Chris Jameson Excerpt: Shark Island

Shark Island by Chris Jameson
Shark Island by Chris Jameson
In Shark Island by Chris Jameson, a shark attack survivor believes she has already lived through her worst nightmare—she's dead wrong (available June 27, 2017).

Naomi Cardiff is not one to give up without a fight—and now, after learning about a series of shark attacks in Cape Cod, she’s joined a team of scientists to put a stop to the terror. The plan: to lure the sharks to a remote island far from the populated coastline. Meanwhile, a fierce Nor’Easter is underway…

In the midst of the storm, an alarming number of Great Whites have come to slaughter the seals in a vicious feeding frenzy. When sharks ram and breach the hull, Naomi and her team must jump ship and swim desperately through a sea of circling fins and gaping jaws to the tiny island. But as the swells from the storm begin to swallow their rocky refuge, how will they manage to make it out alive?


She doesn’t scream at the sight of blood. She screams at the realization that the blood belongs to her, that it used to flow in her veins but is now a frothing pink in the Atlantic surf. The impact against her leg underwater had been so sudden—a bump and a hard tug—that it stunned her for several seconds. She blinked in confusion, saw the blood, made the connection. Now she is screaming, her voice shredded and hopeless, as if she’s being murdered. And why not? It’s her blood, after all.

She thrashes in the water, underwater camera dangling from her neck by its strap, utterly forgotten. The small boat she came in floats two hundred yards out, her girlfriend sunning herself, music pumping. A trio of wet-suited surfers paddles not far off, waiting for the right wave. Frantic, bleeding, she spins toward shore and sees the massive herd of seals on the sand and in the shallows, blocking her way.

Her screams become words. Become pleas. Beyond the seals, a handful of tourists carry flip-flops in one hand and bottles of beer in the other … they’ve heard her. Seen her. Can they see her blood from there? She thinks not, but still she strikes out toward them, seals be damned.

Trouble is, she can’t feel her left leg anymore. Swimming is difficult.

What’s funny is that it’s only when she spots the fin slicing toward her through the waves that she realizes this is the first time she’s noticed the shark. It has to be there, of course. The moment she understood herself as the source of the blood, logic supplied a shark as the most likely cause. But she’s been busy screaming, so it’s only the actual sight of the fin that solidifies the presence of the actual shark … and the knowledge that she isn’t going to make it to the flip-flop, beer-bottle tourists or the herd of seals.

The fin slides beneath the waves.

She goes silent, swallowing her screams as if somehow the shark might pass her by.

Knowing it won’t.

Her day didn’t start this way.

It won’t end this way, either.

*   *   *

Naomi’s never piloted a boat before, but Kayla wants her to learn, so here she is—Naomi Cardiff, just turned twenty, not just riding onboard a sparkly new twenty-foot Boston Whaler along the northeast tip of Cape Cod, but driving the damn thing. Piloting, she thinks, not driving. Kayla would tsk and correct her. She’d do it lovingly, with a sweet indulgence, but it’d still make Naomi feel awkward and apologetic. Kayla wants her to be more confident, which somehow always accomplishes the opposite.

Still, here she is, both hands on the wheel, ass perched on the edge of the high-rise captain’s chair. The sun bakes down, warming her to her bones after a rainy, chilly month of June. The boat skims the waves and as they pass the more populated beaches, Naomi settles down, enjoying the feel of the wheel in her hands, the power of the Whaler beneath her. It hums, and she likes that hum. It feels like control, something her life has sorely lacked.

Naomi’s a student at Boston University. Kayla Chaudry’s two years older, just graduated from B.U. and headed to med school in California in the fall. What will happen to them then is something Naomi doesn’t want to think about. She’s been in love before—or what she thought was love—but she doesn’t think she’s ever needed anyone the way she needs Kayla.

Stop. Don’t think. Just be.

How many times has Kayla used those words on her? Dozens? She’ll put a finger to Naomi’s lips and then kiss her softly and touch her hair—she loves having her hair touched—and then she’ll say those words. Stop. Don’t think. Just be.

With good reason. As Americanized as Kayla’s parents might be, they are from Pakistan. They have no idea Naomi is more than their daughter’s best friend. The idea likely hasn’t even occurred to them or they’d never have agreed to let her get a job on the Cape and live with them down here for the summer. Kayla has mastered just being, pushing all of the complications out of her mind to focus on the moment, but that means they’ve talked very little about what will become of their love a month from now, when Kayla moves west.

Naomi exhales. Tries to just be.

Music blasts from the boat’s sound system—this summer’s latest pop princess—and Naomi turns up the volume, the thumping bass shaking the deck beneath her feet. Up on the prow of the little boat, Kayla glances up with a curious smile. Only then does Naomi realize she’s only been half paying attention to their location. Her thoughts have drifted, but her eyes have been riveted on the sight of her girlfriend sunning herself on the front of the boat. Kayla is long and lean, fit and muscular, brown skin glistening in the sun. Now she sits up and raises her sunglasses so Naomi can see the laughter in her eyes.

Kayla calls out something, but the music’s too loud. Naomi turns it down, regretting the absence of that thumping beneath her feet.

“What’s that?” she asks.

“You trying to get us lost at sea?” Kayla says. She pulls the thick elastic out of her mass of lush black hair and fixes the ponytail again, so beautiful that Naomi’s throat goes dry just looking at her.

So beautiful. So damn smart. And so leaving.

“I told you I never piloted a boat before!” Naomi protests.

Kayla’s grin is lopsided, a perfect imperfection. She rolls over and digs into their cooler, drags two bottles of Molly’s Hard Lemonade from the ice, and stands up as if they weren’t bouncing across the waves. Girl has her sea legs, Naomi thinks. And they go for miles.

“Throttle down, darling,” Kayla says, the endearment an affectation she picked up from old movies. She loves old movies, so now Naomi loves them, too. She’s not sure if this is purely because Kayla adores them or if she’s developed a genuine interest herself, but she supposes she will find out this fall, when it’s over between them. As she thinks it must be.

As Naomi indeed throttles down, Kayla opens the bottles and hands one to her. Naomi thinks she is going to take the wheel, but instead Kayla nudges her forward and slides behind her. A shy smile touches Naomi’s lips as Kayla whispers encouragement into her ears, so Naomi barely notices that her girlfriend has taken over. Naomi has her left hand on the wheel—drink in her right—and so Kayla does the opposite, reaching one long arm around so that they are piloting the ship together.

Kayla turns them toward shore. Naomi can feel the warmth of her body, can smell the coconut tang of her sunscreen. Kayla kisses her neck and Naomi melts back into her, eyes closed, no longer caring where the boat takes them. They cruise the Atlantic and drink their hard lemonade and listen to new-femme pop, and all is right with the world. Naomi knows that she’s supposed to be her own woman and believes that most of the time she’s doing a decent job of it. But with Kayla, she forgets that she’s supposed to stand on her own two feet.

Soon she will have to, and though her heart withers at the thought, deep inside—where the sensible Naomi is hiding—she thinks this is for the best, that with Kayla around to love her, she might never become the person she ought to be. It’s a power she shouldn’t have given away, but she has, and she’s afraid she wouldn’t have the strength to take it back.

Go away, she thinks as Kayla kisses her neck. And then, Don’t leave me.

“Get that camera ready,” Kayla says. “You’re going to get the greatest pictures ever. Take a look.”

Naomi shakes herself from her reverie and glances over to see a long stretch of narrow beach that has become a gleaming, undulating mass of gray and black bodies. There must be hundreds of seals, just as Kayla promised, and now all heartache is forgotten. Even the quickening of Naomi’s pulse and those kisses on her neck are pushed from her mind. The seals are beautiful and there are so many of them that a childlike glee overtakes her and she utters a little squeal that makes Kayla laugh.

“Come on. Get ready,” Kayla says, nudging her away from the wheel and taking the half-full bottle of hard lemonade away from her. “I’ll finish yours.”

Naomi is happy to comply. She strips off her thin lime-green cotton top and threadbare denim shorts. She’s not as tall as Kayla and not nearly as fit, but Naomi feels healthy enough. Every girl she’s ever met has body image troubles and she’s no exception, but most days she’s more focused on what she eats than how her ass looks. Her main interests are photography, marine biology, and crime fiction, but beneath that layer is another that is constantly at war with itself—a civil war between her fascination with nutrition and her torrid romance with ice cream. She’s found a balance she can live with.

Kayla cuts off the engine and lets the boat drift, then comes over to help make sure the camera strap isn’t going to come loose. It wasn’t cheap, and unlike her girlfriend’s, Naomi’s family isn’t rich.

“Be careful,” Kayla says. “You get too close to the babies and they can get pissed. They might get pissed anyway, so—”

“Don’t get too close. Yes, Mom.”

Kayla grins. “I just worry.”

Naomi rolls her eyes the way she always has when people who love her express concern for her safety. She gives Kayla a quick kiss, then steps to the side of the boat and drops into the ocean. Water goes up her nose, but she tries not to look uncool when she surfaces. It’s over her head here, but not by much, and she only has to swim a dozen feet or so before she can stand. Something brushes past her foot and she squeaks and scrambles a few feet closer to shore, imagining a crab down there, snapping at her toes.

“Have fun, babe!” Kayla calls, raising her drink in a toast. “I’ll check on you in half an hour.”

But Naomi is no longer listening. The seals are bellowing on the shore, slipping in and out of the water. The ocean currents are soothing as they swirl around her and she lifts up the camera and snaps some distance shots. Secretly, she thinks that if she could make a living just doing this—taking photos of wildlife, in or out of the water—she’d be the happiest person on earth. In her element now, she is fully herself, and as she moves closer—the boat drifting away behind her—she thinks that maybe she’s more independent than she thought. Maybe she’s going to be just fine after all. Maybe more than fine.

The underwater bump comes thirteen minutes later, and then the blood and the screaming. And then the fin, and the terror, and the certainty that she is going to die.

The numb leg is actually still there. This should be good news, except the only reason she knows is that she feels another tug. Something rips—she can feel it give way, muscle shredding—and pain spikes up into her brain with such ferocity that for a second she blacks out. Another tug and the agony pulls her back to consciousness and she’s screaming as the shark begins to shake her, jerking back and forth.

It drags her under. She knows she should fight, but despite the terror and pain and the force of her will, her body is sluggish to respond. For a few seconds Naomi is in such shock that she forgets to breathe, which helps, in a way, because breathing means drowning.

Then she breathes. Gags on the water.

Choking triggers something primal, something the blood and pain couldn’t reach. This isn’t terror; this is savagery. She claws for the surface, flails her arms in the water, and then her face is above the waves and she’s coughing and sucking greedily at the air even as the shark twists at her flesh and bone.

Savagery. She drives a hand down, fingers straight out, aiming for its black button eye.

The shark releases her. Blood bubbles up in its wake as it darts away, and Naomi knows it will be back. Even now, the fin begins to circle. Thoughts blurring, she spots the flip-flop tourists trying to get down to the water, shouting at one another and waving their arms, but the seals are barking and bellowing and advancing on them and the tourists scamper backward.

Naomi hopes she bleeds to death before she can drown. The feeling of choking, not being able to breathe …

It bumps against her back and she manages to scream, jerking away.…

Hands grab hold of her arms, start to pull, and she turns to see a mop-headed surfer straddling his board. It bumps her again as he drags at her and that’s the moment when the worst thing of all happens. Worse than the blood and the tugging and the screams.

It’s hope.

Nothing so far has terrified her more than this moment of hope.

She grabs at him, pulls at the wet board, and he’s yelling at her to be still, to let him help. Naomi’s screams rip from her throat, heart racing so hard that she starts to black out again, and the surfer can see he’s got no choice. He drops off the board into the water, puts a hand under her butt, and tries to hoist her onto the board.

They both see the shark coming back.

He jerks the board from her grasp and turns it into both weapon and shield. The shark glides through the cloud of her blood and the surfer bashes it with the board, twists and blocks its attack, and then bashes it again.

“Go, go, go!” he’s screaming, and Naomi blinks because this makes no sense. Where is she going to go?

Then she hears Kayla crying out to her and she turns and somehow the boat is right there, ghosting across the water toward her. Kayla has cut the throttle and is leaning over the side, reaching for her, and there’s that monstrously cruel hope again.

“Oh shit!” the surfer shouts. “Oh shit oh shit oh shit—”

Then a grunt. Very loud.

Ice spikes through Naomi’s veins and the darkness continues to encroach upon her thoughts, but she manages to turn and see that there is a second fin now. And a third, coming in fast. Naomi’s blood has drawn them, and this commotion in the water, but it’s the surfer they take. He tries to smash one with the board, but another gets its teeth into him and the board shoots from his hands, floating along the surface of the red waves.

The surfer is dragged under. He flails. The sharks tear him apart.

One of them splits off now, knifing toward Naomi even as Kayla hauls her out of the water and onto the boat. Screaming.

Then it’s Kayla who is screaming. She stands up and staggers back, hands flailing as if she doesn’t remember what they’re for. Kayla’s staring at Naomi—at her legs—and all Naomi can think is how much she’ll miss her.

Eyelids fluttering, darkness sweeping over her, she lolls her head and manages to catch a single glimpse of the wreckage of her left leg, the bloody strips of torn muscle, the exposed bone gleaming in the sunlight, the absence of anything below the calf.

Drive, she thinks she says to Kayla, knowing it’s not the right word. Not caring. And maybe she smiles just a little as blood loss finally takes its toll.

It occurs to her that maybe she can’t live without Kayla after all.

Then the sun goes black, and Naomi is gone.


Copyright © 2017 Chris Jameson.

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Chris Jameson has been a bouncer, a liquor retailer, an assistant hockey coach, a drama teacher, and an office drone. Summers on Cape Cod have given him a healthy respect for ocean predators. He lives near the coast of Massachusetts, but doesn’t spend a lot of time in the water.

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