Tragedy At Turtle Beach

Written in response to: Write a story about an afternoon picnic gone wrong.... view prompt

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Drama Sad Teens & Young Adult

This story contains sensitive content

TRIGGER/CONTENT WARNING: Tragic character death. A young man gets buried in the sand.


It was supposed to be a fun summer day for all six of us—Chris, Hazel, Kevin, Tammy, Dorian, and me. You all know about the Three Musketeers; we were the Six Musketeers. We had just graduated and it was our last first day of summer. We had the whole summer ahead of us before we headed off to college. Except for Chris and Dorian. Chris had enlisted in the Marines and Dorian in the Navy. They would be going off to basic training at the end of the summer. The only ones who had decided on college were me, Hazel, Kevin, and Tammy. Tam was going to NYU, I was going to Johns Hopkins. Kevin had his heart set on Juilliard. As this was going to be our last summer together, we decided to make the most of it. It was going to be the most fun summer we’d ever have.

I was in my room, packing the essentials—sunscreen, towel, a change of clothes—when my phone rang. It was Hazel.

“Hi Albert,” Hazel said. “Are you ready for the best summer of our lives?”

“Heck yes!” I said with a laugh. “I’ve been dreaming about this moment all year. And dreading its end.”

“Oh, come on!” Hazel said. “The end is still too far off. No need to worry about that just yet. By the way, how’s Laura? Is she coming home for summer break?”

“She’ll be home in a couple of days,” I said. “She said she can’t wait.”

“What year is she in now?” Hazel asked.

“She’s a sophomore now,” I said.

“Oh, wow,” Hazel said. “Time really flies, doesn’t it? I was under the impression she was just a freshie.”

“Nope!” I said. “She’s a sophomore. Majoring in Education. And a minor in Creative Writing, I think.”

“Alright,” Hazel said. “Well, I just called to say I’ll be there in a bit. See you in five!”

“See you!” I said. “Bye, Haze!”

Sure enough, Hazel was there to pick me up in no time. After picking me up, we stopped by Chris’s house to pick him up, and then to Kevin’s.

“Hi, Mrs. Kim!” I greeted as I rolled down the window. “Is Kevin ready yet?”

“He’s on his way down,” Mrs. Kim said. “What time will you guys be home?”

“Don’t worry, Mrs. K,” I answered. “We’ll be home by 6:30.”

“Bye, Mom,” Kevin said, as he rushed out the door.

“You kids have fun!” Mrs. Kim said with a wave.

Tammy and Dorian were already at Turtle Beach. They wanted to set everything up so that everything would be ready when we arrived. It was amazing! It was more than amazing—it was perfect. They laid multiple blankets and rugs on the sand, floor pillows for us to sit on, a picnic basket with homecooked food courtesy of Mrs. Moore, cups, plates, knives, forks, and games for us to play. There was Uno, Cluedo, Game of Life, Monopoly, and so much more. But we didn’t get to enjoy Monopoly much that day. It was windy and the fake paper money always got blown away so we had to resort to using weights to pin it down. We had to give up at some point. After sometime of playing boardgames safely on land, we all rushed into the surf to swim and frolic, splashing each other with the salty water and laughing.

And then lunch time came. We ate Mrs. Moore’s wonderful cooking—I especially loved her stuffed chayote and her Mississippi mudpie. She is also known in our neighborhood to make a mean peach cobbler. Unfortunately, she didn’t have time to make one for our picnic. We were so full. It was an excellent feast. After dessert, Dorian opened what looked like a bottle of champagne.

“Is that what I think it is?” I asked.

“Relax, Al,” Dorian said. “This is legal. It’s just sparkling apple cider. See?”

“Oh, good,” I said, breathing a sigh of relief. “I wouldn’t want to have a record.”

“Alright,” Dorian said. “We’re going to go around and each of us will say what we want to toast to. Who wants to start? Albert?”

“It’s an insane world,” I said, quoting Ben Hur, as I raised my red Solo cup. “But in it, there is one sanity. The loyalty of old friends. To old friends!”

“To old friends!” the others echoed, raising their plastic cups.

“To Tammy’s mom’s good southern cooking,” Chris said with a laugh. “I’m gonna miss all this at basic, y’all.”

“To Mrs. Moore’s cooking!” we all said.

“To my best friend,” Hazel said, turning to me. “Albert Ingalls Taylor! People like him are such a rare treasure and should be cherished.”

“Aaaaawww,” I said, touched, feeling my cheeks heat up and redden. “Thanks.”

“To Albert!” the gang said.

“I was going to toast to Albert, but seeing as Hazel already beat me to it,” Kevin said. “I’m just gonna have to settle for toasting to endless hours playing D&D with the boys. I’ll always cherish those memories.”

“To D&D!” we said—and when I say we, I mean the boys and I.

“To young love!” Tammy said, winking at Chris who was sitting opposite her.

“To young love!” we said.

“To the last summer of our youth!” Dorian said.

“To the last summer of our youth!” we echoed.

“Hear, hear!” Kevin said. “So? What’s next?”

“I dunno,” Dorian answered. “It’s up to you. Tam?”

“We could play Truth Or Dare,” Tammy said.

“Oh, no,” I said with a groan.

“And because you groaned,” Tammy added, grinning. “You’re going first, mister! Albert! Truth or dare?”

“Truth,” I said without missing a beat.

“Okay,” Tammy said. “Confess something you’ve never ever confessed before. Pinky promise, it won’t leave this circle.”

“Can I change my answer to dare?” I said, suddenly sweating. I didn’t know if it was the hot afternoon sun or the nervousness of confessing my true feelings.

“No, Albert,” Tammy said. “Rules are: You must pick one, either truth or dare. Two, you have to do it if it’s dare and answer if it’s truth. Rule number three, no takebacks.”

“Fine, fine,” I said with a sigh. “Promise me it doesn’t leave this group?”

“Albert, I swear on a stack of Bibles on my Grandaddy’s grave.”

“Okay,” I said, taking a deep breath and turning to face Hazel. “Haze, I’ve always been in love with you. You remember that one time at camp, when our counselor Mr. Chipchase lost his keys and we couldn’t get into our cabin? We had to make a one-time arrangement for us to sleep in your cabin because it was late at night and the custodians had already gone home for the day.”

“Go on,” Hazel said, raising an eyebrow.

“I know, I know, this may sound creepy, but,” I confessed. “I liked the idea of sleeping next to you.”

“Aaaawww, Albert,” Hazel said with a smile. “It’s not creepy at all! Are you crazy? I thought it was cute—I still do! And I liked sleeping beside you too back then.”

“You did?” I said in surprise. I had to pick my jaw up off the ground.

“Yeah, I did,” Hazel said. “I liked it a lot.”

“Why is the beach suddenly crawling with ants?” Dorian teased.

“Shut up,” Tammy said through gritted teeth, elbowing Dorian in the side. “Don’t ruin their moment.”

“It was a joke,” Dorian whispered back. “Besides, I think it’s cute. We all do.”

After two rounds of Truth Or Dare, we played Mafia and then Two Truths & A Lie.

“I was the one who pranked Mr. Barber by changing his ringtone to Careless Whisper,” Chris said. “I was the one who pranked Mr. Barber by changing his phone language to Arabic. In the sixth grade, I accidentally sewed my boxers into the waistband of my jeans and had to take both off each time I had to do number one.”

“I know you’re quite the prankster, babe,” Tammy said. “So number one and number two could be true. If I had to guess, number three is the lie.”

“Wrong!” Chris said, mimicking a gameshow buzzer. “It’s number two. As much fun as number two sounds, that wasn’t my prank. That was Eric Fordman. Wish I’d thought of that.”

“Wait! The last one really happened to you?” I asked with a laugh.

“How does someone accidentally sew their underwear into their pants?” Kevin asked. “I mean, what?!? How?!?

“What happened was that I’d ripped the waistband of my jeans on accident so I had to sew it,” Chris explained. “If y’all recall, I used to not wear belts. The tear was so horrible though that it was threatening to fall at any minute. So I borrowed a needle and thread from a Home Ec classroom and sewed it. But I sewed it while it was still on.”

We all laughed our tail ends off, howling and rolling on the rug-covered sand until our sides and stomachs ached and tears streamed down our eyes. Little did we know that those would be the last happy tears we would shed as friends. After four more rounds of Two Truths & A Lie and a few more plates of Mississippi mudpie, we swam again and both Chris and Dorian rode the waves on their boards. When we were all tired of swimming, running and splashing around, and surfing, we divided ourselves into two teams of three people each and held a sandcastle making contest. I had Dorian and Hazel on my team and Chris had Tammy and Kevin on his. With teamwork, Dorian, Hazel, and I were able to build a grand structure, almost like a walled city with multiple levels to it—like Minas Tirith from The Lord of the Rings or perhaps the Celestial City from John Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress. I found a few used dryer sheets and turned them into pennons, which I stuck with sticks onto the towers and roofs. The other team got distracted and decided to create a turtle sculpture instead, in honor of our little seaside town, Turtle Cove. Naturally, we won the competition since a turtle is not a castle and the objective was to build one.

As the day wore on, Hazel and I slowly distanced ourselves from the others until we were so far away from them that we could barely hear them and they could barely hear us. We were in our own little world.

“What you said earlier,” Hazel said. “Is that true? Have you always been in love with me?”

“You know the rules, Haze,” I answered. “You can’t lie when you’re playing Truth Or Dare. I meant every word of it.”

“Do you know how long I’ve waited for you to say that?” Hazel said, swatting my arm.

“Ow! How long?” I asked.

“You idiot!” Hazel said, swatting my arm a second time. “I’ve been waiting forever! I thought you’d make a move when we were old enough and our first kiss would be at the prom.”

“I couldn’t make a move,” I confessed. “I was so worried I’d ruin our friendship if something ever happened, like a breakup or something.”

“You’re an idiot, Albert Taylor,” Hazel said, swatting my arm again.

“Ow! What was that for?” I yelped.

“We’ve been friends for a long time,” Hazel said. “I know our friendship is strong. Nothing could ever break that. And if you think a bad breakup would ruin everything, then maybe you never really knew me at all.”

“I’m sorry,” I said with a sigh. “I should’ve trusted our friendship even if I couldn’t trust myself. Will you forgive me, Hazel Brooke Harris?”

“All is forgiven,” Hazel said, inching closer to me until our lips almost touched. I closed the final distance between us sealed our promise of love with a kiss on that sand dune behind the tall beach grass. It first it was awkward. We were just getting the hang of things. And then it progressed to slow and sweet, until it grew in passion and intensity that we lost track of time. It got so heated that we had to break for air. It felt as though we were underwater for a long time and we had just come up to the surface. That’s when we heard them. Chris, Dorian, and Tammy were desperately, frantically screaming for help. People ran in the direction of our group.

“Somebody call 911!” Chris shouted as he and Dorian tried to dig in the sand.

“What the Hell happened?” Hazel asked in a panic.

“I-i-i-t’s…” Tammy said, her lips trembling horribly. She couldn’t get her words out. “It’s…it’s Kev…”

“What happened to Kevin?!?” I screamed. “What the Hell happened to Kevin?!?”

And then I saw it—the spot where Dorian and Chris were digging. I saw the mounds of sand as they tried to desperately dig for something. Or rather, someone. Our hearts sank and Hazel buried her wet face in my chest. I wanted to help them dig but I was shaking, rooted to the spot where I stood. My legs wouldn’t move forward—they just shook.

“What happened?” I asked again after Tammy had calmed down a bit.

“Kevin got bored and decided to dig in the sand to see how deep he could go,” Tammy explained. “A wave came crashing down and the hole collapsed. He couldn’t get out in time and got trapped.”

“Oh, God,” Hazel said, clinging tightly to me as she sobbed. I held her close, running my left hand up and down her back comfortingly as I cradled her head with my right.

“How could we have let this happen?” I asked. “We should’ve been there!”

“Don’t,” Tammy said, shaking her head. “Don’t blame yourself. This was a terrible accident. You couldn’t have known. We couldn’t have known.”

“I should’ve been there,” I repeated, releasing Hazel from my embrace. Tammy stepped in my place and comforted Hazel, leaving me free to join in the rescue efforts.

At long last, and with the help of some of the bystanders who had gathered, we managed to dig him out of the deadly tunnel but it was too late. He was unresponsive. The human brain can only last for five minutes without oxygen. After that, death is imminent. And even if a person manages to survive past the five-minute mark and into the ten-minute mark, coma and irreversible brain damage are inevitable. Past the fifteen-minute mark, surviving becomes nearly impossible. The boys had already been digging for twenty minutes when Hazel and I got to the scene. I knew Kevin was a goner by that point. The paramedics arrived and we parted to let them pass. They placed an unconscious Kevin on the gurney and into the back of the ambulance. To this day, those flashing red lights haunt my dreams like tormenting, mocking demons from the deepest pits of Hell.

After the ambulance drove off, we got into our cars and followed to the hospital. We all sat quietly in the waiting room and waited for the doctor’s announcement. The Kims were already there when we arrived, including Kevin’s two sisters, Grace and Esther, and their brother Stephen. Finally, the dreaded news came and the tears started flowing again. Even Dorian and Chris wept. The Kims wailed loudly and Mrs. Kim fainted. She had to be placed on a gurney and wheeled away into a recovery room. Mr. Kim said that there was nothing more we could do and that we should go home, so we did as he asked with broken hearts. When we reached the hospital’s parking lot, Chris sang Amazing Grace through his tears as we slowly made our way back to our cars.

“Amazing grace, how sweet the sound,” he sang, his trembling tenor echoing in the dark cavernous lot. “That saved a wretch like me. I once was lost but now I’m found. Was blind but now I see.”

“‘Twas grace that taught my heart to fear,” Tammy joined in, softly at first. “And grace my fears relieved. How precious did that grace appear the hour I first believed?”

“Through many dangers, toils, and snares, I have already come,” Dorian sang. “‘Tis hath brought me safe thus far, and grace will lead me home.”

“When we’ve been there ten thousand years,” I added. “Bright shining as the sun, we’ve no less days to sing God’s praise than when we first begun.”

After we had finished singing and had reached our cars, we all got in—Dorian and I in Hazel’s car and Tammy in Chris’s car. The drive back was unbearably quiet save for Hazel’s soft sobs. She dropped Dorian off at his house first and then dropped me off at mine. I got out of the car without so much as a goodnight kiss. She didn’t get out to walk me to door either. Isn’t that what couples do after their first dates? But neither of us blamed the other. The events of the day were too fresh and too painful to feel anything else. I turned my key in the lock, went inside, locked the door, trudged up the stairs and went into my bedroom. Once there, I fell backwards onto my bed and took my phone out from my pocket. I hit 2 on the keypad and pressed the green call symbol to call Laura. When she answered her phone, however, I couldn’t say a word. I just lay there in bed and sobbed, and sobbed, and sobbed, and sobbed, and sobbed.

March 23, 2022 07:04

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