From my 500 Writing Prompts book: While at the beach you decide to write a message in a bottle. What would it say? Who would you like to find it?
“It’s just over this hill.”
“How can you be sure, Michael? It looks like the last eighteen hills that we passed.”
“It’s only been three.”
“Felt like eighteen.”
“There! Jeff – do you see it? Oh, Jeff, we’ve really found it this time!”
“Well hell, Michael. We could have found it a heck of a lot sooner if we’d taken the map at the entrance. The ranger said it showed walking paths and a parking lot just a half mile from here.”
“Whatever. This was more fun. An adventure for an adventure!”
“You’d think speaking to people on the other side of the world by bottle would be adventure enough.”
Michael crested the hill and stopped in his tracks. Jeff couldn’t catch himself and bumped into him. Michael steadied them both and turned Jeff toward the rift. Minutes passed as they both gazed in awe at the shimmering tear. The rift seemed to start about 20 feet above the ocean and widened downward into a long skinny opening – perhaps only three feet across at its widest – before carving into the ocean. They could see where the water was diverted on each side of the rift.
Below them, hundreds of tourists dotted the beach. Some were sunbathing or picnicking with families. Likely they had arrived earlier in the day before the sun and the crowds had reached their zenith. Near the surf, a line wound twelve deep with people waiting for their turn to exchange bottles. Jeff swatted Michael’s shoulder. “Come on, let’s queue up!”
Michael grimaced, “You mean get in line? I swear, you’ve been insufferable since you got back from London.” Jeff laughed and started edging down the steep, sandy incline.
They reached the bottom of the hill and navigated past a group playing beach volleyball. They dodged small children speeding through the maze of towels and vendors hawking Rift souvenirs. They made their way to the back of the bottle line. The sign at the front proclaimed the wait time to be approximately 106 minutes. Michael and Jeff sighed and both reached to retrieve their cell phones from the backpacks that they each carried. Jeff stuck his tongue out at Michael.
“I told you we should have gotten here earlier. But somebody had to have a Starbucks. And a pastry. And check his email. Coffee from home wasn’t good enough.”
“Hey! It’s a special day. You don’t start out a special day with grocery store beans that were ground two weeks ago! Besides, the line at Space Mountain was longer than this. We’ll be fine.” He glanced at his phone and then out at the rift. “It’s too bad it doesn’t show up in digital photos. He looked longingly at the vendor booth selling overpriced disposable Polaroid cameras.
“Don’t even think about it, Michael. It’s highway robbery. Especially since the rift fades from the picture after two weeks.”
“Yeah, yeah. I know.”
The line inched forward and Michael and Jeff turned their attention to their cell phones. They applied more sunscreen and fiddled with their water bottles. They chatted about little nothings and debated last night’s episode of the new TV drama they were both watching. As the line advanced they passed official Rift Park signs showing items that were prohibited in the bottles. Jeff nudged Michael and gestured towards the new “no live insects” restriction that they’d had to add after last year’s incident. For some reason humans and other vertebrates couldn’t cross the rift, but bacteria, viruses and some lower life forms weren’t affected. The scientists were still trying to sort that one out.
As they got closer to the front of the line they begin to hear the rangers managing the crowd.
“How many? Three. Clara – do you have room for three in your line? Okay – Come on guys, move it forward. Wait for the rope to drop, guys. Anyone who moves forward before the rope drops will be escorted out of the park.”
The rangers looked hot and cranky in their government issue slacks and button-up shirts. Their wide-brimmed hats gave them little relief from the sun.
Michael pulled his American-themed care package from his backpack. “Do you think it’s enough?” He squeezed the little foam football and displayed the stars-and-stripes pin that he had picked up at the state fair and the taffy that he had chosen to complete the package.
Jeff grinned, “Yes. It is full of freedoms and somebody will like it very much.” He pulled the single sheet of paper from his pocket and held it up. “My Japanese is getting better, but I think I’ll spare our friends across the way for now and stick to English.”
“Bah – you keep your pen pal. I hope I get some stuff in my bottle! Oh look – it’s starting!” Michael clapped excitedly and Jeff turned to watch the rift.
The rift took on a pearlescent glow. The glow started in the middle of the shimmer and seemed to quickly flow out to the edges where rift met sky. Everyone on the beach paused what they were doing to ooh and ahh. The rift grew brighter and brighter, and then as suddenly as it had started, faded back to its normal low shimmer.
The silence was broken as one excited little girl squealed, “Here they come!”
Bottles – dozens of bottles – started to float out of the base of the rift and toward the shore. The group at the front of the line began to cheer and urged the bottles to move faster. Rangers waited until all of the bottles had passed the orange buoys and then dropped the rope that separated the front group from the water.
“No running! One bottle per person!” The no running rule was ignored as the group raced out into the surf. “Grab a bottle and get! You – watch your son, ma’am! One bottle per person! Exit the water as soon as you have your bottle. Do not open your bottles until you have moved out of the receiving area!”
People cheered as they grabbed hold of the bobbing bottles and made their way back to the shore. They filed out of the roped off area and scrambled to uncap their treasures. They held up small plastic dolls, drawings and hand-written notes before tossing the now-empty bottles in nearby bins. Small shells, candies and photographs were passed between friends. One girl held up a yen coin and a postcard of Kujūkuri Beach.
The rangers shepherded the last of the tourists out of the rift beach space and put the ropes up again. The next group was called forward. Michael and Jeff were not in it. They went back to their cell phones.
They watched the rift glow off and on again through several more rotations. It was spectacular every time. Finally, it was their turn. They were ushered into the receiving area where they joined 43 others and the brief orientation began. Several rangers began handing out the bottles that had been collected from the previous group, and one stepped back to address them all.
“Here’s how it works, gang. You show the ranger what you’ve brought to share. No fruits, veges, seeds, explosives, liquids, insects, yada yada. If the ranger says you can’t send it, you can’t send it. Anyone who has a problem with that will be escorted out of the park. We give you a bottle. You put your stuff inside and then put the bottle into the wheel barrel. We dump the wheel barrel into the surf and the bottles float toward the rift. When the rift opens in,” he looked down to check his watch, “twelve minutes and thirty-two seconds, the bottles go through. It will then be another 28 minutes until the new set of bottles arrives from the other side. During that time you can wait under the umbrellas, but if you leave the receiving area, you forfeit your bottle. Got it?”
Everyone murmured assent and held out objects as the rangers came by. Michael put his football, pin and taffy inside, screwed the lid shut and tossed the bottle into a wheel barrel. Jeff rolled his paper into a loose circle and slipped it inside his bottle. After all of the bottles were collected and the wheel barrels lined up in the surf, the ranger stepped forward again.
“Okay! All bottles in?” Everyone nodded as the ranger scanned the crowd. He turned to the rangers standing in the surf, “Well then, let ‘em loose, ladies and gentlemen. Bon voyage!”
The rangers hitched the wheel barrels up and the bottles dumped into the ocean. The crowd cheered as the current dragged the bottles toward the rift. The ranger checked his watch again. “Forty-eight seconds!” Jeff and Michael grinned at each other and joined the hooting and clapping as the rift began to glow. The bottles were pulled together into a tight mass, and as the light reached its brightest, the bottles surged forward into the rift and were gone.
With nothing to do but wait, the groups dispersed to the umbrellas. Enterprising vendors hawked cold drinks across the ropes to potential patrons. Michael and Jeff dropped to the sand near a young man keeping tabs on three small boys and pulled water from their bags.
“What do you think you’ll get, Jeff?”
“I’d like to get a letter. Mary said she’d help me read it if it’s in Japanese. How about you?”
“Some airport souvenir would be good. Like a magnet or a keychain or something. And some of that Kracie gummy candy, you know?”
Jeff smiled. “I guess we’ll see.” They turned their eyes to the rift and waited.