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How to Suffocate a Shark

How to Suffocate a Shark

by L. N. Holmes

It’s false, of course, that your life flashes before your eyes seconds before you die, but I do think about the nature special I watched last night. Muffled underwater world, like the warm calm of the womb, envelops and entrances. It only takes the shadow of a shark to break the spell. We trick ourselves into thinking we can hide from death. I wonder if time is relative, if it can slow down, similar to the sensation of being immersed. I wonder how those observing the car crash I’m currently in experience the accident. How fast or slow the sequence of events unfolds for them. What the rainwater sounds like inside the quiet cabs of their cars.

Does violence always seem sudden, even if premeditated? That nature special I can’t get out of my head showed how orcas—killer whales—hunted baby seals along the coast of Argentina. How they rode inside a wave to shore, watching through the wall of water like ghosts behind glass. Before each attack, time seemed to slow, and the seal became instinctually aware of the mortal danger lurking in the oncoming wave. But lagged time doesn’t mean more time. Seals dragged into the water vanished into the depths or were cruelly batted into the air by whales’ tails. It disturbed me, witnessing the killer whales cloak their bodies in the very ocean the seals sought to call home. What does it feel like to be bitten or beaten to death? Does the initial impact, that first bite, feel like the grill of the truck plowing through my car door, the jagged shards of metal and glass piercing my flesh? Does time slow down for us to experience the horror of our own deaths?

Killer whales can prey on great white sharks, trap them in vortexes of their own making, karate chop them with their tails. Sometimes they’ll ram and stun sharks, holding them upside down in tonic immobility, letting serotonin flood the sharks’ brains, waiting for suffocation by lack of seawater pumped through the gills. It’s laughable, really, how an apex predator can so easily be neutralized. After death, other great white sharks close by smell the decay and disappear, like spirits dissipating in the dark. The departed gives them precious extra time to live. Even if death still prowls the gloom.

I cannot breathe, pinned inside my car. I will go into death's jaws like a shark. The only way I die: taken completely off-guard. Unlike a baby seal, I am a powerful creature. I am a worthy opponent. I am able to fight back if given the chance. Death has to blindside me to overpower me, has to take me by relentless force. The alarm I’ll raise with my corpse will save countless other lives. The last thing I will hear is the muffled, calming splash of settling water, before I relax and slip under the surface forever.


L. N. Holmes is the author of the micro-chapbook, Space, Collisions (Ghost City Press). Her flash fiction has appeared in Fathom, Newfound, Vestal Review, Obra/Artifact, Crack the Spine, and other magazines and journals. Her story, “Pheonix Fire Fight,” won the Apparition Lit April Flash Fiction Contest. You can learn more about her at

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