Fiction · Prompts · Prose

Short Story Prompt: Where Sharks Swim

{Prompt found here; Prompt #1, “Imagine a world where sharks swim in the forest and somehow you find yourself lost in the woods.”}

 

I look over my shoulder. We had been on the path, all covered with metal caging to keep hikers safe, until we found a hole in the cage. Lucille convinced me that it would be fun to squeeze out through the hole and to go exploring the forest on our own, away from the steel barrier that kept humans and sharks separate. “Where are we, Luciーhey, Lucille? Where’d you go?” There’s no response. I sigh heavily. “Really, Lucille? Come on out. I know you’re hiding somewhere. I’m literally going to punch you in the face if you jump out to scare me.”

I roll my eyes. Sometimes I’m not quite sure why I’m still friends with her. I guess it’s because she’s like a sister to me, considering that our parents are all best friends and we grew up across the street from each other. Each of us had had a key to the other’s house and our doors were never closed to each other. Most people at our schools as we had grown had thought that we were actually sisters, Lucille and Reagan, spending all their time together and standing up for each other at the drop of a hat. She’s always been there for me and I’ve always been there for her. She’s always been a bit of a joker, mostly to me but occasionally to others. The others were almost always stupid boys in our classes who thought it was fun to be douchebags.

“Alright,” I say. “Be that way. I’m not gonna stand around and wait for you. I’m walking. Still walking. Not waiting for you.”

I stop walking again and groan. “Seriously, Lucille. Where the hell are you? I know you’re still here! You convinced me to come out here with you. It’s not fair for you to try to scare me when I went along with it.”

There’s a disappointed sigh from a couple yards away. Lucille steps out from behind a tree and shrugs. “It was worth a shot,” she says, walking back over to me. “You’re all sweaty. Gross.” She takes off her backpack and unzips it, rummaging around inside it and pulling out a handkerchief. She holds it out to me. “Here. Mop your face, would ya?”

I grab the handkerchief and stick my tongue out at her, then pat the cloth on my face. “I wouldn’t be so sweaty if we were still on the path,” I say. “Why’d we come out here exactly?”

“Because it’s cool,” Lucille insists. “Doesn’t it feel great to be out here? No suffocating metal tunnel, no metallic smell, a free look out at everything… this is how the forest is meant to be experienced.”

I give her a look. “There are sharks out here, Luci. Humans aren’t meant to interact with sharks.” I try to hand the handkerchief back to her.

She looks at it with a raised eyebrow. “Uh, no. You keep it until you can wash your sweat out. I mean, I love you, but… ew. You know how I am about that stuff. Anyways, you don’t have to worry about sharks. They won’t bother us. They’re chill.”

“You and I have very definitions of what’s chill,” I say as I tuck the handkerchief into the back pocket of my jeans, the same pocket where I keep my phone. “I mean, I like sharks as much as the next guy, but…”

“It’ll be fine,” she insists again. “I promise. Nothing bad is gonna happen. I’ve snuck out into the forest all the time. I’m always fine.”

I look up at the sky. “When was the last time you did it when it was this cloudy out? It looks like it’s gonna start raining any second now. They’re more aggressive when it rains, right? What if one finds us and decides we look like a tasty snack? I don’t even know where we are anymore. We should head back to the tunnel.”

I look back down at her. Lucille takes the hair tie out of her blonde hair and puts it back up, tighter this time than it had been before. “Tunnel’s back that way,” she tells me, pointing in a direction that probably should have seemed familiar but wasn’t. “If you walk far enough, you’ll find the tunnel. Dunno if you’ll come across that hole again.” She shrugs. “Go back if you want to. I won’t force you to stay out here, but I’m sticking around for a while longer. You know sharks don’t scare me.”

I nod. “Alright. I’m going back. This is stressing me out.”

“You’re always stressed out,” she teases.

I stick my tongue out again. “You’re always obnoxious. Have fun getting eaten out here.”

“Yeah, yeah,” she says, obviously taking me very seriously. “Love you too, Reagan. I’ll catch up later. If you don’t find the hole we crawled out of, just follow the tunnel east. You’ll be fine. You’re a big girl.”

I readjusted my backpack. There’s the sound of sloshing water and crinkling snack packages from inside. “Do you want some water or food or something before I leave?”

She shakes her head. “Nah. I’m good. Go on, get outta here.”

“Alright, alright. In case you die out here, I love you too.” I wave before turning around to walk off in the direction she pointed me in. “Don’t blame me if you get eaten or starve to death!”

I’m aware of her scoffing as I walk away. For whatever reason, I really do love her, but only God knows why at this point. Most of our relationship is playful teasing by now. At the moment, though, I don’t really have the time to worry about our relationship and how silly it has become over the years. Right now, the most important thing is making sure that I get back to the tunnel without falling and breaking an ankle or something. I can be an awful klutz. I wouldn’t put it past myself.

 

ー 

 

I kneel down at a log and pull out my map and phone. I open the compass app and find that I’m facing north and the east is to my right. According to the map, I think I’ve been walking away from the tunnel instead of towards it. Hell. How long have I been walking the wrong way? I don’t remember ever turning. I walked just the way Lucille told me to, I swear I did. I sigh heavily and rub my temple. Apparently, I’m not just a klutz. I also have no navigational skills whatsoever. If I die out here, I’m not going to have anyone to blame but myself. I close my eyes for a moment and breathe, reminding myself that panicking never helps anyone.

Okay. All I have to do is turn around and make sure I keep walking in a straight line this time. If I walk south long enough, I’ll find the tunnel again. Then I just have to follow the tunnel east until I find the exit. Sharks never seem to leave the boundaries of the forests; it’s been years since there was last a shark sighting around here that originated outside of the woods. If I can just find the tunnel again, I can follow it straight out of the forest without any more problems. I could just start walking east now, but I’d probably get even more lost than I already am. I sigh and grab my stuff. Maybe I should keep my phone out to make sure I walk in the right direction. God, but I’m not sure I can. The battery isn’t doing so well. I remember walking out of the house this morning, thinking to myself that it was totally fine if I didn’t bring my power bank. Why would I be using my phone in the forest for anything besides taking a few pictures?

That had been when I was still under the impression that I’d be staying inside the tunnel the whole time. Why would I need to do any navigating from inside the tunnel? It existed to keep people on the path, to keep them from getting horribly lost and possibly eaten. And now I’m horribly lost and I’m possibly going to get eaten. Great.

The forest is awfully quiet. There’s the odd bit of birdsong, an occasional buzz of an insect, the rare scamper of something through the leaves. I pull my jacket closed and zip it up. Hiking in the autumn is usually fun, full of color and light. But today? Today there’s nothing. The blue sky far above me is blocked out entirely by dark gray clouds that look ready to burst. There’s an energy in the wind and something deep inside of me says that it’s going to start storming today whether I want it to or not. I did, at least, bring an umbrella. It’s in my backpack somewhere, I think. I hope. Did I bring my umbrella? God, please tell me I brought my umbrella.

I shiver as I walk. It’s October and the worst of the cold is far away, and yet there’s a chill in the air seeping into my bones and not letting go. The air, the charged wind, the sudden and infrequent noises of animals… my goosebumps have goosebumps. The hair on the back of my neck is probably standing straight up by now, I’m not sure. It’s not like I can see it. There’s just this nagging sense that something is watching me, something following me. I keep looking over my shoulder. Every single time I look, though, there’s nothing there. Absolutely nothing but trees and dead leaves. I hate this. I shouldn’t have agreed to go out of the tunnel with Lucille. I’m such a dumbass.

It had seemed fun at the time. I’m not an overly adventurous person, not really. I’ll go down a street I’ve never been down every now and then, sometimes I’ll visit a local store I’ve never been to. I’ve never been the type of person who regularly goes out of their way to do new and crazy things. Lucille, however, is almost always willing to push the boundaries and cross the lines. She loves doing crazy, stupid stuff. And sometimes I do it with her, just for the heck of it. I don’t like doing insane things by myself, but Lucille makes them sound fun to do together. So I do them. And right now I’m really regretting that.

As I continue walking, I realize that my breath and my steps are the only sounds. I pause. Why isn’t there any other sound? Sure, it had been quiet before, but it was just quiet. It wasn’t silent like it is now. The feeling that something is watching me is so strong it’s oppressive. I swallow hard and nervously. I look over my shoulder again. All the breath in my lungs evacuates and I take a shocked step backward, stepping into a slight dip in the dirt and falling hard.

Right in front of me is a shark.

A long time ago, back when humans hadn’t evolved yet, somehow or another, nature decided that sharks would be born. They were shaped like fish, like something that should have lived in the depths of the ocean, but nature had different plans. Nature decided that they would be fish-like beings that hunted through the skies of the world’s forests. It’s not that I’m afraid of sharks. I’ve seen them in zoos, watched nature documentaries about them. They’re amazing, they really are. But seeing one face-to-face in the wild is so, so different from seeing them in zoos or on TV. I can’t move but I’m trembling, I can’t breathe but I’m gasping.

It cuts through the air towards me, lowering itself until its head is level with my own. Oh, God. I’m actually going to die. I’m dead. I’m dead meat. I manage to force my muscles to work. I raise my hands up in front of my face, vaguely remembering what I was taught in school. If you see a shark in the wild, never look it in the eyes. A part of me wishes that I could look at it, that I could admire its form and the very possibility of its existence, but I can’t. Not if I want to live.

I almost scream when I feel the tip of its nose press against the palms of my hands. Since I’m such a dumbass, I can’t stop myself from glancing over my fingers at it. It looks at me as I look at it. Somehow, the fear drains from my body as we see each other. There’s a gentleness in its eyes, a look that seems to say that it understands me. I’m just a scared little human. I don’t belong here and we both know it, but it doesn’t attack. I don’t know if it’s a male or a female, but the gentle nature tells me that it just might be a she. The way it looks at me is like a mother of her species looking at one of her pups.

I slowly lower my hands. I… trust her. I trust her. I can tell that she trusts me.

I can’t help but feel like she would smile at me if she could. I reach up even slower than I had removed my hands. She makes no movement, only stares at me curiously. I rest my hand on the side of her face. If I didn’t know better, I’d swear that she’s leaning into the touch. I don’t know why I’m doing this. I don’t know why I’m so sure she’s not going to eat me alive. There’s just something about her, something that makes me feel safe.

Moments pass. Moments or minutes? How many minutes? I’m not sure. We stay together, looking at each other and not moving. She suddenly starts moving away from me, making me jump in surprise. She doesn’t react to my jump. She gives me one last gentle look, then turns. She’s leaving me now. I watch as she disappears back into the trees, leaving me sitting on the ground, completely dumbfounded. Lucille is never going to believe this.

Suddenly I feel the intense desire to come back here again. Even if it kills me, I’ll see her again.

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