Ti-Pa-Pa, their shaman, leapt with a scream onto the sand. He shambled about, a pathetic man under a shark mask and mantle, rattles tied to his wrists and ankles. He shouted, gestured, implored the sea and threatened the sky. He invoked the Shark God. But the god did not come. The god did not possess him; the elders grumbled and shook their heads in fear for the voyage.
Ka-Ti descended from true shamans, the elders said--his father, sailing alone on a spirit quest, had been taken by the Shark God itself--but as a child Ka-Ti could not take his father's place. So the elders chose Ti-Pa-Pa, who swore that he also had power. A fraud the elders later said, but he would not give up the mask, not even now that Ka-Ti was old enough.
Ti-Pa-Pa shook the shark-tooth club as he called on the god to protect the voyagers. Each boy-man went into the surf with him to sacrifice their blood to the sea, and he scratched the club against the backs of their fists. Crimson drops stained the water. When Ka-Ti came forward, the shaman ripped the teeth through his flesh. Ka-Ti bit his lip to swallow a cry, but his eyes never left Ti-Pa-Pa's through the mask.
The storm scattered the little fleet during the fourth night of the voyage. By morning Ka-Ti, Go-Adi and nine others floated on the remains of their canoe, knowing nothing of the other five craft. Then the sharks came.
Greys, the ghosts of the sea, and Bluebacks circled until, one by one, the men were pulled away from the wreckage--or, giving up all hope, let go. The tails of the sharks beat the sea into red foam. Seabirds came and dove for the bits of flesh that fell from the sharks' mouths. Within a day only Ka-Ti and Go-Adi lived, left with a choice of death under the sun, or under the sea.
Ka-Ti heard the shark break the surface when it was still far away. He raised his head, cracking open his burning eyes. Its blunt nose was an island, breaking the swell with a roar, its fin a mountain, and its wake a tidal wave. The shark was greater than even the great air-breathing fish his people hunted in summer. It came for Go-Adi.
He did not decide to slip into the water, or to try to distract the shark. He simply acted to protect his cousin. Ka-Ti swam hard, with as much noise as he could, away from the wreck. He took a breath, saw the great head turn toward him, and in the next moment sensed the jaws opening. Ka-Ti cried out.
When he returned to consciousness, Ka-Ti knew every current in the ocean, and every fleck of sand that rose above the waves. He knew the taste of the sea before the Fire God raised his mountains of flaming stone under it. How presumptuous to seek to cage the ocean! He sensed all movement on the water, and under it, and he knew, without knowing how, where the broken remains of each outrigger now floated. Ageless and boundless was the Shark God, and with a flick of his body he whipped back toward the tiny bundle of wood, rope and flesh drifting on the sea.
The Shark God did not devour the man called Go-Adi. Instead, it took a length of rope in its jaws and began to tow the wreck, and the man, back to their island.
When the people learned of the disaster they would sacrifice to the Shark God--and it intended to receive this sacrifice, for one human thought remained in its hungry mind: Ti-Pa-Pa.