The sand castle took him all day to build. Other kids splashed in the shallows, dived beneath the waves, dug holes in the sand and buried their siblings up to their necks. Joshua ignored them, his concentration fierce.
His mum interrupted twice. Once to lather him with more SPF50, the second time to encourage him to eat something. Josh resented both. He wasn’t hungry. From time to time he drank from his warm water bottle, which seemed to satisfy his mother.
‘I have to get it done today,’ he told her from his prone position carving the portcullis into the damp sand.
‘It’s going to be wonderful, I can see that.’ She smiled her proud mum smile. ‘Shall I find you shells to decorate it with?’
He looked up, horrified. ‘No shells, please. That’s not what he wants.’
‘Who wants, sweetheart?’ Worry tinged her tone and Josh bit his lip. Stupid of him.
‘What I want, that’s what I meant.’ He bent to his task again and his mother returned to her book in the umbrella’s shade.
Josh smoothed the next level, set to work on marking the stonework, picking out the narrow windows. It would get harder as he built higher, shaping the towers and spires. A challenge.
But that was what it was all about. The challenge.
The instructions had come to him in the night while he slept, riding the breeze off the sea. A castle, the blueprints imprinted in his head. It had to be built in a day. No reason given.
Josh had gulped breakfast and was at the beach when only early dog walkers were about, and, far in the distance, the surfers. He found his patch and began.
He’d laboured all day. Late afternoon and a wind blew up. Swirling clouds crowded the sea’s horizon, rapidly building to hide the blue sky. Beach goers hurried to leave, gathering kids, putting away picnic remains, shaking out towels and filling beach bags with lotions, books and wet wipes. Josh’s mother packed up too. When all was a neat bundle ready to be carried to the holiday cottage, she walked towards Josh.
‘Is it finished, sweetheart?’ She pointed at the clouds, holding back her hair which whipped in her face. ‘We have to go before the storm breaks.’
Josh stood, stretching back his shoulders, and gestured at his creation. Tiny grains of sand swirled about the walls like miniature cannon balls, but the castle held strong.
Mother bent down to examine it. ‘Wow! That’s absolutely amazing!’
‘Thanks, Mum.’ Josh eyed the castle critically. Yes, it was all there, exactly as the blueprints showed it. He stepped back.
His mother had her phone out, snapping pics from all angles. ‘Such a shame the storm and tide will take it, darling. But we’ll make a collage from these pictures, frame it, hang it–’
She froze, the phone to her eye. Only her mouth moved, and that was to hang open.
A great hand emerged from the edge of the storm. It scooped up Josh’s castle, carefully, holding it firmly upright.
‘What the …?’ Mum murmured.
‘It’s ok, Mum.’ Josh waved to the hand. ‘Just in time, Zeus,’ he called. ‘I was worried you wouldn’t collect it before Poseidon got to it with the tide.’
The middle finger on the giant hand wriggled an acknowledgement, and then hand and castle vanished back into the clouds.
Find Cheryl’s flash fiction and short stories, including audio versions of some, here!