As you make your way further back along the beach, you start to observe the shell properly and see the scratches along its curved rim. It doesn’t look like it will sell for much, and it certainly is not a piece beautiful enough to take a seat on a shelf in the flat. You’re not keen on bringing something home that would remind you of the turbulent life that you’ve lived so far.
And so you throw it away. Down in one big sweep of the arm, releasing your grip on the shell as your reach the nadir of your swing. By some phenomenon, the shell skips across the water, leaving three ripple-circles as it goes, and finally plops five metres out to see. The murky shadows of fishes grow as they swim away from the disturbance.
It is in their movements that you spot something being propelled by the waves closer to the shore. Not long and thin, like a fish, this outline is square and man-made, whilst also appearing translucent.
It bobs to the surface, a neck visible, and is finally swept close enough to the sand for you to kneel and lift it out.
There, decorated with seaweed and globules of sand, is a glass bottle the size of an average hard-back book; tucked inside the container is a piece of writing-paper, lacy handwriting spilt over it: a message in a bottle!
Walking away from the beach, you unstopper the bottle. The top is screwed on quite tightly, well done, and even the wad of fabric, designed to stop water from entering, makes a tough job for you to pull out. Whoever did this knew what they were doing.
You doubt that it has actually been sent directly for someone in this town, but stranger things have occurred, and the bottle can’t have drifted down the estuary by chance; the closest other town (which is quite a distance anyway) and its waterways would not be mistaken for the place in which you live today.
With a rustle of de-oxygenised paper, you remove the letter and sit down under an orange tree, placing the bottle by your side. Your town is famous for its juicy oranges, so plump and round, but as you sit surrounded by the things, you have more pressing matters. Your stomach gurgles at the pungent, glorious aroma, but your ignore it and get to business.
You pull off the red ribbon that has been tied around the letter to keep it compact, and put the band, automatically, over one of the oranges. It forms a small planet-like orb, and you chuckle despite yourselves.
Looking back at the unfurled piece of parchment, what are the first words that you see?