The Line In The Sand

 The sailboat was anchored just a few yards away
and the sun had set. With the campfire slowly
dying, and their bellies full of fresh fish, the
lovers decided to go skinny dipping. As they
descended, hand in hand, into the warm water,
he felt something slip around his ankle and
pull…hard.
 
That was the prompt for the Spring WritersWeekly.com 24 Hour Short Story Contest, a quarterly challenge limited to 500 entries. This is my fourth time entering and for the first time I got into the top 25, with the effort below…
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The cove was inaccessible by land, which was why Mark had suggested it. It was their six-month anniversary and he’d wanted it to be as romantic as possible. Laura had felt that a candlelit dinner in a nice restaurant would have been just as romantic and offered less chance of sand in their food, but had agreed anyway because he was obviously trying so hard.
 
They had reached the shoreline and Mark had cut the engine which most sailboats have these days. Mark was a software engineer, which was how he could afford the boat, not a smuggler, which was why he couldn’t steer it purely by sail.
 
He lowered the anchor, then hung the ladder over the side. He and Laura climbed down and waded ashore. Mark stood upright with his hands on his hips, looking around proudly. Laura felt sure that he was fighting back to urge to say ‘Aarrr’.
 
“Right, Friday,” he said, not noticing her eyes narrow as he said it, “you will gather firewood. I will be hunter-gatherer, and will catch us our dinner.”
 
“Aye, aye, Wilson,” she said, saluting.
 
“Wilson?”
 
“The ball from Cast Away,” she said. She tossed him his fishing-rod. “Now go sling your hook.”
 
Laura’s preparation of the fire was set to the accompaniment, from the shore, of cursing, muttering and on one occasion what sounded like someone running three steps involuntarily into the sea, as if being dragged along while walking a large dog.
 
Well, she thought, he can certainly swear like a sailor.
 
Half-an-hour later Mark jammed his fishing-rod heel-down firmly into the sand and tramped up the beach towards her. He was carrying two fishes, each about the size of a TV remote.
 
“Gee, honey,” said Laura, “we’re gonna need a bigger bowl.”
 
“You should have seen the one that got away,” said Mark, feeling that the sentence was mandatory.
 
“I tell myself that every day,” she replied sweetly.
 
Mark ignored that, and dropped the two fishes onto the sand, where they flopped and thrashed.
 
“I was rather hoping,” said Laura, “that dinner would be a bit more, well, dead.”
 
Mark looked around and in desperation picked up two large rocks, one of which he dropped onto each fish.
 
“There you go,” he said. “Flatfish.”
 
“Interesting technique,” said Laura. “Now they have to be gutted.”
 
“I’d say they are,” said Mark. “I know I would be.”
 
An hour later they ate. Mark wasn’t very hungry, the twenty minutes he’d spent performing fish disembowelling had taken the edge off his appetite. This was just as well, because after you’ve beheaded and de-tailed two fish, taken out the bones and then dropped one fish right into the centre of a fire, there’s not a lot left.
 
“Not exactly filling,” said Laura. “Perhaps if we’d had five loaves it would have helped.”
 
Then they built sand-castles, then wrote their names in the sand, then skimmed stones. Then they listened into shells to see if they could hear the sea, though the evidence was inconclusive since the actual sea was five feet away.
 
The sun set. A thin pink line, like icing on the horizon, was all that was left of the daylight. The campfire was dying, with just a red glow in its heart and the occasional flurry of sparks, like a brief swarm of fireflies, whenever a piece of wood would crumble into it.
 
They sat sipping wine in the contented, contemplative silence that only staring into a fire can bring. Laura snuggled up closer to Mark. “It really has been a lovely day, you know,” she whispered. “Thank you.”
 
He kissed her forehead. “No, thank you,” he said, “for making me so happy.”
 
She swallowed the last of her wine, uncurled herself from him, and stood up.
 
“Skinny dip?” she said.
 
His eyes widened, like a small boy who’s just been told that it’s all-you-can-eat day in the local sweetshop. He got to his feet, pulled his shirt over his head and lowered his shorts. When he looked up she had done the same.
 
They looked at one another for a moment, feeling a deeper closeness, as if their relationship had crossed an invisible line. Then she gave a huge grin and started to run towards the sea. “Last one in’s a 1974 Ford Cortina,” she shouted over her shoulder.
 
He took off after her, and she shrieked as she could hear his footsteps gaining on her. Small waves were softly flopping then hissing away on the shore as she reached the water first, splashing noisily out into the sea.
 
Mark ran in just behind her, but after a few yards he felt something slip around his ankle and pull – hard. For a panic-stricken second his mind filled with visions of giant octopuses, of the ghosts of drowned maidens and, for some reason, of a police ankle-monitor.
 
He looked down. He had got his leg caught in the line of his fishing-rod. He looked up to where it was stuck into the sand and saw that it was bent towards him, as if bowing like a judo-opponent.
 
Laura, waist-deep in the water, turned and looked back at him. “What’s keeping you, slowcoach?” she asked.
 
“My rod’s wrapped around my ankle,” he said.
 
She raised one eyebrow in mock scorn. “Now dear,” she said, “don’t brag.” 
 
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