Tag Archives: kraken

The end of an era

Joseph was tired. For the last twelve months he had been to-ing and fro-ing to the Passamaquoddy reservation, bringing in supplies purchased by the ex- Night Soil Man, Randall Middlestreet. These trips had taken their toll on him.

“You’re not a youngster any more,” Betty had scolded.

“It’s high time you moored that old canoe for good.”

It was true. Joseph was over seventy and had paddled across the treacherous channel more times than he cared to remember.

“You’re right,” he conceded, wearily.

“One more trip to say goodbye to everyone and then I’ll retire. It’s sad, though. My family has been alone in regularly trading with this island for generations – even before the founding families reached here. It will be the end of an era.”

Betty knew that Joseph wished he had a son to carry on the tradition. They had not been blessed with children. She smiled to herself ruefully and reflected that this was not for the want of trying.

“Okay. Just one more trip and then you finish,” she said, in a voice that would brook no opposition.

 

Although, in the past year, Hopeless had acquired enough Indian-made goods to last an eternity, Randall had asked that Joseph bring more over. It was his altruistic way of transferring his new-found and unexpected wealth, inherited from his mother, into the economy of the impoverished reservation.

Jingling with the money Randall had given him, Joseph kissed his wife goodbye and set off on his farewell trip with mixed feelings. It would be hard to say goodbye to his old friends on the mainland and give up his lifelong trade. On the other hand, the prospect of never again having to negotiate the hazards and eternal fog that beset the treacherous channel was appealing.

 

His days on the reservation went very much as expected. There were hand-shakes, back-slaps and manly hugs a-plenty, shared between Joseph and his friends and relations. At last the appointed day arrived for him to leave the mainland for the very last time and return to the cabin that he and Betty shared on Hopeless.

 

The morning was grey and dismal and a harsh north-east wind was freshening by the hour. These were not ideal conditions to cross the channel but there was every indication that this weather was hunkering down for the duration.  If he left his departure any later Joseph feared that he could be stuck here for another week and Betty would be frantic with worry. Throwing caution to the wind – quite literally on this occasion – and, with his last ever cargo lashed securely down, Joseph paddled into the foggy channel.

 

Betty Butterow looked at the worsening weather with a troubled eye. While she had every faith in Joseph’s abilities, it would need more than his considerable skills to ensure his safe arrival home. Maybe she could help. She made her way to the rocky shore where, years before, she had first learned of her true identity, that she was a seal-woman, one of the legendary selkie people.

Hidden in a cleft in the rocks was her seal-pelt. Betty could not remember the last time she had donned it. She had heard tales of seal-women who had gradually become less human with every transformation. That is why she was loathe to shape-shift too often. It always worried her that one day she would be unable to change back.

Stripping off her clothing, Betty resolved there and then to go as a seal and look for Joseph, to bring him home safely, whatever the consequences. If, as she feared, Joseph was dead, then there would be nothing to return to. No reason to be Betty Butterow any longer. She would become a seal forever and little by little, all recollections of her human life would be no more than a distant dream.

 

The selkie scoured the treacherous channel for hours. There was no sign of Joseph. She had twice circled the island, desperately hoping that he had moored somewhere other than his usual spot but to no avail. Then she spotted something floating close to the shore. It looked like a canoe. Full of hope, she raced towards it.  “Please, let him be alive… please, please…” she prayed; prayed to who or whatever might be there to listen. Then an icy hand gripped her heart; it was indeed Joseph’s canoe, but smashed and ruined. There was no sign of Joseph.

 

The island echoed with the mournful wail of the seal-woman. She raised her dark head above the churning waves and threw her anguished soul upon the wind.

Then, her heart breaking, she flipped over, dived through the icy water and turned her back upon the foggy shores of Hopeless, Maine.

 

In her haste to leave she had not seen the figure of a man on the shore. Dazed and confused, he rose groggily to his feet, her bellow of grief having dragged him from the murky shadowlands of unconsciousness. Joseph looked helplessly across the foggy channel, somehow knowing that the unearthly cry that had woken him and shattered the peace of the day had been that of his beloved Betty. Tears rolled down his cheeks as he watched the dark, sinuous shape of a harbor seal disappear into the foggy distance.

 

The ocean boiled and churned. Startled, the selkie came to a halt as the huge bulk of the Kraken erupted through the water and caught her in its deep and unswerving gaze.

It spoke, not in words but in thoughts that echoed in her head with a voice as deep and sonorous as the ocean itself. It was a voice that she had heard before, many years ago.

“Go back, selkie. It is not quite time yet. Not yours, nor his. Go back. He is safe. As I have said, Betty Butterow, the sea looks after her own.”

With that she felt a suckered arm entwined around her sleek body. The kraken gently hoisted her high into the misty air, above the angry waves and jagged stone teeth that have brought many a ship to its doom around the coast of Hopeless. The creature lifted her trembling body to the rocks where Joseph stood weeping.

With her heart-beating fit to burst, Betty sloughed off the seal-skin, her body shaking with a mixture of cold and emotion. With an effort she rose to her feet and stood, shivering and naked in Joseph’s embrace. Every minute of every day would now would be precious. Betty could feel the tears running down her husband’s face as he laid a soft kiss upon her lips.

“Let’s go home,” she whispered.

Art by Tom Brown

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Dreams of New Delhi

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