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The ocean lay flat as a coin on the horizon, glinting in the sun like hot metal. The water rippled near the shore, gently carving away the cliffs as gulls circled overhead and shrieked at the sand below. The wind carried in on its salt-streaked fingertips the sound of children’s laughter, which rose and fell with the tide.
Two small girls ran up and down the shore and called to each other in shrill voices, the sound echoing off the cliffs and scattering on the beach like music notes on a sheet of paper. Their parents watched from red and white-striped beach chairs, sipping lemonade and talking, glancing every so often to ensure that there was no trouble.
The two children screamed with laughter as they ran away from the water’s edge as it chased them with outstretched arms, ice cold, then retreated back into the ocean. One girl, about six years old, was the braver of the two. Her hair fell thick and curly over her shoulders, bright red, so hot it could set the sea on fire. Her emerald eyes sparkled in the sunlight as she tottered her way across the sand, curious about everything. The other girl, roughly the same age, did not seem as adventurous. Her wispy blonde hair hid her face as she bent over to search for hermit crabs, every once in a while revealing a pair of light blue eyes and a mysterious smile.
“Annie! Hey look, I found one!” The girl with the red hair rushed over to see, sending drops of water flying. She peered over the blonde girl’s shoulder, and sure enough, there was a tiny creature in her palm, shyly peeking out from beneath a spotted shell. The blonde girl pulled away. “No, don’t do that, Annie, you’re scaring it! Let’s take it over to the sand so we can play with it there.” She cupped the crab in her hands and ran up onto the beach, Annie tagging along behind, and shouting, “Kylie, wait for me! What are we going to name it?” Kylie plopped down in the sand and placed the hermit crab on the ground in front of her. Annie sat down too, pouting because Kylie had found it first. The crab cowered in its shell, not daring to come out and meet the two fierce shadows looming over it.
Kylie reached down and stroked the shell. “Come on, you can come out. It’s okay.” For a few seconds, both girls held their breath in silence. Eventually, the crab emerged and began to scuttle its way nervously across the sand. Annie gave a cry of anger and reached for it with a chubby fist. Then she yelped and drew back her hand, clutching the place where the crab had pinched her. Before Kylie could speak, Annie grabbed a large stone sitting nearby and promptly dropped it on the crab, crushing it. “There,” she said, inspecting her finger, “That should teach him.” Then she leaped up and began to run back towards the ocean, yelling for Kylie to follow. Kylie silently reached over and pushed the rock out of the way. The hermit crab lay smashed and dead, the beautiful shell cracked. Tears welled up in her eyes. She sat quietly, looking at the crab, and said softly to it, “I would have named you Spot.” After a few seconds, she gave way to Annie’s impatient calling and began to plod sadly towards the seashore.
Then she spied a beautiful seashell, half hidden in the wet sand. She picked it up and stared at it. It was white and glossy, with a delicately carved pattern, not like anything she had ever seen before. She smiled.
Just then, Annie came running up and snatched the shell away. “I saw it first!” She ran away, laughing with glee. Kylie’s chin quivered, and she rubbed her eyes with her sandy fist. “Give it back Annie, or I’m not playing with you anymore.” Annie rubbed the shell on her dress and inspected it, turning it over greedily in her chubby hands. “Nope, not going to!” Kylie sniffled. “Fine. I’ll find my own shells. I don’t want to play with you.” Each girl stomped off in her own direction, certain that her, seashell collection would be the best in the end. Unaware of the drama unfolding, the girl’s parents watched them scamper across the beach as the sun beat down hot on the umbrellas.
The tension grew stronger as the two piles of seashells grew larger. The girls did not speak as they waded in the water, seeking out the best, most beautiful shells. Kylie soundlessly cradled a salty, dripping armful of treasure straight from the sea, while Annie smirked at her from beneath her curly, red-hot mane of hair. Finally, the silence broke.
“Hey, Kylie, I bet you’re just jealous of me”
Kylie stopped. The anger began to slowly simmer inside her, a new sensation that both surprised and pleased her.
“No I’m not.”
“Are too. It’s ‘cause I have prettier shells, and prettier hair than you. Everyone says so.”
Kylie looked down at Annie’s glittering pile of shells. They really were pretty. Real anger, an emotion she had never been forced to feel, began to bubble up.
“Annie, your hair is so red I don’t wanna touch it, ‘cause I might get burned. And you’re nothing but a show-off. That’s what my mamma says about you. And she’s right.”
Annie’s green eyes narrowed.
“You take that back!”
“Take it back!”
Annie reached over and, in one swift motion, knocked all the shells out of Kylie’s arms. The seashells fell and mixed with Annie’s on the sand, creating one large pile.
Annie crossed her arms triumphantly. “Now they’re all mine.” Kylie didn’t answer. Annie became annoyed. “Didn’t you hear me? I said they’re all mine. And you can even tell which ones had been yours, ‘cause they’re ugly, just like you.”
The Kylie did something she had never done before. With a cry, she rammed her whole body into Annie’s and pushed her right into the deep water, where the rocks were. She began to hit and kick, not sure whether she was hitting rocks or Annie. Suddenly, she drew back.
Annie’s hair had, indeed, burned the water. The red fire rolled out in tongues from beneath her head, the red curls searing the top of the water. The flames rapidly began to spread, giving the water a dull red glow. The rest of Annie rolled limply off the rock with a splash into the now murky ocean, her piercing green eyes numb. The water bubbled as it drew Annie down, down to the bottom. Kylie’s eyes grew wide. “Annie?” She scrambled to the edge and looked down. Panic began to replace the anger. The red in the water had dissolved, but she still couldn’t see to the bottom. “Annie, I didn’t mean it, honest!” She looked up at the beach chairs to make sure that her mother wasn’t watching before she began to lower herself into the deep end.
The salty water was cold, and Kylie shivered as she descended down into it, like a great mouth ready to swallow her up. It had never occurred to her that she couldn’t swim. She only knew that she was going to retrieve her friend, and was sure that she would touch the bottom any moment now.
She didn’t see the wave coming until it was upon her. It rose silently out of the ocean like a wall; curling over her like an enormous claw. Kylie turned her head in time to see it begin to fall on top of her, and her light blue eyes grew wild with fear. The scream was lost in the crashing of the water on the beach, which rushed up onto the sand, soft and foamy.
And when it finally pulled away, there was… nothing.
When the horrified parents finally discovered what had taken place, it was too late. They ran out onto the beach, calling for their daughters. How could they have been so careless?
But all they found was a pile of seashells, sparkling in the sun.