The shark swam slowly by. I held my breath and wondered how far away I should let it get before going on. Five feet? Ten feet? Twenty? I didn't know if I wanted it to get out of sight before I moved again. As things were, it didn't seem inclined to get any more than about twelve feet away. It didn't seem to have spotted me, but every time I let a bit of hope enter my heart that it was finally swimming away , it swooped back toward me. If I didn't know better, I would think it was playing some kind of sick game. I crouched down at the base of the tree and glared at it. I would have to be patient.
If you've been a kid, you've heard your parents or grandparents or aunts or uncles talk about walking to school in The Olden Days. “Uphill both ways through a snowstorm,” is usually how it goes. The normal American suburb I grew up in didn't really have many hills, and the elementary school I went to wasn't in an impossible place that would have required me to scale a mountain to get there in the morning nor another one to get home at night. It didn't even snow that often in the winter.
There was just the Shark Timber.
It was just a story. A stupid joke told by the fifth graders to the third and first graders, to scare both. “You’d better not get lost in the woods!” they would taunt. “A shark swims through the trees!”
That day my sister and her friends teased me into walking through it. It was the fastest way home, after all; it took longer to walk all the way around by the sidewalk than to go through the Shark Timber. And even if it was a trick that the fifth graders were playing, they didn't go that way. “Fine!” I shouted, as they laughed at me, and our younger sister stood nearby, about to burst into tears. “I’ll go that way, and I’ll beat you home, and I won’t see a shark ‘cause there’s no such thing as a shark that swims in a forest!”
Their laughter floated after me, and the tear-filled voice of my younger sister, begging me not to go and appealing to our older sister to stop me. The last thing I heard was a sob and the words, “Come back! I don’t want you to get eated by sharks!”
At first I was just going to go around the outside.of the trees and just tell them I’d walked straight through. Then I glanced back and saw my older sister tugging my younger sister along while still laughing with her friends. I’d show them. They were mean enough to tease me and make my sister cry, but not brave enough to go through the Shark Timber themselves. I squared my shoulders and marched in.
It wasn't that far across, just a group of trees in the middle of a green space between normal, middle class homes. But it felt like an ancient forest that was hundreds of miles wide. Three steps in, I felt like I’d been there for hours. I quickened my pace, and that's when I saw it.
It slalomed through a few trees just ahead of me, silent and slow.
I watched it, wondering a million things. How had it come here? How was it swimming through the air as though it were water? Would I “get eated”? Should I turn around and go back? Would my sister and her friends laugh at me if I did?
There was only one thing to do. I had to move forward.
I wanted it to swim away, but I wanted it to stay within sight. I wanted to hide, but still be able to see it, to make sure it wasn't going to sneak up on me. Little by little, inch by inch, we both moved across the Timber. At last I could see the other side.
Huddling against a tree, I weighed the pros and cons of making a run for it when suddenly it swooped closer than it ever had before. I could have touched it as it glided by. I reached out a hand, but withdrew it at the last second, my fear of being discovered outweighing my curiosity. It flicked its tail and swam away. I knew it was my chance to escape.
As I cleared the edge of the forest, I looked back to see if I could spot the shark, but all I could see were the trees.
My little sister flung herself into my arms when I walked in the door. I expected to see my older sister's friends hanging around in the backyard, but it turned out that making your little sister sick with worry (she had actually thrown up) and sending your little brother off on a dangerous adventure was a grounding offense in our house.
“What did you see?” my little sister asked me as she accompanied me to my room. “Was there a shark?” The door to my sisters’ room opened a crack, and I knew my older sister was listening.
“I… I saw something,” I admitted. “I don’t know if I would see it again if I went back. But you stay away from the Shark Timber anyway, okay?”
Her eyes widened with awe and she nodded vigorously. My older sister opened their bedroom door a little more as my little sister skipped off down the hallway.
“I’m sorry. I won’t ever joke about that place again.” she said, her voice full of trepidation. “We shouldn't have given you a hard time about it. I’ll tell the others that we should stop.”
“It’s okay,” I shrugged. “I’m alive.”
She sighed and turned away. As I walked back toward the kitchen, I heard her voice again. “There really was one, wasn’t there?” she asked. “A shark.”
“I can’t prove it,” I replied, “but why else would they call it the Shark Timber?”
|Halloween Writing Prompts, 5 of 8|