This short story is participating in Write Story from Picture India 2012 – Short Story Writing Competition.
If it had not been for Rita, they would have never found it… and that day might have never turned out like that! Again maybe the events had nothing to do with anything. Who knows?
But the memory of that day they found the stone had remained etched in their memories forever. Sheela and Rita had been out at the sea, playing about in the sand, collecting seashells, building sand fortress and all the usual things they did everyday.
From somewhere inside the house, Mum called out crossly, “Why don’t you come inside, both of you? Playing out there all the time!”
“You can play dominoes or snakes and ladders for a change!” Dad added.
“Ohhh… just when we’re having fun,” groaned Sheela.
“Why can’t Mum and Dad let us have some fun?” demanded Rita. They were drawing patterns in the wet sand, when a surprisingly big wave splashed them from head to foot.
“Oooh, that was fun!” squealed Sheela.
“Hey something hit me on the foot,” said Rita. The two children crouched down to examine a round stone with a hole in the middle.
“What a pretty stone, it’s neat!” said Rita, admiringly, turning it around in her hand.
When they heard Dad’s voice calling out again, they hurried over to their house. Rita had the stone safe in her pocket.
Inside the house, they played a board game for a while. They grew restless soon.
“Listen, let’s go to our secret place in the attic,” Rita whispered. Quickly, the two little girls ran up the stairs and stepped into the musty attic. There they sat down inside between two large boxes. Their own little secret spot!
“I say, touch this stone… isn’t it warm?” said Rita, handing it over to Sheela. “I wish we’d stayed there for some more time. We might have found other exciting stuff there!”
“If only Mum and Dad let us spend as much time there as we want… I wish we were all alone, so we can do whatever we want!” Sheela whispered.
“And a boat to travel across the sea!” she added.
“Wouldn’t it be exciting if we had an adventure?” Rita said, stroking the stone softly.
They talked on and on for some time.
“Aren’t you hungry?” Rita asked, after some time. “Let’s go and see what Mum has made for lunch.”
The two girls softly opened the attic door and tiptoed downstairs. It was unusually quiet.
“Mum?” Rita called out, stepping into the kitchen. She wasn’t there. Sheela went to find Dad. They went from room to room, puzzled to find the house empty. When they opened the front door, a gust of wind nearly swept them off their feet.
“What… What is happening?” Rita sniveled. They had never been left alone like this.
“Let us go to the neighbour’s house and look. I feel… scared all by ourselves,” said Sheela, shivering. As the wind whipped against the door banging it shut, they rushed over to knock at the door.
As raindrops started pelting down, they noticed for the first time that the house was dark inside. There was nobody inside.
Shivering, they started walking back home. Rita started crying. Sheela suddenly shielded her eyes and looked in the distance.
“Look, Rita… is that Dad’s boat out there?” Sheela stammered.
“God, I think yes… yes. Then Dad must be there, right? Right?” Rita cried.
They ran across the beach and straight towards the boat. There was no one in it.
“What is this, what is happening? There is no one… let’s look inside the boat! Maybe Dad went fishing and came back in a hurry!” sobbed Sheela. Rita jumped in along with her.
“No, nothing in it…” said Sheela. “Let us get out, quick!”
But before they could, the boat rocked violently. Before they could get out, the boat rolled out steadily into the sea.
“Do you think we can jump out?” asked Rita.
“I don’t think so. We’re too far out here,” said Sheela leaning against the boat, letting her tears stream out. “I want Mum and Dad!”
The storm was getting worse. The sky grew dark and cloudy. The boat rocked and swung about. Sometimes it went about in circles.
The girls were soon tired out. Their eyes grew heavy. Rita absently dug into her pocket and took out the stone. She looked at it for a long time, then, clenching it tightly in her hand, she threw it as far as she could. The two girls hugged each other and fell asleep.
It was pitch dark when they woke up. They heard voices calling out their names. Was it a dream? No, it was Dad’s voice surely? As they sat up, they saw the boat bobbing close to the shore. Looking at each other in surprise, they jumped out of it.
With shaking legs, they ran out calling, “Dad! Dad!”
Soon, they were hugging their Dad tight. “Why did you and Mum leave us alone?” Rita cried.
“We did not mean to… Mum was feeling unwell and I had to take her to the hospital. I searched and called for you! Where were you both?” Dad said worriedly.
We… We were in the attic, Dad!” said Sheela.
“I had no choice but to leave out immediately with Mum. And the people next door have left too, so I couldn’t leave a message!”
“Is Mum alright?” they asked worriedly.
“Of course she is! But why didn’t you stay inside? And is that our boat out there? You’re sopping wet, both of you!” Dad said.
The two girls were quiet though. They had no answers but plenty of questions…