The cool wet sand oozed through his toes as Johnny walked down the beach. The surf roared; the wind was gusty and hot. Sweat dripped down his face. Through the shimmering heat haze, Johnny saw his grandfather, Pappy, wave to him.
Johnny waved back and watched as Pappy’s dark sinewy arms pushed a bright yellow boat into the rough water, its white sail flapping in the breeze. As the boat began to float, Pappy called out, “Hurry up, boy. Let’s sail!”
Johnny laughed. He was now twenty-one-years-old, but Pappy still called him “boy.” When he splashed into the water next to his grandfather, they pulled the small boat into deeper water. It was cold, but felt good against the scorching sun. Once beyond the breakers, they heaved themselves into the cockpit.
Pappy didn’t share the tiller often, but today his grandfather patted the seat beside him and said, “It’s your time, Johnny. Take the tiller.”
Pleased, Johnny’s grabbed the wooden tiller. He felt the pull of wind and water against his hand. The sail ballooned out and, to his delight, they flew across the waves. However, as they neared the lighthouse rocks, the wind grew stronger.
Fighting to hold on, Johnny felt exhausted. The sun blazed down on him. The tiller burned his hand. He dropped it. The sail fluttered. The boat stalled, but Pappy’s big hand grabbed the tiller, easing them away from the rocks as he said, “Don’t worry Johnny. I’ve sailed these currents many times.”
Johnny was almost panting from the heat, but Pappy seemed fine. As he studied his grandfather’s thin body, wrinkled face and faded blue eyes, a sad memory flew through his mind – dirt falling on a casket. He shuddered, but relaxed when Pappy smiled at him. There was no one Johnny trusted more to keep him safe.
The heat became more intense, confusing Johnny. He didn’t remember it ever being this hot while sailing. Each breath he took burned and hurt his lungs. He touched his lips and felt cracks and peeling skin. Something wasn’t right. His stomach clinched and he cried out, “I’m so hot Pappy. Can we please go back?”
Pappy shook his head and said “Hang on, boy. The lighthouse will steer us around the rocks. You’ll feel better then.”
Johnny looked around. Everything was orange, yellow and black. He heard cracking and snapping. The heat was unbearable and surrounded him. Shivering in pain, he crawled to bottom of the boat, covering himself with an old canvas. Darkness descended.
When Johnny woke, he was sitting beside Pappy. A damp sea breeze cooled his face as briny air filled his lungs. Pappy still held tight the tiller. The sails creaked in the wind. Pappy said, “We’re on the other side of the rocks now. We’re almost home Johnny.”
In the distance, dolphins leaped from the water, putting on a show. Watching, both men laughed as their yellow sail boat flew through the water, leaving far behind the scorched trees and Johnny’s body.
* * * * *
I was saddened to read about the 19 firemen who lost their lives in Arizona. Somehow that tragedy got caught up in my writing. I’d like to think that each of these men had someone to guide them to their next place. This is my fictional story of how this might have happened for my character, Johnny.
Write at the Merge is a weekly creative writing prompt which encourages writers to use up to 500 words to creatively write a bit of fiction or memoir prompted by one or two items of inspiration, be they quotes, images, songs, words, colors, emotions. I obviously picked the lighthouse picture:~)