The Mud Queen
“Finish your mud,” hissed the Queen.
Her Royal Highness, the Princess Cassandra Quagmire Le-Sands, heir to the Great Stone Throne of Morecambe Bay stared gloomily at her plate. It was piled high with mud.
The plate itself was made of mud and so were the forks and the spoons. The table was just a mound of claggy clay groaning under the weight of hundreds of muddy dishes.
Quicksand Soup (Eat it quick or it’ll swallow your spoon!)
Mud-balls with Sandworms
Sea Cucumber SANDwiches
And for pudding…
Brownies (not chocolate flavoured)
Lemon and Slime Sorbet
In the middle of it all, there was an enormous mud pie gleaming gloopily in the evening sunlight.
“Perhaps another Vol-ooze-Vent, your mud-jesty?” A tall thin butler offered her a tray piled high with little mud rolls. As he leaned towards her, a tiny drip of brown water pooled at the tip of his nose and plopped down onto Cassandra’s plate. Even the butler was made of mud.
“I HATE mud!” Cassandra fumed at her food, willing it to change into anything but brown sandy sludge.
“Eat it now, silly girl.” The queen hissed again, “It’s almost too late.” Without moving her eyes or even her face, she managed to fix Cassandra with her deadliest glare. The type of glare only available to queens and particularly vicious sharks.
Cassandra tried to glare back but it was like staring at the sun.
“Ok! Ok! Just please stop. It feels like you’re digging a hole in my brain!” She reluctantly picked up the smallest spoon and scooped up the tiniest crumb of mud.
“Use the sand-fork not the gloop-spoon, you foolish girl!” snapped the Queen.
“And don’t point your pinky finger. That’s only for drinking silt-tea.”
“And smile. Why don’t you ever smile?” The queen continued to glare, “Idiot girl!”
Cassandra glumly shovelled the food onto the shiny sand-fork and slowly finished her mud. Thankfully, most of the gloopy sludge slipped between the prongs of the fork and landed on the sandy ground before it could reach her mouth.
By the time her plate was empty, the sun was setting. Their shadows stretched long and thin across the sand to the east. To the west the horizon was splashed with red and orange and pink. The shallow tide was trying it’s best to copy the bright colours in the sky whilst it inched closer.
“The tide’s almost in! It’s lapping at my feet.” Proclaimed the Queen in a horrified voice, “Foolish girl. You must NEVER forget the tide!! You’ve wasted too much time already. We must progress to the Stone Throne.”
Common people walk but Queens progress. It’s like walking but you all have to form a long line behind the Queen and keep your body perfectly steady as if you were balancing a book on your head. (Even if the tide is splashing at your heels.) Cassandra tried to stay balanced but with every step she kept sinking knee deep into the sand. The queen glided past her and tutted loudly.
The tide was following them and catching up. The table was now half-submerged and the sand below their feet was getting wetter.
Another loud tut erupted from the Queen. “Your chair, Cassandra. Look! It isn’t tucked in!”
Across the swirling water, Cassandra could just make out the small mound of sand which used to be her chair. “Sorry,” she mumbled.
But the Queen ignored her. “Foolish Butler! How could you forget something like this? Go back and fix it at once.”
“But he’ll be worn away by the tide!!”
“Silly girl!” the queen sneered, “I’ll build a new butler in the morning.”
And without looking back, the Queen progressed across the sand towards her stone throne in the middle of Morecambe Bay. Cassandra followed but kept glancing back across the tide to see the Butler striding steadily into the waves. By the time he reached the chair, he’d lost an arm and a leg to the water. But he hopped on bravely and pushed the small pile of sand closer to the big pile of sand before, with one final plop, he melted into the sea.
It’s hard to make friends in the middle of Morecambe Bay. Cassandra had tried to make friends with the oyster catchers but it’s difficult to chat to someone who flies away when you get too close. She often wondered about the Dry-Foots who scuttled around the edge of the bay and sometimes floated on bits of wood on the high tide. But the Queen had told her terrifying tales of what the Dry-Foots do to children.
How they squeeze their feet into little shells called “shoes” and tie them up tight until their toes throb. How they lock children up at night in big square caves called “houses” without even a glimpse of moonlight. How every week they dip children in big vats of boiling water called “baths” and rub poison bubbles called “soap” into their hair and eyes until they cry.
Of course, the Queen could have made Cassandra a friend. She could have made her a hundred friends. But the Queen only made servants.
With her long sharp finger-nails she was carving a new butler out of the sand. He was going to be thinner and taller. His face was so long and thin and tight that it would be impossible for him to smile. But smiling wasn’t important. Being polite and following orders were important. And remembering to tuck in the chairs was much more important than smiling.
Cassandra was digging the sand too, trying to make a friend. She was carving thick tentacles of hair which wriggled like an octopus. And enormous wings stretched out like a cormorant drying its feathers. And a face so wide and pudgy that it couldn’t help but smile.
“Your hair is too dry. Your face is too sludgy. And your wings will never hold.” The queen hadn’t even looked but she knew exactly what Cassandra was doing wrong. Then she stood up and nodded smartly. Creaking slightly, her thin, unsmiling sand-butler stood up too.
“I shall have silt-tea by the throne and then you shall accompany me for my morning progress.”
“Certainly, ma’am.” The butler’s face tightened slightly and he followed her off to the Stone Throne.
Cassandra looked over the friend she was trying to make. The Queen was right. The hair was crumbling away and the face was slipping sideways. It was the wrong type of sand. It wasn’t finished. She never managed to finish making friends before the tide came and washed everything away.
“I suppose I’ll go find some different sand…” Cassandra said to the octopus/bird/friend as if it might disagree with her and swoop up from the ground.
It didn’t swoop.
Instead, its nose sludged sideways off its face. Cassandra kicked it. That didn’t help. So she trudged off in search of better sand.
The best way to look for sand is with your feet. Your eyes can’t tell which sand will hold and which will crumble but your toes can. Cassandra weaved and zig-zagged across the bay following her feet. Her eyes were screwed tight shut to help her focus only on the feel below her feet. She crossed sand as hard as rock and soft smooth sand which tickled her toes and the deep slimy sand at the bottom of pools. Eventually her wiggling route straightened out and she stepped forward quicker and quicker. With her eyes still shut, she was leaping across the sand faster and faster until she suddenly stopped. She wriggled her toes deep into the silky sand. It was strong and sticky. It was perfect. She opened her eyes.
But somebody was already there. Somebody with a spade.
Trevor knew he was a bit too old to be playing in the sand. The first clue was his spade. It was bright yellow and had a picture of a smiling starfish on it. The second was that everyone else on the beach was a little kid running around screaming and flicking sand at Trevor. But he didn’t mind. He just loved digging and building. Once when he was on holiday in Devon, he’d seen a sandcastle competition on a beach where grown-ups had spent all day building beautiful detailed sculptures out of sand. He wanted to be a sand-sculptor like them.
Trevor was so engrossed in building his sandcastle that he didn’t notice the muddy creature glaring at him.
“Are you a Dry-Foot?” demanded Cassandra.
“Errmm.” Trevor mumbled.
If you didn’t answer a question properly, the Queen would just repeat it louder so that’s what Cassandra tried… “Are you a Dry-Foot??”
“Errrmmm… no?” Trevor looked down, “My feet are wet.”
“Of course, they’re wet now… but are they normally dry? Do they get tied up in shoes? And do you sleep in a house cave and do they put you in a…” Cassandra shuddered, “Bath?”
“Well… I live in a house but usually I have a shower not a bath.” Trevor looked relieved to be asked questions that made any sense, “I’ve got shoes. they’re over…” He looked at where he’d left his shoes. They weren’t there. The little kids must have taken them… and probably buried them somewhere.
“Well, anyway, you’re on my sand. I need it.” Cassandra declared.
“But… but I was here first!”
“Doesn’t matter. It’s MY sand!!”
“You can’t own sand! Go somewhere else!”
“But this is the BEST sand!!”
“I KNOW! That’s why I’m here!!!”
Cassandra was about to reply. She was about to say something incredibly clever and important that would win her the argument right there. Then a big clump of sand hit her in the face. An even bigger clump smacked Trevor on the back of the head.
“The little kids! They’re attacking!!” Trevor bellowed, “DIIIIIGGGGG!” He dived into the middle of his sandcastle, piling sand up onto the thick walls. Cassandra was already beside him clawing thick wads of sticky sand to the top of the battlements.
“We should fight back!” She gasped, “We could easily beat those tiny Dry-Foots!”
“No… If we fight back, they’ll go tell their parents and I’ll get in trouble cus I’m bigger.”
They kept digging and building. After a while, the little kids realised their sand attack was only adding to the castle walls. They started throwing sand at each other and soon half of them were crying and the other half were running to their parents.
By now, the castle walls were up to their shoulders. Trevor was digging an enormous moat around the outside and Cassandra was busy shaping the square crenulations at the top and carving little arrow slots for archers to shoot through. She’d even moulded a tiny soldier marching across the battlements.
“How did you make that???” Trevor gaped at her, “You’re incredible!”
“I’m not as good as the Queen.” But Cassandra’s smile was enormous, “Anyway, you’re not too bad for a Dry-Foot.”
She clambered through the archway they had built in the back wall and inspected the whole castle. “I think it’s finished!”
“Almost…” Trevor said, “We need water for the moat.”
They both looked out across the sand to the sea. It was flat calm and glistening… and a long way away.
“It’s a bit far.” Trevor muttered. But Cassandra had already started digging the impossibly long channel which would funnel the seawater around their castle.
They dug without talking. Their heads down only seeing the sand and their feet. Hours and hours must have passed as the little channel snaked out towards the sea.
“My feet are wet” Trevor mumbled to himself.
“Of course they’re…” Cassandra looked up for the first time in hours, “The SEA!! We’ve reached the sea!”
She danced around in the shallows splashing and yipping. “Dig out the last section!!!”
With a small flourish of his yellow spade, Trevor scooped out the last chunk of sand and plopped it into the sea. It started with a trickle. The water flowed down the little channel speeding up as it went. Soon it was going faster than they could walk. Faster than they could run! The sea water gushed over the sand all around them. But it wasn’t just filling their channel. The sea was filling the whole bay. The water was above their ankles and rising. The tide was coming in!
Trevor was used to running away from things. Little kids were easy to escape because of their little legs and little lungs and little everything really. But wasps would chase him around the playground no matter how much he ran and flapped his arms. And spiders were the worst. No matter how far he ran, he could still feel them crawling down the back of his neck.
Running from the sea was even worse than spiders. Every time he thought they’d got away, it would gush around and block off the escape. When he spotted a narrow gap of higher ground, the sand would suck his feet and slow him down to an exhausting trudge.
The tide was snaking across the bay forming deep rivers and channels ahead of them.
“This way!” Cassandra called, dragging Trevor along a narrow dry path.
“But we’re running away from the shore!!!” Trevor gasped.
“We’re trapped already. We have to get to higher sand. We might be able to reach the Stone Throne if we’re lucky.”
“What if we’re unlucky?”
“Just RUN!!” She grabbed his hand and hauled him out of the sandy pool he’d been sinking into.
The Stone Throne was a speck in the distance but the sand was clear and dry all the way there. They were able to pick up speed on firmer ground and Cassandra was even daring to dream of a steaming mug of hot mud back at the throne.
Then the tide swept in front of them. In a deluge of muddy seawater, it trapped them on a little island of sand. The Stone Throne was so close they could see the Queen crouching on the sand ordering the Butler around.
“HEEEELLLLPPP!!” Cassandra screamed, “WE’RE TRAPPED! HELP US!!”
Trevor joined in gasping, wheezing and shouting, “HELP!!!!”
They screamed until they felt like they were breathing sand. The Queen didn’t seem to notice. She was still busy ordering the butler around. Their island was shrinking and they kept waving their hands and shouting though their voices were worn down to a whisper. But the Queen still seemed to ignore them.
Then, suddenly, without warning, the Queen flew up into the air. But she wasn’t flying because the ground beneath her feet had also risen up. A huge section of the sandy bay seemed to be rising skywards.
“She’s standing on a giant hand!” Trevor whispered hoarsely.
“It’s not just a hand… it’s an arm… and a body…”
Out of the sand, emerged an enormously tall, impossibly thin butler, holding the Queen carefully in its gigantic sandy hand. In a single stride, it crossed the swirling tide to reach their island.
“Your Mud-jesty,” it boomed and with a polite bow it lowered the Queen down to the ground.
“Idiot girl! How could you forget about the…” The Queen’s terrifying glare was suddenly distracted, “What… is that?”
“He’s not a that… he’s a Dry-Foot. He’s Trevor.” Cassandra tried to stare straight back at the Queen.
“Disgusting.” The Queen sneered, dismissing Trevor as if he were a dead fish washed up on the shore. “Leave him! Come!”
The giant butler lowered his other hand for Cassandra. She pulled Trevor with her but before they could reach safety the Queen shrieked, “How dare you disobey me!!”
“We can’t leave him. He’ll drown!”
“Foolish girl! There are thousands of Dry-Foots. Millions. This one is not important. Leave him.”
“No.” Cassandra’s glare was as fierce as the Queens.
“A PRINCESS CANNOT DISOBEY THE QUEEN! I don’t need you, foolish girl.” She snapped her fingers and the butler lifted the Queen off the sand, “I’ll make a new princess out of sand. One who obeys my every command.”
With another enormous stride, the Butler crossed the swirling water and gently placed the Queen back on her throne.
Cassandra looked desperately around. Their only hope had abandoned them and their shrinking island was now barely the size of their sandcastle. All they had was each other and Trevor’s yellow spade.
Trevor was sat in the centre of the island, utterly dazed by the sudden appearance and disappearance of a giant sand butler. He was mindlessly flicking the sand back and forth with his spade.
“Trevor! You’re a genius!”
“DIG!! We need to dig a sand fortress so big it will beat the tide!!!” Cassandra dived to the ground and started piling sand in the centre of the island. Shielding his eyes from the spraying sand, Trevor rushed to join her. They dug with a frenzy of energy and the castle grew higher and higher but the sea rose even faster. Soon they were ankle deep in water, scooping up thick wads of gloopy mud.
“We can’t dig fast enough!” Cassandra moaned.
Trevor heaved a spade-ful of sloppy sand onto the castle. “If only you could make a sand-person like the Queen.” He looked at her hopefully, “Can you make a sand-person?”
“I can’t!” Cassandra cried, “I’ve never been able to.”
She clawed up a handful of wet-sand and dumped it on the castle, roughly shaping sludgy arms and legs and a little head. The sludge-thing sludged sideways off the castle. “See! It just stays sand. I can’t do it.”
But the sludge-thing didn’t fall into the sea. Very unsteadily and very wetly, it stood up… and immediately started digging!
“Look Cassandra! It’s helping us.” Trevor shouted, “Make another!”
Too shocked to speak, she moulded another Digger and another and another. They all rushed to help, glooping noisily at each other and pointing at sections of the castle that were about to fall into the sea. By the time, she’d made twelve of the Diggers, the sandcastle was beginning to grow. Soon it was big enough for Cassandra and Trevor to stand on dry sand. Together with the diggers, they built up and up until the castle became a sort of enormous sand throne. Cassandra and Trevor collapsed exhausted and watched the swirling sea whilst the Diggers scampered around them throwing sandballs at each other and making little gloopy squeaks.
When the tide fell again, Cassandra walked with Trevor back to the shore.
Just before he left her, Trevor had an idea, “Do you want to come back with me? You could live on dry land? Now the Queen’s left you.”
“On dry land? Like a Dry-Foot? With baths and house and shoes???? No chance!” Cassandra waved goodbye as she skipped away followed by her twelve gloopy friends who were trying to skip too but hadn’t quite worked it out yet.
Trevor never did meet Cassandra again but sometimes when he looked across Morecombe Bay he’d swear he could see a muddy girl and twelve gloopy Diggers dancing across the sand.
Marvellous Morecambe Bay
Morecambe Bay has some of the most beautiful beaches the country and it is safe to play on the sand near the shore. However, walking out across the bay can be dangerous and you should only ever do it with an expert guide.