The steaming asphalt was already blisteringly hot in the morning sun. The cries of seagulls blended in with the constant roar of the ocean as it's waves broke against the pylons of the marina. It was shaping up to be another marvelous day aboard the Silver Bullet. It's 42 foot long hull rocked slowly in its slip as Mari's father was loading up the coolers and bait for their all day fishing trip. She watched as he filled the live well with bait fish and then took the empty buckets as he handed them to her. She set them on the dock and tied them to a post then turned back to stare up into the parking lot again. Now, all that was left was to wait for their passengers to show up.
On the way out to the boat that morning, the pier rats had all told her that the fish were really biting today. Whenever the locals got excited, there was always an infectious spirit of adventure around the docks. All the ship captains were anxious to get out to sea and put lines in the water. Unfortunately for them though, the clients never seemed to share the same get-up-and-go.
Mari was shaking her hair out in the strong breeze and re-tying it into a pony tail when she first caught glimpse of their clients walking down the pier. Her father had given her a head's up that today was going to be easy money, and he wasn't lying. These two had to be the most out of place, tourist, frat boys she'd ever seen. The old man with them must have been their father because his tired eyes almost seemed apologetic as they met hers and then continued on to her father.
The first boy, she quickly decided was going to be "Moose" although she mused that it was more appropriate to call him "Mousse" because of the sheer quantity of hair care product that must have been wasted on his spiky doo. He stood well over her own 5'11" so she figured he was an athlete by trade. His over-taut shirt and gaudy shorts proudly announced that he was a Guinness fan, but she doubted that he could even buy beer yet. He couldn't have been much older than she was.
Anyone could tell Moose wasn't one of the locals because he was rubbernecking all over the place; taking everything in until he saw where his father was leading them. Mari shifted uncomfortably when a predatory smirk marred Moose's face and he gave her a once over. She really wished she hadn't decided on the bikini this morning...
Boy number two wasn't much better. He was clearly compensating for a late night out, staggering from an apparent hangover, eyes hidden behind designer shades. He must have been wearing four collared shirts, despite the heat, and all the collars were popped. The bustling marina around him held no interest and he seemed to be trying to keep as low a profile as possible. Mari guessed that the party boy was hoping to hide the shame of being seen here.
She could tell that he had never been out fishing before in his life, and he certainly didn't want to do so now. As he reluctantly approached the boat, something caught his eye though. He lowered his shades just a little when he finally caught a glimpse of Mari and shared Moose's wolfish grin.
Their father said something to them that Moose ignored and made Party Boy's shoulders sag even more, then headed back towards the parking lot, leaving them alone on the pier. If the gods had any mercy, they would get out to sea sometime before the next ice age. She put on her best smile and walked out to greet the duo and escort them aboard the Silver Bullet.
Great... she thought to herself, Dad brought me here today as the bait. It's gonna be a long day...
Mari couldn't have asked for nicer weather. The sea breeze was gentle and cool, which made up for the sun that was relentlessly baking everything on board. The Silver Bullet slowly drifted with the ocean current, rocking gently back and forth. All in all, it was pretty peaceful up in the cabin. Mari's job was customer service, but while her father was back with the clients, she wasn't needed very often. So, she took the time to catch up on her novel and keep an eye on the depth finder.
Her father was spoiling the clients who were kicking back a few beers he'd given them while they waited for the fish to bite. Normally, the Silver Bullet was a 6 man vessel, so there was plenty of space to move around. They relaxed in some lounge chairs while her father checked the lines and shared one of his many war stories with them. Both seemed entirely disinterested, but at least they weren't rude enough to interrupt him. Moose continued to steal sidewards glances at her every once in a while.
Just as he was getting to the part with the angry lionfish, one of the fishing reels started screaming. Something big had taken the bait. Her father ran to the reel and set the hook as both boys jumped to their feet. It was Party Boy's turn to catch something, so he took the rod from her father once the fish was on. Mari hurried away to start taking up the other lines to avoid tangling. Finally some action!
Moose moved to help reel in the lines, but his attention was focused on his brother's battle. The beer must have dulled his senses because, when the line he picked up also started to scream off the reel, he just stood there staring at it. Whatever had taken the bait took off like a shot and sent the line scything across the deck. Mari's attention was on the reel in her hands so she had no way to know what was coming. The heavy line bit into her shoulder, drawing blood almost instantly.
Pain didn't adequately describe the sensation. Fire erupted from her shoulder and she couldn't help but let out a startled scream. The reel in her hands fell to the deck and she instinctively grabbed for the line that was shredding her flesh. The line cut her into her hand and she wasn't able to get a grip. The situation finally became apparent to Moose and he jerked the reel, tearing the line free from her shoulder and at the same time, setting the hook on the fish.
She had her good arm wrapped protectively around the wounded hand, and struggled to her feet. Her back was a bloody ruin, but her adrenaline was pumping and she fled inside the boat, away from the source of pain. The pain was making her head swim, but she was able to focus enough to know that she should get away from the clients when she was injured.
Caught up in helping Party Boy, her father had missed the violence but spun in time to see Mari hit the deck. He hadn't had time to notice her back, but overriding concern for her sent him into the cabin a few moments behind her.
"What happened? Are you alright?" he demanded. His concern had caused the questions to come out harsher than he had wanted them to.
She flinched away from the words in surprise which shook her out of her daze temporarily. "I'm fine," she lied. "G.go help Moose. Something took his line too..." she trailed off as she started to explain what happened, but shock made it come out as more of a mumble. Her dad frowned deeply when he saw the blood dripping from her hand.
"Ok." he accepted reluctantly, "..but take care of that hand. The first aid kit is on the shelf by the radio." and with that he was out the door, attempting to get Moose into a harness so he could fight the monster that was at the end of his line.
Mari's body shook a little as the adrenaline wore off and shock started setting in. The severity of the wound on her shoulder couldn't be properly assessed, and she wasn't thinking straight enough to administer first aid properly anyway. She fumbled around for a moment, and grabbed a towel, holding it against her back The white cloth was instantly red, but the pressure helped sap the pain and her head cleared a little. The first aid kit had a lot of supplies for hook injuries and accidental cuts and scratches, so there was plenty of gauze close at hand. A few minutes effort saw her hand wrapped up heavily and she took a second to catch her breath.
Mari's world slowly started to come back into focus. Steady pressure from the gauze around her hand soothed some of the flames shooting up her arm. The thundering of her heartbeat faded from her ears and her breathing came under control again. She let the blood-stained towel fall from her back and let out a heavy sigh.
The gash on her back still smoldered but she didn't think it would continue bleeding. Then again, she really didn't want to think about it. She pulled a T-shirt out of her bag, gingerly slid it down over her head and nearly jumped out of her skin when it touched her shoulder blade. After another agonizing moment, she opened her eyes again and headed cautiously for the door.
"Keep the pressure on the line or it'll get away!" Her father's voice was filled with the same tension that painted Moose's face. "That's it. She's wearing down."
Moose was strapped into one of the boat's two big game chairs. Party Boy was in the one next to him, locked in his own desperate struggle with whatever was on the end of his line. All of their initial reluctance was gone and they were both filled with raw adrenaline. Her father stood between them both with his hands on the backs of their chairs, cheering them on.
This was the moment every charter captain hoped for. Hours of waiting culminating in the thrill of battle, and finally paying off big for the clients. If they were successful today, the stories and the trophies brought back to harbor would mean better business for months to come.
Her father took his job seriously, and today was important. These two kids represented the first business of the season. An end to their financial drought and food on the table. If things went wrong today, he had warned her, they might have to sell the boat. She saw the determination in his eyes, and a lust for glory tempered with the desperation of the situation and couldn't bring herself to distract him further. There was nothing they could do until they got back to shore anyway.
She let her eyes wander to where she had stood earlier. The white fiberglass wall was sprinkled with crimson that was pooling up on the deck. The stark contrast of colors was hypnotizing and her gaze lingered for a surreal moment on a smudged, bloody hand print that marred the otherwise pristine hull. Something about the picture wasn't sitting right but she couldn't put her finger on it. Her shoulder throbbed in response and snapped her out of her reverie.
Turning back to the scene playing out in front of her, she caught her father's eyes and instantly recognized the fatigue and concern that he was concealing in front of the guests. Mari knew that he'd turn this boat around in a second if she told him she'd been hurt badly, but she couldn't do that to him. Today was his big day, and she wasn't going to ruin it for him. She knew that his steady gaze could sense her concealed secrets. He moved to come check on her when Moose almost lost hold of his reel. His startled choke of panic drew her father's attention away, breaking the intimate tension that had threatened to force her to reveal the truth.
Mari took advantage of the moment and threw herself into one of the deck chairs, regretting it the moment she did. She gritted her teeth hard to hide the grimace of pain before it could give her away further. Crisis averted. Her father turned to her once again but Mari was ready this time. She waved her bandaged hand and put on her best smile to alleviate his concerns.
His relief was almost palpable and he wordlessly offered her thanks for taking something off his mind before returning to the unfolding saga of The Young Frat Boys and the Sea. Mari let out a tired chuckle at her own dry humor and realized she had to be out of it to think up that terrible of a joke. Her thoughts flashed back to the incident again briefly as she found herself suddenly drifting gently into unconsciousness.
I couldn't have been out for more than a second. Mari attempted to reassure herself after she awoke with a start. There was a loud thumping from the side of the boat and a cheer of triumph from one of the boys. It must have been Moose, because he was grinning like an idiot and standing over her father as he leaned over the railing, obscuring her hand print. They must have landed the fish. It couldn't have been that long already, could it?
Party Boy leaned over the railing as well, handing her father the gaff, which meant that it must have been a decent sized fish. Then she heard a gunshot and the fatigue and bleariness that had clouded her vision vanished into clarity. Ok. A really BIG fish.
The gun went off once more; her father's old revolver that he kept around for sharks and 'pirates.' Then, without further ado, the trio leaned over the side and in a single motion hurled a mass of silver and crimson into the boat. A massive shark, a mako, guessing from the teeth, was now thrashing its death-throes aboard the silver bullet. The gaff, hooked into its gill slits, and a pair of bright red holes in the side of it's head sent blood everywhere. Even though, the fish was already dead, it had decided that it didn't know that yet and its flashing teeth demanded the attention of everyone on board.
It flopped about for a few moments more, and Mari was once again entranced by the vividness of the blood. It was lying on the deck, inches from where she herself had been sliced open. There, she watched it bleed out and go still. She'd seen similar things dozens of times before on previous trips, but this one seemed different. There, below her smudged and bloody hand print, a beast from another world was dying. One thing stood out above it all. Their blood was the same. Shark and Human, pooling on the deck indistinguishable from one another. Something with that image seemed to click. Perhaps they weren't so different after all.
Huh... she thought to herself. I think I understand now...
Before the full realization could come to her muddled senses, she found herself drifting back into unconsciousness, this time, the last thing she heard was a startled shout of "Mari!?" Damn. He'd found her out.