“The Last Fishing
William M. O’Brien, Jr.
Fred Lewis sat on the front porch of his oceanside cabin reading the local paper, stiff drink within reach. One item drew his attention almost immediately while he scanned the front page.
Apparently, a scuba diver had disappeared off St. Thomas Island, an outer island of the Godhead Ship Channel leading to inland gas and oil storage plants and tanks. Apparently, he had been in shallow water not far from land.
All that had been found of him were various pieces of his equipment and a few floating body parts. The consensus of the Coast Guard was that he had been hit by a boat as he was surfacing. Such things had happened before, to both swimmers and divers.
Fred took another sip of his drink and put the paper on the stand next to him. There’s a bunch of damned sharks off St. Thomas, he thought. That’s what that’s got to be.
“Hey, Helen!” he barked at the door to the right of his chair. “Some idiot diver got himself eaten by damned sharks off St. Thomas. I think that’s where we ought to start fishing.”
His wife Helen appeared in the door. “Not on your life. I don’t want to be anywhere near sharks. Anyway, you and the boys promised we could do some swimming on this trip. What happened to that?”
“We’ll swim in the hotel pool.”
“No. Swimming in the ocean. Suzie and Janey have never swam in the ocean and this would be a good learning experience for them. And,” she added, “if you have a damned idiot in the water with sharks you can bet your bottom dollar that we do not need to go anywhere near St. Thomas island.”
Early the next morning found Fred and Helen along with four close friends, Suzie and Joe Tipton and Jane and John McNair, packing up a truck and one van in readiness to head down to a local dock.
Fred had rented for three days a cabin cruiser, named “Personal Best,” and planned to head for the snapper banks for some early morning fishing. Then, later in the day, they would come back toward
shore for swimming, eating and drinking, after another hour of fishing.
At the dock, Helen and Fred busied themselves with loading drinks, food, and fishing gear into the boat.
Helen placed an ice chest and a box under a counter in the forward cabin, while the others put in their ice chests and gear. “All right,” she announced. “No one pops a top or pours a drink until after five.”
“Hell, Helen. Your man’s a before noon guy.” John McNair, a tall basketball coach, handed Helen a sack with a bottle in it.
“Not on this trip he isn’t.”
“No booze till later, folks.” Fred asserted, not believing a word of it. He threw the forward tie line onto the dock and started the engine. Meanwhile Suzie, Joe, Jane and John settled in the rear of the boat.
“I thought we’d try a little fishing at the whistle buoy first,” Fred said, over his shoulder as he pulled away from the dock. “If we don’t start getting strikes there, we’ll head for the snapper banks.”
“I want to go to the snapper banks first,” John hollered from the rear of the boat.
“I want to check out the whistle buoy because that’s where our bigger fish are,” Fred replied, again over his shoulder. “Besides, we can troll all around there and maybe get something real big, like a jackfish.”
They headed straight up the ship channel toward the open Gulf.
Fred and Helen Loomis were both teachers on summer break, while the Tiptons and the McNairs were longtime neighbors. Literally, they were as close to family as friends could get. So, when Fred announced he had rented a boat, he added he was ready and willing to use it on a summer get together.
“Get the bait ready,” Fred hollered from the driver’s seat.
Quickly, the boat reached the whistle buoy at the end of the channel still within sight of land. John, Joe and Jane threw lines out on either side of the boat.
“I’m just going to let her drift for a while,” announced Fred, cutting the engine and grabbing a large deep- water fishing rig.
Soon all concerned had lines in the water except Helen who was lying in the cabin on an improvised bed.
An hour and a half passed with no one getting any bites.
“That’s weird. There’s nothing here. Let’s head for the near snapper banks.” Fred quickly reeled his rig in and headed for the cabin.
“I can’t believe not a single bite,” John complained. “When I was here just last month, I got a strike three minutes after I threw in. And everyone was getting bites and we were catching fish.”
They reached the near snapper banks in a little over an hour. There, again, Fred would let the boat drift over the banks, and everyone could fish who wanted to.
“Oh my god, red snapper,” Suzie Tipton made her way to the back of the boat after conversing with Helen most of the way to the banks. “It makes my mouth water just thinking about it.”
They fished here for thirty minutes but, again, no one got even a bite.
“This is absolutely crazy,” Fred exclaimed. “There’s nothing here either.”
“This is just damned weird,” John was reeling his line in slowly for the fifth time. “When I was here before, it was slow at first but after about twenty minutes we began getting bites and we caught some fish.”
“There’s apparently no fish here,” Fred replied. “We’ll just move down the way a bit and try there. There’s got to be fish here somewhere.”
They moved the boat two hundred yards to the east but there were no bites there, either.
What was strange was the fact there was no bites in an area that boasted several species of fish. Even with Red Snapper fish absent there was usually a bite from a Spanish Mackerel or a passing shark, but in either location there was nothing. They trolled up and down the banks for almost two hours but there were no bites. Only a line snag on the bottom.
They tried one more place, but again there was nothing.
Mystified, Fred told the others there was something in the water scaring all the fish. He even thought something might be following them.
“You mean like a shark,” Suzie Tipton replied, eyes and mouth wide open.
“A big shark,” Joe added.
“Yeah, like a shark.” Fred looked around at everyone gathered at the back of the boat. “Or this could be a bunch of sharks feeding together.”
“Oh, wonderful. And we’re going to be swimming later,” Jane replied.
“Fred, don’t you think that if there’s a bunch of sharks around here we could, at least, catch one.” John looked around at the water surrounding the boat.
“Can you eat sharks?” Suzie asked, scratching her head.
“You bet,” Joe, the scuba diver and snorkeler, replied to his wife. “They serve them in all the best restaurants.”
‘Yuch.” Suzie stuck her tongue out and made a face. “Eating something that might have eaten someone else.”
“It happens, babe.” Joe smiled at his wife.
‘Okay, everyone. Let’s stay here and fish for a little while more.” Fred reached for his heavy fishing rod while Joe and John grabbed beers out of a nearby ice chest. ”I’m thinking that if I troll these baits real slow,” Fred said. “Then I think I’ll pick up something. We’ll go a little way that way.” He pointed in a westerly direction.
“Okay, how fast?” Helen hollered from the steering cabin.
“Real slow, babe.” He dropped his bait into the water and began to let out his line while his wife turned the boat in a westward direction slowly.
Fred sat in the stern, heavy rod in his hand, while Joe and John sat behind him, letting out their lines slowly while drinking beer even though they were in violation with Helen’s five o’clock rule. Their drinking time was three PM.
After four hundred yards, Fred yelled at his wife to go a little faster.
However, after around an hour of this trolling to the west and then back to the east, nothing touched Fred’s line or anyone else’s.
“I don’t understand it,” Fred complained. “It’s like there’s nothing at all here either.”
“Maybe the fish have all gone toward land,” Joe muttered loud enough so that all his friends could hear. He was leaning back in his chair, his hat pulled down close to his eyes. “Maybe we scared them.”
“Let’s go back to the whistle buoy.” Fred reeled his line up and headed to the nearest ice chest for a beer. “I’ve never been skunked at the whistle buoy itself.”
“If we don’t catch anything at the whistle buoy,” Joe announced to one and all. “I’m going to get my snorkel gear and take a look down there.”
“What is there’s sharks down there?” John laughed and took a slow sip.
“Then I’ll get back in the boat and we’ll try to catch the damned things. A good shark catch is a helluva lot better than nothing.”
They fished at the buoy for thirty minutes and again not a single bite. Joe changed into his bathing trunks and then fastened his snorkel mask and breathing tube to his face. Then over the side he went.
“I just looked and there don’t seem to be anything below us,” he hollered from the water after diving and surfacing. “I’m going back down for a better look all around the boat.”
“Hey, why don’t everybody take a swim,” Jane offered and rose from the chair. “The water’s cool and it’s not too deep here, is it.”
“About twenty, twenty-five feet.” Fred reached into another ice chest for a beer after sneaking a glance at his wife still at the wheel of the boat.
“That’s good enough for me.” Suzie rose and headed for the cabin to retrieve her bathing suit. “Besides, I’m hotter than hell.”
“Me, too,” Jane followed her to the cabin.
Waiting there, however, was Helen. “We ought to go back to St. Thomas to the beach to swim. We’d have a lot more fun.”
“Tell that to joy boy in the water,” John laughed. “He’s probably on the bottom right now. He can hold his breath all night.”
“That’s not a bad idea,” Jane, fresh out of the cabin, remarked. “It’s kinda deep here.”
“We’ve got two swim tubes here; get in one,” John remarked, swim trunks in hand while waiting for Suzie to come out of the cabin.
Suddenly Joe surfaced behind the boat. “Not much down there; no fish,” he said, spilling a tiny bit of leakage out of his mask. “There is something on the bottom a little way over there.” He pointed to the East. “I’m going to swim over and dive on it, find out what it is.”
In the meantime, all except Fred and his wife had entered the water around the boat, Suzie and Jane in innertubes, Suzie paddling hers toward where she figured her husband was diving.
John rose behind the boat. “Hey Fred. Joe’s been down there a hell of a long time, hasn’t he?”
‘Yeah, but he can hold his breath for a long time.” Fred took a long sip of his beer. “He’ll be up in a minute.”
“I don’t see him anywhere.” John made his way around to the side of the boat.
Suzie, bobbing around in an innertube ten yards away from the boat, suddenly let out a scream. She then flailed her arms around her tube as if trying to get out. Again, she screamed but this time it cut short to a choking, gurgling sound.
Fred turned to his wife who had just emerged from the cabin in her bathing suit and jumped into the water at the side of the boat.
“What the hell.” John hollered. He turned in Suzie’s direction. “Fred! Fred! Look at the water.
Very quickly the water around Suzie was turning red.
“Jesus Christ! Sharks!” John yelled and turned himself every which way in the water looking for his wife. Fred turned suddenly and tripped over an ice chest but yelled at his wife to get out of the water.
Helen immediately climbed into the boat and rolled on the floor.
Fred, very much alarmed, stood up again and looked toward Suzie, who even drifting away and leaning farther and farther over her innertube, appeared to be dead.
Jane reached the side of the boat, John right behind her.
Fred, who had kicked over his beer regaining his stance, turned to his wife, who had returned to her seat in the cabin. “Helen, for God’s sake, get the Coast Guard on the radio.” He then turned back toward Suzie.
A rushing of water by the boat made him look down.
Rising in the water just by the boat was a sight that Fred could not encounter in nightmares if he had had one every night of his life.
A monstrous aquatic head rose slowly from the water toward him. The head was the size of a small car, with a mouth wide open and full of teeth, some of which were a foot long. Its dead, white eyes focused on Fred.
Fred reeled back in utter horror finally falling backward and almost striking his head on the opposite side of the boat.
“My God! My God!” Helen screamed into her phone. “She’s…She’s…”
“Helen, radio the Coast Guard! Not your damned phone!” Fred screamed from the bottom of the boat. “Now for the love of God! God! God” There’s something out there.”
“God, there’s blood everywhere and…” Jane climbed as quickly as she could over the side of the boat, banging her knee painfully into the side as she fell to the floor.
John, likewise, hustled into the boat.
Helen did not have to radio for the Coast Guard as there was a boat speeding toward them.
Frantically, Fred stood up in the boat and waved both arms in the air to flag them down. John and Jane did the same.
In the meantime, Suzie, still leaning against her inner tube, was bobbing up and down against the boat. Her upper body was suspended above the inner tube but her lower body was gone.
The Coast Guard pulled up alongside Fred’s boat and he climbed aboard their boat.
Momentarily, he thought about what to tell them. He could not tell them what he had seen as that was so totally unreal, they would not even begin to believe him. Instead, he told them they had been attacked by an exceptionally large shark.
Two crewman pulled Suzie from the water and covered her with a tarp on the deck.
John told others about Joe’s disappearance and they began to scan the water around both boats in search of any sign of him. The two women, Jane nearly hysterical, told what they knew. Then Helen attempted to calm Jane down.
A sailor pulled in a snorkel tube and Fred identified it as Joe’s. That was all that was found of him. As for Suzie, her remains were transferred to a stretcher aboard the Coast Guard craft and a call was put in for an ambulance to meet both boats, Fred’s in tow, at the docks in Port Terrence.
All four people in shock at their hotel later tried to make sense of what had happened.
Fred said he had seen a large shark, but what he saw was as far removed from a shark as a grass shrimp would be. And it had followed his boat every inch of the way. He knew he would not be believed and, considering the circumstances, he did not even make the point.
But nightmares began and followed him for months. Finally, Helen convinced him to seek professional help from a friend of hers through her family. A series of consultations resulted, and Fred finally came to grips with what had happened. With a giant shark that was never found by the Coast Guard or anyone else.
Two years later, Fred Loomis sat in his Dentist’s office, thumbing through a science magazine, waiting on a Dentist who seemed behind in his appointments. He found an article on ancient Indian mounds and read it, and then turned the page to an article about recent discoveries in far off Wyoming from the Devonian period of Geologic time. Fascinated by pictures of weird looking fish, he turned the page to confront a large photo of the head and part of the shoulder of a gigantic fish fossil staring out of limestone rock. There, in stone, was the monster Fred had met in the ocean next to his boat. Here was his “giant shark” dead over one hundred thirty million years. Most of the hideous teeth were broken but he could see others within a wide-open mouth.
Fred read beneath the picture something about a Dunkleosteus fish, largest…, then, horror welling up within him, dropped the magazine to the floor and left the office. After losing his breakfast in the men’s room, he got into his truck and went home.