Our little rust bucket didn’t stand a chance. Serenity was 30 feet long exactly.
What 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 didn’t want them to kick me from the crew after my very first voyage. But all that hardly matters now.
I lied. I lied about a lot of things — about my previous involvement with other vessels. I said I had plenty of experience. If I’d said I had little experience as a sailor, 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 asked if I knew much about banks and investments, I’d have said I used to work on Wall Street. If someone said they sought a teacher, well, I’d have remembered 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. I hoped the whiskey on my breath didn’t reach his nose. I spotted a few broken blood vessels on his cheeks, so I guessed he was no stranger to the bottle. Either way, he nodded and offered me a job. I thought I was in luck, I doubted he’d ask for a reference from a former employer or a list of previous occupations.
I was right about the papers, but wrong about the 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 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 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 what his final words were.
He gave me a chance. I suppose that’s got to be worth something, even now. Even despite 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. Look at fast how 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 they fed and watered me and I slept in a bed. So, I couldn’t complain.
I was only troubled by the bucket of fish and gore that Larry dumped into the waters behind Serenity.
The first I heard of something amiss was when Larry spoke to the captain about ‘spy-hopping’. At first, I thought he spoke about a submarine. 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 with the knowledge I don’t know squat. I worried we’d crossed some invisible territorial boundary and had 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 I have learned is spy-hopping refers to behaviour. It’s seen in whales, such as orcas, bowheads, and southern minks.
But it’s also seen in sharks.
If you’ll permit me to explain something I learned two days ago, marine predators spy-hop when they watch prey. Prey that lives out of the water, such as on land or on ice.
Or on a boat.
I have also learned something else. Something Larry told me, as Serenity started to take on water. About an hour or so before she bit his legs away. Larry said the great white shark has no known natural predators. He said occasionally they’re hunted by killer whales, but it’s too rare for us to say they’re 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.
I bob up and down on the waves — the splintered debris around me, the crimson since dissipated from the waters. I can’t help but picture her in the depths below. As she eyes 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 unknown. I’m not afraid to die, but I 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.
The next, I’ll be looking down into the open jaws of the shark, finally revealed in all her glory. Dark grey and rough skin, underbelly pale, wide mouth full of jags, a fin to slice glass.
And the beady black eye rolled back into white indifference.