Wish You Were Here—Gemma Elliott

The first person to contact the police was Mrs Melville, of Barnacle Crescent. She told them that she passed by the houses every day but had never noticed anything amiss. Mrs Melville didn’t know any of the residents of this neighbouring suburban street, but she knew that they always kept their gardens very tidy, and had nice cars and neat window dressings, so she could think of no reason for them to be anything other than polite law-abiding citizens. 

On Thursday morning, on her way to work at the bank, Mrs Melville passed down Anchor Road and noticed that not one of the eight households had returned their recycling bin to their property. This was noteworthy because the recycling bins are emptied on Tuesdays, and surely no person of sound mind would leave a bin on the street for 48 hours. Not a nice street like that, in a nice area like this. Mrs Melville filed this away as unusual but continued on to her workplace. 

On her journey home, the bins remained at large, and so Mrs Melville, requiring an answer to this puzzle, stopped her car and knocked on the eight doors of Anchor Road with no answer. There were no lights on inside, but cars were parked on driveways. She did notice that the small sailboat, usually wedged beneath a lean-to at 2 Anchor Road, was gone. Mrs Melville called the police but was told not to bother them with civil matters. They said that she could complain about a missed bin collection or a neighbourly dispute – they weren’t entirely sure which grievance Mrs Melville had – directly to the local council.

The second person to contact the police was Ernie, a delivery driver. Anchor Road was on Ernie’s schedule for the weekend, with four parcels of online shopping to go to three houses. Not one house answered his knock, and he tried them all in an attempt to get a neighbour to take in the parcels. It was really strange for nobody to be in; there was always some keen person who waits home all day for their delivery, but the reason Ernie called the police was that he discovered, when opening a letterbox to forcefully shove through a smallish parcel, that 7 Anchor Road was entirely filled with sand. The golden granules poured out onto his trainers and Ernie watched for several minutes until a live crab tumbled out and he turned and ran back towards his van. 

There was water leaking from beneath the door of 6, he now saw. The police took note of what he told them but didn’t ask any follow up questions. He stashed the four technically undelivered parcels in an empty blue wheelie bin and moved on.

The third person to contact the police was Andrea Murdoch, raising concerns about her sister and family who live at 4 Anchor Road. Andrea’s sister hadn’t turned up for Sunday lunch, and wasn’t answering her phone. Andrea had decided to leave going round to check on things until Monday, she has her own young family to worry about after all, but on Monday morning received a postcard from her sister, an old-fashioned beach scene with girls in frilly swimsuits and men sporting handlebar moustaches, that simply read: ‘GONE TO THE SEA’ in what was definitely her sister’s handwriting. It didn’t have a stamp. 

Only when the search term “Anchor Road” was flagged up as a repeat offender did the police launch an investigation but nothing that they found took them anywhere but to the water. They shovelled sand and seaweed, evicted jellyfish, contacted elderly anglers, plotted routes to the beach, enlisted snorkellers, questioned surfers, and found nothing. Yet it seemed, with no evidence to the contrary, that all of the families had indeed taken to the sea.

Gemma Elliott lives in Glasgow, Scotland and works in the charitable sector. She has recently published short fiction with Paragraph Planet and The Babel Tower Notice Board. Gemma is also the former co-editor of Letters to Barnacle and has a PhD in literature. She can be found on Twitter @drgemmaelliott.

photo by Philipp Klausner (via unsplash)