I float on my back, on top of the balmy water in the bay. Sighing in contentment, I close my dark violet eyes against the harsh midday sunslight of summer.
I snuck out of the Crystal Palace, away from the etiquette teachers who were hounding me about dancing, and proper posture and how not to smile when bored, until I couldn’t take it anymore.
Today is my fifteenth birthday and Father forgot it, again. Nic came by in the morning and gave me the nicest gift I could have ever asked for–a digi-holo frame with my mom’s smiling image in it.
Deidre, the beloved head chef, made me the largest boomberry tart I have ever seen. She could barely lift it out of the oven!
Father lectured me on my behavior when he caught me in the kitchen a few minutes later, informing me about how disappointed he was in me. Again. He personally escorted me to the Yellow Parlor and locked the door after he left.
Luckily, the spacious room that often doubled as a small reception hall had many nooks and crannies, including bay windows that opened to the garden.
Distraction came in the form of four etiquette teachers arguing over in which order they should proceed to remedy my lack of knowledge. I ran as far from the palace as I could, all the way to the bay.
I open my eyes and stare up at the pristine blue cloudless sky and inhale the salty briny air. How many times have I imagined my life to be different? That Father would look at me, for the first time in ten years and see me. That we would leave the palace together, wandering in the nearby forest with Nic, laughing all the way as we used to before mom died.
But it’s only a dream, one that seems less feasible with each passing year.
I sigh and turn, diving under the water, swimming as hard as I can, until my lungs protest and I have to float back to the surface.
Breathing hard, I paddle in place, fighting tears of self-pity.
I cannot outswim reality. I better learn to deal with it and enjoy this day.
I take a deep breath to dive underwater again, when something catches my eyes.
A huge dark shape rushes toward me, from the depth of the water. Dozens of tentacles spread by its large, black head. Its body is a hulking shape that spans twenty feet.
A baby deepwater shark! Dangerous and lethal, despite its young age.
I muffle a scream, and swim for my life, toward the shore and I realize that I managed to drift into the open sea, away from the bay!
Fear spurs my muscles. My heart thuds in my throat as I swim like never before.
Behind me a huge body splashes into the water and an eerie gong reverberates–the baby deepwater shark locked on its prey. Me!
I cannot look back to check how far it is behind me, knowing that it would cost me precious seconds. I cannot let any of those tentacles latch onto my legs. Nothing and no one can ever escape those tentacles that would pull the prey into the gaping mouth of the deepwater shark.
I must keep swimming!
I swallow a big gulp of water and sputter a cough as I propel my body through the water.
I regret sneaking out of the Crystal Palace.
I regret not having a chance to say goodbye to Nic and Deidre.
I regret I won’t ever have a chance to mend my relationship with Father.
A fast and elongated shape rushes by me, head on, scales glint with teal and metallic hues, missing me by inches.
The water frothes behind me, and the baby deepwater shark screeches as if in pain.
Shocked, I turn and find the baby deepwater shark locked in a battle with a deadly daggerfish, the only predator that’s a threat to these sharks when they are juveniles. The daggerfish spans forty feet, it’s elongated head covered in outward-reaching bone spikes that look like spiral daggers. It already wrapped its lower body on the baby deepwater shark and now tries to cut the shark’s throat with one of its daggers.
This is my chance to get away from the baby deepwater shark and swim to safety.
But one look at its panicked black orb of eyes and I know I cannot leave it to suffer such a terrible fate. It would not have ventured into the bay where the daggerfish hunts, if it wasn’t trailing me.
I sigh and swim toward the shark and the daggerfish, locked together and thrashing in the boiling water.
The deepwater shark wraps its tentacles around the daggerfish’s throat and pushes the fish away and to the side, close to me.
Without thinking, I punch the fish in the right eye.
The daggerfish shrieks, and lets go of the bleeding baby deepwater shark, then swims away from us.
For a second, the baby deepwater shark stares at me, as if unsure what to do, then lifts one of its tentacles as it swims away. It jumps out of the water, playfully one last time before diving deeper under the surface.
With a smile, I head back to the shore.
Today turned out to be a not-so-bad day after all.