By Greg Shipman.
The sea is calm, but our stomachs rumble. The overhead sun is a burning globe, and our skin blisters in response.
Johnson stares intently into the water. The rubber lifeboat tips slightly as he leans on his side.
“I haven’t seen him in hours, Wilson.”
It hurts to answer him. My thirst is like a serrated blade in my throat. “That devil’s an ‘it’ not a ‘him’, and looking for it is like looking for death. Stop leaning on this blow-up thing before ‘it’ comes along and snatches you in.”
“Maybe that would be better. How long has it been since Bradley went under?”
I found it hard to concentrate. “Two days… I think. He was delirious.”
“No wonder, Wilson. Thirst and starvation does that to a body. How long have we been on this lifeboat?”
“Five days, Johnson,” I reply.
“Five days in hell, I say.”
“If we’re lucky a ship will come by, Johnson”
“We’re criminals, Wilson… murderers. They’ll hang us.”
“A ship’s crew picking us up won’t know that. Those people never got a chance to radio for help.”
“How do you know we weren’t spotted when we signed on to that yacht?”
I don’t know, Johnson. But then it was a sweet deal, ‘til you screwed it up. We were able to sign on as a three man crew. The Captain and first mate were clueless about who we were. That rich old buzzard and his daughter were just happy to get back on the open water after the other crew members got arrested for selling drugs.”
“Listen, Wilson, everything was going smooth ‘til the daughter got hysterical and ran. We had everyone tied up but her. I had to stop her, so I shot her.”
“We were on a boat, Johnson… a boat in the middle of the Atlantic… where was she going to run to?”
“So I shot her. Tough luck for her.”
“And us, because we had to shot the rest of them. And you saw how that old man went crazy when he saw her body. He cursed us to high heaven. Told us he would avenge her even from the grave. Even when we put the bullet in his head, he still had a look I’d never seen. That jagged scar under his left eye was a bright red… like it was on fire.”
“Yeah, Wilson. I’ve never seen a scar like that before. How could a rich old codger like him get a scar like that?”
“Don’t know and don’t care. All I know is things went all the way down after that.”
“It sure did. It wasn’t two hours later that Bradley came running into the wheel house screaming that the engine room was on fire. Hell, Wilson, we just managed to get the lifeboat in the water with the few provisions stored in there… not enough to keep a dog alive for three days. And now we’re being chased by that shark… that damnable shark. And it took Bradley. Clean as a whistle, Wilson. Rolled over him and pulled him under without a ripple showing the spot.”
“You don’t have to tell me, Johnson. My eyes saw the same thing yours did. Bradley’s gone and that’s that.
“So what do we do, Wilson? That devil shark’s been following us since we hit the water in this balloon boat. Sharks don’t do that unless there’s blood in the water. There ain’t no blood in the water.”
“We survive and hope a ship spots us, Johnson.”
“Those lousy crackers we been living on are almost gone, and we only got a few sips of that damn canned water left. What if that old man’s curse is really working?”
I’m tired of Johnson’s whining voice… tired of his complaints and fears. The shark that took Bradley was a predator… a fish that only swims and eats… with a brain that only tells it to swim and eat. And the old man was just an old man… and now a dead old man. And a curse is like a ninety degree day at the North Pole… it ain’t!
“Wilson!” Johnson shouts and rocks the boat as he sits up violently. “Look, Wilson, look!”
My eyes follow his shaking finger pointing to the near distance. I see the sleek body breaking water. It’s more black than gray, and the dorsal fin is like a stiff flag marking the location of this death-dealer. The damn thing must be twenty feet long. It almost seems to float, even as it moves rapidly towards us. Johnson continues to scream my name as it closes.
“Oh my God!” Johnson screams as the devil fish glides within six feet of us and raises its head above water.
It rolls so its left eye is visible to us. It’s a huge black orb almost protruding from its oilskin flesh. Beneath it is the scar… not a scar, but the scar… or a frightening duplicate of the old man’s. The shark seems to hang in position as if allowing us to soak in the horror we’re seeing.
“I can’t take this anymore!” Johnson screams as he stands up in the rocking craft. The rubber-like thin bottom undulates, and before I can shout his name, Johnson is in the water and just as quickly the shark, or the old man, or a devil from hell is on him with gaping mouth and razor sharp teeth. In a matter of seconds, beast and man are gone below the surface of a sea now red.
I stare at the spot where they used to be, and suddenly a maniacal laugh escapes my throat. It is the product of a quick thought. I imagine that it’s a ninety degree day at the North Pole!
“I guess I’m next.” I say to the almost empty craft. I reach for the last of the crackers as I settle down to wait for the old man who I now know is dressed in sharkskin.
A native East Baltimorean, but now a Fairbanks, Alaska resident, Gregory K. Shipman has a day job which often extends into the evening hours. His passion is writing about the steamy, noir side of life… past, present and future. He has yet to earn a dime from his scribbles but has the satisfaction of knowing it’s all non-taxable. Greg is an active member of the on-line community, Writer’s Carnival, the Community Writer’s Group of Fairbanks, and a board member of The Fairbanks Drama Association. He lives a life of hardly quiet desperation with his pet laptop and unreliable Jeep. He enjoys Jazz, Blues, Theater and the occasional diabetic coma…