Occasionally, when the weather is clement and the their carers are in a beneficent frame of mind, the youngsters from the orphanage go foraging along the coast. This was as true in the past as it is today, an activity providing not only a modicum of fresh air and exercise but also the chance of replenishing the orphanage resources with whatever the sea has provided.
It was on one such expedition, in the latter part of the nineteen twenties, that the Reverend Malachi Crackstone and a group of boys discovered a sealed box washed up on the shore. The box had been addressed to a priest living somewhere on the mainland. Since the addressee was a man of God, and therefore unlikely to be the recipient of anything that might be remotely inappropriate for young eyes, the Reverend could see no harm in allowing the lads to open the package unsupervised. Secure in the knowledge that their continued innocence was ensured, he left them to their explorations while he went across the rocks to help the girls’ group, who were cheerfully eviscerating a recently deceased porpoise.
The contents, at first, proved to be something of a disappointment. There was a birthday card from someone called ‘Cousin Roy’ and a batch of out-of-date religious magazines. Closer inspection, however, unearthed a real treasure that warmed the cockles of their adolescent hearts. Hidden among the copies of ‘The Catholic Educational Review’ was a slim but risqué publication called ‘Dawn’. A brief description of the contents emblazoned upon the cover helpfully described the magazine as being concerned with ‘the erotic intersection of eugenics, nudism and figure studies’. While ‘Cousin Roy’ may have been sending this to a Man of the Cloth, there was a conspicuous absence of cloth on the young ladies who graced the pages, which were certainly not aimed at those of a pious persuasion.
The lads were gazing with wonder and appreciation at the revelations concealed
between the covers of ‘Dawn’ when the Reverend made his way back to them.
“What are you boys so interested in?” he asked, suspiciously.
The children of the orphanage had been taught never to lie to their elders.
“It’s an educational magazine sir.”
Clarence Coaley was a quick-witted fourteen year old whose answer was nothing but truthful.
The other boys stayed silent. They had no wish for the real truth to come out. As far as Reverend Crackstone was concerned the boys had found a copy of National Geographic; this he had surmised when he heard Clarence say that they were studying pictures of New Delhi. This was wonderful. Some of the newspapers that Colonel Ruscombe-Green had sent from the mainland, via the trader, Joseph Dreaming-By-The-River-Where-The-Shining-Salmon-Springs, told of the planned creation of this exciting new capital of India. The city was even now under construction and still some years off completion. The Reverend had often dreamed of visiting India himself one day, his father having been a young army officer there at the time of the mutiny.
Clarence reasoned to his young colleagues that what he had said wasn’t exactly a lie; if the Reverend had misunderstood, it was not his fault. After all, a caption next to one of the young ladies said that her name was Eleanor. In all probability she was known to her friends as Ellie and she definitely had no clothes on.
The interests of the young never ceased to amaze Reverend Crackstone. It did his old heart good to see how Clarence quickly and carefully placed the magazine inside the collection of Catholic Educational Reviews for safe keeping.
“Make sure you study that magazine properly,” he advised. “You’ll see places that you never even dreamed existed. But don’t stay awake looking at it half the night, you’ll ruin your eyesight.”
All would have been well, had Clarence been inclined to be less possessive. He was loathe to let anyone else look at the magazine, which he increasingly regarded as being his own property. With a fraternal indifference that would have met the approval of Cain himself, Clarence’s younger brother, Cuthbert, anonymously spilled the proverbial beans to Reverend Crackstone with a single, damning note, placed on the parson’s desk within a week of the discovery. Clarence’s brief infatuation with the comely Eleanor was brought to an abrupt end, therefore, when Crackstone, full of biblical wrath, fell upon the boys’ dormitory like Lord Byron’s wolf upon the fold. The affronted parson had little difficulty in locating the offending publication among Clarence’s few possessions. Not being one to subscribe to the philosophy of sparing the rod, he wasted no time in deftly meting out no small amount of punishment. Although almost seventy years old, he was still able to wield a fierce and unforgiving cane, designed to drive all impure thoughts from the unfortunate youth.
If he achieved nothing else, Crackstone managed to secure Clarence’s undying enmity. Following the magazine incident, a week would barely go by that the reverend failed to beat the boy for some misdemeanour, real or supposed. This he administered with a self-righteous rigour that verged upon madness.
During the summer of that year some visitors arrived on the island, which was, in itself, a rare event. When one of them was dragged away by an army of spoonwalkers a rescue expedition was mounted and Crackstone, who had briefly enjoyed a friendship of sorts with the missing stranger, volunteered to be part of it. Clarence was glad to have a day free of the parson’s puritanical zeal and took the opportunity to slip away and do a spot of beachcombing on his own, fostering the forlorn hope that he might stumble upon another saucy magazine.
By mid-afternoon Clarence was weary, crestfallen and empty-handed. As the day had worn on it had become increasingly obvious that the chances of his happening upon another such find was miniscule.
‘Just another hour and I’ll call it a day,’ he thought to himself. Suddenly he froze. A movement in the nearby rocks caught his eye. As a lifelong inhabitant of Hopeless, Clarence had learned to be constantly wary of the unwelcome attentions of its various denizens. This particular specimen, however, was of the human variety and crouched over a rock as if spying on something, or someone, by the shore. It took a moment for Clarence to register that the faded black suit was somehow familiar. Then it dawned upon him. Those pale hands resting on the rocks like albino crabs and the dusty, ill-fitting trousers flapping over scrawny buttocks could only belong to Reverend Crackstone!
If the beatings Clarence had received had been meant to purge his soul of whatever demon was lurking within, then they had failed. The thoughts that bubbled up in his mind now were darker and bleaker than any he had yet had. The sight of Crackstone, absorbed in something unseen and totally oblivious to Clarence’s presence was too much for the orphan to bear. He picked up a hefty stone and stealthily crept towards his hated enemy, intent on murder.
Clarence was seconds away from dashing the parson’s brains out when a surprising thing occurred. Crackstone stood up, ranting and raving at someone on the shore. The words ‘whore’ and ‘abomination’ were unfamiliar to the boy but he guessed them not to be too complementary. Still shouting, the parson picked up a large rock and hoisted it above his head with surprising ease.
Was the day growing darker?
Clarence gasped as the sky behind Crackstone became swallowed up by a vast shape that emerged from the ocean and blotted out the sickly, fog-bound sun. The creature resembled a huge octopus with long, suckered tentacles that writhed terrifyingly in the air above it. As the boy watched, fascinated but frozen to the spot, one of the tentacles wrapped itself around the body of the parson. The elderly man’s voice became muffled as more of the serpentine arms completely enveloped him, then he fell silent as they tightened and twisted, wringing his, thankfully hidden, body like an old rag. Clarence fell back in horror, not certain what he was witnessing. It was only when the remains of Reverend Crackstone were hoisted high into the air did he summon the courage crawl to the cliff edge.
Strange and vast though the sea-creature was, Clarence’s eye was drawn to the tiny figure on the shore before it. He recognised her at once. Betty Butterow, the barmaid of The Squid and Teapot had long been a favourite topic of conversation for the older boys in the orphanage. Long limbed and beautiful, she had fuelled their erotic fantasies as no other girl on the island could, despite her advanced age of twenty two years. And here she was, naked before his very eyes. What a story he would have to tell the other lads. That old hypocrite, Crackstone, had been spying upon Betty, whose revealed charms far surpassed those of the monochrome nude Ellie in the confiscated magazine, and now he was dead, killed by a sea monster who appeared to be protecting the barmaid.
With his bragging rights ensured, Clarence could not wait to get back to the orphanage.
It was then that his eyes met the deep and solemn gaze of the sea-creature. Clarence suddenly felt helpless, like a kite on a string that was being inexorably drawn in. There was nothing in his world now but those eyes. They held no malice but no pity either. The Kraken – for Kraken it was – reached deep inside the boy and read his every thought. Clarence screamed, though no sound came from his lips. Then there was darkness.
When he awoke, Clarence found himself alone upon the headland. He had no idea how he had arrived there; his only recollection was having left the orphanage earlier that day. Everything else was a blank. He could only imagine that he had fallen into a faint for some reason.
It was getting late but, being midsummer, darkness was still an hour or so away. He was in so much trouble and needed to get back to the orphanage quickly.
He shuddered at the consequences of staying out too late.
Crackstone was going to have his hide for this.
Art by Tom Brown