Sandcastles – A Short Fiction

‘Sandcastles’ is my first and so far my only fiction ever written in English. I wrote some little books and stories in French throughout K-12, but for some reason I never got the opportunity to write fiction in English. Perhaps I did and I forgot. Idk.

Picture this, we are studying speculative fiction in class, I just finished Frankenstein, The Handmaid’s Tale, Brave New World, and Vathek. Life is shrouded with ominousness. Out of the blue, I am asked to compose my own speculative fiction. I am bewildered. I am scared. I sincerely believe I can not write anything serious and I’m already embarrassed to share the nonexistent fiction to my class. I am so caught up in the thoughts that I can’t write that I don’t think of what I could write. My sleep is restless. I seriously can’t figure this assignment out. The tingling in the tips of my fingers that I get when its time to write a bomb essay on a book I love is gone. I am ball of disorderly worry.

Then, one somber night (I don’t know if it was actually somber, this is just for dramatic effect) I wake up and pull my handy dandy notebook out of the nightstand. The one I use to write down words I want to check in the dictionary the next day because I read them somewhere but forget the definition, the questions on the random things I want to type into google the next morning, Plath verses I want to remember, reminders to buy cat food, make my lunch, call someone etc. Inevitably I always have some sort of thought mid-falling asleep that is mind-bending a must be addressed but it is always way past my bedtime and screen time; hence, the nightstand notebook. Here’s what I woke up to the following morning:

In case my late night handwriting is unintelligible. It’s mostly random words, so you’re not missing much. It says “human malevolence brought me here / I let the fire swallow me whole / the ablazing – ablaze ME/ Pyromaniac activists? / this is what THEY WANT / Ashes to ashes the world anew, for you / suicide cult? arsonists?”

This is a bunch of random junk, I know. I was half asleep and this was written in the light of my alarm clock, which read 2:46 AM. As I am going through and reading this now, I’m not sure how this was the moment that created the foundation for the story I wrote, but I guess it worked. Little did I know too that late night jotting by moonlight (I soon after ditched the alarm clock) would become a typical component to any and all future endeavours. My thesis statements for research papers are formulated in the wee hours of the morning in my notebook – and once, just once I forgot the book on my desk and quickly jotted a thesis argument on my wall in pencil (please don’t tell my parents. I am not insane). But “Sandcastles” was the first time I used the ol’ notebook in this way. Not just another reminder to check the multiple definitions of homonyms.

The next couple of days I just kind of became obsessed with this fragment of an idea I made in my head. I was lost in though scribbling words down in margins of my notebooks. My history notebook is where I wrote the Incendiaries slogan “Let’s set it ablaze and call it anew. From ember and ash, newfangled ways bloom through. Join the Incendiaries and make it all come true!” I came home, sat at my desk in in my unfinished basement bedroom and wrote wrote wrote wrote until I hit 30 pages. It was riddled with typos, ridiculously long sentences, and sorta looked like a typical blog post of mine. ‘Sandcastles’ by Beyoncé was in the playlist I was listening to near the end and gave my story its title. For the most part though I wrote in total silence, which was weird for me.

All in all, I look back at this story now and I see incredibly wonky sentences, a random use of Vathek, excruciating amounts of details on an abandoned grocery store, and strangely formulated paragraphs. It shed 15 pages in editing, and was proof read by many peers. This is what it turned out to be. I got 100% on it. I was very proud. I was nervous though because it was the longest one in our class and it was also kind of weird. But turns out, all the stories were pretty weird. I look at it now and it is not a good story at all to me. My intentions are messy (I try to explain below, scroll & read with caution), and I’m not so proud of it. But I am and I think forever will be amazed with the trance I went into when writing this. It is something unlike anything else I have ever experienced in my life. The aforementioned lost tingle in my fingers was back with stronger force. I was typing so hard on my keyboard that my wrists hurt. It was a sickeningly awesome experience and one that I have simply never been able to recreate. No matter how hard I try, there are no ideas that flow for another fiction. The buzz I get in the middle of a research essay is just not the same. It’s really fun writing stories and if/when the opportunity does arise I would do it again.

It’s a story of a mother doing anything to save her child and a father so caught up in a system of belief that he is willing to kill those he loves. It’s about organized religion, climate change, and people believing they can play God or know what’s best for others.

David, Lyra’s father, has a narrow view of the world. He is shaken by the calamity he sees around him, the injustice of everyday life. Thus, he decides to join a group that will allow humanity to start anew. He is willing to sacrifice his life, the life of his ex-wife, and his daughter’s wellbeing in order to see his plan through. He believes his mission to destroy humanity and the environment an act of salvation. As the embers and dust of the old world and the old systems of oppression and harm settle into the soil, new life will bloom through. I did on purpose to leave the full explanation of the Incendiaries’ mission out of the story, because I think that being caught up in the delusion that what you are doing is for the best can make it easier for you to do things without fully considering the consequences. For example, my boy Dave here is totally ready to set himself and his daughter ablaze once he is done burning the last square of the planet. He does not consider, however, how humanity will come back once the last person is destroyed. Is this an act of malice or of faith? Does he believe that God will create new people? Or perhaps he is telling himself he is doing what is best for everyone, and yet once it is his turn to sacrifice, he will be unwilling; therefore, not fulfilling his duty but only out of selfishness. In that way, he is also disobeying the entire premise of the Incendiaries, which was to remove the world of greed, selfishness, and injustice. When I think of David, I think of the priests who so ardently preach to God and spread their ideologies but so callously abuse that power behind closed doors for their own benefits. Priests raping Indigenous children in residential schools for one. But also the ways in which priests have, for centuries, used scripture to control and diminish women (Hint, hint, The Handmaid’s Tale). Dave is the epitome of it all. The question remains whether or not he will fall through on his plans once it comes time for him to pay a price. Will he light himself and Lyra ablaze? How can he justify his survival if he justified the death of millions of other people, including Lyra’s mom? Is he not then, by surviving, disproving his entire framework of belief?

Lyra’s mom’s POV was totally the way to go. I wanted to feel her burn. I wanted to feel her disappointment once she realized she was in the burn zone. But I also wanted to bring it all back to the fire. Fire is often used in religion as a symbol of divinity, but also a symbol of life. The blaze is both her captor and what keeps her alive. Her life is stolen from her that night her daughter is taken and she is left to burn in the house. The house fire seeks to extinguish her, but her passion for her daughter keeps her inner fire – her fight – alive. In the end, Lyra’s mother succumbs to the flames anyway, a sort of way of saying that a feeble thing such as a mothers love for her daughter is not strong enough to change the constructs of the world.

Another thing I intentionally did was use words like “burning” “blazing” and “aflame” when describing Lyra’s mother’s emotions. This is just another way I tie her to the fire. It’s weird but I did it anyway. I also reference sandcastles like three times? It’s a pathetic attempt at foreshadowing. But also, I find it leaves the last couple of lines a little more creepier and disturbing than anything else I could think of writing.

The Vathek and Frankenstein references are just kinda thrown in there for fun. Albeit, I felt that all of the characters are sort of like Vathek and the Creature, since they have created a system and been raised in a system that makes them so unhappy they are resulting to violence and destruction in order to attain salvation. We are both the creators of our modern world and the destroyers of it.

Anyways, I think I’ve written enough incoherent paragraphs for tonight. I’m off to sleep, typos be damned. Goodbye 🙂