Aphelion Issue 223, Volume 21
November 2017
 
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Sand Sharks

by Walter G. Esselman




“Oh-no-no-no-no-no!” shrieked Brianna as she ran. The water nymph knew that they were close behind and gaining quickly. Arms encircled her waist, and she cried out as teeth nibbled her shoulder.

“Just don’t tickle me!” squealed Brianna joyfully as Gideon pretended to gnaw on her shoulder.

“Too slow,” exclaimed Pavataro. The black and blue dragon grinned as he ran past. At fifteen, the same age as Gideon and Brianna, the dragon’s head only reached six feet off the ground.

“Quick, we have to get him!” called out Brianna, and she and Gideon began to chase the young dragon. The kids all ran towards the sandy beach that was just outside of the town of Bon Su Pear.

“You’re such a prey-animal,” said Pavataro as he looked condescendingly at Gideon.

“Oh yea?” cried Gideon and the boy leapt onto the dragon’s back. Pavataro started to buck up and down.

“Hey! Get off!” cried Pavataro indignantly. “I’m not a pack mule.”

Gideon jumped off and he and Brianna ran ahead laughing.

“That wasn’t funny!” complained Pavataro, but he scrambled after them. They reached the edge of the sandy beach. The sun was bright and glinted off the royal blue water. Gideon and Pavataro went right out onto the sand, but Brianna yipped and jumped back. Gideon screeched to a halt and looked back.

“You okay?” asked Gideon.

“Oh, that’s right,” grumbled Brianna. “You guys don’t feel heat like the rest of us.”

“Is the sand hot?” asked Gideon.

“Only as hot as the surface of the sun,” said Brianna with a roll of her eyes. “I guess if I run quickly...”

“Nonsense,” said Gideon and he walked up to her.

“What’re you doing?” asked Brianna uncertainly. Gideon was only a hair taller than the young redheaded water nymph. He picked her up in his arms. “Oh! You don’t…”

Gideon walked out onto the blazing sand as she put her arms around his neck. He held her close as they looked for a good spot.

“You know, a girl could get used to this,” murmured Brianna with amusement, and Gideon’s heart raced quicker. They found a good patch of sand near a rocky outcropping called Tovell’s Caves. Gideon put down Brianna who quickly put out a blanket from her small backpack.

“Ouch, ouch, ouch,” she cried before jumping onto the blanket. She set the backpack aside. “Mental note, need sandals next time.”

Gideon lay on the hot sand next to her as Pavataro ran to the water and plowed into an oncoming wave. Taking a deep breath, the dragon dove under the water.

“I’m surprised that you’re not out there yet,” said Gideon as he nodded from the water nymph to the ocean.

“I’m surprised you can lay on the hot sand,” retorted Brianna. With a delicate finger, she prodded the hot sand experimentally from the safety of her blanket. “I’m surprised your mother fed you dragon’s milk.”

As a baby, Gideon had been adopted by a dragon who had just lost her first child.

“Well, from what she says,” replied Gideon. “It was kinda an accident. She was saving me from getting eaten, and pulled me protectively close to herself. And she was ready to start nursing, so my baby brain...um...well...”

Gideon stopped with a blush because this whole topic was getting really embarrassing. He did not want to think of his Mom nursing. Eew!

“Which allows you to do your whole changing-your-own-gravity thing,” said Brianna. “So, how much power did you use to lift me up?”

“None,” said Gideon quickly.

“Good answer,” smiled Brianna. She looked off at the water wistfully. Gideon jumped up.

“Come on,” said Gideon. “I’ll race you.”

And Brianna braved a few feet of hot sand as they ran into the water.


* * *

The predator slid through the water closing in on Brianna as was looked around.

“Gideon?” called out Brianna. She did not see as it moved closer and closer to her.

It struck at her tickle spots. She dropped underwater as Gideon tickled her sides. Brianna’s hands began to glow blue and the watermage created a wall of water between the two. Gideon kicked up to the surface.

“No fair,” complained Gideon cheerfully.

“I hate to be tickled,” sniffed Brianna, but with a little smile. “But revenge is sweet.”

“Wha…?” started Gideon. Under the surface, Brianna’s hands glowed blue again, and a large watergolem rose out of the water next to him.

“No fair,” said Gideon softly.

The watergolem dropped on him and pushed the boy under the water. He swam away from it and, undeterred, went after Brianna’s tickle spots again. She swam quickly to the shore followed by him.

“I gonna get you!” cried Gideon and Brianna squealed in delight. Suddenly, she froze and he almost ran into her.

“What’re you…?” asked Gideon.

Brianna pointed urgently towards the sand.

“Save the boy!” she said quickly.

A little boy was tottering towards Tovell’s Caves. Behind him, cutting through the sand, was the fin of a sand shark ghosting the child.

“What the…,” started Gideon.

“Sand shark!” cried Brianna. “Go! Now! Hurry!”

Gideon stopped thinking and moved. He lowered his gravity and leapt past Brianna. He started to jump at great lengths. He might get to the boy first, maybe. He poured on the speed. The boy turned and saw the fin cutting through the sand. The child froze.

Dropping in front of the boy, Gideon grabbed him, lowered their gravity and they jumped high up into the air. The sand shark leapt out sand, its jaws extending to snap at Gideon who only just pulled his feet away at the last moment. The sand shark fell away from them as they descended slowly towards the caves. When he hit the ground, Gideon sprinted over the last bit of sand and jumped on to the cave’s rocky exterior. The shark used multiple hard fins, like blades, to dig back into the sand and disappeared from view.

“Again!” cried the boy happily.

“What was that?” cried the boy’s mother as she started to walk towards her child and Gideon.

Brianna focused on the group of beach goers who were drawing closer to the caves.

“Stay back,” commanded Brianna. She ran towards the lookie-loos who were ignoring the hot sand. Glancing left, she saw Gideon and the boy. “Gideon?”

“We’re good,” replied Gideon. Carrying the boy, he followed the stone caves to the grasslands while giving the sand a wide berth.

“Right,” said Brianna as she reached the beach goers. “Everyone needs to leave the sand right now.”

“Listen little girl,” said a condescending man as he thrust out his hairy chest. “You can’t just order people to leave a public beach.”

“Duchess,” said Brianna as she looked him right in the eyes.

“What?” he asked in a confusion.

“I am not a ‘little girl’,” said Brianna with steel in her voice. “I am the Duchess Brianna Sur of the Nymphari nation. That was a sand shark, and if you want to stay on the beach, that’s fine. It’s probably very hungry. But everyone else, I suggest you Get Off The Sand.”

The condescending man blinked first and the crowd slowly shuffled away to the grasslands. The mother had already run over to Gideon who put the boy right into her arms. The child, for his part, burbled happily about sharks while she squeezed him close.

Gideon walked back over to Brianna.

“Well, that’s one way to get the beach to ourselves,” suggested Gideon. “But what’s that thing doing here?”

“I don’t know,” said Brianna. “But I have an idea.”

Gideon followed Brianna as they carefully walked from the grasslands and on to Tovell’s Caves. Over the rocks, they stopped close to the site where Gideon had first picked up the boy.

“Sand sharks don’t usually bother humans,” said Brianna. “If they see a human, they usually avoid it.”

“That would’ve been nice,” murmured Gideon.

“But they can become territorial during the year,” said Brianna.

“How do you know about this?” asked Gideon.

“My Uncle Taddeus studied them,” said Brianna. “And he’s going to be so jealous when I tell him about this.”

They found a cave entrance near the water. Moving into a cave, she saw what she had been looking for. She squatted next to a small pool of water sunk into the floor of the cave. Gideon peered over her shoulder in surprise.

“Is that…?” asked Gideon.

“Exactly,” said Brianna in a smug tone when Gideon suddenly grabbed her shoulder. “Ow, that…”

“Shh,” said Gideon urgently. She stopped and slowly looked up.

The sand shark stood in the entrance to the cave with a look that was neither vicious nor cruel, but it would kill if necessary. Underneath the sand shark, it stood with the hard fins that it used to dig through sand. Brianna slowly got up pressing back against Gideon.

The sand shark moved awkwardly into the cave. Its gills were closed, and its middle expanded and contracted as it breathed air. Gideon and Brianna moved slowly away until they hit the back of the cave. The sand shark came over to the pool and then lay on top of it while eyeballing them.

“This is not good,” said Brianna.

“We’re not dead yet,” said Gideon. He pointed to the left where light showed through a hole in the ceiling of the cave. “Up for some rock climbing?”

Brianna went first on the logic that Gideon might be able to jump around the creature if it attacked. Also, he was being a dumb, macho, protective male and had insisted that she go first. Brianna shook her head and started to climb up towards the hole. Gideon followed and they barely squeezed through the small space. Outside they hugged each other in terror past.

“I didn’t think we were going to make it out of there,” breathed Brianna.

“It was a close one,” said Gideon as he kissed the top of her head.

Brianna stopped and looked back towards the beach. “Do you hear that?”

“My heart?” smiled Gideon.

“No,” said Brianna as she playfully smacked his chest. “Over there.”

Brianna broke their embrace and headed across the top of the caves.

“Oh no!” said Brianna pointing toward the people on the grass. She turned to Gideon. “Can you get me there quick?”

Gideon picked her up and lowered their gravity. He sprang off in great leaping bounds.

“There!” said Brianna pointing to the ground and he stopped where she had indicated.

This set them right before the mob of angry citizens and worried soldiers. The little boy’s mother was out in front screaming for blood, and Captain Doyle of the Royal army was right behind. He and his squad were carrying spears.

“There she is!” said the little boy’s mother. “She was the one who ordered us off the beach.”

“Give me a moment,” said Captain Doyle to the woman, and he walked over to Brianna and Gideon. “You kids alright?”

“We’re fine,” assured Brianna and Doyle relaxed at that. He liked these kids.

“This is a right mess,” said Captain Doyle in a low voice. “Everyone’s scared out of their wits.”

“As well they should be,” said Brianna. “That sand shark will eat anyone who comes near its cave.”

Doyle sighed. “I guess I have no choice.”

“You’re going to go in and kill it?” asked Brianna.

“Is there another option?” asked Doyle hopefully. “I don’t want to risk my people fighting that thing...”

Doyle’s eyes drifted unconsciously towards his beautiful lieutenant Glory.

“Actually,” said Brianna. “I think there might be a different way. We saw something in the cave.”

“You went in there?” asked Doyle sharply, and then he stopped himself with a smile. “What am I saying, of course you did. Now I'm really glad you're alright.”

“Can you get me a bucket of water?” asked Brianna.

A child’s play bucket was brought to the front of the crowd.

“What are we waiting for?” cried the little boy’s mother. “Go in there and kill it.”

“Please everyone,” said Brianna. “A moment of your time. I know something about sand sharks, which is what you have.” And she looked directly at the boy’s mother. “They do seem like frightening creatures, especially when they come after our young. But that’s the heart of the issue. Ma’am, you love your children correct?”

“Of course,” sniffed the little boy’s mother.

“And you would do anything to protect him?” asked Brianna.

“Yes,” said the little boy’s mother.

“Sand sharks tend to shy away from people, except under one circumstance,” said Brianna. Gideon held up the bucket next to her. “Me and Gideon went in the sand shark’s cave, and this is what we saw.”

Brianna touched the water. The watermage’s hand glowed blue so that the bones stood out. She began to reform the water into the shape of the cave. In the tableau, the figure of Gideon was standing over Brianna who was squatting over a pool of little swimming sand sharks.

“Are those…?” asked Doyle.

The scene changed to show when the sand shark came in the cave and sat over to the babies to protect them.

“It’s just a mother protecting its young,” said Brianna. “And as such, we should give it its space.”

“But our beach?” whined someone in the crowd.

“As I recall,” said Brianna. “The babies grow quick. I’ll check on the caves every day, but I’m hoping we’ll have our beaches back within the week.”

“But what if it comes back?” asked the little boy’s mother.

“That’s a good question,” said Brianna. “One we’re going to have to look into.”

Brianna changed the scene to just show a larger representation of the baby sand sharks chasing each other through the water.

Something huge thudded at the edge of the grass. Everyone turned to look at Pavataro. The dragon grinned as he stood over the huge eight-foot fighting tuna he had caught.

“This one picked a fight with the wrong dragon,” purred Pavataro. “How ‘bout we grill’em up?”

And it was the thought of grilled fighting tuna that broke the spine of the mob. Pavataro was kind enough to share his meal with everyone, as long as he got the biggest share. Gideon and Pavataro set up a roaring bonfire on the edge of the sand. People went back into town and brought back more food making it a nice party. Captain Doyle and his squad had to stay and stand guard, and enjoy some grilled tuna as a consequence.

Later, Gideon walked over to the edge of the sand where Brianna stood. He wrapped his arms around her.

“You okay,” asked Gideon.

“Yea,” she replied as she leaned back into him. “Definitely an interesting day at the beach.”

THE END


2017 Walter G. Esselman

Bio: Mr. Walter G. Esselman is a favorite author of Aphelion. Aphelion has published “Night of the Bright Blue BEMs” (May 2017), “In Hot Water” (March 2017), “Fur Flying” (November 2016), “Fire! Fire!” (May 2016), “Dancing Stones” (November 2015), “Overcooked” in September 2015 and “Sacred Logs and Crocodiles” (April 2011). Bards and Sages published “Booga Booga” in January 2017. Dark Dossier has published “Burning Sands” (TBA), “Strange Doors” (March 2017), “The Caliper House” (January 2017), “The Thing in the Spikes” (August 2016), “The Grinners” (March 2016), “Goodrum” (March 2016), “Smoke’em If You Got’em” (December 2015) and “Red Rain” (September 2015). Schlock published “Fire Breathing Make The Best Space Heaters” (TBA) and “Wizard Con” (August 2015). Previously, Residential Aliens published: “Sharp Stick” (March, 2010), “Fur Flying” (August, 2010), “In Hot Water” (October, 2010), and "The Mystery of the Black Nail” (February 2011). Conceit Magazine has also published “Shooting Star” in their September 2010 issue of the Ultimate Writer and the website Static Movement published "Sand Sharks" in January 2010.

E-mail: Walter G. Esselman

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