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©2018 Mike Chapman

Volume 1.13: 'Leviathan'

Right 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. The combination of the cold water and the bullet hole Ivar put in me was almost enough to kill me. I'm damn lucky the water’s warmer in August and damn lucky that Ivar was a lousy shot, else I wouldn't have lasted long. The lifeboat's captain found me with a death grip on my little shard of hull, numb fingers 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: lumps of ice in my chest where my organs used to be. Just the thought of my legs dangling helplessly below the waterline gives them a strange tingling feeling, like how I imagine amputees must feel.


I'm never going to sea again. Neither is Ivar.


When I bought into Ivar’s business, he’d talked me into splitting the cost of buying a little boat. From my first glance at the company’s books, it seemed like the business was going well enough for a little indulgence. Even as I’d signed my way through the pile of documents, I’d wondered why Ivar’s old partner had left when everything had been going so well. I hadn’t thought about it for too long: my mistake. I signed and helped him buy the damn boat. It had cleaned my bank account out.


Now the boat is gone. I’ll think of it as a necessary sacrifice, something given to the sea to purchase my survival.


The people here are nice enough considering I'm not from the island, but none of them warned us about going out to the skerry. I guess Ivar and I deserved that. Usually, small islands have names. Not this one, though. The natives always know which one is being talked about. When the locals along the dock had heard where we were sailing to, there was a subtle change in expression which only strikes me now I think back.


Ivar and I had made a goddamn fortune selling shonky cars on Shetland - this little island out in the North Atlantic. With a captive market and a pervasive sea wind that could rust a car down to its wheel rims in weeks, we were laughing, right up until the Islanders got tired of being ripped off. Suddenly, that empty bank account of mine wasn’t refilling very fast at all. I wondered occasionally whether the backlash had started before I’d arrived, but that was a silly thought, wasn’t it? That would mean that Ivar knew the business was in trouble when he was looking for a new partner.


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


The sea outside Lerwick harbour had an ill-tempered swell to it too: oily and dark and unsettled. None of the local boats were 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 a sufficiently cutting way of phrasing it.


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


The beer can, bright red, bobbed peacefully enough on the churning water our little boat left behind. Gradually, inch by inch, it receded until I only saw it occasionally as it rode the crest of a wave before vanishing down into a trough. I could empathise with its sunken position.


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 it and nothing could fix that. He disagreed. Vocally. He’d raged about how I was just like his old partner: too ready to cut and run when things got difficult.


It made his silence on the trip all the more inexplicable. I'd expected a resumption of our argument, given that it only took a signature from one of us to begin liquidating our business’ assets, 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 frustration 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. Occasionally, they'd tuck their wings in 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 seabirds 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: an old and heavy pistol, pitted with rust.


He aimed it shakily at my chest.


“Just like Jamie. How disappointing.”


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


Was he honestly going to just shoot me in the middle of nowhere?


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, witnesses might deter him.


“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. I’ll stay. Just put the gun away.”


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. He gasped and wheeled round at the sight.


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. He waved the gun at me and fired once.


The shot almost missed but it didn’t: it ripped through the fleshy part of my side, carving a shallow but bloody furrow. The shock of injury knocked me to the ground.


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


Bobbing seabirds erupted in a squawking panic from the surface ahead of it as the water began to rise again.


Ivar shook the spent shells from his pistol and fumbled more from his pocket. I crawled towards the shelter of the tiny cockpit and tried to start the engine again. It turned over 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 broke. 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 downwards, robbing me of strength. The water below was dark and endless. I could sink into it forever.


But I surfaced, gasping. Somehow, Ivar remained 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 while his free hand 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 there was no blood.


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


The destruction a bomb going 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 struck me on the nose, hard enough to break bone, 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 the massive grey bulk of the beast by the force of its movement. His eyes bulged and his mouth hung open, but I couldn’t tell if he was still alive. In that moment, I didn’t know which I wanted. The huge creature was heading down and down into darkness, chasing the glinting metal of the dropped pistol, the shell casings and a handful of loose change that had spilt from Ivar’s pockets. It swam quickly into the murky gloom with a tremendous thrum of displaced water.


Another second and 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, unsuccessfully trying to pull them out. Most of the time, I'd just lie there and stare into the sky.


When I got rescued and told the lifeboat captain where we’d been, he nodded sagely and didn’t ask any questions. I’m not sure he even wrote anything down. When I told him who’d taken me out there, he hadn’t seemed in the least surprised.


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 my blood. It thinks I hurt it.


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


I can't go by air. The island’s got such a shortage of flat land that the airport’s single runway pokes right out into the sea on an incredibly narrow strip of land. And too - what if the plane crashes? What if I'm bobbing around on the ocean in a stupid yellow jacket, blowing 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.


I have to leave, but I can’t. I daren’t. I’m trapped here on this tiny island with a failing business and no money. I need to get some sucker to buy in, keep me afloat for a while longer.