What do jellyfish-sharks eat, at what depth would your eyes freeze, can you warm yourself by a reactor, what’s the most foolish thing you've ever done, is senility always related to old age?
The door cracked open, and a gray-haired old man, cannily look over his shoulder, entered the child’s room:
— Already sleeping? — he asked in a whisper.
— Grandpa! — a freckled little face appeared from under the blanket. — And I kept waiting and waiting, almost fell asleep.
— A deal is a deal. Who stays away from the virtualizer all day long, gets a bedtime story.
— If only I found it, you think I wouldn’t get connected? Doh… Okay, give me your story. I want a scary and funny one. Just like that one about the North Pole and the other one about the desert bug.
Grandpa sat on the bed and furrowed his brow.
— Weeelll, listen. Once I decided to swim across the sea…
— But you already told me this story.
— Er, then maybe I should tell you about the desert island where I almost got devoured …
— Grandpa, you completely lost your memory, I heard that story twice.
— Well then… Here, this one I haven’t told you before. The tale of the icy jellyfish-shark!
The kid widely opened his eyes in surprise and crawled under the blankets.
— When I was young and full of energy, and people used mobile phones to communicate, I found myself on the shores of the Arctic Ocean, in the village of Teriberka. Here gathered the 50 best swimmers from around the world in order to finally see – who of us was the coolest. We decided: the one who first swam a hundred nautical miles in the icy water among icebergs, huge house-high waves and underwater predators, would be the king of swimmers!
The little boy opened his mouth wide:
— And you were one of them?
— Did I ever tell you a lie? Please, don’t interrupt. So, – continued the old man – it was the most severe sea in the world – the Barents Sea.
They say no fish even swam into this sea, because of fear. I need not say that even microbes could not survive in this arctic ice broth! Well, we didn’t care much about cold, so we decided to swim naked, without any wetsuits or glasses. Just trunks. By the way…
Grandpa stood up, lowered his pants and pulled out the edge of his trunks:
— Here, I was wearing this pair when I swam, my lucky pair of trunks! When you grow up, I’ll pass them on to you.
The boy frowned but his grandfather continued as if nothing had happened:
— We were supposed to pass a very serious test, as that year was very cold, and water temperature went as low as -10 degrees Celsius!
— We learned in school that water can’t go below zero…
— Don’t argue with your grandfather. Salty water can. And there was so much salt there that the fishermen caught the fish immediately salted in jars, beat off pieces of salt with a hammer and then soaked it for a long time in running water to make it eatable.
Such water eats away at ordinary people in half an hour, but we were a hard lot. We went down the neck into the water and waited for the starting gun. The water was so cold that the wet hair on the head immediately turned into an icy helmet, and our nuts (the old man winked slyly) fell in like ground squirrels in their burrows.
The boy giggled.
— Kaboom! — the gun shot all of a sudden, and my neighbor on the right screamed and went under the water.
— Did he die? — the little boy sounded scared.
— No way, they shot with salt. Then they dragged him to the shore, he came to his senses, but quit swimming after the competition and was abandoned and became a shop teacher. Nevermind … All right, where was I? Oh yeah, we started swimming.
My strategy was simple — swim in the middle to see what happens to the hurry-ups. And my strategy was right! In a couple of hundred meters, we swam next to a giant iceberg and a huge piece of ice the size of a car broke off from it and plopped into the water! The first three swimmers were thrown into the air by a wave, and they flew upwards, ridiculously kicking up legs and arms. But since the air temperature was 60 degrees below zero, and they were wet, what happened to them?
— They froze, didn’t they? Right? — the boy was expecting a confirmation.
— Right you are! They turned into ice chips and fell into the water. They were dragged up by a nuclear-powered icebreaker that accompanied us, and carried closer to the reactor — to thaw. They say that after such a warm-up, the ice chips turned brown.
The little boy wrapped in the blanket and was eagerly waiting for a follow-up:
— Grrr, I’m so cold already, and how did you feel?
— It’s good that I was not the first, so when I saw the giant wave from the iceberg, I dove under it. If you remember, I used to do freediving and could not breathe for two hours. I took advantage of the situation and decided to overtake my competitors under water. But I forgot that the deeper it is, the colder the water, and so my eyes froze.
— What, completely?!
— They were like two pieces of glass, I couldn’t even blink. Try not to blink while I’m telling you this, and you’ll understand what it is like to be at a depth of one hundred meters, under enormous pressure, in icy water at minus 30 degrees, naked, and not able to blink. Horrible!
The boy repeatedly blinked:
— Phew! Can’t hold it for too long. And you?
— What was I supposed to do? Only one thing can help in this situation — a warm liquid. Where do I get a warm liquid at the bottom of the ocean? Any ideas?
— No, you couldn’t do that, —the boy frowned. — Grandpa, did you pee on your eyes?
— How could you think that, grandson. I… I… — grandpa realized he had no other ideas and agreed. – Yes, I did it, but what else could I do — I had to compete!
— Ugh, yuck!
— Okay, okay, yuck! Your virtualizer is yuck! To cut it short, I blinked and swam upwards. I jumped out of the water and saw that there were 20 of us left. The rest were thrown far back with the wave, some just froze and were pulled out. I also felt a chill – the wind was getting started. There was always a draught between the two islands, and quite many ships sank in this dead place. Through the water column, I could see a ship graveyard at the bottom.
Suddenly, the wind began to howl, dabbing at us with a million sharp ice floes, stabbing into the skin. It hit our faces with snow blizzard and waves so much that no matter how hard we tried to oar, we could not move even a yard farther. I clung to the choppy water so that I would not be blown away, someone would hold my foot, fluttering in the wind like a flag. About a quarter of an hour passed, and we hadn’t moved an inch. Some surrendered and their shaking bodies were dragged up by the icebreaker.
Suddenly I had a brilliant idea. I remembered reading somewhere that ships could sail against the wind, tack and tack. Or at an angle, diagonally. And so I swam: first to the right, then to the left, to the right, to the left, and so it began to move in a zigzag against the wind and the waves. But my rivals brazenly stole my idea and swam behind. There were no more than ten of us left. So we swam until the turn, and then the wind died down.
— I sighed with relief and, gaining sight of the finish far off, began to oar with double speed! It was a big mistake … If only I knew that a giant icy jellyfish-shark lived in those waters, I would swim more quietly, trying to not wake it up.
— A jellyfish-shark? Is it real? A jellyfish and a shark, two in one?
— You’re too young to know about such monsters. You are not specifically told about this in school so as to spare the children’s fragile trust. A jellyfish-shark is a translucent shark with tentacles, like an octopus, the size of a nine-storey building. It’s hard to see it in the water, but when it rises from the depths, all living things freeze in horror: wriggling tentacles as thick as a car and wide-open, terrible, toothed jaws, in which it drags everything it finds. Even more, it shocks you with current.
— Mom will kill us when she finds out what horror movies you’re telling me before bedtime, —the boy whispered from under the blanket.
— Don’t be afraid, we won’t tell her, everything will be fine, — grandfather looked under the covers. – Come on, get out.
The boy got out and looked back. Grandfather grinned and continued his story:
— All adults know that jellyfish-sharks live in icy water and love peace and quiet, but when they hear desperate swashing on the surface, they rise and drag the victim to the bottom. And since I swam first and oared the fastest, the jellyfish-shark chose me as victim. It wrapped me around with its nasty tentacle and pulled me to the bottom. The swimmers, seeing the monster, were confused, and some even chose to finish the race. But a few decisive guys had the courage to swim over the monster right toward the finish.
— And you, what did you do?
— The jellyfish-shark swallowed me… — grandpa put on a sad face.
— Oh, grandpa…
— I felt a tentacle gripping me, burning my skin, and I plunged into the ocean mist towards the toothed jaws. What to do? Fortunately, I remembered that I hadn’t cut my nails for a long time and tried to cut the jelly-like tentacle with them, but without success. Then I began to tear its nasty, jelly-like body with my teeth, but I had heartburn, and you know that your grandad hates heartburn so much. In short, I almost gave up. It got dark around, very little air was left in my lungs, and I was horrified to see below a hundred shiny teeth in the open chaps. Six brilliant eyes predatory shimmered in the dark. The monster dragged me down, straight into the black, grinning gap. I saw the bottom covered with skeletons of huge animals that had been so unfortunate to swim nearby.
I realized that was the end, and it was time to sum up. In seconds, my whole life flashed before my eyes. Here I go to school, and here in McDonalds I meet your grandmother, and here I play with my children: we run around the flat, I grab them and do the “Three Little Pigs”. And then a crazy idea came to my mind …
— You do what?
— The “Three Little Pigs”, when you tickle someone till one drops. I used to play this finger game with you, too, don’t you remember? All right, where was I? Oh yeah, I felt those jaws nearer, and there I decided to do the most stupid thing in my life.
— But you said your wedding was the most stupid thing in your life.
— Okay, the most stupid thing number two… The monster’s jaws were so close to swallow me, and there I decided to do the second most stupid thing in my life — there was nothing to lose, so I started to do the “Three Little Pigs”, tickling the tentacle with all my might. Suddenly, I realized that I stopped diving, and the pressure decreased. I looked down and saw that the mouth was closed. Was the monster really afraid of tickling? I went on tickling it till the tentacle was completely weakened and began to shake.
The monster’s head also began to sway, its maw opened and closed, as if laughing silently. There was no air left, and my consciousness was drifting away, but I went on tickling those jellylike tentacles that were everywhere. Its head shaking in a silent “laughter” was already very close, eyes bulging and teeth clenching. I tickled it with my last forces and then something happened that no one expected.
The terrible monster laughed to the top of its monstrous lungs. Of course, there was no sound, but you can imagine the strength that it pushed the water out of itself. This powerful jet caught me, so that I was spun, twisted and carried up. I fainted.
— And what happened next?
— I’m going to tell you what the judges witnessed. They saw the monster dragged me into the depths and already said farewell to me. And so, when the first athlete was almost reaching the finish line, about ten yards to swim, suddenly a huge water jet launched out of the depth and carried me straight into the finish arch. My opponent jumped to be the first but … — grandfather made a tiny pause, taking a breath. — My body crossed the finish line half a second earlier!
The boy jumped on the bed:
— Hooray! My grandpa is a champion!
— Quiet, quiet, now your mommy will get in and show us the “Olympic Games” … All right … Ah, there it is! I came to my senses from the blow and for a long time could not figure out how I got to the finish, and how it happened that I was the winner of the swim. They put a medal around my neck, fed me with hot buckwheat with mushrooms, gave me some whiskey to drink and let me warm myself by the reactor. That’s how I became the king of swimmers.
— Won’t you show me your medal, grandpa?
— Do you still have doubts? All right… Wait for me, I’ll be back soon, — grandfather looked out into the dark corridor and, after making sure everyone was asleep, tiptoed to his room.
He came back in a minute, clutching a medal in his hand.
— Oh wow!—the boy was delighted. — A medal with water inside, wow… But why does it say one mile?
— That’s about… Er… — grandpa was confused. — Right, that’s about depth! 1860 meters.
He glanced at the little boy in a pleased smile and covered him with the blanket:
— Time for bed , — grandpa put the medal under the blanket, next to his grandson. — When you grow up, you’ll go yourself to this sea and win your own medal. After all, you will also need to tell something to your grandchildren.
The old man slowly closed the door to the child’s room and went to his own room. In his room, the boy was lying with a smile mile wide, imagining how he would fight the jellyfish-shark when he grew up and became as strong as his grandfather.
In the next room, the old man lay on his bed and smiled too, recalling his sea-mile swim in the Barents Sea, in a thick diving suit and gloves, with rescuers, a pair of dead jellyfish and his well-deserved 12th place.
Author’s note: Whatever I do in this life – the key factor for me is whether my grandchildren will find it interesting. If not, it means that I’ll be losing my time and wasting my life on trifles …
And if you liked this “true” story, you can check how it really was: www.x-waters.com/events/arctic/
Illustrators whose drawings were posted on this blog: Dmitrii Travnikov, Tatiana Chetrean, Serdar Djumaev.