Saturday, November 5, 2022

What I Saw on the Beach That Day Will Stick with Me Forever

This all happened when I was 12 years old, I kept trying not to think about it but recent events in my life has brought it back into my conscious, and I guess by writing about it and sharing it online I hope I can work through some of the emotions it gives me.

I didn’t exactly grow up in the best environment, I know these days everyone thinks that parents watch over their kids too much but for me and my best friend it was the opposite. Our parents didn’t care about us at all. Me and him were neighbours and we would leave at the crack of dawn and not come back until sunset, a lot of the time even later. Neither of our moms would ever say a word, and frankly most of the time they were too drunk or high to say much of anything at all.

So, for a while there, me and him would go and hangout by the river. Not far from our house was the bridge that you’d drive over to get to the river bank, and that spot was where you’d normally go to fish or raft, however, the bank on the other side was normally unoccupied and that was where me and him would go and explore. There was a very rough hiking trail that me and him would take that allowed us to get pretty far downstream. After a couple of weekends we had managed to hear the traffic from the next town over and decided that hiking all the way there was going to be our goal.

The next weekend we set out even earlier then normal and spent several hours just marching straight to our goal. Nothing really remarkable happened, we had been exploring the area so often that we knew exactly where to go, and our adventures had even started to smooth out the hiking path. Eventually the sounds of nature started to give way to that of traffic and we hardened ourselves to keep going. The traffic got louder and louder and we started to get excited, and our excitement continued to grow until we hit a roadblock.

We hiked through a wooded area just beside the riverbank for about half an hour until we came to a clearing blocked by a rusted chain-link fence. The bolts on the “No Trespassing” sign seemed to stain it with tears of rust. Me and my friend looked out onto the other side. The clearing was more like a strip cut out of the woods, which continued on the other side of it. To our left we could see the riverbank, it was sandy, with strange lumps all over. To our right was a hill that eventually reached a few buildings, all of which looked dilapidated.

Now, me and my friend had gone lots of places we weren’t supposed to be by that point, so I shouldn’t have had any misgivings about climbing the fence and going forward, but something about the whole situation just seemed off and I couldn’t help but want to turn around and go home. My friend teased me a bit and said nothing would happen, but eventually I convinced him and we got back home very late at night.

Throughout the next week he kept bothering me about that clearing. Trying to convince me to keep going. Eventually he wore me down, and despite my gut feeling, we set out again the next Saturday.

Like before, everything went smoothly and when we got to the rusty fence my friend climbed up and over to the other side and beckoned me to join. As soon as I touched the fence my fear came over me once again but I did my best to hide it. With a deep breath I vaulted myself over and we started making our way to the woods on the other side.

We stopped halfway across, down at the point where the riverbank met the river there was a man standing around, beckoning us to see him. I didn’t want to get near him but my friend walked over to him and I followed a few paces back.

The man seemed out of place. We lived in a very blue collar area so the fact that he was wearing a black business suit made him really stand out, especially out here in the middle of nowhere. Not to mention that he was wearing a matching black fedora, a choice that almost made him seem like a figure from a different era. At the same time, something about the way he stood and presented himself gave off an aura of authority, I felt like me and my friend were bound to get into a lot trouble just due to how important this man looked.

While him and my friend talked I looked around the riverbank and my eyes zeroed in on the mounds I had seen earlier. They were sand sculptures… of faces. Each and every one a different face. On the one hand they were creepy, yet at the same time I couldn’t help but marvel at the attention to detail. Each one was so real it almost looked like it was made from a mold of some sort. More than anything they really disturbed me. Between them, the man out of time, and even the way the beach seemed so perfectly cut out against the landscape, sent danger signals to my brain.

Soon my friend came back and told me that the strange man had told us to come with him. My friend looked really excited at the prospect, like he had been offered something for it. That creeped me even more. I pulled my friend in close and told him we had to book it. He looked disappointed in me but I guess the look of terror on my face swayed him. I watched until the man turned away for a second and me and my friend bolted.

The next few days I was on edge, fearing that that strange man would come and find us somehow. Me and my friend didn’t talk about it until one day after school. He started walking in the opposite direction of our houses. I asked him where he was going and he told me he was going to the beach. My heart sank, I rushed towards him to try and stop him. My friend just turned around and sucker punched me in the stomach. I fell to the ground and watched him walk away, my whole body shaking with anxiety over him.

He never came back to school.

After a few days of him being absent I started to get extremely worried. I had never really paid attention to any boring adult things before, but I started combing through the newspaper and the evening news, trying to see if there was anything about a missing child. I would wait by his house to see if he came by. Nothing. It was like he never existed. Eventually my anxiety reached a point where I knew I couldn’t go on if I didn’t check the beach.

That Saturday I set out. The walk was maddening, going down the familiar trails without my partner in crime. Eventually I made it to that cursed spot. Mustering up my courage I hopped the fence. I walked to the beach, terrified that I would find his body. I heard a footstep behind and turned around. The strange man was right behind me, as if he materialized. I bolted across the beach. Suddenly I lost my footing and fell in sand. I looked beside me and screamed the loudest scream of my life. The adrenaline my body produced forced me up and away just before the man could grab me. I leapt over the fence on the other side of the beach and sprinted all the way to the neighboring town. I knew someone who lived there and I got his parents to drive me home. The entire drive I was silent, the thing that I saw seared into my brain. I don’t think I’ve had a good nights sleep since, as every dream turns into a nightmare when I see it:

My friends face, alongside all the others, in the sand of the beach.

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