Richie scuttled across the beach, covering his eyes with his hands. A ball of wet sand landed in the center of his bare back. He fell forward, curling in his arms and legs. The grains shifted under him.
A short laugh rang in his ears, more like a bark. “You’re so easy, squirt.” A spray of sand flew over him, then there was the crunch of footsteps as his brother stalked away.Richie’s breath rasped loudly in the circle of his arms. He waited until the sound was about to drive him mad before sitting up. Grit streamed from his hair. He looked around warily. Roger sat in the waves, their parents smiling on.His jaw opened and shut, the joints grinding. He put his index finger to his mouth, biting down on his nail. The skin pinched between his teeth. Ritchie stared at his finger. The nail was gone, an indent where it should have been.He searched the sand using both his eyes and his hands. Dirt dug under his remaining fingernails. His vision blurred. He lifted one last shell. It was smooth in his hands and the sun reflected off its pinkish hue. He gazed at it for a second before looking down.A tiny girl sat in the sand, her knees drawn up to her chest. Her brown hair laid in a plain braid down her back. Her eyes took up half her face.She blinked. Richie blinked.He reached out to touch her. She scooted away, her mouth open wide. The sand disappeared around her and she sunk into a small hole.“Sh, it’s okay,” Richie whispered, his hands out in front of him. He glanced over his shoulder. No one was paying any attention to them. “I’m not going to hurt you.”Her mouth closed, but she rocked back and forth making the hole deeper.Ritchie sat back, balancing on the balls of his feet and scratching the shell against his chin. “What are you?”She stopped rocking and looked up at him with her bulbous eyes. She slowly held up her hand, pinching the air between her thumb and forefinger.He smiled. “Yes, I know you’re little. But why are you so little?”She shrugged and placed her hands on her knees, knocking them together.“Okay then. So why are you here?”Another shrug.Richie looked up. The ocean’s waters slapped at the sand, breaking apart his thoughts. “Did you wash up on shore?”She pointed at the shell.“You came from this?” He frowned. The shell was nearly flat.She shook her head and pointed at the shell again, then the ground.“Oh.” He set it on the sand.She climbed into the dip, grabbing onto the slightly curved edges. She leaned side to side, the shell moving beneath her.“So you rode here.”She nodded, her hands still in place.He reached down and carefully picked up the tiny vessel, bringing it to eye level. Her miniature fingers tightened then withdrew to her lap. Tiny chips were gone from the sides.“Are you hungry?”She nodded until Richie thought her head might snap off her neck.“All right.” Richie stood. He glanced at his family again. “I’m going to have to put you in my pocket, okay?”She gave her consent.He pulled out his trunks pocket as wide as it would go and gently dumped her inside, letting the shell go with her. Then he walked back to his parents and the basket full of snacks, being careful not to jostle the girl.Richie stared out the car window. His ear itched. He was pretty sure some of Roger’s saliva remained inside. He looked over at his brother, who slept propped up against the car door. His parents were fully focused on their conversation.He peeked inside his jacket pocket. His new friend smiled at him sleepily. He grinned back and returned to the window. Monotonous scenery flashed by in a haze, everything mixing together.He couldn’t take it anymore. He stuck his finger in his ear, wiggling it to dislodge whatever was causing the irritation. His nail was no longer there to help scratch the itch.Richie froze, everything clicking into place. A smile stretched his face as far as it would go as he gazed at his brother. He poked his fingers into his pocket. The girl climbed onto his palm. He held her up to his mouth and whispered as soft as he could.She nodded.He reached over and set her on top of Roger’s head. She walked lightly to the back of his head and grasped two big strands of hair in her hands. They disappeared completely.