Somewhere else, Chris woke to sunshine creeping through the gaps in their tent.
The rest of the family were still sleeping. He could hear his mum and dad through the divider and he smiled. Pete would be sleeping alongside them and they would not wake for a while. The family were back together, Mum, Dad, Pete and himself.
What could be finer?
They had broken their journey the previous night and had managed to get pitched on the campsite. It had been close to dark when they had been setting up, so Chris had not been able to see much. He was anxious to view what was on offer.
He eased himself out of his sleeping bag and felt the familiar aches that always accompanied the first nights under canvas. He stretched, raising his arms towards the tent roof and sent a wave along it. This was life. Now he would dress and make his way outside before anyone mustered.
A ground mist was still clinging to the grass. He slowly unzipped then re-zipped the entrance before standing bathed in the morning sunshine.
For as far as he could see, there were tents with vehicles close by. This was a big campsite and would take some exploring. He wished that Pete was more than just a baby so that he could share the experience with him. He shrugged off the thought. Having a brother his own age could be just a pain. A voice inside played a recording that told him they would be interfering do-gooders who would spoil any fun that could be had. Sometimes these brothers would even try to split up families and make everything just plain wrong.
No, he was better off with the way things were.
It was either the taste of salt in the air or the unmistakeable sound of seagulls that alerted him to the fact that they had camped on the coast.
He had been sleeping for most of the journey and had missed any navigation duties. Mum must have been doing it and she must have done well because he couldn’t remember them arguing.
The coast must mean a beach. He loved to walk along beaches, just along the shoreline with the waves tickling his feet. He focussed his hearing and was able to pick out the distant wombing of the waves. Above him, a circle of sea birds appeared to be leading him down towards a path that had been trodden through a rising sand dunes crowned with grass. Before long, he was standing on the sand looking out over the bluest sea that he could ever remember seeing.
The leftovers of the journey were now disappearing. His tiredness had abated and his senses were switching back, encouraged by these new surroundings.
For as long as he could remember, they had made this trip. This, for Chris, was the definition of summer. He had been encouraged to learn to speak some French so that he could communicate with the locals. His dad, who was probably still snoozing, had taken it upon himself to teach him some of the rudiments of the language. Usually, they would both take off some place in the afternoon and, on their bikes, tour the surrounding areas. Chris prized these times above all else and could be a little put out if Mum suggested that they do other things. He sometimes wanted to keep Dad all to himself. He wished he had taken the time to wake him before setting off so that he, too, could experience this.
Before Chris was an endless stretch of virgin sand, uninterrupted by anything other than a rocky outcrop. He slipped off his shoes and made his way towards the tidemark. He walked along the line where the land met the sea and scanned it for anything of interest. It was after about ten minutes of this leisurely beachcombing that he saw the footprint. The gentle incoming of tiny waves was receding when he chanced upon it.
Water was still seeping out of the tiny reservoir, pulling at the definite edges of its imprint, but it didn’t take a genius to make out the heel and toes of a footprint that was some way smaller than his own. Its delicate nature indicated that it belonged to a child. He looked further along for signs of where the owner had gone, but there were no more.
Chris knelt down to examine it further. There was no way that it could have appeared all on its own as if from nowhere. He was sure that something else had formed it: something that would eventually make that ‘Ah Ha’ sense once the puzzle solved itself. It was definitely a footprint, though.
At the edges of his vision, a vague movement made him focus on the small outcrop further up the beach. He could have sworn that he had seen something move. He would have sworn that he had seen something white dance along the rocks, but when he had focussed his gaze, he saw nothing beyond the breaking waves, raising spray into the morning sun. Looking down again, he watched as the tide wiped away the tiny imprint as if it had never been.
A seagull swooped and landed at his side. Chris stared at it and was surprised at its confidence. He splashed water at it and it did not move. The bird was looking straight at him. Feeling a little unnerved, Chris found a pebble and threw it at his observer. It merely skipped to one side without taking its beady eyes from him.
“Bugger off will you,” he shouted.
The bird remained. Chris thought of the French words for bugger off and found that he did not know what they were. He would ask his dad when he got back. Now the bird was turning and wading along the shore. It was heading towards the outcrop and did not seem to be bothered about flying. With more amusement than suspicion, Chris set off in the same direction.
He couldn’t wait to tell Dad about this. Up ahead, the waves were crashing into the rocks, throwing up spumes of white foam.
From the rocks, something else was watching his progress.