by Pony Tale
What was meant to be a great celebration in the ocean, turned out to be a fatal one.
| THE SILENT NIGHT
March 17, 2008
What were we thinking? Why did we do this? We shouldn't be out here!
The words keep coming to mind. I don't mean to be thinking them. I don't want to be thinking them, but I can't get them out of my brain.
It was Christmas, 2001. I had just turned fifteen. My mother and father, along with the families of two of my friends, and several other people we knew, were celebrating together on the beach in Miami, Florida. It was midnight. There were glaring lights, loud music, and plenty of singing in a frivolous, drunken atmosphere.
My two friends, Ben Adams and Jared Cummings, both fifteen, and I, Buddy Ericson, were out about 100 feet from shore, in a blow-up raft we had found stashed in a beach house. We had snuck away from our families with a case of beer. I don't remember who thought of the idea initially. It was like we all came up with the idea together and it just appealed to us. The danger, the disobedience, the daring. We knew it was wrong but we didn't care and we were pissed out of our minds.
Although we were close enough to see the shoreline and the dark shapes that were our families under the lights from where we were, we were well aware that no one could see us no matter how hard they may have tried. Under such complete cover, we were able to carry on anyway we so desired without anyone judging us or telling us what to do.
I remember the inky pulsating ocean, breathing all around us as if it had been alive. When we shoved off, I had been so out of it all I can recall now are bits of my friend's scuffed elbows and knees flashing and bending in the starlight. It was so dark we couldn't tell where the ocean ended and the horizon began.
As soon as we realized we were far enough away to be invisible to all those we left behind under the lights on shore, we just let loose and started screaming things we had never voiced before. We repeated obscenities we had heard others say, but never dared to utter under other circumstances. They came dancing off our tongues as if they had been waiting for just this moment. Although we held no real grudges, we cursed our parents, our teachers, school, and life itself, getting louder and more courageous with every word.
All the while our families were partying on the shore, only 100 yards away, dancing under the throbbing stabs of the strobe lights flashing in rhythm to the music, we started bullying each other, good-naturedly, just for fun, not meaning anything by it, just teasing, really. The more aggressive we got, the more the raft started bobbing and lurching, pitching and swaying, and we thought it was funny. We started laughing, moving around as if we were in our bedrooms back home, falling down on the bottom of the raft, against the sides, throwing up over the gunwales when we felt nauseous from the motion of the rolling swells.
Suddenly I heard a scream. Was it Jared? Ben spun around, looking over his shoulder. We were alone in the raft. Where was Jared?
In an instant the ocean became unusually calm as if time had transferred us to another day, another hour. Stars began to sprout like poppies in a black garden above our heads and everything blurred together. I thought I had lost all my senses. Then I heard Ben. "What were we thinking? Why did we do this? We shouldn't be out here!"
I kept searching the water for a sign of Jared. I shouted his name over and over, hoping to see his head break through the water, laughing, joking.
"Is that blood in the water?" Ben shouted, panicking.
"I can't tell. It's too dark," I said.
Then we both saw the dorsal fin at the same time.
"Shark!" Ben screamed.
"What's that?" I asked as I pointed to something in the water. It was an arm, unmistakably flailing in the keen night air. It was hanging out of the corner of the shark's mouth, trailing in the water as the creature slowly circled our raft. The shark gave a quick jerk and swallowed it all in one gulp.
Ben started to crawl frantically across the raft from side to side trying desperately to stay opposite the shark. I tried to calm him down, to get him to sit still, but there was no reasoning with him. It was as though he had gone mad.
Then suddenly the shark was gone. Just like that. One minute he was there, the next he had vanished.
Ben leaned over the edge of the raft. "He's gone! The shark is really gone!" He shouted, laughing in jubilation.
Then, suddenly, with a nose like a torpedo, the shark shot up, straight out of the water into the cold night air, its button eye vacant as a Teddy bear's, teeth glistening sinisterly in the starlight. In one swift movement, the shark grabbed Ben by his head, swallowing his shoulders, pulling him out of the raft. The last thing I saw were the heels of his Nikes disappearing beneath the surface of the water.
I leaned back against the side of the raft, bobbing with the rise and fall of the ocean heaving beneath me. Staring into space, not noticing how beautiful the lights looked reflecting on the water, above the lapping of the waves against the sides of the raft, I clearly heard my parent's voices as they drifted out to me.
"Silent night," they sang.
As I listened to my family celebrating the birth of God's son, and I grieved the death of my two friends, I slowly went out of my mind.
"All is calm."
"All is bright."