As I was wandering along the deserted beach, Max my five-year-old ran ahead. Suddenly he squealed with delight. A plastic bottle washed ashore, raced back to the water’s edge with him in hot pursuit, transporting me back thirty years.
At age seven, I was known in our seaside hamlet as a ‘bloody nuisance’ by Miss Wilkins. The “doddery old spinster from the black and white cottage”, as my Dad called her.
“Not the sharpest knife in the drawer”, said Aunt Winny. Who smoked so many cigarettes her fingers were a funny orange colour, as was her prickly mustache.
But Grandma Johnson, who lived a mile further around Bishops Bay, thought I was ‘the best thing since sliced bread’. And it was to her house I was heading, one cloudy summer’s day, when I had one of those mysterious moments that captured my imagination.
The thunderstorm that’d woken me last night had moved up country but its blustery effects were still being played out along the beach as waves crashed ashore.
Walking slowly towards Gran’s, I inspected, then dissected, with my long wooden stick, all sorts of things the high tide had washed up.
Pulling the slimy internals out of a large stranded jellyfish made me smile with satisfaction. Then with a triumphant cheer, I flicked its giblets high into the air but seconds later evasive action was needed.
Due to their rapid upward speed, they’d broken apart and now gravity had come into play— just above me.
“Take cover!” I screamed. “Women and children first!”
Unfortunately, as I stumbled backward, my stick became entangled between my legs, upending me.
A moment later gruesome alien guts landed on my face and neck, just as a wave smashed into me. In the intense battle that followed, I managed to free myself from the cold grip of Slime-Ball but was soaked in its salty bodily fluids.
Then sensing my right hand was empty, I glanced in every direction. Fortunately, the next wave carried my trusty weapon to my feet. Could this be a sign?
Due to my success over Slime-Ball, was this a warning of further tests to come?
Running along the beach I kept close to the water’s edge. That’s when I noticed a bottle rolling back towards the sea, twenty metres ahead.
My first thoughts, Booby-Trap. Or Alien Invader.
I dropped to one knee and watched the next wave rush the bottle back up the slope. Moments later, it raced back with the receding water.
Now on hands and knees, I edged to within a few metres, fortunately totally unnoticed by the rolling device.
Gripping my stick, I prepared to sprint towards the moving target. Not ideal, I told myself. It would be touch and go— but for the safety of the world, it has to be done.
As I was about to move, the sun broke through the clouds, changing everything. Now as my target raced back to the water’s edge, it flashed and sparkled with all the colours of exploding fireworks.
I lay flat on the sand, mesmerized.
Had I been spotted by the alien device? Was it now about to transform or explode or— or was it trying to hypnotize me?
I liked option three, so covered my eyes— but was the device activated by the sun’s powerful rays?
Suddenly the sun disappeared and the device stopped glowing.
I was on my feet in an instant, running toward the alien. This was going to be close but I timed my attack to perfection.
As the sun burst back through the clouds, I’d thrown my body over the moving target, successfully neutralizing it.
Overjoyed at not been blown to bits, I stuffed the gadget under my wet t-shirt and raced up the beach, eager to solve my newly found puzzle.
It was a glass Coca-Cola bottle but oddly the normal steel cap had been replaced by a faded blue plastic one, fitted so tight I couldn’t remove it. Also, the bottle didn’t contain fluid, only what looked like silver paper.
So that’s why it had glittered so much. Then as I shook the bottle, I could feel something rattling inside.
Placing my prize on the sand in front of me, I wondered what to do next.
Smash the glass with a rock? I thought. No, no, that was too easy.
What would an adventurer like Indiana Jones do?
Suddenly I sniggered.
Indiana would heat the cap by sticking the bottle up a camel’s bum. After the plastic was warmed, he’d tear the cap off with his teeth without wiping the bottle.’
Still sniggering, I jumped up to see if an animal was close by but sadly only a large seabird was on offer.
I liked the idea of warming it. But due to my battle with Slime-Ball, the safety matches in my pocket were now a roll of soggy mush.
So how to get to the treasure map? I mean, what else could it be?
Glancing back at the seabird started me giggling again. I had a vivid picture of the bird running and flapping like crazy, as it tried to take off with my bottle sticking out of its bottom.
Pulling myself together, I grabbed my treasure and ran along the beach towards Gran’s— she’d definitely have a knife or a hacksaw.
Rummaging through Granddad’s old wooden garage was always fascinating. I loved the smells of oil and paint but sitting in his old car with its leather seats and big steering wheel, was a joy.
I loved my Granddad. He’d take time to show me stuff and explain how things worked. He even let me drive his car a couple of times, which was amazing— but I had to promise not to tell anyone.
He said, if I could keep that secret, we’d go to the disused aerodrome and I could take the old Wolseley up to top speed.
Only weeks late, he didn’t wake up one morning.
Gran said he’d died peacefully in his sleep, probably thinking of you two silly beggars racing around in that old car, hooting and screaming.
Suddenly surprised, I gawked at her. “You know about me driving, Gran?”
She looked over her glasses with that serious face she puts on, as though she’s thinking of what to say.
My mum says, when she does that, she’s sizing you up. I’m not really sure what that means but suddenly her face exploded with a big smile, then she hugged me so tight her boobs almost suffocated me.
“Remember, Joey Middlewich, Gran sees and hears everything,” she said, opening up her biscuit jar. “And I have a secret about that car too,” she’d added, passing me a homemade ginger biscuit.
“Is it a secret you can share, Gran?”
She nodded her head seriously but I noticed her eyes shone excitedly.
“After you drove the second time, your Granddad said to me— ‘when the time comes, the car’s Joey’s’. So when you’re out there messing about, don’t go scratching it.”
Chuckling she opened the big wooden dresser that stood behind her and pulled out a big bundle of cloth.
“I stitched two old bed-sheets together. You can cover your new car with these. After you’ve cleaned it of course,” she said with a grin.
For the next hour, Gran and I had washed the Old Girl, as Granddad called her. And Gran made a great job of polishing the big chrome headlights with some special stuff called Brasso, which she’d found on one of the packed shelves in the garage.
Later that evening as we sat watching telly, I noticed Gran kept wiping her eyes with a tissue.
“Are you OK?” I asked.
She turned and smiled, then took my hand.
“Not to worry, Joey, I’m just being a silly old softy. Cleaning your car brought back memories of my courting days with your Granddad.”
Then kissed the top of my head and gave me a hug.
That night I dreamt about racing my car along the beach, with Gran and Grandad sat in the back. We were all singing and laughing. It was crazy.
With my Coke bottle held steady in an old wooden vice, I set about removing its cap with half a hacksaw blade I’d found. After a bit of sawing and tugging the top came off more easily than I’d thought. Now peering through the small round opening, I tried to make sense of what I could see. The inside had been carefully coated with silver paper; after retrieving a tiny piece I found it was thick, like the tinfoil my mum uses for our Sunday roast.
This foil kept the contents secret and protected from the sun’s harmful rays.
I knew a lot about these because my mum went on and on about them after I’d said I was going to the beach, usually while smothering me in sunscreen.
“And make sure you wear a hat, Joey.” Those words always followed me out the house.
My mind flashed back to the first encounter with this sparkling bottle. Was it designed to attract attention? If so, whatever it held must be important?
But all I could see was a white six-inch tube. Surely a rolled up treasure map would be much thicker and bigger?
A sudden voice behind made me jump in fright. “Tea’s ready, Joey.”
“Gosh, Gran— you almost made me pee myself!”
“What have you found this time?” she asked, with a big grin.
“It’s a treasure map in a bottle, but it’s hard to see because of all this tinfoil.”
“Well, it’ll have to wait— your tea’s ready and your mum’s just phoned. You’re allowed to stay here tonight— if you like?”
“Oh! Great— is that OK with you, Gran?”
I got that over-the-glasses look again— so I just threw my arms around her and hugged as hard as I could, which made her laugh.
Half an hour later with my beans on toast in my tummy, I was back in the garage but with strict instructions from Gran.
“When it starts to get dark, you’re to come in and watch telly with me. You’re just like your Grandfather, you treat this place like a hotel, I hardly ever see you.” Then she’d winked and shooed me off with her hand.
I took tinfoil from inside the bottle’s neck. Then after a great deal of shaking, the tip of the tube stuck its head out. It was only a fraction, but enough for my pliers to get a hold of.
I had to pull hard, which worried me. My Granddad had always taught me never to force or rush things but I was boiling over with excitement.
Once the tube lay in my hand, two things were obvious. The jaws of my pliers hadn’t damaged its surface and there was a fine line that ran around its middle. That indicated, it either pulled apart or unscrewed but neither worked.
After tightening one end in the vice, I tried turning the other with my pliers but gave up almost immediately, because I thought I heard Grandpa up in heaven, sucking air through his teeth. That always meant: “Should you really be doing it like that, boy?”
“Gosh! How do I get into it, Granddad?” I muttered dejectedly.
“Having trouble?” Gran asked.
I’d been so focused I hadn’t heard her come in; she was carrying a small bottle of ginger beer.
“I thought you might like a drink, my lovely,” she said, offering me the bottle. “So what’s inside?” she added, looking over my shoulder.
I took the ginger beer and passed over my treasure tube.
As Gran rolled it between her fingers, I took a long drink of the fizzy beer. It was cold and lush but made me belch suddenly, which started me laughing.
“Mind your manners, young man. Your girlfriend won’t like that sort of behavior,” said Gran, peering over her glasses.
“I don’t have a girlfriend.”
“And we can see why.” She smiled. “So what’s to do with this?” she asked, passing me the tube.
I shrugged. “I thought pulling or twisting would open it.” I shook my head gloomily.
“It might need warming up,” Gran said, then turned and looked at me. “And what are you grinning at now boy?”
“Well I know how ‘Indiana Jones’ would warm it,” I replied— sniggering.
“It sounds like something I don’t need to know,” she replied before adding, “What about putting it in hot water?”
“No, Gran, that might spoil what’s inside.”
“Mmm— you might be right— well, we’ll do it another way. Follow me!”
Moments later Gran pointed at her big kitchen cupboard.
“Bottom door on the left. You’ll find Granddad’s hot-water bottle. We’ll use that.”
After the kettle had boiled, Gran filled the rubber bottle, before placing it on top of my round tube. Five minutes later I sat at the kitchen table trying to pull the tube apart or unscrew it, but nothing worked.
Disappointed, I passed it over Gran. “Can you try, please?”
“Joey— you realize this probably contains a love letter from someone on board a ship heading to God knows where.”
“No, no, it’s a treasure map, I just know it.”
“Well if you think it’s that important, maybe it’s a left-handed thread.”
I looked at her with a puzzled expression.
“Joey, imagine if your Granddad had made this to hold something really important. What might he have done to protect it?’’
“Unscrew it clockwise, not anticlockwise,” I whispered.
Picking up the tube I gripped it as hard as I could and twisted.
Gran laughed at the strained look on my face but suddenly my expression changed.
She told me later, my eyes were as big as golf balls because the secret tube had begun to undo.
What came out was a small handwritten note on lined paper.
I found the tiny writing hard to read, so let Gran take over but after reading a few lines she gave me that serious look.
“What, Gran?” I asked excitedly, but she mumbled something about going to find her reading glasses. So it must have been important.
When Gran came back, she sat opposite me and began to read.
My name is Max. I’m eight years old. We are going to live in America. My Dad said it will be a new start for us. But me and my sister are missing our friends already and we only left England four days ago. My Mum died last year, so there is only the three of us. My Grandma didn’t want us to go; she said we could stop with her. I really wish my Dad would have let us stay because she was very upset. If you find this message please make a wish that we’ll be ok. Thank you from Max and Emily.
“Oh dear! How very sad, Joey,” said Gran. “I’m sure everything turned out well for them— but let’s hold hands and make a wish just in case.”
Leaning forward I held her soft chubby hands and noticed again how tight her gold ring looked on her finger. She’d told me it was very special, Granddad had made their wedding rings from a gold nugget he’d found in Australia when he was only ten years old.
I was disappointed we hadn’t found a buried treasure map, or something else really exciting but holding Gran’s warm hands made me think how lucky I was.
“I could never leave you, Gran,” I said softly, which made her wipe her eyes with a tissue.
“Make sure you don’t forget that my lad,” she replied, looking at me over her glasses.
Then squeezed my hands and leaned towards me with glistening eyes.
“Now, my lovely— would you like a cup of hot chocolate before bedtime?”
I beamed with delight and nodded my head excitedly.
Gosh! I really love my Gran. She always knows what I’d like before I do.
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