Live One

There are twenty three of them. The bellies are a pale pink and the faces are slimy and hideous. Most of them are dead already. Put them in the wicker barrow and wheel them up to Mayberry, Maila said, shoving young Frik towards the dock. He stumbled down the hill and then out along the worn planks of the wharf, bending to push the wicker wheelbarrow ahead of him. The wharf went on forever, the far end disappearing into the haze. When he finally found them he saw all were likely dead and he knew Mayberry would not want to pay for them. One by one he threw the oily bodies into the barrow. They were slick and hard to hold. The faces looked human save the tentacles coming out of the cheeks and ears. He had about half piled in when one of them twitched and the little oval eyes blinked up at him. Frik and the live one stared at each other for about a minute. Then Frik placed it on the far side of the pile so he’d remember which one it was. Hey! the thing said. Put me back in the sea!

Oh, I’m sorry, man, said Frik. Mayberry’s buying you guys.

Buying them, yes, but not me! I’m different! See, look! And the creature moved its tentacles in a strange pattern, almost like a dance. The tentacles, each with a sharp point on the end, changed color from yellow to pink to yellow to pink. Frik watched for a minute and then continued loading more dead ones. Hey, I don’t make the rules, he said.

Yes, you do. In order to obey rules you make them for yourself. Frik stopped loading for a second but did not look over at the live one. For that piece of wisdom alone you ought to throw me back in, the live one said. Frik stared at the writhing tentacles. Finally he had the wicker barrow full and steered it back up the wharf. This Mayberry has got you by the balls, said the creature.

The two were silent for a while as the barrow bumped over the uneven planks. Frik avoided looking down at the creatures. He looked straight ahead and up the path toward Mayberry’s orange shack. But as he pushed uphill he stole a glance back at the pile. The live one appeared to be missing. Hold on, Frik said. He leaned in and lifted some to see underneath. He looked back down the path. Then he felt something wet and slimy on the back of his neck. He heard the creature’s whisper: Don’t move. A cold wind blew up from the water. Frik stood there, staring straight ahead, feeling the little heart beating fast against his neck.

So, what you got for me? Mayberry said, appearing suddenly, a towering silhouette with the late afternoon sun sinking behind him. He prodded the creatures with a stick with a spike on the end. They sleeping?

N-no… Actually, I don’t know. Maybe. I didn’t check, said the boy, standing completely still. Mayberry laughed. You could make some horse food out of that, Mayberry said. Or some pig food. But I need sentient beings, boy! What do you take me for?

No. I don’t know, the boy said. Um. How about check underneath. Maybe some are sleeping underneath. Mayberry gave Frik a look. I ain’t paying for these. How about I use you, boy? You’re a sentient being! Mayberry laughed.

I’m really busy sir.

I can see that. …Why are you standing like that?

Like what?

You’re standing there like a wooden Indian. What’s that on your neck? Frik stared back at Mayberry, eyes wide. Then the boy took off running, the live one digging its tentacle spikes into the back of his neck as he ran. Mayberry’s pointed stick skated off the side of Frik’s bare calf and landed just ahead, sticking straight out of the dirt. That made him run faster. He could hear Mayberry close behind him, breathing hard. When he got to the water Frik ran down the wharf, Mayberry’s heavy footsteps crashing behind him. At the far end Frik took a running jump and dove right into the water, swimming out deep for as long as he could. He felt the creature’s tentacles disengage from the back of his neck. He was some fifty yards from the wharf when he finally came up for air. He turned and looked back to see Mayberry staring after him from the edge of the wharf. They stared at each other with Frik treading water until Mayberry finally shook his head, turned, and walked back up the hill, retrieving his spiked stick along the way.

Frik treaded water, watching Mayberry push the barrow of dead ones way up the hill into his tiny orange shack, closing the door behind him. Then a little head popped out of the water in front of Frik, tentacles swirling. The creature looked like it was about to say something but instead it simply sunk back down into the depths.

As the sun set behind Mayberry’s house, the boy swam south, heading for home. The sky was yellow and violet and the wind blowing hard when Frik pulled himself out of the water down the coast. He ran shivering home and locked the door behind him.


Copyright © 2016. All Rights Reserved.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *