“Who are you, child?” A voice, deep and forceful, rumbled below. Its echo rattled Chelsea’s teeth and shot pain throughout her skull. Frozen, her arms became anchors dropping to her sides.
“What are you doing out here?” The shadow rose in a vortex, water fleeing before it reached light. When the shadow took form, Chelsea found herself before an immense whitetip—a shark known to Chelsea as a particularly nasty breed who makes little matter of eating shipwrecked survivors or women tossed from the sky. A rough fin stung the soles of her feet, slapping against them to prop her up.
“I…was…I was looking…” She stumbled through quivering lips.
“Your words are as choppy as these waters!” The whitetip guffawed, impressed by its own cleverness. “Speak.” It demanded.
“Dolphins.” She dribbled. At once Chelsea felt all her accomplishments, dreams, and expectations fade to the bottom of the ocean floor.
“A-ha! Dolphins? Why would you swim so far out here to see…oohh.” The whitetip nodded in silent settlement.
“I know your story after all. The girl who came from the sky and left with a wave—and here she is before me! Oh, what fortune indeed.” A slow grin unveiled mashed flesh between hundreds of large daggers.
“Tell me, girl of waves, what is that in your hands?” Its steel nose nudged Chelsea’s conch shell and cracked it, a ravine that slaughtered its complex details.
“It’s…dolphins gave it to me. It brings me happiness.” Chelsea held little command over her words, focused instead on thwarting her own reflection in the whitetip’s large, cloudy eyes.
“Well, what a gift! And how exactly does it bring happiness?”
“I enjoy happiness. May I have a listen?” Her entranced arm stretched outward, barely able to hold the shell any longer. The whitetip studied its sound with black eyes staring into the sky.
“Well I only seem to hear the ocean. Which is to say, the ocean is the only thing I ever hear. So perhaps this shell does bring happiness, for a shark should surely find happiness when wet.”
Helpless in mind and speech, Chelsea responded as she did to all others. “It’s the one thing I never hear in the shell.”
Again the shark smirked. “And yet it is far out in the ocean that you find yourself today.”
Settled dread mixed with years of conviction stirred deep within her. Everybody would know the power within her shell, this shark and all others—they’d recognize her importance. Like a flood her childhood story forced its way into the shark: dolphins and Marine Biology, beaches and despair. The shark bobbed along, stinging her feet with each thoughtless slap, digesting each word in silence. When she finished, it laughed heartily.
“Such foolishness!” It chided. “An enchanted conch shell? And for how long have you obsessed over this?” His barbed words stung as the dolphin’s soothed.
“It seems to me, child, that this shell’s enchantment is yet to be dredged. It seems to me you pursued your own desires before anything this shell offered.”
“Do you know where you are, child?” Its fin cut Chelsea’s feet as it slipped away and swam in circles around her.
“It seems to me you’ve guided yourself back here, child. Why even bother listening to the shell at all? Wouldn’t that just fill you with pain? Knowing how incredibly wrong you are?”
He tossed her a snarled grin and dove deep below before she could reply. Alone, Chelsea began realizing how true the shark’s words were. Her fascination did turn into an obsession. She did bring herself back here.
“The shark is right.” Chelsea thought, “I gave up everything for a childish memory I couldn’t even remember correctly.”
Sadness became her face and heart, longing for a different outcome. She stared at her cracked conch shell no longer moved by its intricate grooves or decorative shape. “What has this brought me? What do I have left?” Without a dolphin to vilify, Chelsea bowed her neck and whispered a curse into the shell.
Water shattered, exposing the whitetip. “Here, a gift—like your dolphin’s.” It nudged its steel snout towards her.
“I don’t see anything.” She said, confused.
“Precisely!” The shark rolled, its grizzled laughter filling the highest blue to bottommost black.
“Nothing!” It bellowed, “And this nothing is just as precious as your shell!”
Again proud of its cleverness, the shark continued in amusement for its own satisfaction, “My gift is just as enchanting as the dolphin’s child—more so, maybe! Though perhaps not as intricately detailed. Mine comes without delay—the nothing I gave you presents your past, present, and future at once, drifting before you now!”
“There’s nothing to misinterpret. Nothing to bend and break for your own selfish gain. It provides nothing to hold on to when unsure of yourself—nothing to listen to, to prove wrong. To make wrong. And most wonderfully, it provides nothing to save you from me.”
Chelsea gasped and released the conch shell as her arms and legs struggled to swim. When she finally found her stroke, the whitetip appeared coasting beside her.
“How foolish! How splendid!” It roared, “You’ve certainly been guided, child—to your own bitter end.” It watched the color leave her face and smiled as she struggled so far away from everything. Once bored, the whitetip opened its monstrous mouth and devoured her before disappearing below crimson waves, happy and full from its fortunate find.
Above, gulls cawed and laughed.