On the first day of summer, Steve walked out of the ocean, and the tips of his fingers dissolved into sand, running in a slow slick down the damp surface of his board. He gave his hand a shake, half expecting that the sand would flick off and he’d see that everything was normal. Instead, a part of himself spattered into the tide line, with the stranded seaweed and the empty shells.
Bewildered and frightened, he walked up to the house, found his phone, took a picture of his fingers, their ends blunt and grainy. He wanted to send the picture to someone for help, but who was there? No doctor would believe him, and his friends would ask what he was going to do about it, a question to which Steve, on principle, only ever gave one answer: make great art.
Damp and salt-crusted, he walked from the lounge into his studio, stared at the potter’s wheel. He hadn’t touched clay in months, not since Diana’s departure. Instead, he’d gone to the sea every day, to wash away the past. Even art had seemed unimportant.
He found clay, water, tools, and started the wheel spinning. The clay ran through his fingers, soft and familiar, and he sank into the work like he was sinking into the waves. The clay became gritty as the ends of his fingers sloughed away, until he found the boundary between his body, his art, and the world. Then the sand stopped flowing. The pot he made wasn’t his best work, but he was steady in a way he hadn’t been for months.
The next day, a toe disintegrated, breaking his balance as a wave hit. He fell from his board, spluttering and frustrated, and headed for the beach, where he realised what had happened. This time, he went straight to the wheel. The clay flowed through his fingers, the side of his foot solidified, and at the end of the day, he had work worth firing in the kiln.
On the third day, he woke with sand in his bed and flesh missing from his thigh. For the first time in years, he didn’t go to the ocean. He went straight to the wheel.
Throughout his life, art had meant peace to Steve, but now he worked with a feverish intensity, throwing everything into the clay. Hunched over the wheel, he lived in the tension between his work and his body, on the cusp of a wave that was forever about to break. Every day, some part of him collapsed into sand. A clump of hair, a chunk of arm, a strip of flesh along his side. Creating stopped the collapse for the day, but every morning he woke with a knot in his belly, feeling for the grit between the sheets.
He wondered if this was a message from his muse. If he could make the perfect pot, could embody his essence in art, perhaps this would all end. He would be solid again. But less than a day after he set his best ever vase on the mantle, he woke with a hole in his cheek.
For weeks, he fought the slow collapse. Pot after pot piled up, while the sound of the sea through the windows called to him. He forced himself to ignore it, to find that crucial solidity. Still, every morning, there was less of him.
One evening, he faced the open door of the kiln, hairs rising as he was blasted by its heat, and he considered climbing inside. Perhaps that was the answer, to fuse his sand into glass, a crystal clear image of the man he was right now. But he couldn’t bring himself to do it, to become hard and unyielding. What was life without change, life closed off from the world?
He looked through the window at the waves he hadn’t felt in weeks, heard the call of the breakers on the shore. He stopped struggling to maintain his body. Sand trickled down his arm and, instead of fear, he felt peace.
Leaving a print of sand with every footstep, Steve walked out of the house, across the beach, into the surf. Waves washed over him. The tension in his belly vanished. There was nothing in his world but the lapping of the ocean and the sound, oh so peaceful, of the waves. He let his mind drift and the water washed him away, one grain at a time, as he became one with the sea.
If you enjoyed this story and would like to read more like it then you might want to sign up to my mailing list, where you’ll get a free ebook, updates on new releases, and a flash story straight to your inbox every Friday.
The goldsmith Cualli lives in a land of endless summer, where blood sacrifices hold back the dark of winter. Through her craft, she grants power to priests and soldiers, channelling the magic of Emperor Sun. But what matters to Cualli is not power; it is proving herself as the empire’s finest goldsmith.
Not everyone feels blessed by the empire’s blood-stained faith. Dissent is turning to rebellion and the rebels want Cualli on their side, whether she likes it or not. When the season of sacrifice threatens the lives of her closest friends, Cualli must face a choice: will she fight for change through the illegal magic of silver, or will she bask in her own triumph and the endless golden summer?
Silver and Gold, a novella about friendship, magic, is out now.