Shell Dragon in Colored Pencil
Jack Of All Trades
News for April
Working With Gold Leaf (Or, Wombats Don't Poop Gold)
The Day The Sea Sangby Sarah Cuypers
August 11th 1905, 22.00h
The sea is singing. I can hear it above the howling storm. A wordless, drawn-out vocalisation, both eerily beautiful and deeply unsettling at the same time. It reminds one of a funerary chant, a wailing lament for the heathen dead. But no human voice or choir can ever hope to produce such an unearthly melody.
And yet this is but the last in a line of strange and unlikely events that have occurred in our village this week. Yesterday, Wilkins brought his boat in far sooner than usual and as fast as the old boatís engine could handle. Narry a fish in her hold, she had, but Wilkins and his two sons had emerged with faces like ghosts. It was only after much prompting that Mrs. Wilkins got something out of any of them. They had seen strange lights in the water around the boat, they said. Pale green lights, moving, pulsating far below, shining like drowned candles in the dark depths of the sea.
The other fishermen, after hearing this tale in the pub, almost reluctantly admitted to one another that their catch had been rather poor all week. Fish had suddenly become incredibly scarce. And it was not just the fish, many remarked that there barely was a gull in the sky and that was just not natural. Even the shrimp fishersí nets remained inexplicably empty.
Then the storm came. Our village has seen many storms, some devastating and deadly. But never before has the sea sung in the midst of one! And so we spend the night in locked and barred houses, hiding under the sheets in our beds, hoping the storm and that which dwells therein will pass us by. What further mystery will the morning bring, I wonder?
August 12th 1905, 8.45h
The storm raged on until the early hours of the morning and the singing died with the storm winds. And for a while it was eerily calm. Yet our slumber was short; as soon as the day provided enough light, the whole village was up and about to estimate and repair the damage the storm had wrought.
It was then that we saw them.
Itís difficult to recall who noticed them first. I only remember that some people hurriedly came down from the dunes east of the town, looking subdued and speaking in hushed tones. And whoever they talked to, fell quiet as well and adopted their air of discomfort while casting furtive glances to the dunes. Some folk had already gathered there, beckoning to the rest of us. Before long the whole town had joined them and looked with mixed feelings at the beach below.
The beach, a normally empty and uninteresting stretch of sand, was now inexplicably covered by half a dozen strange, titanic sea-conches. And titanic they were. Never had I seen such a sight, and instinctively I guessed the likes of this would not be seen again for the rest of my life.
I estimated the largest conch to be some thirty feet long, and perhaps six feet high. Bands of different hues of brown and milky white encircled them. They were beautiful, unearthly so. Perhaps I acted too rashly, but a sudden sense of wonder drove me to look at them from close-by. And this longing refused to be denied.
Fieldingís oldest son, Jim, readily volunteered to accompany me, perhaps more out of a wish to prove his seniority to the other village boys than out of sensible bravery. We gingerly descended from the dunes. The silence of the beach surrounded us.
Up close the shells were even more breathtakingly beautiful than I had imagined. The colours were far more diverse, I could see maroon, chocolate, pink, white, and several tints in between. The shell itself looked surprisingly smooth and intact, almost like polished marble, and just as strong.
Entranced, I reached out, only to be startled by a scream. Jim, who apparently possessed a more adventuring spirit than I had given him credit for, had not waited around for me to finish my inspection. Instead he had ventured into the wide opening of the nearest conch. And from there he now shot out like a hare to its nest. But that was not the most astonishing thing. Several large tentacles shot out behind him, waving wildly, driving the intruder from their house.
The shells werenít empty!
Iím somewhat embarrassed to admit that it did not take long before I too stood panting, but unharmed, in safety on top of the dunes. Many of the villagers fled back to their houses. But the rest of us that was either braver or too frightened to move, were relieved to see that the animal had no intention of chasing any audacious interloper: the tentacles retreated back into the shell and the beach was once again still and silent.
August 12th 1905, 12.20h
We held an improvised council of war on the dunes. Geraldson, who owned the fastest horse of the village, was sent to nearby Lancaster to warn the authorities, something he was more than happy to do. In the mean time, the rest of us could do little but keep watch over the strange visitors and repair the stormís damage.
Since there was no class to teach today I had no qualm volunteering for the dayís watch. The encounter on the beach had startled me profoundly, and yet, my fascination for these creatures won out again. I asked Jim Fielding to fetch me my journal from my room so I could make notes to counter boredom.
And so started quite the strangest day of my life.
More conches have appeared around noon. One by one, they slowly make progress towards land, pulling themselves forward on their tentacles as a seal would do on its flippers. As they emerge from the low water, I am presented with a good look at their extraordinary bodies. They resemble overgrown squid, but squid housed in long, straight shell-cones. One of Mother Natureís most fanciful designs. Who has ever heard of a squid in a shell?
I am reminded of the many stories of the Kraken and other sea-monsters. Yet these giants donít seem particularly interested in attacking ships. None of them has given the boats drawn further up the shore -- or me, for that matter -- a single glance.
August 12th 1905, 14.35h
A magnificent spectacle is unfolding before my very eyes. Each shell-squid is apparently intent on conquering a patch of sand. When a squid has set its sights on a spot held by another, both extend their tentacles and wave them at each other menacingly. The arms change colour from the dull purple-red to flashing bright red and white.
I count already eighteen shell-squid. The beach is nigh covered with them now. But the most astonishing thing is the sound. Yes, the shell-squid are the origin of the alien song that has so rattled us all during the night. The sound is produced by rapidly moving one tentacle across the rim of the shell. Without the storm distorting the sound, Iím reminded of someone moving a finger across the wet rim of a glass, but then magnified to gigantic proportions. The intimidating sound goes right through the bone.
Many people in the village looked up at the noise, but I waved at them to indicate all was well.
In most cases the surreal sound and colour-display is enough to deter one of the combatants from continuing. But once or twice both rivals refuse to back down. Then they approach further and engulf the other with their tentacles, wrestling for grip on the smooth surface of the conches.
A veritable clash of giants follows, a relentless heap of writhing tentacles and grinding shells until one manages to lift the other off the ground. The ground shakes when the giant lands back on the sand with tremendous force! Defeated, the now pale-coloured shell-squid retreats back into the sea or chooses a less preferred part of the beach.
August 12th 1905, 19.40h
As the sun starts to sink, a second group of shell-squid is approaching the beach. These are generally smaller than those on the beach, and their colouring is different too, with more yellow, muted hues.
The newcomers elicit quite a different welcome from the others. Every shell-squid on the beach extends their tentacles towards the sea, gently waving them around in symmetric, enticing patterns. Their skin flashes in a succession of colours and the singing has changed in tune, becoming faster, and more excited. My god, what a spectacle!
I wonder, could the second group of squid be female?
August 12th 1905, 21.30h
Fielding and the Howard brothers have arrived to take over the watch during the night. They have come well prepared with an emergency siren, blankets, lanterns, and a rifle each. I suppose none of them wished to hold this nightly vigil alone. I can not blame them for that but by now I have become convinced these squids would not harm us. I have shared my thoughts with the three men but was met with some disbelief and left it at that. I was almost sorry to go, for the shell-squid are most fascinating. But having missed sleep already the night before, I am now very tired and weary.
August 13th, 1905
Alas, as I was only just beginning to unravel the mystery of the shell-squid, I may never learn more! During the night the squid have gone, back towards whatever mysterious waters they initially came from.
The beach lies once again empty in the morning sun. Only tentacle-trails and deep grooves made by the heavy shells tell us that yesterday was not a dream. The sea is strangely coloured, almost milky white, and the flood-line is covered with a pale, viscous liquid that has washed ashore. The gulls and fish have returned in great numbers and are feasting on the milky matter, practically gorging themselves.
Unfortunately everything, both the tracks and the liquid, washes away with the next tide. The gulls and fish have now retreated. Nothing reminds any longer of the strange visit we had but a day ago. I find this most vexing!
August 16th, 1905
The shell-squid have not returned, and now I doubt they ever will. Geraldson however, did return, with a fellow sent by the government in tow. He introduced himself as Seymour March, a young and passionate biologist. I offered him to board at my house and we have spent most of the night going over my notes and memories of that extraordinary day.
March suspects the events, the lights and disappearing fish and birds included, are all connected to the shell-squids. However, how exactly is still a mystery. He assumes from the enormous sizes that the shell-squid are probably very old, older perhaps than the village itself, and that they follow a seasonsí rhythm far longer than that of the short lives of men.
Together we lament the sudden disappearance of the squid and Marchís late arrival.
August 17th, 1905
March has left this morning, although he promised to keep in touch and send me some papers on giant squid. Life in the village goes on pretty much as before, yet it has become somewhat colourless to me.
Each storm, I find myself lying awake, listening intently. And I often find myself climbing on the dunes, expecting to see something more than just an empty beach. Will I still be here when the squid return Ė if they return? Or will I never hear the sea sing again, when the winds howl in the night?
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