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Rated: 13+ · Short Story · Mystery · #2162617
A Cliff Hanger Mystery
"The Cliff Hanger Contest prompt words: footprints, reflection, empty hands, leaving the past behind

Finding himself shipwrecked and alone on a desert island happened in one stormy moment. It was the first time Mattew found himself alone anywhere. What was supposed to have been a Spring Break boating party had now left him with empty hands and no means of rescue. "Why did I talk myself into this?"

He was somewhere off the Florida coast on something the size of a large sandbar. His small sailboat lay scuttled in the only rocks in view. The ocean had washed everything away. "No place on earth is empty of people for long. I'll just have to wait." Matthew watched the waves eat at one end of his island and grow sand on the other.

He had never been alone with his thoughts like this before. It was kind of creepy listening to them wander around in his mind. Waves of emotion tugged, breaking first one worry loose and then another. Would that creepy Allen Barthlow steal his girl away at the party while Matthew struggled to survive? How long would it take before someone noticed he was missing? Would they even care? "Thinking like this is getting me nowhere."

He kicked at his reflection in the puddle of water from the recent storm. Something hard kicked back at his foot. A shattered piece of old wood reached up to grab him from out of the sand. Underneath it had been unearthed a holiday sailor's garbage pile of plastic and tin. "There are some things no-one can escape these days." He walked on.

There was nothing to do at the end of the sandy beach but stare at the blank horizon before turning around to follow his own footprints and march back again. Halfway from the point where he'd been washed ashore something taunted him. With a startled oath he broke into a run, sand flying beneath his feet. He fell on his knees to dig at the sand covering the rest of a coffin-shaped box. "It has been here a long time. The storm didn't wash this heavy thing ashore."

His foot had begun what the waves continued to strive at. More of the intricately carved container of a mystery now washed into view. Tug has hard as he might there was no way Matthew could crack the lid open. His fingers traced the markings crisscrossing the cover. The unearthed box was half as big as Matthew's five-eleven foot tall frame and about four feet wide. "Are these are astrology symbols?" His three-year stint at Smith's College studying ancient archeology was no help at all.

"Maybe . . . " He rose, brushed the white sand cratering into his knees, and marched off to find a hand-sized rock he might use as a hammer, perhaps another he could shape into a wedge. For now, all thought of rescue, food, or water had left his mind. The box provided an escape for his mind where his body might not follow.

It was dusk with a blood red sun half swallowed by sea by the time Matthew heard a satisfying crack at one of the container's edges. Air escaped in a seething hiss from the crypt. The smell of mint clouded his senses. He stood up gasping as the lid shivered from end to end.

"Hey, there? Are you all right? Saw your boat wreckage cast upon the rocks and followed your footsteps here." A bikini-clad blonde with a tanned sculptured body padded up to stand beside Matthew's side. "We're just over there. What you got here?"

Her voice was warm seduction carried by the evening wind. She laid a hand on his arm. "More trash, I bet. Come on. You'll miss all the fun. We got a treasure chest of goodies to eat and all night to feed each other." The sound of girlish laughter tickled his ears.

The light of curiosity dimmed from Matthew's eyes as the sun finally set below the horizon. He missed the last hint of gold doubloons held in a skeleton's hand resting in the old coffin at its lids edge. He turned to follow the sandy rump of the party girl, dancing ahead towards the bobbing outline of a speedboat.

He stood rooted in place, his hands to his head, as the heavens revealed their treasure of stars. Wind whistled briefly from the coffin, seeming to call him back.

"Are you coming?" The girl was already at the edge of her craft.

Where one rescue had found him, another one surely would. He'd be reported as a crazy one for the coast guard to deal with. Matthew waved her away from the lifestyle he had hungered for. Was he leaving the past behind?

A brief gust of moaning wind slid the coffin lid up on its end revealing a more ancient golden history than Matthew had ever dreamed of. The sound of the motor boat's engine caught, purred, and faded away.

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