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The sun warmed my face through the car window as I drove down the isolated stretch of road. I looked back at my daughter in the back seat who giggled, waving her feet. I contentedly sighed and focused my attention back on the road. This would be my last trip with my daughter for a year since I was leaving for my tour of duty next week. We’d visited these sand dunes before as a family, but as I wanted some extra bonding with Lucy so my wife had allowed me to take her alone. Lucy really seemed to love them last time, climbing up and sliding down the bright red dunes of sand. I could still remember her happy laughter ringing in the air.
Spotting the hotel down the road, I turned in and carried our suitcase in one hand and held onto Lucy with the other. After checking in and finding our room, we sang songs together in the dark, laughing through the night until we both fell asleep.
The next morning, I woke up just as the sun was rising to prepare for the day. I filled a backpack with several bottles of water and all of Lucy’s favorite snacks. Then thinking about how my wife would chide me if Lucy got sunburned, I threw in a bottle of sunscreen.
After shaking my daughter a few times, she popped out of bed and danced over to the suitcase. She pulled out her clothes, and went to the bathroom to change.
I smiled, standing by the door to wait for her.
After Lucy was ready, I gripped her hand and we walked together down to the car.
Before I had even fully stopped the car, Lucy swung the door open and jumped out into the sand running toward the nearest dune. I took a quick glance to make sure she was safe, and then I stepped out into the sunlight. I stretched my arms out and closed my eyes, feeling the hot sun on my face. Our hometown was perpetually cold and snowy so this was a welcome change. I took a deep breath, opened my eyes and saw a man and his son walking toward the parking lot where I was standing.
“Good morning, sir. Leaving so soon?” I ask the man.
“Yeah,” he sighed. “This little rascal stayed up all night and now he can’t even keep his eyes open!” The man glanced disapprovingly at his son who slightly furrowed his brow before yawning.
“Kids,” I mutter, and we both get a chuckle. “Well, I’m here with my daughter,” I say, gesturing over to the sand dune. “We’re planning to stay for the whole day, and maybe a little of tomorrow.”
“Ahh,” mused the man. “Don’t go too far into the desert. I’ve heard that some tourists have gotten lost in there.”
“Really? How? ” I ask.
“Well, I’m not really sure about the details, but I do know that some people go out into the dunes and are never heard from again. We assume they tried to hike through it. Anyway, I’m sure you’ll be fine, just stick near the edge of the desert.”
“Of course, I would never do anything to put Lucy in danger.”
“Great! Well, I really must be going. Have fun and good luck!” The man gave a little nod and pulled his half-asleep son towards their car.
I smiled towards their backs and watched them drive down the road before turning back toward the dune. Lucy was happily sliding down with another girl slightly older than her, her beautiful laugh ringing in the air. A warmness swelled in me. It was the knowledge that I could give her a happy memory. It didn’t matter that I had to leave her for a little while. She’d remember this.
Reaching into the backpack, I pulled out the bottle of sunscreen and a small jewelry box.
“Hey, Lucy! Come down here for a sec!” I call.
She popped out of the sand and flitted over to me, a big smile on her face.
“Sunscreen time!” I say cheerily, glopping the white lotion all over her face. I was never good at this.
“Daddy…” she whined, snatching the bottle away from me to apply it herself in the reflection of the car door. When she was done she tossed the bottle into the bag and was about to turn and run back towards the sand, but I stopped her by placing a hand on her shoulder.
“Lucy dear,” I say softly. My heart pounds in anticipation of her reaction. I pull out the jewelry box and hand it to her.
She slowly opened the velvet lid and looked into it with confusion. Listing up the small glass bottle topped with a cork, she flashed me another puzzled glance.
A little disappointed, I explained that I got her a little bottle to place some sand into as a keepsake and that she could wear it and remember me by it. She burst into a big smile and hugged me tightly.
“I love you, daddy,” she whispered in my ear. “I’m going to fill it up right before we leave so I can have some happy sand.”
I squeezed her tight and then let her run back over to her new friend. I watched them have fun together all day as I chatted with the other girl’s family. Time just flew by and soon enough, the sun was setting with a red glow.
We said our goodbyes to the other family and I turned to go to the car, but Lucy said, “Wait! I still have to fill up the necklace!” and ran off again up the sand dune.
I leaned against car and looked up and around at the empty stretch of desert surrounding us, completely devoid of other life. It was actually quite serene, hearing the soft breeze shift sand around. Suddenly, I felt an out of place shiver run down my spine. I didn’t know how I could tell, but I had the feeling that the desert was a bit bigger, the dunes a bit higher than the last time we had visited several years ago.
I looked up and saw Lucy at the top of the sand dune holding the necklace above her head, tapping it to level the sand inside. Then, just as she was replacing the cork, she let out a shriek and dropped the necklace.
“Lucy? Lucy!” I yelled. “What’s wrong?” I sprinted up the dune toward my little girl.
“I’m okay,” she said softly, holding her finger out at me. “Something bit me, but it doesn’t hurt anymore.”
I grabbed her hand and kissed it. “There, it’ll be all better. Oh right, your necklace, let me get that for you. Then you can fill it back up.” I trotted down the side of the sand dune and bending down, I scooped up her necklace in my hands. I then looked up to see my beautiful angel blowing away. My eyes widened and I froze there as her body disintegrated. First, a few grains of red sand from the tip of her head fluttered away, followed by a stream working its way down her body.
Snapping back to reality, my heart pounded in my chest as I ran back up the slope, reaching it just as the last of the sand was blowing away. I splayed my hands out, trying to grab a hold her, but the small particles just slipped through my fingers.
I fell to my knees, the wind howling around me, the darkness quickly approaching. All I wanted were some memories with my daughter. She was having so much fun out here and we only stayed because of my necklace. That stupid necklace.
I emitted inhuman, tortured sobs, clenching the necklace in my hands, and called out for her into the emptiness. Slowly, I fell to the sand, having lost any will to ever get up again. I could hear the unforgiving wind howl and the cold of night start to creep up. Eyes clenched tight from squeezing out sandy tears, I felt pinches up and down my legs. They hurt for a few seconds, but then the pain faded. Lightness streamed from my core throughout my body. My eyes still held tightly together, I felt the sensation of flying, no, soaring through the sky. Toward my baby girl.
Credit To – Mithril