The 4th of July. A day like any other here in the UK yet over the big pond it is the Fourth of July, Independence Day. When not fighting aliens with Will Smith it is also the the busiest tourist day for Amity and Mayor Larry Vaughn has told Chief Brody that the beach needs to be open and to hell with the shark.
I am of course talking about Steven Spielberg’s Jaws. Once of my favourite movies and I cannot wait to get it on Blu-ray.
In honour of the film and the Fourth of July author and director A.D. Barker (check out the official site for his film A Reckoning) has written this excellent short story based around events in the film.
By A.D. Barker
‘We shouldn’t be doing this’ said Chris.
Ray glanced at him and rolled his eyes, ‘It’ll be fine, don’t worry so much will ya’.
Ray turned away from Chris’ concerned expression and bent down to pick up his flippers from the wooden beams. Chris sighed and looked out across the Atlantic. There were a cluster of boats to the west, patrolling the waters. From their vantage point at the end of the pier, Chris had a clear view of the island’s main beach. It thronged with bodies. It was 4th of July weekend and the perfect summer skies had lured boatfuls of tourists to the island. Folk from Maine right down to New York City had descended on Amity like a plague. At least that’s how Chris and Ray saw it. These people weren’t islanders; they were tourists, the worst kind of parasites, and more and more came every year with the sun, messing up the place and then splitting without a second thought.
Chris and Ray were islanders through and through, their parents were islanders and their Grandparents were islanders. They were as Amity as you could be. Chris had only been on the mainland twice in his life, once to visit relations in Boston and once when the family had vacationed in New York. Ray on the other hand had only been off the island once before, for the aforementioned trip to the Big Apple, and didn’t much like that.
A helicopter banked out by the ridge across the bay, dipping down behind the coastline only to reappear seconds later heading out to sea. Chris noticed then something unusual about the beach. There was no one in the water.
The beach itself was heaving, looking as if, from this distance anyway, you couldn’t fit another soul on there. And yet, nobody was out swimming. Chris looked down at his younger brother. Ray was battling with his flippers; they were tatty old blue ones which he’d had for about two or three years and he’d outgrown them considerably, but without any others to hand, Ray had no choice but to force his feet into them time and time again.
Chris looked from his brother, to his own flippers and wetsuit waiting for him on the deck, and frowned.
‘You think what they’re saying is true?’ he asked. Ray looked up at him, squinting against the sun; he knew what Chris was referring to. It was all they had talked about for the past week. It was all anybody was talking about.
‘Maybe’ said Ray, grinning from ear to ear. ‘Maybe not’.
‘It’s not funny Ray, this is serious shit.’
‘Relax. Gees, you’re uptight’
Ray whistled through his teeth and then, with one final push, managed to stretch the rubber around the back of his ankle and fix the remaining flipper into place. He then awkwardly, and Chris thought rather birdlike, lifted himself to his feet. Chris was still brooding over the uptight comment and fixed his brother with a glare.
‘What?’ asked Ray. He got defensive at the slightest thing.
‘They say that Kintner kid was eaten Ray,’ said Chris, holding his stare. ‘They only found his top half…’
‘I know,’ scoffed Ray, ‘far out’. He saw Chris was not amused in the slightest, and tried his best to pull his face straight.
‘Come on Chris…’ he said, ‘look this is just a bit of harmless fun, it’s no biggy. Plus, we might get to scare the bejesus out of some dumb tourists.’
Chris looked out across to the beach, bathers were now venturing into the water. The helicopter still circled above the bay. Sensing his older brother still needed convincing, Ray gently grabbed Chris’ elbow and caught his attention. ‘They caught it. You saw the size of that thing, it had to be the shark.’
‘What if it wasn’t the shark? You heard what dad said about what happened to Ben Gardner…’
Ray cut him off. ‘It was the shark Chris, the papers said so.’
‘Oh gee, the papers don’t know squat,’ said Chris, and then fell silent. More and more bathers were filling the coastline now, venturing further out into the bay. Ray turned and followed his brother’s gaze across the water, then asked, ‘You know what Mike Brody said?’
‘I don’t know, I wasn’t there, remember.’
‘He said there’s no way his old man would open the beaches again without knowing full well that the shark had been caught.’
Chris looked at his brother, almost stunned by the rationale of this new piece of information.
‘Come on,’ Ray said, eagerly, ‘let’s do this’.
The ghost of a smile crept across Chris’ face. Ray knew he had him on the ropes. Chris moved over to the railings, then bent and picked up the cardboard fin and held it aloft theatrically. ‘Okay Raymond,’ he said, ‘let’s give those mainlanders a helluva scare.’
The genesis for the brothers’ masterpiece of a prank had come to them two days previous. They had been sneaking around the harbour when the bounty hunters (as Chris and Ray’s dad had referred to the wave of have-a-go fishermen who took up the hunt for the shark) brought the big bloody lump of a dead fish to shore. The harbour master, Frank Silva, always hated children playing around his docks and would often chase them away, but the hustle and bustle of the harbour that day meant that kids from all over Amity could sneak around the docks almost unnoticed.
Chris and Ray stood like statues, staring saucer-eyed at the captured shark as it hung dripping blood on the docks. A newspaper man was trying to wrangle fishermen, on-lookers and even Chief Brody into having their picture taken with the shark.
‘Kneel down please, just like in high school, one row kneeling, one row standing,’ the newspaper guy was shouting across the dock. All the while, Chris and Ray’s eyes remained transfixed on giant fish.
The picture finally taken, the crowds dispersed; a huddle of men remained around the shark itself however, blocking Chris and Ray’s view of the beast. A group of local fishermen who Chris recognised as guys his dad sometimes drank with seemed to be in a heated discussion with a young fellow with an unkempt beard who Chris didn’t recognise.
‘That shark is too cool,’ Chris heard his brother say, but was too engrossed in the scene unfolding before him to comment. The guy with the beard had backed away from the fishermen and was now talking to the Chief . Chris moved closer to them, trying to hear what was being said. He noticed, on the opposite side of the dock, the Mayor had also taken an interest in the conversation.
He heard the young guy saying to the Chief, ‘…There are all kinds of sharks in the waters, you know. Hammerheads, white tips, blues, makos, and the chances that these bozos got the exact shark…’
A large man suddenly bumped into Chris, almost knocking him from the dock and into the drink. Chris steadied himself and missed the rest of what was being said to Chief Brody. He watched the hefty man march over to Deputy Hendricks without so much as a backwards glance. Chris scowled at him.
‘Fat ass,’ he said under his breath.
Ray grabbed his arm. ‘Come on Chris, Silva’s on the warpath again.’
Chris turned and saw the harbour master shooing two pale blonde kids (obviously not islanders) away from the vicinity of the shark. Ray was already walking away, and Chris reluctantly followed suit, but not before a final glance in the direction of the Chief. The Mayor was now speaking to the young fella in a low, husked voice.
‘I am not going to stand here and see that thing cut open…’ was all Chris caught of Mayor Vaughan’s ominous convergence.
Frank Silva was heading their way and Chris and Ray spilt then, only hearing later that Mrs. Kintner showed up, straight from her son’s funeral, and slapped Chief Brody in full view of everyone on the docks.
Ray said later that he wished they’d had hung around to see that.
They hatched the plan that night – or at least Ray did, he was the mastermind behind the prank – and constructed the fin in their dad’s workshop after dinner. Their dad had gone out on his trawler that morning and was usually gone for a two or three days at a time, leaving them free to sneak down to the workshop – something they did regularly – and rummage through his tools. They’d talked it over as Ray set the table, remained quiet as they wolfed down their dinner with their mother, finishing a good ten minutes before her, and then continued going over the plan while Chris washed the dishes, pausing only when their mum returned to the kitchen to fix herself a drink. She eyed them suspiciously, knowing them well enough to know that silence meant they were up to something.
They rushed out soon after.
The rickety old workshop stood at the end of a winding path leading down from the house, beyond that lay the Atlantic. It was already full dark by the time they got started and the insipid yellowy bulb in the shop did little to illuminate their work. Nevertheless they forged on, creating the makeshift fin from a sheet of cardboard, a couple of lengths of two-by-two and a can from their father’s collection of spray paints, both agreeing upon dark grey.
Once they had finished, they made their way down to the beach. Chris held the cardboard prop out before him at arm’s length, closed one eye and forced his perspective to frame the fin on top of the dark water.
Both boys laughed as they made their way back to the house.
Behind them the ocean waited.
Chris let go of the fin, and felt Ray do the same. It fell on its side and bobbed with the current. They both resurfaced, spiting out their snorkels. Chris lifted his goggles over his head and looked to the shore. Crowds were gathered along the beach. They’d given them a helluva scare alright.
Then Chris became aware of his brother in his peripheral vision and immediately sensed something behind him; something Ray was looking at. A far-away voice was coming through a radio transmitter, ‘…I want them out of there. Give an answer, please. What’s going on out there?’ followed by another fragmented voice on the frequency demanding, ‘Come in, come in’.
Chris turned slowly, his teeth chattering; he wasn’t sure if from cold – even in July, the Atlantic still had a bite – or from fear. He saw what Ray was staring at and immediately understood the fright which had stricken his brother’s face.
A line of boats towered above them. But that wasn’t the worst of it. Rifles were pointing down from every direction, the men’s eyes stern and unforgiving. This was not good, not good at all.
In one of the boats, Chris saw the young, bearded fellow from the harbour, although he was holding a radio rather than a rifle. A small mercy. They were in it now for sure. Even Deputy Hendricks had a rifle levelled at them.
Ray then raised a hand out of the water and pointed it directly at Chris.
‘He made me do it,’ Ray whimpered, before adding, ‘he talked me into it.’
The rifles were lowered.
Chris couldn’t believe what he was hearing.
Copyright © A.D Barker 2011