I had a phase when I was fascinated by sharks, and this story was the product of it. I wanted to get across that not all shark encounters end in severed arteries and pools of blood-sharks (great whites in particular) are very intelligent and deserve our respect.
The red dirt track wound along the cliff edge, fringed by swaying palm trees. The ocean was a flat navy sheet that stretched into the horizon, shimmering with rivulets of molten gold from the dying sun.
Carrie grasped her surfboard in one hand and her flip flops in the other. Her mother’s pearl necklace glimmering softly in the dusky light, she picked her way across the rolling dunes down to the beach. The ocean was cool and fresh and lapped hungrily at her bare feet. It crept up to her waist and her shoulders until her loose blonde hair was swirling around her. She pushed out and began kicking strongly, ignoring the shoving waves as the sea breeze lashed at her cheeks. The saltwater stung her eyes until she remembered her goggles and snapped them over her face. As the first tentative fingers of indigo streaked the clouds, and the coast was a rapidly shrinking line in the distance, she slipped off her board and into another dimension, the sky and sea merging into a lush blue prism overhead. Treading water, she cleared her goggles and looked around.
The undisturbed sandy bottom undulated in the eddying current and gently waving seagrass brushed her ankles as she dived down several feet. She glanced up at the surface and suddenly a shining silver shape streaked by on the edge of her vision. Heart thumping madly, she whipped round in the water, rising upwards like a cork. She grabbed her surfboard and hauled herself onto it. Her knuckles white, she peered over the edge. A dark shadow glided underneath the board, blotting out the light. She was paralyzed by fear as she spotted the tell-tale jutting dorsal fin slicing through the water towards her, and stories of shredded bathing suits and missing limbs and missing swimmers flashed past in her mind’s eye.
The board rocked violently as the creature nudged it with its nose. It circled her, its tail lashing from side to side, but the aura radiating from it wasn’t threatening-it seemed to emanate a kind of puppyish glee. Swallowing hard, she stuck her face underwater and, with a muffled cry of shock and terror, saw the crooked, impish smile of a great white barrelling towards her. She leapt backwards as it exploded with a tremendous splash just beside her, writhing in the air until it landed with another enormous shower of spray. The JAWS theme tune seemed to thrum in her head. Duh dum, duh dum, duh dum duh dum duh dum…
It passed by again, so close she could’ve reached out and stroked its scarred snout. It dawned on her as she squinted in the direction of land, how isolated she was from civilization. Then, as quickly as the shark had appeared, it vanished, leaving only a boiling path in its wake as it cruised away into the azure abyss.
Then she turned and let the gradually rising tide carry her towards the shore. The inky darkness was pinpricked with the evening’s first stars as she emerged, sodden and panting, onto the hard sand. She collapsed in the shade of a small cove, the stale smell of rotting seaweed tickling the back of her throat, dragging her surfboard in after her. She glanced up, beyond the arc of crumbling rock, staring at the unwinking silver eye that was the moon. After what seemed like forever, she got laboriously to her feet, her legs trembling, rubbing the goosebumps that had erupted on her skin, and began the achingly slow climb to the top, up the decrepit stone steps that were carved into the cliffside.
As she staggered over the edge and flopped down onto a pillowy mat of long, thick grass, the golden lights of South Africa twinkling down below, she heard the tunes of Queen blaring into the night.
“It’s a kind of magic…”
It really is, she thought wryly as she closed her eyes. Then she felt a blast of hot breath on her face and something warm trickling down her cheek. Her eyes flew open, and she scrambled away fearfully on her bottom across the dirt. Then her frantic heart settled as she saw the cow standing there, chewing nonchalantly. It lowed and ambled away, stopping to pluck a couple of dandelions and stuff them into its mouth.
She gave a sigh of relief and pulled on her flip flops, tying her hair into a soaking ponytail. Then she strode across the sand, reaching into the waterproof bag slung around her shoulders. She clicked the key and the lights of her Jeep beeped and shined briefly red. Climbing into its stiff leather-smelling interior, she started the sputtering engine and revved away down the snaking road towards the town.
She felt a pang as she parked in the driveway, the porch light rippling outwards in a puddle of welcoming gold. She could hear the excited yips of her Bichon Frise, Marilyn, echoing indoors and had trouble fighting the smile that was spreading across her face as she placed her dripping surfboard in the garage and fumbled with the door key. “Lynnie! Baby! Hi!” she exclaimed as she threw open the door and plunged her hand into the squirming dog’s woolly white fur. “How I’ve missed you.”
She planted a kiss on her head and turned on the lights. The chicken she had left cooking in the oven filled the room with a mouth-wateringly delicious aroma and as she stripped off her wetsuit and stepped into the shower, her stomach rumbled loudly.
She lathered herself with soap and quickly rinsed, swathing herself in a huge fluffy towel and slipping into a pair of panda bear slippers. She hurried into the kitchen and grabbed a plate from the cupboard. Serving the steaming chicken and grabbing a tub of ready-to-go Chinese noodles from the fridge, she flopped down onto the sofa, Marilyn a snoring bundle on her feet, and turned on the TV.
“A recent flurry of shark attacks has left this small South African town on the edge.” Said a windswept red-haired reporter. Carrie flinched visibly as a photograph of a great white in full attack mode flashed up on the screen. She hastily switched it off and leaned back against the silky lilac cushions, sliding into deep thought. A single shaft of bright moonlight streaming through the slightly ajar curtain illuminated the shadowy room and fell across her face. In a decisive move, she reached for the telephone and dialled the number of the local magazine.