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Family Circle 2009 Fiction Contest Winner: "Our Atlantis"

lifeguard stands
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Michael Byers

Emerging from the tunnel always felt like stepping out onto an alien landscape. The beach looked different at night, the sand raked into neat hills and valleys, footprints erased as if nobody had ever set foot there, the empty lifeguard towers like slumbering sea beasts. No matter how many times we snuck onto the beach after dark, it was something I never got used to.

Madge shook out a blanket and spread it onto the sand just over the high tide line, and we sat on the threadbare fleece, each of us taking a corner and anchoring the fourth with our cooler. Kiri passed around beer, stolen from the fridge her dad kept in the garage.

None of us seemed inclined to speak, though tomorrow hung over us like a sail, ready to pull us out to sea. Finally I said, "Are you ready, Kiri?"

She'd be the first to go. I didn't leave for another two weeks, and Madge would be staying local, commuting to a nearby university in the car she'd gotten for graduation.

Kiri tipped her head back and drank from her beer, her long, dark curls spilling across her shoulders. "I guess. I mean, who knows." Still, something about the brightness of her eyes spoke of promise, and I knew Kiri was ready to throw herself headlong into the future.

"What do you think it's going to be like?" Madge asked. "Making new friends and . . . everything." She stood and walked to the water's edge, where she heaved her empty bottle into the water. It filled and sank. Maybe years from now somebody would find its shattered pieces washed up on some shore, sand-frosted, the edges tumbled smooth, a relic of our vanished civilization.

None of us had an answer. Like Madge, we just looked out over the ocean, our gazes following the line of moonlight across the water. On the horizon, something brightened. It must have been a fire, a tanker ablaze or maybe a plane crash, but to me it was a city of golden towers, spires and arches. It hovered there atop the water, and then it began to sink, slowly, until all that remained was a glow on the water. Then that too was gone. Madge continued to look long afterward.

On the way out I spray-painted our names onto the wall of the tunnel—Kiri, Madge, Rhoda—in large, looping script.

Kiri left for college the next day.