THE SANDBOX

The park was empty as Lola sat on a weathered bench watching her two-year old twins jostle back and forth in the sandbox. Her hair flailed around her pale face from the warm July breeze, and overhead, a flock of small birds soared toward their unknown destinations.

Her boys, Jack and Evan, were typical toddlers. They loved to watch cartoons and play with their trucks, while constantly at odds with each other to see who could get more attention. Jack had a bit of a temper, which surfaced more frequently than Lola would have liked. Even on the other hand was a quieter child, usually content to play by himself.

And her husband, Frank, was at work, as usual. It seemed that whenever Lola had something bothering her, he wasn't there. She knew what she was signing up for by marrying a detective, but it was still difficult to deal with.

Leaning back on the bench, Lola took a deep breath. She wished for a cigarette or a winning lottery ticket, or both, but knew that neither would be possible. She quit smoking when she got pregnant with the twins, and rarely played the lottery.

Her mind began to wander, affixing weird scenarios to any passing thought. She looked at the twins in the sandbox, playing with their trucks; building sand castles; digging holes. They seemed to be having so much fun.

Sand pits can have a solid bottom, or be built directly onto the soil.

The strange thought and the sudden onset of it startled Lola. She didn't know where it came from; it just sort of popped into her head. In an attempt to dispel it, she focused on her children and their playing.

Evan was busy filling a small plastic bucket with sand. Jack was pushing one of his toy trucks through a small mound in the box. Neither was aware of their mother watching them.

Lola yawned deeply and stretched. She was feeling the effects of the fresh air; it always relaxed her, sometimes the point of making her sleepy.

And then she noticed it.

It was small, so much so that at first she thought she imagined it. But when she leaned forward and looked, she knew it wasn't just in her mind.

Jack's truck was pushed into a mound of sand up to its little plastic windshield. He was trying to nudge it forward, but couldn't. Something was stopping it. Something in the sand.

And Lola saw what that something was a finger, or more accurately, a couple of fingers. They jutted up from their grainy home about an inch or so, and were blocking the path of the toy truck. Tiny flecks of sand dotted the moldering appendages.

Lola felt a scream take root in her gut, and begin to work its way up to her mouth. Eventually, her comprehension of what she was seeing would catch up to the rising scream and all come out in one big cry.

Jack didn't notice his mother. He was too busy trying to force his truck into the sand. But Evan saw her. He dropped his plastic bucket, intent on running over to her.

Lola screamed when the fingers rose up from the sand, showing the gray, skeletal hands they were attached to. Dripping fungus oozed from the terrible things, forming grainy clots of sand. One hand snatched the toy truck from Jack's grasp, neatly snapping it in two before yanking the remains into the sand. And another pulled Evans bucket onto its side, its chipped nails gouging into the frail plastic. It too was pulled into the sand.

But that was not what scared Lola the most. It was when three new hands sprouted up from a corner of the sandbox, and went directly for Evan's feet, and before she could react, pulled one of her little boys kicking and screaming to an impossible death.

Jack started to cry. Lola jumped to her feet, and despite being handicapped by the crushing grief over Evan, sprinted straight for the sandbox. By then, her remaining son was himself in the powerful group of two of the hands.

Lola dove headfirst for the reaching arms of Jack. She saw his tiny face contorted into an expression of pain and disbelief as he was forcibly yanked, first down to his waist, and then up his neck. And all in a split second. The last time Lola saw her son he was crying the words: "Help me Mommy!"

And then he too, like his brother, was gone.

Lola fell face-first onto the ground next to the sandbox. She was numb with grief, and shock threatened to overtake her. Her anguished sobs were muffled by the grass.

Reaching into her pocket, she slipped her cell phone out. She fumbled with the buttons, but knew she had to call for help. She also knew that nobody would believe her, but that didn't matter. All that did was getting help.

Sandpits can have solid bottoms, or be built directly onto the soil.

With shaking hands she dialed 9-1-1. A dispatcher answered after the first ring.

"This is 9-1-1 Dispatch. Can you tell me the nature of your emergency? Hello? Hello? Is anybody there?"

But Lola couldn't answer. All she could do was gasp for air. The hands had shot out of the sand and wrapped themselves around her throat with brutal efficiency. And then, in seconds, she was unconscious. And then dead.

Her body was pulled into the sandbox, leaving only her cell phone behind.

One hour later

Lola's cell phone rang.

"Hi Honey. It's me, Frank. I'll be home late tonight. I have to go to Stellars Beach. It seems that a couple of kids have gone missing there. Witnesses say they vanished right on the beach. I have to go now. Love you."

The line went dead.