I am finished writing. Done. Forever.
You see, yesterday my husband wrote this short story. Upon reading it, I gathered up all my classics: my Shakespeare, Tolkien, Dickens, Orwell, and Homer and I threw them all in the trash. I then vowed that I would never write anything again.
You see, nothing will ever come anywhere near the mastery that is this literary work by Joe Campbell. Though he shares a name with a philosopher, it is clear from this masterpiece that he is the superior mind.
Read his story, and meditate upon it. Let these words shine light upon what it means to be truly human.
Readers, I give you…
Gary was a shark.
Not a particularly ferocious shark, and maybe a little on the small side, but a perfectly serviceable example of your typical man-eating variety. He wasn’t terribly close to his family (sharks like their space, after all) but once a year they’d all get together in a wrecked submarine to catch up with each other.
Now, Gary always loathed his skinny little fins and unnaturally short body, and he was never more ashamed than when he joined the family gatherings. He would wander the ocean, snack on wayward fish, maybe even confront a dolphin or two, but he could never match his family’s feats of daring. Every reunion became a contest to see who had accumulated the most garish scars over the past year. Gary’s father had a respectable gash on his left side from a tangle with a whale and his siblings would go on about how they had most recently lost teeth to boats and squids. But Uncle Bruce was the worst.
Every year, Uncle Bruce would sport some new bite out of a fin, show off some harpoon he’d recently been impaled on, or exhibit whole rows of teeth replaced with jagged steel from a boat’s hull. He would subject the family to the tale of how he had single-finnedly taken down a fishing boat that was hunting him, and how he’d swallowed half the crew whole (he claimed he could still feel some of them struggling to escape his gut, years later).
Gary was always enraptured by the gory details of these escapades, and he envied the respect they drew from his relatives. He told himself that he was perfectly happy with his minor skirmishes with slightly larger fish, but he knew deep down if he was only bigger, or if his teeth were sharper, he could match Uncle Bruce’s stories of how he’d recently taken down some lone armed surfer, or giant squid. Beneath those weak fins and scraggly frame slept a true predator, just waiting to be unleashed.
This year when Uncle Bruce concluded the tale of his most recent kill, he called out Gary, who was hiding in one of the torpedo tubes.
“Gary, me lad! Ye’ve been quieter than an angler fish! Come, tell the family how ye’ve been faring!”
Gary sheepishly swam out. He hated the attention. Uncle Bruce pretended he was doing Gary a favor, but he knew full well what an embarrassment this was.
“I see ye’re looking good!” Uncle Bruce patronized, “Everything intact, as usual? What new adventures have ye to tell us this year?”
Gary trod water with his eyes cast downward.
“Well, Uncle Bruce, there was this…sea turtle-”
“A Sea turtle, ye say?” Uncle Bruce interjected, “Yes, pesky buggers those are, I hear. Can’t say I’ve had too many run-ins with them, meself.”
Gary looked up, thinking how he could spin this to his advantage, “Oh yes they’re quite tough animals, you know. Very difficult in their own right. I struggled with this particular sea turtle for a full thirty minutes at least! Look, he wobbled a tooth loose.”
“Indeed!” Uncle Bruce’s eye gleamed with a mean-spirited delight, “Well, it isn’t the size of the battle, but the victory that matters. I’m sure ye gave him hell!”
“I did…but wouldn’t you know it, the darn thing got away from me. Those shells are slippery, you know.”
A roar of laughter erupted so loudly that every creature within a hundred leagues of the submarine took off in the opposite direction. Uncle Bruce feigned wiping a tear of mirth from his eye (an especially insulting gesture as sharks don’t have tear ducts) before responding.
“Poor little Gary. We can’t even call ye ‘Terror of the Turtles’ because ye’d have to win a fight with one first!”
This started the whole family up again and dejectedly left the submarine. It was true, he wasn’t a real shark after all, was he? How could he be when he couldn’t even tangle with a three-foot turtle? He was going to swim off into the uncharted parts of the ocean and either return a killer or not return at all.
For days he swam, grabbing a smallish fish here and a bird there. A couple of times he passed scuba divers and tried to build up the courage to catch them while they were unaware, but each time he turned away at the last second. What glory was there in that, coming upon a human that way? That wasn’t very sporting. And if he did happen upon a real fight, he was too scared to engage.
After a few weeks of aimless wandering, he ventured into deeper territories where there were fewer fish, and fewer humans. He was lost in the wide-open sea, growing hungrier as pickings grew slimmer until he felt for sure that he was famished enough to take on anything that came his way. But nothing did, and as his strength failed, he sank deeper into the darkness of the ocean until he blacked out.
When he came to, he was face-to-face with a different sort of shark. This one looked meaner than anything he’d ever seen before. It was a slightly different shade of gray and had a mischievous look in its eye. Gary jumped up and saw that he was in the wreck of a massive supply ship, stuck in a cove off some forgotten island. He was surrounded by dozens of this new breed of shark, and they all eyed him in a suspicious manner. Gary timidly introduced himself.
“I’m…I’m sorry I seem to have intruded on your territory. You see, I’m lost and I think I blacked out and I don’t know where I am-”
The first shark waved him off, “Oooooh don’t worry about that, kiddo. We were the ones ‘o rescued you! Ol’ Terence over there found you sinking into a trench a few miles from ‘ere. Thought you could use some ‘elp. My name’s Kriller”
Gary nodded in appreciation, trying to think what he should say next, when he noticed the sharks’ odd-looking fins. They didn’t seem organic, like most fins, but more like some bladed machine grafted onto their sides. You and I, dear reader, would instantly reccognize them as chainsaws, but of course Gary was unfamiliar with such things.
Kriller noticed Gary’s curiosity and proudly showed off his chainsaw fins.
“I see you’re admiring our modifications! We are the deadly Chainsaw Sharks I’m sure you’ve ‘eard of [Gary hadn’t], and this ‘ere is where we call ‘ome: Clawtooth Island!”
For the next few days, Kriller and the Chainsaw Sharks brought Gary food until he had built his strength back up, and told him all about their mechanical attachments. Many years ago, Kriller had lost both his fins in an unfortunate scuffle with another shark, and he drifted to Clawtooth Island where he met with a marooned human engineer. The engineer had lost everything when his supply ship was dragged onto Clawtooth’s rocky shores, everything except a few crates of chainsaws.
The engineer took pity on Kriller and, through an ingenious bit of ingenuity, built a harness that replaced Kriller’s missing fins with chainsaws. The chainsaws worked surprisingly well, and Kriller eventually befriended other unfortunate sharks and brought them to Clawtooth Island, where the engineer happily rigged them up as well in exchange for a steady delivery of fresh fish.
Gary listened to Kriller’s story with rapt attention.
“And…these chainsaws, they make you fierce?”
“Fierce!” Kriller laughed, “Why we’re the most feared creatures within leagues! Nothing can escape our terrible chainsaw limbs! Join us tomorrow and we’ll show you what a real shark can do!”
The next day, Kriller woke Gary up early to join the other Chainsaw Sharks on a hunt. They laughed and jostled each other around, playfully revving up their chainsaws in anticipation of the kill. They made a quick visit to the engineer, who made sure their deadly fins were sharpened and fueled before they took off (they needed extra lubrication and sealant, being underwater and all). Kriller had gotten wind of a pod of orcas passing a few islands over, and the other sharks clapped their chainsaw fins together in eager anticipation.
Gary was in awe of his newfound friends. Here were sharks that even Uncle Bruce would respect. True killers in spirit, built for blood-lust and comrades in combat. If Gary could just get his fins on a pair of those chainsaws, nobody back home would laugh at him ever again.
The frenzy of the battle was unlike anything Gary had ever seen before. The killer whales were expecting the sharks, but it made no difference. The water frothed as the chainsaw roared, the sharks tearing through the orcas like a knife through butter. The waves churned red, and the battle was over before it had hardly begun.
As the victors returned to Clawtooth Island, singing and dragging their spoils, Gary turned to Kriller, “Do all the sharks who come to Clawtooth need to be…previously maimed, to be outfitted with a chainsaw?”
Kriller gave Gary a long hard look before answering, “Not necessarily, there is an operation we’ve done before. It would mean you’d lose your fins permanently, but you’d gain the envy of all sharkdom.”
Gary couldn’t help admit that he was rather attached to his fins, but he thought of returning home with a pair of glorious, gleaming, murder fins was too alluring. He knew that deep down he wasn’t a wimpy little shark, but a true killer at heart.
That night the engineer put Gary to sleep while he amputated his fins. When Gary awoke the next morning, he was sporting a shiny new pair of chainsaws on his sides, strapped tightly with the engineer’s finest harness. Gary leaped for joy. Now at least he could truly call himself a shark. A streamlined eating machine ready to do battle with the worst.
He found at first he had to relearn how to swim. He had to manipulate the bulk of his body more to steer, rather than depend on his fins to guide him. It was awkward and tiring, but he figured he’d grow more accustomed to it with time.
“You ‘ave to watch out for rusting, too.” Kriller warned him, “Every night, make sure you ‘ang your chainsaws up to dry out of the water. Otherwise, the rust will cut into your ‘ide and poison you.”
There were other considerations Gary hadn’t expected, such as refueling the chainsaws, learning how to manipulate the harness to rev up the engine, and figuring out how to unhook them without hands when he wanted to dry them out. They were annoying, sure, but he told himself these were small sacrifices for living his new killer self. All the trouble would be worth it once he tested his weapons against a real challenge. He was anxious to swim out into open water and find a respectable kill, but Kriller cautioned him to take things slowly.
“You’ve got to live with ‘em a little first, kid. Get used to them. You don’t become an expert overnight.”
Still, Gary grew restless. Before a week was out, he took off one night on his own to search for prey. It was wobbly going, but he was quickly getting the hang of his attachments. He had the spirit for battle, that’s all that mattered, surely his instinct would kick in when it really counted.
He passed a dolphin, some other sharks, even a whale, but none of them was quite the challenge he was looking for. He needed a real story to bring home to his family. Something that would make their jaws drop in awe. Something he could really sink his teeth into. Then he saw the yacht. A big, beautiful, formidable vessel, no doubt loaded with aggressive shark-hating humans, raring for a fight.
“I’m sorry hon, but the senior VP of sales is gonna be here next week and they want me to be in that meeting, so I’m gonna have to stay out here another week.”
The handsome junior executive kicked his feet up on the yacht’s railing while sipping on a margarita with his cell to his ear.
“I know sweetie, but you know it isn’t like this is a vacation for me either. I’m absolutely miserable! If it were up to me, I’d be back home with you right now.”
A beautiful, bronzed Aphrodite of a woman sashayed up and refreshed his drink.
“I’ll tell you what though,” he wheedled into the phone, “as soon as this earnings call is over, I’ll come right home and we’ll go out on a little vacation together, just the two of us.”
The woman silently draped herself on the armrest of the executive’s chair while he tried to close the conversation quickly, “I know, I love you too. Tell the kids I said hi. Bye-bye!”
Elsewhere on the deck, other businessmen and women chatted by the railings and flirted, while violins serenaded the calm waters. The executive sighed and threw his arm around the brunette at his side.
“This is the real deal, isn’t it? What a quiet night, what beautiful stars,” he looked into her eyes, “they look especially beautiful reflected in-.”
The night air exploded with the whir of chainsaws as the shark erupted from the water and torpedoed onto the deck. The merry party was thrown into chaos, screaming men and women tripping over each other in bewilderment to escape the creature flailing about the deck, wheeling its deadly chainsaw limbs about in a frenzy.
Gary was taken aback by just how little control he had over his movements. He’d never been this far out of the water before, and he found that he now had no idea how to maneuver himself, and wouldn’t have even if he’d had his old fins. He flopped awkwardly, but the running chainsaws made his already disjointed movements even more unruly. He figured from the occasional human limb or piece of crushed furniture he happened upon that he was doing some sort of damage, but it brought no fulfillment.
He caught the terrified looks in the passengers’ eyes as he trashed uncontrollably. There was no glory in this; it was just ugly carnage and death. Uncle Bruce never told him about the screams, the fear, the agony of destruction. In the stories it was always about one warrior fighting against the odds, but there was no honor in a massacre. His thoughts turned to his home and comfort. All he wanted now was to live peacefully with his dinky fins and modest pickings. He wasn’t the killer he thought he was after all, he was just a little shark in a big world, and maybe he could be happy with that after all.
As suddenly as he had arrived, he flopped off the deck and sunk into the depths, apologizing as he carved a path of carnage in his wake (not that it made much difference, as humans can’t understand shark speech). He wobbled back to the island, where he requested the engineer remove his chainsaw limbs. The other Chainsaw Sharks laughed, but he was used to laughter. What did it bother him? He finally knew who he wanted to be, and it wasn’t one of them.
The engineer didn’t laugh. He quietly took pity on Gary and fashioned a perfectly ordinary rudimentary pair of wooden fins for him. Gary splashed his thanks and swam back home.
At the next family gathering, Gary was the talk of the town. Everybody flocked to admire Gary’s wooden fins. They hardly acknowledge Uncle Bruce when he arrived missing an eye; all they wanted to know was what daring feats had Gary accomplished to lose his fins?
Gary just smiled and answered, “Oh it was quite an adventure, I must admit, but when it comes down to it, I think I’d rather have my old fins instead.”