The ship had been sitting in dock for far too long. It had needed repairs, but shouldn’t the repairs be done by now? The admiral sent word, but the replies that came back were vague, with little information available. Finally, the admiral decided to see the state of things for herself.
Things were all too quiet as she approached the H.M.S. Almost Diamonds. She feared that whatever had ravaged the ship had done more damage than anyone had thought. Then she heard it. A faint cheer, coming from on board. She followed the noise to its source and opened the door to the captain’s mess.
This wasn’t what she’d expected to find. The whole crew was jammed into the tiny room, and all were liberally supplied with grog and rum. The captain sat at the head of her table, a little pale and quiet but obviously enjoying herself. George was in the middle of a story, but he paused when he saw the admiral.
She shook her head, not wanting to interrupt their little carnival. “Ne’er mind me. Go on.” But still he waited until she was seated with a cup of her own special reserve tequila.
Then he nodded. “A truly strange hybrid it was. It’s lower body was that of a squid or octopus, one of the strong, clean creatures of the sea. It’s upper body, however, was that of a holy man. He was crouched and strangely yellow.
“He carried a fruit of the same color, grasped lovingly in one hand. He would speak to it and tell it how beautiful it was, how it fit perfectly everywhere he could think to put it. Then he would make to eat it, only to pull it from his mouth, saying he cared for it no longer. But soon, he would be caressing it again.
“He had a companion, not unlike himself, but hollowed and empty when seen from the back. I asked whether this was his mate, but he said, ‘No. The female of my kind has yet to come into existence.’”
Here George dropped his voice. “He tried to give me something. I don’t know what it was. Like the tentacles on which he rested, it looked like the clean things of the sea, but it smelled more putrescent than any pile of rotting storm debris. As he reached out to put it in my hand, I understood that he meant it to give him power over me, but I was prepared. ‘You are impossible,’ I said when he touched me. ‘Your body doesn’t belong to you, and it knows it.
“Then both monsters fell into two pieces. The parts that looked like men tried to grab the tentacles, but those were quicker and more agile. The last I saw them, the two were dragging themselves in the dirt after their foundations. I suffered no harm from the monster’s touch, but the memory is something I shall never erase.”
The mess was quiet when he finished, until someone raised a tankard. “To George!” came the cry, and “To George!” came the hearty response.
There was a pause then, as no one wanted to follow George’s tale. Finally, Greg stepped forward. “It is an odd thing for a sailor to find himself in the clutches of a monster. It is odder still when something so moist leaves you so high and dry, but it happens to plenty of old tars this time of year. The problem, to my mind, is that we listen too much to the old tales and to our fear of trying something new.
“Still, with a little derring-do, a sharp blade and the judicious application of fire, it is a simple thing to deal with the monster. Such feats will make you the toast of those who see your triumph, but do not be too surprised if others fail to believe you. People will cling to tradition.”
Greg started to sit down but stood again. “Oh. One more thing. Take care how you land when you finish your monster. Proper technique will leave you covered in glory. Anything else will simply leave you with lumps.”
This applause was more modest, but the admiral could see the crew taking in the advice. Even if they never used Greg’s technique when faced with a monster of their own, they would at least be questioning the old advice.
His crew-mates knew him too well to take such easy bait, but they settled back to listen.
“Certainly, there are some creatures of the deep that prey on humankind, but they are merely hungry. Anything that large would have to be.
“They may attack us with tentacle and fang, leave us bloodied and broken, but they only do it to protect themselves. We may be restricted to the surface, and they may have all the deep in which to play, but that may not always be the case. If they let any of us go now, soon we may be swarming below the waves.
“In short, we are the enemy, and all the behemoths do is simply done to protect their weak hides.” Chris bowed and sat down, followed to his seat by a rain of biscuits and laughter.
gg didn’t throw bread and he didn’t laugh. “Chris is right, in a way. Oh, there are truly sea monsters, but it is for their very monstrosity that we love them.”
He looked at the rest of the crew. “Is there anything as lovely as the sun shining off the iridescent scales of a sea serpent? Is there not beauty in its twists and its coils? In its strength so overwhelming that it can be as gentle as a child and still crush us?
“Do we not love them because they have seen the depths and promise to take us there with them, even if we can never return as we went?”
“I’ve heard what they say. They whisper of monsters, as though they weren’t monsters themselves. They speak into our nightmares, into our confusion.
“And I’ve seen what happens when we listen to them. We forget why we sail. We forget where we are going, and we jump overboard, into the water with the monsters. Sometimes…sometimes we even throw each other to them.”
Cujo359 shuddered then and drank deeply of the grog. The whole crew followed suit, no one quite looking at anyone else.
Blake cleared his throat. “I was going to talk about George’s monster. I’ve seen it too, although I didn’t fare as well. My own fault, though, really, as I went looking for the thing.
“Still, it gave me an idea. What if I were to become a monster myself?” He smiled at the room. “Wouldn’t that be something? I could go where I wanted when I wanted, do what I wanted to anyone I felt like doing them to. I think I’d want a tail instead of tentacles–”
He was cut off by another volley of bread. He caught a piece out of the air and bit into the crust. “Oh, well. It was just an idea.”
John frowned at Blake, but the corners of his mouth twitched. “We have quite enough monsters around, thank you. Limited number of bodies, of course, possibly because the form has been selected to preserve resources or possibly because having all the heads spitting that weak venom at once is the only form of defense they’ve evolved.”
“Of course, this assumes that these are really heads to begin with. They could be a novel form of camouflage, making us think the creatures are facing us, no matter what direction we approach from.”
John lapsed into thought. After a moment, the admiral stepped forward. “I rather like monsters, sometimes. As gg notes, there is something appealing in the thought of diving beyond the shallows, even unexpectedly.
“There are dangers in being consumed, of course, but there are rewards as well. The monsters can consume your life, but they allow you to travel to places you could never go on your own, if you hadn’t been swallowed whole. There is wisdom to be found in the cold, in the depths and in the heights.”
The admiral gestured for more tequila to fill her empty glass. “To sea monsters.”
“To sea monsters!” The crew weren’t convinced, but they were enthusiastic. And perhaps a little tipsy.
The captain stood then and raised her glass, first to her admiral, then to her crew. “I shan’t describe the monster that left our fair ship just now. The admiral’s tales have left us with the perfect sense of wonder for ending our carnival on a happy note. I will only tell you how happy and proud I am to sail these seas with a crew such as this. Truly, there is no better place to be.”