themselves from the boiling confines of their cars and plunge into the cool, enlivening waters of the Atlantic.The arcing streams of the surrounding wetlands remind the teenaged boy of a terrible wrath brought upon by great beast reaching up and raking its claws through the earth until water bleeds through the injured crust.  Its invasive stench only prompts a silly comment from his sister.The azure backdrop of the ocean, tucked behind the incoming shops and restaurants of the boardwalk, bobs up and down, seeming farther away than ever.  And for that, the boy with rock music blasting from headphones is thankful.  To him, there is no such thing as a "fun day in the sun."  Every inch of the road they cover brings him closer to the inevitable sting of a sunburn.He wishes they could be trapped in traffic for eternity.  He wishes for thunderclouds to come, blot out the sun and rain for days.  He wants to see Godzilla emerge from the depths and watch Beacon Hills wiped away from the ensuing tidal wave.  He wishes for meteor showers to destroy the beach---hell, all beaches---in a spectacular show of infernal destruction.  Even the end of the world would suffice if it doesn't mean sunburns.Anything to delay stepping into those fiery rays. 

With his window parted, the streams of light feel good on his bare face.The sensation reminding him of a warm bath following an abusive football practice (which he despises---it being his parent's idea that he play).The sun's warmth passes over his eyes, protected by the pair of sunglasses lent by his father, cocooning him in a warm goodness.He knows it's a trick, however; he's fallen for it one too many times before. 

You won't burn if you only stay out for fifteen minutes, his mother would say.  A lie.  Proven a lie at Aunt Kathy's cookout last summer.

Put on sunscreen and quit being a baby, ordered his father.But the shade is the greatesof sunscreens.

He recoils and slithers back into the shadows of the car cabin.  Safe. 

"Daddy!  How much longer?" wails his sister who sits beside him, her short legs kicking out, unable to contain her excitement, and suppress her boredom.

A flurry of motorists cut in front of the patient familyawaiting their turn to merge.Each transgressor, more impatient than the last, swerves far too close to their vehicle.An eruption of shrieking car horns follow.On any other day, the driving father would have paid them no mind.  He works in the city; being a rude driver is the norm.But the heat from the midsummer sun, boiling him alive, the whines of his impatient kid-daughter, and the traffic (which seemed at a perpetual standstill) set him off.  He grits his teeth, tightens his grip on the wheel, and accelerates, speeding up alongside the last of the vehicles which cut him off: a dark-green, Ford pick-up, its tinted windows drawn, shielding its occupants from the shouted: "Screw you, buddy!You asshole!"  

The violent jerks of the car jostle the backseat occupants into the moment.  Both son and daughter look with confusion and fear as their father speeds on ahead through one lane of traffic before merging safely.The daughter asks once more how much longer until they arrive in paradise.  This prompts her mother to look to her flustered husband before turning to look back at her with a big smile. 

"It won't be much longer, honey.  Please be patient." 




The remainder of the trip was free of incident but finding a place to park was nothing short of a hassle.  Even arriving late morning, the lots were filled (filled being an understatement).  But when a spot becomes available for a reasonable price at an even more reasonable location, the family couldn't help but think luck was on their side (excluding the son, of course, who groaned once their car came to a stop). 

It was going to be a good day. 

No asshole motorist in a pick-up was going to ruin it for them. 

They unload the rental vehicle---each member carrying a respective number of items.  The trek to the boardwalk is ten minutes, but with umbrellasbags, a loaded cooler and a sun that wants to peel them like a potato, it lasts longer.Excruciatingly longer. 

The children pull ahead: one to get intoxicated from the view of the vast, blue plainthe other to find cover in the shade under the exotic awnings that stretch far.Their departure leaves the two parents behind. 

The wife and mother steps close to her husband, a filled bag on each shoulder and a closed umbrella in hand.  She doesn't struggle with the load; she's used to picking up the family's slack.When she's at his side, her hands shift to the umbrella's stick, opening it with a smile, bathing both herself and husband in a wide, mobile shadow.The effects are immediate; she can see the relief on his face---he's thankful: the assault from the sun saps his energy, energy he needs to lug the mammoth excuse for a cooler through the parking lot, boardwalk and sandbanks However, despite this, his body glistens with sweaty beads of exertion, and still she notices hints of bitterness on his pudgy face.  Through his exhausted grunts and pants, his jaw is clenched, and face a subtle shade of crimson, making him out to look like someone incapable of coping with the resulting effects of having eaten habanero.She smiles, concerned with whether or not he'll keel over.Call it a woman's intuition or years of a satisfied marriage, but the subtle nuances of distress given off by her family are inescapable under her hawk-like watch.  

She can tell he hasn't settled down from that bout of road rage. 

And she knows if she doesn't say something, put forth an effort, just listen to him, it'll eat at him all day.  And her.

She smiles, rolls her eyes and reaches out to rest a hand on his meaty arm. 

"Oh would you give it a rest already," she says, her voice tender, accepting, free of any annoyances and rigidity. 

He looks at her with an expression of both surprise and confusion, as if she revealed herself to be a psychic mind-reader of sorts.  His forehead wrinkles, lifting his brow and widening his eyes behind the opaque lenses of the sunglasses he wears.Just like she knew he would, he snaps off"I cannot believe those bastards.  I can-not.Those shitheads could'a got someone killed.  I mean it’s the freakin' summer---there's kids around."  His head turns to face the direction of their son and daughter for added effect. 

"I know, I know.  You don't need to explain anything to me.  But don't go pretending like you've never driven like a maniac... in the summer... with kids around.  But you're right: it is the freakin' summer.So doesn't it make sense you'd quit worrying and live a little?" 

He goes quiet for a moment.  He has no argument, nor does he want one.  Reality sets in. 

The sounds of Beacon Hills Beach barrage them.  This is a good thing.  In the distance, not far from where they walk, they can hear the scuttling life of the boardwalk, as if it exists in their world as an organism altogether.  A symbiote: its 'life' conducive of the entertainment it can produce whilst taking in enough profits to sustain itself.The social chatter of the hundreds, if not thousands, of beachgoers become lost in a collective cloud, like white noise blaring through, hiding away obscure messages.None of it is comprehensible.  As usual, the honks and beeps of impatient drivers pervade the peace; souls lost to the ebb and flow of their lives.  For a moment, the husband wants to scream Shut up, would'ya? but his wife speaks up before he can thrash his voice with empty threats.

"We're not going to be a family forever." 

This seizes his attention.  He shows confusion, but the message is quick to sink in.  A nod follows a frown.  It's an obvious sentiment, but its truth cuts deep, and it stings so very much She sticks out her chin, beckoning he direct his attention to their children, who, not far, are happily playing with one another.  A rare sight.  Their teenaged son, equipped with a towel, rolls and snaps it at his young sister, who's quick to evade the attack.  She runs circles around him.  Taunting.  Laughing.  Living. 

"One day, they'll move on; sooner than you think.  Have families of their own.  And these little vacations will be memories.  Why spoil those memories because of some jerk in a truck who can't drive?" 

He answers her with a smile, a genuine one---the first that day.He loves his wife, and he loves his children, but he does not love the fact that they will grow old one day and leave home.  Grow old one day and leave memories.So, when she leans in to kiss his cheek, leaving behind a faded mark from her pale lipstick, he makes a promise to himself, and his family that he won't mope for the remainder of their stay at Beacon Hills Beach.  With renewed strength, he grunts, and does his best to tuck the treasure chest of a cooler under his soaked armpit.  His free hand takes his wife's, their fingers interlock, and together they walk to meet their children to enjoy the last vacation the four of them are alive together.




Beacon Hills Beach is exactly what you'd expect to see on the cover of a postcard, assuming you purchase said postcard from one of its own shops; that way you can almost be guaranteed you are getting a fancily doctored photo.Because in reality, Beacon Hills Beach is nothing out of the ordinary.  If anything, it's just shy of unordinary.  Looking at that postcard, you would see the entirety of the boardwalk in all its beauty and all it has to offer, inviting you in, making you want to stay, making you not want to leave.  But the real Beacon Hills Beach does not have that effect.  For some, without the Atlantic on its side, it would have quite the opposite.  The real Beacon Hills boardwalk consists of a set of vast, horizontal planks, weathered down and a faded brown; their age apparent.  It lacks the vibrancy, youth and sheen that the photograph-postcards let on.  The boardwalk stretches on despite its battle with time and thrives in spite of the carelessness of the town council responsible for funding its maintenance.  A plethora of shopping outfits, restaurants, gaming booths and the like, line one side of the tattered planks whilst the other hugs the sandy dunes.  Patrons weave in-and-out of these little stores with bags full of purchased, useless knick-knacks commemorating their stay at Beacon Hills.  The scent of greasy food lingers, making one's stomach churn (but not in a good way), as do the sounds from the arcades and nearby amusement rides.  On the opposite end of the boardwalk lay what constitutes the attraction's amusement park.  A relatively new addition, the park is outfitted with an additional assortment of gaming booths, a Ferris wheel, mini roller coasters, bumper cars and other simple pleasures.  There's nothing there to justify the fifteen-dollar admission fee except the promise the father made to his daughter.  On a good day, the "park" barely breaks even.  But today is a good day. 

It is early afternoon by the time the family unites to set up their little camp.  Like any other day at the beach, with such a tyrannical sun, the sandbar is packed with fellow beachgoers, limiting the family's choice of deployment.  The throngs seem endless over the vast clusters of people; the colors of their umbrellas contrasting against the deep blue sky.  The edge of the sandy beach, where it meets with the violent waters, appears to curve away, receding into the horizon where, in the distance, a sad, lonely lighthouse pokes through.  Though their locale is not prime, the two parents are content, for their daughter is already busy readying her inflatable unicorn floater, and their son breaking for the solace of the boardwalk awnings.  Kids scream and frolic while their parents lounge with apathy.Leave us alone; don't get into too much trouble; meet back here in an hour for lunch.  Young adult men toss around a football in hopes of attracting pretty girls in abundance.  Friends and family splash in the water while those who choose to stay on land soak up the sun's rays.  Happiness is visceral here, and the sounds of its existence can be heard over the crashing waves of Beacon Hills. 

Crash, recede, crash, recede.  

"Okay! Okay! Okay!  It's aaalllllllll ready," says the daughter, as she models the unicorn floater fastened around her waist.  It took twenty minutes of heavy breathing to fill, and the sickly red hue of her face alludes to the exertion. 

Her mother finishes applying the last of the sunblock to her young, sensitive skin.  "Please be careful, honey," she warns, "there's riptides all around that will carry you away.  Please stay close so we can see you." 

"You worry too much, Mom.  Lighten up.  I won't be your little girl forever."  And like that, she's gone, racing towards the Atlantic's embrace.

Crash, recede, crash, recede. 




The sun whispers. 

The boy listens. 

It beckons him out from under the store side awning.  He peeks, can see its bared fangs, millions of miles away.  A grin so wide the known universe couldn't restrict it.  A sheep in wolf's clothing.A stranger in a van on a playground with candy.  Even with the promise of an exciting and abundant vacation---exciting and abundant memories---he resists.  

The boy jerks back into the defenses of the shadows, knocking into another vacationer.

He doesn't have the slightest clue he's acting absurd.  Acting ridiculous, immature.  He envisions himself a mighty warrior doing battle with an entity outside his understanding, and the only means of victory come from waiting, waiting for this... force to leave so he may rest, recuperate, and learn its weaknesses only to do battle the next day.  Again, and again.  A side effect of too much gaming.But those looking in cannot fathom the turmoil he's experiencing.  Just as he cannot fathom the turmoil someone experiences during road rage, or from facing a spider.  To him, he's nothing more than a frightened animal coping with the stresses of existence.  Coping with the stresses of being hunted.  Hunted by the big fireball with the wide grin and sharp fangs.  The very thing that wants to burn away the skin of adolescence, of reluctanceso he may peel into an adult of worth. 

His blood feels chilled, his chest tight, and every time he feels the awkward brush of his shirt's collar against his neck, he double-checks to see if his inferno of an enemy bested him, creeping in with its invasive rays.  He's on-edge, he's miserable, and he wants to go home and throw himself in his dingy dungeon of a room with his videogames---relief.  A duck, a dip, a dive, and a dodge, the teen weaves through the shadowy rectangles cast from the blankets of the awnings; fearful of standing in sunlight for too or risk being singed.couple of girls look at him as they walk by, smile, giggle, his attention and thoughts too preoccupied to notice.  In fact, he's too preoccupied to notice much of anything except for the sun's location and angle.  Because his mind is wrought with such a chaos, the excitement of Beacon Hills Beach is quick to pass him, but he doesn't care, because he's young, because he's certain there will be other opportunities.  There will be other experiences.  So instead, he sits in the deepest bowels of a café, his back farthest from the sun, staring out into the illuminated world, watching life waltz by, as he waits for dusk. 




He hadn't been sitting at that café for more than half an hour before receiving a text from his father explaining they were leaving.By then he had grown accustom to the dark coolness of the café, his vision adjusting from the vibrancy outside, and how the chilly establishment relieves the tension from his body.  Even the cheap clattering ceiling fans had dried away the copious sweat from the rolls in his skin.It was all a relief to him, and now he was to head back out there, into that infernal landscape for how long he couldn't tell.  Assuming the urgency of the message, he could only hope it would not be long. 

The adolescent slides out from his seat and takes a final glance at the follow-up report on the Madison murders he had been absentmindedly tuning in and out of.  It was being broadcast on one of the televisions overlooking the bar.  No one beside himself and another solitary patron paid it much attention.To his surprise, there were still no new developments (with the exception of naming the victims).

An image of the family flashes across the screen.  They're together, smiling.  A man, a woman, and presumably, their two teenaged daughters.  The commentary of the broadcast is muted, and only the flashy subtitles dance across the bottom of the screen.Feelings of apathy flood him.  To him, the image means nothing.  They're nameless, faceless, victims of circumstance and chance.  Soon, like any victim before them, they will be forgotten against the vast billions of the earth's population. 

An annoying glare reflects off the screen and the boy moves through the café's furnishings to avoid it.  But as he does, an illusion sets in, and the eyes of the family from the image appear to follow him.  He blinks, rubs his eyes, moves to one side of the room and then the other.But still they keep watching, staring.  Those dead eyes locked onto him with their empty smiles.  Like little riptides pulling him far away.  Little riptides that want to drown the life from him.Thoughts enters his mind as he accepts their stare, stares back with defiance: did they know how they died, or did everything just go black?  If they heard the shots, what thoughts went through their minds?Family?  Survival?  Regrets?  None of it really matters in the end, though, because they're there, and he's here.  He smirks at the television screen. 

And then one of the daughters in the image winks at him. 

His body tenses, and the momentum in his recoil causes him to stumble back and knock over a nearby chair.  He falls with it.  Both him and the chair hit the carpeted floor with a loud thud, as one of the waitresses is quick to his side.  She helps him up and offers him water knowing how the summer heat can affect people.  The solitary patron at the bar looks over his shoulder, shrugs, then turns back. 

His thoughts race, and his once-relaxed chest tightens up as he stands to leave the café.  The gazes of concerned patrons penetrate him, and he feels embarrassed, just wants to tuck himself under one of the booths like he did when he was younger; hide in their deep shadows.Had the girl in the picture really just wink at him, or was it a delirious episode brought on from the heat?Despite that supposition, his body is cool, his vision adjusted, and he feels fine.  Very fine, in fact.  He made sure to hydrate all day on orders from his mother, and his time spent was inside, inside the café, away from the sun.It would seem even here the sun plays tricks.But still, it looked so real.  A wink.  A little, mischievous wink.  Or was there some deeper meaning to it?  As he makes his way to the exit with his head down, he's most certain he can feel the wandering eyes of the Madisons following him. 




It does not take the boy long to recognize the reasoning behind his parent's decision to cut their day at the beach short.  His mind is busy processing the hallucination he experienced in the café (which he chalked up to be a technical error of the television, in conjunction with the ever-annoying glare from outside, reflecting off the screen; which, in his mind, would produce some manipulating effect of the picture)paying no attention to the sun as it beams on him.  But his concentration is obstructed, jarred back to reality, from the shrieks and wails of his sister's tantrum. 

The family is altogether.  But not under ideal circumstances.  He witnesses his father hoisting his sister up on her feet as she kicks and screams with the wrath of an animal, freshly broadsided.  Her hoarse cries and limp legs suggest resistance, but the father does not falter.  Instead, he just drags her through the sand, her legs refusing to carry themselves.  He has experience dealing with this sort of situation, having raised a son prior.Everywhere, he sees passerby's smiling, pointing, and commenting to one another.The scene makes the boy cringe and he's almost certain that if it were not for his dark sunglasses to maintain his anonymity, he would have blacked out from embarrassment.Not again, he thinks.  Knowing his sister's past tantrums deal with her not getting her way, or some violation to her property, it does not surprise the boy when he notes the deflated unicorn floater held by his mother who is trailing close behind. 

"What happened?" he asks his mother when she steps by. 

"I don't know," she says, her voice thick with irritation.  She hands him the deflated floater and he's quick to notice a gash in the cheap latex.  "A rock or something must'a gotten picked up in the current and knicked it.  She won't stop crying, even after your father said he would replace it!" 

He chuckles a sort of are-you-kidding-me? chuckle.  "So, what are we doing now?  We kind'a just got here.  I'm fine with leaving though," he says hopefully and with a hint of urgencymore than eager to spend the remainder of this beautiful summer day indoors.  He knows it is quite unlikely that his parents would go through the effort to make a trip out to Beacon Hills, only to have it cut short an hour or so later.  A scare tactic to calm his wailing sister, no doubt.  A scare tactic that failed. 

"I don't know, I don't know.  We've been trying to calm her down.  It's been ten minutes and she won't settle down.  We're taking her to the car.  Maybe she'll stop acting like a brat in front of everyone." 

Her words hint at a likelihood that they would be staying.  All he wanted to hear from her was a definitive 'we're leaving.'  He's shook, and he remembers now he's outside, with the sun burning down.  An anger swells.He snaps, "What?  No.  Screw her.  She had her chance and she fucked it up.  I wanna go!  This is bullshit." 

His mother looks at him, her mouth agape with surprise.  "What did you just say?" She asks, knowing full well she had the displeasure of hearing the vulgarities her young son spewed.  She calls out to her husband over the howling of her daughter: "Did you hear what your son said?"

"You better watch your fucking mouth, boy," comes the response. 

An adolescent irritability boils over and he kicks sand at them.In the midst of their arguing, the family comes to the entrance of the boardwalk which connects to one of the vast lots.  Cars and other vacationers roll in and out of it.  And somewhere in the near distance, the sound of a poorly maintained engine roars, cutting through the serene, summer breeze like an erratic beast. 

The teenager's father reaches back and takes him by the back of the neck.The pressure from those thick fingers creates an uncomfortable sensation that feels similar to that of a sunburn.  He tries to jerk away but is pulled up front alongside his sobbing sister instead.  Each child in hand. 

"Ow, dude!  What the fuck!!" the boy spits instinctively out of spite.  He does his best to really rattle his parents in front of the throngs of on-lookerscareless to how he makes himself look. 

"I hate this fuckin' place.  This place fuckin' sucks.  I wanna go home.  And I fuckin' hate you guys.  All of you.  I wish you were dead!" 

"Oh, would you shut your goddamn mouth already!" 

The daughter's cries intensify. 

And the wife chokes back tears. 

This isn't how any of them would have imagined their vacation to go. 

The sound of that nasty engine rips through the air once more.  And it is so very close. 

Someone nearby screams, and the sounds of gunshots erupt. 




It was all over in one minute, a witness reported.  Well, actually, it was difficult to be certain, when one's life was on the brink of destruction.  Because the only thing that's certain, in a moment like that, is one's mortality.  Everything else becomes secondary, tertiary, a fog.Time has a knack for defying expectations when thrust upon chaotic situations.This couldn't be truer for the person experiencing its quickness on a promising date, or how it drags when maniac in a green Ford F-250 rolls up and unloads an entire magazine into a crowd.  That kind of chaos.spectrum of beauty and death.

Beacon Hills police was on site in four minutes.  This could be made certain.  The records show it.  The records show the time dispatch became bombarded with emergency calls regarding an active shooter at the Beacons Hills Beach boardwalk, and the time it took police to arrive.  Somewhere in that window, another family of four was murdered, and their murderer committing suicide.  Five bodies---four minutes. 

The first officer on scene was already flustered before arriving.  The call came quick, sudden and stung, like a bee.With only nine months of policework under his belt, he was considered a rookie of the force.  And as a rookie, he didn't have the experiences veterans had in coping with what he saw.When he arrived, he was quick to secure the area and move the frantic crowds along for the sake of the victims.  Everyone was screaming and running for safety but there were the exceptional few trying to sneak photos of the deceased.  After ordering away the would-be photographers, he turns to face them and stifles the bile rising in his throat.

There they were: the family of four, in a pool of intermixed blood.  A son, a daughter, a husband and a wife---the variety pack.  Their limbwere twisted, flesh tattered and torn, and large hunks of unidentifiable 'meat' was splashed across the blacktop.  These obliterated shells, these husks, vaguely resembled people anymore.  Such wounds were caused in part from the high velocity of the bullets, fired at such a short range.He didn't even need to attempt basic life support---there was no point.At a glance, he could only assume how many wounds each person suffered.  But by his estimate, he concluded ninety percent of the magazine hit them (and that was being conservative).  As for the assailant: one shot out the back of the head; brain matter everywhere; big mess. 

EMS and other units were there shortly after.  It didn't take long for another operation to close down another beach.  For how long, it was anyone's guess.  Once more, a lot was filled with the sirens and lights of emergency vehicles.  Personnel weave through the columns of cars, unloading their equipment, taking statements from witnesses and filing reports.  And in the drag, as time slowed down once more, and the excited rush of confronting a killer long gone, the rookie officer---the first on scene---took a few moments to organize the whirl of thoughts and emotions. 

His eyes fall on them.  There they are: the family of four, murdered, grouped together under a white sheet while the examiners complete their initial inspection.  What more was there left to inspect?  All the answers were blown away with the killer's brains. 

Someone calls out to him."Hey, rookie."It's another officer, one of whom he knows little about, but one he's seen enough to recognize his face.  He's a larger man, stoic, but his eyes suggest otherwise.  "How you holding up?  Everything okay?" 

The rookie clears his throat and nods.  "Yeah, yeah.  I'm fine.  Everything's fine." 

Their collected gazes fall on the bloody, sheet-casted bulk. 

"Apparently, they're a family... well, were a family," says big cop, "the two adults are in their mid-forties, the boy a sophomore in high school, and the girl on her last year of elementary school.  I think it's safe to assume they were here for vacation.  And even safer to assume none them expected it to end like this." 

A pause, and then a harmlessly curious thought rolls through the rookie's mind, and he thinks aloud.  "Humor me: what do you think they were doing, and thinking, before it happened?" 

"Beats me, Rook.  I guess I can only hope they were happy.Living in the moment.  With each other.  Letting their troubles roll carelessly on the breeze.  Taking in the beach.  Hell, that's why God put it all here in the first place." 

"Yeah, yeah.  I hope that too." 

A comfortable silence takes hold of the moment, just as a breeze rolls in from the ocean.  The cool blanket of air wraps itself around the boardwalk; its lovely hands relaxing the assault from the sun.  The gentle wisps that blow through his uniform makes the rookie of nine months smile.  Beauty and death: a spectrum.Big cop speaks up, changing the subject. 

"So, you got any plans for the weekend, rookie?" 

"The wife and I were planning on taking our two sons out here, but if it's going to be closed for the investigation, we'll end up having to drive to Salsbury Beach instead." 

Big cop nods, smiles, and says affirmingly, "Be sure that you do.  Life comes quick, and it goes even quicker.They found that out all too early."  He pats the younger cop on his shoulder reassuringly and goes back to his policework, leaving him behind.  The rookie rubs his eyes, looks to the sun, and thinks, what a mess, before returning his attention back to the crimson mass.  A gust of wind blows in from the ocean once again, but it comes off all too aggressive, unnatural.  It raddles and jerks at the white tarp that hides the victims of insanity and rage, like some entity wanting to tear the sheet loose, exposing them not to the world, but the world to them.  Even still, the rookie can see what lay beneath, and how it makes him shudder: he can see the face of the boy.  Just the boy, and just the face.Under the flapping tarp.  Looking up at him.  It's difficult to place a single name on its expression because it looks like it has many.Anger, terror, confusion, sadness.  An orgy of emotion.  A spectrum.  Even the subtle creases at the corners of its mouth suggest a smile.Happiness?Its pristine condition can be observed from where he stands, and it's a miracle, considering what it's been through.  No damage is apparent; not one speck of blood can be seen, staining its lifeless features.  But none of that concerns him next to the certainty he had that the boy's body was draped over his father when he arrived on scene, making its current facing position impossible.A chill runs through him, and replays the events in his mind.Did one of the examiners move the corpse for investigative purposes without his noticing?  He had been watching the entire investigation unfold the moment he got on scene.And that would be the only logical explanation to why the slain teenager was now facing the opposite direction.  His direction.  Watching him.  Watching him with those blank, dead, dark eyes.The rookie begins finding difficulty in breathing, just as he begins finding it increasingly unnerving how the boy's eyes seem to follow him.  He takes several steps in one direction, then the next.  Still, their creeping gaze holds him.  He has the urge to call another officer over, throw the idea out (that a dead kid is watching him) as joke and see how they'd respond.  But he decides against it; no one needs to lose faith in a fellow officer, let alone a rookie officer.  Was he in the sun too long?  With him being a father, did the stress of the situation hit too close to home?  Or did seeing that poor boy's life taken so soon shake him to his core?The fragility of life.  Not many people accepted it.Sometimes they need some catastrophic even to remind them.He needed to get away.  He needed to be with his family.He would be sure to hug his wife extra tight that night; make love to her like he did on their honeymoon; read to his sons a bedtime story and give them kisses until his lips become chapped.But before he could, he needed to file his report at the station.  And before he could do that, he needed to make sure he wasn't imagining that kid's stare---that there wasn't something more behind it.  He focuses his eyes on the bridge of the face's nose and stares long and deep.  Waiting for something.  Waiting for something he was unsure would ever come.  In the distance, the sounds of the waves keep him company. 

Crash, recede, crash, recede.

© Copyright 2019 Leon Plague. All rights reserved.

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