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Sand and Foam


Sand and Foam
by Stefan Slater

My sister let her toes freeze. During our mornings, June would balance on the edge between sand and foam. She’d let the grey sea roll over her bare feet, the kelp twisting and snaking around her ankles, but she wouldn’t move. Gulls begged but she always kept still. Eyes focused on the shadows offshore.

I tried standing with her once. Waiting. Watching. Toes all swallowed up by water. But the cold was too much. The weeds whispered and tried to crawl up my legs and I couldn’t stand it. I asked her once why she didn’t mind the cold. Cracked blue eyes took me in and she smiled and said that the water just felt like home.

It happened during our mornings.

We would wait for our parents to leave for work. Then we would run down to the shore and wait for June’s dreams to wash up.

At night, before bed, we’d write down what we wanted to see. Put the scraps into a hat. Pick one at random. Then dream of that thing. Next day, as long as the sun was hiding behind clouds, the dreams would come ashore.

More often than not, she would dream of the things I asked to see.

* * *

She stepped to the edge, letting the cold eat up her toes, and she looked out towards the end of the world. And then the shapes rose up out of the gray-blue, causing the little fish to jump to the sky.

There were jellyfish, all neon red and orange like the bar sign in town, that flew into the air like kites, tentacles snapping out to snare gulls.

Once, there was a horse made from sand and shattered mussels. June and I rode it for miles up and down the shore, racing the terns.

There were driftwood men with eyes of sea glass, and we made them fight one another with anchors, ropes, and rusted boiler doors.

There were obsidian crabs that sang to us with reedy voices, tossing sharp words about everyone we hated at school.

There were dogs. Things of smooth, wave-washed brick and purple urchins. I played fetch with them. Sometimes, if we were bored, we made the dogs tear the crabs apart.

There were things that wept honey. Things that made waves spin and dance for us. We named each thing. They were hers. Mine. Ours. We built our own little worlds on the sand, and when it was time to leave, June gave our things back to the water.

I asked her once about our dream-things. What happens when we’re done with them?

And she smiled. “They go back home. That’s all.”

* * *

The stories started slowly.

Dad at breakfast, reading the newspaper, ink on his fingers.

A slight mumble from the muted TV at bedtime.

At the grocery store, whispers floated overhead, slipping in between the squeals of dying shopping carts.

At school, rumors filled the cafeteria until you couldn’t breathe or think.

Burning shapes in the cloudy sky over the highway.

Odd shadows darting through backyards.

Broken fences. Tattered dog collars.

A college student, waiting for the bus, had his ear ripped off by a flying thing.

An old man drifted off to his favorite bar and disappeared. The next day, police found his body, covered in pulsing mold. His eyes and tongue tucked away neatly in his coat pocket.

A couple went walking in the park and came home all pale, unable to ever speak again.

Children went walking along the shore and came back screaming, drenched in seawater and blood. Cradling little hands with missing fingers.

The guilt was sudden and fast. I believed her—I thought she could control them.

I waited until we were alone, down on the shore during one of our mornings, and I begged her to stop.

June was stepping on kelp bulbs in her bare feet. “I’m still learning. Accidents happen.” She shrugged. “It’s not really our fault. I’m getting better—"

“No,” I shook my head. “This is all on you.”

“But you asked me—"

“Stop! Just stop!”

The wind pulled at her black hair. She shook her head. “This is just who we are. What else could you ever want?”

She kept popping bulbs. I ran home and I told my parents the truth. She made the monsters that were hurting people. It was her fault. Our parents didn’t believe, but then I brought them to the shore, and asked June to show them.

June didn’t hesitate. She kept her blue eyes on us, even when the rocks all around us came to life, rolling and tumbling in the sand and whispering about our dreams—the things that we kept locked away, unwilling to share. The rocks sang, crystal teeth flashing, and we screamed for them to shut up and June never stopped smiling.

* * *

Cracked blue eyes. The smile, and roiling water.

The dream-things never came back after the men in their white coats took June away.

I used to go to the shore and watch the water. Take in the waves and crawling kelp. Right and wrong tumbled apart so quickly, and I used to think of her when I took in the water, when I took in our old world, thinking of all the things she made.

I used to go to the shore. But then I started dreaming.

There were dreams of her one night. Her smile. The eyes. Dreams of impatient gulls and shapes moving under the waves. Dreams of things with sea glass eyes. Dreams of things that couldn’t wait to stand with me.

I’m afraid that it’s in the blood. And that I forgot who I am.

I’m afraid that one day I’ll go back to the shore, and the cold water won’t bother my naked toes.

The salt and foam will feel like home.

And I’ll see our things rising up from the water, and I won’t be able to fight the smile.

This is who we are.

And this is who I am.

* * *

Stefan Slater is a writer from Los Angeles. His nonfiction has appeared in Hakai Magazine and LA Weekly, and his fiction has appeared in Daily Science Fiction and Betwixt. You can check out his website to say hello at https://stefanaslater.com/.

What do you think is the attraction of the fantasy genre?

Fantasy doesn’t suffer from constraints. It can deliver a story to nearly any time or pocket of the imagination. A faraway planet. A hidden maze locked up in complicated magic. Something with armor and violent hierarchy, or something rebellious and fun. Somewhere gritty and sharp. Somewhere ethereal. It’s wonderful.

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