Our little rust bucket didn’t stand a chance. Serenity was thirty feet long exactly. Whatever we lured up from the depths was longer. I protested at the thought of chumming the waters, but, in hindsight, I didn’t protest enough. I guess I just didn’t want to be kicked from the crew after my very first voyage. But all of that hardly matters now.
I lied. I lied about a lot of things. Mostly about my previous involvement on other vessels. I said I had plenty of experience. Had I said I had very little familiarity with sailing, that would have also been a lie. In truth, I had zero knowledge. Nothing. Nada. Null.
But what would you do? I was penniless, homeless, jobless, and good deal more. Or less, depending on perspective. If I had been asked if I knew much about banking, I’d have said I used to work on Wall Street. If someone said they were looking for a teacher, well, I’d have suddenly remembered that I had a degree in childcare. And so on, and so on.
When a gruff older man asked me if I knew of any good deckhands around, I volunteered myself. “You’re speaking to the best,” I told him, hoping that the whiskey on my breath didn’t reach his nose. I spotted a few broken blood vessels lining his own cheeks, so I guessed he was no stranger to the bottle. Either way, he nodded and then offered me a job. I thought I was in luck – I highly doubted he’d ask for a reference from a former employer or a list of previous occupations. I was right about him not asking for any papers, but I was wrong about being in luck.
“I can’t guarantee it’ll be forever. We’ll have ter see how good yer are on yer firs’ trip.” He either didn’t smell the drink or he didn’t care. Does it really matter? He told me his name was Larry, and he was the first mate on a fishing vessel called Serenity. I never did find out his last name, but I know that he squealed for his mother as he died.
Larry introduced me to Kenneth, the captain of Serenity. Kenneth was a cheerless fellow, with hard eyes and a harder mouth. I won’t repeat what he said to me when he first met me, but I will tell you that his final words were, “Help me.” Nevertheless, he gave me a chance. I suppose that’s got to be worth something, even now. Even despite everything, and how it all worked out.
My first few days aboard Serenity were cold, difficult, and stressful. But if I’m anything, it’s a fast learner. I’m able to adapt to wherever I am rather quickly. Just look at how rapidly I got used to sleeping in the gutter. I soon figured out what to do and how to do it, without too many errors. I did get shouted at by Larry, Kenneth, and the other guys, but I was being fed and watered and I slept in something that was a close approximation to a bed. So, I couldn’t really complain. It was only that bucket of fish and gore that Larry kept dumping into the waters behind Serenity that really troubled me.
The first I heard of something amiss, was when Larry said something to the captain about ‘spy-hopping’. At first, I thought he was talking about a submarine or something. Some military vessel. I don’t know. Like I said, I lied about how much I knew. Even as I dip up and down, all alone in the ocean, I must admit, I still don’t know an awful lot. I guess I’ll die knowing I don’t know squat. I remember being worried that we had crossed some invisible territorial boundary and had inadvertently instigated a war. Ha! I wish that were the case. Come and arrest me, lock me away! Take me as a prisoner of war! Anything but this endless blue…
One thing that I have learned, is that spy-hopping refers to a behaviour. It’s mostly seen in whales, such as orcas, bowheads, and southern minks.
But it’s also seen in sharks.
If you’ll permit me the conceit of explaining something which I didn’t know two days ago, here’s a brief description of what spy-hopping actually is: a hunting behaviour used by marine predators to watch prey that live primarily out of the water, such as on land, ice… or on a boat.
I have also learned something else, as well. Something that Larry told me, as Serenity started to take on water. About an hour or so before his legs were bitten away. He said that the great white shark has no known natural predators. He said occasionally they’re hunted by killer whales, but not often enough so that they can be classed as prey. I know when I was a naïve drunk, I once believed human beings to be the top of the food chain. That seems like such a joke, now.
As I bob up and down on the waves, the splintered debris of Serenity scattered all around me, the crimson long since dissipated from the blue-grey waters, I can’t help but picture her, swimming around in the depths below, eyeing my lower half, my kicking legs, my supple flesh.
When will the attack come? I don’t know. In some ways, that’s the worst part of it all. The not knowing. I’m not afraid to die, but I certainly am afraid of how I will die. One minute, I’ll be treading water in an ocean that’s so murky it may as well be black, the cloudy gloom camouflaging her perfectly, the next, I’ll be looking down into the open jaws of the great shark, finally seeing her in all her glory; dark grey skin, pale underbelly, mouth full of jagged edges, dorsal fin slicing through the glassy surface of the water, and a beady black eye that’s rolling backwards in its socket to reveal nothing but white indifference.
7th January 2020
Written for the January 2020 #BlogBattle