Josh Darling is an award-winning bestselling author and ghostwriter. The main focus of his work is horror, with a few entries in the crime genre. His short works have been published in The Book Ends Review, The Horror Zine, and numerous anthologies. Born on Long Island, he has traveled the US extensively searching for experience. Currently, he lives in Bennington, Vermont.


by Josh Darling


Being upside down confused me. The feeling of saltwater flooding into my nostrils behind my face induced panic. I loved being in the ocean, but I didn’t want to die in it.

Fluid rushed toward my lungs. Death closed in. The feeling of nothingness took over me. I wanted to rage against the enveloping emptiness. Inverted, drowning, no surface in sight, there is nothing I can do. Like an animal being crushed between the teeth of a predator, realizing there’s no more fight. Peace came over me, it was time to let go and die.

“Stephanie, wake up, girl!” The voice was clear. It wasn’t broken into bits by air bubbles underwater.

I wheezed in hard. After that first breath, I lay on my back, panting.

Lindsey was above me. Looking down, she had a hand on my shoulder. She kept her hand there until I moved it off me. Her naked body felt warm next to mine.

“I think I had a panic attack in my sleep,” I said.

“No, you stopped breathing! I heard it; that’s what woke me up. You need to see a doctor,” Lindsey said as she lay on her side.

I rolled, facing her. I put a hand on her toned arm. My clock rose over the nape of her neck.Nasty red numbers expressed the time: 3:55 am.

“Really, Lindsey? My alarm doesn’t go off for another hour, next time, let me die.”

“I couldn't fall asleep because of your snoring, and then you stopped. You’ve done it in the past, but this time it was long enough to scare me.”

I sighed, irritated. “If you want me to stop snoring, just nudge me. Don’t wake me up.”

“No, you stopped breathing. Every time you do that I start counting, I got to forty. Seriously, you have sleep apnea.”

“Whatever.” I rotated onto my back.

I waited for an eon for sleep to come. The damn clock kept poking at me from across the room. 3:59 am.

Within four minutes, Lindsey was snoring. Hypocrite.

Sitting up, I surrendered to be awake. The foghorn at the end of the harbor sounded. I wondered if the sun would clear the pre-dawn mist. In a few hours, I’d be a quarter mile from the foghorn. I looked forward to diving into the ocean. Underwater, the foghorn’s sound reverberated through my entire body.

Everything at this hour felt cold. The floor. The seat. The kitchen table. I wasn’t hungry, but I got up and walked to the refrigerator.

The calendar was stuck there with two magnets. One was a rainbow magnet I bought in a Province Town souvenir store. The other was a magnet of Valerie Solanas. Rick, my buddy from work got it for me. I didn’t know who she was until he handed it to me.

“How do you not know about Valerie Solanas? She shot Andy Warhol, and she wrote a book about cutting up men. She was a famous, crazy lesbian.”

“Rick, being a lesbian isn’t like we all know each other.”

I looked at my refrigerator again. I’d made notes to myself, all pasted to the appliance. June weekends in Province Town were a series of pride events. I wanted to go to them with Lindsey, but she’ was hard for me to date. I wasn’t pretty, not even close to the way she was. I can picture us walking past snarky queens and hearing something like, Oh, did Barbie leave Ken at home and bring her pet bulldog instead?

My stomached grumbled. I should eat something but I wanted nothing. I rummaged through my cabinets. I’d wedged one of my notebooks from my commercial dive certification days against an old box of mac and cheese.

I opened it to the blank pages in the back.

At my kitchen table, I wrote:

I’m breaking up with you because you woke me when I needed a full night’s sleep.

Ripping out the page, I crumpled it. Starting a Dear Joan letter with a joke probably wasn’t the best idea. While I don’t think Lindsey is the type to trash my apartment, I owed her respect in my cowardice.

Let’s be honest, I’m a fling for you, someone you’re fucking but you and I know you can do better than me. I’m not up for having my heart broken, as hard as you might think I am, I’m not. I can’t even say this stuff to your face. I know I’m a chicken shit, but I like you too much to end this the right way. Sorry, I have to stop this before it goes too far. You need to leave my house today.

I ripped the page out of the book and brought it with me to the bathroom. I didn’t want her waking up and reading it before I was gone. She’d wakeup a few hours after I was at work. We hadn’t been dating long, but since we started seeing each other, we spent all of our nights at my place, mostly because I don’t have a roommate and she does.

I wasn’t just bothered by Lindsey being too good looking for me. It was the way that other women looked at her, and worse, the way she looked back. I was insecure all on my own, and her flirting sure didn’t help things.

Still hungry, I showered. Done shampooing, I grabbed the conditioner bottle and discovered it empty. I go through conditioner like crazy. Working in saltwater destroyed my hair.

Getting out of the shower, I dried off, and picked up at the steam-wilted note. I put it on the dresser as I put on jeans and a T-shirt. I left the note on my pillow next to Lindsey. I grabbed my hoodie, wallet, phone, and the keys to my bike.

Riding a loud hog of a bike like a Harley was a great feeling. It’s like you’re The Queen of the Road. When trying to sneak away from a girl you dumped with a note, all I was thinking is, shit, I hope I don’t wake her.

It was Dunkin’ Doughnuts time.


I had my wetsuit on, and was in the Boston Whaler heading to the ocean site, when, in the distance, I caught a seal popping her head above the water. The water was warm for Cape Cod this time of year. I wish I could have worn my frog suit, but they aren’t safe for welding.

I’d already checked Rick’s gear and he was finishing checking mine. This results in a triple check of our gear that we do for each other. For a breeder, he’s not a bad guy and his wife is pretty hot too. He doesn’t mind my saying so because he knows I would never make a move and betray out friendship. Their little boy is adorable.

“So you left her a note?” Rick said.


“That’s fucked up,”

“Did you say her?” Ben had obviously been eavesdropping. He piloted the boat. He’d been hired a few weeks ago, but this was the first time we’d worked together.

“What’s it to you?” I said.

“Nothing.” I could tell it wasn’t nothing.

Rick jumped in. “Dude, don’t mess with Stephanie. She’s awesome, and she’s got bigger balls than any man I’ve ever worked with..”

“In the Bible—”

Rick cut him off. “Dude: one, not work appropriate. Two, I don’t like it when people pick on my friends.”


The visibility in the harbor was shit, between ten and six feet at best. Working bridges that divides rivers from the ocean are annoying. Give me tanker repairs or an oilrig any day. The problem with bridges is since they go over rivers, you have a constant ocean current pushing against you.

Where we’re working is a huge birth of salt water. You got boats going by, seals passing around you, and the current sometimes pushes welding sparks in your face. And it’s all salt water to boot. I once worked on a bridge in Florida. Nothing like striking an arc to weld with a curious gator easing passed.

Rick and I were at the bottom near the muddy sand. The stuff dusts up if you move too fast. The only nice thing about the steady current is it clears this shit away. We’d been working about fifteen minutes when dozens of seals swam by. We stopped working in appreciation of the underwater stampede. Their fins tucked to their sides, they pushed forward, sprinting through the green haze.

In less than a minute, they were gone. Turning back to the metal, about to strike an arc, I felt the gentle pressure of Rick’s hand on my shoulder.

The stop signal. He pointed upriver.

I’d seen sharks before—it’s part of the job—but not this big. I thought to myself, don’t piss yourself, they track piss just like they track blood. The sharks passed us, following the track of seals and giving us no notice. Within a few feet of the thick emerald water, they vanished.

We watched the depths of the harbor, waiting…making sure they didn’t return. When 1,500 pounds of killer fish swims by you, you don’t turn your back on it. It’s not a matter of seeing “Jaws,” and thinking those were great white sharks just like in the movie. When you’re around a predator this big, you respected it.

I listened to the sound of my breathing and distant motorboats. And there it was, this time a single shark. The gray and white snout drifted toward us. With a push of its tail, it was gone, but I suspected it would be back.

And there it was again. With the next pass, I made out the tail fin cutting through the beams of downward light. Another pass and the lines of the gray and white body were clearer. Its circles around us were getting smaller.

On nature programs, it is said that sharks are intelligent and curious animals. You see divers, with no protective gear, swimming with creatures like these. Being in the water with one, the first thing I realized is sharks look tiny on TV and are huge in real life. I did not like this intelligent shark being curious about me. It’s not like a person, who can pick things up and explore things with their hands. When a shark explores something, it’s with its teeth.

When it came back around a third time, Rick must have been reading my mind. Without signaling him, he’d started a slow ascent. Then the shark did something strange.

It came from Rick’s side, swimming about a foot away from us, heading for me. Its mouth closed, it slid by without a care. Animals this big don’t know worry. All they know is they need to eat and they need to make sure nothing eats them. Endangered species or not, I pulled my knife and gave it a little love tap with the point of the blade.

Given its size, the speed it swam off with was as equally terrifying.

Knife in hand, we continued our ascent to the boat, which was smaller than the shark. Getting close to the surface, the roof of water changed from rippled ceiling to a shattered lens of sky. The pressure around my body decreased. No longer did the grip of depth surround me.

Ten feet from the surface, the shark barreled at Rick. With the bridge piling behind him, there was nowhere to escape. The shark turned its body sideways, opened its mouth, bit into his stomach, and slammed him into the piling. Rick’s regulator and mouthpiece jerked in counteraction to his body, as the shark shook him like a dog ripping at a chew toy.

Bubbles surrounded my friend as he screamed. I couldn’t hear him, which made it worse, because I could see his yawning mouth through the helmet’s window. His features were twisted in pain and I knew I had to act, and act fast.

I jabbed the huge shark with my knife but it didn’t care. It pushed Rick forward, out of my reach. I swam after them, desperately trying to do something…anything to save my friend. But the bubbles were gone and in the murky water, I couldn’t see anything.

They were gone.

I headed for the surface. I pulled myself onto the boat. In my entire diver’s training, nothing had prepared me for this. It had all happened so fast. Grief overwhelmed me, because I knew that Rick had to be dead. And I didn’t save him.


After the police boats and other emergency personnel asked me a million questions, after the other divers searched the river looking for the shark or pieces of Rick, after I’d changed into my work clothes and strapped my dive knife to my leg…I straddled my bike, feeling miserable.

I ignored her texts and dialed.

“I think it’s so fucked up what you did, and you’re right, by the way: you’re a chicken shit,”


“I find it astounding you have the guts to call. You don’t get this, but you’re my type. I’m so into you and the way you ran off is terrible. You hurt me, Stephanie.”

“Lindsey, my friend from work, Rick, was attacked by a shark.”

“Oh no…that was you? I saw a story about it on Facebook news. I didn’t put two and two together, are you okay?”

“Not really. The shark bit into his stomach and pushed him away from the Nacowic River into the Bay of Fundy, which has the highest tides in the world. So I don’t think anyone will find him.”

“My god, that’s terrible.”

“I saw the whole thing. Just because I saw some fucked up shit today doesn’t change what I did. Listen, my whole life people have harassed me because I’m not the dainty princess you are, and being femme isn’t my thing. I know I’m not pretty—”

“I think you’re perfect.”

I was stunned. But I was hurting even more over Rick. “Listen,” I told her. “I need to be alone tonight, to deal with what happened today. I don’t think I would be very good company for you.”

“You don’t have to entertain me,” Lindsey said. “Just let me come over to hold your hand and listen. If you cry, I won’t tell.”


Sitting across from Lindsey in my living room, we talked. Sometimes I would shut my eyes, but in those moments, behind my eyelids the visions played…the shark swimming upriver into the nothingness of the emerald water, pink trailing around it, Rick flailing in its mouth

Maybe if I talked about it. Maybe she really could help. “I realized, watching Rick die, I was throwing away something special with you, but I can’t stop replaying what happened. I keep thinking about what I could have done to save him. If there was something, anything…oh my god, how am I going to live with this?”

“Don’t be so unfair to yourself.”

“It’s like he was alive, so alive, and suddenly he’s no longer alive. I don’t know how to process it.”

Lindsey asked, “You’re not planning on going into work tomorrow?”

“I don’t know if I’m going back to work this whole week.”

Suddenly she changed the subject. “What’s that?”


“On your leg.”

“My dive knife, I know, it’s stupid to have it when I’m not working, but it makes me feel safer.”

“My cray girlfriend has a fear of land sharks.”

It was nice hearing her call me her girlfriend for the first time.


Winking out for a second, shark’s teeth came at me, and I was startled awake. Lindsey moved next to me in the bed, so I knew she was awake as well. She tugged the knife that was still strapped to my leg.

“Is it terrible I’m trying to make a strap-on joke but can’t come up with one?”

“I’ll take it off. Give me a minute.” I lay back against my pillow, feeling so drained.

Lindsey seemed to understand and said, “Just rest a minute.”

“When I close my eyes, all I see is Rick being torn to shreds. It keeps replaying over and over. No matter what, I just can’t unsee that shark.”

It was more than the visions. Tomorrow, I knew I’d have to talk to Chrissy, Rick’s wife. I couldn’t face her today. I was too shaken to deal with talking to my friend’s widow and seeing his little boy. The day after might be even worse for her, the reality of what happened might have set in. She would be a bigger wreck over it than I was. She might blame me.

I hoped Lindsey would come with me when I talked to Chrissy. I looked at my girlfriend and realized she was asleep.

My back ached from Lindsey sleeping against me all night, but I couldn’t complain. Every time I’d see the shark charging me, I had a tangible person to help me battle the intangible shark in my head. She might be snoring, but she was real and she was here.

Enough soft light filled the room for me to realize it was past the time for me to show up for work. I couldn’t remember what I’d told my boss yesterday as far as coming in. With the light in my apartment being what it was, if I forgot to tell him I’d be calling out, I’d hear from him soon. The workload was still there.

I pushed Lindsey’s hair out of her face and thought about how lucky I was to have her. I lay back against my pillow.


Blackness. I was upside down.

Seawater stabbed my sinuses and plugged my throat. My lungs needed air. My heart picked up speed as it worked circulating blood over oxygen-deprived lungs. My body knew I was in danger. Above my head was the muddy seafloor, below my feet up, too far to rush for air, sunlight pierced the surface.

There is a point when you can’t hold your breath anymore. Reaching it, my mouth opened, to gulp water, my lungs giving up. They want to push out carbon-rich air and pull in oxygen that they will not get.

I righted myself in the water, only to see the shark swim towards me. Why was I not panicking? It came for me, the same way it had come for Rick, to rip my flesh…to crush my bones. To spill me open.

I reached for my knife.

The shark, inches from me, pressed its nose against my chest.

I jabbed the side of the shark’s body. The blade sank into its gills. The water pressure changed. It became hot and sticky, so unlike the cold ocean water, that I let go of the knife, leaving it in the shark.

The shark’s screams woke me.

I gasped for air as Lindsey sat up in the bed next to me. With both hands, she clasped the handle of my knife protruding from her neck.