A Shetland Short Story: Charlotte Ocean
For Scotland’s Year of Stories in 2022, NorthLink Ferries ran a competition for adults and children, with prizes for the best short story set in Shetland or Orkney. We received many super entries, and this winning Shetland tale in the 15 and under category was written by Amber Patterson!
It was an unexplainable feeling, a feeling like something was off, a feeling of danger. I suggested to Lily that maybe we ought to get out of the water. Lily, who was already halfway across the bay, said I was overreacting.
“HELP,” I screamed. The waves felt heavier, and I was getting weaker. My heart was pounding in what felt like my throat, I was trembling. My clouded head was racing with thoughts, ‘how am I going to get out of here?,” ‘will I get out of here?’ My seawater filled eyelids opened for the first time. That’s when I saw it. It was coming straight for me.
Let me take you back…
It was that time of year again, time for our annual Shetland family holiday. You know what that means, sunset walks along Bannamin, barbeques on Hildasay and best of all the sea. Each year me and my cousin Lily set out on a ‘swim-athon’. Well, I guess you could call it that. For me (who can’t brave the Shetland chill) it’s more of a 20-minute meander on a paddleboard. I know, pathetic. Lily on the other hand is the complete contrast. She’s your typical swims-in-any-weather Shetlander. More often than not, she’s not even in a wetsuit! Anyways, despite our differences, we love our yearly swim and plan it months in advance. This time, we were particularly excited as we were both 13 and finally old enough to go unaccompanied! To a 13-year-old, this can seem like a monumental milestone, and it certainly was to us.
We were minutes before landing. It felt surreal. I gazed out the airplane window, mesmerised by the rolling hills, the tranquil waves and the elegant birds. My bubble was soon popped by the flight attendant announcing our arrival. I stepped outside. My lungs were instantly filled with crisp, Northern air as the smell of sea salt crept up my nose. ’This is going to be a trip to remember’ I thought to myself as I walked across the runway to the arrivals lounge. We were greeted with our Granda’s caring face pressed against the airport window, eager to give us a hug. It finally felt like summer!
Pulling up at our grandparents, the first thing I saw was my granny smartly dressed in her apron along with a cup of cocoa in each hand, one for me, one for my brother. She quickly ushered us out of the cold and practically sat us down. Forcing a cup of cocoa into our hands to warm us up, she asked how our journey was. However, the conversation seemed to divert to her being concerned if we’d brought enough layers and asking if she needs to put the heating on since she doesn’t want us to catch a cold. Reassuring her, I put on my wellies and jacket and dashed out to see my ponies.
Forgetting how steep the pony hill was, my legs ran uncontrollably towards the towering stone cairn located right in the center of the field. Crash. Unsurprisingly, I’d tumbled into the pile. Oh, and much to my dismay it just so happened someone was staring right at me. I gave my eyes a couple seconds to focus and wait, I thought. I rubbed my eyes again and it became clear. It was Lily! She leapt over the fence and came over for a hug (knocking me down in the process).
“I can’t believe it’s really you!,” said Lily while jokingly pinching my cheeks.
“I know, I missed you so much,” I said as tears started to fill my eyes.
We both looked up to my parents in the window who waved back at us and giggled. “Tomorrow at 6 for the big swim Lils?” I said.
“You bet, I’ll see you and your wetsuit then”, said Lily mockingly. I gave her a playful nudge as she left the field. I lay there for a while, watching the serene sky as the twinkling stars began to emerge, like an owl after hibernation.
It was now 6pm the next day and I was more than ready to dive in the water. As ready as I was, I couldn’t shake the feeling of cold. Lily looked at me and laughed as I attempted to squeeze in my wetsuit along with my thermal swim gloves. After all, she was only in a swimsuit and warm! I don’t know how she does it, I thought quietly to myself, still trying to squeeze into the last arm of my wetsuit, giving every effort not to rip it. We were finally ready. Clutching my paddleboard, we jumped in sequence into the sea. As soon as we did, I knew something wasn’t right…
It was an unexplainable feeling, a feeling like something was off, a feeling of danger. I suggested to Lily that maybe we ought to get out. Lily, who was already halfway across the bay, said I was overreacting, and everything was fine. As appreciative of her reassurance that I was it really didn’t help me, not even in the slightest. As concerned as I was, I didn’t want to ruin our long-awaited trip with my worry. Lily playfully jumped onto my paddleboard and accidentally knocked me off in the process.
I was struggling to catch my breath. The current was forcing my head underwater and pushing it against the rocks. The blood from my nose slowly swam around me, making me feel like a victim in Jaws. Gulping in seawater, I tried to scream for Lily- who was unaware of my danger- but my voice was drowned out by the everlasting crash of the waves against the cliff edge. The waves felt heavier, and I was getting weaker. My heart was pounding in what felt like my throat, I was trembling. My clouded head was racing with thoughts; how am I going to get out of here? will I get out of here?
As the current increased, I felt myself drifting further and further from land. I instantly went into panic. My arms frantically pounded down on the water surface, attempting to inch myself closer to the bay. The closer I got to the vast ocean, the further I was from safety. I screamed for help. But, by this point I felt like it was only the seagulls that could only hear me and there’s not much they could do to help me. A tear crept down my cheek as my arms started to give way. I slowly felt myself losing hope of escape. Another wave came crashing down on me again, forcing me under. Just as it did, my seawater filled eyelids opened for the first time. That’s when I saw it. It was coming straight for me.
I was trapped, enclosed and surrounded with no way to escape. With my stinging eyes, all I could see were black pixels gradually increasing in size. It was in that moment I knew what I was facing, it was a killer whale. Not one, but an entire pod. They must’ve sensed my blood. One looked at me right in the eye, like it almost understood me, what it felt like to be trapped. Its distinctive harpoon scar along its right side instantly caught my attention. It made me feel more sorry for the whale than scared. Spouting unthinkable amounts of water, the magnificent creature elegantly dived into the deep blues of the sea. Everything felt still again. It was in that moment that the surrounding water started to ripple, then foam started to form a circle around me. It felt as if the entire sea started to vibrate.
Before I even comprehended what was happening, I was flown out of the water. The whale had come back! Clinging onto its fin as tightly as possible as the whale submerged again, it’s streamlined head darted through the water at unimaginable speed. It felt surreal. Like something out of a movie. I didn’t know where it was taking me but I trusted it. To the bay? A boat? Even a person? As sudden as it appeared, it started to slow. I wondered what was happening, if something was wrong. I felt a bump as the whales’ head hit something, something hard. It slid me off it’s back as it gave me an empathetic look. It knew exactly where it was taking me, and had reached its destination. I swam to surface, a rush of relief instantly flooded through me as I saw Lily’s face reflecting in the water while lounging on a paddleboard with my initials ‘CO’. With an exasperated gasp, I hurled myself onto the paddleboard.
“There you are! I was going to ask you if you wanted to go for ice cream. Where were you anyway?” said Lily clueless of what had just happened. I couldn’t help it, I just looked at her and laughed.
“What’s so funny?” said Lily, confused. I attempted to explain everything from the current, to the screaming, to the whale.
“Okay, I think you definitely need some ice cream, and a drink!”, said Lily in disbelief, chuckling to herself. I didn’t try and argue with her, to be honest I was struggling to believe what had just happened myself. We walked out of the sea with our arms round each other towards the ice cream van. After all, I’ll always know what happened on this day. My name is Charlotte Ocean, and this is my story.
by Amber Patterson