Surrounded by a wall of old growth Douglas fir and Pacific red cedar trees, a dirty blue mid-eighties Volvo wagon sat marooned in the parking lot of Thunderbird Beach on the Oregon coast. Thick dollops of whipped cream fog crept passed the vehicle, melting into the tree line beyond. A driving sideways rain pelted the roof and windows of the beat-up wagon. A hard northerly wind rocked the metal shell. The driver’s door was propped open by a limp leg encased in black neoprene punctuated by small bloody wounds. A slow, dark drip fell onto a scratched-up surfboard with a half-moon bite mark embedded deep into the fiberglass flesh. It rested next to a milky white left foot streaked with blood.
Dressed in a tattered black wet suit with yellow racing stripes running along the sides, Skylar Tomas was sucking in quick, painful gulps of air. He stared into the windshield as raindrops exploded on the glass, wondering what had gone wrong. One moment he had been on his board, waiting for a phat set to roll in, and the next, drowning underwater trapped in the determined jaws of a great white shark.
After the fish released him, he shot his head out of the water, spewing saltwater from his throat. He frantically searched for his board, and when he felt the tug from his board leash, he found it floating just a few feet away. He somehow managed to get his bleeding body up onto it. He heard a gurgling noise coming from his chest cavity every time he took in a deep breath. He looked down and realized his torso was ripped open. His ribs and large intestines peeked through the shredded neoprene material. The shock of the grisly sight drove him to search the dark water for any sign of the shark. He could only see wind-driven white caps sweeping across the surface.
Skylar’s fleeting moment of isolation was broken by the sensation of a heavy thin object grazing his heel. The physical contact conjured up a vision of a shark’s dorsal fin. He yanked his numb feet out of the water and sat on his knees, his board now a floating prayer rug of safety. Just beyond the tip of his board, he spotted a dark shadow as big as an SUV swimming toward him. As it glided underneath, it rolled to one side to present its milky white underside, drawing a jagged crisp line that led to a large inquisitive eye and gaping jaws. The white shark circled him in a tight perimeter, its dorsal fin cutting through the water, leaving a swooshing wake trailing behind. The combination of the staring intelligent eyes and the natural amused curvature of the jaws made him feel that the shark was eagerly waiting for what came next.
The shark dived, disappearing. Skylar mustered all his strength and slid onto his belly. He paddled with what energy he had left and whipped his head from one side to the other, searching for a wave. One rolled under him, but as he prepared to catch the express line to the shore, his board was smashed violently from underneath. His body was launched several feet above the waves, cartwheeling as it went through the air. His glassy eyes looked down into a fleshy pink gullet framed by large bleach-white triangular teeth just inches from his face. Skylar realized the shark had overshot its target when it breached in an explosion of white water.
Both landed with cannonball-like force just inches from each other. The rock-hard body of the animal slammed into Skylar’s chest, knocking the wind out of his lungs. As it ripped its tail through the water to create space, its pectoral fin sliced into his cheek with chef-like efficiency, splitting it wide open, sending more blood into the washing machine action of the wave. Another series of six-foot breakers swept Skylar’s body toward the beach, rolling him head over heels along the sandy bottom. His feet somehow found the bottom and he popped out of the wave. He gasped for air in waist-high water. He pumped his legs and swung his arms in wide strokes, rushing toward to the safety of the beach.
He looked back to see the shark spin its huge body toward him and slap its tail through the breakers to take one last shot. The shark stopped short when the water got too shallow and turned its bullet-shaped body back around. He never thought he would see emotion from a shark, but its anger and disappointment were obvious.
It glided through another rolling breaker, revealing the full length of its dark gray and white body as it shot through the transparent barrel of the cresting wave. For the first time Skylar clearly saw how massive the shark was. Its girth took his breath away.
Falling hard onto the spongy sand, he looked down at his ravaged body and realized his wet suit was holding in his organs by just a few scraps of material. His body began to shake with a sinister rhythm, and he turned very cold and dizzy. He watched his body go into shock. He had to get help if he didn’t want to bleed to death, but his legs wouldn’t move.
Using his board as a crutch, he staggered up the beach. He clotted the sand with tiny balls of blood, and somehow made it to his car. He barely had enough energy to open the driver’s door and collapse onto the seat, exhausted. His dark shoulder-length hair was soaked with a mixture of saltwater and his own blood. It dripped onto the light tan leather seat, the diluted watercolor red veins searching for the lowest point of gravity.
He thought he heard voices. He slowly turned his head in blurry confusion to see a petite blond woman running toward him holding a gun, shouting something. As she got closer, she mouthed something that seemed to be coming from behind a solid transparent wall. The only thing he could hear was his heartbeat pounding away in his eardrums.
In slow motion, Skylar watched her discover his injuries. Her eyes went wide, and her face transformed into a mask of pure horror. She looked down at the mangled surfboard next to Skylar’s foot. She then looked up and straight at Skylar’s chest. He followed her gaze and looked down to see his own glistening red heart pulsating and pounding through his ribcage. The woman frisked her body, looking for something in a panic, but came up empty.
She shouted something again, and Skylar could tell by her body language she was going to get help.
She ran back to a black sedan parked on the far side of the parking lot.
Skylar felt a sudden spike of fear. He realized someone was sitting behind him in the backseat, breathing with deep, agitated breaths. His bloodshot eyes scanned the rearview mirror and caught a glimpse of a dark hooded figure rising from a hiding place in back. Skylar wanted to turn to confront the figure, but he felt like his body would split in half if he tried.
He found me, Skylar thought in deep despair.
He sat paralyzed in the front seat, feeling more vulnerable by the second. He felt hot, rank breath on the back of his neck. His neck hair became electrified by the urgent breaths bathing his earlobe. The figure licked his lips before he spoke.
The last thing Skylar heard before the darkening, dizzying landscape submerged him into a black abyss was a vengeful whisper.
“You should have left her alone.”