“Isn’t it beautiful?” Clara asked.
The full moon shimmered in her eyes as she looked out over the dark water. On the top deck at two in the morning, they had the ocean to themselves.
“It is,” was all Sam could come up with. The rough pitch and yaw of the cruise liner made his stomach do flips. But, it was his honeymoon. He would endure. Out in the middle of the Caribbean, the alternatives were few.
“Oh, you poor baby,” Clara caressed his cheek. “Your stomach again?”
Sam shrugged. “It isn’t so bad,” he lied. Before the honeymoon was a seven day cruise, it was to be an African safari. Sam thought a safari too dangerous. At least then, his stomach would have stayed still.
Clara kissed him on the lips. “I’m going to buy you something to settle your stomach.”
“That isn’t necessary.” The patches and pills never worked before. There was no use believing they would do better this time.
Clara placed a forefinger on his lips. “I’ll be back in a few minutes. Then we can both enjoy the view.”
Sam nodded. He watched her walk toward the door. She swayed her hips in that cute way, added a quick look over her shoulder, and winked.
Before Sam could find it sexy, his stomach bolted for the door soon after. He bent at the waste and sprayed the deck with dinner’s buttered lobster tail, trying to make it back to the rail. The boat rocked, his foot shifted, and set in vomit. He slipped, cracked forehead against the metal rail, mind spinning, his body followed.
Sam jolted back to consciousness by the brisk splash of water over his entire body. He choked, then coughed. His arms and legs struggled against something thick and resistant. Water! He was in the water.
Sam opened his eyes. He thrashed in the moon’s bright reflection. Despite the added illumination, there were no calls of a man over board. The ship itself grew smaller in the distance at least a mile away.
First, realization struck. He was in the middle of the Caribbean. No islands, no countries to find refuge. No small boats ventured out this way in the save for the occasional cruise ships. He was alone.
“Help!” He screamed. His voice fell flat on the ocean surface.
No one answered.
How long would it be until someone figured out he went into the water? Clara would spend ten minutes buying medicine from the desk. When she returned, he would be gone. What would she think? Would she suspect the worst?
She would see the vomit on the deck and know he’d been sick. She would think he ran for one of the bathrooms, maybe their private cabin on the lower deck. There were twelve decks on the cruise liner. How long before she assumed he wasn’t on board anymore. Oh, God. It would be hours before anyone knew. If he was lucky. And with currents, would they be able to turn around and find him?
Sam looked around. Black covered everything. Only cold–not quite freezing–water and the moon’s comforting reflection.
“Think it through, Sam,” he said aloud. The sound of his own voice soothed. Nevertheless, he whispered the words. A voice inside told him there might be something listening. “What first?”
His legs were getting tired keeping him afloat. His shoes dragged against the water. He kicked them off. They floated to the surface, and the current carried them away.
His pockets were empty, except for his cruise credit card and a handful of soggy receipts. That would do little good.
There was nothing. Nothing to do, but watch his ship get smaller until the dark swallowed it.
The moon continued its arc across the starlit sky. Its reflection moved with it, leaving Sam alone in the night.
As the first signs of sunlight poked over the horizon, Sam estimated those few hours had passed. Those few hours where Clara would look around the ship for him, growing worried with each passing minute. It was only a matter of time now. He had only to wait.
“This isn’t so bad,” Sam said. He even believed it. When his legs got tired of treading water, he floated on his back. There would be a search and he would be found. “This isn’t so bad.”
As if to encourage that opinion, a bird flew above. It squawked a warning, then landed in the water somewhere behind him. The sun showed itself now, creeping over the horizon.
Time lost any real significance. The sun rolled through the sky. Cold water lapped against his face, mitigating the sun’s heat. Somehow, the bird lessened his loneliness.
“It’s just the two of us, buddy,” he called to the bird.
It let out an odd squawk in return, followed by a splash.
Did it fly away?
Sam craned his head. The bird was gone. He looked up to find nothing overhead. Past his face, a feather floated in the water with the current. Its white and grey veins had spots of red. His heart picked up its pace. He looked in every direction, his movements frantic until they locked onto one image.
A fin poked out of the water. It sailed by at a carefree pace, turned, and weaved.
Sam let out a pathetic whimper. Never before had he felt this vulnerable.
What was he supposed to do? The program he’d seen on the nature channel said to stay perfectly still when confronted with a shark. Then again, Sam remembered another show on the same station where a large group of sharks fed on the carcass of a dead whale. It was still, and yet, they ate. The image of that fleshy mountain poking out of the water was still fresh in his mind. Missing chunks the size of Sam’s chest riddled the dead beast every few inches. A camera shot under water showed more sharks than he could count, writhing about the area like a nest of worms.
Sam couldn’t decide. Move, or, be still. Thanks to his fear, the decision was made for him. He froze. The fear locked every muscle. All he could do was float and watch the fin slice water.
Its movements reminded Sam of a dog sniffing out a scent. First left, then right until it picked up the trail, his trail.
“Please, God. Please, God. Please, God. Please, God,” Sam repeated the mantra under his breath. The fin didn’t dart right for him as he had feared, but another fin breached the surface from the opposite direction. The two fins carved a circle around his floating body at ten feet to either side.
A third fin joined the hunt, then a fourth.
It took Sam awhile to figure out it was the kill of his friend, the bird, that was drawing them all. That same nature show said certain sharks could smell a drop of blood in the ocean from miles away. The bird’s blood must still be close by, drawing more and more predators into the area. Sam spotted another bloody feather floating by a few feet away to confirm his theory.
One of the fins broke off and headed for Sam. The water was clear enough to see a shadow forming under the fin as it drew close. Sam wanted to swim away, but his limbs refused to obey. At a few feet, the fin lifted. A head rose, water rolling off rubbery-grey skin. Two cold eyes looked right at him. Sam sucked in air for a scream as the beast opened its mouth. Rows of pointy teeth jutted up from pink gums around a mouth big enough to swallow Sam’s head in a single bite. The jaw snapped shut before Sam could howl.
The beast devoured the bloody bird feather that had floated a few feet away, then dove, fin and all. Sam felt its boney blade brush his lower back.
Sam floated, unable to think. The creature had looked right at him. Could it be that it didn’t recognize him as food? Could it be as simple as blood or no blood, movement or no movement? Sam prayed that was the case.
With the sun high in the sky, there were many fins in the area. For a reason Sam couldn’t explain, he needed to look down. The water was clear for at least ten feet.
He looked and immediately wished he hadn’t. There were many more than a lot. Large ominous shapes swam beneath him. There were enough that they had to squirm around each other. A thick sinewy mass of writhing bodies. Sam snapped his gaze back up to the sky and tried to forget what he’d seen.
All it took was a drop of blood and thousands of razorblades would tear into him. Death paled in comparison to the unimaginable pain that came before it. Even if it lasted no more than a couple of seconds, the thought of being torn to shreds was enough to force a shiver from Sam’s frozen body.
One of the fins turned toward him. It grazed his elbow. Sam whimpered again, but the beast paid no attention. More of the fins did the same. Instead of his elbow, it was a leg, a foot, a shoulder, or his back. After a while Sam started to believe they were playing with him, like a cat with a lizard in its paws. Every few minutes, an eye would break the water’s surface and measure him. Mouths sometimes cracked open, exposing teeth.
Two of them, collided, then clashed. A tail lashed and struck Sam in the hand. He yelped, hand recoiling. A single red drop flung from his thumb and touched the water several feet away.
It didn’t take a second before they detected his blood. Every fin dashed to the spot. Bodies rammed. Teeth gnashed. They fought over nothing, mistaking each other for prey.
Sam held his thumb high above the water. A thin red line snaked from a small gash. The blood trail was at his wrist before he licked it up. He stuck the thumb in his mouth and sucked like a scared infant, feeling easily as vulnerable. He didn’t dare take it out again.
When the mound of angry teeth concluded, there was nothing to eat, and the circle resumed. The sun touched the horizon on the other side. Sam watched it melt into the water.
Sam’s eyelids were heavy. Hours of sustained fear wore on him. He hadn’t slept for two days, one of which he spent in the ocean. If he fell asleep now, he would drown. Or worse, his bloodied finger would capture the attention of his hungry friends, waking him with a horrible surprise.
“I’m sorry, Clara,” he whispered.
Some honeymoon he gave her. Who falls over the edge of a cruise ship, anyway? He chuckled. An African Safari didn’t seem that dangerous anymore. If he hadn’t chickened out, he may not be faced with a few dozen man-eaters.
As the sun dipped halfway out of sight, Sam saw a dark speck. He figured it was another bird in the distance, flying close to the water. Then it grew.
In an hour, the speck transformed into a blob, then a hulking mass. It was a ship, not a cruise ship, but a big one.
Sam didn’t know what to do. Did he wave? The ship might not be the only attention he drew. If he stayed still, what then? He drowned, or worse.
Against every instinct, Sam gathered every ounce of remaining courage, and waved with his uninjured hand. He didn’t dare take that finger from his mouth. He couldn’t yell with the finger there, either.
A loud horn sounded from the ship.
Please, God. Please, God. Please, God. Sam repeated the mantra in his head.
The ship appeared to hear his pleas as it closed the distance. When the cruiser towered above, the horn sounded again. A guttural rumble signaled the propellers changing direction. The ship stopped.
A crewman looked over the rail at Sam. “Holy shit!” he yelled, eyes tracing the dozens of fins. “Throw down a rope, now!”
A rope with an orange floating ring splashed down a few feet from Sam. The sharks paid little attention.
“Swim to it,” the same crewman said.
Easy for you to say, Sam thought.
Ignoring the order, Sam waited for the current to bring the ring to him. He hooked it under his armpits. A foot at a time, he lifted out of the water. As his toes left, he sighed.
He looked down again, safe from whatever he might see. There were even more than he’d seen before. They swam under the water all about the large cruiser, maybe a hundred. Sam laughed and cried, a torrent of emotion.
The crew pulled him aboard, and he kissed the deck, but settled for lying limp against its safety.
“Your wife Clara is one tough lady,” a crewman said.
“Huh?” Sam replied.
“Normally, the search parties don’t go out until the ship has been searched from top till bottom, but your wife insisted you weren’t there. It might have been hours more if she hadn’t. From the looks of those sharks, you didn’t have hours.”
“Is she here?”
“No, we’ll rendezvous with your cruise ship, you’ll see her then. Here, let’s get you up and dry.”
Sam shook his head, hugging his knees. “I’ll wait.”
Blood dripped from his finger, striking the deck. In his mind, he saw imaginary sharks racing toward it. An image he would never forget.
Robert Acosta is a Floridian living abroad in Canada with his wife Andrea. Robert, a former civil engineer and police officer, has turned in his badge to write under the umbrella of science fiction, horror, and fantasy. He is currently working on a series of short stories.