Billy laughed at his mum when she said that. He kept on pulling faces.
“Mum, look at that funny rock. It looks just like a face.” Kaleb scrunched his own face up, imitating the stone.
“Careful. Your face will get stuck that way.”
To tell the truth, I don’t think any of us really believed they existed.
Oh, we’d been warned. Mum and Dad saw the news on television and told us not to go out to the beach after school. But we always went out on the beach after school. Who would walk along the street when you could walk the beach home instead? The street was full of rubbish and car exhaust. On the beach there were shells, and sand hoppers, and sometimes even dolphins out in the waves.
So, naturally, coming home from school the next day, we turned off the street onto the beach path.
Five metres along the path, a big red sign blocked our way: DANGER! SAND SHARKS! DO NOT ENTER!
We laughed and stepped over the rope barrier. Sand sharks—yeah, right. There were plenty of sharks in the water—we knew that—they cruised along the shore, just beyond the breakers. We didn’t always see them, but we saw enough that we could tell the difference between a great white and a tiger shark. But sand sharks? That was ridiculous.
We crested the dunes and raced down the far side, like we did every day. The beach was deserted. I suppose that should have told us something, but like the other warnings, we ignored it.
Jamie and Kate kicked off their shoes and raced down to the water, splashing right into the waves. Mum would have a fit about their soaking wet school pants when we got home, I thought.
I picked up their shoes as I followed more slowly, texting my friend Ellie to see if she wanted to go to the movies on the weekend.
Maybe if I’d been paying attention to something other than my phone, I would have seen it. But it wasn’t until the shark’s massive dorsal fin sliced across the beach that I looked up.
It was speeding down off the dunes, the dorsal fin looking like a wave-sculpted bush. A heaving ripple of sand pushed out in front and to the side, like the wake of a speeding boat.
I screamed at Jamie and Kate and broke into a run, trying to get to them before the shark did. I don’t know what I thought I was going to do if I made it—I was no match for the animal—it must have been at least fifteen metres long, by the size of the dorsal fin.
Jamie and Kate either heard me or saw the shark, because they turned and shrieked. Kate grabbed Jamie’s arm and pulled, but Jamie was frozen in fear. I don’t think running would have saved them anyway—the shark raced toward them at a speed none of us could have matched. A metre from my siblings, it heaved its body out of the sand, jaws wide open, rows of razor teeth gleaming in the sun. The jaws snapped shut and Jamie and Kate were gone.
I was still racing toward them as the shark sank back into the sand and turned toward me. My steps faltered. Then I dropped my phone and the shoes I still carried, and pounded up the beach.
I could hear the hiss of sand as the shark gained on me. I hit the dry sand above high tide line, and my feet slipped as they sank in. Stumbling, I kept going, finally hitting the harder sand of the dunes. I dared a glance behind me, only to wish I hadn’t—the shark was nearly on top of me.
I flew down the path over the dunes, vaulted the rope barrier and kept going toward the street.
I heard the warning sign splinter as the shark hit it and sent it flying. I could feel the sand shift under my feet now as the shark’s wake hit me.
My feet hit the sidewalk, and an instant later the concrete buckled, sending me tumbling to my knees.
The shark’s dorsal fin was jammed into the broken sidewalk, just a metre from where I crouched. Slowly, it sank out of sight, leaving me shaking and unable to move.
A car I recognized pulled up at the kerb.
“Lynn, are you okay?” asked my mother. “Where are your brother and sister?”
Gwen paced back and forth across the foyer’s wooden floor, her satin heels clicking out the rhythm of her racing heart. Her skirts rustled with every step.
Her mind changed with every turn she made.
Should she or shouldn’t she?
Through the heavy doors, she could hear the organ playing her favourite songs. She’d spent hours choosing them. They sounded stupid on the organ. She’d known they would, but her mother had insisted they’d be lovely.
Just as she’d insisted that Gwen would be lovely in this mound of tulle and satin, with three-inch heels.
She hadn’t been wrong on the dress. It was lovely, if you liked the Disney princess look. Gwen didn’t. But it was easier just to say yes to the dress—it pleased her mother so much.
Bill pleased her mother, too. He was tall, handsome, polite, and had a good job. He and Gwen had dated for so long that her family considered him their own. He was there for every celebration, and had been named godfather to Gwen’s niece, on the assumption he and Gwen would eventually marry.
It had been fun, planning the wedding. Though she’d given in to her mother on the dress and the organ, she and Bill had chosen the reception venue, and the band—no organ music, but the hard rock both of them liked.
They had also had fun planning their honeymoon—two weeks on the Gold Coast of Australia. Gwen looked forward to the beach and the snorkelling.
She continued to pace. The organ had gone silent, and she knew the wedding march would start in a moment. She could visualise Bill taking his place at the front of the church, the pastor standing on the steps of the alter to welcome her. She could see her bridesmaids—all five of them—arrayed in a spray of kelly green, with gold leaves braided into their hair, just like the ones in Gwen’s own.
But she couldn’t see herself in the scene. She stopped pacing and concentrated.
No. She wasn’t there. She tried to force the vision of herself standing next to Bill, gazing lovingly into his eyes as the pastor pronounced them husband and wife.
But the vision wouldn’t come.
She tried to see herself in a suburban house, Bill’s shirts lined up in the closet beside hers. She tried to see herself pushing a baby stroller through the park.
With a flourish, the organ began the wedding march.
Gwen took a deep breath, turned her back on the heavy doors, and ran down the steps to the car waiting by the kerb.
“Just Married!” said the hand-written sign taped to the back. She tore it off, opened the boot, and grabbed her suitcase.
A block away, she hailed a cab.
“To the airport,” she said as she got in the back.
Where should she go? She leaned forward and asked the driver.
“What do you think? Fiji or Hawaii?”
“Oh, Hawaii, for sure,” replied the driver.
Gwen sat back with a smile. Hawaii it would be.