He glanced downward, started to look away, then snapped his eyes down again. Rising at him from the darkling blue – slowly, smoothly – was the shark. It rose with no apparent effort, an angel of death gliding toward an appointment fore-ordained.
Hooper stared, enthralled, impelled to flee but unable to move. As the fish drew nearer, he marvelled at its colors: the flat brown-grays seen on the surface had vanished. The top of the immense body was a hard ferrous gray, bluish where dappled with streaks of sun. Beneath the lateral line, all was creamy, ghostly white.
Hooper wanted to raise his camera, but his arm would not obey. In a minute, he said to himself, in a minute.
The fish came closer, silent as a shadow, and Hooper drew back. The head was only a few feet from the cage when the fish turned and began to pass before Hooper’s eyes – casually, as if in proud display of its incalculable mass and power. The snout passed first, then the jaw, slack and smiling, armed with row upon row of serrate triangles. And then the black, fathomless eye, seemingly riveted upon him. The gills rippled – bloodless wounds in the steely skin.
Tentatively, Hooper stuck a hand through the bars and touched the flank. It felt cold and hard, not clammy but smooth as vinyl. He let his fingertips caress the flesh – past the pectoral fins, the pelvic fins, the thick, firm genital claspers – until finally (the fish seemed to have no end) they were slapped away by the sweeping tail.
The fish continued to move away from the cage. Hooper heard faint popping noises, and he saw three straight spirals of angry bubbles speed from the surface, then slow and stop, well above the fish. Bullets. Not yet, he told himself. One more pass for pictures. The fish began to turn, banking, the rubbery pectorals fins changing pitch.
“What the hell is he doing down there?” said Brody.
“Why didn’t he jab him with the gun?”
Quint didn’t answer. He stood on the transom, harpoon clutched in his fist, peering into the water. “Come up, fish,” he said. “Come to Quint.”
“Do you see it?” said Brody. “What’s it doing?”
“Nothing, Not yet, anyway.”
The fish had moved off to the limit of Hooper’s vision – a spectral silver-gray blur tracing a slow circle. Hooper raised his camera and pressed the trigger. He knew the film would be worthless unless the fish moved in once more, but he wanted to catch the beast as it emerged from the darkness.
Through the viewfinder he saw the fish turn toward him. It moved fast, tail thrusting vigorously, mouth opening and closing as if gasping for breath. Hooper raised his right hand to change the focus. Remember to change it again, he told himself, when it turns.
But the fish did not turn. A shiver traveled the length of its body as it closed on the cage. It struck the cage head on, the snout ramming between two bars and spreading them. The snout hit Hooper in the chest and knocked him backward. The camera flew from his hands, and the mouthpiece shot from his mouth. The fish turned on its side, and the pounding tail forced the great body farther into the cage. Hooper groped for his mouthpiece but couldn’t find it. His chest was convulsed with the need for air.
“It’s attacking!” screamed Brody. He grabbed one of the tether ropes and pulled, desperately trying to raise the cage.
“God damn your fucking soul!” Quint shouted.
“Throw it! Throw it!”
“I can’t throw it! I gotta get him on the surface! Come up, you devil! You prick!”
The fish slid backward out of the cage and turned sharply to the right in a tight circle. Hooper reached behind his head, found the regulator tube, and followed it with his hand until he located the mouthpiece. He put it in his mouth and, forgetting to exhale first, sucked for air. He got water, and he gagged and choked until at last the mouthpiece cleared and he drew an agonized breath. It was then that he saw the wide gap in the bars and saw the giant head lunging through it. He raised his arms above his head, grasping at the escape hatch.
The fish rammed through the space between the bars, spreading them still farther with each thrust of its tail. Hooper, flattened against the back of the cage, saw the mouth reaching, straining for him. He remembered the power head, and he tried to lower his right arm and grab it. The fish thrust again, and Hooper saw with the terror of doom that the mouth was going to reach him.
The jaws closed around his torso. Hooper felt a terrible pressure, as if his guts were being compacted. He jabbed his fist into the black eye. The fish bit down, and the last thing Hooper saw before he died was the eye gazing at him through a cloud of his own blood.
“He’s got him!” cried Brody. “Do something!”
“The man is dead,” Quint said.
“How do you know? We may be able to save him.”
“He is dead.”
Holding Hooper in its mouth, the fish backed out of the cage. It sank a few feet, chewing, swallowing the viscera that were squeezed into its gullet. Then it shuddered and thrust forward with its tail, driving itself and prey upward in the water.
“He’s coming up!” said Brody.
“Grab the rifle!” Quint cocked his hand for the throw.
The fish broke water fifteen feet from the boat, surging upward in a shower of spray. Hooper’s body protruded from each side of the mouth, head and arms hanging limply down one side, knees, calves, and feet from the other.
In the few seconds while the fish was clear of the water, Brody thought he saw Hooper’s glazed, dead eyes staring open through his face mask. As if in contempt and triumph, the fish hung suspended for an instant, challenging mortal vengeance.