Another Day in Paradise

by Mark Wynn

Mark and Ana had just touched down on what was promising to be the best vacation ever. Six days and five nights on the Big Island was a dream come true. Mark had been planning on bringing Ana here ever since they met two years ago after a mutual friend had introduced them.

Ana grew up in southern Chile and had never felt the ocean as warm or seen it as blue as the bay right outside their hotel. They were staying in a large seaside resort near Kona. The desolate lava landscape surrounding the hotel hid the beauty and diversity of the under sea world just off the shore here. Mark knew this and that's why he picked this hotel. When Ana saw the coral teaming with life she would never forget it.

As they disembarked from the plane they were greeted by an ''Aloha'' from a Hula girl and received their traditional lei. Then they rounded up their baggage and looked for the exit. They met a man just outside the airport from the hotel who helped them with their bags. They all loaded into the ten passenger van that was waiting and were off.

The driver looked to be Polynesian and was very enthusiastic to talk about the Island. Mark mentioned how beautiful the bay was from the plane and the driver immediately started explaining the bay was part of a newly designated marine sanctuary that was home to dozens of unique species of fish. Several were endangered he explained and a few can only be found near the Big Island.

Mark mentioned their main goal was to do some snorkeling and the driver was sure they would have plenty of time for that. He said with a grin if they were lucky they might even see a Humuhumunukunukuapua'a. After a little chuckle Ana asked the driver if they saw many sharks in the bay and the driver reassured her rarely. He explained that there wasn't much in the way of food for the larger predators so they tended to avoid the bay. When a shark was spotted, and he again emphasized on the rare occasion one is spotted it usually finds its way out of the bay in a few hours so he said, ''Don't sweat it.'' That seemed to satisfy Ana's questions and she relaxed a bit.

Then the driver continued and said, ''The tide gets more people in trouble every year. Not that its a strong tide but people just get beyond their abilities and have trouble getting back to the beach. Every week or two during the peek season we have to run out in the boat and help someone in. Its not a big deal. If you're a decent swimmer you'll have no problem.'' Then he joked, ''We haven't lost one yet.''

He also told them that several sight-seeing boats leave from the hotel everyday and among other activities were luaus and surf lessons in the morning. He said he was one of the instructors of the surf lesson and if they wanted he could offer them a reduced rate for an afternoon lesson. He explained the waves were a little smaller but so were the groups and some beginners found it more enjoyable that way.

No sooner had he finished his speech than they pulled up in front of a towering hotel. The hotel had a large fountain of a dolphin spraying water surrounded by several large gorgeous palm trees. The perfectly manicured grass and trees stood in stark contrast to the enormous lava field the hotel appeared to rise up out of.

The driver finished unloading their baggage and handed it off to another person waiting there who hurried inside with it. He finished by introducing himself as Paul and he said if they want to take him up on the surfing lesson tomorrow morning to let the desk know. With a final ''Aloha'' Paul was back in the van and speeding off.

They were greeted at the door by a man who already knew their name and escorted them to the desk to sign a few papers and get their key cards. With this done they were told their luggage was already waiting in their room and that the complimentary luau began at six in the main courtyard. Mark asked the desk man about access to the bay from the hotel and the man smiled and pointed out the windows to a long boardwalk extending down to the beach.

They were excited to get to the beach. They hurried to the elevator and up to their room. Ana inspected the room and minibar while Mark opened the luggage to retrieve the snorkels. This would be Ana's first time snorkeling and Mark couldn't wait to see the look on her face. So grabbing their towels and a few other things they rode down in the elevator and got off next to the hotel bar. They decided to slow down and grab a cocktail and Mark let Ana choose for the both of them. They both ended up walking out drinking rum from a large coconut.

So with their snorkeling accouterments and coconuts in hand they made their way down the boardwalk to the beach. The beach was enormous and there was surprisingly few people on it. It was just that the people were so spread out on such a huge expanse of beach that it appeared slow but Mark thought all the better.

He looked out across the waves and could see other snorkelers out in the bay here and there. So as they spread their beach camp out they decided to take this opportunity to apply sunscreen to each other and Mark wanted to cover a few safety pointers. Ana had told him before that she didn't know how to swim, but they had been in the water several times and she did fine. She doggy paddled and could tread water and above all didn't get excited by having her head under water.

In fact Mark knew this because they were at a hotel pool a few weeks ago practicing and Mark shoved her under a few times to see how she reacted. She didn't like it exactly and looked like a drowned cat he thought but she didn't over react. She also didn't realize she was being tested. Mark thought he never knew someone who claimed to not know how to swim to be so calm in the water. Must be a South American thing he decided.

The plan he explained as they walked to the water was that she would just hang on his arm as they lie on their stomachs in the water with their faces underwater watching the corals and fishes, breathing casually as he propelled them around with his flippers. She could either hang there or flipper along too, it was her choice.

They entered the water and the temperature was divine. He immediately felt the urge to pee which he did without hinting to Ana who was basically swimming threw it at the moment. They got settled in side by side, Ana gripping his right arm and coasting along peacefully when he noticed their first fish go zipping out away from them. The water was only about 8 feet here and they were still very close to the beach so there wasn't much sea life to see, just sand.

On a little farther and the bottom dropped off and they started to see large volcanic boulders under the water. The water was a crystal clear blue and you could see for what seemed like 50 yards. The boulders were getting bigger the farther they went and they were teaming with life. A dozen different colorful fish circled them. Many he recognized from pet stores it seemed.

They saw trigger fish and yellow tangs and large angel fish darting in and out of the coral covered boulders. There were an abundance of different sized spiky sea urchins resting in all the different indentations of the lava boulders. Ana pointed toward a 2 ft long black and white striped eel hiding in a little crack. It was incredible!

As they drifted along the water appeared to be about forty to fifty feet deep but you could clearly see a stingray lounging below them on the bottom. It was well camouflaged blending in perfectly with the pebbly bottom but Mark spotted it and pointed it out to Ana.

Ana seemed to be having some trouble with her mask every once in awhile and would suddenly and unexpected pull Mark under as she held her head out of the water to adjust her mask. It was a little unnerving but Mark just had to hold his breath and relax and Ana would relax again and go back to floating peacefully.

That's when Ana tapped on Mark and pointed ahead of them at a huge shadow gliding past them. It was moving very slowly and startled Mark with its relatively close proximity. It was a huge sea turtle, the biggest Mark had ever seen up close. It looked like the shell was five feet from tip to tip.

He started paddling toward it but it wanted nothing to do with them and gave a flip or two and effortlessly raced off into the haze. Then they spotted another much smaller one. It was only two feet long and it was bobbing at the surface like them so they maneuvered over to it. They were within arms reach floating right after it when it let out a bubble followed by a floater. They both gave each other a smile under their snorkel masks and drifted on.

There were so many fish it was incredible. Schools of these bright blue and yellow fish the size of dinner plates were circling all around them. There was a couple more turtles grubbing along the bottom below them. They swam up to a large boulder the size of a house that came almost to the waterline when Mark decided to peek his head up and see how far they had come off the beach.

He was a little shocked to see the beach about what looked like 300 yards off. He had the familiar feeling that he was getting in over his head again, so he decided to head back. They had just drifted to the other side of that large boulder that was near the surface when he saw it. A lightning bolt of fear shot threw him as he realized not more than twenty yards passed this boulder was an enormous shark swimming along near the surface of the water.

Without alerting Ana he quickly changed course and swam back around the boulder. Oh god he was scared and he couldn't help but think this was the worst case scenario. He was sure Ana would feel him shaking as she gripped his arm.

So he steered for the beach as fast as he could not stopping to look back. He kicked for several minutes when to his horror Ana suddenly pulled violently down on him as she tried to climb out of the water to adjust her mask. Mark realized her mask was filling with water so he relaxed a bit and glanced around and saw nothing.

A little relieved he began to swim again as Ana gripped his arm and floated calmly by his side. They passed some familiar boulders and Mark noticed the water becoming shallower when the shark reappeared directly below them. No sooner did Mark see it than its huge dorsal fin cut right between him and Ana, scraping against them as it passed under them and breaking Ana's grip on Mark's arm.

Ana was screaming hysterically and splashing the water now as Mark grabbed her by the arm and began swimming toward the shore. Yelling at her to kick, he tried his best to remain calm. The shark looked to be a Great White that was about 18 feet long and had disappeared after it brushed them.

Mark kept trying to calm himself by thinking it was just checking us out and now it was leaving. Ana was still extremely scared and shaking like she was freezing. She had taken a hold of Mark's arm with a grip that was cutting off the circulation to his fingers.

That was the least of his worries though because as he kicked furiously he swore he saw a large shape looming under them to the rear but he wasn't stopping to see. As he kept kicking he looked up toward the beach and saw they had covered about half the distance.

They still had maybe 150 yards to go. When he put his face back down that's when the big hit came. He felt his body leave the water as his mask flew off and all the wind was forced from his lungs. As he flew through air and came splashing down he had become completely disoriented and had no idea which direction the beach or Ana was.

As he glanced around he heard Ana screaming and he saw her hand raised up above the waves. He started toward her when a another huge splash erupted below her and he saw his helpless Ana in the jaws of a shark that looked incomprehensibly large at this distance.

Like slow motion he saw the Great White breech the water with its great jaws locked on her torso. The huge shark slowly circled Mark with Ana clearly struggling against its jaws clamped firmly onto her midsection. Helplessly Mark had to watch as the creature gave a series of violent shakes as Ana's arms went limp. The shark continued circling as it took three or four monstrous bites.

He was forced to listen to Ana's body shattering with the shark's huge razor like teeth clearly visible as they slammed shut repeatedly and Ana began to disappear inside the beast. Mark looked on horrified as Ana's feet slid deliberately past the giant row of white teeth and the shark gave one last splash in the blood soaked water and along with his helpless Ana quickly sank into memory.

There was nothing Mark could do but cry out uncontrollably against the deafening silence as the reality of the situation took hold of him. In the matter of a few seconds the love of his life ceased to exist before his very eyes. He screamed toward heaven and cursed God at the top of his lungs.

Then fear gripped him as he realized he was floating in a huge pool of his friends blood. Driven mad by not knowing where the man eater was lurking he became overcome with terror and started swimming wildly. Not having the ability to calm himself after what he just witnessed he swam blindly. Without the aid of his snorkel and fins, both of which flew off when the shark hit them he made little progress flailing wildly at the rolling sea.

He caught a glimpse of the beach as the waves rolled but he had a feeling he would never make it to land. As this idea came to him he felt the second big hit and he was again flying through the air semi conscious with an horrendous pain emanating up from his legs. He also saw the water turn a deep red as he splashed down. As he faded out of consciousness he was calmed by the thought that he would soon rejoin his beloved Ana.

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