Pour yourself a drink and enjoy this absolute cracker from AJ...
An eye stared at her through the murk - a black orb glimpsed in torchlight - then it was gone.
The frenzy stopped. Bits of flesh slowly floated down from the surface like snow. Pink snow. Clouds of blood spread quickly from torn limbs, leaving spiralling, inky trails.
She knew Ben was dead. The shark had taken both legs and most of his arm. Gnawed lumps of sinew dangled in the water – tasty morsels for scavenging fish. Fading sunlight broke through the water and silhouetted his broken body with a dappled halo.
She choked back her emotion. She wanted to vomit, but couldn’t. Somewhere in this darkness lurked the sleek, thick-skinned monster that had attacked her fiancé. Blood in the water would bring more. And she dared not leave the sanctuary of the rocks.
But there was only 20 minutes air left in the tank.
She had to do something, otherwise she would die. She could die quickly; let herself drown. Or she could die slowly, painfully, ripped open by the shark.
Movement in the water made her heart jolt.
A thin snouted barracuda swept by. She cursed herself for letting Ben talk her into doing a late afternoon dive. Although an accomplished diver, she had never felt at ease whenever the sun dipped below the horizon. In daylight, it was easy to see what was lurking in the water behind her, but the blackness of the evening was different. With only a flashlight, it was almost impossible to know what was behind her, until it was too late. She would see nothing and she would hear nothing. She would only hear her own muffled screams clogging the blackness.
She sank further into the coral-encrusted crevice, and slowly swept the torchlight through the darkness. She half expected a sharp row of teeth to emerge from the gloom in a sudden attack, but there was nothing; just her own thudding heartbeat loud in her ears.
She glanced up. The rounded belly of the boat was just visible, but still a distance away. She could swim for it, but she knew the shark would sense her, smell her, and make a move. She would have to ascend quickly; making sure that the beast was within range so that she could see it approach, and she could defend herself.
The light was fading fast. She wouldn’t be able to see the boat much longer.
She swallowed the knot in her throat, felt the approaching darkness squeeze around her. The claustrophobic grip pinched at her nerves, and she shivered. She was vulnerable.
Something brushed past her and she spun, saw only a flutter of bubbles. The urge to scream was strong, but doing so would mean panic, and the noise would bring the shark. Not only that, the regulator would drop from her mouth and there was risk she would drown through her terror.
Another bump against her thigh.
She swung her torch through the black soup. The rocky outcrop protecting her came into view and disappeared back into the undulating maw. She shone the torch at her feet. Nothing. Just shapes moving at the bottom; brightly coloured tropical fish flitted from her light.
She shone the torch above. Beams of fading light reached down and dappled the blackness. A large shadow briefly darkened her view and then disappeared. Her heart quickened; blood began frosting her veins.
The shark. He was circling her.
Every cell in her body swelled with anxiety. Bubbles from her regulator flooded into the darkness, rising swiftly...alerting the beast to her hiding place.
She saw a shape fill her vision, almost upon her.
She tried to wedge herself further into the rocks, but the passage was too narrow. She looked up, desperate not to scream, saw a flash of teeth. She jerked around, frantically trying to hide, but she felt something jolt her with tremendous force, dragging her from the crevice.
Her body bounced along the rocks. Pain shot into her left leg like an electric current. She screamed, lost the regulator from her mouth. Water rushed in, flooded her lungs, and she gagged, frantically grasping for the regulator, spewing out excess water, then holding her breath.
The pulling sensation stopped abruptly.
Senses swiftly came back into focus as she slowly descended into the darkness.
She remained calm as she fumbled for the regulator. She slipped it back into her mouth, but before she could regain her direction, she felt another shove into her ribs. It spun her, disorienting her in the thick blackness. She flashed the torch; saw the familiar shape of the shark blending into the background as it swam away from her. She tried to keep it in her sight, but it was far too fast, and she lost him.
She swung the torch into the dark chasm beneath her feet. The rocks had vanished; her only sanctuary was gone.
She was screaming; the noise loud in her mind, but silent in the ocean. She was descending again, sinking into the cold, sinister depths. She quickly unclipped her weight belt and it dropped away from her. She glanced at her air gauge: ten minutes left; 56 feet down.
She had no choice.
She kicked hard, scrambling for the surface somewhere through the dark haze. She couldn’t stop the panic creeping through her veins like a virus; couldn’t stop thinking about the sinister blackness, the cold deathly silence of an infinite ocean. It felt so long, swimming those 56 feet, and the fear was now soaking up the oxygen and making her feel woozy.
The surface swelled, invited her.
She felt something tug at her left leg, almost wrenching the flipper from her foot. She was breathing hard, fast, sucking up the oxygen and burning the adrenaline in equal quantities. She used her arms, stretched as though reaching out to an invisible hand...
Another tug wrenched her down.
She kicked hard again. It felt as though the flipper had come off.
She thrashed, reaching up once again for the twinkling ripples on the surface, kicking against the current until she finally broke the water. She spat out the regulator, gasped, before sucking in the warm, sultry Caribbean evening.
Water bubbled from her lungs and throat and she coughed hard; phlegm oozed from her nose and mouth as she caught her breath.
She turned; saw the edge of the blood red disc dip below the horizon.
West. Sunset. The boat was facing East. She turned, searched the calm water.
A shape bobbed on the water in the far distance. The boat.
I can make it, she thought. I can do this.
A splash forced water over her, and something latched onto her legs, dragging her back beneath the ocean. A curtain of bubbles veiled her view momentarily, but then, through the maw, she saw the water quickly turn deep crimson.
Another jolt, another direction.
She twisted in the water, saw teeth, then an eye. He was larger than she thought, stronger, and he whipped his tail fin as he jerked away, slamming it in her face. She recoiled, turned in the water, and the torch slipped from her grasp. Water began seeping through the fracture in her goggles.
She pulled at the cracked visor, blinded by the rush of saltwater, and managed to remove it. Now she couldn’t see anything, and the salt stung her eyes.
Her heartbeat thundered through the watery silence. A scream began forming in her throat, but a dull pain in her left leg brought her to. She knew she was badly injured; she was thankful she couldn’t see through the murk, but the heavy sensation down her leg made her realise her left foot was gone.
She sensed the shark nearby. The claustrophobic grip of the darkness frightened her; senses became like sharp needles pressing into her brain. Unable to see, unable to hear through the muffled depths, she knew she was about to die, not unless she started swimming for the surface...air....
She broke the surface once again, gasped, tasted blood in her mouth.
The sky was darker, the boat drifting further away.
No, please, Christ...
She quickly detached the oxygen tank, slipped it off her back. She could swim faster without it. She let go of it, and something clunked against it, startling her. The water swelled as the shark pulled the tank down. Instantly she began swimming for the boat, panic bubbling in her lungs like acid, the sound of her voice bouncing from the rippling surface. She knew he was right behind her, effortlessly gliding through the dark water, following the trail of blood oozing from her wound.
The shape of the boat came into view; safety beckoned. The adrenaline made her swim faster than she thought possible, despite her severed limb, but in those few long minutes, nothing came at her, no attack, even though she knew the shark was lurking in the water beneath her.
She reached the side of the boat, swum aft to the platform. Tears quickly washed the salt from her eyes; relief swept through her. At last, she was safe, she could radio for help, escape this nightmare.
She grabbed the rail, lifted her uninjured leg and kneeled on the platform to remove the flipper. She pulled it off and flung it into the water. She turned; saw the jagged flesh of her ripped calf, the space where her left foot should have been. Her stomach contracted; she balked. She had to get help, fast, otherwise she would bleed to death.
She stared at the water, shuddered. Reflections from the surface glittered coldly in her eyes. ‘I beat you, you son of a bitch! I beat you.’
She turned. Crying, nauseous, she reached up for the top rail.
The waves rose up behind her; swirled with malice. She didn’t see it.
There was no sound. No splash. No scream.
The water fizzed with movement, eddies danced on the surface before becoming calm once more.
Tiny beads of blood dribbled down the wooden rail. The water near the platform quickly turned dark red, before eventually fading.
Darkness swiftly gilded the ocean. Unmanned, the boat drifted silently into the darkness.
AJ works full time for a local authority, but in her spare time she write articles for local business magazines, short stories and poetry, and has just completed her first novel.