's 2014 Horror Write-off:


Submitted by HISHAM H.

Now, the common belief is that we men of the sea (especially fishermen), have a tendency to exaggerate, whether it be the size of the wave that capsized the ship or the "one that got away". But it's understandable when you realize how the water tends to play funny tricks on your eyes, and a small fish can end up looking like a big fish but far away.

But when you work on a ship, you become intimate with its dimensions. You know exactly how many square feet your room is, how many yards of fishing line it takes to run all the way around the ship, how much net you can process at a time, how many barrels or ten-foot sharks you can fit on deck.

My point is that the ship (and everything on it) is our measuring stick, and once something comes on aboard, we have a pretty good idea of its actual size.

Our vessel wasn't one of those huge, floating factory ships, but it was still plenty big. Our net was designed to hold twenty tons of fish at a time, and our hold was capable of storing at least twice that amount.

Now, scooping up fish on a large scale is one those businesses where legalities are a bit murky, especially with international boundaries and marine sanctuaries and whatnot. Especially when you're fishing just outside the boundaries of such a marine sanctuary. It's a good thing fish don't just stay in one place.

Now, to get around any difficulties, most fishing enterprises were multinational. The company that we worked for was Japanese, the ship was Russian, the captain Argentinean, and the crewmember a mix of ethnicities. A jurisdictional nightmare no matter where we fish.

One lousy day, we were pretty miserable. The fish are getting smaller and harder to find each year, but that particular expedition was almost a complete bust. Net designed to hold twenty tons, and we couldn't clear even one ton. There had been a lot of downsizing lately, and if we didn't meet quota, we would be next.

The sea was pretty rough, but we couldn't afford to turn back. Then it seemed our luck had changed. Our fishfinder found a school of fish, and we hurriedly deployed nets. It was a relatively good catch; judging by the pull on our winch and the reading from the fishfinder our captain estimated it at at around five tons. Still disappointing, but far better than we've been doing so far.

But as we were reeling it in, a guy we call Crablegs shouted there was some sort of whale caught in the net. We all panicked; the last thing we needed was some endangered baleen whale killed in our net.

There was chaos and confusion; we had stopped reeling in the net, and everybody was shouting. Some called for the net to be cut away and other called for it to be brought in (after all, the company was Japanese, they might appreciate a catch like this), until the captain's booming voice rang out.

He walked down to us and looked at the thing shrouded in our net for a few minutes. Then he came to a decision and turned to us. As far as he was concerned, we were not going to throw away five tons of fish just because we snagged a mammal. But he told us it was no whale we had caught; he didn't know what it was or what to do with it, but for now we had to continue working and bring in the net. One he got a good look at what it is, he'll decide what to do with it.

We returned to work, and we finally unloaded our prize. And let me tell you, once we could take a closer look, we definitely saw it wasn't a whale. And it was very dead.

Now, I swear to you, that this thing we spread along our deck was at least twenty-five feet long. The thing that stood out the most was the fact it had a huge potbelly, like a sardine that swallowed a tennis ball. An enormous swelling on its belly, like the thing was grotesquely pregnant. Because of that huge bulge, the thing had to be laid on its side. The massive swelling was flabby and sagged under gravity, at several places there were tears where the net had bitten into the soft, flabby flesh. We were afraid it might burst and flood our deck with its contents at any moment.

In fact, the entire creature was flabby and gelatinous looking. It looked like something undercooked. It had a raw, pink hue to it, and its back was tinged grey. We saw the gill slits, and we realized we were looking at a shark. A jelly-like, rather scrawny and degenerate-looking shark. Even the fins turned translucent towards the tip.

It had a rounded snout that looked like it had been squashed, but we couldn't tell if it was that way naturally, or it because it had been pressed up against the net. The head was large compared to the rest of the body.

And the eyes were HUGE. Maybe a yard in diameter. I'm not kidding; this thing's peepers were enormous. Huge, glassy black orbs that seemed to open into the depths of the abyss.

Crablegs said he used to be on one of those deep-sea trawlers, and they sometimes brought up things that looked like that; flabby pink fish with big eyes. I pointed out we were fishing near the surface, but Crablegs said it could have risen up from the deep to feed on the fish we scooped up and ended up getting caught in the net too.

The captain looked it over and paced back and forth, then finally announced that the thing was likely already dead and floating when we scooped it up. The shark had such a soft body that the net had already torn into it, and if there had been any struggle at all the thing would have ended up torn to shreds by the net. He also said he detected rumbling from within its body, most likely gases from early decomposition that had buoyed up the carcass.

Anyway, he didn't know what it was, and he didn't want its carcass contaminating the rest of the catch, so we were ordered to heave it overboard after we had sorted out the catch. And that's just what we did.

For the rest of the trip we discussed our "sea monster". One guy said that it was some sort of deep-sea shark, and its huge potbelly was because it was full of gases like the captain said. But others disagreed; we had all seen the carcass as it was brought on board, and we all saw how heavy the belly seemed, how it sagged and heaved alarmingly with the motion of the boat, like was full of jelly or something.

Crablegs thought that maybe it was pregnant, and we should have opened her up to see what was inside. This provoked a long (and eventually) heated discussion on whether sharks laid eggs or gave birth (I later found out that they did both; some sharks laid eggs, others gave birth. I still owe Crablegs 50 quid).

My fishing days are all over, with chronic back pain and arthritis and whatnot; fortunately my daughter managed to become a lawyer (to the surprise of me and my wife; she seemed smart enough, but we never pegged her as the lawyer type), so I'm comfortable enough I suppose.

I know the sea holds many secrets; they say we know more about the surface of the moon than we do about the dark depths of our own oceans. And I'm hearing about new species being dredged up almost every other week. But I never thought much about our "sea monster"; we weren't biologists. Maybe it was a already-known species that was just rarely seen or caught.

But the other day I got an E-mail from out of the blue. I didn't recognize the name or address, but the subject line "Crablegs here!" immediately caught my attention. Old geezer had managed to figure out how to use a computer and tracked down my E-mail.

We caught up on old times, exchanged a few messages. He was mostly the same, minus a gallbladder and an appendix. We were never really close, so I thought it was just an old man in the grips of nostalgia, but I had a feeling that he had a motive for seeking me out (it wasn't the 50 quid; he plumb forgot about that).

One day he admitted as such to me, and told me he had taken his grandchildren to the aquarium once, and he saw something there that chilled him to the bones. He was going to send me a picture. I messaged back that I was surprised he was able to use one of those camera-phones, and he admitted he got his grandson to take it; he wanted to be sure of its quality.

It was a tank, that had "shark eggs" written in marker across the top.

It had an eggcase stuck against the glass, with part of the casing cut off to show off the developing embryo inside.

Underneath he had typed: I'm never going back to sea.

I'm inclined to agree.