The Red Sand

October 19, 2007
By Serena Walker, Fort Meade, MD

I walk in through the door stealthily, feeling guilty. Dad is reading the newspaper at the kitchen table, and he looks up as I enter.
“Morning,” he says, taking a sip of coffee serenely.
“I went running,” I explain my absence hurriedly, even though he didn’t ask. “To the school and back.”
“Quite a ways,” he comments, nodding and returning to the paper. I slip off to my room.
There, I take my treasure out of my pocket and stow it away safely under my pillow before grabbing a fresh outfit of clothes and hastening to the bathroom to shower.
When I finish, I return to my bedroom and find the window open and Laurel rummaging through my drawers intently. She stops when she sees me come in.
“You could have waited,” I say, rolling my eyes.
“Can I see it?” she inquires.
I retrieve our prize from underneath my pillow and show it to her.
“Is that it?” she says dubiously.
“That’s it,” I affirm.
It’s just a small plastic Ziploc baggy, about the size of a credit card. Inside is a red, gritty, sand-like substance that makes faint clinking noises when I shake the bag, like a million minute bells clanging against each other musically.
It’s supposed to be special, though, according to the woman we visited at the carnival last week. She was a wrinkly, decrepit lady with bad teeth and trembling hands, dressed in layers upon layers of old, musty clothes. Her tent didn’t look like one of the circus attractions, but we ventured inside anyways, just in case.
She sat at a table in the dark with a small ceramic jar before her, filled to the rim with the red sand. She said it was magic sand that gave things life. Demonstrating, she placed a grain on her tongue and swallowed, and before our eyes, she began to change. Her skin tightened across her face, smoothing the wrinkles; her teeth whitened until they gleamed; her coarse gray hair became glossy and black. A twinkle returned to her eyes.
But as she spoke, she slowly grew old again. She said that one grain was not enough to make the change last. Permanence required much, much more sand—too much, but she didn’t say why.
Laurel was captivated. She thought about it night and day; she spoke of it endlessly; the thought of the red sand—a possible cure for her sick mother—consumed her. Finally, last night, she called me and convinced me to sneak into the carnival as it packed up and steal some for her. And I did, because I usually do what Laurel tells me.
“Did anyone see you?” she asks.
“I don’t think so,” I answer.
“Give it here, let me see it.”
“Say thank you,” I insist, irritated by her brusqueness.
“Let me have it,” she demands angrily, and reaches out to take it from me. I keep it tight in my grip, holding it away from her, and she claws at my arm heatedly. She finds a hold on a corner of the bag, and locks her fingers in it like the teeth of a snake. For a moment, we struggle.
Then, the plastic stretches and rips. The bag bursts and the sand spills onto my dresser, on a picture I took last summer. We were at the beach, and I photographed a turtle creeping along the shore; it turned out so nicely that I framed it.
Laurel shrieks, frustrated. She begins to gather it back up, but we both freeze as the sand starts to vanish. It takes a minute before we realize it is seeping into the picture through the glass.
We are momentarily too stunned to be angry— Laurel with horror, and me with surprise. I didn’t actually believe the sand possessed any measure of magical potency, and was merely a show the elderly lady put on. I stole it only to humor Laurel.
The turtle twitches; the ocean starts sliding across the beach in the picture. Suddenly, sand spills out of the frame, followed by an inquisitive little turtle. The water remains inside, but I can hear its roar faintly.
The flow of sand subsides, but the turtle successfully escapes it prison and waddles to the edge of the dresser. Mechanically, I rescue it before it falls.
Laurel stares at the turtle in dismay, and then turns to me, her eyes bright with fury. “It’s gone!” she yells. “What’s left for my mom now?”
“Is that Laurel?” My dad knocks softly on my door.
Crying, Laurel slinks out of my room through the window as dad opens the door. I’m left with the turtle in my hands, and dad peering at me from the hallway uncertainly.
“We just got in a fight,” I say. “We’ll make up.”
“Where did you get a turtle?” he asks.
“I got it from… her.” I move in front of the sand on my dresser.
“Okay.” Laurel and I get in so many messy and interesting situations that he’s learned to accept it. “Put it in some water.”

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