|The Dreaming Seas Beneath Cassandra
The first thing Cassandra Gibson noticed when she reached the dive boat's anchor was that pig blood looked green twenty metres down. As it swirled in the water like cigarette smoke in a sunlit room, curving and twisting with invisible currents, she reminded herself that at that depth everything looked green or blue. Still, the blood's colour seemed absurd somehow, a betrayal of its origins.
The second thing she noticed was that sharks weren't concerned with colour; it was the smell of the thing that drew them. Death has a smell, she told herself, and our friends depend on it.
She counted four grey reef sharks, and a moment later saw three more swim into view. She knew they weren't very big, all two metres or less in length, but this close they were impressive nonetheless.
Because she was carrying the stills camera, Cassandra could start shooting immediately; Robert Hamlyn with the video gear had to wait for Cassandra's husband Nick to come down with the extra strobes before rolling.
Cassandra finned away from the anchor line, positioning herself near a coral bommie from where she could centre the hull of their boat in a wide-angle shot, and at the same time capture most of the sharks circling the slowly expanding cloud of blood. By now the whole team was down: Robert and Nick filming near the anchor line, and the film crew's boss, Barbara Freeman, directing them and watching their backs.
Cassandra ascended five metres into the middle of the mass of sharks. Just then their guide, a local man called Henry, dropped bundles of fish tied to lines over the gunwale. They hung like limbless corpses, dead men waiting for burial.
A male shark broke the holding pattern with a flick of his tail. He grabbed a mouthful of fish and twisted away, effortlessly taking his meal with him. He was followed by another, smaller male, and then the rest rushed in. Their long, grey bodies writhed and spun, tearing away huge chunks of fish with each bite. Shreds of white flesh and silver tails drifted down like snow, and smaller fish moved in, attracted by the action and the smell of food.
The Nikon clicked, whirred, clicked, its single eye winking at creatures who couldn't wink back, the strobe flashing with each shot. The sharks circled, darted, bit and swallowed in a swirling dance of organized violence. Occasionally one of them came too close to Cassandra and she would warn it off with the camera or a kick with her fin.
One of the smaller sharks-a female-jerked away from the frenzy, blood seeping from a jagged wound on her flank. A large male followed her, the pair keeping close to the reef. When the male was above and behind the female he lunged forward, closing his jaws over the head of the injured shark, viciously jerking his whole body one way then the other until the head was completely torn off. Both sharks were hidden behind a spume of dark blood; by the time it cleared there was no trace of either.
Cassandra was so surprised by the event she'd taken no photographs. She turned to see if Robert had caught any of the action on film, but his camera was still pointing towards the sharks now finishing off the free meal dangling from the boat.
The sharks show less fear every day, she thought, and we just keep on feeding them.
She released the shutter for the final time and finned her way back to the anchor line. A shark cut in between her and the surface, its dark eye carefully surveying her as it cruised past.
For a moment she was sure she saw intelligence in its stare, the unblinking sign of alertness. The thought crossed her mind that no idle brain saw through that eye or whipped that tail.
She reached the stern of the boat and handed the camera gear to Henry, then her weightbelt and fins. Before climbing the boarding ladder she looked down one last time. The other four divers were surrounded by sharks, but she knew they'd be alright. The creatures were more curious than aggressive. There must have been a dozen or more of the long grey shapes now, moving through the water as sinuously as snakes through grass, their shadows rippling over the coral.
The spirit of the animal is its shadow, she thought.
Henry helped Cassandra remove her wetsuit, then set about making coffee while she stretched out on a bench seat and let the sun dry her dark Melanesian skin. The fine hairs on her arms and legs glistened with captured water.
She propped herself up on her elbows and looked out over the gunwale. Sunlight flecked the surface of the sea, carved sheets of lapis lazuli. Rising from the waters two kilometres away, protected from the ocean by its fringing coral reef, the grey volcanic flanks of the island of Menau seemed suddenly frail and isolated. Menau was capped by a rainforest that appeared too trim to be natural, and she was reminded of an illustration she'd seen when she was a child in a book about the adventures of Sinbad-of a lush tropical island that was nothing more than camouflage for a spiteful whale.
She heard splashing and the asthmatic wheeze of regulators. The rest of the crew were back. She and Henry helped bundle gear aboard, then gave a hand to the divers. The deck was suddenly busy with tanks and weightbelts, slippery with pools of seawater and spume.
As soon as Barbara had her mask off she asked Cassandra if she'd caught the action. Cassandra was wondering precisely what action she was talking about when Nick used his hands to imitate one shark biting another.
"No," Cassandra admitted, and couldn't think of a plausible excuse.
"Those shots could have made us a lot of money," Barbara said, looking a little ridiculous as she struggled with her wetsuit.
"I'm sorry-" Cassandra began, but Barbara didn't let her finish.
"Our overheads on jobs like this are quite atrocious. Please never forget we have to run with every opportunity."
"I won't," Cassandra said flatly.
Barbara nodded sharply. "Alright. Let's forget it this time."
Cassandra glanced at her husband for support, even a friendly look, but he pretended to be busy with his gear. My poor, faithless husband, she thought sadly.
"Lots of sharks?" Henry asked Barbara.
"Plenty, but small ones," she said. "I want bigger ones. Where do we find them?"
Henry shrugged. "Sometimes here."
Barbara studied him coolly. "Sometimes isn't good enough. What about further out?"
"On the other side of the reef, over the drop-off, they are bigger. But the light isn't so good."
"That isn't much help, is it?"
"Give him a break, Barbara," Roger said. "You asked him to take us to sharks and he took us to sharks."
"I wanted fucking big sharks, Robert, not minnows," she returned. "I know you're used to working with National Geographic and the BBC, but I'm an independent producer and I can't afford to wait weeks for just the right shot. We've got five shooting days, that's it, and when we go home I want footage of something a little longer than six feet."
She turned to Henry. "Next time, get me some big sharks, okay?"
That night Cassandra dreamed about her first encounter with a shark, when she was seven years old.
She was riding her brother's board in the green waters off Byron Bay. The board, dearer to her brother than life itself, was a long black skate with two fins. It was late afternoon, the sun dipping inland, and she was concentrating on angling the board for the next wave that would carry her, belly down, all the way back to the beach.
She sensed rather than saw something huge and grey swelling up from the water beneath her, and an instant later she was thrown into the sea.
She surfaced snorting brine from her nostrils and the back of her throat, shaking the hair out of her eyes. Her first thought was that her brother had come up underneath her, tipping her off as a joke, and then she saw the two halves of the board. Confused now, she started swimming towards one of the pieces when the sea surged again, the pressure carrying her back, spinning, like a dancing cork.
She twisted around and found herself staring into a black pearl the size of a 20¢ coin. She knew it was an eye, and then she saw the serrated, subtriangular teeth underneath. The great shark's head bobbed up and down in the water, the pearl regarding her. Still not afraid, all thought and feeling frozen, she in turn studied the shark, almost absently noting the wide, blunt snout, the pink and purple gullet folded like a soft pillow, the sheer mass of the thing.
And then it was gone.
Cassandra shook, her jaws vibrating like loose boiler plates. She started to sink, and a second later her head slipped under. She kicked and splashed her way back to the surface in sudden panic, then felt something grab her around the waist and pull her out of the sea. She screamed, flailed as hard as she could as she was lifted clear of the water.
Strong, brown arms wrapped around her, but still she struggled, her mind and body rejecting all physical contact.
Her father hugged her close to his body, called her name. "Cassandra! You're safe now!"
Her cries turned to whimpers and she slumped in his arms. They stayed like that for a long while, and then she heard her grandfather's voice.
"You are too young for Menalo. He has given you back to us."
Her father said something in the old tongue, his voice angry, but Cassandra didn't know what the words meant. Her grandfather said nothing more, but took her from her father's arms and cradled her in his lap.
Her eyes became heavy, and as they closed she saw her father, his large frame taking up most of the space on the bow thwart, his powerful arms pulling evenly on the oars, the sea pitching and falling behind him like a sheet flapping in the wind.
Henry took the film crew in his boat to a point north of Menau where the fringing coral reef came closest to the island. The reef was a narrow crescent, forming a small lagoon where bommies looked like porcelain carvings set in a shallow bowl of aquamarine glass.
Within minutes of dropping anchor a small outrigger pulled up along side the boat, its single occupant a wiry local with dark grey skin the colour of Menau's volcanic soil. Cassandra smiled down at him. He grinned back; large ivory-coloured teeth filled his mouth. He exchanged a greeting with Henry.
"Who is this?" Barbara asked Henry.
"My grandfather's brother," Henry replied. "His name is Sebastian, and he is a shark caller."
"He is a what?"
"I call sharks, Miss Freeman," Sebastian said in a missionary-school accent. "I can answer any questions you have about me."
For a moment, Barbara looked annoyed, as though Sebastian's ability to speak English lost her some advantage.
"Can you call a shark for us now?"
"If Sebastian cannot, then no one can," Henry said bluntly.
"I can call a shark," Sebastian said. "Whether or not one replies is another matter."
Barbara's expression showed she was only vaguely satisfied. Robert touched her lightly on the shoulder. "No harm in going down and seeing what happens," he said consolingly. "A pity to waste the trip."
Nick tapped Cassandra on the head, gave the OK sign. She hugged the camera casing close to her chest and fell backwards off the gunwale, slipping into the lagoon. Before going down she searched for the outrigger, saw it drifting twenty metres away. Sebastian sat erect at the stern, a club in one hand and a long string of shells in the other. He started splashing the water with the shells.
Nick appeared next to her and gave the thumb down sign. They both descended to the bottom.
Most of the reef was made up of white and yellow staghorns, a miniature forest inhabited by anemones, shrimps and small fish.
Cassandra took a few moments to orient herself, sighting her compass to determine north, memorising surrounding features, noting the current. She flashed her camera's strobe to check the water's turbidity.
She positioned herself between the dive boat and the outrigger. The outrigger was surrounded by bubbles as Sebastian splashed the water with his string of shells. Their clacking, rounded by the water, sounded to Cassandra like a sack full of bones being shaken.
She looked up and across to the blue hull of the dive boat. She saw Henry silhouetted against the bright surface. He was breathing from a long air hose running to a tank on board the boat. The guide's hair spread out around his head like a dark halo.
He's nothing but shadow, Cassandra thought, and then, crazily: We're being watched by a ghost.
Something in the distance, perhaps forty or fifty metres away, caught her attention. Not even really a shape, merely the suggestion of a broad snout, of something effortlessly gliding through the water.
Jesus, he's done it. He's called a shark.
The creature turned away from them, disappeared, but then a few seconds later reappeared further north and much closer. Cassandra could make out its shape, and recognized faint stripes running across its wide body in front of the dorsal fin.
Her body stiffened; her bowels loosened.
A tiger shark, nearly three metres in length. She noticed the male claspers behind the pelvic fins. It swam around the dive boat towards the outrigger. Cassandra started taking pictures. The strobe did not seem to bother the shark. It glided under the canoe, swished its head from side to side among the bubbles and continued on, swum a wide arc around the dive boat. The shark watched the crew cautiously, gliding away when Robert and Nick approached with the video and strobes, coming closer when the pair retreated. After a few minutes it accelerated and soon disappeared from sight.
A short while later the divers were joined by a collection of small black-tipped reef sharks and a couple of their longer grey cousins. They were curious about the humans, and Cassandra watched Robert film, finning between them without a care in the world, Nick keeping up with him like a shadow, Barbara not far behind.
The sharks circled around them for nearly thirty minutes, and then all at once streaked off eastwards, away from the lagoon and into open water.
That night the usually reliable onshore breeze petered out early, and the crew were left gasping in their rooms like stranded fish, the hotel's roof fans doing little to alleviate the heat and humidity. Cassandra pretended to sleep, did not stir when Nick crept out of their bed and left their hotel room. She knew where he was going. She cried softly for a moment before getting angry and telling herself neither he nor Barbara were worth crying over. It wasn't as if it was the first time.
After a while she left the hotel and wandered down to the beach, stretching out on the cooling sand. Her mind touched on a hundred thoughts, settled on none.
The night was filled with the plaintive calls of mutton birds resting at the base of the pisonias and banyan trees that covered most of Menau. She smiled to herself, remembering how the birds kept Barbara awake even when the onshore breeze was blowing.
She lay there without sleep for a long while before she felt her consciousness evaporate like water from a drying sponge. She closed her eyes and imagined herself floating away from the beach, drifting up and over the island, across the ocean, across time.
The first dream that came to her was another memory. It was Nick's birthday, and the party at their place had left Cassandra feeble with alcohol. While he farewelled his guests from the front lawn she made a vague attempt at cleaning up, but decided the mess could wait until morning and went to bed instead. She threw off her clothes and collapsed on top of the sheets without bothering to snuggle between them. The warm night air had begun lulling her to sleep when she felt Nick lie down beside her. His hand started stroking the soft undercurve of one breast, and slowly migrated south until he was massaging the folds between her legs. At first she wanted him to stop, needing sleep more than sex, but gradually desire stirred in her, helped along by Nick's clumsy foreplay and the alcohol in her bloodstream.
She came first, the climax less pleasure than simply the release of tension, and after catching her breath she started moving her hips again, trying to keep in time with the erratic Nick. He had consumed even more alcohol than she.
"Barbara," he moaned, the word more a cry than a name.
Cassandra was standing at the end of the bed, watching her husband make love to Barbara. It was still night, but suddenly much colder.
Nick and Barbara. They moved together like mating eels, rhythmic and sinuous, their pale flesh, absurdly blushed and fluid, shiny with sweat. Shiny with the wages of sin, Cassandra observed, embarrassed by her own prudishness, angered and deeply wounded by Nick's faithlessness.
Something rough touched her hand, and she turned quickly, startled. She saw a man, not a man, his skin a powdery grey, his head misshapen, his hair raised in a crest, his eyes jet black without any whites . . .
"My God!" she cried.
Nick stopped swinging, looked with sudden concern into Cassandra's eyes. "Did I hurt you? I'm sorry-"
"No. No." Cassandra moved out from underneath him. "It wasn't you."
"I did hurt you, didn't I?" Nick insisted, falling onto his back and covering his eyes with a hand. "I didn't mean to," he added, drunkenly.
"Stop feeling sorry for yourself," she said, more brusquely than she intended. "It was nothing you did. I don't know what happened. But suddenly I wasn't . . . I wasn't here."
He made a feeble attempt to laugh. "Where were you, then?"
There was no answer to that, and she didn't try to invent one. After a few minutes Nick fell asleep, leaving her behind to wonder.
The memory dissolved, and in her sleep Cassandra heard the sound of fruitbats returning to the palm trees behind the beach line before the second dream came, which was really no dream at all. Not a memory like the first, but something entirely different.
It came from the west, a black sail knifing through the sea, leaving behind a V-shaped ripple. Attached to the sail, just beneath the surface, moved a dark shape, and the shape had a mind she recognized, and in turn a mind she knew recognized her own.
She woke with a start, hearing the cry of a shearwater close by, and realized it was the sound that had roused her, as if in warning.
She shook her head. No, not a warning. The cry had been a welcome for some strange friend, some wandering brother.
She drifted back off to sleep.
When next she woke it was morning. The weather had closed in. Low, steel grey clouds blanketed the sky, and a fresh easterly blew in over the Pacific. The ocean swell was severe enough to send white-capped waves crashing over Menau's outlying reef.
Barbara appeared beside her.
"That's all we need. A bloody storm."
Cassandra glanced at her boss, and seeing the anger in her face thought it best to say nothing.
I'm the one who should be angry, she thought. But I can't. I don't really love my beautiful, faithless Nick. Maybe I never have. Maybe that's why he prefers the feel of Barbara's skin to mine . . .
She shook her head to chase away the thoughts. Of course I love him.
"No diving today," Barbara continued, speaking more to herself than to Cassandra. "We can't afford this."
Barbara turned on her heel and strode back to the hotel, leaving Cassandra alone to stare out over the sea.
Soon after it started raining, and rather than spend the day in the hotel feeling sorry for herself she walked the two kilometres to Entue, the island's largest town, no more than a collection of fibro shacks and Quonset huts clustered around a few decaying concrete buildings. As she reached its outskirts the rain became heavy, and she ran to the nearest store. The sign above the entrance said "Timoci's Exports".
She found herself in a long, narrow building, barely lit by plastic skylights smeared with dirt and set in a low tin roof. Looking around, she saw she was standing in an aisle formed by rows of shelves stacked with packaged and tinned food, aluminium pots and pans, nylon fishing lines, stationery, kerosene lamps, paperbacks and record albums, bundles of dried herbs.
At the back of the shop was a long bench set on two forty gallon drums whose peeling blue paint tried gallantly to disguise the rust beneath. Behind the bench was an old Chinese man, talking with the shark caller Sebastian. On the bench was a bundle of shark fins tied together with palm string.
She ambled down the aisle, pretending to be interested in the products on the shelves.
"Can I help you?"
She looked up to see the Chinese man gazing at her over a pair of wire-rimmed glasses.
The man nodded. Sebastian glanced over his shoulder at Cassandra, smiling quickly in recognition.
Cassandra smiled back and shrugged. "Just looking, really."
The shop owner resumed his conversation with Sebastian. "I can give you ten dollars for them," he said. "That's all the market will pay these days."
"These aren't from any reef shark, Tim," Sebastian answered, holding up a dorsal fin nearly as long as his forearm. "Tiger shark. It has been twenty years since I last called a tiger shark. It was nearly three metres long."
"I'm sorry, but as long as it isn't mako or thresher, the species doesn't matter. Ten dollars."
"I need flour and kerosene."
Tim sighed and crossed his arms, closely studied Sebastian's face and then his offering.
"Eight dollars, two kilos of flour and five litres of kerosene."
"Those fins are worth at least a hundred dollars in Hong Kong," Cassandra announced. Tim and Sebastian looked at her in surprise, and her expression mirrored their own.
What the hell do I think I'm doing?
Tim stared at her. If he was angry at her interruption he didn't show it. "What would you know about it, young lady?" he inquired politely.
Cassandra wished she was somewhere else. She looked to Sebastian for support, but he seemed as confused as she.
"I read about it somewhere. Once. In a book about sharks."
"How long ago did you read it?"
"Ten years ago, maybe."
"I see." He returned his attention to Sebastian. "Many things change over ten years, my friend. The number of grey hairs we own, the size of our paunches, the price of shark fin in Hong Kong."
"That's true," Sebastian agreed mildly, nodding his head. "Maybe the price has gone up?"
Tim sighed again. "Ten dollars. Four kilos of flour. Ten litres of kerosene."
Sebastian considered the proposal. "And beer?"
"Two dozen bottles."
Sebastian smiled and the two men shook hands.
"I will be back tonight."
Sebastian left, and Cassandra followed him. Outside, they paused under the cover of a narrow awning. The rain was still bucketing down, sweeping across the town in heavy grey curtains.
"Thank you for trying to help me, Miss . . ?"
"My name's Cassandra."
"Cassandra, I think you should know that Tim is basically an honest man. Sometimes his greed excites him, however. In the end I would have gotten what I wanted."
"I still think he's shortchanging you."
"Perhaps. But I will leave with what I came for."
"In the shop you said your fins were from a tiger shark. Was it the tiger shark you called for us?"
"Yes." Sebastian studied her closely. "Where are you from?"
"Queensland. My great grandfather was a kanaka, though."
"The blackbirders stole him from here?"
"You are interested in sharks?"
"As you saw yesterday, we're doing a documentary on the sharks around the reef here."
Sebastian's eyes narrowed. "But your interest goes deeper than that, I think."
"What do you mean?"
"I mean that you have the look of someone who is touched by the shark."
"I don't understand."
The rain slackened. Sebastian's smile returned. "I have to go."
He looked over the town, toward the ocean. "People like us cannot stay away from the sea. It is in our blood: the rhythms of our lives echo the rhythms of the tides, of the currents that wash the islands, of the migrations of schools of fish and nations of sea birds, the rhythms of the whale song and the spawning coral. Our people's skin is the colour of wet sand, our eyes the colour of mussels.
"Some of us, a very few of us these days, call sharks." He looked at her. "But occasionally, very rarely, some of us are called by them."
He smiled again, briefly, and left before Cassandra could ask any more questions.
That night was the coolest the crew had yet experienced on Menau. They went to bed not long after dark. Cassandra snuggled up to Nick, stroked his groin and buttocks, but his response was so desultory she gave up on him and turned over to find sleep. After a while it came, falling lightly on her like a cotton sheet.
She was visited by the black sail in a dream that again was no dream at all.
The sail reached the island and then a man walked the shore; a man, no-man, body lean, hair grey, limbs as thin as pipefish. His breath smelt of sea and seaweed, his round eyes were made from jet, his head was long, his teeth sharp, curving triangles.
In her dream she recognized the soft geometry that made him whole.
He walked the sand like a dancer, each circling step measured but subconscious. She felt his sureness, sensed the hunger in his belly and in his mind, and saw in his eyes a need older than life, as old as the sea.
In her dream he looked at her, his wide mouth grinning, and said: "Menalo." It was a voice, no-voice from a man, no-man, and he covered his eyes with his hands and sniffed the land.
"Menalo," he said again, and was gone, his passing a black sail cutting the sea, the hand of Menalo, the hand of god, the end of a dream, no-dream.
She woke suddenly, fully alert, calm. She breathed deeply, smelt the tang of something ancient, something from the abyss.
"Nick?" She turned to her husband, but he was gone. Afraid for him, and feeling absurd because of it, she got out of bed and called his name out louder. There was no answer.
She put on a T-shirt and left the room, padded down the hotel corridor until she reached the door to Barbara's room, and heard Nick's quiet laughter. She wished she'd never woken up.
Nick was there, dressed for the day's expedition, when Cassandra woke. He avoided her gaze while she got ready, and they walked in silence down to the dive boat where the others were already waiting for them. Cassandra listened sullenly as Barbara gave instructions for the day's shooting.
When she finally got into the water she felt suddenly free, isolated from the others, but at the same time part of something that was both amniotic and limitless.
Other shapes splashed into the sea around her. The crew gathered near the anchor line, started their descent. This dive was set aside for establishing shots, and Robert and Nick spent most of it cruising slowly up and down reefs, circling bommies and following schools of fish, getting the obligatory shots of mantis shrimp and morays. Most of the work was done between five and ten metres and with little exertion.
Cassandra went off on her own, orbiting the others in a wide circle, taking shots of them as if they were the subject of the documentary, now and then finning in for close-ups of Nick and Barbara, then somersaulting and finning out again, resuming her circling. Only Barbara seemed irritated by this, her movements becoming agitated, her buoyancy control increasingly erratic.
They had been down for eighty minutes when Barbara gave the signal to surface. Back on the dive boat, as they tugged and pulled their gear off, Barbara asked Cassandra what she thought she had been doing down there.
"Taking photographs," Cassandra said blandly.
"You're supposed to be taking shots of marine life, not me or the rest of the crew," Barbara said.
"I thought I'd get something for posterity," Cassandra replied.
Barbara flushed quickly, then turned on Henry. "Call your uncle. I want him out here for this afternoon's dive."
Rather than be with the others while waiting for Sebastian to turn up, Cassandra pulled on her clammy wetsuit and slipped back into the water. She floated on her back, her eyes closed, listening to gentle waves lapping against the side of the dive boat, the distant cry of shearwaters and gulls, the clicking of thousands of fish when her ears dipped under the water. The sun painted the inside of her eyelids.
After a while she heard voices, one of them Sebastian's. She arched her neck, saw his outrigger by the side of the boat. He and Henry were talking urgently in their own language, Barbara trying to interrupt and obviously getting angry at her failure to do so. Cassandra drifted closer.
"What the hell is he saying?" Barbara finally demanded of Henry, almost shouting.
"He doesn't want to do this," Henry explained.
Barbara glared at Sebastian. "You won't call sharks for us?"
Sebastian looked calmly at the woman. "It is not a good day for it."
"I don't care if it's the worst day of the year for it. I've already paid Henry for your services-"
"Henry will give you back your money," Sebastian said, and Henry nodded.
Barbara shook her head. "I don't want the money. I want the sharks."
Cassandra appeared on the other side of the outrigger. She lifted herself half out of the water. "What's wrong, Sebastian? Why isn't it a good day for calling them?"
Her interference made Barbara even angrier. Her voice rose as she spoke: "Thank you, Cassandra, but I can deal with this-"
"Because I am afraid of who it will bring," Sebastian interrupted, looking at Cassandra.
"Who will it bring?" Barbara looked at Sebastian and then Cassandra. "What is he talking about?"
"You insist on talking about me as if I'm not here, Miss Freeman," Sebastian said quietly.
"I want sharks, Sebastian-"
"Barbara," Cassandra said soothingly. "Let him explain."
"What is there to explain? I pay this man to get us some sharks, I want sharks!"
Cassandra glanced across to Nick; her husband sheepishly looked aside. She turned back to his lover, and for a second saw deeper than Barbara's skin, saw behind the eyes, saw a part-an instant-of one her own dreams reflected back at her.
"Keep your money and call the sharks, my friend," she said to Sebastian.
"I can call him, Cassandra, but I cannot send him away. He is as hungry as life."
"He is coming anyway," she replied so softly no one else could hear.
Barbara left nothing to chance. After the crew went down and while Sebastian was using his shell string, Henry started dumping burley into the sea: a mixture of tuna oil, pig blood and pieces of king fish. It looked to Cassandra as though the boat itself was bleeding like some wounded animal. The oil spread across the surface of the water, the blood billowed underneath and the king fish fell softly down like communion wafers.
The first visitors were blue sharks, a surprise because they were creatures of the open sea and hardly ever swam in shallow water. They were shaped like torpedoes with fins, graceful murderers.
Welcome, dinner guests. Taste our gifts.
They undulated through the burley, the bloody water washing their gills, casually scooping up the fish bait and circling around for seconds.
Cassandra's camera sounded like a cicada; the strobe twinkled like a submerged star. The heavens have fallen into the ocean, she thought. The land was impossibly far and unimportant, a home now so distant in her memory she wondered about its truth.
I am dispersed. The sea claims me.
Robert, Nick and Barbara were almost frantic, not knowing which way to point the video. Cassandra watched them with amusement.
And then, suddenly, the blue sharks pulled away in a flurry. One moment everything was motion, and the next it seemed the whole ocean had stilled in expectation. Nick, Barbara and Robert instinctively huddled together.
They are scared by what they can't see, can't know.
The last piece of king fish spiralled down into the darkness, unclaimed. Cassandra watched its silver belly flash and turn, its one eye seeing all and then seeing nothing.
Cassandra felt a shadow first, and then pressure. There was something above her. She looked up, saw only the shimmering glass of the surface, the fractured image of the dive boat's blue hull.
She looked across to the others; they were beginning to drift apart. She could feel the pressure beneath her now, and she looked down into the gloom.
It seemed then as if a part of the sea itself had moulded, solidified into the shape of a shark. She saw it move up from below, towards Nick, at a speed that defied comprehension. It struck, sped on through the explosion of blood and gore, disappeared. Nick's fluids, his life, swirled in the turbulence, slowed and sank to the bottom.
Barbara and Robert panicked, finned as hard as they could for the surface, each risking a fatal embolism. Cassandra watched them unemotionally, detached now from her own humanity. She was confused. She knew, somehow, that the shark-that Menalo-had come for Nick, but had thought that would be the end of it. And yet now she felt an ending was still to come.
While she hung in the water, arms spread, waiting for understanding, the shark returned. A tiger shark, the biggest she had ever seen. From snout to tail he was nearly twenty feet in length, and at his widest at least eight feet. He approached her almost casually, swept by her, circled and returned. She looked into his black eye, and then, at last, she knew. She had been told in her dream, no-dream. She had been told by her grandfather when she was seven, but had not comprehended.
The sea gave way as easily as air to the long grey god. His shape was power. He glided by a second time, his mouth open.
A smile for me, Cassandra thought. Welcome, welcome, hungry as life.
On the next pass Menalo flicked his tail into her back, breaking her spine. She felt no pain, just a spreading warmth, like the coming of sleep.
I will join my god in a death that is no-death.
In his last rush, Menalo swallowed Cassandra whole. He circled the dive boat, his great head broaching the surface. He swept by Sebastian's outrigger, touched minds ever so briefly with the shark caller. Then, with nothing more than a thought, he left Menau and the sea far behind, taking his new bride into the ocean of stars and into the light.
This story was originally published in
Eidolon: The Journal of Australian Science Fiction and Fantasy.
©1996 Simon Brown
Artwork ©1996 Trudi Canavan