The shark hit him from below, tossed him off his surfboard and into the water. He locked eyes with it for a creepy moment before it clamped his leg and yanked him under. The dense cold forced air from his lungs. A swirl of bubbles and watery light distant through the gray.
He struggled but couldn’t get free. Thoughts raced through his head. They were not about regrets nor his family for he had neither but about the vexing riddle of life and what it meant.
Because he’d always wondered.
The shark pulled him deeper. His lungs burned for oxygen. A crushing weight on his chest. Terror. Pain.
No pain and no thoughts just a warm feeling but he didn’t think about this just felt it and then nothing.
He woke on the surface still leashed to his board. In the distance he saw the mudstone bluffs fronting the beach and spires of redwood lining the valley. A moment of calm. He felt weak but alive and saw the dark sheen of blood on the water.
Oh shit oh shit.
His head swirled. His heart pounded and pumped blood into the ocean. He tried to relax but the harder he tried the more it pumped.
He heard a sucking churn and turned to the breaking wave as it slammed him into the reef. The pain ripped through him. He needed air and land but just kept tumbling.
Finally he surfaced, mustered his fading strength, and slid onto his board. Another wave broke and the whitewash pushed him toward the beach. He struggled from the water and up the sand and wanted to sit and rest but knew he’d never get up.
A woman walked down the bluff with a big shaggy dog. He called to her and waved.
Then he collapsed.
Blue sky and no thought just a calm feeling like a warm day under a shade tree and he wanted to stay there awhile forever just so peaceful to live here no fear and where was this place.
He woke in a strange bed in a strange room. The sheets crinkled when he moved. A woman hovered over him wearing scrubs so loud he almost recoiled.
“Welcome back,” she said.
He felt disoriented. Dry-mouthed. Numb. “From where?”
He glanced around the room. Bright and sterile. A doctor arrived and poked and queried and scribbled. The room turned chaotic for awhile then everyone left and it went quiet.
He stared at the ceiling. Felt a wave of hopelessness wash over him. A familiar pessimism.
Then he remembered something: that place. Where was it? Had he imagined it?
He tried to think about it but the more he thought the less he felt. When he stopped thinking, a stillness crept into him and there he got a glimpse.
At the glimpse he wanted more. He reached for it but it vanished into mental static. Nothing left but the cold fluorescent lights and the crinkly sheets and the sterile everything and an image of the shark as it tried to eat him alive.
Suddenly a loud mechanical beeping and commotion and earnest people in his face poking and yelling. Then blue sky and sunlight warm on his skin and no thought just feeling and was this really happening or was the whole thing some weird dream it didn’t matter just complete and utter peace.
The water was cold and dense around him. He surfaced, paddled into the line-up, and straddled his board. He felt odd, just had the strangest sensation while sliding under that wave.
He glanced at the beach. At the mudstone bluffs and spires of redwood. A woman walked down the bluff with a big shaggy dog. Sunlight burned through the autumn sky and warmed his skin. He turned toward the ocean and waited for a wave.
His mind was clear.
© Tom Mahony
Bio: Tom Mahony is a biological consultant in central California with an M.S. degree from Humboldt State University. His fiction has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize and has appeared or is forthcoming in Flashquake, The Rose & Thorn, Pindeldyboz, In Posse Review, Boston Literary Magazine, Verbsap, 34th Parallel, Void Magazine, SFWP, Kurungabaa, The Flask Review, Foliate Oak, Decomp, The Oddville Press, Bewildering Stories, Long Story Short, Flash Forward, Six Sentences, Laughter Loaf, and Surfer Magazine. He is currently circulating a couple of novels for publication. Visit him at tommahony.net.