Home > The Summer Girls (Lowcountry Summer #1)(10)

The Summer Girls (Lowcountry Summer #1)(10)
Mary Alice Monroe

Fellow surfers joined her in the ocean, bobbing on their boards like pelicans on the water as they waited for the right wave. Surfing was a solo sport but surfers chose their favorite spots. This was hers. She’d surfed here when she was a teen, and had readily gotten to know the current community of surfers. There were even some familiar faces. Despite the fact that she was a loner at heart, it was nice having someone to watch her back out on the mercurial ocean.

She bobbed in the water for a long while, waiting for a good wave. Looking up at the rising sun, she realized that the tide was beginning to suck back out and she was floating farther out than usual. Behind her, a shrimp boat was trawling. The distance between them was uncommonly short. In fact the trawler was so close she could hear the raucous cry of the seagulls hovering over the green nets, vying to steal a meal. Pelicans circled and a few dolphins arched nearby as well, searching for a handout.

Carson frowned with annoyance. This was a recipe for trouble. Anytime fish gathered, wildlife hovered. Instinct told her to paddle farther from the boat, but in the distance she saw a strong wave building. “At last,” she murmured, and gripped her board tight. This would be her ride in. Suddenly her attention was caught by a pelican tucking in its long wings and dive-bombing into the ocean, a mere ten feet from her board.

“Whoa,” she exclaimed as she felt the ripples in the water. The bird had barely disappeared under the water when from the same spot the sea exploded in spray as a massive shark burst from the water, the pelican dangling in its jaws. Carson’s breath froze in her chest as she watched the shark spin in the air, a glistening gray missile, then fall with a bombastic splash mere feet from her board. Carson pulled her legs onto her board and stared in shock as she rocked in the powerful wake.

For a second it seemed as though the whole earth had sucked in its breath. On the shore, people clustered near the water and pointed toward her. Yards away, a fellow surfer’s eyes were wide with fear.

“Get out of there!” Danny shouted as he paddled hard toward shore.

What do I do? her mind screamed. She was fearful of putting her legs and arms back into the water. She’d missed the wave and the shark could be anywhere in the murky water, even right below her. Carson scanned the sea. The sun glistened like diamonds on the water. Overhead, the seagulls had resumed their grating cries as they circled the receding shrimp boat. All appeared peaceful. Carson released her breath and slowly leaned forward to her belly to paddle.

Then, from the corner of her eye, she caught a swift movement. She turned to see the unmistakable dorsal fin of a shark circling the shrimp boat. Dear God, don’t let the beast be inflamed into a feeding frenzy, she prayed, paddling hard, focusing all of her mounting adrenaline on just making it to shore. Amid the cries of the birds, Carson heard the shouts of fellow surfers calling to her to get out of there. Moments later she felt a rough bump against her right leg from a large body. It felt like wet sandpaper. Carson’s stomach dropped and she yanked her legs back up onto the board, holding tight.

“Oh God, oh God,” she cried against her knees. The salt water burned her eyes and her whole body shook as she searched the dark sea. She knew from beneath the surface her surfboard resembled a sea turtle or a seal—ideal prey for a shark. For the first time in the sea, Carson felt hunted and helpless.

She shivered, waiting, watching as time crept by. All seemed quiet again. The sun was changing the sky from dusky to a brilliant, cloudless blue. She raised her hand like a visor over her eyes and squinted as she scanned the blue water that went on forever. She was alone. The other surfers had made it in to shore and the shrimp boat was heading north in its leisurely trawl. For a moment Carson felt a sense of hope. Surely the shark would follow the trail of the boat’s fish-chummed water.

Then her surfboard rocked as a dark shadow passed close, fully as long as her six-foot board. Carson choked back a scream as the large gray body emerged from the depths beside her, but she released her breath in a sigh of relief at the sight of the rounded head, the long snout, and the sweet smile of a dolphin.

The dolphin circled her board, arching in its typical fashion, then circled twice more before it disappeared again. Carson swiped her hair back and took a deep breath. She’d read somewhere that dolphins didn’t swim near sharks. Encouraged, once again she slowly loosened her legs and began to tentatively paddle toward shore, trying not to splash. She was making progress when she spotted the shark circling to her left. Cursing it to hell, Carson jerked her legs back on her board.

The shark was maybe ten feet in length and at least four hundred pounds of hard muscle. It was a bull shark, one of the most aggressive and unpredictable sharks that prowled shallow waters. Humans were not part of their diet, but the bulls were testy and had been known to deliver fatal bites. And this predator was clearly curious about her. It advanced toward her in its unmistakable zigzag pattern.

Suddenly, the dolphin emerged again. It swam close to her board and began slapping the water with its tail fluke aggressively, as if beating a drum in warning. It seemed to work; the shark suddenly veered away and the dolphin submerged again. Carson felt the seconds tick by, clutching her legs, teeth chattering. What was happening? She’d heard that dolphins protected humans from sharks, and she prayed that was happening in this moment.

But the shark would not be chased off. It reemerged farther out, refusing to yield. The dolphin turned and began swimming with agitation in the stretch of blue sea between her and the shark before it disappeared again. Carson kept her gaze pinned to the shark, which suddenly turned her way. At that moment time seemed to crystallize. Carson felt numb as all sound diminished into the vacuum of those soulless eyes. Her mouth slipped open in a silent cry.

Out of nowhere, the dolphin suddenly streaked past her in a straight trajectory for the shark. The dolphin was so fast it hydroplaned across the water like a missile to T-bone the shark’s flank. The bulky shark seemed to fold in half under the force of the hit in its vulnerable gills. For a fraction of a second the stunned shark appeared to hang limp, suspended in the water. Then, in a swift, reflexive move, the monster swung its head, its blood-colored gums and fierce teeth exposed, in an attack. The dolphin bolted, but not before the shark’s teeth closed on its tail.

“No!” Carson couldn’t stifle a cry as they both disappeared again under the water. It had all happened so fast—a matter of seconds.

Her heart broke for the dolphin, but she knew she had to get away while she could. Mercifully, a decent wave was building. This would be her best, perhaps only, chance to escape. She paddled for her life, stroking deep, immeasurably grateful for the familiar feel of the water lifting her forward. Clinging tight to her board, with her eyes fixed on the beach, she rode the crest on shaky legs close to shore.

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