Sapphire walks along the sand and shingle of the beach, at the water’s edge, as she has repeatedly over these last few hours, her gaze straying over the nearby holiday makers.
“Which one of them is it?”
“I don’t know, Steel,” she says. She looks towards him instead now and then past him, to the incoming waves. “It’s fading away.”
Steel frowns. Even so, he dislikes not having located the exact cause, the potential trigger that is lurking here on this bright summer’s day.
Sapphire turns back for one last try, the skirt of her white sundress with its blue-flowered pattern blowing in the breeze from the sea. Steel has removed his customary jacket, but it’s his only concession to his surroundings and the heat of the summer sun. She hides a smile behind her hair, as she thinks of that, before focusing on the humans again.
It’s later now; the sun lower and the sunbathers have been replaced by dog-walkers and a few determined family groups still paddling and building sandcastles. On the concrete steps behind them that lead back to the promenade and the town, others are sitting, eating fish and chips. The scent mingles with that of the sea and the sand: a distinct combination that conjures up summers long past to those around her. But they are not the danger here, not today.
To one side of them, there is a patch of sand that has been vacant all day; seemingly under a passing cloud, despite the blazing blue sky. Even now there are only the slightest wisps of cloud on the horizon. In the centre of that darkened area is a solitary sandcastle that has remained untouched and intact. It’s colder here, and the sand is damp as if the tide has only just retreated, or it has rained. Here it is not summer.
As Sapphire and Steel watch, it finally disappears; the area brightening and the sandcastle gone without a trace.
“That’s it,” says Sapphire, and takes his hand.
Steel stares at the now-innocent spot. “Someone’s memory?”
And if they return tomorrow…?
“No,” she says, sure of what she senses. “It was an… anniversary of some kind. I can’t find the source, but the memory was clear, vivid.”
She turns her head towards his, still holding his hand and shares it with him: a moment out of season, a family stoutly armed with waterproofs, laughing at the wind and the rain, and determined to build a sandcastle, no matter how inclement the weather. It’s a shared, nonsensical thing, as they run into the waves in the drizzle, and return to eat their sandwiches and crisps come what may.
Sapphire smiles. She understands a little more than he does, but only by proxy. “Sometimes it isn’t about the action, what is being made. It’s being together in the moment, sharing something that nobody else is. It’s…,” she pauses, with a twitch of her lips, anticipating his reaction, “… fun. It adds up to something that has no relation to the object of the activity, something far more important.”
He glances at her, and doesn’t have to say anything more. She knows he fails to see the purpose in ‘fun’ that consists of building ephemeral structures in sand in inappropriate weather. He doesn’t see the purpose in building ephemeral structures in sand even in sunshine. He would also claim he didn’t see the purpose in ‘fun’ at all, although Sapphire suspects otherwise.
“Why, this, though?” he asks. “Time was using something… someone. There was a power in it.”
Sapphire loses her amusement. “It’s unclear. A loss. Death. Maybe only a child that has grown and moved away, or a partner who has left – something that caused a break between those who were here. Someone here was clinging to a happy memory with an intensity that caused this. So strong that Time could use it. Perhaps that person had left before we arrived. Yes, I think they did.”
“You’re sure it’s finished?”
She nods. All sign of the potential break has gone. Their watching and guarding the area has held it in check, and she knows it is the date that was significant, not this location. The sun is growing lower still, over the town, night creeping in over the ocean, and soon this particular day will be passed forever.
They turn away from that space then, and walk back along the shore. As they pass, Sapphire sees and notes all the other marks in the sand, even as the sea takes them: a name written out in large, uneven letters for a plane to see; a lop-sided fairy tale castle; a pirate ship; a tunnel to China; a mound to bury a sleeping sibling.
Sapphire smiles to herself, and Steel glances at her, warily. It’s the look he gives when she strays away from him into such things. She meets his gaze, still smiling, and leans against him, briefly as they pause.
Behind them, the tide is coming in and the sun is sinking. The darkness is gone and won’t be back, not here, not from the same source. All that is left now is a memory she stores carefully in her mind: the fleeting sound of laughter, and a sandcastle in the rain.