Val and the White Shark
by Lance Garrison Ballard
part 1 of 2
Night had finally snuffed out the day, and the silver shine of the moon caressed razor-sharp steel.
Val snagged the harpoon — which could easily wound, if not kill, most any seafaring creature — and headed back to the boat. Star-filled night.
Steady Stride bobbed among the waves and rocked steadily against the wooden stilts of the pier. The tide had risen even more, in the last half hour.
Bet Sarah didn’t even know what hit her. Tears swelled. Val knew his sister would never return back from surfing. But the sea itself wasn’t to blame. The coroner stated that Sarah had been bitten in two below the waist. Manny Chavez had verified this and was also fairly sure that the shark in question had to be a great white. Makos, tigers and even the menacing bull shark weren’t ones to cruise in close enough to Catalina’s coastline to attack surfers. Only one shark was known to do that and to have such a vicious demeanor as to bite a person in two, like Sarah.
Great white, Val thought, eyes now dry of tears.
“Not leavin’ without me, y’re not.”
Val knew the familiar voice and turned. “Get home, Laddy.” He was the kid down the way who worshiped all that Val did.
Val was maybe five or six years older than Laddy. Enough gap in age that Laddy looked up to Val as a sort of surrogate big brother. And the more Laddy hung around the pier — going on four months now — the more Val did become like a big brother. So that’s how it was. BIG BROTHER/little brother.
But no time for such sentiments. Not when sweet revenge for Sarah was at the forefront of Val’s every thought.
“Just get home like I said, Laddy.”
“Y’re not leavin without me,” he said again, “and that’s that.” He climbed aboard and untied the line to the pier.
Thing about Laddy was that when his mind was set, it was set. That was that, as he would say. Laddy took some getting used to, for sure. But after that, you couldn’t find a more loyal friend. Maybe why Val now looked out for Laddy, like a big brother, and made sure he stayed up with his grades, and even threw in the sultry temptation of spending cash, just to make sure.
Still, there was something rather off-kilter about Laddy’s home life, like a creepy-crawl feeling under the skin. And yet Val had never once meet Laddy’s family. For good reason. There was no family. Not in the traditional sense, that is. Jake had bailed when Laddy was still in the womb, and Janet was left to make do. Yet Val never learned of this. Nor how Laddy’s mother gave herself sinfully to alcoholic ways — which, more often than not — put Laddy in ER for medical assistance, which usually always ended with stitches.
Enough thread and needle had been used, that Laddy had learned exactly how to hide with just the right fitting clothes the scars of welted pain that resulted from the brass buckle and belt swung violently by Janet, and who had slurred, almost as violently as that brass buckle and belt, Jim Beam promises that such harsh beatings would never again happen.
Until again happened again. Always with the belt. And always with the brass buckle.
This sadistic cycle kept Laddy far from home. Which was fine with him. He’d stay away (another thing Val never learned of) sometimes, three or four nights a week, depending how badly his mom took to hitting the bottle. And how badly she took to hitting the bottle told how badly she’d take to hitting Laddy.
No matter what, the kid got it bad. Real bad. But whatever abuse he suffered, it seemed not to matter. Not when hanging with Val.
He gazed out at the flickering lights, scattered across the beach, and thought how they looked like neon specks of winking glass. Yes, neon specks of winking glass, that was how Val, perched on the bow, saw the house lights.
Steady Stride was almost half a mile off shore by now, soon to reach even deeper water. If anchor wasn’t dropped soon, Val and Laddy wouldn’t know north from south anymore. Steady Stride’s compass was beyond repair.
“Long as we don’t lose sight of the beach,” Val said, “we’ll be fine.”
“Sure about that?” Laddy wasn’t.
Val gave the same speech as before, then pushed, just left of the ignition switch, the button to drop anchor. It hit bottom.
“Now what?” Laddy quipped.
Val said, “Chum.”
“Keep those fish guts away from me,” Laddy warned.
Val smiled. He was actually glad Laddy had tagged along. Night like this, on open sea, company was just what was needed to keep one sane. And Val needed all the sanity he could get if the beast he hunted, ever surfaced.
The harpoon glistened. Laddy eyed it. “Really plannin’ on catchin’ that shark, huh?” He knew what Val had been up to, even before shoving off.
Val turned in silence and went below deck. Then returned with a plastic bucket of chum, holes punched through lid. The sordid stench of cow blood, mixed with rotted fish, was more than enough to attract a shark.
Same shark that killed Sarah, Val hoped and swiftly grabbed a line of rope and tied it to the bucket of chum, tied the other end of the rope to a cleat, then tossed the bucket overboard.
Light of the moon was all that shone amidst slick, black waves, rougher in size and scope than back at the pier. With the moon in full bloom, the bucket of chum could be easily seen: bright yellow plastic bouncing off seemingly infinite waves of black.
Then came a splash.
Laddy turned. He sighed. The splash had only been the waves, smacking the bucket bobbing up and down.
“Just how long we gonna be out here, anyway?” Fear now had Laddy. He suddenly wished for dry land.
Again, Val was silent, and took to tying the line of the harpoon to the cleat, just left, opposite the other cleat, where the bucket of chum was also tied.
By now, the chum slick was spreading the false scent of wounded prey, farther out to sea. But what Val hunted wasn’t farther out.
It was starboard bound. And closing.
The dorsal fin sliced through waves, straight at Steady Stride.
Laddy froze-sight unflinching as the dorsal fin cut hard left and honed in tight on the bobbing bucket of chum. A streamlined snout then broke the sea’s wavy, black surface, and the beast’s grayish girth, towered high above sinister jaws exposing flesh-tearing serrated, triangular teeth.
Val heaved the harpoon.
The beast was hit deep in the lower fleshy underside of its grayish-white belly then crashed hard on the bucket of chum-and a torrent flurry of yellow plastic splinters showered the sea.
Val didn’t hesitate.
He raised anchor. Gunned engine. But the haul proved too much for Steady Stride to tow. Billow of smoke and fiery pop suddenly erupted. A gasket had blown from hauling the beast. The shark still had plenty of fight left, though. Tons of fight, two tons worth of fight, to be exact. Then the line to the harpoon began to turn Steady Stride in slow, swirling circles. Round. And round. The beast was the culprit.
Such topsy-turvy assault became to much for Laddy, as well as the smell of chum. He puked as Val shut off the engine and rushed back below deck and returned topside with a loaded 357 Magnum.
Instead of slow swirling circles, Steady Stride was now being dragged deeper out to sea. Val lost his balance from the change in direction, and the 357 plummeted beneath infinite waves of black. Then the sound of wood cracking, pierced the night. The cleat that secured the line to the harpoon had become weak from the beast’s relentless pull.
Having been caught numerous times before, the beast was nowhere near ready to give out. It still had more then enough fight to endure the lulling drag of the boat and harpoon with line. The beast’s instincts were well tuned for survival against a all-out struggle of this magnitude.
“Cut the line!” Laddy suddenly cried as the fog mysteriously appeared from nowhere and engulfed Steady Stride in a thick vaporous blanket of ominous white. But that did nothing to slow the beast. It kept its relentless pull on Steady Stride. And the fog became even more dangerously dense, as if to suffocate those that carelessly became lost in that thick vaporous blanket of ominous white.
Knowing now which direction the beach lay was near impossible, let alone catch a glimpse of it.
There was no other way. Revenge on the beast had to be nixed. Val raced down below deck again and snatched a machete, raced back top-side, and hastily cut the line. Clean through.
And the relentless pull that had Steady Stride, relinquished beneath the sea — calm again — as if the beast had been nothing more than a vast hallucination, a trick on the eyes like a mirage atop scorching desert sand.
Then, came a beam of light cutting through the fog.
The beam of light was gaining now and picking up speed with the rumbling sound of a distant motor.
Copyright © 2005 by Lance G. Ballard