DR FRANK JACKSON, 59A, PRINCES ROAD, BRIGHTON, EAST SUSSEX BN2 3RH
TEL. 01273 603766 - EMAIL [email protected] - www.fulltable.com/fj
text and images throughout copyright
The Shifting Sands
‘Can we go to the beach this morning?
‘Yeah, let’s go, mum!’
‘All right, all right. let’s go and get our stuff together’.
The McGee family, husband, wife and two children left the breakfast- room of their small hotel, and departed to get all they needed for a day on the beach. Loaded down with beach-rugs, buckets and spades, they set off down the lane. Mrs Kitson, the landlady of the hotel, said goodbye, and watched then leave. But her face did not reflect pleasure. In fact, it wore an expression of apprehension, and perhaps even a trace of fear. She turned away to get on with her work.
An hour later, she heard a terrible noise in the foyer. She came out of her office only to confront a very distressed family indeed. The father’s face was ashen, as was his wife’s, who was also trembling uncontrollably. Both children were crying hysterically. ‘We’re leaving!’ said the father dramatically. ‘We’re not staying here another second!’
‘Whatever’s the matter?’ cried Mrs Kitson.
‘It moved, it moved!
‘And it chased us!’
“What moved?’ said Mrs Kitson.
‘The beach! The beach! It moved!’ The youngest child cried harder than ever. Both young girls were terrified. Their parents hustled them upstairs to pack, and within thirty minutes they were driving off in the car, having settled part of their bill at least. Mrs Kitson sadly watched them go and then turned to see her handyman, Bill Hobson come into the foyer. He took one look at her face, and said quietly, ‘It’s happened again, hasn’t it?’ Mrs Kitson nodded. ‘At this rate, we’ll have no visitors at all this year’. And she went back into her office.
Bill went over to the window and looked out. The hotel stood on a ridge on high ground overlooking the sea. To right and left, low, rocky cliffs enclosed a huge semi-circular bay, though the sea seemed very far away at this time. The shy was a clear shining blue, with only a few distant wispy clouds on the horizon. Even from the window, he could hear the raucous cry of seagulls as they floated and turned on the invisible air currents. He sighed.
Later that evening, two figures walked down the lane to the hotel. Two backpackers. They were brother and sister, twins in fact, though they did not look like each other. Peter (or Petie as his sister called him) was tall and fair, with a mop of blonde hair that he was always pushing out of his eyes. The other was Nicola (Nikki for short) who was small and dark, with neck-length very dark hair. They were close as brother and sister, and shared the same interests. They were both very pleased with themselves. They were eighteen years old, and had just discovered that their father, as a reward for their success in their exams, had deposited a reasonable amount of extra money into their bank accounts. So they could afford to stay in a small hotel, rather than in a tent.
‘We’re rich, I tell ‘ee! Rich! Rich!’ shouted Petie, in his best pirate accent. ‘’Oh, shut up!’ said Nikki. ‘Let’s get to the hotel. I want a bath’. So they entered the hotel and asked for two single rooms. Mre Kitson was happy to see them and immediately directed them to their rooms. ‘Oh, by the way’, said Petie, ‘Where’s the beach?’ Mrs Kitson pursed her lips, looking suddenly tense. ‘It’s down the lane. There’s some wooden steps at the end to take you there’. She clearly did not want to say any more, though neither of our travellers noticed.
As they bathed and washed, perhaps more can be said about Petie and Nikki. They shared many interests, and both were going to university the following year. They often travelled together on holidays, bird -watching and walking, but what they enjoyed most was a good mystery. They both read detective novels in their spare time, and always looked for local stories on their walks together. But perhaps this one was going to be special.
‘Shall we go down to the beach after supper? It’s still light amd sunny’.
‘Good idea’. So off they went, finding the wooden steps at the end of the lane. It was then that Nikki paused, and looked troubled. ‘It’s amazing! cried Petie. ‘What a huge beach! It must go on for a mile or more’. They were looking at the beach, which curved around in a shallow semi-circle below the banks of scrub and sea-grass that bordered it. The two spits of rock that enclosed it reached out towards the distant lapping sea. The sand was smooth and flat, except for ribbons of much softer finer sand across it. It was one of the biggest and finest beaches they had ever seen.
‘Come on!’ shouted Petie, but Nikki hung back. ‘Petie, have you noticed something strange?’ He looked at her in surprise. ‘There isn’t a single person on it. Not one. Why?’ He shrugged, and both went down the steps onto the beach itself. Quickly pulling off their sandals, they began to walk bare-foot towards the sea. It was so pleasurable, but Nikki was still worried. Why wasn’t there anybody at all, with such lovely sand? She followed Petie, who didn’t mind such strange things as she did. They stopped about a hundred yards from the steps and looked around. It was silent, very silent. Not even the cry of a seagull.
Something very strange happened. The mystery began to happen. Right across the length of the beach, from the distance, the sand began to ripple. Small ripples at first that lapped around their ankles. But then bigger and bigger. They lapped against their ankles then upwards. The ripples got stronger and stronger. Nikki stumbled and almost fell. They could feel the weight and power of the sand moving in them, as id it was some kind of sea. Both looked at each other, and then began to walk quickly back towards the steps, that now seemed so far away. They moved as quickly as they could, but the same ripples threatened to knock them down at every step. Yard by yard, they edged towards the safety of the steps, conscious all the time of the total silence around them. The only faint sound was the swishing of the sand itself,
By this time they were both panting and gasping. But, at last they reached the wooden steps and clambered up them. They looked back and saw the whole beach in waves of sand, rushing one after the other. And then suddenly it stopped. The sand flattened itself, and once again the beach was normal and peaceful, It was as if nothing had really happened. No sound, no noise, nothing.
They sat on the steps for a while, gathering their breath. The power of what had happened frightened them. But now their natural curiosity began to come back. Both looked out at the beach, trying to find a reason, a cause, for what they had seen. But all looked peaceful, though there was still silence everywhere.
‘ What do you think caused that?’ Nikki asked her brother. He shook his head. ‘I don’t know. I think we should go back, and have a long cold drink, and then we can put our heads together, and see if we can solve this…this mystery’. Nikki cheered up. When her brother said this, it was a good sign. Petie did not always have many ideas, but when he did, they were usually good ones. They silently slipped on their sandals, went back to the hotel and treated themselves to a long cold beer each, though neither spoke.
‘Do you think we should speak to Mrs Kitson?’
‘No. I don’t think she would believe us. I think she knows that there is something wrong, but I don’t think she knows what it is. We’re on our own’.
‘Right. In that case, we should go upstairs and gather our facts. As you said, this is a mystery. So, the two ace detectives will find out what it is’.
‘Whoopee! I hereby ring a bell to announce the search is now on! And Petie began to ring an imaginary bell.
‘Oh, stop it! Let’s go back over it, and then we can find some reason for what happened’.
‘I am totally in agreement’, said Petie, rather pompously.
In the lounge, with Nikki armed with pens and sheets of paper, they sat together to think.
‘Firstly, it was like a sand sea. Now, it could have been caused by a freak wind, running over the beach and raising waves like the sea. That’s my first view.’
“Wrong, Petie. I’ll tell you why. There was no wind. We felt nothing at all. So it can’t be that’.
Petie was silent, with his head in his hands. Then he said slowly:
‘There is another possible reason. It may be an earth tremor: a fairly small one that only affected the beach. That might explain the way the sand moved’.
‘Petie, I have another idea. Firstly, there might be something in what you say. It does seem more likely. But why did it not affect the hotel or the land behind the beach? No-one here has said anything about a tremor’. Petie nodded, and Nikki went on hesitantly. ‘I don’t have many ideas, but….but wait! She suddenly looked excited. ‘Didn’t you see, Petie, that those ripples were coming towards us? And that means that they were at right angles to the sea! The sea couldn’t have caused it! It was something different! Nothing to do with the direction of the sea. That flows in! Those ripples in the sand were moving in a different direction! But what caused that?
‘You’re right! But how can we try to find out what caused it? No wonder people won’t go on the beach. They think that they’re walking on what were called “shaking sands”, really unsafe and dangerous. But why?’
‘The only thing to do. We must go back onto the beach again tomorrow, and see what happens. Perhaps we can see something else that might give us a clue’.
Petie looked at her in admiration. He did not like the idea, but recognised that it might be the best thing to do. Apart from that, he was loyal to his sister: where she went, he went. So they agreed to try tomorrow afternoon, and examine the beach with their binoculars in the morning for anything strange. After another cold beer each, they decided on this, and both went to bed, though still troubled by the mystery of the moving sands.
Next morning they had breakfast together, both ready and determined to unlock the secret of the sands. Mrs Kitson looked at them doubtfully. ‘I hope they will be all right’, she thought. ‘They look strong and bright. But they need to be careful’. Mrs Kitson had never seen anything strange about the beach, but she was worried all the same. ‘Please be careful, won’t you?’ sne said to them. ‘Oh, we’ll be fine.’ said the boy carelessly. The girl however looked more cautious. Mrs Kitson secretly wished them both well.
They spent the morning looking at the beach carefully. No-one, as usual, was out there. But still they looked and stared at the sand. Apart from the ribbons of soft sand, they noticed patches of soft sand where it might have been disturbed, but they could not make anything of this. They were careful” earlier that morning they had borrowed a rope from Bill, and had tied it to the steps, in case they were in danger of being swept away by the sand. And then they set out on their mystery.
Nothing happened. They stood again about a hundred yards from the steps for about half an hour. Nikki sighed. ‘Best go back again’. Petie nodded, and they began to retrace their steps. But it happened. Nothing could have prepared them for this. The sand began to ripple. They stood still, as the sand waves became stronger and higher. They waited together, their hearts pounding. The sand still rippled against their legs, and they found it hard to stand up to it. But this time they were staying.
Petie walked back a few yards from Nikki, to make sure the rope was still slack. He had turned his back on her for a few moments, and then he turned around. Nikki was standing, facing him, and she saw the look of total horror on his face. For some reason she felt irritated.
“What’s the matter with you! Come on, tell me!’
His mouth was wide open, as were his eyes. He looked as if he could barely stand, still stupidly holding the rope. His legs gave way and ne sat down hard on the rippling sand.
‘Oh, for goodness’ sake! What are you doing?
He could make no sound.
‘Petie! What’s up with you! Stop trying to frighten me, you idiot! We’ve been through this before! Now pull yourself together, before I lose my temper! Brothers! Ah!’
Finally, Petie made a gesture. Pointing at her, he tried to make a gesture for her to move towards him.
‘What for? You are being really silly. Honestly, I would have thought better of you than this! Come on! You can’t lose your nerve now! What is it? Come on! At least tell me!’
At last Petie found his voice. He spoke the most famous phrase that had ever been known in theatre and pantomine.
Nikki stared at him. Then, slowly, very slowly, she turned around.
No more than ten feet away from her, was the head of a fantastic creature. It had come from the sand. It was enormous. It resembled nothing more than a very squat Chinese dragon, its face furrowed with ridges, along which trickles of dry sand ran. It was sand-coloured, with very small pointed ears on each side of its huge head. But the mouth was enormous, wide-open, with thick lips, out of which a torrent of sand ran. Its huge eyes were closed, and protected by more deep ridged furrows. And then they opened.
They were totally black and reflective. She could see her own image in them, a small, terrified figure, and behind her, Petie, still sitting, horror-stricken. The head gazed at her. She became conscious of a tail, like a whale’s, that also stood out of the beach. But it was at least sixty feet beyond the terrible head. Nikki and the creature stared at each other. She couldn’t move. All she could do was to look into the creatures’ eyes. They were so big! Then she sobbed in fear.
The creature looked at her for some moments longer, and then its eyelids closed. It began to sink back into the sand, and then disappeared under the beach. Nikki was still sobbing, but was aware that Petie had reached her and was holding her tightly, trying to comfort her. They held onto each other for some time. Then, without words, they turned back towards the steps. It was only then that they noticed that the ripples had gone, and the beach was quiet again. ‘Come on, Nikki,’ said Petie quietly, ‘Let’s go back to the hotel’.
Somehow, they struggled back to the hotel, their legs like jelly and their heads swimming. Mrs Kitson was not there, so they simply clambered up the stairs, and collapsed into the chairs in Petie’s room. After a little time, they both became calmer, and began to discuss that they had seen. ‘I suppose we did see it, really’, began Nikki. ‘Perhaps we’d better be detectives, though this is more a horror than a mystery.’ Petie was silent – a sure sign, Nikki knew, that he was thinking hard.
‘Right! What have we got? Let’s try to explain everything, if we can. You start’. Nikki began. This is the point in this story when the reader can decide to agree or not, or whether there are other things to add. But let’s see what Nikki had to say.
‘Firstly, it’s enormous. Not only the head, but it’s body. Remember, I noticed a tail behind it, sticking out of the sand, like a whale. And, Petie, that tail must have been about sixty feet behind the head. Secondly, thankfully, it didn’t seem to be hostile. Thinking about it, it seemed more curious than anything. Thirdly, it obviously lives in the sand, and that mouth,’ she shivered, ‘had sand pouring out of it. Perhaps’, she said suddenly, ‘it lives on sand’.
It was Petie’s turn. ‘OK so far. But one or two important questions. What is it doing here? And why here? Is it feeding on a good supply of sand? And where has it come from? Are there’, he paused, ‘any more of them? Nikki said quickly, ‘One more thing. What is it? Is it something from a prehistoric age, like the Loch Ness monster? Or is it a creature which has been here for a long time, which we simply don’t know anything about? It wouldn’t be surprising, if it lived under the sand’.
‘There’s one more thing’. Petie pointed out. ‘Has it only come here recently? No-one’s mentioned it before. So how long has it been here?’ They both fell silent, while they thought about the questions they asked themselves. Had they missed something? Then Petie stirred. ‘Right. What’s our next move?’ ‘Perhaps we should tell somebody.’ suggested Nikki. ‘But who?’ complained Petie. ‘You know no-one will believe us, unless…unless of course, we get a photograph of it’.
‘I’m not going down on that beach again!’ Nikki suddenly burst out. ‘I’m not going to be sucked into something’s whopping big mouth and turned into sand! Mind you, you’d probably be standing there taking a photo of me as I disappeared right down it’s throat!’ Petie looked at her in silence. He now realised how frightened she’d been. ‘Don’t be silly. I’ve got another idea. I’ve got a zoom lens on my camera. Why don’t we go along one of those spits of rock at each end of the beach, and watch and wait to see if it comes out again? No need to go on the beach at all’.
Nikki, feeling a little ashamed for her outburst, nodded. ‘I don’t want to leave here, until we’ve found out more. I’m sorry: I was so frightened before, but thinking about it, that creature looks more scary than it actually is. Of course! When it moves underground, it caused all those ripples! It must be enormous, but could it do that on it’s own….’ ‘Or are there really more of them?’ Petie finished for her. ‘Let’s leave it for now. I think it’s about suppertime. We can go out first thing tomorrow’.
They spent the next two days on each of the rocky spits, with their binoculars and camera. The grass on each outcrop was coarse and not very comfortable, but it stopped them falling asleep, because absolutely nothing happened. No people, no sand ripples, no sign of the creature. Just an empty beach, with only seabirds for company. But on the third afternoon, when they were both considering giving up and carrying on with their holiday, something tremendously important happened: an event that would answer many questions.
Petie was lying on his back, amusing himself by watching the seagulls as they swooped and glided above him. Nikki was casually looking along the beach with her binoculars, when she suddenly froze. Then she screamed ‘Petie, look!’ He threw himself down next to her and trained his glasses on the area where she was pointing. Yes! The sand was moving at the very water’s edge! As they watched, the ripples of sand, this time moving towards the sea, disappeared, but were replaced by arrow formations of small waves moving outwards into the open sea. What was causing that?
Nikki and Petie hastily focussed their glasses on those arrow formations as they moved steadily into the open sea, away from the beach. They both gasped together as they saw an amazing sight. Under the arrows of waves, they saw dark, long, serpentine forms that wriggled as they swam into deeper and deeper water. Nikki counted eight of the creatures, following the biggest, who formed the point of the arrow. Sudden splashes appeared, as the creatures’ tails came out of the water: powerful tails, like whales.
Nikki cried out again, for suddenly the leader’s head had surfaced for a few seconds, and she recognised it. Then it disappeared under the water. For some seconds more, they watched the dark sinuous shapes disappearing towards the horizon, and then they put down their glasses. Nikki turned to Petie. ‘Did you take any photographs?’ Petie buried his head in the grass. ‘No.o.o.o! I forgot! Oh! Woe is me! Alas! Alas!’
‘Oh, do shut up, Petie! I really don’t think it matters. We both know now what has happened. I think we ought to go back to the hotel, and have a cold drink and a talk, so we can compare notes’. ‘You know, you’re not a bad old stick of a sister, after all. I might keep you on after all. No! Please stop throwing stones at me!’ But despite this minor disagreement, they entered the hotel in good spirits. And perhaps readers can listen to their discussion, as it took place.
Petie began. ‘Right now, conclusions. What can we now say?’
‘I’m going first’, said Nikki firmly, ‘since you were so rude to me before. The creature is a sand-eater: it lives and burrows in the sand, and causes surface movement as it travels underground. As we now know, it has a long, snakelike body, it is very large and very strong, and is more than capable of moving through sand at different depths. Why it is, or was, here, we shall perhaps never know. My feeling is that it, and others, have gone, maybe because we scared it. It can swim as easily as it can move through sand. Where then could it have come from? I can’t believe it came from this country’.
‘True’. said Petie. ‘It also swims, and there are others like it. Children perhaps? Perhaps it’s a mother, bringing them up under the sand. Ant they must come up sometimes to breathe. But,’ he sighed, we really don’t know very much at all, and seem to be the only people to have ever seen them’.
While he was talking, Nikki had got up, and was looking out of the window, in the direction of the beach. Petie suddenly got the impression that she was very sad. He waited silently for her to speak.
‘Peter!’ she said suddenly. ‘Tell me what you think. These creatures…..these sand-dragons, as we could call them, came here because they had nowhere else to go. He-she –it, I don’t know which, but let’s call her she. She brought her young ones here, because she felt they would be safe. Now they’ve gone, and perhaps she feels they are not safe here any more. But she means no harm. She didn’t mean to frighten people, but she was desperate, yes, I mean desperate, to find somewhere for them. You saw how they all followed her out to sea, trusting her to find another place to be. She is an exile, Peter, a refugee, from we don’t know what. I feel that strongly, Peter, and I think that they were frightened of us. We don’t know anything about them, but they are creatures on our own earth. We must never tell anyone…anyone, about them’. She paused, wiping some tears from her eyes.
Peter sat silently again. She only called him Peter when she was very serious. He thought about the ‘sand-dragons’ as she called them, and about his own feelings and emotions. Then he said at last, ‘You’re right. We must never tell anyone about them’. Then he said very sincerely and truthfully, ‘I hope that they will find where they are looking for. I wish them well’. Nikki walked across to him and hugged him. She had never loved her brother so much.
And now it is time to move this story on for a few years, to the present day, and onto the beach again. Nikki is married and is lying on a beach-mat with her husband, watching her four-year old son digging tunnels and holes in the soft sand. beside her is Petie, with his young wife, fondly watching his little son and daughter making tunnels and building sandcastles. Unknown to them, ten yards away, are the McGee family, who we met at the beginning of this story, with their new little five-year-old daughter. The sky is a luminous blue, with tiny clouds on the horizon. The waves ripple in gently, only disturbed by the splashing and cries of small children.
Well behind them, is Mrs Kitson’s hotel, now with a large extension for all the visitors. Mrs Kitson is in the kitchen, preparing supper. She looks at her husband, Bill Hobson, and smiles gently. There are no worry lines around her eyes now. She looks happy. Down on the beach, Nikki picks up her binoculars and looks out. Petie does the same. ‘What’s that!’ she cries. ‘Only a lump of seaweed’ He replies. They relax again. Only a hundred yards away, a signpost stands at the bottom of the new steps. Only interesting because, it has a name on it.
The beach is now called ‘Sand -Dragon Bay.’
Frank Jackson (29/07/07)