Underfoot by D. S. G. Burke

Wet sand is greedy. It pulls at the boy’s footprints. At the water’s edge, he learns that standing too long in one spot is treacherous. The sand wants to swallow him up, feet first. So he never stands still. Aping the shorebirds, he attacks the first line of water. The water fights back with spray and chill. His toes are cowards. They launch him backwards. He forces them to return. Ram ahead, then retreat. Hair flies into his face and eyes and mouth and he’s laughing, open mouthed, so more gets in and the boy coughs the hair out and he’s still laughing.

My toes go numb and I stand in the inch-deep water while the sand pulls me down. There are clams down here waiting, packed in tight, fully surrounded by sand, each sending up a fleshy straw to breathe through. My feet cover their air holes and they want to pull me down under too. I let myself sink, deeper and deeper. How long does it take to swallow me whole? An hour? I came prepared with a long straw–one of those novelty straws that you win at the fair. A wide bubble tea straw. I held it above my head as I sunk and closed my eyes just before my head sunk beneath the sand.

How long have I been here? I am standing upright. My ears are packed with sand, yet I hear the boy’s laughter, muffled, above me.

He is running at full speed along the slithering tightrope of the waves edge. Thuds from his footfalls resound under the sand. He is looking down at his feet and doesn’t realize how distant his mother is now, until he looks up. He trips over my air straw and lands on his face. There is no time to hesitate. The sand around me vibrates at such speeds that it flows like water. I pull him down, down to my level. The sand above us smooths like a dress over prim knees.

D. S. G. Burke lives and writes in New York City. Her writing has appeared in the Seattle Times, 3Elements Literary Review, and Stinger Stories. Her day job focuses on averting the worst effects of the impending climate crisis. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram @dsgburke