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.

“Help me.”

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.

Written for the #BlogBattle prompt: “Bucket” — 7th January 2020

30 thoughts on “Spy-Hopper

  1. Doug Jacquier

    Nice work. Real terror, Joshua, not apocalyptic ones? Whatever next! 😉 Just one thing concerning me; how is our Serenity survivor (for the moment) sending us his story? Waterproof i-Phone perhaps? 🙂

  2. aebranson

    For somebody who seems like such a nice guy, you sure can write stuff that gives me the willies! 😉 From the very first paragraph I started hearing the theme music to Jaws playing in my head. And I very much appreciated that the boat was given a name like Serenity. The way you start the story with everybody’s ‘ending’ was another nice touch, and then the way it ends is even more terrifying: You do a great job of bringing out the terror of people’s imaginations, which can sometimes be worse than the real thing. I even enjoyed learning what spy-hopping is. I think I’ll be afraid to go into the water for a while … nice job!

  3. Gary

    Suddenly I remember why it is boats and me fail to agree. Land is safer…mostly…if you avoid those false ruins in the darkness where history lurks alive and waiting. Seems to me Joshua there is no end to your yarn spinning. I’m seeing real improvements all round since we first convened for a chin wag.

    But bobbing around like a float waiting to go under is akin to waking interred hoping someone still places a bell above your grave…just in case…

      • Gary

        Practice makes perfect…I’m finding that to be an issue with my own words at the moment. Concepts and ideas fine, translating them properly not as good. I’ve started my post, but it feels like somethings missing and I can’t quite find the NaNo mindset.

        Oceans are fine to look at….. not sure about much else 😂😂 you got the translation fine. More so with those who share a similar phobia 😱

      • Joshua G. J. Insole

        I know that feeling, sometimes it feels just like hacking away at the weeds. The NaNo mindset is a good one — get it down first, then make it better. I’ve been *trying* to stick to that mentality. I hope you you find that missing something soon! 🙂

      • Gary

        Definitely! I use the NaNo mindset all the time. More so after reading On Writing by King. His view of first drafts is bang on how I do it too. He just validated my approach. Who am I to argue there lol.

        I’m actually feeling much better now. Tackling this months prompt reminded me writing is fun. Even if it isn’t in full flow there. It’s all in the habit I’m hoping Camps will fully ignite 😊

      • Joshua G. J. Insole

        I really must find a copy of that ASAP! I really think the attitude of “If it yields results, then it works” is good. If it’s good for the King, it’s good for us 😉

        I’m very glad to hear that, Gary! Enjoying your craft is crucial, otherwise it becomes work. Yes, I can’t wait for the camps! I think I need them!

      • Gary

        To me it’s a writers MUST read. Classical methods under Novakovich are very “traditional.” I get the concepts, but don’t write naturally that way. On Writing validated how I do though. Constant referrer for NaNo wrt first drafts. I loved the bit where he referred to getting a longer nail to hang rejections from before Carrie got picked up. I definitely figured if the method works for him, I don’t really care what traditional methods say. I would, however, add what works for some doesn’t work for everyone. Find your method and go with it type of thing.

        I must look up the first camp date too!

      • Joshua G. J. Insole

        Yes, I think it’s important to realise that all of us writers are different, to a great extent. I think we can be roughly clustered into vague camps in relation to how we approach the craft. Don’t worry if you do something completely differently to how someone else does it, because there’s probably someone out there who does it just like you. For every person shaking their head and tutting, there’s another nodding and thinking, “Yep. Me too!” It’s all about the end product — have you made something that others like to read? If yes, well done — keep doing that thing!

      • Gary

        Spot on. The real validation occurs if a reader likes it. Doesn’t really matter on the approach as long as it’s well written and has a good sense of direction with a few curve balls so predictability of ending isn’t as obvious as first appears. A councillor friend of mine was incredulous to hear I self doubted after saying “What? All the feedback is good? How are you self evidencing the doubt?”

        Might be she has a point! Believe in ability might do wonders for that habit, with habit goes practice and with that momentum. Easy yes 🤔

      • Joshua G. J. Insole

        Haha, it does seem as though you’re alone in doubting the quality of your own writing! Perhaps you should really take the praise to heart? 🙂 Increased confidence will do wonders for motivation, I reckon!

      • Gary

        PMA in action Joshua. Leave doubt locked away and read what readers say. Then get on with it and write! Just have to generate that good habit gone bad 🤔

  4. Sam "Goldie" Kirk

    Like Doug, I also wondered how we got to know that story. Was he miraculously saved in the end?
    Admittedly, I was waiting for a gore finish for our main character.

    I particularly liked how you introduced the other characters and then just nonchalantly mentioned their death. Ha!

    • Joshua G. J. Insole

      Thanks, Sam! In my mind, the protagonist was never saved. I like to think we’re hearing the drunken inner thoughts of the character, as he tries to explain to himself how his current predicament came to be. 😉

      • Sam "Goldie" Kirk


        On a completely unrelated note.
        Has your Reedsy submission ever not been approved? There’s this one story of mine that is still “pending” even though a winner had been announced. While there is no announced winner for the next contest, the entry is still marked as “pending” after the contest had closed. I looked through a couple of other people’s entries and I see a couple in the same boat. I sent an email to Reedsy but have not heard back. Any ideas?

      • Joshua G. J. Insole

        Yeah, I’ve had that before! I sent them an email and they rectified it within a week or so. I think they use volunteers to read the stories for content, so sometimes this sorta thing happens. The contests are also getting more popular, so there are more stories to get through each week — I imagine the workload’s increasing. Fingers crossed they fix yours soon!

      • Sam "Goldie" Kirk

        I finally got a reply the other day. They told me to calm down and not to worry because it takes up to a week after the close for the submissions to be approved. That’d be all good if I didn’t explicitly write that it’s been longer than that and the winner had been announced. How did they know there was a better story than mine without reading mine? No reply to that 😀 The story was finally approved today. 2 weeks after the close. Good to know I’m not alone, though.

        And I did look back on the number of submissions. It IS getting more and more popular.

      • Joshua G. J. Insole

        Ah, sorry about that! Ha, yeah, that’s a good point! When it happened to me, they said it’d been read and approved, but someone forgot to give it the all-clear. Maybe that’s what happened? Who knows…

        Also, new BlogBattle prompt! I have no idea how I’ll use this word… Vivacious…

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