Suzy Simpkins loved hot, sunny beaches more than anything else in the world. Sadly, Suzy’s summer to date had been a washout, with rain almost every day and grey, miserable skies on the few rainless days. There was only one week left of the school holidays and the weather forecasts were awful.
‘Oh please let it stop raining,’ Suzy shouted from her bedroom window at the drizzling Saturday night sky, ‘I’m bored stiff of board games and terribly tired of tedious trips to swimming pools – I want to swim in the SEA…’
And much to Suzy’s surprise the sky listened, so when she woke on Sunday it was to brilliant sunshine pouring through the gap between her curtains.
‘Mum, can we…’ Suzy shouted as she ran downstairs to the kitchen, but she had no need to finish her sentence. Her mum was busy packing beach towels, swimming costumes and sun cream into a carrier, and her dad was adding the final items to a cool-bag already brimming with food and cold drinks.
The drive was not a long one, but finding somewhere to park took ages. Suzy was very frustrated, but eventually they found a space and Suzy raced onto the beach, relishing the sensation of warm sand tickling her feet and trickling between her toes. She had put her swimming costume on before leaving home, so rushed straight at the sea and splashed right in. The first shock of cold water took her breath away, but she was soon shoulder deep with gentle waves lifting her off her feet and the taste of salt on her lips. It was wonderful.
After her swim Suzy lay on a towel while her mum smothered her in sun-cream. It was very boring, but while lying on her tummy Suzy noticed the damp sand at the water’s edge. The sea was going out – perfect for exploring tide pools and making sand sculptures!
The biggest and deepest pools were in the shade around the rusty, seaweed-wrapped legs of the pier. Suzy found shells, shrimps and starfish, crabs, cockles and cuttlefish-bones and even two tiny fish that darted and flashed between her wriggling fingers.
‘That one’s a baby pygmy whale,’ her dad said, pointing at the first fish, ‘and the other one’s a dogfish pup. If you watch and listen closely you’ll see the whale spout water and hear the puppy bark.’
‘You’re daft, dad,’ Suzy giggled, secretly wishing he wasn’t teasing.
After exploring the pools Suzy walked back up the beach and started work on a sand sculpture. Mum and dad helped a bit but soon grew bored and lay back on their beach towels, dad dozing while mum topped up her tan. Suzy didn’t say, but she actually preferred working on her own. It made her sculpture even more special.
She used a bucket to fetch water when she needed it but moulded the damp sand by hand. As she scooped it into clumps and bumps and hollows she used a lolly stick to add lines and details, then added shells and pebbles and other things she found on the beach for decoration. When she had finished, over an hour later, she had a full-size sculpture of a witch riding on a broomstick.
The witch had clamshells for eyes, a winkle for a wart on her nose, and a row of tiny pebbles for teeth. She was quite repulsive and very scary. Suzy fetched ropes of dark green seaweed from under the pier and draped them around the witches head and shoulders for hair. The hair made her even uglier and scarier.
Suzy was very proud of her sculpture and so was her mum. ‘It’s brilliant!’ said mum. ‘The best Sand Witch I’ve ever seen.’
Dad woke with a start. ‘Sandwich?’ he said. ‘Yes please!’
Suzy laughed, then realised she was absolutely starving. She sat down in the sand and rummaged through the cool-bag for food. The rolls and things she found looked okay, but it was such a special day they all seemed boring. It didn’t take much to persuade dad that fish and chips would be better for lunch, or that ice creams would make a nicer pudding than lukewarm yoghurts.
Suzy couldn’t finish her fish and chips, so she fed the leftovers to a huge gull she made friends with. The gull only had one foot – the other leg ending in a shrivelled stump – and he had a black patch around one eye. Suzy thought he looked like a pirate. He seemed a very cheerful gull despite his withered leg, so she named him Jolly Roger.
Suzy wanted to swim again after eating, but her mum told her she must wait at least half an hour, so she wandered back under the pier looking for interesting shells and pebbles. It was here, in one of the largest pools, that Suzy found the biggest and oddest-looking mussel she had ever seen. It looked like two mussels that had grown together, joined at the base. They formed a shape like this:
It’s a heart mussel,’ Suzy squealed, and she rushed back up the beach to bury the mussel in her Sand Witch’s chest. As Suzy patted damp sand down on top of the mussel Jolly Roger reappeared. He was squawking and flapping his wings, and now seemed anything but Jolly.
‘No, Roger,’ Suzy told him, ‘go and find your own mussels, you’re not having this one!’ Suzy was so busy shooing Roger away that she did not notice the sand covering the heart mussel start gently pulsing, or the strange glimmer that appeared in the Sand Witch’s clamshell eye…
Now those who know about such things will tell you it takes three magic ingredients to bring a Sand Witch to life: salt and vinegar for blood and a heart to pump it. Salt, of course, is everywhere on a beach, in the water, the shells, the seaweed and even the sand, so Suzy’s witch was full of the stuff. After eating fish and chips Suzy’s fingers were covered in vinegar, and when she found the heart mussel and buried it in the witch’s chest she unwittingly added the final two ingredients needed to create…
It took fifteen minutes for the Sand Witch to come fully alive, by which time Suzy was back in the sea. She did not see the sudden explosion of sand as the witch launched herself into the sky, but she heard people screaming and the witch’s wicked, cackling laughter. As she turned to look back up the beach a long, black shadow swooped across the sand towards her, and when she looked up she saw an ugly, black silhouette blocking out the sun.
The witch hovered on her broomstick in the air above Suzy, occasionally swooping lower and clutching for her with long, bony fingers. ‘You are MINE,’ she screeched, ‘you made me, and I must unmake you: I will eat your heart for my dinner!’
Suzy was petrified. She wanted to run up the beach to her mum and dad, but some instinct told her to stay in the water. The witch seemed to sense this – it was almost as though she could read Suzy’s thoughts – and she made a sudden lunge. Suzy ducked, her head disappearing fully beneath the waves, the witch’s grasping fingers missing her hair by a hair’s breadth. Suzy held her breath as long as she could before surfacing for another lungful of air. She ducked beneath the waves again just a fraction of a second before the Sand Witch could grab her.
This went on for five minutes or more, with Suzy growing more scared and breathless and the witch getting angrier and angrier. Suzy’s parents rushed to the water’s edge, but every time they tried to reach Suzy the Sand Witch fired bolts of fire at them from the tips of her fingers. Suzy’s dad was hit twice – once on the top of the head and once on the bum. Luckily he was wearing a hat, and though it went up in a ball of flame he was able to throw it in the sea before any real damage was done. His wet swimming shorts saved his bum, but the fire left a nasty scorch mark that ruined the shorts forever.
Suzy’s mum was just about to make another grab for Suzy when the Sand Witch suddenly changed direction and whooshed off up the beach.
‘Right, if you won’t come out on your own I’ll have to make you come out,’ the witch screamed. ‘I will firebomb the whole beach until you give yourself up!’
The people on the beach were terrified. They ran left and right and to and fro, ducking and diving to escape the terrible fire flashing from the Sand Witch’s fingers. Some quickly realised that the safest place to be was in the water, noticing that the witch seemed scared of the waves and reluctant to get wet. Others rushed to join them, and soon the sea was filled with the bobbing heads of floaters, swimmers, tread-waterers and just-sitting-on-the-bottomers. But this did not stop the Sand Witch from attacking their things. She flew up and down the beach setting fire to picnic blankets, deckchairs, windbreaks and towels and anything else she could find to direct her anger at.
The fire brigade had been called, but with so many fires over such a wide area they were fighting a losing battle. The police had been called too, but they had no idea how to deal with a Sand Witch and seemed just as confused as everyone else on the beach. Somebody shouted through a loudhailer that the army were on their way, but the witch just laughed and carried on firebombing.
And then, far out to sea, a strange, dark cloud appeared. At first it seemed to be a single cloud, but as it got closer individual shapes started to emerge. As it came closer still it formed itself into huge V, and Suzy saw that it was a mass of seagulls, flying in tight formation. They were still too far off for her to see them properly, but Suzy knew that the lead bird would have a dark patch around one eye and a funny little deformed leg. It was Jolly Roger, and he was coming to her rescue!
When the gulls reached the beach they seemed almost to block out the sun. The sky was filled with wheeling bodies, all of them chasing and herding the Sand Witch ever closer to the water. They dive-bombed her, dropping sharp pebbles and shells from their beaks onto her head and pooing in her seaweed hair. The witch screeched in anger, firing bolt after bolt of fire into the swirling cloud, but the birds were too fast and too many for her.
Soon they had chased the Sand Witch far out over the water, and it was then that a single bird – Jolly Roger – left the flock to dive straight at her. He crashed right into her, ripping at her chest and flying straight through, emerging from her back with the mussel heart grasped tightly in his curved, hard beak.
The Sand Witch writhed in agony. Her broom disintegrated into individual grains of sand beneath her. She opened her mouth, her pebble teeth gleaming, and gave a final bloodcurdling yell, the sound fading to a whisper as she tumbled through the air and splashed into the sea. For a moment the water seemed to boil. One long, bony finger emerged from beneath the waves before crumbling and dissolving away forever. The surf seemed to breathe a sigh of relief, and as it did the gulls wheeled as one and flew back out to sea…
Suzy Simpkins still loves the seaside and still makes Sand Witches on the beach, but she never ever gives them a heart. And neither should you!
NB: This was dashed off at the last minute for a kid’s short story competition. The prompt was ‘summer’. It didn’t win. I’m not surprised, really – I should have spent a bit more time on editing! Thought I’d bung it in for #Prose4T, though, as I haven’t any kiddies short stories on the website yet. Two birds (but not seagulls), one stone…