L’thyros lay quietly, listening to the incoming surf. The rhythmic pounding of the waves was almost hypnotic, reminiscent of listening to his heartbeats. He had laid his great head against the sand and stones of the beach, the better to appreciate the nearby surges of water. His one great eye looked downward. He was strong and brave, ancient and learned, but the dome of the sky stretching above him was just short of infinite, and it crushed him beneath its weight.
“Oh my God! Look what the storm washed up!” came a high-pitched chirping sound. A human’s voice. L’thyros had heard them before, understood their limited infantile language, but winced minutely in discomfort. Their voices were never pleasant, but at least beneath the water they were somewhat softened.
“Holy shit, it’s huge!” another human, slightly deeper tone, but still irritating. “I didn’t know they could grow so big.”
“We should call someone!” the first human again. It spoke as though everything it said was of the utmost importance. L’thyros shuddered, and one of the humans screamed. “It’s still alive! Hurry, Larry, call the Coast Guard!”
There were soft chiming tones, then the deeper voice said, “We’re at the beach, south of the Ponsler Wayside about half a mile. There’s a – shit, what is it?”
“It’s a giant octopus!” the higher voice exclaimed.
“Yeah, it’s a squid or octopus or something. I’ve never seen one so big. It’s washed up on the beach, a good fifteen or twenty feet from the surf.”
There was another voice speaking, so tinny and far-away L’thyros couldn’t make it out in the thin medium of the atmosphere.
“Yeah I know, but it’s still alive,” the human went on, arguing. “It’s still moving. Can it be saved?”
More words into the human’s ear that L’thyros didn’t attempt to understand. He could sense more approaching, these from the south rather than the north as the first two had come.
“Okay, we’ll wait for you here.” A musical tone sounded at the end of the conversation, making L’thyros groan; it could not compare, but was vaguely reminiscent of the sounds of deep water through his mate’s gills when they swam in tandem. “The Coast Guard is sending help, someone should be here in half an hour.”
“Can it live that long outside the water?” the first human shrieked, moving closer. “Should we dump water on it, like they do with beached whales?”
“What happened?” came a new voice. This one was deeper still, barely painful at all to L’thyros. He listened to the waves, to the sound of his hearts beating. He couldn’t wait much longer.
“The storm last night!” the first one, screeching again, “It must’ve washed up and got beached in the high waves!”
“That’s something you don’t see every day,” the last one said, moving closer. “Take a good look, Danny. You’ll never see one that big at the aquarium.”
“Is it a sea-monster, Grandpa?” This voice was high-pitched as well, but young and timid. The tone was not painful, and it drew L’thyros.
“No, Danny. Just an animal. But a big one, that’s for sure.” This human was circling now, trying to get a better view of L’thyros. “It’s been a while, but I’ll bet you it’s a squid.”
“How can you tell?” the other low-toned human asked, seeming very interested in what the other human was saying.
“Octopi have eight arms. Squids have eight arms too, but they also have two extra tentacles that are used to hunt with. From what I can see, this big fella has more than eight all together.”
“How can you tell, Grandpa?” asked the young one, following the deep-voiced one closely. They had almost moved far enough for L’thyros to see them. “It’s all raggedy looking, like shredded kinda.”
“That’s just because it’s out of the water, Danny. They’re not meant to be out in the air, like we are.”
L’thyros lay perfectly still, his eye still looking down at the rocks on which he lay. But he could see them approaching. So small, with their stiff jointed limbs. They balanced seemingly without effort, swimming through the air as he might skim the ocean floor. They had strangely colored and textured skins, and fine seaweed dangled from their domed tops. But the small one, the timid one – he was exactly right.
“Is it going to die?” the small one asked, slipping his appendage free of the larger human, and moving closer. Almost close enough to touch.
When the sneaker wave hit, L’thyros was ready. The humans were not. The wave wasn’t deep, maybe two feet when it reached him, but that was deep enough. L’thyros took a deep grateful breath of saltwater, his gills gaping open in relief, his heartbeats increasing. The first two humans fell, unbalanced by the wave. The older human stumbled, reaching toward the small one. The small one, mouth gaping as though it too would gasp in a cleansing breath of the sea, fell into L’thyros.
He used his two smaller tentacles to catch the little human. As the wave slowed and began to rush back out across the beach, he pushed with all his strength, lifting his heavy head. In only three beats of his three hearts, he was out far enough to drop beneath the surface. The small human struggled weakly, but L’thyros did not let go. He had put in too much effort to lose his prize now.
His mate, N’garya would be pleased. None of her friends had ever sampled such a delicacy.
Rose Blackthorn lives in the high mountain desert of Eastern Utah with her boyfriend and two dogs, Boo and Shadow. She spends her time writing, reading, and photographing the surrounding wilderness. She has published genre fiction online and in print with Encounters, Realms, Absent Willow Review, Flashes in the Dark, Stupefying Stories, Cast of Wonders and Necon E-Books. Her work has also appeared in the anthologies New Dawn Fades, The Ghost IS the Machine, Scarlet Whispers and A Quick Bite of Flesh. She is an affiliate member of the HWA, and suffers from an overactive imagination, but rather than complaining… she just goes with it.