Having recovered from her almost-drowning, Jenny had spent her time at home just lying on the sofa, the television blaring in the background. She didn’t watch whatever was on – what there was was pretty much terrible – but she thought it would be the best way to forget the fact she had her own near-death experience. Even when her fellow classmates had tried to comfort her, asking her incessantly if she was alright, she had ignored them. She was just supposed to be a normal young woman – normal young women don’t get drowned or saved by sharks.
A shark. That’s what it was and that’s what it had to be. The whole thing had gone by so quickly that Jenny could barely remember any specific details. She remembered being thrown into the water, yet strangely, she couldn’t remember struggling to swim or water filling her lungs or anything like that. Well, she remembered the shape approaching her, rumbling as it did so, and she remembered thinking that it was the Grim Reaper. In retrospect, she thought, that theory may not be out of the question. She opened her eyes, washing away the saltwater with the weird taste that had latched onto her to tongue, and saw herself riding the shark.
Was it a shark, she had thought upon coming to, attempting to clear her gut of the ocean. The shark was her first guess, but she instantly exchanged it for guessing that it was a dolphin. Those things are supposed to be smart and help people, and the mental image of her leaping into the air on the back of one of those things amused her. Her saviour did not leap into the air, though, and looking down, she could see the teeth bared, the beady eyes, the pointed form. But what else would be able to save her?
When she was younger, she had loved sharks. Some kids loved ponies, some loved princesses, but she liked sharks and dinosaurs and toothed things, her own little sign of non-conformity. Every trip to the seaside would involve her paddling in the water, looking for the little buggers. Mum kept telling her that sharks rarely actually bother human beings, but she took that as just another attempt at spoiling fun. One of those trips had even ended with Mum buying Jenny a plush toy of a large yellow shark, a relic now spending its days relaxing in the cupboard.
So would Jenny’s guardian angel take on the form of a shark, just because of who she was as a child? She wasn’t that child anymore, at least she didn’t believe she was. Still, there was nothing else she was particularly interested in at the moment, so a shark angel was as good as any. Did she tell people that she had been saved by a shark? She had considered it, just to see how people would react to it, but decided against it. It was ludicrous enough to be unbelievable, but not enough to make people want to believe it. Had she been saved by a robot, she would have told straight away, but sharks are boring nowadays.
Then again, life itself was boring, and it was boring for a good reason. When life wasn’t boring, stuff like that happened, and nobody wanted stuff like that to happen. In her school, she had to listen to those who wanted more from life; fame, money, attention from several members of the opposite sex. She was fine with what she had. Sure, she was working towards getting a career, but she still believed her school days were the best days of her life and all that stuff. She might have recently turned eighteen, with university just around the corner, but feeling like a child, at times, helped to relax her.
Almost drowning should have matured her, shouldn’t it?
It was that contentment for normalcy that made her not want to go into school that day. Normal kids cut class all the time, don’t they? It wasn’t like they’d miss her anyway, especially when there was something worth missing.
The days after I met Jenny had been quieter than usual. When I went about my usual swim, I saw less fish, less sharks, less creatures. Oh sure, there were still a few things out and about, and I even munched on them, because, what else could I do with them? Still, things have been so silent. I heard nothing except the rumbling of the ocean in the background. Even that voice in my head had learned to shut up.
Silence was something new, and I’d been wanting something new. Well, if I got my wish, I might as well embrace it.
I wonder what’s going on up there.
Just as I was beginning to tire of listening to nothing but that rumbling, who should appear but Acacia, her eyes darting back and forth as she approached. She’d been searching for me, I knew it. I swallowed.
‘Hello, Acacia!’ I gave her the same smile she used to give me. Her face remained frozen. ‘What brings you here?’
‘Just looking for my lunch,’ she said, swerving away from me, ‘It’s what I do.’
‘Is it me,’ I said as I swam next to her, ‘or have things been quiet lately?’
‘It’s just you.’ She shook her head, or what constituted for one. ‘It’s just your odd little mind.’ She turned to face me before turning away as if swimming away, then turned to face me again. ‘Why did you save that human?’
My eyes bulged. ‘Why do you want to know?’
‘I just want to know, that’s all.’
‘Well, I don’t really know why I did it…really…’
‘Well, I don’t think you should have done it,’ she said, that certain smile of hers beginning to form. ‘Your reputation is bad enough.’
‘What is that supposed to mean?’ I replied, a new energy overcoming me.
‘You know we don’t care about humans, Derek. They’re just a waste of space, really. And they hog all the good meals.’
‘Have you ever seen a human?’
‘I’ve seen several. I’ve heard them talk about their human affairs and all their crap. Apparently they like staring at a ‘television’ for hours while we’re actually doing something productive. I wouldn’t bother with them.’
‘I don’t think Jenny…’
‘Jenny?’ She turned to me with one eye enlarged. ‘You know her name?’
That smile of hers returned once again, and with it followed a long, boisterous laugh. ‘You aren’t serious.’
‘What? I know her name, what’s…’
‘You love her.’
That statement rendered my throat dry, leaving me unable to respond for a while, except with a slight wheeze.
‘You actually love her,’ she continued, alternating between chuckling and growling, ‘That is…I don’t know what it is. I mean, I knew there was something wrong…’
‘There’s nothing wrong with me!’
She laughed again, not a large laugh, just a teeny little snigger. ‘Oh, just listen to you. You sound like some moody teenager. Grow up.’
I noticed her pace increasing, and something (maybe him) told me I should leave, but still I followed her. ‘I don’t love her.’
The minute I said that, Acacia turned to me with that frozen face. ‘Do you want to be human?’
‘What if I do?’
‘Why would you want to?’
‘Well…’ I noticed her pace beginning to lessen, which gave me the slightest sense of relief. ‘From what I’ve heard, there’s more to do as a human…’
‘And there’s plenty of things to do down here too.’
‘What do we really do? Just swim around, eating occasionally?’
‘Humans just lie around, eating occasionally.’
‘No…’ I stared at my fins at that moment, the little stubs meant only to propel me. ‘Their…their bodies can do more…’ Acacia let loose another laugh. ‘They have hands…’
‘Oh yes,’ said Acacia, ‘I know what you’d do if you had hands.’
‘What does that mean?’
I sighed, creating bubbles that languidly floated up to the surface. ‘I’m not going to convince you, am I?’
That smile came back. ‘That is probably the smartest thing you’ve ever said.’
I chuckled a bit at that remark, and even tried to replicate her own special smile. It hurt my face. ‘Okay, I guess I should just go now.’
‘Don’t be like that, Derek,’ said Acacia, nearing me. ‘I’ll be here when you need me.’
‘Of course,’ she said, her expression being a mixture of her smile and frozen frown, ‘You really need help.’
Gwen Wickiton. Why her, of all people? Jenny had heard an interview with her on the news, where she spoke of her experiments, her discoveries, what she did with fish. Fish. Oh yes. They had been studying marine life in biology, and perhaps Gwen was the cheapest spokesperson they could find on the subject. How much did Gwen really know on the subject though, and did she really care? She did apparently want to make fish human, after all. Why someone would want to was anyone’s guess.
Still, she went to school that day like she usually did, carried the same backpack and books she usually did, and even wore the same t-shirt and jeans she usually did. If she put it in her mind that it was to be a normal day, then maybe Gwen would seem normal. First came the morning classes, where she would sit languidly until the teacher shut up. After a short period of having lunch and sitting languidly after the lunch was finished, it was time for her to go into the hall, and sit languidly some more until Gwen made her appearance.
Gwen looked more like she should be leading a sporting event then explaining biology, coming in wearing a white t-shirt and black skirt, blonde hair reaching to her shoulders. Still, she looked less obtrusive than Jenny had expected, considering she had heard stories that Gwen had done damage to her face after a failed experiment. As Gwen made her entrance, she had a radio play ‘She Blinded Me With Science’ at full blast, which brought a chuckle out of many of the students, with Jenny laughing at their laughter. People these days were too easily amused.
Still, as goofy as Gwen was going to pretend to be, Jenny would treat her like she would any teacher. As in, every word would be worth little, and she would do nothing but wait until it was over. That seemed an easy task at first; when Gwen brought in the pictures of fish, all she did was point at them, explaining fish and their anatomy, and what they use to survive, all that stuff. She attempted to add some flavour to it by hopping about like a hyperactive fairy, and that brought Jenny a smile, but likely not for the reason Gwen intended.
Then she spoke about sharks.
The words ‘And now for sharks’ seemed to give Jenny that little bit of energy, as if her ears were tuned to pick up those specific words. Would Gwen’s next lecture give any indication about what happened on that night? Likely not, but Jenny still found her back straightening, her eyelids lifting, her brain fixed.
At first, Gwen began to list off the various types of sharks out there; the hammerhead, the bull shark, the great white, all showing off various images of the specimens. As the pictures were shown, Jenny imagined them swimming in the ocean, seeking their prey, and a spark of her childhood ignited a little.
‘You know,’ Gwen explained, ‘it was believed that shark’s cartilage would help cancer, but it was later found to have little effect. I remember at one time thinking that if I could make a shark human, it would make a person immune to cancer…’
Jenny raised her hand.
‘You have a question?’
After sitting in silence for a second or two, Jenny lowered her hand. ‘No.’
‘Oh, come on.’
‘No, no, it’s okay.’
Gwen shook her head. ‘And just when I thought one of you kids were actually eager to learn something.’ Raising her head and facing the audience again, she smiled widely. ‘That’s why I enjoy studying fish. I think they have something to share.’ Laughter came from some of the audience, which made Gwen bury her face in her palm.
‘What are you?’ said a guy from the back, ‘The little mermaid?’
Gwen stood still, her twitching hand being the only sign of movement.
‘Are you okay?’ said Jenny, though she didn’t know why she said it.
At Jenny’s question, Gwen ran through the back door, her pictures, radio and aids left behind. Some people left, others laughed, and Jenny just sat there, her back still straight, raising an eyebrow. When everyone else began to leave, Jenny was just about to follow them, when she noticed something next to where Gwen had made her exit.