Mike lived a simple life. When he wasn’t working at the gas station down the road, he was always on the beach, not far from his seaside cottage where he lived alone. Every day he knelt down and plunged his hands deep into the sand, grasping the grains and shaping them, letting them take form in front of him, inspired by the eddies of the wind, the crash of the waves, the slant of the sun. Sometimes it was a dragon, other times a sea turtle or a giant hand reaching up to the sky. It became whatever felt good at the time, and Mike went with it.
Tourists came and went, and Mike rarely saw any of them more than once, but their reactions were typical to him: curiosity, perhaps even awe if he created something particularly impressive. On the day he made a dragon, a little girl ran over, dropping her shovel on the sand to get a closer look.
“It looks like he could breathe fire!” she squealed, clapping her hands.
Her mother jogged over, a drooling toddler hoisted in her arms.
“Come on, Felicity, it’s time to go,” she said in a tired voice. She gave a passing glance at the dragon. “Nice dragon,” she said, grabbing the little girl by the arm and hauling her away.
“But I want to see!” the little girl shouted, looking back over her shoulder as they went. Their voices faded away.
In the end though, after the initial amusement, they always left. Mike would smile and look up as the inevitable and ever-changing crowd passed by his spot, admiring his work and sometimes snapping photos, but his smile was fixed, because he knew they came to see his art, not him. Mike could count on one hand the number of times he was actually in a photo with whatever he had sculpted that day.
At the end of the day, as the sun began to drop down in the sky and the last straggling tourists began to fold up their chairs and close their umbrellas, Mike would sit back on his heels and cast a critical eye on his work. Usually he was satisfied.
“Better than yesterday,” he would murmur to himself.
Sometimes he would sit on the beach and watch the moon begin to rise over the ocean, illuminating the waves as they crept onto shore, lapping ever closer to his creation. His creations were always gone by the time he returned to his spot the next day, but sometimes he would sit with them until it became full dark and the stars came out, watching the waves slowly carry his work away, first taking a foot or a tail, and eventually the rest. He always felt a little sad to see them go.
“Nothing ever lasts,” he would say to himself. “Nothing ever stays. I wish just once that it would stay.”
To the casual observer, Mike had the perfect life: peace and quiet, a job just down the road and a cottage by the sea. But Mike was unhappy. He was lonely. He wanted to fall in love.
“I will find her someday. Someday she will come.” But she never did.
Mike always had his eyes open watching for her while he knelt on the sand with the sun high in the sky, letting the wind and waves direct his hands. Scores of beautiful girls would walk by, with their hair whipping around them, their laughter carried to him on the breeze. They came in all shapes and sizes and colors, some scantily-dressed and others properly covered clutching hats on their heads, but they were all beautiful to him. Sometimes they would come very close to comment on his work and smile at him, and Mike was always struck by sudden, devastating shyness and could do nothing more but smile back and thank them. Then they would walk away, a group of them, a pair of them, or sometimes just one, and he would watch them go, their graceful hips swinging as they got smaller and smaller in the distance. Mike knew it was unlikely he would see any of them again, but it pained him every time to see them go, and each day his list of beautiful girls got longer, as his eyes scraped over the beach-goers endlessly, hoping to see one of them, any of them, a second time.
“One day one of them will come back. She’ll come back for me,” he said to himself. But she never did.
And so the days continued this way, one day bleeding into the next, stretching into weeks, months, and years.
* * *
But then one day, everything changed. There was a storm far out at sea and the wind was blowing sand into his eyes, but Mike was out on the beach a short distance from his cottage, just like usual. He was having trouble deciding what to create today, and sat back on his heels to stare at the flat expanse of sand before him. He plunged his hands into the sand to begin, but he felt nothing, and nothing came to him. He saw movement out of the corner of his eye a short ways down the beach from him, and turned to look. A beautiful dark-haired girl was setting a folding chair down onto the sand, the wind whipping her red sundress around her. Mike was struck by her beauty and stared. She turned and saw him, and their eyes met. They stared at each other for a few seconds, and then she turned away, bending down to pull a book out of her bag and settling into her chair. Her eyes dropped into her book and she didn’t look up again. Mike’s heart sank. He looked down at his hands, still buried in the sand, and clenched his fists.
“The girls always leave. She will never come back for me. So I have to bring her to me. I will make a girl for myself. She will be mine.”
His fingers began to shape the sand, and a beautiful sand girl began to take form. Mike worked hard on her all afternoon, as the sun rose high overhead, and the storm blew closer to shore. The dark-haired girl in the red dress eventually packed up her chair and left, but Mike barely noticed. He was inspired, he was caught in the power of his creation, as she took shape before him. Mike’s hands lovingly packed the sand around her limbs, the curve of her thighs and the swell of her breasts. He fashioned a bikini for her, with little dents where the polka-dots should be. He took a long time on her hair, giving every strand definition and even threading in some seaweed to give it texture. At long last, he sat back on his heels and gazed upon her. He decided she was by far the best work he had ever done. He had fashioned her reclining on the sand, with her elbows propped up so she could look out over the ocean. He gazed into her blank eye sockets and wished they were real and looking back at him.
“I love you,” he murmured. “I will call you Mariah. My Mariah. My goddess of the sea.”
He was startled out of his reverie as sand was kicked into his face. He spluttered, wiping at his eyes, and looked around. An old gentleman was stumbling to his feet next to him.
“I’m sorry son, didn’t mean to get you,” the man said, straightening up. “You looked very busy, but I very much wanted to get a good look at this lovely thing you’re working on. She’s beautiful,” he said, shaking sand out of his beard. Mike noticed for the first time that his beard was very long. It whipped around him as he spoke. “But then I tripped like the klutz I am,” he went on, “And I dropped my ring. Ah, here it is,” he said, lifting it out of the sand and slipping it back on his finger. It had a deep red jewel in the center. “Almost dropped it on your girl!” he laughed. “But not quite.” He leaned closer. “Ah, just a little touch right here, I’m sorry son. I didn’t mean to get you,” he said again.
“It’s okay, I can fix it,” said Mike as he leaped up to inspect the damage. “Oh that’s nothing,” he told the old man as he patted the sand back into place. Her thigh was once again perfectly curved, just like before. “All better!” He stood back and smiled shyly.
“Well son, I couldn’t have done a better job myself,” the old man told him. “You have quite a talent there. Keep up the good work! And now I must be on my way.” He started to shamble away.
“Wait,” Mike said. People rarely talked this much to him, and Mike was thoroughly enjoying their exchange. “Do you…live around here?” He asked awkwardly.
“Oh yes,” the old man replied, smoothing his beard, although there really was no point with the wind picking up again. “I live down that way a piece.” He gestured vaguely down the beach in the opposite direction. “I don’t get out much. It was very nice to meet you, son. And your girl.” He winked and began to walk away.
“You too,” Mike called after him. He watched him until he was far down the beach and finally disappeared from sight. He wondered if he would ever see him again.
“Probably not,” Mike said to himself.
He looked down at his girl. The thought was just crossing his mind that he might need to cover her with something in case it began to rain, because he was desperate to keep her intact for as long as possible. But then he saw a slight movement out of the corner of his eye. It looked like one of her fingers had moved ever so slightly.
“That’s impossible,” Mike muttered. “I must be losing my mind.” He turned his back to her and began to cast about, looking for something, anything he could use to protect her from the blowing sand.
He received the shock of his life when he turned back around to find a beautiful honey-blonde girl face to face with him, with cornflower blue eyes. She was wearing a polka-dot bikini and had a stunning figure. “Are you…what…” Mike floundered, blushing madly. He was used to beautiful girls stopping to admire his work, but he usually saw them coming from a long way off and was able to prepare himself to say “hello” or “thank you.” This one had somehow managed to creep up on him and get into his personal space without any warning at all.
“Are you…do you like…?” He tried again, gesturing in the direction of his sand girl, and received a second shock when he saw that she wasn’t there. He turned all the way around, looking all over the flat expanse of sand and around the beautiful girl standing before him, trying to locate his sand girl. She was nowhere to be found. It was as though she had never existed. The blonde girl looked at him curiously with a smile on her lips. They were a lush and beautiful, just like the rest of her. Mike thought wildly that she was the most perfect girl he had ever seen.
“I was going to show you my girl,” Mike said to her, blushing, “Her name’s Mariah. But she’s not here…” His voice trailed off as he stared at the beautiful girl in front of him.
She came closer still, until it felt like they were sharing breaths. Mike thought he would drown in her beautiful eyes.
Her voice, unlike any he had ever heard, sounded hoarse and gritty. “My name is Mariah,” she said. It sounded like she had something in her throat.
“You’re…?” Mike stammered. He stared.
“Yes,” she said, her voice now sounding a bit smoother and more controlled. “I am Mariah and I love you. You made me. I felt your love and your thoughts as you placed your hands on me. I wanted to kiss you and show you how much I love you, but I couldn’t do anything about it until a minute ago. I couldn’t move.” She coughed, sand spraying from her open mouth. She reached up and pulled some strands of seaweed out of her hair. She cleared her throat.
“You’re…” Mike said again. He simply couldn’t believe it.
“Yes! I am yours!” Her arms slid around his neck and she drew him to her. “I will not leave you like the others. Let me show you how much I love you,” she breathed. Mike’s arms slid around her like the most natural thing in the world. He felt the ties of her polka-dot bikini under his hands.
“Oh my God she’s real, she’s real,” Mike thought incoherently and pressed his lips to hers. He felt like he was in a cyclone of sensations spinning around. She smelled and tasted like the sea breeze and the wild wind.
They were interrupted by a loud crack of thunder.
“I think we should go someplace safe,” Mike said, amazed at his boldness. But Mariah pressed herself against him and said, “Yes, let’s,” and together they ran between the raindrops, down the beach to his cottage.
When they were inside, Mike fumbled for the light switch and discovered that the power was out.
“We need to light some candles,” he said. He hunted through several drawers, and pulled out a box of matches. He lit one and held it in front of him. Mariah was suddenly there, her eyes luminous in the darkness. His hand shook as he lit a candle. She was just too beautiful.
“You need to stop doing that,” he told her.
“Doing what?” she said innocently.
“Where do you come from?” He stammered. “How can this be…?”
Mariah leaned against the doorway, her curves outlined in the candlelight. Mike had the sudden desire to throw her down on a bed and do all kinds of things to her. He hoped she couldn’t tell. “I don’t know,” she said. She sat down on a chair and stared at her toes, her golden hair hanging in her face. “I don’t remember anything before you putting your hands all over me on the beach. And I liked it,” she said, peering at him from under her lashes.
“Do you believe in God?” Mike asked her.
“I think so,” she said, looking at him.
“Maybe you’re an angel. Because he answered my prayers. For you to come for me.”
She stood up and began to walk towards him. “All I know is I love you, and I won’t leave you like the other girls do. And I want you. How about we start there.” She gazed up at him, her breath falling lightly on his cheek. Mike stared at her, again questioning whether any of it was real, because it felt too good to be true. But as he began to lose himself in her eyes again, he realized he didn’t care, and grabbed her suddenly, breathlessly to him, dragging his hands through her hair, his fingers getting caught in something brittle and crackling. He shook dried seaweed from his hands and pulled her to him again. As he ran his hands up and down her body, he realized that he recognized every line and every curve, which he had lovingly memorized during the afternoon as he crafted her from the sand. She certainly didn’t feel like sand now. This living, breathing creature responded to his every kiss and caress, pressing herself to him over and over again, until they eventually found themselves on his bed.
“My goddess of the sea,” Mike breathed, taking in every inch of her in the candlelight.
“My love,” she whispered back. “Don’t ever leave me.”
“I won’t,” Mike said fervently, cradling her face in his hands. “I won’t!”
* * *
Some time later, Mike woke in the pitch darkness. He had no idea what time it was, only that it was either very late or very early. The candle had burned out, and it felt like he was lying on something gritty. He shook his arm, a curtain of sand cascading off and onto the floor. He sat bolt upright.
He fumbled for the lamp by the bed and turned it on. The room was flooded with light.
“Mariah!” He gasped. There was a pile of sand where she had been, and a vague outline of what had once been her beautiful face on the pillow. As he shifted on the bed, more sand cascaded onto the floor, and the impression was lost. It looked like he had unceremoniously dumped a bucket full of sand all over his bed, and sprinkled some on the pillow for good measure.
“Oh, Mariah!” Mike cried, sifting his fingers uselessly through the sand, searching for her, longing for her touch, somehow still hoping that she would suddenly take form before him again, just as she had on the beach a few hours before, but what felt like a lifetime ago for Mike. But she did not come. Mike was alone, with a pile of sand in his bed. He covered his face and wept, his tears pattering down and dampening some of the sand. “I love you.” He laid down with his cheek on his gritty pillow and cried himself to sleep.
When he woke some time later, the sun was high in the sky, and coming in strongly through the window. Mike sat up groggily, dragging his hand over his face, discovering he was covered in grit. The odd and wonderful events of the past day came back to him then, and he looked around at the sand covering his bed, the floor, and tracked through the walkways of his house, and felt a sob rising in his throat.
“It was real,” he whispered. “I know it. I felt it. I am not crazy. It really happened. But now she’s gone. Mariah’s gone.”
He wandered around his house in a daze, taking no notice of the sand covering everything or that he hadn’t eaten since sometime the day before. At some point he found himself back at his spot on the beach, but just sat there and stared out at the ocean for a long time. When it started to get dark, he went back inside.
His boss at the gas station called the next day, asking where he was. Mike said he felt sick, and asked if he could take the day off. He returned to work the next day and went through the motions like a robot, thinking nothing and feeling nothing.
He returned to his regular routine after that, sitting at his spot on the beach, but he did not create anything. He did not feel, so he could not create.
So the days dragged into weeks, and then months. Mike simply existed, and nothing more.
“Who’s that guy over there?” Mike once heard a little boy on the beach ask his mother. “I don’t know,” replied his mother, shooting a furtive glance in his direction. “Let’s not bother him dear, he looks like he wants to be left alone.”
* * *
Then one day, as Mike stared out at the ocean like usual, a familiar figure came into view.
“Son!” The old man said, huffing and puffing his way over to him, his long beard blowing in the salty breeze. “I say, haven’t seen you in awhile. But I should talk, it’s probably because I haven’t been out in awhile! It’s the legs, you know. They don’t work like they used to. Son, are you alright?”
Mike turned his head and looked at him, noticing him for the first time.
“So no sculptures today, eh son?”
“No,” Mike said simply.
“I remember the one you did last time I saw you,” the man whistled. “Boy she was a sizzler! If she had been real, well…she was perfection itself. You outdid yourself son!”
“She was real,” Mike said. He stared at the ocean.
“What’s that you say, son?” The old man came closer, then lowered himself to the ground to sit next to him, groaning as he did so. “These old ears don’t hear like they used to.”
“I said she was real,” Mike said again. “She was real and I loved her.”
The old man stared at him for a moment. “Now son, I know how artists can be. Sometimes the art can seem as real as anything, but really that’s all it is. It’s just art, you know.”
“No,” Mike turned to look at him. “She was real. She said she loved me too. It started to rain and we ran to my house down there.” He looked down and scuffed his feet in the sand. “We…made love.” His voice was barely above a whisper.
The old man turned and stared at him for a long time. Then he made a business of clearing his throat and smoothing his beard, and then brushing the sand off of his clothes, even though the wind continued to blow briskly and throw more grit in their faces. He sighed and stared down at his hands, twisting his ring around and around his finger. The red jewel glittered. The wind continued to blow and the waves crashed. Seagulls spun lazily overhead. The silence went on so long that Mike almost forgot the old man was there.
He jumped a little when the old man finally spoke again: “Shit.”
Mike turned to look at him.
“Son, I have to tell you something.” He heaved himself back onto his feet. “Ah, the old knees. Gotta love em.” He tugged vigorously at his beard. “Son…I don’t know how to tell you this.”
“What is it,” Mike said, looking at him vacantly.
“Do you…bloody hell. Do you believe in magic?”
Mike’s eyes regained their focus. “I’m not sure…” He hesitated.
“Son, do you believe that people should be held accountable for their actions? Even if their actions were a mistake and they didn’t mean to do it?”
“Yes…” Mike said, staring at him openly now.
“Okay, so…basically what I am trying to say is you need to come with me.”
“Come with you…?
“Yes! Let’s go to my place down there. I’ll explain everything on the way. You can call me Magius.”
Fifteen minutes later, they arrived at the old man’s cottage, which was set back a bit farther from the ocean than Mike’s cottage in the opposite direction. It was nestled in a bunch of trees, giving it a private, shadowy feel. Magius hobbled up the walkway to the door, the keys swinging in his hand. Mike, the past few months of gloom and hollow living now lifted from his spirit, was practically stepping on the old man’s heels in eagerness as they entered the old man’s home.
“So you’re saying we can bring her back?” Mike asked for probably the fifth time.
Magius repeated patiently, “Son, all I am saying is that if I can accidentally drop my magical ring on your sand sculpture and somehow bring it to life, then maybe I can do it again.” He turned and looked at Mike sternly. “You know it can’t last. The power from my ring only animates the girl for a short time. As it comes from the earth, so it goes back to the earth.”
“I don’t care!” Mike crowed. “I knew it! I knew it was real! She loves me!”
The old man sighed. “Alright son. Look, I can’t promise anything. But I feel responsible because I caused this whole mess. Have a seat. Would you like something to drink? When would you like to do this?”
“How about tomorrow?”
* * *
The next day, when the sun was high in the sky, Mike and Magius met on the beach. Mike was trembling with eagerness, and Magius was tugging vigorously at his beard. “This is a terrible idea,” he muttered.
Mike ignored him, grinning widely, and knelt on the sand. He plunged his fingers deep into the grains, reaching for his inspiration, for his love. He summoned all the feelings he felt for Mariah, every detail in his memory from the one night they had shared together, the night that changed his life forever. He bent over his work, relishing the feel of the sand between his fingers again after the months of sadness and desolation, as his sand girl began to take shape before him. Magius sat beside him, glancing at his work from time to time, but mostly staring moodily out at the ocean, spinning his ring around and around his finger. Every once in awhile he muttered a few words in another language.
Mike paused once and said, “What?”
“Nothing,” Magius snapped. After that, they lapsed into a somewhat uncomfortable silence, the only sounds the crashing of the waves, the whistle of the wind, and the crying of the seagulls.
As Mariah’s limbs began to take form in the sand, Mike grew almost nauseous with excitement, thinking of her cornflower blue eyes and anticipating the feel of her lips on his. He lovingly recreated her memorable curves – the fullness of her breasts and the firmness of her thighs. As the sun began to set and the tourists began to straggle off the beach, Magius stirred beside him.
“Are you almost done?” He queried.
“Almost…” Mike said. He reverently patted the final bits of sand into place, threaded seaweed into the fine strands of her hair. He stood back and surveyed his work.
“What do you think?” Mike turned to Magius.
“Well, it’s her alright. She’s a memorable one, to be sure,” Magius sighed. He twisted his ring.
“Okay, I’m ready. Let’s do it.” Mike said. He felt a thrill of excitement run through him.
Magius heaved himself to his feet. “Now how did I do it last time? I dropped my ring and it barely touched her here?” He pointed to her thigh.
“Yes, that’s right,” Mike said breathlessly. “Do it.” He danced from one foot to the other.
“Alright,” Magius groaned. “Here goes…” He dropped his ring. It landed next to Mariah’s thigh, displacing a little bit of sand. “Like that?”
“Yeah, that should do it,” Mike said. He held his breath, watching. Magius bent laboriously and picked up his ring, placing it back on his finger. Mike leaped forward and patted the bit of displaced sand back into place. “It happened right after I did that,” he told Magius. “I saw her finger move first.”
“Okay…” Magius said. They stood and watched together. Nothing happened.
“Okay…?” Magius said.
“Maybe we should turn our backs to her. I did that next. And then when I turned around, there she was.”
“Okay.” said Magius. They both turned their backs, looking out over the ocean. “How long do we have to wait?”
“I don’t know—” Mike began. He heard a sound behind him.
He and Magius turned back around. Both of their jaws dropped open, but for different reasons.
“She’s real!” Magius stammered. He took a step back.
“Who are you?” said Mike.
“I’m Natasha,” said the busty brunette standing before them, with her hand on her hip. Her eyes were vaguely green. She was wearing a polka-dot bikini, but the dots were much larger in the design than before. She coughed, spraying sand out of her mouth and nose, then tossed her head. “Who the hell are you?”
Mike and Magius stared at each other, and then back at Natasha.
“Look people, I haven’t got all day, are you going to tell me what’s going on or what?” she snapped.
Magius murmured to Mike, “So I take it this isn’t Mariah…”
“No!” Mike hissed back.
Magius stared at her for a moment, then seemed to come to a decision. “Young lady, there are some things we need to explain to you, so we need you to come with us, please.” He took a step towards her.
“Come with you? Why the hell would I do that, you pervy old man? I’m not into that kind of thing. And as for you…” she strode forward and glowered at Mike. Mike shrank back against Magius. “You…how about you tell me where the nearest bar is. I need a drink.”
“No, you need to come with us,” Magius insisted. He reached for her arm.
“Like hell I am! You know what, screw you both! I–” she broke off as one of the final straggling tourists walked past them. He stopped in his tracks when he saw her, looking her up and down and whistling. Natasha batted her eyelashes and tossed her hair over her shoulder.
“Hey mister, do you know where the bar is? I need a drink like nobody’s business.”
“Sure do,” he replied, coming closer. “In fact, I’m going there now. Want to join me?”
“Yes!” Natasha said. “Let’s go now.”
Magius stepped forward. “Young man, you don’t know what you’re getting yourself into. She’s coming with us.”
The man looked from one to the other, then back at Natasha. “Is this man…bothering you?”
“Yes he is,” said Natasha. “They both are. They are pervs! I’m coming with you!” She took his arm.
Magius took another step forward. The man took a step towards Magius, looming over him. “The lady has spoken. Leave her alone or we’re going to have a problem.”
Magius and Mike looked at each other. Mike gave Magius an almost imperceptible nod.
“Well then, have at it. Enjoy your night,” said Magius. “While it lasts.” He snickered softly. The two walked away together, Natasha bumping him with her hip as they went. “He’s going to wake up to a bed full of sand.” He nudged Mike. “Am I right? Mike…?” Mike was staring silently after them as they were swallowed up in darkness.
“I don’t understand why it didn’t work this time,” he said sadly. “Why didn’t it work? Why is she such a bitch?”
“Son, if I knew everything about how my magic worked, I’d be a rich man without a care in the world. I may be old, but I’m still learning the tricks of the trade. Who the hell knows what happened?”
“Maybe I did something different in the process. But I recreated her exactly the same!” Mike said, staring at the place where she had been.
“I don’t know son, but I think we should call it a day. I’ve had quite enough excitement for one day…hell, for a year.”
“This isn’t over,” Mike said, looking at Magius.
“Let’s talk this over after we get some rest.” said Magius.
“Tomorrow,” said Mike.
“Next week,” said Magius.
* * *
In the following days, Mike met Magius at his place several times. Magius had been insistent that they not meet until the next week, but after Mike paced back and forth repeatedly for many hours in his too-empty cottage, and the thoughts became too loud in his head, he threw his reservations to the wind and ran down the beach to the old man’s house. After repeated knocking, and eventually pounding, the old man finally threw open the door. His hair was standing on end, a frayed robe hanging crookedly on his frame.
“Son…? What is it? I’m kind of in the middle of something…” He said impatiently. He cast a look behind him into the depths of his house and then back at Mike.
“Well, I was thinking about what happened with Natasha a few days ago…” Mike began.
“Here we go,” said Magius, beginning to tug on his beard. “Oh for God’s sake, fine, come inside!” He opened the door wider and Mike slipped inside.
Beyond the typical, cheerful beach décor of the front sitting room, there came the faint smell of something rotten.
“Son, I have got to take care of something right now or it’s going to go bad. I don’t have time to explain. Come back here with me.”
Mike followed Magius through the front room and beyond, going down several halls that seemed to stretch on forever, and defied the outer dimensions of the house. The farther in they went, the stranger things became. Mike jumped back once, when he thought he saw something dark crawling up a wall. It had many legs, and eyes in places where it shouldn’t.
“Oh don’t worry about that,” said Magius impatiently, dragging him forward. “That’s just Fulbus, my pet. He can be quite friendly when it suits him.”
The smell of decay grew markedly stronger as they went down a winding staircase, and they finally arrived in what appeared to be a basement. But it was unlike any basement Mike had ever seen. He stared around, gaping at the walls and ceiling, which all seemed to be glowing and pulsing with an inner light of their own, in colors ranging from white, to blue, to green. There was a long wooden table in the center of the room, piled high with tools that were bent into odd shapes and angles.
“So now you see why it took me so long to get to the door. I thought it might be the mailman, as I am expecting a parcel, but I am actually glad it turned out to be you,” said Magius brusquely. He bent over a small area of the floor, which was also glowing like the walls and ceiling, but its light seemed somehow sick, pulsing with a faint, rusty orange color. Mike came closer and discovered this was the source of the rotten smell. He coughed and put a hand over his mouth.
“Best to stand back, son,” said Magius, waving his hands over the spot. “I am trying to extend the power from the walls and ceiling to this part of the floor, and eventually all of the floor.” He gestured around them. “It takes time, you know. It’s like sewing fabric together. It took me forever to finish the walls and ceiling, lots of trial and error. It’s why I hardly ever leave this blasted place.”
“What are you trying to do?” Mike said, mystified.
“I am building a door. I think there’s another dimension right next to this one, and I aim to get to it and see what’s there before I die. Safely, of course.” A blinding flash of orange light suddenly shot out of the floor. They both jumped back. The floor resumed its faint, rusty orange glow. The decaying smell grew stronger.
“Yes,” said Magius impatiently. “The problem is, the whole process is very touchy. The goal is to get a white light—that’s the purest and most powerful color. As you can see, I didn’t get it white every time.” He gestured to the walls and ceiling. “Some of the light is blue and green, which is weaker, but it will have to do, because I already sewed all of that together.”
“I see…” Mike said slowly.
“Timing is everything,” Magius went on, “and I think I may have ruined my work on this part and might have to start over. Weeks and weeks of hard work lost,” he muttered. “Don’t touch that!” He snapped. But Mike was reaching his hand down towards the sick orange light pulsing in the floor, realizing that it wasn’t giving off any heat. He crouched down and placed his right hand on it, and then his left hand too.
“Don’t touch it!” Magius snapped again, then leaned forward to look. “What are you doing?”
“Just want to try something,” Mike said. He threw his thoughts outward, let his feelings run down his arms and into his hands, reaching for inspiration, for something to move him, much like he did so many times on the beach, letting the sand take shape in his hands. He felt something slide under his hands within the sick orange light, something fluid-like and smooth. He grabbed onto it and began to go by feel alone, moving his hands in various patterns. It did feel a bit like sewing. The color of the light began to lighten.
He became aware that Magius was watching him closely. “You remind me of my son,” he murmured. He stared openly as Mike moved his hands over the light in the floor. He sounded a bit breathless. He tugged at his beard.
Mike kept his head down, focusing on molding the light with his hands. “Really? Is he here?”
“His name was Jadis. He died…” His voice trailed off.
Mike’s hands paused. He looked up at Magius. “What happened?”
“Accident. Terrible.” Magius cleared his throat. “He had talents similar to yours. He worked with machines. For God’s sake, boy, don’t stop!” Mike resumed moving his hands over the light in the floor, which had turned a whitish-purple color. The ghastly smell of rotting flesh began to lessen. “I’m so sorry, Magius,” he said.
“That’s alright son. It was many years ago. If he was still alive now, he would be just a few years older than you are.” The light in the floor began to pulse brighter, taking on a brilliant shade of white. “Son, that’s incredible. You can take your hands away now.” Mike removed his hands and stood up. “Do you have any idea what you’ve just done? You saved me weeks of work right there! I don’t have to start over now! You fixed it in just minutes!”
“I just did what felt right,” Mike said, shrugging and sounding pleased.
“That’s the mark of a wizard, Mike. You have the Touch. You put things together. I suspected it on the beach, but didn’t believe it. But now I know for sure.”
“I’m a wizard?” Mike breathed, incredulous.
“Yes. My ring is only part of the reason why your sand girl came to life. You are the other reason–”
“I’m a wizard!” Mike hooted.
“–It’s complicated though. Magic is a touchy thing. I think we should stop for today.”
“But I had some ideas about what went wrong with Natasha–” Mike began.
“Not today, son. This old man needs to rest. Too much excitement for one day. How about you come over for lunch tomorrow?”
* * *
The next day, Mike ran back down the beach to Magius’s house. This time, Magius flung the door open right away. “What took you so long? I’ve been waiting for you!”
They sat on the porch under the shade of the trees and drank a thick, red-colored liquid that Magius had made, which tasted vaguely like figs.
“So, I was thinking about what happened with Natasha,” Mike said, sipping at the drink and wrinkling his nose. “I was thinking that maybe the problem was something in the process, like maybe I was thinking something different than the first time, or maybe you didn’t drop your ring just right–”
“I don’t think that’s it,” Magius interrupted.
“Well what is it then?”
“I think,” Magius said slowly, “that it has to do with the sand. You didn’t use the same sand.”
“The sand?” Mike repeated.
“That’s right. Now please tell me you still have some of the sand you used to create your sand girl the first time.”
“Of course I do!” Mike said. “It’s in a jar on my desk at home. I saved all that I could. I loved her—”
“Alright, alright. Look son, it’s just a gut feeling that I have. I think it’s the sand. Now I am willing to try this with you one more time, but you have to promise me one thing first.”
“Anything,” said Mike.
“Okay. You have to promise me that even if it doesn’t work this time…this is it. We won’t do this again. It takes a lot out of this old man. I need to live out my final days in peace. Okay, son?”
Mike hesitated. “Okay,” he said, hanging his head.
“Now son, don’t be like that. When I have a gut feeling, it’s usually right. Don’t doubt my gut feeling.”
“But didn’t you have a gut feeling the first time we tried?”
“Bloody hell, what can I say? My gut acts up sometimes! Now, come on down to the basement with me for a few minutes. I want you to show me how you made the light change like that.”
A few days later, Mike and Magius met on the beach when the sun was high in the sky, just like the week before. But this time, Mike carried a jar of sand carefully in his hands, and placed it reverently on the ground near his spot.
“I brought a chair this time,” Magius said brusquely. He unfolded it and sat down, the chair creaking under his weight. “So we begin.”
Mike knelt on the ground and plunged his hands into the sand. Please, he thought, this is the last time. Please let it work this time. Come to me, my Mariah. My goddess of the sea.
He worked for a long time, checking and re-checking every detail, filling his thoughts and his heart with memories of Mariah. He patted the sand into place, using up the last bit of sand from the jar he brought.
“There isn’t enough sand in the jar to make all of Mariah. I had to use sand from out here too.” He looked searchingly at Magius.
“Well, let’s just hope there’s enough sand from Mariah the first time, to make this girl be Mariah,” was all Magius said, and then he lapsed silent.
As the sun was setting and the tourists were heading home, Mike and Magius were once again standing in front of the sand girl, surveying Mike’s work.
“I see no difference in her appearance from the first or the second time,” Magius said. “You are quite the artist. You have the Touch,” he said again.
“I’m afraid,” said Mike. He gazed upon his work. “What if it’s not her?”
“Well if it isn’t, it isn’t,” said Magius. “Then it’s not meant to be. We’ve tried, right son? Let’s just hope the second time’s the charm.”
“The third time,” said Mike.
“Ah well, same difference,” Magius cleared his throat. He removed his ring from his hand. “So I will drop the ring here, as before,” he said. He dropped his ring by the sand girl’s thigh, and then picked it up again and put it back on his finger. Mike knelt and patted the displaced sand back into place.
“Now her finger should move,” Mike murmured. They both bent over her. Nothing happened.
“Bloody hell!” Magius yelled suddenly.
“Her toe moved! That one!”
“Her toe? What does that mean?”
“How the hell should I know?! Now let’s look away!” They looked out over the ocean.
Mike felt the air shift behind him. He turned slowly, expecting to see Natasha again, or some other girl that wasn’t Mariah. He couldn’t bear it, but he had to look, he had to know.
“Well she’s a pretty one, isn’t she?” Magius spoke first. “What’s your name, my dear?”
Mike turned around the rest of the way, and looked deep into cornflower blue eyes, the eyes he had dreamed about since the first time he had seen them, those eyes he could drown in for the rest of his life.
His mouth dropped open. He took her in. Her breasts were a bit bigger than before – no complaints there! – and the polka-dots on her bikini were a different color this time. Her hair was slightly lighter-colored than before, but those were the only differences he could see at first glance.
“Are you..?” He began.
“Mike!” She squealed. She hurtled into his arms. “Oh Mike, I have missed you so, I am so sorry I disappeared on you like that, I have no idea where I went! But now you’re here again and it’s all okay!” She covered his face with kisses. Mike wrapped his arms around her and got lost for awhile. He eventually became aware that the sky was darker than before, and Magius was sitting in his chair again, twisting his ring. He was prudently staring in the opposite direction.
“Magius,” Mike said, taking Mariah by the hand and leading her forward. “I’d like you to meet my girl.”
“Pleased to meet you, young lady,” Magius said. They shook hands. He gave Mike a significant look. “A moment of your time, please?”
Mike lead Mariah tenderly to a spot a few feet away. “I’ll be right back,” he said unnecessarily.
“Okay!” she said, rising up on her toes to give him a peck on the cheek.
Mike squeezed her hand and walked back over to Magius. Magius gestured for him to come closer. Mike leaned down and Magius hissed in his ear, “So did we succeed?”
“Yes!” Mike whispered exuberantly. “We did, thank you so much Magius, you brought my love back to me! I can’t thank you enough! You’ve changed my life! I couldn’t be happier!”
“Shit…” Magius tugged on his beard several times.
“What is it?”
“I was afraid of this.”
“Afraid of what? Of us succeeding? Of me being happy?”
“No…well, yes. Son, you do realize that sometime in the night, the magic is going to wear off and she will turn into a pile of sand again? You do realize that?”
“Yes…” Mike said, his smile fading a little. “I am trying not to think about that.”
“Son…I am an old man, and I just want to live out the rest of my life in relative peace.”
“I know you do…” said Mike.
“And I got us both into this predicament–” he jerked his head in Mariah’s direction, “–a beautiful predicament…so I feel responsible.”
“Yeah, I know that,” Mike said. He glanced at Mariah and back at Magius, his brow beginning to furrow. He crossed his arms.
“So how the hell am I supposed to live out my life peacefully now, knowing that your sand girl is going to return to the elements, become little bitty pieces of rock, in the middle of the night?”
“I don’t know…” Mike said, staring at him. He looked longingly over at Mariah. She was kneeling in the sand, collecting seashells. She waved at them.
“So I was afraid of this.”
“Speak English, Magius. Hurry up, I want to spend all the time I can with my girl. Her clock is ticking. I love her, I need to be with her. And she needs to be with me.”
“You might have more time with her than you think…” Magius said slowly.
“What do you mean?” Mike shifted from foot to foot, watching Mariah’s cute behind as she gathered seashells.
“I mean…bloody hell. Mike, there’s a way that you can be with your girl, and she with you, always and forever.”
Mike turned and stared at him. His mouth dropped open. He began to tremble and shake. “There is?”
“Yes. I have done a lot of thinking recently, and I had already pretty much decided that if it worked out this time, I was going to do this for you. I don’t think I can live with myself if I don’t. Because I caused all this. I want to go through the pearly gates of Heaven!”
“Do what? Magius…”
“Well I have figured it all out. We’ll keep her original sand, as much of it as we can. We’ll re-animate her every single day like we did today. Who knows, maybe we’ll come up with a better solution down the road. Plus I need you to help me with my project in the basement. It could take awhile–”
“Yes, son! Stop interrupting me, I’m not done–”
“–We need to run some tests, find out more about your powers. Every wizard has a signature–I think we could show each other a thing or two. Oh, and you need to move out of your beach house and move closer to me. I can’t trek down here all the time. The legs, ya know? There’s a property for sale two houses down from mine. Let’s look into it.”
“Oh, Magius! Thank you so much, you are the best father I could ever–” He stopped himself, suddenly realizing what he was saying.
“Don’t get all touchy-feel-y on me now, but I will admit you’re kind of like a son to me too.”
“Okay… Thank you Magius!” Not sure what else to do, Mike gripped his hand and shook it fervently, then threw his arms around him in a huge hug. Magius squeezed him back. After a time, he pulled away and cleared his throat. “Alright son, now go on and get your woman. Drinks at my place.”
“Hey Mike! Look at this shell I found! Isn’t it pretty? What’s wrong, are you okay?” Mariah placed her cool hand on his forehead. Her breath was delicate and sweet, just like the rest of her.
“Never better, my love.” He took her hand. “Come on, let’s go home.”
About the Author: Kathryn Singer was born and raised in the Deep South to parents with Yankee roots. She likes to be weird whenever possible and appreciates those daring enough to stray into the woods where there is no path. She spent a number of years writing for television in the Southern U.S., and now lives on Florida’s Gulf Coast doing a variety of writing gigs and experiments, with her husband and several stray cat rescues.
Story copyright 2017 by Kathryn Singer (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Illustration copyright 2017 by Romeo Esparrago