Chris has written more than 300 flash fiction/short stories. Working Vacation was 21st out of 6,700 in the 2016 Writer's Digest competition.
Sand squeezes between my toes and washes away in a retreating wave. Wet stones, glistening in the sunlight, display a rainbow of features while dry counterparts, farther from the water's edge, seem dull in comparison. I am no stranger here. I've walked this beach many times firmly grasping a hand though it wasn't always the same hand. The memory of tiny fingers and small voices brings an awkward smile that feels out of place as though I've forgotten how to use it.
The grip of a larger hand, still smaller than my own, causes me to draw my empty palm up toward my face. Was it all a dream? Had there been such a time? Such a life?
I resume my walk as the sun sets with a blazing trail over cresting waves until twilight wanes and darkness reigns. In the distance, the orange light of fire burns a hole in the black curtain. I approach slowly, careful not to startle the children roasting hotdogs and marshmallows. A young woman laughs with a clear voice that announces she has lived with few regrets. Beside her, an empty beach chair lingers unclaimed.
I wait at a distance, mesmerized by the concept of family. It was once a part of me, although a strange loneliness wells up within. Is the empty chair for me? Might my laughter join theirs in a song of praise for the gift of life?
I pass by, out of reach of the beaconing vision.
I walk until morning twilight breaks the spell of the night and brings silence to the constant singing of spring peepers. The sun climbs and shadows stretch out as they flee its piercing gaze. I return to the site of the previous night's beach fire. The only sign that it was real is a ring of stones and a blackened piece of wood, now as cold as my own heart.
I walk until I hear the voice of the laughing, carefree woman, unmistakable to my ears and turn to discover she is following behind me.
She bends down, picks something from the shallows and holds it in front of her face that glows with the smile only the pure-hearted can manage. She slips the stone into her pocket and resumes her walk.
She passes by without a word.
I glance back in the direction from which both of us had walked across the sands of time.
The sight of only a single set of tracks drives me to my knees where I drown in the overwhelming reality. I will wander this world forever as a wraith, a shade with no home, no love, no life.
I turn to catch just one more glimpse.
She is gone.