Stefano lay on his back next to his greatest creation. The highest points of the castle, the four corner flag posts made of marooned twigs, stood at the startling height of a half-meter. Supported by his elbows, legs towards the sea, Stefano’s eyes were even with the battlements, his back angled parallel to an intimidating range of cliffs. He leaned his back, arching his back and digging his cowlick into the sand. The rocky withered face of the cliff climbed high above the reach of the young boy’s upturned eyes. On the other side of the impenetrable mass of eroded brown rock sat his home, hidden in a deep forested valley. Today, like nearly every day, he had traveled up the green hills behind his home and through a small patch of trees, then scaled down the treacherous rocks to reach the oasis at the water.
The sand stretched long and far in each direction. Very rarely had Stefano seen another person on these beaches, except the every so often old man combing the sands for sea-glass or coming to hear the crashing waves. Next to Stefano wrapped in a kerchief from his father was a collection of broken gadgetry and several small glass beakers filled with colored liquid.
Rising from his rest, Stefano dug thin holes in the sand for each beaker and began embedding his castle with the warped and misshapen parts his father had discarded from the engineering workshop. The main battlements were lined with scraps of metal Stefano imagined to be pure silver. An irregular gear was pushed into the sides of the castle entrance, serving as show-mechanics for the drawbridge. Crooked springs were wrapped with seaweed and planted in the sand as flowers lining the inside of the walls.
The stare of the sun falling on the castle highlighted the large quantity of engineering oddments that had gone into the boy’s work. The embellishments sparkled like a blinking eye as Stefano waved the kerchief over the castle. He giggled at the rippling of the white sheet then draped it over the rear battlements, running towards the sea. His bronzed feet froze as they tasted the salty water. He reached down and pulled two handfuls of short twigs covered in seaweed from the wet sand, rinsed them, and hurried back to his castle.
Stefano sat next to the three bottles full of colored liquid and rolled the sticks in the sand until each was thickly coated in a layer of beige grit. He took the first bottle and emptied it onto the pile of sticks, coating them in a pearl-white paste. Next to this pile of sticks Stefano emptied the second bottle onto the sand. This light blue liquid was less viscous, but caused the small patch of sand to clump together. With the third bottle the child walked to the cloth he had used to cover his castle. The cliffs at his back were turning from gold to tan as the sun fell behind a set of clouds. Stefano emptied the dark vial onto the cloth and watched as a stormy grey color enveloped it entirely. He grabbed the now blackened kerchief and tied the corners to the red and white striped castle poles. At this point the boy began to dance, palms uplifted towards the sky, and uttered his first sounds of the afternoon.
He grabbed a pinch of the blue stained sand and threw it side armed at the castle. Underneath the dripping grey cloth the grains skipped like stones, bouncing over the metal laced battlements and wetting the palace grounds blue. When both hands were empty he grabbed an even larger load of blue sand in his left hand, and with his right a handful of the dyed white sticks.
The blue sand was flooding the interior of the castle. The lightning white sticks made curious noises, thudding off metal and sticking in the sand. The boy’s toss and his voice grew more furious. “Cracck! Krcacakadachkkkuk!” The wind began to compete with Stefano’s hisses and booms, rippling the clouded-grey sheet. It turned in every direction, and sounded like a muted snake. More and more sticks flew from Stefano’s hands. They were causing significant damage to the castle walls, filling the moat with white pieces of wood and uprooting the coiled pieces of metal. Once all the twigs were used, Stefano fell to the ground laughing, his wet ankles coating themselves in the remainder of the dyed sand.
Blue footed and smiling, Stefano fell asleep and dreamt of flight. He emerged from his house in the small valley with a tablecloth folded into a bag. Tied to a tree branch, it was checkered with blue and green stars on both sides and filled with pristine mechanical parts the likes of which even his father had never seen. He pulled out a curious rope with two mismatched shoes tied to one end and a large seashell to the other. Stefano hurled the seashell end of the rope onto the roof of his house.
He pulled the rope twice to check its stability and suddenly the house was not a house. As if by some secret password the stone wall of his home became the steepest and most rocky portion of the cliffs leading to the beach. Stefano made two additional tugs on the rope for good measure and began his ascent without hesitation. What was originally a 10 foot high wall of brick and a wooden roof had grown into an impossibly dangerous cliff of indeterminable height. The length of the rope grew as well, and the one pair of shoes notched to the end was now one hundred, the rope dangling in between like the body of a centipede.
Stefano began his climb by placing his left foot into the first shoe. Next his right foot entered a shoe an entire leg length higher. As he looked down, bag clenched in teeth, the ground fell like a stone and splashed into a body of water the color of which Stefano could not decipher. His eyes turned upwards towards his goal, the seashell anchored casually at the top of the cliff. He continued, one shoe at a time, each new foothold seeming further and further away, eyes rarely straying from the pink coiling sea relic.
When he lost his focus on the shell his thoughts confused and scared him. Stefano saw busted faces in the rock, close to human, but damaged and exaggerated in ways he had never seen. They made terrifying shrieks and used words of discouragement, telling Stefano that he would not be able to reach the top. But when he kept his focus on the seashell at the top of the ledge, he was able to tune them out.
Propelling himself upward, Stefano’s legs stretched, growing to meet each new foothold. He felt confused by the ability. By the time Stefano had reached the summit, he was sure he had traveled upside down at least once, climbed three consecutive left shoes with his right foot, and sneezed a small cave into the side of the cliff where a small animal tried to talk to him into buying some food.
When Stefano reached the end of his climb he sat Indian style on the summit, only half remembering the cliff faces and other strange happenings. Clearing away a patch of snow that had no place atop the dusted cliff, he unfolded the blue green starred cloth in front of him. There were no remaining contents. The cliff summit was now barren besides for the tablecloth and Stefano, the seashell forgotten. His blue and green starred fabric suddenly decided it was no longer useful as a napsack, flew up from the ground, and tied itself around Stefano’s neck.
It was now a cape. Blue and green stars rippled in the wind like dancing constellations. The child stood and faced the sea, taking a great sniff of the salty air and extending his arms. The smile was audible, its sound called his parents into the scene. They stood hundreds of meters down from the cliff and yelled to him from beside their house.
“Stefano!” He dropped his arms and turned. His parents were small as specks but their faces were magnified. “Please be careful!” said his mother, narrowing her eyes and stressfully twisting the ends of her curly brown hair in one hand.
Stefano turned back towards the sea and although he couldn’t see his father’s face, he imagined a smile. He extended his arms, spreading his cape. Suddenly the wind lifted him from the ledge.
He flew down towards the sea like a kite being brought in. After catching one soaring updraft, Stefano’s head felt heavier, his body bulky and suddenly graceless. His eyes turned from the cloudless sky to the water below and suddenly his fall seemed inevitable. Nearing the sea headfirst at tremendous speed, Stefano somersaulted his frame, landing in an upright stance on the water. His heels submerged with a slight splash, but he managed to retain his balance, standing carefully on the surface of the sea, completely surprised.