Paul spit and sputtered after water splashed his face. He wiped his stinging eyes, shook his head, and immediately regretted it. Daggers shot through his skull and he swayed at the sudden pain. It felt like something bored through his skull. Muscling down a wave of nausea as his vision swam, he licked his lips tasting traces of the salt water and the metallic taste of blood. After the sickness passed and his vision cleared, Paul opened his eyes and took in his surroundings.
He caught the silhouette of something pass out of sight through bleary eyes. As his vision cleared, he realized he was in a cage, the square stainless-steel bars towered above him. Large cylinders hung on the outside of the top of the cage. It reminded him of the enclosures divers and oceanographers used to study sharks. He gripped onto the bars and pulled himself to his feet. His head pounded and stomach flipped at the exertion. A new bout of nausea made him retch.
Straightening, he looked around for a better understanding of his situation. He was in a cave, the failing light outside barely illuminating the walls. More cages lined the room. In between the cages, dark inverted Vs covered the walls, one side looked slightly curved; like a child’s rendition of shark fins.
“Hey,” Paul croaked, throat scratched from the lack of water.
He licked his lips again, trying to draw more moisture and saliva into his mouth.
“Hello,” he called out to the lengthening shadows creeping into the mouth of the cave.
Paul eased himself down, rested his head between the bars, closed his eyes. The last thing he remembered was sailing. There were reports of a storm, the harbormaster warned him, but he wasn’t going to waste one of his last days of vacation. No sooner did the last sight of land disappear than the clouds billowed in; angry, dark gray, roiling clouds and they brought incredible winds. An experienced sailor, he was no match for the maelstrom. He fought. Ropes snapped. He ducked to avoid the boom that snapped toward him. Paul reached up, felt the large lump on his temple. Apparently, he wasn’t quick enough.
He woke with a start. He hadn’t realized he fell asleep. Looking toward the mouth of the cave, a paler light shone through the opening. Scoping out his prison, he noticed large footprints dotted the sand. They looked odd; the toes too wide and flat. Paul scanned the other cages. He couldn’t see well with the poor light, but he thought he saw dark stains in the bottom of some of them. Discarded clothing and what looked like broken scuba gear littered the grounds.
A shadow passed outside.
Paul’s eyes snapped up. Another shadow streaked across the opening then another.
Paul stood up, rattled the cage.
“Hey, let me out of here,” his voice scratched the back of his throat.
“I can see you out there,” Paul slammed the bars.
The moonlight blacked out almost entirely as a large figure entered the cave. Paul backed away as it stalked into the space. The light from outside bounced off its skin giving it a gray hue, but Paul couldn’t see its face, still hidden in shadow. It was huge, hulking, and striding toward him.
When it reached the bars, it stood staring at him, a glint of light shone off pitch black eyes. The mouth looked larger than it should have been, lips protruding slightly. Small dark slits were in its face where a nose should have been and they flared as the thing stared at Paul.
It produced a knife, held it up to the bars. The blade was a muted, off-white from what Paul could see and it looked like a tooth. The thing moved the knife to the edge of the cage and cut the ties binding the door. Paul trembled against the back bars, but when it opened the door and reached inside, it grabbed him in an incredibly strong grip and dragged him outside.
“Hey, easy,” Paul said.
The thing stared at him with its cold, dead eyes then pulled him toward the mouth of the cave.
“Where are you taking me?”
Paul tried to wrench his arm away from the escort, but it was no use as the pain in his head returned, pounding from temple to temple. Once free from the cave, Paul filled his lungs with fresh air. He could hear waves whispering in the distance. Torches lined a small path through thick vegetation.
They followed the torch-lit path and soon the vegetation cleared into a large open area. Small huts lined the clearing, but the mysterious creature dragged him to the front of a large building. The walls looked to be made of bamboo and giant palm fronds covered its roof. The doorway to the structure was a gaping maw of darkness. But that wasn’t what caught Paul’s breath in his throat. Surrounding the doorway was the largest shark jawbone he’d ever seen. Teeth the size of his hand spanned the frame from one side to the other. Shadows danced around him. The hiss and crackle of the torches and the thunder of his heartbeat in his ears was all he could hear.
Paul was shoved to his knees in front of the door and the creature stepped away taking a position near the entrance. Something large and thin jutted from between the thing’s shoulder blades. It almost looked like a fin.
The coarse sand dug into Paul’s knees.
“Can I have some water,” he asked.
A cold, lifeless stare answered him.
“Where am I?”
A rustle in the growth between the huts caught Paul’s attention. He looked to the side but couldn’t see anything beyond the torch light.
“Please help me. I don’t know where I am. The last thing I remember is getting caught in a storm,” Paul pleaded with the figure standing above him.
A rattling came from the darkness of the building. Paul squinted, tried to penetrate the abyss. Soon, a smaller figure emerged. It too had pale gray skin. Its eyes were black, though it looked like a cloudy film covered them. Its bald head reflected the torches. Around its neck it wore a necklace of dagger-sharp shark teeth, each the size of Paul’s finger.
A tall staff thudded with each step as the thing approached Paul kneeling helplessly before it. More teeth lined the staff, a small shark head was carved into the top.
Paul’s breath quickened as the newcomer got closer. It began circling him, slowly, regarding him with those obsidian eyes. It too had something protruding from its back between shoulder blades.
“What do you want?” Paul asked.
The thing continued its trek around him. The thump of the staff and the shuffling of wide-toed feet were his only answer. After its third circuit, it stopped in front of Paul next to the hulking guard. It raised its hand to the side, palm up. The guard placed its knife into that hand and long fingers closed around the hilt.
Paul scrambled back, tried to crab walk on hands and heels. Grains of sand pelted his sides as two more of the things materialized next to him. Smooth, cold gray clammy hands gripped him by the arms and hauled him back. He tried to struggle, but they firmly planted him on his knees and stepped their large feet on his calves.
Paul grunted as his legs burrowed painfully into the sand.
“Get off of me,” Paul hissed through clenched teeth.
He continued to struggle as the knife wielder approached. It set the tip of the tooth into Paul’s right shoulder. Paul could feel the sharp prick of the blade. Slowly, the thing cut into Paul’s skin, just deep enough to break the surface. Heat erupted from the cut as blood began to seep from the wound. The thing continued to draw the knife down to his left hip. Soon, his entire chest was covered in blood and droplets splattered the sand.
The thing stepped back, returned the blade to its owner. It then stooped down to eye-level with Paul. Nose slits flexed, sniffed the air around him, the tang of blood thick. Its thin lips parted, the corners of its cartoonishly large mouth pulled into a wicked grin. The lips retracted and revealed a mouth full of sharp teeth. Shark teeth. The grin grew wider, the jaws opened, lips pulled back and jaw extended. Paul could smell the rancid breath of rotted meat and decay pour from that nightmare maw.
Paul lashed out, slammed his head into the horrid creature’s face and it reeled back dropping its staff. The others restraining him let go and went to its aide. Taking advantage of the distraction, Paul took off. He dashed between the huts and into the waiting darkness. His legs pumped, feet pounding heavily on the sand. Shadows danced in the moonlight on either side of him, the humanoid figures keeping pace with him, but hardly making any noise.
Paul stopped and ducked behind a tree.
His heart thundered in his chest, breath hissed through his parched mouth as he struggled to catch his breath amid the panic.
The soft hiss of the waves sounded louder now. He was close to the shore. Soft footsteps padded behind him, then to the side.
He could hear them, barely, but they were there. It sounded like they were running around in circles. Light reflected off their gray skin when they closed in.
Then the sounds of pursuit stopped.
The waves breaking in the distance gave Paul courage. He took his chance and broke toward the sound. He only made it a few steps when something crashed into him, knocking him from his feet. He scrambled upright and ran again. Another body slammed into him. Keeping his balance, Paul stumbled further. Another and another bumped into him, spun him around. His vision blurred. He couldn’t tell which direction he was running. Head down, he plowed through and lurched from the jungle; right into the chest of the enormous shark-man beast.
Paul landed on his back, pain coursed through his body and forced the breath from his lungs. He could hear the others circling him. Round and round they went. He frantically looked around for an escape route. The things were running on all fours, faint moonlight showing off their gray skin, tiny sparks danced in their coal black eyes.
His chest was on fire, sand mixing with the gouge crossing his chest. Paul struggled to his feet. He screamed as one of the things attacked from behind, taking a large chunk out of his calf. Then another bite from his shoulder was ripped away. The shark-things attacked from blind spots tearing flesh from his body. Paul crumpled onto his side. The large, gaping maw of a beast, chunks of flesh between sharp rows of blood-soaked teeth was the last thing he saw.
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