The young boy of no more than nine lay with his face in the wet sand.
Breaking waves churned over his skinny white legs. The water swept around his shoulders and sizzled past his ears as it drained away. He opened his eyes and pushed himself up, but not before a bigger wave broke and almost knocked him over again. Brushing wet sand off his soaked shorts and tee shirt he squinted through his blonde fringe into the sun, down the beach. Not a soul in sight, at least not as far as the glaring sun would allow him to see. And nobody in the other direction either.
He must have been the only survivor.
A desolate shoreline stretched in both directions. The sea crashed up, over the shore until it could reach no further and the dry sand become white and glistening. Windswept dunes piled up in front of sparse tussocks and cutting grass, and beyond that, further inland… He didn’t look. He didn’t want to.
Out to sea, a calmer scene. Just occasional white crests breaking up the green. Above, three or four birds circled in the blue.
There was no sign of the ship.
The boy set off down the beach, away from the harsh sun, walking in his own shadow. He liked how when his feet pressed into the dark sand they pushed the water away and the sand became lighter. Like he was squeezing it dry. Behind him the water came back, absorbed by the thirsty land and his footprints were lost.
Every trace of his journey erased.
He liked that too.
He knew to head for that lighthouse, way down the beach on the small rocky outcrop. It was his duty to light its lamp, to warn other ships. The journey would be a long one, even so he was determined to make it.
Bored with making foot impressions, he walked further away from the tide line and into the white powder. Except it wasn’t powder. It was grittier. And hot! The first few steps burned, until his wet feet were encased in a crusty layer, like a sugar coating, they were protected. Walking was bearable, and the sand moved pleasantly underneath the arches of his feet with each step.
It tickled and he scrunched his face up to bear it.
He rubbed his toes together to feel the harsh scratching of the grains on that more tender skin. Best stop that, the boy thought, or he’d rub his toes raw.
Up ahead, the lighthouse seemed to be no nearer. He better walk in more of a straight line he thought, try to make some progress, before hunger and thirst overcame him. Also, he should try to find some useful treasure along the way, or some tools to help with his survival or rescue.
And so he shuffled on, his head down most of the time, scouring the beach for items, every so often looking up to check on progress. Eventually the lighthouse loomed larger. It looked abandoned and unkempt.
His keen eye spotted treasures along the way. They included a beautifully formed Paua shell. Not easy to find without chips and cracks. If he ever made it home and back to his family, he’d give it to Dad for an ashtray. A couple of other shells, the fan shaped ones were sun bleached white, but in reasonable shape. They’d go in the bottom of his fish tank once he was sure all the salt had been washed off.
IF he ever saw his fish tank again.
And lastly, spied in a rocky crevice just under the lighthouse, a tooth. He was quite sure that’s what it was. Not very big, so he couldn’t claim it be that of a great white shark or anything too exciting, still it was unusual enough to keep. Maybe he could cut things with it or use it to hook fish once he’d made a fishing line.
Everything went into his pockets.
The lighthouse stood, as it always had, unblinking. No longer in use, or maintained. Broken. Unloved.
The boy walked the perimeter, dragging finger tips against the slimy moss growing on its crumbling cement.
He sat for a while in the shade. Rearranging his treasures on his legs, brushing away pesky midges as they hovered in greeting. The wind made an eerie sound around the old stone tower. Waves crashing against the rocks reached higher each time, sucking at his feet. The tide was coming in, and he knew he had to leave. He stood with weary legs and scratchy feet, and stretched in preparation. He tried his best to shake sand from all it’s hiding places, with poor results.
The boy stank of the sea. He was hungry, and tired, but he was happy.
The return journey was quicker, as the sun settled, and the waves seemed to die down a little too. He wondered, not for the first time, if the sea was calmer at night than during the day, having its own sleep. Maybe not.
The white sand was cooler now, but his legs were tired and it was easier to walk on the firm damp stuff, near the water line. The water was colder too, as it washed him below his knees. He reached the place where he’d been dumped ashore from his ship wreck, and resigned himself to looking inland, past the dunes and grass, to the roof lines of the houses that lined the beach road.
The fantasy faded then, as it always did.
He needed to find the red roof of his house, and dinner.
(actual lighthouse above, and the route below)