The Thrill of Discovery

Frank A. Possemato

 

Eleanor puts Lizzy to bed, but she’s awake again and pulling herself by the hands up the railing of her crib.  If she wanted to she could climb out, she thinks, and she kind of wants to. But it’s raining outside the window. She watches the fingers and palms on the smoothness of the wood and their moving somehow seems a lot like the rain outside. The TV in the other room, turned to the channel that helps her sleep, says there is a mountain on Mars that’s 15 miles tall. Lizzy pulls herself higher, stares at the nightlight-lit floor straining to see the room she knew in the daytime. She pulls closer to the rain outside the window while in the ocean a squid bigger than her house patrols the night.

It’s ancient and invisible and in a world of millions there can be only one. Its front feelers translate the black water. Its eye scrapes the domain. Down here there is no time, no distance. This deep there is no scale, it may as well be miles long. It sees its prey and thrashes out of its trance. In an instant its body becomes electric.

Up through the ceiling of water, up it rips through the rain on the ceiling, and crashes on the deck of the Diamond Shamrock with a thud of squid.

“I told you it wasn’t seaweed.”

“What in the hell do we got here?”

Doc Walker parts his men and pulls a flashlight from his slicker; most of his crew do the same.

“Jesus Christ, look at that,” Doc Walker says and the light beam hits a tangle of grey and red.

A dozen more flashlights still can’t show the whole body.

Ryan clicks his light on, and notices the rain pouring off the tentacles, and the film dripping off beneath. He trails his light along the body, wonders what the skin, the only thing visible on the rainy open ocean, would feel like. For a moment, he wants to touch it, put his hand on it. Instead, he drags the light along and comes for the first time to the eye. It’s the size of a bicycle tire, an eye you could hold in both hands, and somehow living. If the sky at that moment had filled with the lights of UFOs, or if he had seen the face of God, it could not be more alien. And yet it’s the one flapping helplessly, drowning in the air while the boys try to get a picture that will show up in the pitch black rain.

“What’s the matter boy?” Doc says and puts his arm on Ryan’s shoulder, yellow vinyl against yellow vinyl. Ryan had been lost in the eye and now they both look down at it together.  The pupil–the exact size of an Oreo cookie–slides down through the filmy sclera. The pupil moves like the marble falling into a toy hole, and stops as close to Ryan as it can. And stays there. Ryan feels the ocean under the Shamrock in a way her never did before. He feels the deck swaying and it feels a lot like the rain and he’s not sure which one’s up.

And the eye is still there, its massive pupil trying to touch him.

“Alright, alright, let’s get it out of here,” Doc orders.

“Finish that damn picture, Joey…”

Ryan doesn’t help with the moving, he stays in place, looking down, his light at his feet, feeling the swaying.

Somewhere in the background he can hear pushing and pulling and swearing and laughing. He doesn’t hear the splash.

The next thing he remembers is what feels like the ship going over a hard bump and nearly tipping. He catches himself on the railing but it oddly seems normal to him.

Something feels like it’s cutting his leg and Ryan remembers where he is. What he thought was a cut is a grey-red tangle around his ankle. Just when he realizes this is really happening the squid pulls him off.

Ryan bangs his chin off the deck on the way down and he’s bleeding–on board they’re yelling and hurrying and Ryan’s leg is covered in suckers. Treading just above the surface, all at once he realizes he’s probably dying and comes to life ripping his nails into the hardness of the squid’s arm, grabbing, thrashing everything, the struggle an end unto itself–a confidence born of desperation and the brain forgetting what it has to. He pulls and presses and rips at the tentacles believing instantly it will work and when it doesn’t the panic bubbles out of his mouth.

Ryan doesn’t see the arm pulling him down, he sees the paint can by his front door that he flicks his cigarette butts into, he sees his daughter asleep in her room, and now he sees the fury of water under his nose.

Ryan’s head and arm pop back above the surface, the strobes find them, and as quickly he plunges back under.

His ears tell him first he’s underneath, out goes the sound and he feels the descent in his stomach. The seawater plunges his sinuses. Down, down he goes, he opens his eyes for the first time since he went under, and then he sees it. Upside down by the ankle, Ryan sees the bottomless grey. He sees the eyes, the constant movement of the arms the tiny beak opening and closing. A glimpse, an image that rises out of him like the shock of death leaving his body.

Thick plasma spills its secrets into the ocean. Ryan didn’t hear shots fired, or a raft hitting the water but he realizes he’s alive and without remembering how breaks the plane of the surface.

Back on deck Ryan’s clothes cling to his body with the dampness of squid blood and his.

He spasms and releases; it’s still raining and now they’re laughing and smoking cigarettes but Ryan says nothing.

What do you do now? Everyone knows it, nobody says it, and now you’ve seen it. In an ocean, in a girl’s bedroom, in the same world.

The rain on Ryan’s arm slides under his watch. It’s still working.

“Jesus Christ,” Doc says, “that was close.”

 

***

Born in Boston, Frank Possemato teaches English in the Los Angeles Community Colleges. His writing has appeared in a variety of publications including 3AM, Underground Voices, and in Akashic Books’ “Mondays Are Murder” noir series.