Image of Short Fiction & Poetry Contest - 2019
Image of Short Fiction

Jane felt a hand slap squarely on her exposed back and prepared herself to berate the offender relentlessly. She whipped her head around, and let her brother have it. 

“What the hell, Henry? I’m going to kill you!”, she yelled up at the five-foot-eleven sandy redhead who was, unfortunately, her younger brother. He grinned with pleasure at the chaos he’d caused, turning on his heels and sprinting down the beach. He kicked up sand as he ran with the speed of a swift-footed Achilles, nimbly dodging dead horseshoe crabs and driftwood.  

Jane chased him along the line between the incoming tide and the sand that hadn’t yet been soaked. This would give her the most optimal speed, allowing her to run without sinking into the sand or being taken by the tide. She had half a mind to jump into the waves and swim after him, taking the most direct path rather than trying to catch him on the curved bay. Time quickened as Jane gained on her brother, closing in on his flailing limbs and reckless laughter. 

With an extra push from a gust of wind behind her, the Delaware bay beckoned her to obtain justice for how she was wronged. Jane tucked her head and lowered her shoulders, tackling Henry into the incoming waves. She wrapped her arms tightly around his waist and submerged the both of them into the warm salt water and black mud that lay exposed in a tide that hadn’t yet fully come in. All dignity was lost as Jane scooped up handfuls of thick, goopy mud and shoved it down Henry’s swim trunks, despite his cries of protest. Jane was perfectly content with spending the rest of her natural life exacting her due revenge. And she would’ve gotten away with it too, if it weren’t for the setting sun. You see, these two rabble-rousers had forgotten the first rule of the Delaware Bay. When the sun sets, the bugs come out. Before Henry could utter his third get-off-me-no-more-mud-please, a black swarm of mosquitos enveloped the two of them. 

They immediately sprang out of the saltwater and dashed for the house. A frenzied Jane covered in (already) red bumps and a red handprint on her back ran screaming through the beach grass and along the uneven boardwalk up to their house.

Her brother followed, hunched over with laughter erupting from his core and covered in dark, dried mud. No matter how fast they ran back to the house, they could never outrun the mosquitos that nightfall brought. The mosquitos were as consistent as the tides, disappearing at dawn and reappearing at dusk. 

As Jane and her brother got older and their family expanded and contracted, the house was fixed up and fell apart, she began to feel as if nothing were permanent. Family members died. Tropical storms came and went, stealing parts of the house or the boardwalk or garden away. But then again, as faithfully as the tides rose and fell, their family would grow with more cousins or siblings, continuing to come to the beach every summer. Her uncle would put the boardwalk back together after the storm, her aunt would replant the cherry tomatoes in the garden out back. Her family would mend itself, like a self-sufficient machine. This house in Delaware had seen five generations of Jane’s family, had been a different kind of home to so many people. It was the summer for Jane and her brother, one where she’d have sword fights and frog races on the beach with her cousins and learn to pick blue crabs with her aunts who always drank too much wine and laughed too loudly. She’d learn that the best way to go clamming at low tide was not with a hoe, but with your big toe and your great aunt. Jane Eyre and The Odyssey and the Lightning Thief would all be read on the scratchy wooden chairs outside, in protest to the air conditioning her great-grandmother refused to turn on at all, lest they need it in a recession. Jane could always count on this place, even with all the mud and mosquitos and mayhem, to be her home. Low tide or high tide, then or now, the house still stood and her family still filled it. 

Henry brushed past Jane into the kitchen, carelessly filling the carpet with sand and salt water. He flopped himself onto the couch, much to his aunt’s shouts of protest at this dirty, wet body fully covering an area that had previously been clean. Jane jumped onto him, splaying herself out as far as she could go and sandwiched him between herself and the couch now covered in dried mud. As her younger cousins began to scramble onto Henry with her, kicking and laughing, she felt perfectly full. She didn’t know what the next high tide would bring for her and her family, but whatever it was, she knew that they would still stand.