A strong wind buffeted the Maroon 1994 Rover as it wound its way towards the small seaside town of Donregal where Hugh Adlington and his wife Miriam of 8 years and six year old twin boys Roy and Jake were on their first holiday. Their marriage wasn’t exactly tied up with strings of love. More convenience than anything else. Hugh had been what was basically a small-time con-artist. Anything he could scrape and scrimp to save and to earn cash he would do. Whether it was selling pirated dvds at the local market, selling tobacco to teenagers on street corners. If you would buy it, he would sell it, without a second, or even first thought about the quality of the goods.
However, after his criminal record increased in size, he decided to make a clean break of things and go straight, marrying the ex-wife of a convicted armed-bank robber and having twin boys who were not quite identical.
His dalliances with the law though, could not be severed so easily, and he would still sell cheap cigarettes to earn extra cash so he could go drinking, and buy quality cigarettes as he liked to indulge himself in the nicotine, as did Miriam. So a break to the seaside sounded ideal from the dishonesty and suspicion of urban society.
The sun blazed in a cloudless sky, the heat relentless, focused as though through an invisible magnifying glass. With all windows open, all of them wished they’d at least brought sunglasses. With the boys lounging on the back seat, tired, Miriam looked at the map, but could not fathom exactly where they were. She pointed a red-painted fingernail where she thought they were.
"I think we are around here, and if I’m right, then we have about another three miles to go before we reach Donregal. Of course we didn’t have to be coming here did we? I was promised the Costa del sunny beach but no, we have to come to a pokey little resort on the coast". Hugh stared at her for a few seconds before returning his attention to the road. Most of the time he wore a light grey suit. He had white thinning hair, and a complexion which added 7 years onto his 46.
"It seemed good enough within our price range" he said. "Anyway, it’s all in the name isn’t it? Costa. It costa lot of money to just fly there, nevermind being ripped off for everything else."
"You promised, you promised we’d be sunning ourselves in Spain".
"We can sun ourselves here, it’s roasting. Anyway we’ve been through this. I thought we would be able to afford that, but this is better than nothing isn’t it?" Miriam was silent, and simply stared at the map.
"Three miles you say, I don’t think so, look, it seems we’re here". As they came over a curved crest, a small seaside town was sprawled before them, and Hugh turned along the right turn in a fork in the road that he saw would take them there.
"What are you doing?" said Miriam, "It’s not Donregal".
"It doesn’t matter," he said, "Let’s go here. Look, the kids are knackered and I’m sure we can easily book ourselves into a b+b or hotel." Miriam nodded in agreement.
"It’s not on the map," she said.
The vehicle wound its way down to the resort’s main road which seemed to be around half a mile curving along the small beach bookended by two similar looking high rocky outcrops. He pulled up besides railings, beyond which was appealing looking sand. He saw a few people sauntering along it, some children playing happily, and a few dogs bounding around. Yes, he thought. This’ll do nicely.
Virtually behind them, across the main road was a small hotel. Hugh saw there was a ‘vacancies’ sign in the window, so with the children now awake, they hauled their luggage across and booked themselves in. Roy and Jake were excited, and wanted to go and play on the beach. Hugh simply lay on the bed. Miriam stood at the window.
"Are you coming out for a look around?" she asked.
"Later," he said, "I’m a bit tired after all that driving". She shook her head, and looked at the children playing in the sand and the distant yachts in no hurry to go anywhere.
The sun seemed even hotter the following day, and Hugh was already up, sitting on a chair at the window, having been down to a local shop for a newspaper and a cappuccino. He was wearing sunglasses. Miriam sat up in the bed.
"That’s right, don’t buy any for me," she said with heavy sarcasm.
"Expensive these," he said, taking off the cheap glasses. "Three quid. And this coffee was two quid. I spent more than a fiver just now, so I wonder if we might not stay for as many days as what we were going to. You know, this is going to be costly".
"We’re on holiday," said Miriam, "So we’d better stay for exactly how long as we said we would". Hugh saw that she was serious, took a sip of his coffee, and began reading his paper.
They stepped out in the blazing heat and the children pointed at an ice-cream van.
"You can’t have ice-cream for breakfast".
"Course they can" said Miriam, handing them a five-pound note. They dashed off and their parents began walking along the road, passing various shops which were of no real interest. They came to a hole-in-the-wall café with a few empty tables and chairs on the pavement.
"Breakfast", said Miriam, crossing over and ordering herself egg on toast and black coffee.
Hugh watched as the children wandered onto the beach with their ice-creams. A few other youngsters were already out playing, and Roy and Jake went across to join them.
"Look at that. They’ve made friends," he said, "Are you seeing that?" he asked, concerned.
Miriam didn’t seem interested.
"So? There’s nothing wrong" she said.
"Nothing wrong! What if they’re bad kids? You know, bad influences. I might have a word with their parents, you know, suss them out, see what the score is".
"What d’you mean ‘see what the score is?’ They’re kids having fun on the beach, that’s all". He didn’t want to argue, they’d done enough of that these past few months, and he knew she didn’t either, but sometimes it was hard to avoid. However, he kept his calm, and ten minutes later they were walking along the pavement again, along the shops.
Miriam slowed down when they came to what was the largest shop they had seen so far. ‘Caiman’s bazaar’. She stopped and looked in the window at Victorian and ragged dolls, and earthenware pottery and stationary.
"I think this is the type of shop that sells everything ," Hugh said, walking on, but Miriam looked in at the rest of the shop, and walked though the already open entrance. Hugh sighed, and followed her in.
The place was certainly big, but also the type of place where you had to be careful where you walked for fear of knocking anything. There were paperweights, gloves, children’s trikes, binoculars, fishing rods, footballs, paintings, toys; something for everyone.
"Yes," said Hugh, "You name it they got it".
"Look at these," said Miriam, walking to the back. "Jewellery".
"Cheap trinkets," her husband replied, not even looking at them, standing beneath a lazy turning fan on the ceiling.
There was quite a display, most of them on a small counter and on little stands on shelves.
"No," said Miriam, "They’re not. Look at this. Diamond rings. Crystal brooches". Hugh walked across and stared at the array of glittering fashion accessories.
"A Gold cubic zirconia bracelet watch" Hugh said to himself. "A hundred and fifty quid".
"White gold earrings, £70 pounds", said Miriam. Hugh simply stood there looking at them. He leaned in close to his wife and whispered. "I bet it would be easy to pocket some of these". He glanced towards the counter, and saw that there was nobody there.
"No way," he said, "No-one behind the counter. No cameras, and no curved mirrors in the corners. What do you say? We borrow a few of these".
"No, we’re on holiday, and we’re not thieves". Hugh walked around the shop, and saw that there really was nobody else there. He ended up at the counter, looking at a plastic looking caiman crocodile on the counter, curled around a blue ceramic bowl. A note was wedged between them:
‘The honesty Caiman. Please leave the money for anything you buy in the bowl. Thanks’. He saw there were notes and coins in the bowl.
"Can you believe this place?" he said, shaking his head "Have you seen this?" He pointed to the bowl. Miriam walked across.
"Why don’t you take those earrings?" he asked without expecting a reply. "I think I’ll have that watch".
"No, come on, we’re not thieves remember?" Hugh walked back across to the jewellery, and Miriam joined him.
"Tell me you’re not tempted" he said, and her silence and the look on her face told him she was. He took the watch and put it in his pocket, then a few bracelets and rings. Miriam took the earrings, and many other items.
"We’d better leave enough so as not to look suspicious" said Hugh, but when they had finished stuffing their pockets, it looked a whole lot emptier.
"Let’s go," said Miriam. Hugh bypassed the counter and took a twenty pound note from the bowl.
"Who’s to know?" he said. As they left, what they didn’t see was that the Caiman had turned its head to look at them.
"We can’t stay here," Hugh said, walking quickly back towards the hotel, his eyes darting around to see if they’d been spotted. He’d been in similar situations before. However, he saw that he had been spotted, by many people, as those in the nearby vicinity had stopped what they were doing and were simply staring at them.
"They know," said Miriam, "I knew I shouldn’t have listened to you".
"Maybe not," said Hugh, slowing down, but still heading towards the hotel.
Everybody they could see was looking at them. The ice-cream man and the small queue, an elderly couple who were just getting out of a car, and somebody in a nearby b+b with the net curtain pulled back.
"Let’s get the kids," he said, and turned and headed onto the beach, Miriam following. A pleasant breeze swept over them, and a few seagulls circled overhead, the sun still unrelenting in its heat. A few more yachts had appeared in the distance, and the water’s edge gently lapped at the sand.
All the children that had been playing had stopped to stare, including Roy and Jake.
"Come on we’re going" said Miriam holding out her hand, but then all the people seemed to converge around them. They stopped what they were doing to come onto the beach, and soon they were surrounded, trapped.
"What’s this?" asked Hugh, trying and failing to remain calm. Nobody said anything, but it was then that they felt a strange burning sensation inside their clothes and they realised that the stolen items were becoming hotter, singeing their skin and causing flames to eat into the material. They yelled and tried to pat down the growing fire, but the items melted into their muscles and bones, and the fabric of their clothes fuelled the flames as it spread around them. They flailed around, screaming, but they burned and liquefied, coming together as one fire, the people watching with interest, some craning their necks over others to watch, and pushing and shoving to get a good view.
The fire, however, didn’t stop or burn itself out as a normal fire would. It continued, the flesh burning away, the bones blazing and black. Ashes billowed into the air, the bones flaking away, and after a while, they too were gone, and the fire burned out, leaving nothing but the stolen items seemingly untouched by the heat on the sand.
The crowd slowly started to disperse, and one man shook his head at the stolen goods. He’d seen this many times before, and stopped to gather them up. He then headed back to Caiman’s bazaar to put them back on the shelves. Roy and Jake went back to playing with the other children, happy in their new home.