Friday 2 March 2012

The Sharks of Old London

Moonlight washed London with an unaccustomed brightness. The dome overhead had once held such intrusions at bay but little was left of it anymore, just a metallic rib cage of great dull arches. In more recent years thick cloud cover kept the city in perpetual grey.

Moon or not, London was never safe at night. Lou should have been inside, holed up. But Billy hadn’t sealed the boards down properly and a pack of Ash Wolves had got into the factory, with their grey skin flaking from their malnourished bodies, their howling yelps and their broken, yellow teeth they were like things raised from the grave.

She scuttled from shadow to shadow, testing boards and doors where she could. But the city shuts up at night, locks down.

She reached the end of an alley, the dead end. Waste and rubbish were heaped all round, but that was no different from anywhere else. She was exhausted. She thought about just hiding in the refuse, burying herself. No, the wolves would sniff her out.

Something snarled behind her.

“Hello, littling.”

Oh, Lou, idiot.

She turned and looked back down the alley.

“Lookit, littling’s a girl.”

There were three men. The one on the right was thin, in body and features, his lips were twisted in a leer, his little eyes glinted. The one on the left was hunched, his left shoulder all bunched up into his back; his mouth hung open and copious drool slid out between his few remaining teeth, glistening disturbingly in the moonlight.

The man in the middle was bigger in many ways, he was taller but he filled his grubby shirt out too, obviously ate well. He had an Ash Wolf on a chain. Lou had never seen one so subdued, hadn’t really seen many till tonight. Everyone said they couldn’t be tamed.

The big man flicked the chain.

“Not much meat on it. Barely feed the dog.”

They started advancing down the alley towards her. She looked around for some way out. Her breath came in short gasps and her heart was pounding so hard it hurt. This was bad. Damn Billy.

They stopped when the dog was a head’s length from her. She could see it was trembling, its thin body wracked with tension, its eyes wide. She couldn’t look away from its teeth, its curling black lips, the saliva slowly plip, plipping to the ground between them. The men paused as she cowered, watching her, savouring her fear.

She whimpered, her voice tiny and wavering, “Knights save me.”


The grins above her widened.

“Knights be myths, littling. Ain’t no Knights no more.”

The wolf was breathing misted, fetid breath in her face, and then it wasn’t. A large chunk of masonry drove its head into the hard concrete with a crunch and short whine. Warm blood splattered her thighs.

Something large landed on the thin man. He crunched too, and squeaked, briefly.

A new man, the biggest man Lou had ever seen, launched himself off the thin man’s twitching body at the other two. They fought. The man with the hunch and the gaping grin swung wildly, as likely to hit his friend as the attacker. The third man was more coordinated, but no match for this brutal, new opponent.

When the three lay on the ground, unmoving, the hulking man turned to her. She wished she had run when she had the chance.


He turned away from her and shuttled a ladder down from an old fire escape.

“It’s safer up here, away from the streets.”

He started to climb. He wasn’t forcing her, she could run away. But he had saved her, and he was offering haven. Take a risk on him, or the streets?

She wiped a grubby wrist across her face, smearing damp grime, then climbed. She followed him through an open window three floors up. When she was in he pulled it closed and flicked a dim electric light on. She noticed that the windows were blacked out.

“You a Knight?”

He considered her with dark eyes. His features were strange, broad and misshapen as if his face had been remoulded by clumsy fingers. His pale skin was doughy, marred by a dozen tiny scars and a larger one running across his nose and below his left eye. They were all old scars, white.

“I guess I am.” His voice was rough and low, like distant rubble falling in the night.

“You really immortal?”

“That was the idea.”

“You’re not?”

He sat down on a bed that creaked beneath his weight. A pained expression crossed his face as he stretched out his back and shoulders.

“Do you know what a shark is?”

“A shark?”

“They’re like really big fish. Lived in the sea, probably still do.”


“Well, see, we’re all made up of cells, and cells die and get replaced. In humans the process is limited, it runs out, because if it didn’t then things can go bad inside people. But sharks live deep in the ocean and it protects them from things like sunlight and radiation, the process just keeps going, they always heal, and they pretty much live forever.”

Lou concentrated really hard, trying to understand.

He continued, “So some really smart people thought they would make protectors, and make them tough, with bits of shark in their DNA.”


“The stuff that makes us. This was a few hundred years ago.”

She blinked, “A few hundred?”

“I lost count.” He winced at some hidden ache. “I’ve seen London fall and rise, and fall again.”

“But,” she thought hard, screwing her face up, “what protects you from sunlight, and... radishun?”

“Radiation. Well, there was the dome, and there was medicine. Nowadays I just try to stay out of the sun.”

“What about the other Knights?”

His brows dipped and he looked away from her, “There are no others. Not anymore. Soon enough there’ll be none at all.”

Blog post: Sharks Never Die
Where I talk about sharks, writing, and ideas that just won't die...

Recommended Reading: More Than Dreams by Steve Green
Life in the Dome. A three part flash serial and a very refreshing take on the well-trodden dystopia trope.


  1. loved the description of the building's steel guts as a "metal ribcage". Very evocative of my home town

    marc nash

  2. Sharks! Knights! Shark Knights!

    You give a great sense of the world it's set in - and I love it already.

    Great stuff, mate.

    1. It almost sounds like you've got a theme tune going there for the Saturday Morning cartoon version...

      They're sharks. They're knights. They're Shark Knights! doodly-doodly-doooo...

  3. A new (and old) dystopian superhero?

    I think you do a good job of making me take the idea of a shark knight seriously. I struggle. If you'd told me about it on twitter I'd have been like, "nah!" But here it works.

    Like the atmosphere too.

    1. Thanks, Pete. ^_^

      I hadn't really thought of him as a superhero, but I guess you're bang on the money. Kind of post-apocalyptic-super-tragi-hero. ;)

  4. Wonderful world-building in so little space. *Almost* reminded me of Gaiman's underground, underworld London in Neverwhere. Something about the atmosphere.

    This is definitely one to ruminate on, Mr. X. Because this could turn into a book, eh? ;)

    1. Thanks, Becky. =)

      It's an idea I go back to... I like stories and characters that have the potential to span multiple eras... so, maybe, one day. ;)

  5. Yes! Another Shark Knight story!!! Like the knight itself, this typo will never die…

    Great atmosphere in this, but I've come to expect that from you, John. ;-)

    1. Heh, you know, I started writing this as a little throwaway Shark Knight thing, but it turned out OK, didn't it?

      Thank you, Larry. =)

  6. Bang! This delivers beautifully with the shark-tinged DNA. I love the world you've created here.

    1. Thanks, Aidan. Really glad you like it. =)

  7. Great stuff John, this is just begging to be continued.

    The sudden violence when the wolf, and then the thin man were squashed almost made me flinch, these are the kind of moments that when used in films make movie viewers jump in their seats.

    "He crunched too, and squeaked, briefly." Forgive my sense of humour, but I found this line both extremely vicious and comical at the same time.

    Hopefully there will be more of this to come. :-)

    PS. Thank you for the mention and the link for "More than dreams" It is very much appreciated. :-)

    1. No worries, Steve. =)

      Glad you liked that line, it amused me a little too... ;)

  8. Nice bit of dark world-building.

    And forgive me, now I have the song Mack the Knife stuck in my head!

    1. Beyond the name I don't really know Mack the Knife, but I see the reference now. =)

      Thanks, Tim. =)

  9. Very atmospheric and great visual writing. I loved the hero! Your writing just keeps getting better and better john ^__^

  10. I won't lie my heart jumped when I saw the title! Shark Knight stories are simply awesome! You did such a brilliant job writing this one! Loved it. The dark setting, the descriptions, the writing, the hero..all made me shiver, smile and want to read more and more. I'll agree with R.S. Bohn- it does remind of Gaiman's underworld which I love, and I thank you for letting me visit again such horribly beautiful place. I am a total Xeroverse fan...can it be helped? :)

    1. Thank you, Cindy! ^_^

      Strangely enough, Neverwhere is one of the few Gaimans I haven't read. I did watch it (and love it) in it's original form though (TV series). And I have read the graphic novel adaptation...