Short Stories

Sharks on the Water

“Come back here, you hooligan!” Henry shook his fist in the air as he watched the fin slice through the water on a direct route away from the ship. “Lost another one.” He ran his fingers through his dark wavy hair and sighed.

“But you’ve got a boxful, Henry.” The Captain waved his hand toward the box of syringes.

“I suppose I do. Not much time, is all.” Henry looked toward the setting sun, where brilliant orange hues were bleeding into a muted blue sky. “We should turn back. Be dark soon.”

The Captain shook his head. “We’ve time for one more try. It’s midsummer in Cape Town, after all.”

The Captain knew these waters.  He had been sailing them since 1884, when he immigrated to Cape Colony. The shadows were lengthening, but Isabell depended on him. “All right. I’ll ready another.” He unwound several yards of rope from a thick spool and cut the length with a knife. Then he knotted it around a sturdy loop fashioned on the back end of a large syringe.

On the starboard side of the ship, the Captain dropped a bundle of freshly caught fish into the water and secured the other end of the rope to the ship. Henry walked to the rail and stood with his right hand clenching the syringe and his left hand holding on to the syringe’s rope. While he scanned the water, his thoughts drifted to his fiancée.

At the time he had left Isabell in England to travel to Cape Town, she had rarely had enough strength to leave her bed. Although the fever had left, and she no longer faced immediate danger of death, it could return at any time. Henry would never have left her side if not for the hope for a cure.

While researching Isabell’s condition, he had come across a paper describing antibodies. That same week, one of his colleagues at the University had told him about the vigorous and healthy sharks off the coast of Cape Town. Henry surmised that if he could extract the antibodies found in sharks’ blood and cause them to attack the disease in Isabell’s blood, he could cure his fiancée.

After months spent traveling down the coast and weeks spent finding a ship and a Captain, Henry had begun his pursuit of great white sharks’ blood. The task had proven difficult due to the variable weather, the scarcity of the sharks, and his limited ability in using the tools to collect the blood. In three weeks’ time, he had collected only two syringes of blood.

“There!” The Captain pointed westward, and Henry followed his line of sight. A fin sliced through the surface of the water, heading directly toward the dropped bait. As the great white shark neared the ship, Henry took aim and hurled the syringe at the shark. He watched it plunge into the thick skin. The Captain cut the bait rope, and Henry tugged on the syringe’s rope as the shark swam away with its meal.

He pulled the syringe into his hands and examined the contents. “I’ve got it.” His third sample. Seven more, and he could go home and save Isabell.

Rough hands grabbed onto Henry’s wrists and yanked his arms behind his body. The syringe clattered onto the deck. Wrenching himself free, Henry swung around and reached for his pistol.

“Too late, my English friend,” the intruder said as he held Henry’s pistol aloft. Another man held the Captain face down on the deck, and two more pointed pistols at Henry and the Captain.

While he had chased sharks, the sharks had chased him. “Pirates.”

The pirate in front of Henry raised an eyebrow. “You know who we are. Now who are you?”

The Captain moaned. Henry’s eyes flicked to him and then back to the pirate. “Dr. Henry Scott.”

The pirate took a step closer to Henry. “Well, Dr. Henry Scott, I have a dilemma that only you can solve. You see, your Captain owes me a great deal of money. Now, you have a choice. Either I shoot him, or you come with me. A doctor will fetch a pretty price for a ransom.”

Had the Captain known that the pirates were searching for him? And withheld that information from him, risking his life?

“Captain,” Henry said.

The Captain moaned again. “I’m sorry, Henry.”

As a sudden wave lifted the ship, the pirate stumbled to the side, and the pirates’ ship came into Henry’s view. He gaped at the ship. Along its entire length, great white sharks hung by their tails.

The pirate regained his balance. “So, what’ll it be, Dr. Henry?”

A trickle of blood near Henry’s boots caught his eye, and he watched the empty syringe roll across the deck. Isabell’s pale face flashed through his mind.

Henry looked up. “I’ll come.”

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