The Gentlemen Nerds


Fear: Deep Water

A story reprinted for Joseph’s fear of what lies beneath the waves, from Paramount’s JAWS 25th anniversary celebration.

By Michael Ashleigh Finn

Doctorates. Experience. Press coverage with that beautiful bastard of a specimen in Amity. You’d think people’d believe me. They never do. Especially the politicians.
It’s happening again. Only much. Much bigger than before. Hollywood would love to get their hands on this…isn’t that what you’re supposed to do in a sequel? Make it bigger, more intense?
Remind me to drop a few studio execs in the ocean when I get out of here.
Sleepy little town. That’s the image it tries to project…in reality, it’s a tourist trap. Lately, it’s been a buffet for sharks.
“Dr. Hooper, I’m glad you could make it.”
The town’s Chief Medical Examiner had the unlikely name of Brandywine McBride. Slim girl, blonde hair braided back to allow her to work… before you go getting any ideas, she’s twenty years my junior, and I’m happily married. She was a tad young for her position, but Bar Harbour only had two M.E.’s anyway.
I shrugged out of my jacket…it gets cold in Maine, even during the summer, for those of us taken up down south…and folded it over my arm. “Dr. McBride, I don’t mean to be rude, but why the expense of dragging me up here?”
She adjusted her glasses. “You’re the expert.”
“I teach. I do seminars. I’m not a forensic pathologist anymore.”
She grinned a little knowing smile. Ask any pathologist…the way of thinking soaks into your brain.You never really quit. I may have been a marine biologist first, but forensics had become a minor hobby of mine for a decade or two. It had left a mark.
I looked at her. She looked back. I sighed. “What do you have?”
If this was Hollywood, she would have pulled a corpse or three out of the meat locker. In fact, she merely called me over to the board and grabbed some flimsies, which she started sticking up on the
lighted surface.
I squinted at the close-ups of the bites. Multiple victims, apparently children from the size of the wounds. “Well, they’re definitely not from the same shark. Radials will tell you that. Tiger frenzy,
maybe? Rare, but known to happen.”
“They’re separate attacks.”
I arched an eyebrow. “Really? I think you just skewed the statistics for this year. You have seventy-five percent of the world’s attacks right here. Any fatalities?”
She nodded. “One. Several attacks…but when the body washed up on the beach, I was finally able to convince the powers that be that we needed an expert on Elasmobranch behavior.”
I blinked at her. “You have several tiger sharks out there munching on kids, and they wouldn’t let you call in help until now?”
She blinked back. “Kids?”
I squinted at the pictures again. “Multiple bite patterns means multiple sharks. Few sharks will even nip at humans, most spit us back out…not enough fat on our bones to be seals. Of those, fewer still will tolerate each other at close proximity, refusing to share territory. Given that, the largest speciesI know of that could possibly make those bites would be the tiger…on children.”
“Doctor…I hate to break this to you, but those are adults.”

I already mentioned people wouldn’t listen. I won’t bore you with the details of my smashing my head against the stone buttresses of the bureaucrats. Let’s just say tourist season was about to kickinto full swing, and they refused to listen…it was Amity all over again. Maybe I could have gotten them to listen had it been a year or two after that little escapade, but it had been decades. Of course, having been decades, technology had come a long way. No longer did we have to go hunting from the surface, and drop in little steel cages. Now our steel cages were motorized.
Ferrin was the captain of a little four-seater submersible designed to study marine life; or more specifically, it was capable of studying things-that-swam as well as the more traditional things-that- cemented-themselves-to-the-seabed. I managed to cajole him into bringing his sub up, but his team had their masters to complete, and the deadline was only a week away, so it was just the two us, warm and cozy thirty to sixty feet down. We were cruising the area, looking for blips that were large enough to be one of our critters. Again, I won’t bore you with the details…they’re in my files on another disc, go there if you want to check them out. There’s a reason this disc says “Synopsis” on it. Suffice it to say that days went by. Ferrin started pointing out our budget was going dry. We had come up with nothing, and of course, no other attacks had occurred. He was about to pull the plug on me, and I couldn’t blame him.
Then we got the blip.
“It’s too big to be a shark,” I pointed out to Ferrin. He nodded. “Looks like a whale…but he’s moving a tad fa…whoa!”
Our blip just became plural. Three of them, large, and coming our direction. “What the…? They’re big enough to be great whites, but whites don’t travel in schools.” They’re solitary. Lone predators. Of course, I knew that there were several of them out there, after studying the photos and some of the victims. Bad publicity and personal experience aside, great whites usually don’t kill people…more people are killed by pigs each year than all the shark attacks combined. But I figured maybe there were a few being forced to share a territory, hence the increase in attacks…several lions in a cage, limited food supply.
They swan past us, two veering starboard, one overhead. They were great whites, alright.
“Jesus!” whispered Ferrin.
“They’re cooperating?”
I looked over at him a second as he banked to follow them. “Remember school behavior, John. Swim close together and you look too big to eat.”
He frowned. “Thank you, Hoop. I know that. But nothing eats great whites, they’ve got no reason to do that.”
“We do.”
His frown deepened. “They’re millions of years old. Why would they suddenly change their behavior?” We came back around, facing them, but they were far ahead of us, and moving fast.
“I don’t know. But you saw it.”
He snorted.
“But they didn’t turn right…they broke up when they turned. It’s like they’re …just learning to do it.”
I scribbled as we tried to catch up.
I looked at the radar again. “Uh, Ferrin?”
“You should take a look at this.”
“That’s the shelf coming up.” We had been just off of it, scanning the deep, and the cliff face would be below us in another few seconds.
“No, John, it’s behind us….”
It was moving faster than I could track it. I’m a marine biologist, not a stick monkey; I don’t know the systems inside an out. Something latched onto us.
I don’t mean something decided to hitch a ride. Something bit us. The impact was so jarring that one of the portable instruments came loose from its mounting and swung hit Ferrin on the side of his head, knocking him cold. So he cannot collaborate this part of the story.
Lights flickered. Sparks flew. A real Hollywood moment. And then, I swear to you, we were shook back and forth, like a rag doll, or a shark trying to tear loose a piece of meat. I know I heard metal groan and buckle.
And then we were floating free, and tumbling. As we turned, I saw a great grey…shape in the view port. That’s all I can say for a description. It was too big to have been anything but a humpback whale at that range…it was definitely the flank of some animal, swimming back into deeper waters.
Something took a bite at us, the whole sub, and spit us back out. Something the great whites, which don’t seem to have the capacity for fear, ran away from.
It was just a flash, and then it was gone. A moment later, we hit the seafloor, and everything went black.
I couldn’t have been out for more than a few seconds, since out air is limited down there. I’ve made sure all the records are sealed, including my notes and the instrument readings. I’m making this disc in case something happens to me…if it survives, you know to keep an ear out for the tracking beacon on the sub. But Ferrin and I should make it, we’re only twenty-eight feet down, and I’ve checked they tanks, they’re good anyways. If the raft inflates, it should pull us to the surface ok, and the Coast Guard will hear our SOS screamer. Ferrin’s awake enough to get out and up, just don’t expect him to do any complex mathematics. All we have to do is survive til we’re rescued. I don’t think it’ll be a problem, with us so close to the shelf…the sharks are probably too spooked by whatever the hell that was.
My only hypothesis right now is the granddaddy of all sharks, Carcharadon megaladon, a shark so huge its teeth are the size of a man’s hand. But those critters, while considered modern sharks, are thought to have died out long ago by our standards. Besides, they were thought to have had a length of fifty feet, and what I saw was larger than that.
Truth be told, I have no idea what it was. But my notes are in the sub, there at the edge of the shelf. The coordinates are marked. If I don’t make it, someone needs to go down and get them.
Just be very careful to stay on the shelf.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to sign off now, and try to get Ferrin to the surface. The air is getting rather stale down here.
Wish me luck.
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