↑ photograph: West Hythe, Kent, Sept 2006 by Miss K

It was the summer that the shark, some said it was a Great White, others Porbeagle or Bull shark, kept coming up the river. No one could work out why it did, or how it could even survive in the fresh water, but they said the shark seemed to like it more the further upstream it got. The story took on the tenor of a fairy tale. Only a couple of people had seen it, but they said that it was a big one - you might be able to fit a grown man between the dorsal fin and the tip of its tail fin. A few pets went missing that summer. No one took the threat seriously, though. Like I said, the story felt more like a folk tale or a dream in those balmy dog days, and people would still take out their boats, and us kids would continue to play in the Creek.

So there we were, Jimmy and Tubbs and Tom and a couple of other kids and me, and we were throwing the football around in the grassy strip of flat bank by the creek that we liked to play in. As usual, the play got kinda rough, and Jimmy, being the tallest (and heaviest) was coming out on top. I saw him crash into little Tom Skeetes and send him flying into the dust by the old dead tree. Poor kid. He looked like he wanted to cry, but he got up, spitting dirt and carried on. Then I saw Eddie Vanorder fade back and throw a high, looping pass in my direction. I squinted up at the sun as the ball arced across the blue and cloudless sky and started backpedalling.

"I got it! I got it!" I shouted; but of course, I didn't got it. Eddie threw it so far that even though I was stood some way away from the others ready to receive, I'd never have caught it. The ball bounced about twenty feet behind me. I turned, blinking away the sudden tears from the glare of the sun. I saw the ball bounce twice and splash down into the creek.

"Fuck, Eddie!" I heard Jimmy yell, "n'tcha look where you're throwin'!"

"I got it!" I shouted again, and stumbled after the football. I saw the slow current drifting it off behind a high clump of reeds. I kicked off my sneakers and socks and waded in. Momentarily, I lost sight of the others. The sun was glinting off of the water, which felt warm and delicious on my hot, bare legs. Out of earshot of the others, the afternoon had taken on a magical aspect and I felt suddenly tranquil in the slow ripple of the warm creek in the shelter of the reed bed.

I looked up at the ball, bobbing ten feet from me, and was about to push out to get it when I noticed the disturbance in the water.

There seemed to be a sudden, eddying dip in the water, just as though something large was pushing through quite quickly a few feet below the surface. The football disappeared, and then came up again a few feet away.

Without warning, a blunt, grey and white head broke the surface near me. I remember noting clearly that the monster's mouth had more than one row of tortilla chip sized teeth receding back into its red depths. That seemed kinda unfair. At the instant that one of the marbly black eyes focused on me, I couldn't move. I couldn't break eye contact. I could only stand there, waiting to be taken. Absurdly, I'd only seen the movie Jaws for the first time the week before. Me and Jimmy had laughed and farted and stilled the DVD, at how rubbery and lame the shark was. Just as absurdly, the shark in front of me, into whose gaping mouth my head would comfortably have fitted, slid back into the still water just like that shark had done in the movie, just before the others arrived.

I didn't feel like a Police Captain though. As the others jostled me in the shallow water shouting why I'd not got the ball, I felt a warm stream of pee make its way down my leg.

"Let's throw him in!" I heard Jimmy shout. "C'mon sissy! You too chickenshit to go get the ball?" I felt several pairs of hands raise me in the air and at that point I started to scream and twist.

"Si-ssy! Si-ssy!" they were chanting as I begged them to stop, snot streaming down my face as I was carried further out towards the deep centre of the creek where the ball still bobbed.

Then, like the ball before me, I was flying in an arc through the warm air.

I hit the water with a jarring splash. Blinking the creek out of my eyes, I grabbed the ball and used it as a float. Jimmy had waded some way out and was pointing and laughing, the others huddled behind him.

I knew I'd have to swim back.

Where was that shark?

Then Jimmy Flynn disappeared.

One moment he was laughing at me, the next moment, he'd vanished, scarcely leaving a ripple.

Then his head resurfaced. Just for a moment. Two feet in front of my face. His mouth in a wide 'O' of shock matching his eyes. The moment stretched out in my perception and I could see his expression change, about to scream. I shut my eyes.

When I reopened them, Jimmy was gone. I felt a vast darkness rub by my right leg. A searing pain exploded across the back of my calf. Then I was alone in the water, teeth suddenly chattering despite the late summer warmth. My friends lined the shore, looking at me with wide eyes and white faces.

Ever since then, I've been terrified of the water. Which made it doubly ironic that I found myself living where I was living now. I'm not sure why the memory of that summer came back to me just now. Reflexively, I checked that my gun was beneath my pillow and turned off the light. Far below me, I could hear the waves breaking around the sea fort's concrete legs. Soon I was fast asleep. If I had any dreams, I didn't remember them.


Originally written in October 2005 on draGnet 4.0. It was intended to be the start of a longer piece, but then I stopped writing it as I realised it was just the right length and didn't need any more opening up.

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