As a little kid my mom would take me down to the beach and let me play in the sand, building lumpy castles adorned with broken shells and pieces of Styrofoam cups I'd found. There was always a moat cut into the sand around the castle. I'd fill it with water but the sand would drink it up.
When I was older, on weekends, my dad would come with us. He and my mom would hold my hands as we stood in the water, lifting me up when the larger waves would roll in. I would squeal in delight, wriggling my toes as the Pacific lapped at them.
At twelve I received my first boogie board. I wasn't allowed far out into the water like the teenagers who had been surfing before they could walk but I had just as much fun. I became adept at riding the waves with my little foam board, just as good as any surfer out there.
At fourteen, my parents gave me my first real surf board. It was a Malibu, which was the board of choice. Bright banana yellow with arcing black tribal designs down its sleek length. It would get me noticed as much as my abilities would. I rode it till the sunset and a little beyond, so enamored of being able to ride the waves, be at one with the sea.
Mom hated it when I surfed after the sun went down. Sharks weren't common but there were occasional incidents. I always waved her off; I was the one out there, not her. It wasn't like I was night surfing. I was usually up way early in the morning, before school, to get in some good waves. And always after school ended.
The first time I surfed at night was my last.
I wanted somewhere to think. There was so much on my mind; I'd been asked to consider turning pro, traveling the circuit and competing. That was huge for a seventeen year old. I knew I was good and could take whatever was thrown my way.
But competing meant not graduating high school. Meant a lot of travel. Expenses my parents wouldn't be able to afford if I didn't get backing from a major sponsor. All these checks and balances that had to be solved before I could commit to turning pro.
It was a heavy decision to make.
I had paddled out, out beyond where the waves began to roll in. Straddling my board I just let the water carry me. The vast expanse of stars were so much clearer out here. Not blocked by the lights of civilization. I stared up at them, thinking about my choice.
Time passed. Too much time. Something brushed my leg. I turned, looking over my shoulder. The lights on shore were far away, almost distant. The water was black out here; I couldn't see anything.
Looking around for what I thought might be driftwood or kelp, my leg was bumped again. It felt as rough as sandpaper and I could feel some of my skin scraped off.
Panic flooded my body. It was pitch black out here on the open water. Any splashing would draw more attention to me, causing the shark to attack. I had to be careful, slow, and plot my escape. Sitting motionless I waited. Nothing more bumped my leg. Slowly, trying not to cause too much motion, I lifted both legs out of the water and up onto my board.
My right leg was bleeding, a chunk of skin scraped raw by the shark's skin. It bled sluggishly onto my board. That meant there was blood in the water as well.
Very carefully I positioned myself on my board and began to make small paddles close to the edges, in an effort to start back to shore. The shark already knew I was here but hadn't decided to test out what I was with its teeth. I might have a small window of opportunity and I had to take it.
The lights on shore disappeared as something huge slammed into my, knocking me off my board.
Instinctively I kicked hard, trying to propel myself to the surface. The shock had knocked the air from my lungs and what little was left was flooding up in a stream of bubbles. Wide-eyed I kicked again, suddenly unaware of what direction I was headed. Surely the surface was above my head?
The teeth sunk into my leg as the mouth closed over it. I couldn't scream as the teeth slid in like expensive knives through soft butter. I kicked frantically and felt my heel come in contact with the shark. It let go.
The scream tore out of me as soon as I crested the surface of the Pacific. Groping around in the water, splashing maniacally, my hand skittered across the wet surface of my board. It was sheer luck the board hadn't gone far. Adrenaline was flooding my veins and gave me enough strength to haul myself half atop it, kicking as hard as possible with both legs.
I was nearly to shore when I realized the shark wasn't following me. But the damage was already done.
The surf gently deposited me on the wet sand. I groped blindly, my hair in my eyes, and pulled myself up towards the waterline. My board lolled in the water, forgotten. All I wanted was to get to the beach, to scream for help. Surely someone would hear me and come.
A harsh noise filled my ears. I was gasping for breath, panting hard as I clawed my hands into the loose sand. Every heartbeat I could feel in my right leg. I was bleeding profusely now, the contraction of my heart propelling blood around my body and out into the open through my wounded leg.
I was going to bleed out and die on the beach.
"No," I whimpered, tears springing to my eyes. I couldn't die here. I was only seventeen. I tried to pull myself up again but found my arms were loosing their strength. I was strong but not strong enough.
Exhausted I collapsed face first into the sand. It was a struggle to roll myself onto my back but I managed. The stars were dimmer here, spread before my eyes. They began to swim in the velvet black sky. Then it all went black.