Fiction: Post-Apocalyptic Sci-Fi set in SF, Part 5
Jump the Shark
The next day I go to see the Seertlekimmie. He’s up and about, putzing around the dock and even though he ain’t lookin’ so hot he seems in good spirits.
We stroll around the docks, a sprawling maze of rickety ramps lashed to the face of the cliff. Ropes and pullies are everywhere, running the giant, hemp towlines up to the top of the cliff where the fishing kites have room to breathe. Below us, the waves crash against the jagged rocks and the skiffs bob in the swells.
“Let’s go out,” he says, outta nowhere. “Get boshin’! Let’s run a couple o’ baited lines like we used tah.”
“Bosharkin’? Are you kidding me? When’s the last time you were out? You even got a working inflatable kite?”
“It just so happens we’ve got two that’re up to snuff. And I’ll have you know that I towed a line out two days ago. You ain’t ‘fraid are you? Maybe getting too comfortable on land? Hell, I bet I can beat you out.”
“Shoot.” I just look at him for a minute. “Where’s the launch these days?”
“C’mon, I’ll show you,” he says.
We strip down to shorts and shirts then head down several ladders and ramps to a long, wobbly dock that juts out into the water in an ‘L’ shape. Half way out, at the elbow of the dock is a little shack with a few bags and some tackle hanging on the outside walls. Inside there’re three old dive suits and their clunky metal helmets. There’re some cables and ratty, patched hoses coiled on the floor.
“You want a suit?” asks the Seertlekimmie, grinning wickedly.
“Thanks, but I’d rather sleep on a pile of bat rays than put on one of those stinking things.”
“Heh, heh, suit yourself,” he says, grabbing one of the bags and a set of bar-lines. “Grab that kite and bar and those two harnesses. I’ll get the deadweight and the hooks.”
He picks up two small sandbags and then, from a rack above the suits, he grabs two medium hooks with three-foot steel cable leaders — shark hooks. It is fall after all, and the bastards taste a lot better than they look. Good soup.
On the end of the pier and we take out the kites and weigh them down with the sandbags. They’re worn, patchwork quilts of kites, stained brown and black from sand off the cliffs. But the bright greens and yellows of the original canopies shine through here and there.
“Still got a couple of twelve-meter inflatables, huh?”
“Did I patch that 12-meter Cult for you last fall?” I say, pointing at the aging, mostly pink patchwork-quilt of a kite.
At the end of the pier, there’s a box and a pump bolted to the weathered planks. Pump’s designed to be used with the dive suits, but it makes quick work inflatin’ the kites. I crank the big hand wheel while the Seertlekimmie handles the kites and hose.
The water laps at the dock while we bend down and attach our lines. The old wood planks smell of seertle something fierce. The Seertlekimmie opens the box and takes out one of the surfboards. It’s a big directional board with fins half the size of my arm. He pulls out a smaller board with foot straps and hands it to me.
“That about does her,” he says.
Turning towards the cliff, he sticks both pinky fingers in his mouth and lets out a long deafening whistle followed by two short whistles. A few moments later two dead sea bass tied to thin lines come sailing down from the upper rigging. The lines drape over the pier as the bait sails out past us into the water.
We each grab a line and retrieve our bait, then pull the thin line down from the cliff until the strong line it’s tied to makes it down from the upper rigging. We coil the thin line on the pier, detach it and make fast the fishing cord to the steel leaders of the shark hooks. Then we skewer the hooks through the eyes of the sea bass. I cut two short pieces of the thin line and we rig the baited hooks to the tails of the boards so the dead fish will trail in the water about five feet behind us. The thin line will give us about a forty pound test, so when the sharks bite the sea bass, the line’ll break free from the board.
The Seertlekimmie pulls on a harness and clips into the barlines. He knods to me and I toss his kite into the water as he begins unwinding his lines. We should use buckets to loosen the lines first. Clipping into a kite before unreeling the lines is a good way to death-spiral into a cliff face. If you don’t unwrap fast enough the kite will boom. Even worse, if you accidentally loop your hand, it could be “Adios mano.”
He’s showing off. Proving he’s still got it. Macho postuering bull pucky. And yet, the world is vicious. Needlessly demonstrating capability helps keep you on yer toes. Unless you fuck it up.
He gets away with it this time, bending down and grabbing his board. The kite washes downwind and the lines go taught. Wrenching in on one side of the bar, his kite slips to one side and swivels up. Then — boom — it launches skyward.
“Yee haw!” he yells as he blasts upward, throwing the board on his feet as he boosts off the pier. He lands the board on the water and starts ripping out to the right, around the edge of the pier and into towards open water. The fishing line reels out from above.
I grab the remaining bar-lines and clip in. I don’t have anyone to impress, so I lay my lines out on the dock first, then I toss my kite in. It drifts downwind as I sit on the edge of the dock and put on my board. When the kite fills with air, I hang onto a piling with my left hand and steer the kite with my right hand.
The scarred, patch-work Franken-kite reaches the end of its lines and fills with air as it catches the wind. I hold steady and hard on the starboard line and it slowly scoots over to the left. Once it gets to the edge of the wind, I slowly, steadily, rock it upright and launch it into the sky. As soon as the kite’s in the air, I swoop it across to the right side, letting go of the dock and riding the board to the right, maneuvering the kite around, avoiding the fishing lines hanging down from the cliff.
Heading out to sea, the fishing line causes more drag than I remember, but there’s still plenty of power. It feels good to be out on the water again. The kimmie’s right, it has been a while and I feel a tad rusty. I focus on my breathing and carve a few wide lines. I switch my feet, slipping in and out of the foot straps, riding toe-side for a moment before jibing, turning around.
Jibbing around, I carve a shepherds crook into the water, swinging the nose of the board downwind and then back to port. I’m careful not to snag a line, thankful for the large sea bass, which serves a double purpose — it attracts the sharks but also weighs the seertling lines down below the fins of the board. After a moment, I change direction, tacking back this time, swinging the nose upwind shuffling my feet, reminding myself to breath.
Sharkin’ is no time to fall off a board.
The swells are as big as ever, probably twelve-feet from peak and trough. Just for fun I send the kite up a bit and jump from one peak to the next. In midair, I look back and watch the bass pop out of the water behind me. It sails through the air like some magical flying fish. That’s when a giant, gaping, toothy mouth cuts out from the swell. A grey snout with a jagged white scar sinks into the dark water.
Distracted, the peak of the next swell swallows the nose of my board and I almost eat it. Wobbily, I ride it out and look back to see about an eight-foot gap between dorsal and tail fin. It’s fifteen to eighteen feet if it’s an inch. We’ll be eating well tonight unless the sharks eats well today.
I flip the rig around, sweeping the kite, switching feet and turning the board to port. I zig-zag, trailing the bait, looking over my shoulder for the dorsal fin, but there’s no sign. Great. A breecher.
Some sharks trail their prey, attacking from behind or the side. Others dive deep down and then blast up through the water. A breecher ain’t good fer basharking. More often then not it smells the fish but hits the board. Ideally you just feel the drag from the line vanish and then head back to port. Not this time.
Squatting low, I switch steering to my left hand and grab the trailing line with my right. I work the rope through my hand until I get a hold of the thick fishing line. Leaving the bait in the water I drape the line across my right shoulder and use the hook knife on the harness to cut the board free.
Standing back up, I change to starboard tack. I sweep the kite to the right and carve the board downwind of the fishing line. As I make the turn, the line slides off of my shoulder and I catch it in my right hand.
Where is he? There’s nothing but the black water rushing beneath me, shimmering flashes of green and flakes of white.
My eyes trail the water as I let the fishing line slide through my fingers until I feel and grasp the metal leader. Remembering to breathe, I begin swinging the bass round and round in a backwards circle, ready to throw.
Time slows down as I see his snout break the water. Little water droplets sparkle, spinning off yellow teeth and pink gums. It’s leading me perfect. If I was a seal, he have me dead to rights.
The left hand does its job and the kite screams skyward, pulling rider, board and bait along. Leaning back I fling the hooked bass at the gaping jaws.
It hits! It hits the roof of its mouth! It hits and bounces down his gullet, the bass disappears like water down a whirlpool! I’m hypnotized as the teeth and line disappear into the frothy sea. I ought tah be watching the peak of my jump.
Coming down, I’m moving quick and my board’s pointed the wrong way. Guess I didn’t compensate enough when I threw the fish an’ now I’m akimbo. There ain’t a thing tah do but try tah ride it out. The board hits the water backwards and I’m holdin’ it down, but slipping all over the danged place. A nose makes for a squirrelly tail.
I try to change tack but a breaking swell washes over the nose of the board.
The world goes dim as I flop beneath the water. Water jamming up my nose faster than you’d think was possible. Blindly, I grab the bar and steer the kite towards the zenith. Popping above the water, my only hope is the reel limit.
Looking back, the dorsal fin is about ten feet behind me. I send the kite and blast out of the water, spiraling the kite, I speed through the air, putting space twix me and the bastard, but getting closer to the cliff. No crashing allowed or it’s a long walk home — if you can climb the cliff. If you don’t get yer brains bashed out in the rocky surf first.
There’s a chance of riding the wind up the cliff face, but it’s more likely the air turbulence will flip the kite backwards.
I splash down and keep bodydraggin’ to starboard, reaching out, straitenin’ my body, pointing like an arrow. Doin’ everything I can to slice through the water like a blade. And there it is on the edge of the cliff wall, the big, red flag marking the end of the reel. It’s maybe twenty feet ahead of me. I look back and see the fin again.
“I thought you were a diver, asshole!” I yell. It’s too close to the cliff face to send the kite again. I’m out of options. I look over my shoulder to see the fin closing in on me, snout and eyes coming out of the water. Suddenly it stops in place and then sinks below the water. An instant later its tail breaks the surface as it thrashes, bleeding red amidst the whitewash.
My kite is wobbling in the turbulence near the cliff face. It’s a struggle, but I work it, keeping it out of the water, aiming myself up wind, away from the wall. I switch tack back and forth, back and forth, swallowing water, getting’ beat like a rag doll by the swells, hoping there’s not another shark but knowing there is.
The wind cleans up and after a minute I hear a whistle behind me.
Looking over my left shoulder, I see the Seertlekimmie tossing me my board. “Almost perfect,” he says. “Just stay on your board next time. See you back at the dock, bosher.”