|I swam to the middle of the bay, keeping careful track of all the new landmarks, the new shape of the distant horizon. I miss surf, but didn't find any. On the way back I touched something in the water with my foot. The old terror leaped in me, but I stopped it immediately. Oh, no. That kelp won't fool me this time. I rolled over to examine it, and couldn't find any. I was paddling backwards, floating mostly, looking around, and bumped into something with my back. I whirled and saw nothing, but bubbles came up from below. I couldn't find any explanation, but began to swim more earnestly and directly toward shore, with a little of that let's-get-out-of-here feeling.|
In closer, within sight of my ammo box, I stopped to sit in the water. I was thinking about hiking overland
in search of surf, when something touched me again. I froze. The touch returned, across my back. Not a push
or a shove, it was more tentative than that. Soft, tender, very light, almost a caress - then stronger, exploring.
Slowly I reached around and felt the caress on my arm. This kelp is really strange sometimes, I thought. Feels
almost alive. Well, it is, or was, but I mean -|
My hand closed around a strand, and I felt it respond. It rippled, and coiled and uncoiled. I let go. I sat still and let the old habit of fear go away. Noah, there isn't anything in this world you need to be afraid of. Your imagination is getting a little wild.
I was almost convinced of the impossibility and nonexistence of whatever it was I was feeling, when a strand wrapped itself around my right ankle and tugged. I lifted my foot out of the water in time to see a tentacle, an arm, uncurl and sink into the water.
I stood up. Something was in the water. Something alive. And I don't mean kelp. I decided to stand my ground. If there is life on this planet, besides me and the plants and the insects, let's see what. I extended my arm.
The tentacle came into view, reaching toward my wrist. I saw the mottled red and grey splotches and the double row of suckers underneath, but I did not pull my arm back. The alien arm wrapped around my wrist and tugged gently. I stepped forward and felt another pull. After two more steps I was swimming, with my first companion since Heeto fell into that canyon.
The buddy-system at a Boy Scout camp eons ago came to mind. Know where your buddy is at all times. At the whistle, grab your buddy's hand and raise it. I raised my arm. My buddy was an octopus, about my size. We swam in an easy circle at this end of the bay. I looked him over, and saw his eyes looking at me.
His arm curled and held my wrist. On the second circuit I grasped his arm in my hand. My mind was nearly blank, and still is.
I left the water after a while and sat to write this. The old revulsion about tentacles and suckers is in me, but I'm fighting it. The whole thing has sobered me, awakened me from trance in a way that I haven't felt for ages. You wanted a companion, Noah. Can you imagine? A pet octopus!
Hey! The messy page is his fault. I was writing, and thinking, and looking at him near the edge of the water, and he squirted up, all over me and the notebook! Now he's bobbing back and forth, and up and down. I swear he wants to swim again, wants me to swim with him again.
But it's almost dark. I'm not swimming at night with some - some monster! He's big enough to call a monster, and I remember pictures of that beak. Tears up clam shells. He was gentle with me, though.
I slept only overnight, and not very deeply. The octopus was in my mind and my dreams. At one point we were walking hand-in-arm down the yellow brick road. In another fragment I was helping the Hydra fight Hercules. I called and the god turned the wrong way, so my buddy could trip him. I lay awake at dawn and found myself looking forward to a new day in a new way.
If I hadn't awakened by myself, my buddy would have done the job very well. Just at sunrise, he squirted me a good one on the chest and belly. I sat up and had to grin. He was bobbing up and down again in the water, waving the ends of his arms. He was obviously inviting me into the water. Here is something, I thought, some other little blob of life about my size, that wants to be with me.
So I took a bath before breakfast. We swam to the middle of the bay, holding hands like yesterday. This time he had a wrap around each wrist and ankle, and I didn't resist. I felt a kind of excitement - the nearest memory I have like it was the day I found that little brown spaniel puppy in a long-gone epoch.
But this fellow was not really my pet. When I thought, I'm his pet, I felt a little panic, what with hands and feet tied in open water, but that went away. He never tried to restrict my arms or legs in any way. When I set out swimming as hard as I could, the octopus did not hinder me at all. He just stayed right with me, using his jet propulsion squirter to help us along.
Back at what I'm calling my end, I sat on the bottom chest-deep in water. My friend rested with me, holding on to me, cradling me. It was a one-sided many-armed embrace. Old memories popped into mind in the middle of this strange experience. I took a girl to the movies once, and spent the entire two hours with my arm up over the back of her seat, afraid to lower it onto her shoulders, and afraid to move, paralysis notwithstanding, for fear of losing ground in my gradual, oh, so gradual, advances.
Here in a warm shallow bay on a virtually uninhabited planet - could this be the same planet I started on? the roles were reversed. My new companion was on the make. He was content with gradual progress, but he never retreated. Once he made contact, he kept it.
I stared at him. His arms, with all those suckers. His siphon tube pulsating gently. What looks like a huge nose, but must be really his - hell, his belly. His eyes. Yes, the eyes attracted me. I leaned over and stared, first at one and then the other. It became a confrontation - eyeball to eyeball. I watched the pupil change. I blinked. He blinked - he has eyelids like anybody else.
He was so unlike me in every other way, except his eyes. The eyes are the windows of the soul. The eyes lead to the brain, the Mind. He also has a little light that loops around and around among the coils and circuits inside his - head? - between the eyes there. I could see into his soul. And he saw mine. I suspect I was more afraid than he was, but maybe I have suffered more.
El ojo que tu ves no es ojo porque tu lo veas. Es ojo porque te ve. Yes. I see an eye. It is an eye that belongs to a stranger, a strange being, a being very different from me. But it is not an eye because I see it, and am so impressed with how similar it is to my eye. No. It is an eye, because it sees me.
Here we are, touching. He is embracing me. That's the only word for it. And I am allowing him. That was the girl's role, in the old, old days.
I reached for an arm, took it in both hands, stroked it, squeezed it, bent it back and forth, lifted it to my nose. Ocean smell - I always liked it, and yearned for it when I was away inland. I played with the suckers, examining them very carefully - the round ridge, the hard muscle inside the ring. I tried to make one of them suck on the back of my hand, nudging, rubbing, bumping. Nothing doing for a while. Then he clamped it on me, and I felt the little vacuum behind the ridge. I had marks on my skin when he let go.
The ends of the arms were very fine and tender. He winced when I pinched too hard on the slender tip of one. Then he advanced his case, wanting to examine me closer. I let him - I don't know why I think it's a him. I sure can't tell which sex he or she is, but some of this verges on the sexual, if a complete mutual physical examination is sexual. Seems to me it is.
I let him, or her, fondle me. The gentle caresses of those tendrils found every crevice, every cranny, every orifice I have. And orifices are sexy. We gave each other an incredible going over - it was sixty-nine doubled in spades, sixty-nine to the ninth, or something. He played those suckers on every part of me. My hair puzzled him, if I'm getting anywhere reading his reactions, communicating without language.
All over my face, up my ears, up my nose, in my mouth. I found his beak also, exploring with my fingers. And depending on what background he has to go on, he should know that 1'm a male. He certainly checked out all the plumbing.
from A WORLD FOR THE MEEK|
© 1987, Harry Willson