Narvik watched the new tide, ravenous and foaming, chew up the shoreline around the creature and knew that it was every bit as wild as Grondper warned him. From here you could see the fins. Bleached things, rotting-bone yellow and decorated with seaweed. They poked out roughly a quarter mile from where Narvik stood.
Even from this far back they seemed immense in scale.
Black sand crunching under his toes, he edged another few steps closer to the water’s edge. Not far now.
‘Fer Chrissakes boy, I’ve told you before about running off ahead! Let me not tell you twice!’ his father called sternly. Potikis was a man with no patience for foolishness but even he couldn’t stop Narvik from staring.
His cheeks burning, Narvik sullenly waited for his father and the others from Galwise to arrive at the spot where the Behemoth had beached.
The curious villagers trickled onto the shore in hesitant droves. Furrowed brows on the old. Gawps of wonder from those who did not carry the decades-old resentment in their hearts and scars.
Whispered words like ‘gods’ and ‘demon’ carried on the winds. Narvik wondered which was more likely.
‘Wh..what are we going to do, Potikis?’ said Lokis, a portly man with nervous eyes.
‘We’ll do what our fathers tried to do when they first came. We’ll kill it,’ Potikis replied firmly.
‘But the creature does not move. Is it not dead already?’
Potikis’ eyes narrowed, ‘I doubt it. One of those took down seven of our best ships on the open sea. I won’t be the Chief to give one a free pass.’
‘Father! Please, let me go to it,’ said Narvik.
‘Be silent. You are here at my discretion.’
Potikis gestured to a runner, who disappeared only to return with several hardened men each carrying a tall wooden spear. Potikis nodded to the men. Knuckles clenched around the wicked-looking instruments. They left without a word.
Narvik opened his mouth to speak.
Potikis clenched his fist.
Narvik’s mouth silently made a shape but no words came out. They watched the spearmen approach the Behemoth, so-called since their original devastating appearance thirty years prior. The tears flowing down Narvik’s cheeks tasted of salt and sea spray. Potikis’ eyes blazed in the sunlight, unblinking.
The spears punctured the flank of it and the assembled villagers made oohing noises, some even cheered.
Then a sound, an inhuman chorus of deep bells and the grinding together of earthquakes, came from the creature. It rolled over in the sea, the water falling off its flank enough to bathe the entire town.
A great splitting of leathery hide.
A monstrous eye, misted and bulbous.
The villagers screamed but the creature made no further move. The closest spearmen were nowhere to be seen, a few others swam back half-drowned.
‘And so it lives,’ said Potikis.
The wind howled at Narvik’s window as he slowly pulled it up enough to squeeze himself out the gap. It creaked like a broken instrument and he paused, listening for footsteps.
A few seconds passed. A few more.
The night air embraced Narvik with icy fervor as he crept along the twisting dirt pathway that ran from his father’s home towards the Bonzik Beach. They’d lost eight men that day which, in a fledgling community like this one, was eight too many. Potikis had shut the beach down which meant there would be guards now. As his son, Narvik would not face prison if caught but something worse than that. After all, Potikis’ temper was legendary.
A rustling of the fingertip green blades. The rattle of blustered palms promising the edge of sands and what lay beyond.
Two voices, garbled and drunk on Drywine, echoed past the flaring of their lanterns. Narvik ducked behind the splintered remains of a boat.
‘Reckon this big blubber’s got another few days in him,’ said Botik, one of the village’s go-to everymen.
‘Yeah,’ replied Sarik, ‘Especially when the guys from Bullrush get here.’
‘Bullrush? What they doin’ sending bodies up for a fish?’ replied Botik.
‘Don’t you mean a god?’ Sarik chuckled, swigging from a wineskin.
‘See me on my knees?’ said Botik, snatching the wineskin for himself.
‘Potikis sent out the birds, saw him do it myself,’ said Sarik.
‘They’ll want a piece of him too, no doubt,’ nodded Botik.
Narvik waited for them to walk on. The useful idiots weren’t fit to guard a tiny Bottlefish, let alone something so massive as the Behemoth. Their words were troubling, though.
Clinging to curving darkness, he made his way to the shoreline and stood before it in the shallows. Grondper’s stories of the old days filled his head. Back when the waters were low, before the Big Wet had come and changed it all. Back before the Behemoths had risen from wherever they had been. Back before the lowly son of a fisherman survived to become High Chief.
They were freer people then.
Unworried by the oceans and what they were hiding.
But there was no going back.
Without thinking, Narvik entered the water and began to swim. It was warmer than it should have been but he shivered all the same. A strange, rhythmic trembling ran through the waves and into his mind. He felt it throughout his body, in every fiber of his being. Could this be the Behemoth’s heartbeat?
Fixated, even entranced, Narvik drifted to the massive creature. It lay remarkably still in the water. His progress was quick, cutting through the still blackness like a sword. Now he was next to it. A barnacled husk. Whole reefs of coral caught in its many impossible cracks. So high and wide that it became the night sky. It stretched beyond the horizon and filled Narvik’s world.
Somewhere next to it, so dwarfed as to have become nothing, he outstretched a hand. Insignificant as he was in size, Narvik saw into the creature. Perhaps it showed him, perhaps it had no choice in the matter. But Narvik saw. He felt its titanic mind revolving. An intelligence beyond words, glacial in pace but enormous in scope. Somewhere dark and thousands of fathoms away, an arena of colors and music and warmth and, above all else, family.
He looked further. Losing himself within the vast layers of the creature’s psyche, which became his own. Trying to breathe, no longer sea air but the vast, cold silence of space filled lungs that were not his or anyone’s.
Narvik winked open his single massive eye and could see all things, the beginnings of everything. Clouds of gas exploding into myriad worlds. Something being born. A living plague, spreading through the time and consuming all it touched until it faded, saturated, extinguished, petrified away into nothingness.
‘What the blinkin’ heck were you thinking?’ said a gruff voice like a lifetime of whiskey and unwashed sea cockles.
Narvik was lying on his back, safe on the Bonzik sands. Ignoring the voice, he turned and grasped handfuls of the obsidian grains. Coarse and stinking. Definitely home. Never had he been happier to be on land.
Something sharp in his ribs. And again.
He looked up at Old Doktis, notorious beach grifter and by far the oldest remaining man in the village, who was lining up his walking rod for another good poke.
‘Please, stop that!’ said Narvik.
‘Ah, the young gentleman has decided to reward us by waking up.’
‘What happened to me?’
The old man shrugged, ‘Found you in the shallows. Hoped you was decent driftwood ‘til realized you wasn’t.’
‘But the sands… weren’t they guarded?’
‘Those two dullards? Think they could outmaneuver Doktis, the Galwisian Fox?’
Narvik looked at him doubtfully. Weather-beaten skin stretched over a hobbled and ancient frame. Whatever he was, he was full of vinegar.
‘Let’s say they could, you’re talking about an hour’s trek just to get to them,’ continued Old Doktis.
‘An hour?’ Narvik spun around to look properly at the coastline. It was now stark and unrecognizable. The Behemoth was nowhere to be seen.
‘Oh, you’ve drifted far then, young sir.’
‘Please, Doktis, what day is it?’
‘One off Harvest.’
Narvik’s eyes bulged. It couldn’t have been three days. That was totally wrong.
‘Will you be telling me summat of how you came to be here, part-drowned and raving about strange things in your sleep, son of Potikis?’
Narvik nodded but didn’t think he could tell anything even remotely believable. All he had were the fragments of something. A great tale. A warning. Something vital. No, just as he had something, it was gone.
‘I went swimming. That’s all I can remember,’ he lied.
‘Look, I really appreciate what you’ve done for me but I’ve got to go now.’
‘Now hold on just a bleedin’ minute!’
But by that time Narvik was already just a trail of sandy footprints leading in the direction of the next cove.
‘Bloody ungrateful, if you ask me,’ he grumbled to himself before lodging his stick back into the sand and rambling along the surf just as he always did.
How Narvik ran.
And as he did, he began to see a strange tinge on the tide. Dyed a murky crimson and full of the fibrous, congealed-white things. The stuff of a butcher’s nightmares. It looked like someone had wounded the sea itself. Perhaps they had at that.
Eventually, the sight of the Behemoth stopped him dead.
The crew had done an efficient job. With their spiked harpoons and their long knives they had certainly been busy. Now they were all smiles. Someone had brought bottles to celebrate. Lines of carts led up from the shore and away up into the township.
Potikis stood in the center of the unfolding circus. A pat on the back here. The congratulatory gripping of a worker’s forearm there. A bloody job, done bloody well.
‘Oh, and here he comes, my own son’ Potikis added, ‘I began to think you’d run away because you’d heard. Sensitive as you are.’
‘Father, what have you done?’
‘I called in some outside help to deal with, you know,’ he gestured to the terrible scene, ‘that. Best for everyone really. The meat is delicious and you know how hard the season’s been. There’s enough for everyone.’
Narvik fell silent. The crashing of the waves consumed him. Listening close, he could hear the Behemoth still calling between the crashing surf.
Soon the Harvest Banquet was upon them. The villages’ delight at any event was palpable. One such as this with a victory of a sort gave the villagers an excuse to get away from the mundanity of their lives, marooned at the edges of an endless ocean. Crunching their needy forks into a shimmering carcass that glowered all colors and none.
The sheer barbarity of it all.
Narvik had refused to eat it, though it was served on his plate by his father. Garnished with a smile he recognized. Potikis’ eyes as he ate it were wild, maniacal portals. Cheeks reddening slightly. His father now looked positively drunk on the meat. Or the power of it. Like eating it for him was also gaining a victory over his own demons.
But was something going on with Potikis skin?
Something glossy about it?
Narvik began to realize, as much as the Behemoth was dead, it lived on in him. It called to him between his thoughts. Offering glimpses from the dark gaps in the universe. He wasn’t alone anymore. He might be somewhere else too if he concentrated hard enough. Can you be in two places at once? What about all places? He suspected he was starting to lose his sense of time.
Faraway, somewhere beneath this new consciousness, lay the understanding Narvik was no longer the same, and neither were those in the village around him. He listened as blubbery wails became a living chorus, echoing throughout the township and much further than that. It became a phenomenon that transcended realities. A beacon. One that resonated in his rippling gills, made him feel a part of something.
Their route was a long one, inconceivably far by any standard, but he knew their presence would only grow stronger and stronger.
Rolling his gelatinous frame over, Narvik watched the stars burning by their millions in the night sky and smiled up at them.
He had time all the time in the world.