Story Detail

by David Beasley
Pages: NA
The mind plays a tragic trick on an imaginative writer in the waters off Ibiza
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 John talbot sat dozing in the sun on the soft bank of dry brown weeds. His back was propped against a thin wiry tree and was shielded from the hardness of the bark by a white hand towel. Open on his lap was a book on sea animals, their habitations and their habits.

"The cephalod mollusc or octopus may be found in sea caves, especially off the shores of islands. It lies in wait for prey in shallow water, and by a fixation of its eyes, can draw fish towards it, like a light draws a moth...."

Talbot jerked up his head and drowsily continued reading two lines further down,

“. . . tentacles superimpose themselves on the victim's skin. The victim, held helpless by the eight arms, is slowly sucked into the body of  the octopus, which, at a given time, bites into the flesh with a round mouth, draining the blood from..."

The sun made it impossible to stay awake. A weak feeling of warm sweat saturated his limbs. Pushing the book onto the weeds and elevating his head against the tree, he looked stupidly at the blue water lapping quietly at his feet.

Talbot came to this small island in the Mediterranean to do some writing but finding it close to a paradise, with the sun shining brightly every day, he made his stay a holiday. He swam at this "playa", because it was near the house at which he was staying. It was called a beach, but there was no sand. Its banks were long flat weeds with a black transparency when floating in the water. Behind him stood tall shafts of bamboo, and above him the sun beat down.

When he began to doze again, he shook himself, stood up, stretched, and commenced the slow process of entering the water. Always warm and refreshing, the water was not to blame for his wariness, He took his time because the floor of the cove was covered with small rocks and sharp pebbles. As it was shallow, he had to walk several yards before he could bellyflop with safety,     

Choosing a point bare of the clusters of weeds so that he could see where he was stepping, Talbot carefully picked his way into the water to when it reached his trunks, when he dove and began an awkward crawl. Tiring quickly he changed to the breast stroke and watched the queer formations on the bottom as he glided by. The rocks seemed to quiver and become alive when he looked at them through the current-moving layers of water. It was like watching figures made of cumulus clouds on a sunny day.

The bottom was shallow for a long way, and Talbot, who liked deep water, headed far out into the sea. The shallowness was a good thing for poor swimmers, he thought, as long as they did not get out to a depth over their heads. If that happened, the distance from shore to the deep water was so far that a swimmer would drown before he could be reached. He turned on his back and frog-kicked while he looked at the shore. He had the cove to himself. As  he lay luxuriously on his back, he wondered now deep it was. Reclaiming the breast stroke he saw that he was far out over his head, but the bottom was still visible. The water seemed more green than blue when looking down.

A chill pierced his body. A black hump floated in the water directly below him. Long arms were flapping lethargically at its sides Talbot's first thought was to strike out furiously into a crawl, but his limbs seemed paralysed. Terrified, he floated with arms and legs outstretched. He thought he saw its eyes following him greedily. Those eyes were like tiny beads, evil and murderous. Its body was coated with a dank, green slime, and he imagined the nauseating stink of its skin.

Cautiously, he moved to the side. He intended to swim around it and aim for the nearest shore. If he could make shallow water, the thing would not be so likely to attack him. But to his horror it seemed to move with him, faintly, almost imperceptibly, following him. He tried to take another stroke. Like a net, the water bound his limbs and dragged him towards it. He visualized the strong sinewy tentacles wrapping about his arms, his legs, about his body and the slow imposition of its skin on his. The apertures along the insides of its arms, opening and closing as they sucked in his flesh, pulled away his skin from his finger nails, down from his scalp, stretched taut across his ribs as it gradually became digested. The little round mouth, fiercely ugly in its puckered shape, which had tasted of all the filth of undersea life, appeared to him as a gory sucking tube. This mouth would bite at his nose, slide over his lace in a slimy, kissing motion, chew at his hair, and settle on his forehead. He and the octopus would become one.

The furtive movement of a scurrying pack rat; the weasel face of a black dog, staring up at the dinner table, its lower teeth protruding, like tiny chips of grey stone, its mouth smelling of looted garbage tins; the gnawing noise of teeth cracking bone as a cat feasts on a bird under the steps of the porch; the fat lips and mouth-filling tongue of a Mongolian idiot; these nightmares flitted through his head, as he drifted back towards the waiting shadow.

Talbot could not prevent his descent. When he tried to move, he shuddered violently. A  powerful magnetism drew him down. His limbs heavy, lifeless, his head numb, he could not see the thing but felt its presence fixating him. Talbot drifted helplessly. He kept his head and arms on the surface, out his legs were sinking.

Screaming in deadly terror and thrashing his arms wildly, he felt a clammy grip wind about his legs. Jack-knifing with the fear of a madman, he tried to break away in vain. 

He was being dragged under. The sea splashed in his screaming mouth; the salt burned in his nose, singed his throat; he gulped for air, his chest ached, his head jammed with gyrating wheels as he was losing consciousness.

Two men appeared on the beach and ran into the water. The white flecks of his splashing were disappearing in the vast blue body of sea. He sank down, down, down. A haze of purple and mauve mixed and wound around in his brain. 

A half-hour later a group of men gave up over the body. They had not heard of a mechanical lung pump.

The town policeman was there asking questions. He approached two young men  who brought the body ashore. They looked exhausted, and their failure showed loudly on their faces.

The policeman spoke softly in Spanish. "Where did you find him?"

One of the men scratched his head. "Out there away. His legs got caught in some reeds wound around a big rock. Hard to understand. It's easy to get free.”

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