I eat people. It’s what I do. I don’t care what they look like, if they’re fat like seal puppies, or mouthwateringly beautiful as Nereids. I don’t discriminate. The only thing that matters is that they have flesh I can suck on and bones I can chew. I wait near the shore until they get close to the water and then I rise and wrap my coils around them and eat them right up.
‘You’ve become trapped in your own destructive cycle.’
That’s what my therapist said, blowing bubbles out of his pipe while I floated on his couch amidst the decorative seaweed of his office.
‘You need to develop a normal healthy relationship.’
I did once befriend a little boy who lived above the esplanade. I’d take him into the sea to play while his parents patrolled the beach screaming about the nasty things they were going to do when they caught him. His father was always brandishing a belt and his mother would describe the military school she was saving up to send him to. We had a high old time together, he and I. He rode my back while I shot through the waves like a rollercoaster, flinging him up into the air so far the tip of his head kissed the cloud, catching him in my coils at the very last second as he plummeted back down to the boiling brine. Sometimes I’d even let him nap inside my mouth where it is moist and warm, and I didn’t once think of swallowing him. But inevitably that little boy started to grow up, and then he stopped coming to see me. I did everything I could to entice him back, fetching giant pearls from the ocean bed for him to use as beach balls, dashing oilrigs on the rocks so they exploded like fireworks, even chowing down his parents so they could no longer impose curfews. But he just wasn’t interested anymore, and so eventually I gave up. He forgot me, and that’s the real trouble with people – they have such bad memories. The last time I saw him he was walking along the esplanade arm in arm with a woman, pushing a stroller with a baby inside it and when I waved at him he blanked me.
‘Loneliness is a state of mind,’ that’s my mother’s motto. She discriminates even less than I, and swims from bed to bed with her eyes closed, letting her tentacles do all the talking. I haven’t seen her for over a millennium now, and my only memoir is a Gucci vest she sent me several Christmases ago, a few thousand sizes too small. Of course my therapist had a field day with that one – ‘Why you could be a poster boy for neglect!’ he cried, unleashing a stream of bubbles so violent I worried he was having an embolism, and clapped him on the back, creating an accidental tsunami that swept away a nearby coastal town.
But perhaps my mother had a point, for I’ve become so used to the loneliness that now I rather like it. My favourite times are at night, when I can lie on my back and float across the waves staring up at the stars, all those lonely pinpricks of light planted one by one in the solitary confinement of the sky. I wonder what it is really like up there, to be surrounded by space and time. Either that or I like to dive, deep down to the depths where the only things that move are squid so huge they dwarf continents, entangled in one another’s arms, perpetually engaged in one lethargic orgy of quivering jelly-like luminescence.
‘Take up tennis,’ said my therapist. ‘Go jogging.’
A hammerhead shark once described the world to me as being divided into two parts. I was about to use his long thin head to floss my teeth, and he offered me advice in exchange for freedom. He told me to watch a shoal of sardines – to take note of how they move as if they are of one mind, flitting from direction to direction. ‘You have a choice,’ he said. ‘You can either be a sardine or a shark.’ Sharks are loners and that’s how they like it. The only friend they have is their hunger, who is with them always and never abates.
I decided to take the hammerhead’s advice. I would live like him, ravenously, gliding through the waters swift as a ray of light. But a shark is a creature that cannot be imitated. It is the ultimate consumer, for it spends its life being consumed by its own consumerism. I have not the same relentless appetite. Eventually I tired of my own hunger and stopped listening to it, and if you stop listening to a friend sooner or later they go away. After that I went through a period in which I could eat nothing, not even bring myself to nibble on the legs of some contestants from a passing triathlon.
I began to shrink. Within a few weeks my coils had reduced to a mere mile in length, and within a few months I no longer had the strength to so much as capsize a cruise liner. My scales lost their burnish and my movements became sluggish and ungainly. Then one morning I crawled out from under the boardwalk where I had taken to sleeping, a mere ghost of my former self, to discover my therapist had called an intervention. I had not been showing up for our twice-weekly appointments for some time.
‘We’re here to show you that we care!’ he cried.
The collected company was not vast, it must be admitted. Although my father is also father to the entire population of the ocean, the family is not a close one. I suffer from middle child syndrome, like ninety nine point nine percent of my brothers and sisters, and so the family members my therapist had actually managed to gather consisted only of a few local crabs and a confused stickleback on a package holiday and under the impression this was part of the tour. My therapist assured me he had searched high and low for my mother, and that she would have been there had it been possible. Eventually I agreed to return to our sessions, and also to undertake a course of prescribed antidepressants.
‘Atta boy,’ he said.
So I returned, sat silently before him, fed him morsels of my childhood, swallowed his medication, and told myself I was starting to feel better. But I did not start to feel better. The ocean had begun to seem so small. Despite its vastness, it lacked originality and depth. Sooner or later, no matter which direction you swam in, you would always hit the solid base of land. I might as well have been living in a rock pool.
I started to contemplate death. I had seen people engineer their own deaths by throwing themselves from the cliffs, dashing their bodies to a pulp on the jagged maw of rocks that jut up from the swill. I started to catch them when they leapt, setting them back on land. They would stare wide-eyed into the air, then fall on their knees and praise God for showing them the way.
Once a woman got angry with me. After I’d set her back on the cliff she shouted and gave my claw a slap.
‘Arsehole! Did I ask you ask to do that? Did I?’
So I retreated and watched from the sea while she sighed and outstretched her arms all over again. Then, just as before, she threw herself off. But I snatched her up before the rocks could pierce her fragile little body. While she hurled abuse at me, I sped across the ocean and deposited her on a deserted tropical island. She stood there on the glittering white sand looking about her bewildered. Then, ever so slowly, she smiled. I swam away, thinking I’d done her a great service, but when I returned a few weeks later to see how she was getting on she snapped at me and demanded a new wardrobe, widescreen television and twenty four hour broadband. I scoured the ocean, found what she had asked for and brought it back, only to be met with more demands. Eventually I could not keep track of everything she wanted, and so I gathered a fleet of merchant ships and upturned them so that their contents spilled out over every inch of the island. Delighted, the woman picked her way through the mountain of goods, collecting up the things she desired. But who knows how long she will stay content? And I thought to myself: if this is what it takes to make a single tiny person happy, what could possibly ever satisfy a creature as old and colossal as me?
This is how I reached my decision. I had to ponder for some time on how to do it, for there is a paucity of options under the sea. There was no cliff high enough that I could leap from. I experimented by knotting my own coils into a noose, but in the end I realised it was perfectly simple. As a subaqueous creature, all I had to do was rise to the surface and wait. Eventually, death would come.
I went to my therapist and told him I was ready to leave. I said I was feeling much better, and gave him a story about how I had swallowed a delicious submarine earlier that morning and not been even tempted to bring it up.
‘You’ve got a lot of unresolved trauma,’ he sighed. ‘But you’ve made progress. I’m proud.’
Moved, I went to hug him, but he said this was inappropriate.
‘I am not your mother,’ he explained.
I swam until I reached a vast plateau off the Great Barrier Reef. I hauled myself up onto it and lay there under the sun, waiting for death. But before death could reach me people arrived. Initially they seemed only to want to take photographs, and so I let them and lay there while they filmed me from every conceivable angle. Then they attacked, launching missiles at me, which naturally only glanced off my skin and fell into the sea, creating vast explosions that devastated the surrounding ecology and wiped out local fishing communities.
I lay there for many years, not moving, just waiting. Eventually people stopped trying to kill me and had declared me endangered. I was visited by a steady stream of conservationists from the International World Preserve, who tried to dissuade me from going through with it for the sake of my species. In reply I flicked their vessels back to the mainland one by one, and after that I was left alone.
I continued to wait – to wait for death. Time dwindled to a dribble and then to a drip. I lay there so long that my blood slowed until it hardly moved and pooled in my veins like subterranean lagoons. My coils fused with the rock beneath me and I began to fossilise. Still I waited.
At long last, just as I was beginning to think death was something that only happened to others, there came a morning when my breath grew short and I sensed the end finally upon me. As I prepared to be taken, the sea rose up in an immense fountain, and from it issued a voice so deep and so sexual that the very coral blushed. It was my father, essence of the ocean, who walked out on my mother before she could walk out on him. Despite swimming his waters my entire life, I had never actually spoken to him, and had at times wondered if he really existed at all.
‘My son,’ he said. ‘You are dying.’
‘Because you are unhappy.’
‘You were created to destroy, to embody the greatness of the ocean, to strike fear into the heart of any mortal arrogant enough to believe it could be tamed.’
‘I know. But it just isn’t doing it for me anymore.’
He was silent after that and I felt sad, for despite it all I loved him. It was an illogical love, the unconditional devotion of a child, which swims so deep in the depths of a heart that it can never be truly expunged.
‘Goodbye,’ I said.
Just then I felt a light flurrying all around me, as if the molecules of the air had suddenly thickened. It wasn’t death, yet I found myself floating in the cloud, looking down upon the little world from many, many miles above. I saw everything: the people, the cities, the mountains and the deserts. I saw the vast waters of my father and I understood this was his gift – that he had raised me up to the heavens and set me in the sky as a star, to shine forth from an infinite sea of others.
This is my home now. I still take the occasional swipe at a drifting satellite, but for the most part I content myself with watching the universe as it flashes past around me, so fast and yet so still. Here I don’t feel needed, but I don’t need to feel needed either. I never grow tired. I never grow sad. I just am, and that’s OK.
Every once in a while though, I do miss eating people.
February 2015 – ‘Otherworldly Originals’ Month
This story is part of the Short Story Sunday ‘Otherworldly Originals Month’ which continues throughout February with a quirky, distinctive and original story every Sunday.
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