WARNING: The following is a true story, and might be too frightening or intense for more sensitive readers.
CONTINUE AT YOUR OWN RISK.
I have broken my long absence from this blog to bring you troubling news regarding a recent experience of mine. Rather than beating around the bush, I shall simply come right out and say it:
I almost died.
Yes, my friend, it is true. So terrifying, so traumatizing was this brush with danger that I have decided to recount the events faithfully in order to equip others with the necessary knowledge, that they may avoid the same mistakes in the future.
But first, allow me to set the scene.
I have two younger sisters, both born in October. For their birthdays this year, we decided to take a special “sister-trip” to Galveston, Texas, which is only a few hours’ drive from where we live.
Plans were made, bags packed, and soon the three of us were together in one car, ready to begin our road trip–at the end of which awaited the promise of an entire weekend of beach-filled fun. We were excited, joyous, and anxious for that first glimpse of shining, endless water. Per tradition, Disney music was soon blasting from the car speakers, and we were singing along at the tops of our voices, the words to every song known by heart.
Alas, if only we could have foreseen then the dark turn our innocent road would take.
Upon arriving at our destination, we checked in to the hotel and proceeded onward to vacationing frivolity. There was plenty of eating, shopping, exploring, Netflix binging and more aside. But I shan’t bore you too much with the details. None of those events are relevant to the central theme of this tale: my chance at valor, and the failure that left us three sisters fearing for our lives.
The beginning of our troubles came that first evening, when we decided to go for a dip in the ocean. Donning our swimming attire, we left the hotel and walked across the street to the beach, which was almost completely vacant but for the three of us. We could hardly believe our good fortune to have an entire beach to ourselves, and took full advantage of the opportunity.
We waded out into the water and quickly settled in, bobbing up and down with the waves and taking in the beautiful weather, quite at peace with the world….
Until, that is, Middle Sister pointed suddenly at a spot very near us and said with a hint of nervousness in her voice, “What is that over there?”
Needless to say, such a question is not what one hopes to hear whilst floating in the middle of murky Texas water. Youngest Sister and I immediately spun around and searched the water with frantic eyes.
“Where?” I asked, unable to see anything out of the ordinary.
“Just over there. I thought I saw something dark floating in the water.”
This did not bring me comfort. However, at that very moment my Gryffindor tendencies flared up, causing me to shout out (as much to my surprise as my sisters’, I am sure), “I don’t know. LET’S FIND OUT!!”
Following this, I positively bounded through the water in the direction of the mysterious floating object. I did not glide. I did not cautiously approach. I bounded. Enthusiastically, I might add. As such, I was the first to reach the place and behold what caught Middle Sister’s eye.
Like Excalibur to King Arthur, or the sword of Godric Gryffindor to Harry Potter, the long, slender object presented itself unto me, bobbing to and fro in a perfectly vertical position. Reaching out, I grasped it with one hand and brandished it jubilantly over my head, shouting back to my sisters, “It’s a stick!”
We had a good chuckle over our initial reaction to what turned out to be a harmless piece of debris. All the same, the stick latched itself into my mind. I could not bear to part with it, or send it away to be reclaimed by the sea. It seemed to me that the stick had chosen me, and we were now one.
After a moment’s thought, the true name of this wondrous item came easily to my mind. Only one title was befitting of its grandeur and majesty:
Thus it was christened, in honor of what we all knew had been our worst fear upon its first sighting.
We soon relaxed again and returned to enjoying ourselves in the water, while I, the thirty-year-old, waved my new weapon unashamedly and shouted from time to time, “Shark-Stick, OOH-HA-HA!!”
This was my rallying war-cry.
Nothing could frighten me anymore. I felt invincible. With Shark-Stick in hand, I was prepared to face any fierce, bloodthirsty creature of the deep.
A couple of hours later, we returned to the hotel and Shark-Stick was tucked lovingly away in my bag for safekeeping.
Having stayed up into the early hours of the morning binging the first season of Stranger Things on my laptop (which, as neither of my sisters had yet seen it, I forced upon them like the tyrant I am), we slept in and had a late breakfast at that haven of culinary bliss: Ihop.
That afternoon, we spent most of our time buying souvenirs and gifts at our favorite store right on the seawall: Murdoch’s (which, by the by, I highly recommend–it is a veritable treasure trove of memorabilia). Our gifts all bought and our pocketbooks lighter, we returned our items to the hotel room.
Ah, how merry is that deceptive state of mind known as Ignorance.
If only we had known. If only I had had the foresight to prepare. Better still, if only we had not returned to the sea. But, alas, as the Prophetess Moana once sang, “It calls me.”
So we made that infamous decision which would soon come to haunt us forevermore: We agreed to go swimming once again.
That was our first mistake of the day.
Being a Saturday, the beach was understandably more occupied than it had been the previous day. So we traveled a ways down the shoreline to find a place that was less crowded.
That was our second mistake.
Once we found a suitable spot that afforded some privacy, we waded once more out into the murky water. Quite at ease, we drifted along, laughing and talking and seeking out the best waves, while we allowed ourselves to be carried along the shore by the current.
That was our third mistake.
After a while, I happened to glance over my shoulder to see how far we had traveled and noticed all along the beach behind us a huge flock of seagulls congregated together. Mildly intrigued, I pointed this out to my swimming companions.
Middle Sister (notice, observant reader, that it is once again Middle Sister who first turns her mind to the dark and sinister; she is truly the optimist among us)–yes, she spoke up, without missing a beat, “This is probably where all the fish are. Where there’s birds, there’s fish. And where there’s fish, there’s sharks.”
The three of us laughed a great deal at this ludicrous statement, then turned back to face the ocean….
At that exact instant–I kid you not–less than thirty seconds after Middle Sister made her dark proclamation, something huge and grey shot out of the water right in front of our faces, no more than an arm’s reach away.
It happened so quickly that I did not even get a good look at what it was. However, before this phenomenon had registered completely in my mind, Youngest Sister shrieked in a tone that froze the blood and stopped the heart:
Now, in our defense, the spectacle on the whole was sudden, swift, and jarring in its presentation. I might also add that Youngest Sister’s terrified scream probably did more to electrify our poor nerves than did the actual sight of a huge fish leaping from the water so close to us.
All that to say…we fled. Not quietly or calmly, either. Oh no. We turned tail and barreled through the water as ungracefully as could be, screaming with the full force of our lungs, slipping and splashing wildly like complete lunatics.
About halfway back to shore, we began to come to our senses.
We realized we were not in any danger. It had only been a fish (granted, a large fish–as in roughly the length of my arm–and most likely possessing mutant DNA). Not to mention that we were making quite the spectacle of ourselves in front of a rather crowded beach.
Still we continued to half run, half swim back to shore, our screams now mixed with deranged, incoherent laughter. Which could explain why no one in our vicinity seemed to take our cries of terror seriously. After all, one would think that seeing three women running out of the ocean and screaming might cause in any other circumstance at least a meager amount of alarm.
Instead, we climbed out onto the beach, dripping and panting and laughing, while those nearby merely cast bemused glances our way.
It was about this time I realized I should have brought Shark-Stick with me–if ever its protection was needed, it was then. But I foolishly left it behind in the hotel room, not willing to risk losing it.
That was my greatest mistake of all.
Shark-Stick had presented itself to me, after all, in advance of any danger. It had come to me the day before, chosen me, offered its protection….
And how did I respond? Did I accept the responsibility that accompanied the possession of such a rare and powerful object? Did I solemnly take up the mantle of Eldest Sister and Guardian that had fallen to me? Had I in any way proven myself worthy of Shark-Stick?
Alas, no. What a poor Gryffindor I had turned out to be.
When, however, we had calmed down and considered our situation rationally, we decided that the leaping fish had been startling, but nothing more sinister in nature.
Oh, how wrong we were.
Yes! It pains me to inform you that our tale of terror is not yet complete. If you, poor reader, thought otherwise, I apologize now for leading you astray.
For, rather than returning to the safety of our hotel, as would have been wise and reasonable, we instead agreed that we should conquer our fears and return to the ocean together. Albeit, farther up shore away from the seagull buffet into which we had so obliviously trespassed before.
My sisters and I truly believed our trials to be over. For, what were the odds of being attacked a second time by a fish, in a different location, upstream from the current that had led us to our doom?
No, we were quite convinced that there would be no repetition of that chilling confrontation.
We reentered the ocean, and in fact swam peacefully for some time. We were, perhaps, a little more wary than before–our eyes roamed the surrounding water with more frequency than usual, and we kept our distance from the seagulls down shore that had proved a dark omen. Yet we began to relax and feel quite safe in our new area.
That is when it struck again.
‘Tis true, O reader! I would not lie to you! For a second time, a large, grey fish (I am convinced it was the same mutant as before) leapt out of the water right in front of our faces and gave us such a fright that, lacking the promised protection of Shark-Stick that would have been ours if not for my lapse in judgment, we had no choice but to flee in terror once more.
Having come dangerously close, twice, to being struck in our faces by the Demon Fish of Galveston, we all agreed that we had had quite enough of the ocean for one day.
We were conquered, defeated, humiliated by that fickle and tempestuous foe: The Sea.
What, then, should you take away from my experience, dear innocent reader? What should be the moral of the tale?
The lesson is quite plain. Unfortunately, I did not have the wisdom to see it on that grim day. Yet you, my friend, you can learn from my shame.
In short, the lesson I hope to impart is this:
Should a mysterious object of power such as Shark-Stick ever present itself to you, think twice before accepting its burden. For, once possessed, it will charge you with a sacred duty, one which cannot be dismissed or ignored. You will be put to the test, expected to guard others and stand firm in the face of danger. So, be certain that you are willing to endure the consequences. Above all, be vigilant. Be steadfast…
…And may you prove a worthier possessor than I.