The hot sun blazed down on the crowded beach outside of Los Angeles. Timmy and Tammy Blair played happily at the ocean’s edge, while their mother and father got some much needed R&R twenty feet away.
Suddenly, the sun’s rays fell on something shiny. It caught Timmy’s eye, and he ran into the water to see what it was.
“Hey!” he exclaimed. “I found a bottle!”
Tammy looked up from the sand sculpture she was building. “So?”
“It’s a bottle with a message in it!”
Tammy stood up. “You mean, like in that old mushy movie Mom always watches on DVD?”
“Yeah. I guess so. And there’s some sort of strange looking coin moving around in there, too. Here. Come help me get this top off. It’s really stuck on tight!”
Tammy took the bottle from him and studied it. “We could just break the bottle.”
Her brother glared at her. “Are you kidding? This is the most interesting thing I’ve found all day. I want to keep it.”
Tammy sighed and dug a fingernail under the edge of the bottle cap to pry some of the crud loose. She turned the cap, and the bottle opened easily.
“Gimme! Gimme!” Timmy demanded. “Let me see!”
“Hey. I’m the one who got it open.”
“But I’m the one who found it!”
Mr. Blair heard the argument and hurried over to his children.
“What is going on here? Why are you two shouting at each other?”
“I found this bottle in the ocean, and she took it from me!” Timmy whined.
“I did not! You asked me to open it for you!”
Mr. Blair rolled his eyes. “Tammy, why don’t you hand the bottle to me, and we’ll all look at what’s inside together.”
Tammy glanced at her gloating brother and stuck a tongue out at him. Then she handed the bottle over to her father. Mr. Blair pulled out the piece of paper and unrolled it.
“What does it say, Dad?” Timmy asked.
Mr. Blair cleared his throat and read:
December 9, 2005
To Whom It May Concern:
If you are reading this, I am likely dead. The captain says there is very little we can do for the ship. She is destined to go down, and all of us will go with her. There are no lifeboats, and our oxygen tanks are nearly empty. There’s definitely not enough air to go around.
So, I am writing this and putting it in a bottle, hoping that the bottle finds its way to someone who will be able and willing to contact my wife, Marie Van Zant, 333 East Maple Drive, Alpine, UT.
The message and coin contained in this bottle are the only things I have left to give Marie and our little girl, April. God bless whoever sends this to them.
Lt. John Q. Van Zant, first mate, Dolphin Song
“Oh. How sad,” Tammy breathed when her father finished reading the letter.
Mr. Blair nodded. “Yes. It is very sad.”
“So what’s that coin?” Timmy asked.
Mr. Blair tipped the bottle upside-down, and the coin tumbled out into his palm. His brow furrowed as he studied it.
“I’m not quite sure. It’s not anything I recognize. It’s definitely old. There are some words imprinted on it, but I can’t make them out.”
“I wonder why he put that coin in there with the letter?” Tammy asked.
Her father shrugged.
“It must be worth a lot of money,” Timmy snatched the coin from his father’s hand.
“We need to give it back to his wife, Marie,” Tammy said.
Mr. Blair sighed. “Honey, we can’t do that. It’ll take us over nine hours to drive to Alpine, Utah from here. And, even if we did make it to the town, I don’t have any idea where 333 East Maple Drive is.”
“So, you get a map,” Tammy said. “How hard can that be? We can stop over there on our way back to Chicago.”
Her father sighed again. “Tammy, I don’t know if that would be feasible.”
“Huh?” Timmy interrupted.
Mr. Blair tried again. "I just don’t know if we could do that.”
“Could we do it if we cut our vacation short by a day?” Tammy asked. “This is really important, Dad. I know I wouldn’t mind. Would you, Timmy?”
“Nah. I think it would be fun to meet Marie and learn more about this coin.”
Mr. Blair turned the bottle over in his hand and studied it for a long time.
“Well, let me talk it over with your mother,” he said. “We’ll see what we can do.”
A week later, the family of four drove their SUV into Marie Van Zant’s driveway. It had not been nearly as difficult as Mr. Blair thought it would be to find the house. He and Mrs. Blair stayed a few paces behind the children as the walked up to the front porch. The children were the ones who found the bottle. They should be the ones to return it.
The woman who answered the door had light blond hair thrown back in a short ponytail. Her grey eyes looked tired, and her face was creased with lines. The anxious look on her face increased when the strangers confronted her at her door.
“Can I – help you?” she asked.
Tammy stepped closer to the door.
“Hi. My name is Tammy Blair. This is my brother, Timmy, and these are our parents.”
“We were at the beach, and we found a bottle with a message in it for you!” Timmy said and thrust the bottle into the woman’s hand.
“Beach? Message for me? I don’t understand.”
“Maybe you’d better sit down,” Mrs. Blair said as she moved forward. “May we come in, Mrs. Van Zant?”
The widow looked around the room behind her. Then she turned to the four people standing on her porch. She nodded and opened the door wider, so they could all enter.
“It’s from your husband, John,” Tammy said.
Mrs. Van Zant’s eyes got wider. “John? You’ve got a message from John? Is he alive? Is he okay? Where is he?”
“Maybe you’d better read the message,” Mr. Blair said.
All conversation stopped while the young widow read the message from beyond the grave. Tears filled her eyes, and she clutched the letter and coin to her chest. Finally, she looked down at the coin and gasped.
“I don’t believe it! He found it. John found it!”
“What is it?” Timmy asked, standing and crossing over to Mrs. Van Zant’s chair.
“My husband went on that treasure hunting ship just to find this piece. He told me all about it. It’s a 1698 gold doubloon from Portugal minted by a man named Anselmo Carvalho. He was a very well respected metalworker, and something of a trickster. Did you see these words? They’re gibberish. They’re meant to look like actual words, but they’re not really. Carvalho minted only three of these in 1698. This coin that I hold in my hand could be worth more than one million dollars on today’s market!”
Timmy whistled, and the other family members registered variations of shocked expressions.
“Over a million dollars!” Timmy exclaimed. “Imagine that!”
“Yes. I never believed that John would actually find it. I mean, the odds were definitely not in his favor, but he said he had to try. Our little girl, April, has a degenerative kidney disease. She’s been on medication and dialysis for several years, but all that costs a lot of money. And now, it’s not even working as well as it used to. She will need a transplant soon, or else she will die, and transplants cost more than we ever would have been able to afford – until now.”
“Wow,” Tammy breathed.
Mrs. Van Zant smiled and wiped away a tear from her cheek. “You just don’t have any idea what this means to us. Thank you so much. I wish I could give you something in return, but we just don’t have anything.”
At that moment, a little girl with blond curly hair wearing pajamas trudged into the room. She rubbed her eyes with her fists and blinked a few times.
“Mommy?” she said. “What’s going on?”
Her mother ran over to her and hugged her. “Oh, everything’s okay, sweetheart. Everything’s great, in fact. These people are here to deliver a message from your daddy.”
Mr. Blair stood up and motioned for the rest of his family to do the same.
“We really must be going,” he said.
Mrs. Van Zant separated herself from her daughter for a moment and protested. “No. You should stay and have dinner with us – or at least a cup of coffee or something?”
“No, really. You’re too kind, but we have to go. We’ve got a long trip ahead of us – back to Chicago," Mrs. Blair said. "Don’t worry about repaying us. It was the least we could do. You just focus on getting your little girl better.”
Mrs. Van Zant nodded and smiled. She followed them to the door and closed it behind them.
For a long time, no one said anything. They were all content to listen to the radio and meditate on the encounter with the message in the bottle and the lives that it changed.
Timmy broke the silence. “You know, that’s really neat.”
“What’s that, son?” Mr. Blair asked.
“The fact that we were able to help Lt. Van Zant help his family from beyond the grave.”
“Yeah,” Tammy chimed in. “It’s like the message in the bottle was sent from heaven or something.”
“Maybe it was, honey,” their father murmured. “Maybe it was.”