Sunday, 28 August 2016

Baby Writing Challenge SUPER//OVERTIME//MODE Story Thirteen: "Leviathan"

So it turns out that having a baby - in fact, having children - eats up your free time so you can't spend as much time on your hobbies as you used to!

Did anyone else know about this?! I sense a global conspiracy at work here.

Getting this most recent story out has probably been the most difficult of all. Between some mild sleep deprivation (not as bad as the stoic and wonderful Mrs Chapman) and managing a toddler who's suddenly decided not to nap in the afternoon anymore, it hasn't left an awful lot of time or brain energy for writing.

Still, persistence conquers all things, so...

Here's the next story in the sequence. The word "skerry" was given to me by my father-in-like (a Scottish word meaning 'small island'The random genre picker gave me 'sea story' which is another nice fit between word and genre!

Ladies and gentlemen, I give you - 'Leviathan'.


It was Ivar's fault: he started shooting! Now, the Leviathan's smashed to splinters and I'm so chilled that I'm barely hanging onto a thread of life. Goddamn Ivar. I told him not to.

After the Leviathan sank, I managed to get on top of some of the boat's decking and clung on for as long as I could. I'm damn lucky it's August, else I wouldn't have lasted long. The skipper of the Gudrun found me like that later, starting to slip, starting to trail my legs in the water.

That makes me feel colder than the water ever did. Even sitting by a roaring fire, it's there: a lump of something colder and harder than ice in my chest, something that's never going to melt. The thought of my legs below the water gives them a strange tingling feeling, like how amputees must feel.

I'm never going to sea again.

Ivar and I split the cost of buying our little fishing boat. That was back when our business was doing well. A little fishing boat and a couple of big houses cleaned out the business account. We weren't to know the weather would change.

The people here are nice enough, even though I'm not from Shetland, but none of them warned us about going out to the skerry. I guess we deserved that.

Usually, small islands have names. Not this one, though. The natives here always know which one is being talked about.

We'd made a goddamn fortune selling shonky cars on Shetland. With a captive market and a sea wind that rusted a car down to its wheel rims in weeks, we were laughing, until the islanders got tired of being ripped off. That empty bank account started weighing on my mind.

I was brooding when we packed up the Leviathan for our fishing trip – so was the weather. Ivar was sullen too and I would've called the whole thing off if it hadn't been a tradition of ours since we settled here a few years back.

The sea outside Lerwick harbour had an ill-tempered swell to it too: oily and dark and unsettled. None of the local boats was going out today: all remained lashed to the harbour. A handful of locals stood near the jetty, talking amongst themselves quietly and occasionally pointing at us. I didn't care! Let them talk: they couldn't prove any illegality with our business and I wasn't going to be intimidated by angry islanders. If they didn't want to come out fishing today, that was fine by me.

Scories wheeled over the waters, cawing irritably at each other as our little boat wheezed its way out onto the open sea. Ivar and I didn't speak much. We drifted on roiling waters, further away from the mainland and further from our sinking business. Ivar hunched over a map and steered us this way and that. I noticed that he had a bald spot starting to rise up through his black hair; I'd mock him about it later, once I could think of something sufficiently cutting.

It was the kind of day where even the beer goes flat before you can drink it. I threw my beer can overboard and reached for another. That one tasted off too.

The can, bright red, was bobbing peacefully enough on the churning water our little boat left behind. Gradually, inch by inch, it retreated until I only saw it occasionally as it rode the crest of a wave before sinking down into a trough. I could empathise, from the bottom of my own trough.

Ivar and I had argued the day before: a squabble over our shop's petty cash that escalated into real thunder and lightning. When the insults, curses and slurs were all filtered out, it boiled down to one thing.

I wanted out. He didn't.

Ivar was an idiot: the Shetland folk had rumbled our game and island people have a damn long memory. This was it: we'd blown our chance and nothing could fix that. He disagreed. Vocally.

It made his nervous silence all the more inexplicable. I'd expected a resumption of our argument, given that it only took one of us to dissolve the business, but...nothing.

Nothing. Just the slap of dark water against the hull and the grumble of the engine. Another hour passed; I had no idea where we were or where we were going.

Ivar!” I called loudly. “Stop somewhere and let's fish.”

He stiffened at the sound of my voice and touched the right pocket of his jacket: today's stupid mannerism. Suddenly, my head throbbed with rage and cheap beer.

There!” I shouted. “Just stop us there!”

Close by, the only thing at all from one horizon to the other, was a small stack of rock poking out of the water. It was just a tower of dark volcanic stone, clawed at by waves and stained white across the top by centuries of bird crap. Dozens of large birds, gannets maybe, circled the stack high above, looking for fish in the water below. Occasionally, they'd tuck their wings and hurtled down into the water at breakneck speed, vanishing in the depths in a plume of white water.

If there are birds, then there are fish,” I shouted. “Just stop!”

Ivar turned back towards me, jaw set and lips bloodless. There was a damn strange expression on his face.

Okay,” he said. “This will be far enough.”

When he cut the engine off, I was shocked at how quiet it was: just the cawing of sea birds and the bad-tempered thump of waves against the Leviathan's thin hull.

Ivar came back up the boat, walked straight past all the fishing gear, and sat opposite me. He picked up his own beer, took a hard look at me and swallowed half of it in one go.

The seconds stretched into minutes. We both finished our beers and reached for more. Cans bobbed silently; we sat at the centre of an expanding ring of red specks. I realised that we'd nearly drunk everything aboard without doing any fishing, without doing anything but sit in the boat and drift around, glaring at each other.

So...” Ivar said eventually, slurring. “We've got a thriving business to save.”

I sighed. I honestly didn't know now if I had the strength to deal with another argument. My head felt a size too small for my brain; I felt sick.

Out from behind the skerry, miles away, a sail hove into view.

I'm not going to discuss this again,” I said, staggering to my feet. “We need to go.”

Ivar narrowed his eyes.

Is that it?” he said.

When I nodded, he pulled a gun out of his pocket.

He aimed it shakily at my chest.

What?” I exclaimed before rocking waves and alcohol knocked me down to my seat again.

Was he honestly going to just shoot me down in the middle of nowhere? Where the hell had he gotten a gun from?

Behind him, the sail started heading our way and I felt relief surfacing through the shock. If I could keep him talking for long enough, maybe the people on the other boat could help somehow, maybe even dissuade him if there were witnesses.

I'm sorry,” he said. “But you can't tell a winner when it bites you.”

There was something strange about the approaching boat, something that was distracting me away from the pistol. There was no hull at all, just a sail sticking out of the water.

Look, Ivar,” I tried, staring at it over his shoulder, “We'll forget all about it; you've made your point.”

Was the sail something from a submarine? The water around it was bulging upwards, flowing sideways and slipping back.

I'm serious!” Ivar snapped as he noticed my distraction.

The sail accelerated as it approached the boat, driving a higher and higher bow wave in front of it. Cold ribbons of shock fluttered down my arms: it was a goddamn fin! All I could do was raise a shaking finger to point.

Ivar, suspecting a trick, glanced over his shoulder briefly. He gasped and wheeled round.

A gigantic triangle of mottled grey flesh was bearing down on us, every inch pocked with scars and streaked with algae and seaweed. Just when I thought it couldn't go any faster, it accelerated again, heading right for our little boat.

Ivar panicked and shot at it. He was drunk; he missed.

Don't piss it off!” I shouted.

He fired again and again.

Just as the fin was towering over us, a few shots struck the flesh with a noise like stones being thrown into mud. The flesh quivered but didn't bleed.

I started to swear, but the fin swerved sharply and smashed into the boat, knocking me clean off my feet.

My head cracked against the floor.

The hull groaned under the glancing impact.

Saltwater slopped over the side in a wave.

The boat tipped wildly, rolling me to the side.

Water flooded after.

I couldn't see.

I couldn't breathe.


I stood up, water pouring in cascades from my clothes and hair. Ivar was struggling around in the wash at the bottom of the boat for his gun. The fin disappeared momentarily around the skerry.

Ivar stood, sopping wet and gun in hand, staring at me like this was something I'd arranged.

The giant grey fin turned gracefully once it was past the rock tower and accelerated towards us again, forcing a bigger and bigger bow wave in front of the fin.

Seabirds erupted in a squawking panic from the surface as the water began to rise again.

Ivar shook the spent shells from his pistol and fumbled more from his pocket. I just dashed towards the cockpit and tried to start the engine again. It cranked once...twice...but there was nothing. Ivar slotted in one shell, two, three...

The fin collided with our boat with a world-ending crack. The Leviathan's back was broken. I didn't even manage to stay in the boat as it started to sink: I was thrown into the water so hard that I nearly passed out.

The giant fin carved our boat in two, like a knife carving rare meat. Shattered wood and plastic flew through the air, splashing down hard around me. Nearly oblivious, I tried to raise an arm to protect my face, but the effort sank me into the churning waters.

Saltwater burned my eyes; my breath bubbled uselessly upwards. I fought, clothes dragging on both arms and legs, robbing them of strength. The water below was dark and endless. I could sink into it forever and never be found.

But I surfaced, gasping. Somehow, Ivar was still standing on half of the Leviathan that still floated, ankles deep in water. The angle of the deck was so steep that he'd hooked one arm around the safety rail; the other waved his gun unsteadily at the fin which turned for another attack.

Every wave forced water into my eyes and nose, but I slowly splashed further away from our sinking boat. Even drunk and disorientated, I knew that there was only one way this would end.

As the fin neared the half of the boat, Ivar began to fire again. Terror sharpened his aim this time: every shot struck the massive blade of flesh. The shells tore pinprick holes in the triangle of powerful flesh, but none of them bled.

I heard the click of his empty pistol just as the monster struck Ivar and the Leviathan like a hurtling lorry.

The destruction was like a bomb went off under Ivar's feet; this wasn't neat surgery like before. This was anger. This was rage.

He pinwheeled through the air, accompanied by a shotgun-blast of debris. It showered hard into the water; dozens of white plumes reached for the sky.

Ivar collided with the surface at a bad angle.

An arcing beer can smashed me on the nose, hard enough to smash it to a bloody pulp, and I sank again.

In all the chaos, in all the churn and all the wreckage, I saw it and I saw Ivar, pinned up against that massive grey bulk. It was heading down and down, chasing the glinting metal of the dropped pistol and the shell casings. It swam quickly into the murky gloom with a tremendous thrum of displaced water and soon, I couldn't see it or him.

I drifted for a while on a big piece of fibreglass. Sometimes, when I remembered, I'd shriek and thrash my legs in the water. Most of the time, I'd just lie there and stare into the sky.

I need to get away. It's out there somewhere near this goddamn island, circling and waiting for me. It knows me; it's seen me; it's smelled me. It thinks I hurt it.

I can't go by sea: it'll slice the ferry in two.

I can't go by air: what if the plane crashes? What if I'm bobbing around on the ocean in a stupid yellow jacket, peeping on a stupid whistle, when that fin starts coming up out of the water?

I need to get off this goddamn island. The locals sympathise, but they don't forgive. Island folk have long memories. If I had a really suspicious mind, I might be wondering how Ivar knew that that skerry was there, how he got the idea to fish there.

I have to leave.

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