"Don't be a mug", his siblings called. "You get lost and Mum will kill us", they called, into the wind, carrying the words to a disparate place.
Thomas knew his way. He paid no heed to their pathetic and desperate cries. He'd been this way many times. He had conquered his fears and stood his ground against his own insecurities.He feared least of all, what would happen to his brothers and sisters if he didn't return. That wasn't his fate: that was theirs. His fate was ahead, among the endless playground of The Dunes. He knew he must do this thing one more time. Thomas rubbed his numbing fingers together and rid himself of their selfish thoughts. He smiled a knowing smile, more to himself than those at bay, and stood his solid ground. He turned westward towards the dunes and allowed the icy wind to push him across the cold, damp sand. With a feeling of contempt and arrogance, he did not look back yet he could see their faces in his minds eye, as if for the last time, clear and concerned, their plaintive cries swallowed by the sound of the raging surf.
The line of dunes stretched to the horizon, broken only by the blow-outs from the consistency of the North Wind, the estuary inlet and the abandoned boat shed, once used by his father, now used by vagrants and teenagers for their illicit activities. Not long ago he would hear the sounds of his father tinkering with the boat or stitching a sail with the muffled sound of BBC 2 in the background. A very out of tune whistle kept roughly in time with the music. Now, all he could hear was the giggles and groans of adolescents finding their way through uncompromising sexuality. Thomas's understanding of these matters was limited to what he saw and heard from his siblings. He wanted no part of it. He wasn't aware of any wrongness. He just knew is it involved change and he didn't like change. He wanted to hear his father's disjointed whistling once again. Thomas choked back a lump in his throat as he moved on towards the first break in the towering grass.
On reaching a vantage point, Thomas looked back. He was now well out of sight of anxious eyes. He could see the last house being swallowed by the sand and grasses. His security dissipated for a moment. He was testing himself against the dark thoughts that haunted him about this place. Stories he had heard, things he had imagined in his darkest dreams, warnings from his parents. A body had been found recently. A young child, partly decayed, he had heard in the whispers. Not yet identified but one, surely, of many who had entered and never returned. Thomas was old enough to know fairy tales from truth. He was afraid of neither. He knew what he needed to know. He didn't feel the pain of terror, only the anguish of not belonging. He didn't fit well with his peers. His family thought him distant and aloof. They called it defiance. He didn't know the meaning of the word but it was spoken in a manner which implied a disturbing distinction, as one might treat a book with big words; difficult to understand maybe.
Yet Thomas understood much of what others didn't. He understood the nature of things and the way he fitted with it. He saw himself as part of all things. When he felt the wind on his face he became the wind. When he climbed the dune against the sliding sand he felt his feet dig into the dune and he became the dune. When it rained, he played in its wetness and let it soak into his pale skin. If he became cold, he accepted that as what the cold should feel like and he reveled in its likeness. If pain came with it, he knew it should hurt and accepted it; adored it, almost. Thomas knew this is the way it should be.
Thomas moved on with no fear.
The first break came with the sound of water. The estuary emptied into the sea here. The water was cold and clear and fresh. The tide didn't reach this far up the beach and only the rains kept the creek flowing. Thomas had never known it to dry up. It wasn't deep but Thomas chose his point of crossing carefully. He could see the edge of town upstream and thought of his mother returning from work and settling in front of the TV before dinner. She would call him once or twice and he wouldn't answer. She knew he wouldn't. He knew she knew. Thomas would appear in good time, when the plates were set at the table and the smell of food filled the house. After dinner, Thomas would return to where ever he had been and so would his mother. At the end of the night Thomas's mother would tuck him in and pat his head. "Sleep well, Thomas. Sleep well." And he would.
Once he had navigated the stream Thomas had a clear run at The Dunes. There were times when he could not see the horizon. His small frame struggled with the steepness of the paths. He gripped the long grasses for support, occasionally pulling clumps from their footing, causing him to loose his also. He struggled for breath on the uphill climbs and slid down the other side with exhilaration. Sand accumulated in his shoes and scratched at his feet. Sharp blades of grass cut at his face and hands. He licked blood from a graze on his arm. the was a tightness in his chest he had felt only once before. The tightness hurt in a good way, like eating too much. "Too much of a good thing" he had heard his father say. Thomas kept on as if he was being pursued. He felt the anxiety running swiftly behind him, grasping at his back; wanting to hold him back. he would have no part of it. Thomas knew his future and there was no stopping him.
The door closed slowly. Thomas waited another ten seconds before gasping for breath. He hurled himself into the sand towards the sea and ran until he dropped, exhausted, terrified, ashamed. He had known yet he has faltered.
Today was his last chance to redeem himself to himself. He knew nothing could harm him and he must face that reality one more time. He knew he was ready. He stepped forward without haste.
I knew that boy; the one who knew everything. He's gone now, lost in the dunes, lost to the wind and the sand and the sea. I don't know if he ever fulfilled his quest to complete himself. I've not seen him since that day when The Dunes swallowed him and left no trace. Maybe he's still out there. Proving something, testing his truth, pushing the limits just a bit more. Maybe he just grew up. If you have time, go to The Dunes and search. At least you might find out something you didn't know.