Sandcastles This work is considered exceptional by our editorial staff.

By , Amherst, NY

The dead, pink sands whip and twirl gracefully through the harsh winds as if to imitate life in an otherwise dead environment. No life had existed in this desert for years now, the dishevelled drifter trudging a path known only to himself being no exception. His official coat and slacks may have been impressive once, had the whipping winds and coarse sands not ruined that image, but the drifter cares little of his personal likeness as he continues his trek, eyes focused intently on nothing as if he expects his hollow gaze to create something spectacular out of the twirling sands. His days of creating, however, are over. Soon he will meet the same fate as the land he left behind.
Miles away and hours ago, a smoldering patch of gray stands out amongst the sea of pink, crude metal structures, burnt and collapsed under the weight of their own materials. Bodies are strewn haphazardly amongst the makeshift settlement, uncanny mixes of human and machine, looking more like dispirited and deflated balloons, with some metallic appendages scattered in the sand. Large windmill-like structures stand at each corner of the area, as still and silent as the deceased residents. A lone figure slowly and weakly makes his way out of the village, as the dunes begin to rip into their new prey.
Before being consumed by the dunes, the village is overtaken by utter chaos and destruction. It is under the stars of a desert night, though to an observer, the ground would be just as lit up than the sky, with raging fires devouring all but the sands themselves. This time around, the creatures are alive, floating and seemingly breathing, but in a state of anarchy. They madly fly around the village, attacking others and themselves with their sharp, metal appendages in a horrible, mindless frenzy. A constant hissing sound can be heard from any point in the village, either the vocalizations of the beings, or the sounds of their balloon-like sacs being punctured and bursting, releasing a slew of gas and highly flammable clear fluid. Somewhere away from the chaos, in an underground bunker of sorts, the drifter sits patiently, waiting for the intermittent banging and hissing to subside. The machine next to him hums a low tone, inaudible to him, but not to the mad creatures above him.
Less than an hour before, the drifter works quickly and frantically, on one table the desiccated body of one of the hovering beings, in the other a small pile of various tools. Hearing the sound of movement above his subterranean bunker, the drifter flinches slightly, a small, glistening drop of sweat rolling off of his nose onto the crudely drawn schematics before him.  He removes various parts from the corpse of the creature in front of him, tinkering with and examining them, occasionally incorporating the part into a somewhat large box with an antennae sticking out of it unceremoniously. The drifter sobs and mumbles incoherently while he works, trying to convince himself that what he is about to put into action is for the best, that he is morally justified in what he would do next. Unconvinced, but his choice still made, he leaves the room, glancing down at the box in his arms, possibly wondering how one small machine could undo so many years of work, and an entire civilization.
The drifter makes his way towards the hidden covering for his bunker, an old friend who he hadn’t seen in far too long. En route, he notices some sort of congregation towards the village center. Taking cover behind some machinery, he watches as an address of sorts is given to the hundreds of inhabitants of the settlement. While not an expert in the tongue of the creatures, he understands enough to realize the horrible truth of the matter. He is no longer to be watched over and studied, due to general feelings of disgust and confusion as to his body, mind, and emotions. They find him disturbing and unnatural, and he is to be killed. The drifter is overtaken by pure fury at the sight of such a betrayal, finding it ludicrous that they would kill him of all people. They should be treating him as a king and worshipping him for what he has done for the village. Fueled by a psychotic rage, the drifter strides with a new purpose towards the bunker. Simple escape is no longer enough.
Just minutes before, the drifter lies dispiritedly on the cold metal floor of his cell. There are several chairs of varying shapes, materials, and sizes, most of which seeming extremely unfitting for human use. A few resemble typical chairs, but the drifter refuses to sit in a futile act of defiance. The creature on the other side of his glass wall waits a moment before producing short, pensive clicking noises from an unknown orifice while retiring out of view. Seconds after it disappears, the drifter’s air changes completely, and he looks anxious, almost frenzied as he pulls down a loose panel, for which he had once spent a day and many fingernails removing from the wall. A tunnel is revealed, the product of weeks of careful digging through the wetted sand behind the building. With but a second of hesitation, the drifter climbs through the small hole, knowing the patterns of his captors well enough to predict that they will not discover his absence for about an hour. He prays that he can reach the bunker and retrieve some supplies for escape before that time is up. The subject sees the light of the stars above him, having not seen them for so long that they seem new again, as if the universe had disassembled and rebuilt itself anew since he had last viewed it.
Before his imprisonment, the drifter, king as well as god to the creatures of the village, steps out of his home, the largest of the village, and the only one with decorations and color, seeing as the creatures have no sense of sight. He has understood through his limited understanding of their language and social structure that a new religion has been slowly but steadily converting his people. The new belief system considers the drifter an impostor, with their real creators being four omnipotent deities, one for each of the windmills, one having created the sun, another the stars, yet another the sand, and finally one that created the creatures themselves. They seemed to want the drifter to be removed from power as a false prophet.Before he can even take action against the religion that threatens his place as the highest power of the society, he is apprehended and captured from behind. He was placed in an observational cell to be studied as a scientific oddity, rather than worshipped as their creator. There he would remain for years.
Several years earlier, a somewhat younger drifter, tired looking and a bit apprehensive, steps out from the hidden bunker into the beginnings of a small village. He is almost immediately surrounded by several of its inhabitants, the balloon-like creatures that he is already very familiar with, though they have never seen him. The creatures try to reach out and examine him, prodding and probing him with their appendages, but the drifter stops them before they can do any harm. He leads the creatures around the village, trying to convey to them that they, as well as their society, was created by him. The large windmill structures that keep the sands from covering the area were his design, as were the bodies of the creatures, After weeks of getting them to forget their initial suspicions of an outsider, and showing them his designs and early prototypes, they accept his role not simply as their creator, but as their god. He is promptly given control over the entire village, though he knows little about how to rule them. At first, the drifter treats his position solely as a political one, but eventually the idea of being a god gets to him, and he begins to think of himself as one. The drifter does little himself to improve the village or make decisions, but flaunts himself around the village, expecting respect from the mostly emotionless creatures due to his lavish clothes woven from a synthetic fabric and his personal staff of several of the creatures, dressed up in similarly lavish robes that seemed to serve no purpose. His rule would last years, but some small part of him would always feel like he had ignored the original intent of his mission.
Long before all of this, Donovan Gibbons laughs triumphantly as he peers into the small container, realizing that his test was successful. He has created life, or at least something close enough to life. Watching this small, not quite three inch tall balloon of synthetic and organic materials float lazily around, he knew it wasn’t much yet, but it was certainly a start. Soon, he might be able to give it higher brain functions so he can teach it simple commands and ideas. Later he can introduce groups of the beings to each other above ground, and see if they can create a primitive society without his help. Maybe he can eventually fulfill his duty, and plant the seed of what will become the next era of life on Earth. Gibbons pulled some rations out of his cryochamber-turned-freezer. A success like this warranted a feast. While eating, Gibbons thinks about the challenge that lies ahead of him. He’s seen what it looks like outside his bunker. What used to be the west coast of the United States was now an arid desert devoid of life, but his outlook on the situation was that it was like a sandcastle. It might get kicked down and destroyed every now and then, but its fragility is inevitable, and while no sandcastle lasts forever, no sandcastle cannot be rebuilt. This is his role, the man who must wait in the sidelines, flash frozen until the day comes when the sandcastle is kicked, and he must rebuild it. He has no idea why civilization ended, and quite frankly he doesn’t care. All he needs to focus on is how he can rebuild it, even if humans are not a part of the picture. Gibbons kicks up his feet and relaxes while he still can. He figures he has a busy week ahead of him.
The drifter continues to walk through the desert, though at this point it seems like more of a slow crawl. He hasn’t looked behind him in hours, and he sees no reason to. The drifter knows already that all that’s left for him there are massive dunes covering what was once his kingdom. He built it, but when nobody else was around to destroy it, he inevitably ended up doing it himself. For just a moment, Gibbons stops walking and feels remorse, wondering what happens to a world when its creator abandons it, destroying his own sandcastle. The drifter puts an end to that train of thought quickly, however. There’s always somebody left to rebuild the sandcastle. There’s always somebody, he repeats as he keeps moving to prevent the sand from collecting at his feet. There’s always somebody, he says as he spends his last days and his last hours wandering the vast wasteland of his own creation.






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