Gwen Kelley was a resident of the peaceful town of Sandbar for as long as she
could remember. There, she had a house, one that belonged to her parents. It was all
she had left of them, and it was where she would rest for the few hours she had to
herself. It wasn’t pretty, the rooms were bare except for a sofa covered in a floral pattern
that she had never really cared for a radio, the top coated with dust and faded dials, and
a bed that seldom saw use. A single potted plant sat in the living room, insisting on
staying alive, even though it hadn’t been watered in some time. In spite of that, it was
her home. She had fond memories of relaxing on the beach with her parents, looking
out at The Pillar, a pitch black spire that her grandfather always told her held up the sky.
From her room, she always watched the fishing ships sail out in the middle of the night
so that they would be able to reach the markets in Dellum by morning. Gwen had
always loved seeing the tiny lights of each ship pass in front of the tower. It was
comforting, and she had lost count of how many times she had fallen asleep watching it.
So, when Gwen returned from one of her longer fishing trips, her stomach sank at the
sight of a demolition notice placed on the front door. The first thing she did was to go
inside and take a nap on her sofa. When she woke up, she tried telling herself that she
wouldn’t miss it at all and that it was just a house. These thoughts did very little to help
her despair. There was nothing she could do, the fish hadn’t been biting lately and what
little she and her crew had caught wouldn’t be anywhere close to enough to pay for the
As Gwen sat there, in her quiet house, the sound of the beach echoing in the
distance, and the midafternoon light streaming through the dusty curtains, she realized
she had a choice to make. She was supposed to go out again in two days and had the
option to bet everything on that fishing trip. The other immediately apparent solution
was a loan. No bank in their right mind would give her any money, especially with her
job. All that remained was the desperate option. Supposedly, there was a man who
would loan anyone any amount of money in exchange for one favor. He was called,
“The Shark.” A fitting title for one of the most infamous loan sharks this side of the
She had known people who worked with The Shark. Most were killed and never
even got their money. On her last fishing run, she was lucky enough to meet someone
who survived what he referred to as a “shark attack.” Gwen had no reason to believe
she was different, but she did. A sudden burst of courage spurring her on, she grabbed
her bag and hurried out the door and all the way to the trolley stop. She wasn’t exactly
sure where to find this man, but she had an idea of where to start. The survivor told her
that his troubles with “The Shark” started when he visited a bar on the bad side of town,
the red light district, the part of Sandbar that most people called Chumtown. Even
though Chumtown was the darkest corner of Sandbar, the sun shone as brightly there
as anywhere else and unflatteringly illuminated the disheveled buildings. Even though Gwen
didn’t know exactly where she was going, she felt it in her gut when she found the place. It was
a small pub on the northeast edge of town that was almost always completely empty, save
the people who ran it and any tourists dumb enough to wander inside. By all accounts, the
amount of money the place made shouldn’t be enough to keep it going. Yet, by some miracle
it was always open. Gwen didn’t start to doubt herself until she stepped off the trolley and into
Chumtown. When she left, this seemed like such a perfect idea. Okay, maybe not perfect, but
better than gambling her only connection to her family on some stupid fish. Now, as she
walked down the streets, dodging would-be pickpockets and con artists, Gwen started to
wonder if she was being rash. These thoughts slowed her steps, but she did her best to forget
them and press on.
After walking for a while, she found the place she was looking for. It was a
nondescript hole in the wall with a wooden sign leaning against the door that read, “Open.”
She carefully moved the sign off the door and pushed it open. Inside, the bar was empty,
except for the old man behind the counter, who seemed to have dozed off in the dimly lit
tavern. Gwen walked over and seated herself at the bar, across from the old man. He didn’t
react. After waiting for a second, Gwen picked up her bag and placed it loudly on the bar. The
man awakened with a jolt.
“What can I get you, young lady?” he asked.
“Star Ale. Here. Now.” Gwen replied after a short pause.
“Classy drink…you sure you wouldn’t rather have something else?”
“Just pour my goddamn drink.”
He shrugged and complied.
The bartender was an old man who might describe himself as a fine vintage. He
liked to think that his was one of the last classy taverns on this part of the island. Before
Chumtown went downhill, he was a pillar of the community, an upstanding citizen. At
one point, he knew almost every family in the neighborhood. That was a long time ago.
Now, he had to resort to housing a criminal in his basement to make ends meet. The
same basement where his father taught him to mix his first drink while the patrons
upstairs cheered as Lucky Louie sunk the 8 ball. These days, the bar wasn’t the kind of
place a whole family could patronize. The bar, like the bartender, was a shadow of its
former self. They were both still around, but the customers and the entire feel of the bar
“So, what brings you here?” the bartender asked as Gwen took a sip.
“Bad day,” she replied.
“What’s eating you? Maybe I can help.”
“Yeah? You don’t look too bad off.”
“Trust me, I am. I’m going to lose my family’s house. I don’t suppose you know
anyone willing to lend out some money?”
“I might,” the bartender said after a minute, “but I’ve heard he doesn’t like shiny
things: knives, swords, badges. You got any of em’ on you?”
Gwen shook her head.
“Good. If you’re sure you want to do this, I want you to leave your bag here and head out
the back. Then, go down the stairs and wait for me.”
Gwen had never enjoyed doing as she was told, but in this situation, she thought it might
be called for. She waited alone in the bar, second guessing herself and hoping a better idea
would come. She had no such luck, and so after a minute, Gwen walked out the back and down
the stairs to a metal basement door, a rare sight in Sandbar. After a minute or two passed, the
door swung open, revealing a dimly lit room and the old bartender on the far side. He ushered
Gwen inside and down a hallway into an old fashioned parlor. There was only one person in
the room: an Aestruagi man reading a book. He looked up as she entered the room and his four
silver eyes focused on her. She sat down in a chair across from him and began to talk.
“Would you happen to be-?” She started.
“State your business girl!” He barked, cutting her off with a voice like fine grain
“I need enough money to buy my house by the end of the week,” Gwen said, trying to
sound sure of herself.
“How much are we talking?”
“I would say 150,000 should do it.”
“That’s... that’s no small amount.”
“Please! It’s all I have left and the only place I can call home.”
He paused, tenting his fingers.“I’ll lend you what you need,” The Shark said.
“Thank you. You have no idea how much this means to me,” Gwen said,
“But because of how much I’m lending you, I need you to hold up your end up
front,” he said, grinning, showing off his sharp teeth. “There’s a blacksmith here in town.
He’s something of a prodigy, and rumor has it that his journal holds all his secrets. He’ll
be leaving tomorrow, so you gotta do this today. He should be on the beach for most of
the day. When you find him, grab the bag with his journal in it and bring it back here. I’ll
have your money then.”
“I mean no disrespect,” Gwen started, “but how do you expect me to find him?”
“You seem like a smart woman,” came the reply. “I’m sure you’ll have no trouble
finding him if you put your mind to it.”
Reluctantly, Gwen agreed. She turned to leave.
“One more thing lady,” The Shark said, “I’m gonna need to call in some favors to
get this amount of cash. So, if you can’t bring me the journal by tomorrow at noon,
you’re gonna end up owing me. Suffice it to say, it’ll cost you a little more than an arm
and a leg.” The Shark flashed one more grin, this one almost chilling, and finally allowed
Gwen to leave.
Famous or not, finding one man on an island flooded with tourists would be no
small feat. All Gwen had to go on was that the blacksmith would probably be on the
“Great, all I have to do is locate one man in the largest and most densely packed
part of the island,” Gwen couldn’t help thinking to herself as she wandered down the
street toward the coast.
It was then, by pure chance, that Gwen got the lead she was hoping for. As she walked
along, she overheard part of a conversation between two police officers.
“You don’t say. Isn’t yours supposed to be one of the ones with a replaceable
“Yeah, but the mechanism used to release without me wanting it to. Remember
last week’s drug bust?”
“That was you!? I couldn’t believe that that asshole didn’t hear the clattering.”
“Me either. So, yesterday, when Roy said that Davis the blacksmith was here, I
couldn’t help myself. I still can’t believe that guy took the whole thing apart to find the
broken pieces and then made me a new one.”
“Still having that problem?”
“No, if anything it’s the opposite. That guy does amazing work. You’d think it
woulda got to his head, but he’s really nice when he’s not working. I bumped into him on
the midtown beach earlier and we talked about…”
“Midtown huh?” Gwen thought. “Of course he’d be there, getting the full tourist
Gwen took the trolley up the island and got off at Junction Station. As she left the
station and started for the beach, her ears were greeted by the din of hawkers and
gougers peddling their wares. A general rule among residents of Sandbar was that
Midtown Market was only for tourists. Prices there were consistently higher than
elsewhere on the island, and visitors were almost always ready to waste their money.
To the visitors, Sandbar was a paradise, a haven separate from the stress of the rest of
the world; but to its residents, Sandbar was the source of their stress. As Gwen
approached the beach, she found herself wishing that she was a tourist for once, just so
that the warm sun and the sound of the waves could help to calm the storm building in
After searching the beach for awhile, she found him, Davis the blacksmith, asleep,
his rucksack resting on the sand next to him. This was it, she had it, her home. Her
peace was secure. She silently walked up and gently lifted the bag off the sand and
before anyone could start to react, she ran. Gwen tore across the beach, into town,
across town, running not just from Davis, but from the guilt she felt. Somewhere in the
back of her mind, she knew she was ruining him. The book she stole was his life, just as
the house was hers.
She had been blindly running for a while when the exhaustion caught up with her.
She sat down on a bench outside the bookstore she found herself in front of. As she
caught her breath, the guilt she’d been running from caught up with her. Gwen started
to think that there was no way, in good conscience, that she could give The Shark this
book. Her mind wandered and started trying to conjure a new solution, one where she
wouldn’t be ruining someone’s life. As she did, she flipped the book open and started to
turn the pages absent mindedly. Each one was covered in words, numbers and
diagrams. Some of it was written in foreign languages and the whole thing may as well
have been since each sentence made no sense. Each word on its own could be read,
but the way they fit together made no sense; the things they spoke of didn’t exist. The
only part Gwen could make any sense out of was the very first page. On it, printed in
large letters, were four words: “Make a steel ring.”
“If this book was the source of Davis’ success, that man must be smarter than
the king,” Gwen found herself thinking. “A man that smart shouldn’t need this,
right? He could probably write it all again if he tried, and besides, I’ve only got one
house, I need this money,” she thought, trying to convince herself that her crime was
Gwen was pulled back to herself as the nearby clock tower struck six. She’d
been in one place for too long and needed to get this journal to The Shark before too
much more time passed. The sooner this was finished, the better she’d feel.
Gwen returned to the bar in Chumtown the long way since she couldn’t spare the
money for a trolley. When she arrived, she found the bar more active than it was when
last she visited. More active isn’t saying much though; there were maybe five people
there, not including the bartender. She sat at the far end of the bar and as the old man
walked over, she placed the journal on the bar, between them.
“This it?” The bartender asked.
“Wait right here, I’ll send him up.” The bartender turned and almost reluctantly walked
out from behind the bar and out the back door.
Gwen was left to wait, drumming her fingers on the bar. After a minute or two, she heard
the door open and a man sat down next to her.
“Is that the book?” He asked.
“Yeah,” Gwen replied, without looking.
“It’s good you didn’t lose it. If you had, I might not’ve been willing to forgive you.”
Gwen’s eyes widened as she realized what was going on. She turned and found
herself eye to eye with Davis. Gwen panicked, her mind telling her to do at least a
dozen things all at once. She wanted to run, but couldn’t, she wanted to grab the journal
and hide it, but didn’t.
“Shit!” was the only word Gwen could muster.
“You’re not a very good thief, you know?” Davis said. “You carried that thing in
plain view and must’ve passed half a dozen cops on your way here. You do know that
I’m on their good side, right?”
“I didn’t need to be good, I needed to bring this book here,” Gwen replied.
“Just, please give it back. I need what’s in there a lot more than you do. Hell, I
bet you can’t even read it,” Davis said.
“I-” Gwen started.
“You what? Have a wife and a daughter on the way and need the money to
survive? Oh, I’m sorry, that’s me. I need that. What do you need the money for, huh?
Drugs? So you can drink yourself into the gutter? I want you to understand how close
you came to ruining my-”
“I don’t care!” Gwen replied. “Do you know why I need this thing!? Because my
home, the only piece of my family I have left is about to be destroyed, and I was told
that if I brought your journal here, I could save it. So you know what? If this comes down
to you or me, I don’t care about you! I don’t even know you! I pick me, and I would pick
myself over your family every goddamn time!”
They stared at each other in a furious silence for a minute.
“I wish I could be kind or selfless here, because I truly feel for you,” Davis said.
“but my daughter deserves to grow up inside the walls of Laiac, so I’m taking it back.”
Davis reached for the journal, but Gwen managed to snatch it away before his
hand reached it.
“If you won’t do it for my home, do it for me!” Gwen said, The Shark’s threat
echoing in her mind. “If I can’t get this to The Shark, he might…I might… ” Gwen
recomposed herself. “I understand why you need it and I feel for you but when it comes
down to it, I’m not willing to die for some baby.”
“Final warning,” Davis said. “Give me my journal, or else.”
Davis sighed and, with as much strength as he could muster, punched Gwen in
Unprepared, she fell backwards off the barstool and the journal went flying somewhere
over her head.
Davis stepped around her and bent down to pick up the small, brown book. “I’m sorry,”
he said, the cold in his voice almost tangible.
Gwen slowly pulled herself to her feet. “Don’t be,” she said, “I probably deserved that;
but that doesn’t mean I’m going to stop!” She stepped toward Davis and threw a punch of her
He deftly caught it with his free hand. Gwen swung with the other hand and connected
with Davis’s nose.
He stumbled back, releasing her hand. As he tried to regain his footing, Gwen tried to
pull the journal from his hand.
He kneed her in the gut but she refused to let go, even as she coughed and regained her
“Let go!” Davis yelled, as he kneed her a second time.
Still, she hung on. She coughed again, the taste of blood filling her mouth. “No!” She
yelled defiantly. “I need this!” She punched him. “This is my life!” She punched him again. “You!
Selfish! Prick!” She punctuated each of her final words with a punch.
Davis stumbled back and she capitalized on this opening by grabbing a bottle from the
bar and breaking it over his head.
Davis fell to the ground, unconscious.
Gwen picked the book up and flipped through it one more time. It was all nonsense to
her, but she could see the care that went into writing each page.
“Good reading?” The Shark said, as he entered the room.
“Not really,” Gwen replied. “Doesn’t make much sense to me,”
She finally reached the back cover and was quite surprised by what she saw. It
was a very detailed blueprint for something called a Handgonne, a portable cannon that
could be fired by a single person if she was understanding it properly. That was when
she knew what she’d do.
“Change of plan,” Gwen said, still unsure she had the courage to do this.
“I can see that,” The Shark said, bending down to examine the the fallen blacksmith.
“Davis gets to keep every page of that book except for this one,” Gwen said, ripping the
final page out and holding it up.
“Who the hell do you think you are!” he said angrily. “One page!?”
“Please, just read it!”
He snatched the page from her hands and stared at it for a few seconds before looking
“Let me look at the rest of it,” he ordered.
Gwen handed him the book and he flipped through it.
“You were right. None of it makes sense. Fine, he can keep his book.” The Shark said,
throwing the journal on top of the unconscious Davis.
Gwen held back a smile.
“I’ll give you 75,000 now, and the rest once I take this,” he held up the page, “to my guy
and we make sure this will work.”
The Shark carefully folded the page and slid it into his pocket. “I’ll have someone drop
the money at your house later today,” he said. “The rest will either show up in the next few
days or we’ll be having another little talk to figure out how you’re going to pay me back.”
“Please, can I ask for one more favor?”
The Shark quietly snarled. “What?” He said, trying to control himself.
“Could you make sure that Davis wakes up somewhere safe with everything he brought
with him? Maybe on a train back to his wife?”
“Fine, yes, sure, I’ll do that.”
“Thank you sir,” Gwen said, the words sounding slightly forced.
“You’re welcome! Now for both our sakes, let’s hope we never have to see each
Gwen and The Shark went their separate ways and when Gwen returned home,
there was indeed a metal case sitting on the sofa which contained the 75,000 she was
promised. Over the next few days, The Shark met with his weapons crafter and together
they confirmed the quality and functionality of the Handgonne’s design. Gwen received
the rest of the money almost immediately thereafter and managed to pay off her house
the day before the demolition was scheduled.
For a couple years after that, Gwen felt horrible for taking Davis’s retirement from
him, for taking away his daughter’s safe upbringing, and for arming organized crime.
Fortunately, Davis and his wife eventually managed to raise the money they needed to
buy passage into the walled city of Laiac, and it was there that they raised their
daughter. Interestingly, no one ever made use of the Handgonne. Shortly after The
Shark had built a prototype, he, along with the prototype and blueprint, met with a
terrible fate while trying to cross to the city of Dellum during a storm. Gwen lived the rest
of her life in relative peace and even though time had healed her guilt, she would
always dread that one day, she might happen upon Davis once again.
Thank you all for reading this short story. I hope it was enjoyable. I originally wrote this under the title Sandbar: Escaping the Shark as part of my high school graduation requirements. I don’t necessarily think it’s anywhere near my best work even with a couple rounds of edits, but I hope at least some part of it was enjoyable. Now, the format of this may have seemed a little wonky. I have no clue why that is. It probably had something to do with how I copied and pasted it from a .pdf file. Regardless, I don’t anticipate having too many other formatting issues like this, or at least, I hope I wont.