Tim and Lisa have sharks. As their hunting grounds are cleaned out, these cold-blooded killer fish have come to infest the pair’s inner city apartment. And that’s just the beginning of their problems.
It started with the mystery object sitting in the kitchen sink. About ten centimetres long, shaped like a football and surrounded by a spiral of fins. Green so dark it was almost black. It looked like a zucchini designed by a seven-year-old boy.
Tim was tidying around the sink when he saw it. Lisa had gone out last night for a friend’s birthday so Tim ordered pizza and drank a few beers while he watched the footy, and empty bottles sat around the sink. Picking up the weird object, he found its texture felt rubbery like seaweed. Hollow, and split open. A couple of shrivelled cords trailed off one end like it was meant to plug into something. Maybe it was one of those Chinese vegetables he saw in the supermarket sometimes but never bought and couldn’t name. That didn’t explain where it had come from though, unless Lisa had brought it home. Tim rubbed the split in its side and water dribbled out. It even smelled a little like seaweed, and salt.
In the other room, Tim heard the shower shut off. Lisa wandered through the apartment with a towel wrapped around her middle as she dried her hair.
“Do you know what this is?” Tim held up the green object with the spiral fins.
“It looks like a shark egg,” Lisa said.
“A shark egg? Why would a shark egg be in the sink?”
“Maybe we have sharks?”
“Sharks? Aren’t we a bit far inland for that?”
Tim looked out the kitchen window for answers, as if expecting to see a beach with golden sands and whitecaps frothing on an azure sea. They were in a second floor apartment, two bedrooms, one bathroom, and the window overlooked a parking lot. Not where you expected to find sharks. They weren’t even close to the coastline, it was half an hour’s drive to Bondi or over an hour by bus and train.
“Yeah, but sharks are moving further and further from their regular hunting grounds because they keep getting fished out,” Lisa said. “They go looking for more food.”
Tim shrugged, fingering the rubbery fins of the shark egg. He supposed that made sense. Lisa had grown up in Western Australia and was really into wildlife when she was a kid so she knew more about these kinds of things. Tim had grown up in Sydney and thought of Mount Kuring-Gai as ‘going bush’.
“Why here though?”
“Did you leave any food out?” Lisa finished drying her hair and draped the towel over her shoulders.
Tim looked around the kitchen. Along with the dirty cups and plates, a large, brown box sat eschew on the stovetop with its lid accusingly ajar.
“Sorry, I forgot to put the rest of the pizza in the fridge,” Tim said.
“What kind of pizza?”
“Well, there you go.”
Lisa went to the stove and knocked the box’s lid open. She gave Tim a mildly exasperated look. A bite had been taken out of the remaining half of the pizza that Tim hadn’t finished, thirty centimetres across at its widest point and jagged around the edges from serrated teeth. The box was otherwise undisturbed.
“Yep, sharks,” Lisa said. “Looks like a tiger shark.”
“Great,” Tim said. “How do you get rid of them?”
“I don’t know, they use nets along the coast I think but they’re not totally effective. And there’s drum lines, but they’re inhumane. No, Tim, we can’t use drum lines!”
“Okay, okay, I’ll Google it and see.”
“Thanks, would you like a cup of tea? I’m going to boil the jug.”
Tim piled all the dirty dishes together and swept the beer bottles into the recycling bin. The pizza he would have to throw out. He felt a bit annoyed since he’d been planning on having the rest of it for lunch. Little was left except half a ring of crust. He tipped it into the bin and left the box on the stove to take down with the recycling. After a few moments, he tossed the shark egg into the rubbish as well.
Although he didn’t much like the idea of running into a shark around their kitchen sink, Tim dealt first with the problem by ignoring it and hoping it went away on its own. He dealt with a lot of problems that way with negligible success. That at least got him through Saturday and most of Sunday.
Sunday night, Tim got up to get a bottle of water from the fridge after he and Lisa had gone to bed. Before he’d reached the kitchen though, he smelled a fishy stink. Something clattered, like a tin can falling off a bench, and Tim lunged for the lightswitch.
A couple of Port Jackson sharks scurried across the kitchen bench as soon as the light flickered on. Both were one-and-a-half metres long, bodies pale and soft like silverfish, with dumb, squashed, puglike faces. Tim and Lisa’s kitchen was old, in need of a few repairs. Flopping around wetly, the Port Jackson sharks made it to a couple of gaps where the faux wood of the countertop had pulled away from the wall behind the sink and wiggled inside them. With a slapping of tails, they were gone.
“Damn it,” Tim said.
The fishy smell wasn’t from the sharks. They’d found some tins of flavoured tuna in the cupboard and split them open with the bony plates of their unique jaws. Tim sometimes bought tuna to take to work, but he tended to forget about it in favour of buying lunch instead and the cans piled up to gather dust. Still, it was annoying to find them burst open and spilling scraps all over the counters and floor. Some of the flavours were stewing in sauces that would probably stain if left too long. Stepping around the mess, Tim balled up some paper towels and started wiping up. Ignoring the problem hadn’t worked, he was going to have to do something about it.
Tim tossed the ruptured cans into the sink. Under the sink were their bins as well as some cleaning products. Holding a wad of paper towel in one hand, Tim pulled one of the cupboard doors open.
The bullet-shaped head of a tiger shark over three metres long exploded from the cupboard. Dark striations streaking down the grey shark’s sides, like tiger stripes, made it easy to identify. Its jaws stretched open, filled with serrated teeth with sideways-pointing tips, like chainsaw blades. Pots and pans scattered, banging and clattering across the kitchen floor. Tim fell on his butt and kicked out, scrabbling to get away. His back met the cabinets by the doorway. Thrashing, the tiger shark lunged and snapped its jaws repeatedly, trying to catch Tim’s bare feet. Pots and lids continued to ring against the linoleum.
Its surprise attack a failure, the tiger shark wriggled backward, knocking over one of the bins. Retreating into a gap around the bottom of the drainpipe, the three-metre fish disappeared. Tim stayed where he was, catching his breath. He’d squeezed the paper towels so hard he’d gotten tuna juice and sauce all over his hand.
“Jeez, that was close,” Tim said.
“Are you alright out there?” Woken by the noise, Lisa sounded worried but not worried enough to get out of bed.
“I’m okay! Just-, the sharks are getting worse!”
Next day, Tim stopped by Big W for shark nets. Cursing Weekend Tim, he was annoyed at having to go via the store after work and wished he’d taken care of it on Saturday to begin with. Once he got home, he put a net in the kitchen to trap the Port Jackson and tiger sharks, and one in the bathroom. They’d found more shark eggs behind the toilet and around the bathtub drain.
Over the next few days the nets seemed to work, although Tim kept forgetting to step over the one in the bathroom and almost tripped a number of times. At one point, however, Lisa saw the massive wedge head of a great white through the window of the washing machine while doing a load of laundry. It had disappeared by the time the cycle finished but neither Tim nor Lisa were willing to put their hands inside the machine so they had to take the wet clothes out with a broom handle. Tim wrapped another net around the washing machine.
Thursday morning, their shark problem came to a head again. Tim was showering before work, humming to himself, when he realised water was rising over his toes and feet. Looking down, he saw the drain appeared blocked and water was filling the basin at the bottom of the shower.
Tim’s blood went cold as he saw an obsidian eye through the bars of the drain, shiny and lifeless as a doll’s eye. He leapt back and slammed into the glass door of the shower. The cover popped off the drain and a hammerhead shark squeezed itself out of the pipe. Eyestalks like fleshy Pringles cans sprung off the sides of its head. A frowning maw lined with steak knife teeth gnashed at Tim. Naked and dripping, Tim staggered across the bathroom streaked with soap. If he’d been any slower, or the hammerhead hadn’t had to squeeze its awkward, T-shaped head through the drain, Tim might have lost a leg or something even more precious. The hammerhead flung itself from side to side in frustration, bouncing off the walls of the shower. Finally, it slunk back down the pipe like toothpaste retreating into a tube. Excess water gurgled in after it.
“Shit!” Tim yelled.
“What is it, love?” Lisa emerged from the bedroom, wiping sleep from her eyes.
“We’re getting drum lines!”
“Oh, no, the sharks again? But drum lines are so inhumane!”
“I don’t care, we’re getting them.”
Tim was so determined to get their shark problems sorted he went to Bunnings on his lunch break. Drum lines came in packs of six. Each consisted of a plastic buoy that looked like a giant soccer ball, so big Tim could only get his arms halfway around each of them. A long anchor chain led off one side and a shorter chain trailed off the other attached to a massive hook. He left them in the boot for the rest of the workday then took them home, ready to put to use. Each hook was about a handspan in width with a fanged point. Tim baited them with a chunk of fur seal he’d picked up at a seafood place. He put two in the kitchen, one in the shower and another in the bathtub, and one in the laundry. He kept one in reserve in case he thought of another spot. They didn’t really use the bath so that was okay but it was a bit of a pain negotiating their way around the waist-high buoys, the hooks trailing on the floor and chunks of dripping meat, in the shower and kitchen.
Saturday morning again, they’d caught a couple of Port Jackson sharks and a small mako. None of the big ones they’d seen had taken the bait. Or taken the hooks at least, something had snatched the bait off a couple of lines without getting caught. On the remaining hooks, the seal meat was festering a little.
Avoiding two of the buoys, Tim went about tidying the kitchen. He tossed an empty wine bottle into the recycling and started running the tap. Adding dishwashing liquid, Tim moved some dirty plates and utensils into the sink.
Since Thursday morning, Tim had been a little wary around any body of water throughout the apartment. Turning off the tap, Tim watched the sink. A carpet of suds covered the water and hid anything below. Bubbles popped and slowly sank. At the back of Tim’s mind, an ominous, two note tune gradually picked up speed. He stirred the soap bubbles a little with his fingers, ready to yank his arm back, but nothing moved. Just dirty dishes, glasses and utensils, and settling suds.
“Alright then,” Tim said.
Tim reached over the sink for a sponge, resting on the kitchen windowsill. Steam covered the glass. Suddenly, the sudsy water erupted and the head of a great white shark, almost a metre long from nose to gills, shot out of the water. Plates and forks sprayed into the air. A yawning, pink maw filled with jagged fangs, rough, grey skin and black doll eyes. Tim snatched his arm away as its eyes rolled over to white and its jaws slammed shut like a living bear trap. Coming up, the great white slammed into the sink’s spout and broke it. Water sprayed Tim, the window, and the rest of the kitchen.
“Oh, come on!” Tim said.
The great white seemed to glare, and the enormous head sunk back beneath the suds. Tim could sense it waiting. Water spewed over the sink, quickly overflowing from the tap and spreading onto the counter, and there was no way to turn it off. It waterfalled over the lip and onto the linoleum tiles.
“Right, that’s it, this needs an expert,” Tim said.
Water quickly flooded the kitchen and started to flow into the rest of the apartment. Tim retreated to the living room. Lisa joined him on the couch and the two took refuge as the flood throughout the apartment became several centimetres deep. Tim was pretty sure he’d gotten all the electronics off the ground at least. More concerning were the ominous currents they saw swirling across the carpet from time to time, dark shapes attached to hints of angular fins.
“I think we’re going to need a bigger couch,” Tim said, knees tucked up to his chest.
“What’s wrong with the couch?”
“Nothing’s wrong with the couch, I was just making a joke.”
“I got this couch on Gumtree, you know? They were just giving it away.”
Someone knocked on the door, heavy and inquisitive. Tim and Lisa sat only a couple of metres away from the door but were surrounded by water. Fortunately, Tim had unlocked it earlier when he’d been circling the apartment looking for electronics and other things that would be affected by the rising flood.
“Come in, it’s unlocked!” Tim said. “Just watch out, there’s water all over the apartment. It’s going to run out as soon as you open the door!”
Handle rattling, the front door of the apartment opened slowly against the weight of water. Some water must have been leaking out under the door but as it opened that leak turned into a flood, filling the hallway. Water flowed across the landing to the stairwell and waterfalled down the steps. A large man dressed in a blue-grey set of coveralls stood in the doorway, letting it pour past. He wore a harness and tool belt loaded with pouches and equipment. He looked incurious about the flow of water leaving the apartment, only concerned with bracing himself against the doorframe.
“You called for an exterminator?”
“Yes, thank you for coming so quick,” Lisa said. “I’m Lisa and this is Tim, we have sharks.”
“Samuel,” the man said.
“Sorry about the mess,” Tim said.
“That’s okay, I find this tends to happen sooner or later with shark infestations.”
Water continued to flow out of the apartment until all that was left was damp carpet. Those strange currents disappeared as any sharks lurking in the flooded living room swam upstream to safer places. Only a single whitetip reef shark went flopping past Samuel’s feet with the last of the flood, a metre long, mouth fixed in a dramatic frown at its predicament. Grey flesh slapping at the carpet, the gasping shark tumbled across the landing and vanished down the stairs. The exterminator moved inside, boots squishing on the carpet.
“We’re going to have to get the carpet cleaned,” Lisa said.
“One thing at a time, okay?” Tim replied.
“So, you’ve got sharks, ey?” Samuel hitched up his heavy tool belt. “Yep, I see it more and more these days. Culling stopped, so their numbers could come up again, but their hunting grounds are getting fished out or dying so they keep spreading further and further out, looking for food.”
“That’s what I told him,” Lisa said.
“I’ll have a bit of a squiz but first, exactly what sharks have you seen?”
“Oh, a lot of different ones,” Tim said. “There was a great white this morning, a hammerhead, I’m not sure of all the names, a tiger shark I’m pretty sure.”
“I saw a grey nurse back where we keep the jars,” Lisa said.
“Okay, let me have a look.”
The man walked through the apartment, floor wet in all the rooms. Tim and Lisa hung awkwardly behind him, unsure of whether to stay where they were or to follow. He reached the bathroom and looked at the nets and drumlines in the shower and bathtub, complete with spoiled chunks of seal meat. He frowned deeply and they could sense his disapproval.
“Mm, drum lines,” Samuel said. “Bit inhumane.”
“We weren’t sure what else to use,” Tim said and caught a look from Lisa. “I wasn’t sure.”
“How bad is it?” Lisa asked.
“Oh, about average,” Samuel said.
“What do you use for something like this? For sharks?” Tim asked.
“Shark repellant,” Samuel said.
“Shark repellant. Not to worry, I’ve got plenty in the truck. Just spray it around the apartment and give it about five to six hours, no sharks.”
“Great, hey, can I get you a cup of tea?” Lisa asked.
“That’d be lovely, cheers,” Samuel said. “Milk, two sugars for me, please?”
It didn’t take long for Samuel to circumnavigate the apartment, cup of tea in one hand and can of shark repellant in the other. There was no sign of the sharks, or of them leaving. They had to take Samuel’s word that in a few hours the sharks would be gone. He told them he’d recommend their strata have the whole building sprayed, just in case. After he was gone, Tim and Lisa started cleaning up. The kitchen sink had been switched off and would have to be fixed. Their carpet needed cleaning or drying out. They folded up the nets and stored them away, just in case, while the drum lines went out with the rubbish.
After another week, Tim and Lisa had experienced no other shark attacks in their apartment. Tim was still a little wary of any body of water but he could go to the bathroom, bathe, or wash the dishes in peace. The building had been treated with shark repellant. They heard the occasional bloodcurdling scream and violent splashing from the next apartment block, suggesting the problem had only been moved on, but Tim and Lisa put it out of their mind.
Saturday morning, Tim got out of bed while Lisa slept in. Walking to the kitchen as he stretched his arms and shoulders, planning on making a cup of coffee, he was surprised to find a family of four sitting around their dining table. Their faces were gaunt and burnished from the sun, their clothes dusty. Tim yelped and stumbled back a little bit in surprise. He was only wearing a singlet and boxer shorts covered in pictures of peeling bananas, and made an effort to cover himself.
The adult male of the group met Tim’s eyes. He didn’t seem that much older than Tim but he had a wispy beard and his face was weathered. The woman and two children, a boy and a girl, both very young, looked down at the table as if embarrassed.
“Who-, who are you?” Tim asked.
“We’re refugees,” the man said. “Climate refugees.”
“Oh, no, this just got political,” Tim said.
“That’s right,” the man said. “I’m not sure if you’re aware, but climate change is causing the largest human migration movements seen in history since World War Two, as more and more land becomes incapable of sustaining human habitation. So, here we are.”
“Hold on a second, sorry?”
Tim retreated to the bedroom, leaving the family of four at the table. Their meagre possessions were in dirty sacks around their feet. Tim closed the bedroom door behind him and knelt beside the bed where Lisa was snoozing.
“Hey, sorry, wake up.” Tim gently shook Lisa by the shoulder. “We’ve got refugees in the living room. Climate refugees.”
“Oh, okay,” Lisa said. “Kind of a left turn.”
“It was surreally humorous before, now it’s gotten political,” Tim said. “Kind of preachy really.”
Lisa yawned. “It was kind of political already. It was environmental anyway.”
“I guess,” Tim said. “But it seems kind of racist to compare refugees to some kind of infestation.”
“I don’t know if you need to bring race into it. Climate change is going to affect all of us eventually, it’s just hitting the poorest nations first. It is problematic though, no doubt, doesn’t feel very well thought through if it’s trying to make some kind of point.”
“What do we do now? Is there some kind of refugee repellant?”
“I don’t think this is the kind of problem you can move on from. I mean, someone has got to take some kind of responsibility, right?” Lisa said. “Why shouldn’t it be us?”
Lisa got up and wrapped herself in a dressing gown. The two of them left the bedroom and went back to the alcove outside the kitchen. All four climate refugees looked down at the table.
“It’s okay, I’m sorry to impose on you like this,” the father said. “We’ll keep moving.”
“No, no, it’s alright, you’re welcome to stay. We’ll work something out,” Lisa said. “Would anyone like a cup of tea? I’m just going to boil the jug.”
Sean: This one is actually an older story of mine, written before 2022 but never released. There were a few I wrote back then but I wasn’t in the habit of posting them yet and last year I kind of kept them in reserve in case I was going to miss a week. But I’m too damn good, never needed them.
Having taken a bit of a break and put some more focus into a novel I’ve been writing based on one of last year’s stories, I’m pleased to say I feel like the short story bug is back! There’s been a couple of stories I’ve hammered out in just one day that I’m really pleased with, and you’ll see them come out on the website soon. I’ve also been putting more focus into publishing stories through some other outlets. A lot of places won’t take ‘reprints’ so I’ve been shopping around both originals and some of last year’s stories. The glut being turned out by people churning stories out with AI is clearly taking it’s toll on publishers though, something I find somewhat distressing. Hey, if you know of a publication or podcast that you think might suit a story of mine though feel free to hit me up at seanebritten(at)gmail.com!
If you haven’t done so already, make sure you check out the main page and go for a scroll for many more stories! And you can find me on Facebook, Twitter, and Reddit for more of what’s coming up when it’s coming up.
My childhood nightmare, the sharks in the house not the climate refugees
I promise, they’re more afraid of you than you are of them.