Monday, 19 July 2010

Beasties from the deep

You know how the internet is full of strange things? Well, here’s another to add to the list: win snazzy books by describing a cephalopod. Liking both authors (although I already own and have read Kraken – review coming soon), I reckoned I might as well give it a shot. In scribbling an entry I ended up with a few spare scraps of tiny stories about squishy fishy things, and here they are, mostly discarded because I couldn't cut them down to the word limit. Didn't win, but it was a fun little exercise. 


That's Pugwash. I call him that because he lives in the captain's quarters. Tried 'Ishmael', but it didn't work: sounded too dramatic. There's something frivolous about him - if it is a him - that makes Pugwash fit much better. Even down here, so deep there's no light to glister from his wild, unearthly spray of colours, he seems bright and joyous. He flits and puffs through the wreck, stretching, waving and curling, an elegant languour of limbs that seems so carefree compared to the rest of the sea and its cycle of predation, hunger and death. Or perhaps I see that just because he's the closest thing I have to a friend. Not because we converse, or bring one another gifts, or plan on growing old together - though we probably will - but because out of all the curious beasts of these deeps, from the vast shapes that slink through the distance to the shoals of tiny fish that flicker past, he's the only one that seems to see me. He fixes his eyes on me, dark and bottomless as the sea itself, and I think that though I am drowned and lost, perhaps not all of the world has forgotten me.


You ever look at something like that and feel kind of proud of how far we’ve come?”
Pete scratched the sunburn on his shoulder and squinted at the squid they’d caught. It lay in the net like a pile of tangled cables or torn-out piping – some kind of discarded mess – that had bizarrely managed to become squelchily, feebly alive.

Um, not exactly.” Said Sarah quietly, kneeling down by the wriggling expiring creature.

Anyway, I totally need a beer after that. Want one?”

Sure.” Sarah continued to study the floppy knot of limbs. “No,” she mumbled to the squid when Pete had wandered away. “I look at you and realise how much we still don’t know.”


There’s a bit of me, of all of us, that remembers a more primitive age, chasing buffalo with spears, or perhaps even mucking about in the treetops. So I look at you, jetting through the shallows, a streamlined spiral of flickering arms, and I wonder if part of you remembers being a trench-bound giant, slinking through impossible pressures and darknesses. I wonder if when you seize a little snack-sized fish, you dream that you’re grappling a great whale in the lost, unfathomed depths. And if you are, I don’t blame you. You might have gained the light, but you’ve lost a throne.


You know how ‘bottom-feeder’ is kind of an insult?” He tapped the glass and the cuttlefish began a slow, futile search for an escape. “No. Course you don’t. You’re a dumb ugly fish. Or whatever. Are you even a fish?” Maybe, he reckoned, peering at the dirty, mottled creature with its bulges and spikes, it should have been called a cuttlething. “Well, anyway, point is, looking at you, scrubbing about down there, I know why it’s an insult.”


Technically, of course, this ancient, forgotten thing of the ocean isn’t a cephalopod, because that is a biological class, a human classification, and to achieve that a creature must be seen, surveyed and analysed. The fleshy mass curled within that tiger-striped whorl of shell, its limbs weaving through the silky, unlit depths, is simply a beast, or perhaps a myth. But if you could speak its tongueless tongue of thoughts and movements, it would tell you that it felt an affinity to nothing but imprints and fossils it might once have called its kin.


And this is the one I entered, picked because it was 100 words and slightly odd, which seemed to fit what they were looking for:

There is no name for these few narrow spears of life that flicker through sunken cities and coral empires. Perhaps a scientist, somehow seeing one, might recognise its features, marking its bouquet of tentacles, its tubular body, darting eyes and short, devious fins, and proclaim it part of some long-dead genus or species. But really they are known only by their ink, spoken of in whispers by certain antiquarian photographers who sometimes swear that a figure in a faded sepia frame moved. They are less animals and more myths, half-rumour, half-hope, tales so old they seem to have no beginning.

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