How to Build a Sand Castle

Some Sundays my family and I take the Number 26 bus outside of town to where there’s a little sandy beach. And as anyone who’s ever been to the beach knows, the first thing you’ve got to do is build a sand castle.

I started, as anyone who knows anything about sand castles always does, with the towers. Packing sand tightly into the little plastic buckets we brought with us- If you know anything about going to the beach, you know what I mean by “sand bucket.” The kind with four legs on the bottom, that when flipped overlooks just like the parapets of a castle. That’s what I learned in history class, the little walls on top of the rest of the wall is called a “parapet”. And the gap between the little rectangular sections, the ones for archers, are called “crenels.” And so when I pack the little plastic buckets with sand and then flip them over, and carefully pull the bucket off, it forms a “battlement,” complete with four “parapets” and “crenels” on top. It provides excellent defense and also looks pretty.

I started with, as anyone who knows anything about sand castles usually does, with four towers. And they looked lonely and empty, so I gathered up some shell people and strategically placed them on the battlements. These shell people are the castles’ royal guard, and as anyone who knows anything about shell people knows, they’re crucial. I only use the best shells, which is saying something because I spent forever picking out the best shells. And believe me, on this beach there’s a lot, of shell people, and most of them are broken or dull and ugly.

So then I had four towers, with shell people ready to defend them. So of course, as anyone who knows anything about shell people and sand castles knows, I started building the walls between the towers. Four towers, four straight walls- It’s very simple. I carry the sand from somewhere- it doesn’t matter where- to the castle, and I pack the sand up into mounds with my hands. I then pressed the mounds together so that the sand sticks and hardens. I don’t know why it holds together like mud, but It has to be wet sand, but not too wet- anyone who knows anything about sand castles knows what I mean. After packing in the wall and making it look nice, I also added some more “parapets” on top of the wall, and by jamming my finger into the parapet like a wrecking ball, I created some more “crenels.”

So now these walls are basically defenseless, so of course, I got some more shell people out of my shell bag (if you don’t have a shell bag you’ve apparently never been to a beach), and I placed them along the wall. I set them where the crenels are because obviously, they wouldn’t be able to see anything if they’re blocked by a wall of sand. All these Shellpeople are the lookouts, they need to be able to see- so that they can look out, it’s very simple.

It was a rookie mistake, something I should have seen coming, but I forgot the gatehouse. How are the good Shellpeople going to get in and out without a gatehouse? Classic rookie mistake on my end. So using my foot like a wrecking ball, I kicked out a largish section of the wall, put in two more towers and a barrier between them. Then using my little sand shovel (if you don’t know what a “sand shovel” is, it’s like a garden shovel only tiny and plastic and completely useless for anything besides sand castles) and I dug out a small hole going under and into the wall. This was a tricky task because the wall sometimes wants to crumble- you have to go slow and stay steady. I had to add some more water to make sure the sand stays sticky. I don’t why the sand is sticky- it just is- it sticks to everything. It’s itchy and kind of awful anywhere other than on a beach. I always find it on me days, sometimes even weeks, after getting home from the beach. Sand is like that, it sticks to everything when wet, and then falls off at the most inconvenient times when dry.

Ok, so then I had six towers, with a square wall between them, and Shellpeople guarding around the edges. Now it was time to build the “keep,” which is basically just the house for the king and queen shells.

There are two ways to build a sand castle keep. One, you get an even bigger sand bucket, which I sadly don’t have, but my friend Jimmy does, and you basically build a bigger version of the tower. Or, you can just create the keep with your hands using clumps of wet sand. It’s kinda like making a snowman- only it isn’t anything like that because it’s sand and it’s a castle- but you get the idea.

So I went ahead and started carrying over fistfuls of sand from the edge of the water (which I noticed seemed to have moved a little closer to the castle) where the sand is the perfect amount of wet and dry, anyone who has built anything with sand knows what I mean by, “wet and dry sand”. If you have a younger brother or sister- which I don’t- convince them to carry the sand for you, it saves you a lot of time. But sometimes because they’re little they might mess up and destroy everything, so be careful.

At this point, I realized that I should probably have started with the keep because now I had to continually hop over the walls to get to where the keep was, which was really difficult. A few times I knocked a couple sections of the battlements down and had to do quick repairs. But this way the keep could be kept safe from invaders while it’s getting built.

So now I had a home for the king and queen Shellpeople. For them, I used only the most beautiful and perfect shells. Giant “cod” shells that I found. They’re very rare and hard to find. I almost never see them, but today I saw two, and so now I had a king shell and queen shell.

At this point, the castle’s just about finished. But of course, it needed a “moat,” which is like a river that goes around the outer walls as extra defense. Moats are very easy to build, all you need is a tiny plastic sand shovel. Or, just hands.

I don’t know why, but you can only dig so deep down at a beach. Anyone who’s ever tried digging down at a beach knows, you can only dig so far. Maybe you were looking for something? Maybe you were digging to China? Maybe you just wanted to bury someone or yourself? Whatever the reason was that you were digging down at the beach, it isn’t going to happen. Trust me, I know. I’ve tried many times. I’ve worked with my friends, and we dug all day, and we could only get so deep.

Why? Because the oceans down there. Yep. One foot or so under the sand at the beach is the freaking ocean, and no one can dig through water- it’s impossible! I don’t know why it’s down there, it just is.

However, this is perfect for the digging of moats. Just dig down around your walls until you hit the ocean and bam! You’ve got ocean wrapping around your sand castles’ walls.

It was while I was digging out the moat that I noticed something awful. Waves were starting to touch my toes behind me while I dug. I had made a humongous mistake. A classic humongous rookie mistake. I had forgotten about the tide!

If you’ve built a sand castle, or if you’ve just seen a castle, you may have noticed that you never see it the next day. That’s because the ocean gets bigger and smaller, I don’t know why, something about the moon feeding the sea, but it happens. The sea gets bigger and eats everything. That’s why the sand’s always flat, and the shells are always different every time you go to the beach.

I made the mistake of building my castle too close to the ocean, and now the ocean was going to eat my castle!

Now, I’m an expert sand castle builder, perhaps the best in the world, and I did everything I could. I built canals and rivers to redirect the waves. I created a huge sand wall by dumping buckets and buckets of sand to block the water. I then had to use my bucket to bail the water away as it came around the edges of the wall. I worked as quickly as I could, but let me tell you, a boy can’t stop the ocean. It just ate away at that sand wall like a champion pie eater eating pie.

I did everything I could to slow the water down, but in the end, it just wasn’t enough. I lined the last of my shell army in rows and columns outside the outer wall, facing the ocean, where they would make their last gallant stand. They fought bravely, courageously, fearlessly, but in the end, they were no match for the ocean.

I remember the last wave like it was yesterday (which it was), the biggest wave I’ve ever seen in my entire life. I heard it coming before I even saw it. I turned around to see a wall of angry white water coming at us with such speed and force, there was no doubt, it would break down the sand wall, and flatten the castle in one final blow.

I heroically led the charge. Screaming at the top of my lungs as I sprinted towards the oncoming wall of water. Leaping over the tiny smaller waves before it, smashing through them, destroying them, regaining my footing underwater, and charging onwards, my plastic shovel held high up in the air, the sunlight reflecting off the red plastic. I could hear the ranks of the shell army cheering behind me as I led the charge.

“For the Kingdom!” I creamed just before impact. I swang the shovel down, slicing the outer water open, but it was not enough. The wave smashed into me like a dump truck.

The next thing I remember was darkness. I flipped and turned underwater. My eyes burned with salt water. Water filled my nose. I was slammed against the sandy floor repeatedly.

I awoke under a bright sun. I was washed up on the shore, my eyes burning, coughing into the sand. I was confused, I didn’t know where I was. I was somehow further down the coast, I didn’t know how I got there, it was like I was transported magically. The air was still and calm.

“Oh no, the king!” I yelled, leaping to my feet and running back down the coast.

I don’t know what happened. How the shell army had held up against the final waves’ attack. Or what the king and queen did in their final moments. The battle was over. I was the only survivor. Everything, the castle, the walls and towers, the shell army, the king and queen, everything was gone. I couldn’t even find them, I ran up and down the beach looking for survivors. But everything was gone. Swallowed up by the ocean.

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