by John H. Dromey
Although a kindly aunt assured her she would soon grow out of her awkward stage, Lucy Maxwell was impatient.
The first time she read the story about the little boy who cried wolf, Lucy cried, too, but in a completely different way and for an entirely different reason. Although she was still only a little girl herself, she managed somehow to shed crocodile tears of resentment and disappointment. Why hadn’t she thought of that oh-so-very-simple method the boy had used for making himself the center of attention among adults? Lucy had a lively imagination, after all, and she was quite capable of expressing herself clearly to anyone who’d listen. More than almost anything else, she wanted to be noticed in a good way—not as an object of ridicule among her peers—even if the attention gained was for a fleeting moment only and under false pretenses.
An ugly duckling should take to swim lessons like… well, like a duck to water. In her ill-fitting, hand-me-down, dark-colored swimsuit which highlighted her pasty complexion acquired through long hours of staying indoors poring over a book, Lucy did not demonstrate any special aquatic skill. Self-conscious to an extreme degree, she dreaded going into the water. She despised even more getting out of the water under the critical eyes of her classmates.
Was there a simple remedy for her predicament? Maybe, just maybe, it was not yet too late for her to ‘cry wolf.’
Lucy was no slouch in the common sense department. As far as she knew, there were no wolves within hundreds, perhaps even thousands of miles from where she lived, so she cried ‘shark’ instead.
Her timing was impeccable.
Lucy waited until a sizable group of her impressionable classmates had assembled at the town lake right at the water’s edge. When she yelled the word shark, her peer group was suitably impressed. That fact was made abundantly clear to anyone within shouting distance by the flurry of frightened squeals and nervous giggles that followed Lucy’s announcement.
Prim and proper Miss Hathaway, Lucy’s no-nonsense swimming instructor, was not fooled for even a second. She was impervious to persuasion and used to having her own way. A week earlier, after a brief battle of wills, she’d forced Andrew Granger to move fifty feet from his favorite fishing spot on the shore of the public beach to make room for the swim class. He was back again today, sitting on an inverted galvanized bucket fifty-one feet down the shoreline just beyond the line that the swim instructor had drawn in the sand.
“If you don’t wish to take any more swim lessons, Lucy, all you have to do is say so,” Miss Hathaway told her. “Besides, this lake is landlocked; there’s no way on earth a shark could have got into these waters.”
“Oh, yes, there is,” Lucy insisted. “It’s a land shark.”
“Why hasn’t anybody else seen it then?”
“Probably because it mostly stays underwater during the day—that way it doesn’t get sunburned. Sometimes, though, when the shark gets tired of eating fish, it comes out at night to feed on something bigger. It could gobble you up in about three bites, Miss Hathaway.”
The frown on Miss Hathaway’s face could have been an indication of worry, but Lucy didn’t think so. She was proved right a few heartbeats later as the swim instructor mentally shifted gears and pretended to play along.
“Tell me, Lucy. Aren’t you frightened that the shark might come out some dark night and gobble you up?”
Lucy shuddered. She hadn’t thought about that. She was forced to think fast.
“My bedroom is upstairs,” she said.
“To move on land, the shark has to have feet,” Miss Hathaway countered. “Can’t it climb stairs?”
“It can, but it doesn’t like to. It gets scared by the squeaking of the steps. The shark could get into your bedroom though, Miss Hathaway. You live in a single-story house.”
“Surely you’ve seen the steps leading up to the front porch.”
Of course she’d seen them. She’d been best friends with the daughter of the previous occupant and knew the McFarland house inside and out.
“Yes, Miss Hathaway, but those steps won’t protect you. The shark can go around to the backdoor.”
When her teacher gave her a funny look, Lucy knew she’d scored a point. Apparently, the new owner had not bothered to repair the faulty lock on the rear entrance to the house.
Miss Hathaway’s sigh rivaled the sound of air escaping from a punctured bicycle tire. She squared her shoulders and tried again. “What’s the shark doing in our lake?”
“Waiting,” Lucy said.
“Waiting for what?”
For what, indeed? Lucy herself was waiting for inspiration to strike. Maybe she could borrow some details from the fairy tales her mother read to her. Little Red Riding Hood was definitely out of the running for lack of a wolf. Rapunzel? Most likely not. Someone with hair that long probably should stay out of the water. Beauty and the Beast? Maybe. The shark could play the part of a beast. Sleeping Beauty?
“Now you’ve got me waiting,” Miss Hathaway said. “I want an answer.”
“The shark is waiting to be transformed by the kiss of a princess,” Lucy told her.
“Surely there’s more to the story than that.”
“Would you like to hear the rest of it, Miss Hathaway?”
The swim instructor crossed her arms. “Yes, I would,” she said.
“Once upon a time,” Lucy began, “there was an evil wizard who changed a handsome young prince into a shapeless blob and threw him into a lake. Our lake. As the power of the spell began to wear off, the prince was able to change himself into a land shark. He’s been waiting for a princess to come rescue him. What he didn’t know is that the nearest princess is also under a spell and she’s unable to escape from the flooded basement of an enchanted cottage that’s located within easy walking distance from here.”
Lucy paused to catch her breath after uttering that long sentence, and then she finished her story. “He’ll go rescue her soon. The end.”
“Hold on, young lady,” Miss Hathaway said. “Your story is inconsistent. How can the prince rescue the princess when he doesn’t know where she is?”
“Oh, he knows now,” Lucy said.
“How is that possible?” Miss Hathaway asked.
Lucy crossed her fingers behind her back before she said, “He’s been listening to every word we say.”
Unbeknownst to Lucy someone outside of her swim class had indeed been listening attentively to every word.
The following morning an overwrought Miss Hathaway called the sheriff to report there’d been an intruder in her house sometime during the night.
“How do you know?” the lawman asked.
“I found watery footprints leading across my kitchen floor and into the office where I keep my computer.”
When the sheriff got to Miss Hathaway’s home, he didn’t find any sign of footprints.
“I cleaned them up,” the homeowner explained. “They had a fishy smell.”
“Is there anything missing from your house?”
“Not that I’m aware of, Sheriff, but both my office chair and the wireless mouse on my desk had been moved.”
With Miss Hathaway’s permission, the sheriff checked the search history on her computer.
“Have you been looking at local maps?” he asked her.
“Well, somebody has. Apparently, your uninvited visitor was looking for information. Are you sure he, or she, didn’t take anything else?”
Just my peace of mind, Miss Hathaway thought, but she didn’t say that out loud.
Before he left, the sheriff recommended she get the lock fixed on her backdoor.
To all outward appearances Miss Hathaway had not been affected by the home invasion—her austere facial expression was unchanged. Judging by her actions, however, her estimation of the potential threat posed by aquatic creatures—whether real or imagined—was irrevocably altered.
That afternoon Miss Hathaway moved into a hotel until she could have the locks changed on her house.
The following day Miss Hathaway permanently moved her swim classes to the municipal pool.
Later on, that same day Andrew Granger was back in his favorite fishing spot.