I walk along the golden sandy beach. My dad's swimming in the sea, and my mom is wading in the surf while watching my little brother and sister make their sandcastles on the shore.
I don't want to do either. I have never been in the ocean. I haven't ever dared to try. Since I was a child I have stayed on dry sand, but it seems childish to make sandcastles now, so I just walk along the shore leaving footprints behind me.
The sun is low, just above the horizon. It's been sinking, sinking, and soon it will sink beneath the sea.
I wander on and find a tree growing some forty feet from the shoreline. It's branches are low, wide, and strong. I look back. I'm quite far from my folks and they probably won't see me unless they bother to look.
I climb up. I climb up the branches till I'm as high as I can go. I sit there in the tree watching the sun sink lower and lower and the gentle waves breaking onto the beach.
I feel a breeze and I close my eyes and feel it whipping my hair about my face.
The breeze grows stronger, and I open my eyes to look. The tree, and the other trees, are beginning to quiver. Then they sway. Then they bend.
Maybe I'd better get down, I think.
But the breeze is no longer just a breeze, but a strong wind growing stronger and fiercer at each passing moment. And I'm stuck in the tree, clinging so I don't fall off. No way I'm going to try to get down.
I look toward my folks but instead I see that the wind has started to whip up the sand and is blowing it around like a whirlwind. In no time at all it has consumed me and my tree as well. The wind is beating us and the sand is swirling and stinging. I shade my eyes with my arm.
What is going on? I wonder. I can't see anything. It's like a hurricane or a sandstorm in a desert. I just hang on to my tree, fighting panic.
It grows quieter, suddenly. The whistling wind and the swirling sand become a distant hum in my ears. Slowly, I lower my arm and open my eyes.
I'm still in the tree and the storm still continues. But it feels gentler now. It's clearing up ahead, though to the right, left, and behind me the sandstorm goes on.
Suddenly, I see someone.
The person emerges ahead from the sandstorm on the left.
I nearly fall out of the tree. I stare, wide-eyed.
It's a woman. A woman, elegant and slender with long flowing hair and a swirling dress.
But what strikes me dumb is that she's made entirely of sand.
Her head and face, her hair, her hands, her body, her dress, is all sand.
And wisps of sand like smoke cling to her and drift about her as she moves.
She faces the sea and stands still, as if waiting.
I stare, and stare, and it's the only thing I can do.
Then I notice the sea stirring. It gets more and more agitated until it seems to be like a boiling overflowing cauldron.
It churns and roars and the waves grow taller and bigger with each breaker that crashes onto the beach. The sky grows darker, like it does before a storm. Black and gray clouds rumble and boil in the sky. I didn't even see where they came from.
I only stare, my mouth hanging open.
The waves keep rising higher and crashing harder, but the sand woman just stands there as firm as a rock. The waves crash against her but she doesn't move an inch.
I can feel the spray against my face.
Suddenly, right in front of the woman the sea turns into a whirlpool. It rushes and roars and swirls and spins faster and faster and louder and louder.
What's happening this time? I think in shock and awe.
The whirlpool rushes upwards into a tall swirling pillar of water like a tornado.
Sharply I suck in a breath.
The woman stands, immovable.
The tornado of water then grows shorter and smaller, shorter and smaller, until it is the height and size of a man.
Then I see the tornado of water changing and turning, transforming until I really do see a man.
I see an old man made entirely of water. He has a long beard and long hair and he wears a robe. All water.
He remains there, facing the woman. The sea is still unsettled behind him, tossing and churning.
But I see nothing else now, only the sand woman and the man of the sea.
Then I nearly lose my grip when I hear them speak.
“Show off,” the woman mutters in disgust. She is talking about the man.
“Who?” the old man rumbles, “Me? A show off?” He sounds angry. “Who's the one who comes dragging a sandstorm behind her?” He means her.
“I can't help it,” she snaps. That surprises me.
“Well, my dear, I wouldn't ever allow a little girl like you to out do me!” the old man counters sarcastically.
“Enough of this,” says the woman in annoyance, “why did you want to see me?”
“I want you to let the children go!” the old man thunders and the sea rages around him. This I don't understand.
“How do you mean?” the woman answers coldly.
“How do I mean?” the man rages, “Stop keeping people on your sandy shores,” he nearly spits out the last words, “let them come to me.”
“To you? You are dangerous,” the woman counters, “you are wild, deep, and reckless! I keep the children and the people safe and happy with my warm sand in the sun,” she sounds like a proud mother.
“Yes, you do,” the man replies, “but you keep more than you should. You protect those who need it, but you are overprotective! You keep back those who could come! You keep back those who are old enough, brave enough!”
“Brave enough? They fear you. That's why they stay with me.” She sounds gloating.
“No,” the man rumbles, “you plant in them a fear of me! Of the sea!” And then I understand. Whatever this is, the woman represents the beaches and the man represents the ocean.
“That's so true,” she replies sweetly.
“You sand witch!” snarls the old man, “you keep them back with fear, not safety! With fear! You keep them on you beaches with fear and comfort! You hold them back from everything I offer – fun, adventure, discovery! Me! The sea!”
“So, what do you want?” snaps the woman, “did you come here just to scream at me? If so, I'm leaving.”
The old man growls. “I want you to let them go. Release them from your spell!”
“No, I can't.”
“You mean you won't!”
“No. I can't. It's too late. I can't revoke it. Only they can free themselves.”
“Let them free themselves then!”
“You don't understand, do you? They can't free themselves unless they want to. And they won't want to unless they know why. And someone has to tell them why. And we can't tell them. And if someone did, would they believe it?”
The man glares at her.
“You're a witch!” he spits, “Just think of that young girl who was here last! What potential she's got! How she would love it if she came to me! But she won't! She won't because you are strangling her with fear! If she would only try!”
“What girl are you talking about?”
“The teenager, whose brother and sister are also held firmly on your sand!”
“Which teenager? There are so many.”
“The one that just walked the beach before we met of course!”
They are talking about me!
And it is all true. I have been scared of the sea. Since I was young I haven't dared to try. What was it all this time then? A spell?
“Oh,” says the woman, “you mean the one in the tree over –,” the woman turns to point but stops.
They both look toward my tree and right at me. They stare at me wide eyed.
I know they see me, and I know they know I see them.
The woman looks back at the man.
He shakes his head and mutters.
Then at the same moment, the woman melts away back into sand and the old man fades into the raging sea.
The sandstorm grows stronger and stronger again and the water boils and crashes as if it is being emptied out of the sea. The sandstorm becomes so fierce that I cannot keep my eyes open. I squeeze them shut, wondering if the woman and man are trying to destroy me.
I cover my face with one arm, and hang onto the tree with the other.
All at once everything is is still and silent. Completely still and silent. And I didn't even notice how the noise disappeared. All I know is that it's quiet, as if it had always been that way.
I open my eyes.
Everything is exactly as it was when I climbed into the tree.
The sun is setting behind the horizon. My folks are still doing exactly what they were doing before.
My heart is still pounding and I'm short of breath.
I clamber down the tree, still shaking.
I stand for a moment to regain my balance and composure.
Finally, I pat the tree's trunk. “Thanks,” I whisper.
I start trotting back toward my folks, in the surf. I walk in the water, letting it lap around my ankles. Somehow, I feel like I know it now. And I know that any danger it holds is only in proportion to its riches. And I know the sand is shallow, but the water is deep.
“Hey,” my dad calls to me, “what happened to you?” I know what he means. How did I suddenly decide to try out the ocean?
But I reply, “Oh, I don't know,” walking toward him, deeper. “I guess I was just watching the sand and the sea.”