The war had raged on as long as anyone could remember. It started with the central sand castles, the ones in front of the resorts and popular gift shops. But as the war ravaged on, as more castles and fortresses were destroyed, it began to consume all the settlements along the beach.
Gregory had never known anything different. He and his other friends had been recruited from an early age into the army of Rick's Baitfish Sandcastle No. 3, a decidedly bigger and more impressive castle than Sandcastle No. 1, but not No. 2. No one liked to talk about Rick's Baitfish Sandcastle No. 2. The memory of its demise at the hands of insensitive, destructive children was still too painful to discuss openly. The castle from the Island Frozen Yogurt cluster had ridden in within the hour on the backs of seagulls and pillaged No. 2 of every shell and sea glass that was left.
That's why Gregory was so excited when he was chosen to join the ranks of soldiers for the first time. He clung to the feathers of the sandpiper he'd been given to ride into battle and swallowed. He could do this.
Gregory stared out across the dark beach, only the street lights from the seawall high, high above the beach, lighting the sand. It was safer to launch attacks at night, when risk of terrible children and adults with remote control cars kept the armies close to home. He and the other sandpiper riders had gathered behind a high, tangled mess of sargassum.
"All right, soldiers," Commander Wave said. "We rush in, take the loot of sea beans and get out. This is a retrieval mission. We're not under orders to destroy the structure. Understood?"
Gregory peeked through the branches of seaweed at their opponent, Seawall Pizza Restaurant Fortress No. 1. This was a new cluster, constructed by spring break tourists just within the past week. It left their resources ripe for the taking.
At the signal from Commander Wave, Gregory rushed dug his heals into his sandpiper's sides and rushed forward with the rest of the battalion. Their sandpipers leapt the deep trenches dug around the fort and landed in the smooth sand on the other side. It was obvious this was a new castle. They hadn't learned to reinforce their grounds with crushed shells and bottle caps yet.
Gregory jumped off his sandpiper and rushed with two other soldiers into the sandcastle's entrance. A few soldiers with shell tipped spears met them, but Gregory and his fellows were armed with shards of bottle glass tied to their spears.
Afterwards, as they dragged the sea beans back in a sea grass net strung between the sandpipers, Gregory sang celebratory shanties along with the others. They'd come home heroes, with enough sand beans to last the castle for months. On the long trek back to Rick's Baitfish Sandcastle No. 3, Gregory glanced over his shoulders several times. There was a part of him that felt terrible for raiding the stores of the fledgling castle. But he knew what it took. One day, they'd all get run over by a four-year-old or trampled by a dog or washed away in a high, high tide, and for each castle, it was only a matter of time.