“No, you’ve got it all wrong.” Lul pushed strands of seaweed from her eyes and smiled reassuringly up at her customer. “It’s ‘sandwich shop’, not ‘sand witch shop’—Silent ‘t’, see?”
The skeleton looked at the sandwiches on Lul’s cart, sockets glowing. “You stupid? Nobody eats around here. Now where’s my sand sculpture?”
Shame pricked Lul’s cheeks as she flicked her tail, conjuring a twisting edifice from the sand. “There you go,” she said thickly. “Good luck with the contest.”
Lul stared up at the muddy, sunless sky and wiped her eyes with a scaled hand. She hated this dumb tourist town and all the dumb, small-minded creatures who lived there. Who cared about the Monthly Underworld Sand-garden Competition anyway? What about what she wanted?
She clutched the book tightly to her chest and stared out to where the dull grey beach met the dull grey ocean. On the horizon, the gateway to the Overworld shimmered and twisted like it had the day the book washed ashore.
“I bet it’s amazing there,” she whispered to the book. “It must be wonderful living somewhere where people want to try something new.”
Green flames licked the carcass of the Grökhog as Lul turned the spit. She checked the book again. Well, she had no idea what a ‘chicken’ was, but hopefully Grökhog was an okay substitute. A wonderful smell pressed at her nose from the nearby kiln: fresh bread and brimstone. It smelt like a dream.
A twig snapped and Lul looked round to see her father watching from the edge of the clearing. Ignoring the look in his eyes she held up a finished sandwich.
“Look, Pa. It’s called a cheese and sundried tomato sandwich. Wanna try some? The, uh, tomatoes aren’t sundried because we don’t have a sun here, but it should still taste great, right?”
All eight eyes blinked slowly, a strange colour in them that Lul couldn’t comprehend. Then he slowly clacked his mandibles.
“Come on, time for work.”
Lul watched him leave, then gazed at the sandwich. She took a bite but couldn’t taste anything.
Her eyes itched.
The next day she painted her cart in bright colours and pulled it to the beach. She neatly arranged the sandwiches by colour and size, and wore her best smile.
Nobody bought anything except sand, and everybody was noisy about the reasons why.
Lul kept smiling though, even when her mouth started to hurt.
“Hey Lul,” Maen’s voice boomed across the workshop on the beach. “Hear you’ve been freaking everyone out with your dumb food cart again.”
Lul’s magical grip on the miniature sand sculpture tightened as she glared at her brother. “It’s not dumb, Maen.”
Both mouths grinned. “No, but you must be. Food’s for idiots in the Overworld… Or those enchanted by them.”
“Maen.” Their father’s voice crashed against the tide.
“What? She’s a sand witch, Pa. Time she started acting like one.”
“You… I…” Lul swallowed. That was it. She snapped her tail and her sculpture disintegrated. “I don’t want to be one,” she hissed, her eyes burning. “Maybe I can do better than all this. Mom thought so.”
She ran home, far away from their expressions.
Lul pretended she was asleep when her father checked on her. Her hearts raced as she felt him pry the book from her fingers.
She heard the sound of pages being turned, and felt something in the air that weighed unpleasantly on her chest.
His fingers brushed hers for the longest time when he returned the book.
“The mayor gave my space away?”
The goblin shrugged as he unloaded his cart of dumb rock statues and other stupid tourist-town things.
“Yeah. Yer pa told ‘im you didn’t need it no more.”
Lul looked back at her packed cart, suddenly feeling stupid and tired. She kicked it, kicked it again. Then she ran down to the shore, her eyes burning, and tried to throw the book away, but the tide kept bringing it back.
When the storm finally carried her home, Lul found her father sitting at his work bench.
“How could you, Pa?” she growled, her chest sore. “I said I didn’t want to be a sand witch.”
He silenced her without moving, his eyes fixed on a square of paper on the bench. Eventually, a chitinous claw pushed it towards her. “And you won’t be,” he whispered.
Lul turned it over, and her breath caught.
The ticket to the Overworld shimmered in her hand.
Author Notes / Restrospective
Occasionally I dabble in a prompt-inspired flash fiction/short story contest, the former category of which is limited to fiction of 750 words. This was one such entry, the selected prompt for the round being “I Just Want My Sandwich!”
Naturally (and like many a contestant) I couldn’t resist a pun-laden interpretation of the prompt, but I tried to temper this with a more meaningful and ‘deep’ (or as deep as you can with a 750 word limit!) story.
So this is the tale of a witch who wants to escape the family trade of sand sculpting in a small, back-water tourist town, and whose desire to make sandwiches and other culinary delights was sparked by the discovery of a recipe book that had floated down from the Overworld. As well as attempting to deliver on the prompt, I also tried to shoehorn in an essence of the post-industrial rot that has blighted some parts of the UK, as well as the more lighthearted theme of attempting to do something other than what’s expected of you. The original draft of this story was cancelled at around 1,000 words, and the version I submitted now was an attempt to condense these main themes into a 750 word story. This meant that the post-industrial rot was relegated to a few words here and there, and I think it lost some of its sharpness as a result.
What I also hoped to achieved with this effort was for it to read as a complete story. One of the critiques of my only previous entry in these challenges was that it felt like a scene attempting to tell a story, or that it read as more of a synopsis than something complete. Feedback seems to vary as to whether I overcame this successfully this time round, but I’m personally satisfied that I did. There is no getting away from the fact, however, that the word count stopped me developing aspects of the world as clearly as I would have liked. Some thought that what I did was sufficient, others didn’t. Both views are valid.
Oh, bonus factoid time. The characters were named after beaches/coastal areas. Lul came from Lulworth Cove in Dorset, England, and Maen came from Porth Maenmelyn in Pembrokeshire, Wales.