This story was written for the Microcosms flash fiction competition. My prompts were ‘business person’, ‘foot’, ‘SFF’.

At the Bottom of the Bottle

When Bernard showed up to the beach house, it was empty. Dust-covered furniture and knick-knacks stood as a testament to happier times the family had spent together. He placed a battered leather suitcase at the door and headed to the back door.

A thin layer of sea sand and dust crunched underfoot as he crossed the kitchen. The salt air burned his lungs as he forced the door open. Gulls’ shrieks drifted above the crashing waves.

Bernard took off his shoes and stepped onto the beach, leaving a row of footsteps to where different coloured bottles rolled back and forth in the surf. Here and there some of the bottles had become stuck in the sand or seemed to have been exposed to the elements for quite some time.

He cursed the litterers under his breath, but paused when he saw a swirl of living colour and light within one of the bottles. He picked it up, held it closer to his ageing eyes, and then dropped it. Within, as if it was a small video playing over and over, was his eldest son just after being born by an emergency cesarean. He picked up another bottle, finding within it a ballet recital he had never attended. Clutching it to his chest, he ran from one bottle to another, looking through all the memories that washed up here that was not his, but his late wife’s. Everything he had missed citing long working hours.

Spent, he fell to his knees, the bottles in his arms clattering to the sand.

“I can do one thing for you,” the Reaper appearing next to him, said. “I can let you keep one memory.”

Bernard gazed at the bottles through tears, then looked around him, and said: “This one.”