‘And that’s it really. The sea. And the way it pounds the shore. It takes our old defences and turns them into battering rams. It pours over the fields at high tide,’ you say. The Maskifier nods, fingers tapping away, looking at the robotic arm next to them carving rose wood marquetry in intricate loops onto a pawn from a half complete chess set.
The whir of servo motors the only sound.
‘So the thing is,’ you add, feeling more unsure by the minute. ‘I need you to make up something to fix it. To change it. The Coastal Erosion Plan doesn’t work for us. The sea breached the last line months ago. We’re being washed away.’
The Maskifier rolls their shoulders, stretches their neck from one side to the other. Then smiles.
‘Come back tomorrow. I’ll give you a demo.’
And that was that. After a sleepless night you return. There is a baroque madrigal playing gently in the background. The robot arm is strumming a lute. You put on your headset and look around. Nothing has changed. The smoke effects still drift along the corners. Then you notice a small white stone on the floor, holes worn through it where the sea has washed away the old sediment. You bend down, pick it up, and the stone feels heavy in your hand. As you hold it, the white of the stone rises around you, it’s sides curve over your head, and you’re inside it, turned inside out, the sound of the waves in your ears, rinsing thoughts from your head. You run one way, then another, then hug the porous chalk, reaching for a handhold to haul yourself up. There isn’t one, the stone walls beneath your fingers worn smooth by the sea.
‘Hey!’ you shout. ‘Where’s the way out?’
‘Walk on the water!’ The Maskifier says.
The smell of sea spray and the bite of salt in your mouth.
You’re being rolled around in the stone, and then you hold onto the lip of the last curve and swing yourself out, legs telescoping below you, to walk on the sea.
You brace yourself to fall feet first into the ocean swell, but your feet touch the surface instead. The waves rise up to meet you and you splash through them as if they were puddles, swaying in the tide.
‘There’s nothing else here,’ you say, indignant, ripping off the headset. ‘This isn’t what I paid for!’
The Maskifier shrugs. ‘I disagree. My name is my bond. My job is to mask things. And mask things I do. I’ve given you something to hide inside, something you can see through in a different way. I’ve acted to heal, mend, mitigate, reconfigure and celebrate. Before you get all cross, ask yourself this question. How do you feel? And what would you prefer?’
Not The Only Pebble On The Beach…