Prologue: A picture is worth a thousand words...
Just off the Gulf of Mexico Mrs. Waverly was peeling the skin from a boiled shrimp she had bought at the market that morning. The steam had begun to rise in her quaint kitchen and she had raised all of her windows to thin the air. The smells of the sea rushed into her house, mixing with the hydrangeas and lavender she had planted outside.
She inhaled deeply and strolled into the living room, wiping her hands on a damp rag. Mrs. Waverly stopped just in front of the bay window facing the ocean basin. Off in the distance she could see the docks and a few fishing boats barely returning from their day's work. She pressed her fingertips against the glass and smiled warmly as the small heads of her children bobbed across a hill of murky white sand.
Mrs. Waverly waved to them generously as they held up their toy buckets in triumph. The face of her eight year-old son was smug and confident while her four-year old daughter's was flushed and giddy. They lifted their bare feat heavily until they reached the soft earth just in front of their house. Mrs. Waverly unlocked the front door and held it open while her children skipped inside. The sand from their feet scattered across the wooden floors as they haphazardly tossed their buckets of loot onto a large coffee table in the center of the living room.
Mrs. Waverly's son, who learned how to operate the television remote when he was five, turned on the T.V. just as Mickey Mouse Clubhouse began to play. As the cartoon's high-pitched voice blared from the speakers, Mrs. Waverly jerked the remote from her son's hand and turned the sound down to a reasonable level. When their mutually stubborn expressions met and her daughter began to cry because her favorite song was not at the loudest possible volume, Mrs. Waverly decided to show interest in their buckets loaded with treasure.
"What has the sea brought us today, Max?"
Max shrugged, casually feigning apathy. "It's an ocean, not a sea."
Sensing her husband's sarcastic influence, Mrs. Waverly sat on the sofa between them and patted the blonde curls that sprouted from her daughter's head. "How about you, Amelia? Is there any gold in there?"
Amelia nodded happily, her small teeth visible through the stretched smile across her lips. She took the bottom of her small, appropriately sized, pink bucket in both of her hands and dumped its contents onto the table. Her small, chubby fingers rummaged through clam shells and colorful rocks until she found a dirty penny that had lost most of its shine.
Mrs. Waverly laughed merrily as she plucked the coin from her daughter's hand and held it to the light between her thumb and index finger. "A pirate must have dropped this!" Mrs. Waverly smiled at Amelia affectionately as her face lit up at the thought. However; Max was assuredly there to shatter it.
"Pirates aren't real." Amelia's expression became a stubborn pout. Mrs. Waverly glared at her son disapprovingly. Noticing the hidden sadness in his eyes, however, she stilled her punishment and instead provided attention he pretended not to crave.
"May I see what you found today, Max?" He huffed as if it were a great deal of effort to show her his discoveries. Eventually he nodded his agreement and pushed the larger, green bucket towards her. Mrs. Waverly smiled excitedly at Amelia who clapped her hands as if cheering her mother on.
Mrs. Waverly's long fingers drifted through the larger shells and old bottles that Max had an eye for. Eventually she came across the bent corner of a small piece of parchment protruding from the center of the bucket. She cocked her head curiously and pried it from it's nook secured by packed rocks. Upon closer inspection it was the water damaged picture of a woman. She was laying down atop the black/blue feathers of her boa, smiling sensually for her glamor shot. Her hair was styled and blonde, and her face was smudged by the running ink.
Mrs. Waverly's eyes glittered and she motioned towards Max, genuinely interested. "Where did you find this?"
Max was spinning his sister's toppled shells around the table, letting them scratch along the surface. He responded indifferently, "The man on the beach."
Mrs. Waverly's heart skipped a beat and she unconsciously hugged her daughter to her chest. She stared at the stranger in the photo and slowly asked, "What man?"
"The man on the beach." Max stated impatiently. "He was holding it."
Amelia's small hands cupped the side of Mrs. Waverly's ear as she whispered with a lisp, "He was naked, Mommy."
Mrs. Waverly instinctively jumped from the couch and began to close all of her windows. Her hands were shaking and her mind was reeling at a hundred miles an hour. While she imagined awful scenarios that included the man and her children, her son scoffed irritably.
"I didn't steal it." Mrs. Waverly ignored her son's comment as she finally managed to shove the bay window closed. She ran to her daughter's side and gripped her shoulders worriedly. "This man, did he say anything to you, sweetie?"
Amelia shook her head eagerly and then cringed her nose in playful disgust. "No, he was all wet and smelled stinky. He went swimming, Mommy. He's not supposed to go in the water."
Horrifying images flew through Mrs. Waverly's mind as she resumed her frantic efforts and ran to the kitchen, locked the back door, and pulled closed the drapes on the window above her sink. Through her cloud of worry and panic, she questioned her startled son. "Did the man give you the picture?"
Amelia chuckled and shook her head back and forth as if the interrogation were a game. Max scratched his scalp and avoided his mother's demanding eyes.
"What's so funny!?" She screeched, her voice finally cracking from the buildup of nausea. Mrs. Waverly almost tripped over her welcome rug as she gripped the knob on her front door and slammed it shut. Her knuckles began to turn white as she ordered Max to respond. "Max, tell me."
Max shifted uncomfortably in his seat on the floor. He scratched his index finger nervously and glanced at his sister's bewildered expression. "I didn't want to say anything in front of Amelia "
"Tell me, Max!"
Both of the children shuddered at the sound of their mother's strained scream. Without even turning to look at them, Mrs. Waverly raised her hand to the top bolt of her door and began to lock it. Max's lips formed a tight line and his eyes began to widen as he stammered his response,
"H-he was dead."
Mrs. Waverly's hand hesitated. She allowed her fingers to rest on the bolt as she considered her son's admission. Her previous fears washed away, a wave of new scenarios began to stream in and plague her mind. Shortly after she confidently twisted the dead bolt and released a strenuous sigh as the sound of a resounding click echoed through the unsettled house.