An Ice Shark
(from King of the Cheap Romance by Joe R. Lansdale)
At first, I thought it was an illusion, mirage. But no, it was real, a black fin had broken the ice, and it had broken it violently enough that I heard it crack, though I figure I was a quarter mile from that fin. I didn’t know what it was from experience, but I had read about it and recognized it that way.
It was an ice shark, big as killer whales on Earth, but sleeker, with a black fin and tentacles that exploded from its head like confetti strands but were considerably more dangerous. It could travel on the surface or underneath, and could even crawl on land for a long time. Its fin was harder than any known metal and could crack the ice without effort. The ice shark had a tremendous sense of smell, a bit or radar, not as highly developed as the bat, but effective enough. It could squeeze into tight places, like oatmeal sliding through a colander. It had most likely smelled my urine and had come for lunch.
That shark couldn’t have known I would be more vulnerable come night, but it sure seemed to. It came fast behind me but was never able to catch me, even though I had only pushed the throttle a little more than before. Yet, it was like it knew I had limitations. That if all it did was wait, I would have to slow down and it would have me.
It was growing dark, but I could still see the line of mountains and the vast expanse of nothing around me, then all of a sudden the light washed out and the moons rose up. I turned on the lights.
And then it happened.
Even inside the sled, I could hear the ice crack, and then I could see them. I had never actually seen them for realm just vids, but there they were, cracking up through the ice and rising up and sliding along – the Climbing Bergs. They were rises of solid ice that came down from the depths where it was cold and wet and where the old, old Mars was. They would break open the surface and slide along and suck in the air. They were mound of ice full of living organisms that owned them. Living organisms that came up for air and pulled it in and renewed themselves like Sothern Earth ladies with handshaking fans on a hot day in church. Sometimes they were empty ice – clear ice you could see all the way through. And sometimes the ice held the ancient Mars inside of it. I had heard of that, extinct animals, and even Martians themselves, though there had only been fragments of that discovered, and most stories about them were legends, as the ice soon sank back down into the depths, taking their ancient treasures and information with them.
The ice cracked loud as doom and rose up and the moons flashed on the clean, clear ice moonlight shone through it. In covered my entire path, and inside of the ice I could see something: a dark shadow. The shadow was in the center of the ice, and it was a shadow that covered acres and rose up high. Then I was close enough that I could see better what the shadow was. It almost took my breath away, almost made me forget about what was behind me. It was a slanting slide of ice that went directly up against the icy wall of the berg, and inside the berg was a huge set of stone stairs that rose up to a stone pyramid, and the stairs went inside and dipped into the dark. The ice between the outside and the pyramid looked thin, as if it might be hollow inside the berg.
I knew this much. I couldn’t keep outrunning the shark…
I glanced in the mirror and saw the shark’s fin, poking high, and I could see its shape shimmering beneath the ice. A huge shape, and I could see that it was, as I said, a monster that in spite of its name was really nothing like a shark. It was a dark form that was formless; it moved like gelatin, except for the fin, which stayed steady, sawing through the ice effortlessly…
I looked back. The shark tore its whole body through the ice. It shifted and twisted and wadded and finally it roared. It was a roar so loud I felt the ice beneath me shake. The rear and the wind carried its horrid breath to me. It was so foul I thought I might throw up. Its shape changed, became less flat and more solid, tentacles flashed out from its head, and I could see flippers on its belly, between those dipped little legs with bony hooks for feet. It was slithering and clawing its way across the cold space between me and it.
An Ice Shark. Painting by Megan Jorgensen