Monday, June 29, 2015

Story Spotlight: "By the River"

A reader of Hay Moon and Other Stories recently sent me an email about the short story entitled “By the River.” 

If you have read the short story (and if you haven't, then what are you waiting for?), then you'll already know that “By the River” involves a scenario in which sharks are present in the Ohio River, in the area between the states of Ohio and Kentucky.

The reader's question was relatively straightforward and simple: Is the premise of the story feasible––even possible?

"By the River" is one of the stories included in Hay Moon and Other Stories: sixteen modern tales of horror and suspense

Well, let me explain....

"By the River" is by no means the stuff of pure fantasy. For those of you who aren't into sharks, let me tell you about a creature called the bull shark. 

While not as large or ferocious as the great white featured in movies like Jaws, the bull shark is an aggressive predator that is credited with numerous attacks on humans.

But what makes the bull shark unique among sharks is its ability to survive for long periods of time in fresh water.

Bull sharks are thought to be––if not common—then not exactly rare in the southern reaches of the Mississippi River, near the Gulf of Mexico. 

Bull sharks have been caught as far north as Cairo, Illinois, which is located at the confluence of the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers. A few years ago, a frozen (and obviously dead) bull shark specimen was even found in Minnesota, in a creek system that empties into the Mississippi.

Based on these precedents, it would be theoretically possible for a bull shark to swim as far north as Ohio. (If Minnesota, then why not Ohio?) And I would be willing to wager that at some point in history, the fin of a bull shark has indeed broken through the surface of the Ohio River where banks of the Buckeye State face the hills of Kentucky.

But here is the big letdown....

Such as scenario is extremely unlikely in present times. The waters of the Ohio River are now broken up by a complex system of locks and dams. For a shark to swim up the Ohio River, it would have to swim upstream through all these locks and the dams. This would be more or less impossible, even for the great white shark in Jaws.

And yes, I find this realization more than a little disappointing.

Therefore, “By the River” is mostly a speculative piece of fiction. 

But readers living downstream of Cairo, Illinois are advised to exercise caution when venturing into the waters of the Mississippi, nonetheless. 

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