“There’s something in the water.”
At the last minute Amy turns water into wadda, because everyone is having a terrible enough day already and the last thing they need is the added catastrophe of a shark. So she tries to make it into a joke, even though there is most definitely, most fucking amazingly something in the water. The grey waves of Monterey Beach are high and white-capped and there is a shadow moving in them, huge and indistinct, like a figure behind a smoky-glass window.
Not a shark, though. It’s the wrong shape for a shark.
“If you start quoting Jaws, I’m going to lose my shit,” mutters Bethany, the maid of honor. She and Amy are combing the dunes for stones to weigh down the wedding chairs and the aisle runner, but this is all Instagram snow white powder, of course, no rocks here, and so despite the groomsmen’s best efforts said chairs are rolling away like tumbleweeds and the runner has disappeared entirely. The faux-rustic arch they’d made out of plastic ivy and wire netting from JoAnn Fabrics has likely joined the great Pacific garbage patch by now, considering its wind speed at takeoff.
“At least it isn’t raining,” Bethany grouses, but Amy thinks rain might improve things — at the very least it would chase away the gulls, which are pinwheeling and diving over the dozen or so dead seals that lie on the beach like canoe rentals. The smell of them is incredible. A couple of the groomsmen are kicking the nearest seal corpse like it’s a car tire, and one of the flower girls is poking one with a stick while her mother screams, “Jillian! Jillian!” It’s a lunatic scene, the table centerpieces flying away like Howitzers and the bride in robe and curlers crying, “I can’t have my wedding here! I can’t fucking have it here!” while her mother follows her around with a tissue pleading, “Your makeup, honey, think of your makeup,” and all Amy can think is, Those seals were running away from something.
Resigned, the bride retreats into the hotel to finish getting ready. Three floors below her, the groom is desperately trying to bribe the hotel manager into bumping whatever is going on in their ballroom so the wedding can be relocated indoors. He is willing to pay whatever he must, even though this wedding has already cost him more than the black market asking price of all of his organs combined.
The manager refuses.
The bride emerges an hour past the announced start time. The wind and the smell have not improved.
The thing is still in the water.
I should say something, Amy thinks. But when she approaches the bride, the other woman only throws her arms over Amy’s shoulders and weeps into her neck. “Everything’s ruined,” she howls.
“Oh no, honey,” Amy says reflexively. “It’ll be perfect.” Back outside, hats are lost. Metal fold-out chairs have replaced the blown away wicker ones. The groom looks green and pale.
Still, people are trying to have fun. They are really, really trying. They make jokes about the seals and elbow each other about good and bad omens. The compliment the cake, which glitters with a crust of blown sand.
A flyaway beach ball punks the priest in the head.
The thing in the water is not a shark. For a moment its back breaks the surface, and Amy is relieved to see there is no fin at the top of it. But there is some strange kind of ridge, like spikes, all along its back like a mountain range, and so relief is fleeting. It slips back under the water like a snake. It is easily thirty feet long.
“Eleven hundred men went in the water; three hundred and sixteen men come out,” she says under her breath.
“Amy, pay attention,” Bethany hisses as they take their places. The wedding march begins.
The bride is beautiful, even if the wind has wrapped her veil so tightly around her face it looks like a corpse shroud. It takes nearly a full five minutes before the groom can untangle her. She is crying pitifully.
Vows are exchanged, shouted over the wind. They kiss. Applause.
It’s over. There’s an hour break for photos before the beach party-bonfire reception, and surely whatever is in the water will have moved on by then. Maybe the wind will have even died down. Amy starts hustling back towards the hotel and is startled when no one follows. She turns back, and the bride is piling her dress with one hand and pulling off her heels, and the groom is rolling up his pant legs.
“Might as well!” the bride cries, really smiling for the first time. The groom takes her hand.
They plunge into the waves together, shrieking.
The other guests follow, kicking off their shoes and laughing.
“Don’t!” Amy screams.
It’s too late.
She’s right, though. It’s not a shark.
Ashlee Lhamon has an impressive lunchbox collection and a tuxedo cat named Gumshoe. She’s not on social media, but you can find her other work at 7×7, Cotton Xenomorph, Tales to Terrify, and forthcoming in Grist.
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