Extracts torn from forgotten books
by David Bussell
Sue and Kirstie had been inseparable since they were little girls. They’d stuck together through high school, through a degree in marine biology, all the way to their postgraduate jobs at the aquarium. There they became a double act, delighting and educating visitors with their twice-daily shark tank demonstrations.
Sue did the talking, standing in front of the thick glass wall of the tank, while Kirstie – who had the body for a wetsuit – swam inside among the sharks. It was 12pm, the first demo of the day, and Sue recited her carefully rehearsed routine to an audience of middle schoolers while Kirstie listened in on her waterproof headset.
“The shark has a reputation for being a fearsome creature,” Sue announced, “and while it is true the creature can be deadly, that doesn’t necessarily make it the most vicious creature in this tank.”
Behind the glass, Kirstie did a double take. Sue had gone off script. Sue never went off script.
“While the shark is a single-minded creature dedicated to its own survival, it makes no attempt to pretend otherwise, unlike certain other animals.”
Kirstie coughed up a half breath, causing oxygen bubbles to cloud the water. A circling shark turned its head and fixed her with a coal black eye.
“There are other animals in nature,” Sue continued, “that are able to affect a show of harmlessness in order to appear trustworthy, when in fact they are nothing but remorseless, unfeeling predators.”
Kirstie wanted out. She made to exit the tank but the equipment she was carrying felt extra heavy today, as though someone had tampered with its weight. She thrashed desperately for the surface. It was an act of desperation that did not go unnoticed by the sharks.
“But this particular predator isn’t fooling anyone,” Sue went on, “not since she was spotted in a restaurant last night with a boy who doesn’t belong to her. Not since I walked by and saw her through the window. Talking. Laughing. Kissing.”
The sharks were growing bold now, brushing up against Kirstie’s body, finding their way into her blind spots.
“I wanted to bang on that window and let you know you were caught, Kirstie. I wanted to bang on that window so bad but I stopped myself. Why? Because I wanted to bang on this window instead.”
Sue pounded the flat of her palm against the glass of the tank, screaming “Dinner time!”
The shiver of sharks chawed and chomped at their prey. The first set of fangs sank into Kirstie’s thigh, the second the meat of her shoulder. Working in opposite directions, the sharks tore Kirstie apart like pulled pork, churning the blue water red.
Sue smiled. The middle schoolers would be taking home an extra lesson today. A moral lesson. Behave like an animal and don’t act surprised when you get treated like one.
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