Jaws Fanfiction: Captain Quint Shark Hunter - 3. Chapter 3 The Prophet
Chapter Three: The Prophet
Abel caught the eleven o’clock ferry to the mainland. It was cold, but a fair day. Overnight the storm had blown itself out and brought clear weather in its wake. The sea was calm and the sky was a vault of blue. Abel stood in the stern and lent against the taffrail, keeping his eyes fixed on the harbor as the ship slipped its moorings and moved out into the open water. In all of his seventeen years he had never been to the mainland. This was not an usual state of affairs. Amity islanders – like other communities on nearby Nantucket and Martha’s Vineyard – preferred to keep to themselves. They suffered the summer visitors that descended on them for a few months of the year because they brought dollars with them (‘summer dollars’ the locals called them), but they secretly viewed them as trespassers. Occasionally one of these off-islanders would chose to buy some property and settle down, but they were never made truly welcome. You couldn’t become an islander simply by moving there. It was a birth right and it was in the blood.
Abel felt no great sorrow in departing because he knew that one day he would return. He would make his way in the world and come back to a hero’s welcome. He would buy a boat of his own and make a living from the sea. But all that was in the future. Now duty called. It was like the President had said, there was a righteous might and it was going to deliver a knockout punch to the goddam Empire of Japan.
All around him conversations pursued only one theme. The women spoke softly, aghast at the details that were emerging of the attack, mourning the deaths of the sailors as if they were their own sons. The men spoke with bravado. Some even laughed as they thought about the retaliation that would come and which they would be a part of. Their wives looked at them nervously, but said nothing. As the sea breeze sharpened most of the passengers drifted below.
Abel preferred to stay on the upper deck and when he tired of looking at the ocean, he picked up a newspaper that someone had discarded on a bench. Its pages fluttered in the breeze as he held it in his hands. There was a picture of the President on the front page signing the declaration of war. The banner headline read: U.S DECLARES WAR, PACIFIC BATTLE WIDENS; MANILLA AREA BOMBED; 1,500 DEAD IN HAWAII; HOSTILE PLANES SIGHTED AT SAN FRANCISCO.
Abel stared at the words and tried to imagine the scene: the planes flying into the rising sun, the screaming bombs finding their targets, the orange flames and the black oily smoke, men woken from their beds by the sound of gunfire, the strafing bullets, the noise and confusion, the fear and the desperation. More than one and a half thousand dead. His fists clenched.
‘Excuse me, son.’ A voice broke in on Abel’s thoughts and he turned to see an elderly man seated next to him. ‘Might I borrow your newspaper when you’ve done with it?’
‘It ain’t mine,’ Abel said. ‘Here, take it.’
‘Terrible business, this,’ the man said, indicating the front page with a nod of his head.
‘You going to sign up?’ The man asked.
‘Yeah. Navy. I’m going to get posted to the Pacific.’
‘You an islander?’
‘Yeah, I’m an islander.’
‘So you know boats.’
‘Yeah, I know boats.’
‘Well, son, let me tell you, you may know boats and you may know the sea. Leastways, you know the fishing grounds round here. But, you don’t know the Pacific. That’s a different kind of ocean. Like no waters I’ve ever known, and I’ve seen ’em all.’
‘An ocean’s an ocean,’ Abel said. ‘Water’s the same wherever you go.’
‘Well, now, son, you know, that’s not strictly true. You ever hear of the Sargasso Sea, or the Kuroshio Current, or the Saltstraumen Maelstrom? The oceans are full of mystery, and danger. And the Pacific? Like I said,that’s the strangest of them all.’
Abel gave a shrug.
‘Now I can tell you don’t believe me, son,’ the old man smiled. ‘Well, let me tell you a story, and then maybe you’ll think different. Back in the Nineties – I’m talking almost fifty years ago – when I was about your age I had a hankering to see the watery part of the world. I started out working as a deck hand on those big Atlantic liners. New York to Southampton. Then I had a spell in the Mediterranean on pleasure boats. But it was all too tame for me. I wanted adventure. I guess that’s what you’re looking for, too. So I signed on board with a tramp steamer that carried cargo in the East. The Indian Ocean, and then further east, like I said, to the Pacific. Singapore, Macau, Hong Kong, the Philippines, Japan. I got stories I could tell. Strange worlds, strange times.’
The old man fell silent and then seemed to start muttering to himself under his breath. Abel figured maybe he was drunk, or senile, or just a little crazy. There was a crazy look about him that was for sure. He had thick white hair and his face was etched with wrinkles, and there was a wild glint in his eyes.
‘One time – it was the typhoon season – we shipped out of Sumatra headed for Japan. One week out we ran into a storm and we all thought we were headed for Davy Jones. But what happened was we were blown off course and for three days we were adrift, completely lost on the ocean.’
Abel couldn’t suppress his curiosity.
‘What happened? Your instruments were damaged?’
‘You could say that. They just stopped working. No compass readings. No bearings. We couldn’t even find north.’
‘What about the stars?’
The old man lent forward and whispered.
‘There were no stars. The sky was completely black. The sky, you understand, not clouds. The ocean too. It was like everything had been obliterated. The engine wouldn’t work. We stripped it down. There was nothing wrong with it. We just drifted. There were strange lights in the sky – green flashes on the horizon and in the water too. Not a breath of wind for three days, and then suddenly a squall, and when we came through it, it was like a curtain had been lifted, and we were back on the natural sea again. The compass started spinning. The engine fired up. It was like we had passed through another world and come out the other side. I tell you, son, the Pacific is a strange place.’
‘It sure sounds like it, mister,’ said Abel.
The old man grasped his hand. His grip was bony and surprisingly strong.
‘Don’t go there, son. I’m warning you. It’s a bad place. Sign up, for sure. Do your bit for your country. But stay clear of those waters.’
Abel wrested his arm from the old man’s grip.
‘Mister, you’re crazy.’
He stood up and walked away.
‘Hear me, Abel Quint!’ The old man shouted after him. ‘Avoid those dark waters, or go there at your peril!’
Abel froze. It was not the old man’s firebrand warning that rooted him to the spot, but the sound of his own name. How did the old man know his name? He spun round to confront him, but was confounded by the sight that met his eyes. The upper deck was empty.