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The International Writers Magazine:

Nina’s Near Miss
Diana Bretherick

Nina sat back on her heels and surveyed her handiwork. In all of her eight years she did not think that she had seen a finer example of a sandcastle. It had, in her view, everything a sandcastle should have – turrets, a moat, shells – even a drawbridge fashioned from a piece of driftwood provided by her father, before he had got bored and, much to Nina’s relief, left her to it. Suffused with satisfaction she looked around her wondering what to do next.
There were some enticing looking rock pools nearby but these had been colonised by some older boys who were busy hunting for crabs.

Nina’s tummy rumbled quietly. Perhaps it was time for lunch. She looked over to the café clock and was disappointed to discover that it was only half past ten. She turned her attention to her family who sat nearby. Her mother was lying prostrate in the sun, snoring softly. Nina’s baby sister Grace lay in her carrycot gurgling happily to herself, surrounded by nappies, toys and plastic containers. It had taken several journeys to and from the car to bring all of Grace’s things as well as the picnic, the windbreak, books, newspapers, magazines, spare clothes, towels, not to mention Nina’s bucket and spade. Despite all of this paraphernalia however Nina was still getting bored. She looked over to her father sitting slumped in a deckchair, staring into the distance. They caught each others glance and recognising their mutual restlessness he got to his feet.
"Want to go for a wander?" he asked. "…might even stretch to an ice cream!"
Nina nodded enthusiastically and before long they were strolling side by side along the promenade. Occasionally they paused as Nina’s attention was caught by various brightly coloured plastic items displayed outside the many beach side shops – windmills on sticks, their sails fluttering gaily round in the wind, beach balls, fishing nets, neon coloured sandals, pac-a-macs , rain-hoods, umbrellas – they all fascinated Nina who stared goggle-eyed at them, willing her father to offer to buy something. He though was in a different world altogether and strode along whistling to himself, just glad to be here in the sunshine and not in his stuffy office. Then as they turned a corner Nina saw the ice cream van in the distance. She ran ahead, eager to have as much time as possible to make her selection.

Suddenly she stopped short as a figure blocked her path. He was tall and loomed over her. She looked up at him curiously, wondering what he wanted. He knelt down to her level. She caught his sour smell and stepped back, suddenly wary, though she wasn’t sure why. The sun disappeared behind a cloud and Nina shivered. The day had definitely darkened.
"Would you like to come and play? I’ve got some smashing toys." breathed the stranger. "What’s your name?"
"Nnnina" she stammered.
"Well Nina, why don’t we go for some sweeties?"
Nina looked behind her. Her father couldn’t be far away. He would know what to do.
The stranger stood up warily. He grasped her by the elbow.
"You are on your own, aren’t you?"
"No, I’m with my Daddy."
She turned and pointed vaguely behind her. When she looked back the stranger had disappeared as suddenly as he had arrived.

As she looked behind her again she saw her father turning the corner and hurrying towards her.
"Where did you get to? You shouldn’t run off like that!"
Nina nodded vigorously. Never had she been so sure that her father was absolutely right. He took her by the hand and they set off to the ice cream van.

As the day wore on Nina could have sworn that she saw the stranger again, but it was in the distance so she couldn’t be sure. She hadn’t told anyone of her encounter. She didn’t want to worry anyone and anyway nothing much had happened so what would she tell them exactly?

Before long the day that had stretched before her was coming to a close. But one more treat was in store. They stopped at a newsagent’s on the way home for her father to get an evening paper. He said that as she had been such a good girl that day, Nina could choose a present. She was peering at the various toys on display when she saw it – a photo behind the counter. It was the stranger. Above his picture was the word WANTED. Nina pointed excitedly at it and, forgetting she hadn’t said anything, blurted out "I met him today, when we went for an ice cream. He asked me to go and play with him."
Nina’s father blanched visibly as he read the remainder of the wording on the poster.
He bent down to her, his face etched with concern.
"Whatever you do…" he whispered urgently, "Don’t tell your mother!"

© Diana Bretherick October 2007
Diana.Bretherick at

Diana is studying for her Creative Writring Masters at the University of Portmsouth

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