top of page
Image by Zab Consulting

The One That Didn't Get Away

(c) 6 June 2021

Magnus lifted his head from the book he’d been reading and stared out to sea through the window of his cottage. He noted the strong storm front pushing in from the south and could smell the change in the air. He pushed his mane of wild, white hair roughly out of his eyes. Despite the years he’d been away from trawling, he always looked like he’d just stepped off the deck of his beloved Dee-Anne. His beard was still thick and long, although the fiery red had dulled to a stale straw colour. His favourite thick navy cable-knit jumper, sturdy jeans, and his ruddy complexion added to the impression. But his once boundless energy had ebbed away over the decades, leaving arthritis encrusting his joints like unwanted barnacles. These days his sea-watching was restricted to observing the younger, fitter men take their high-tech vessels out for weeks at a time, for the occasional parade of large yachts down the coast, and for chewing over stories with his mates down the local pub.
It was during an animated discussion the night before when one of his fellow retirees had mentioned the cyclone that had hit the Gold Coast in February 1954. Magnus had been a young captain then, working a wooden prawn-trawler off Yamba on the northern coast of New South Wales. They’d prepared for wind and rain, but the storm had been beyond anything they’d foreseen. Two days into their usual three-day trip, the sky turned a strange shade of purple and the seas calmed unexpectedly. The sun appeared to move across the sky as sheets of rain suddenly swept across the boat, and the wind felt as though it was blowing directly down on them. The waves leapt around them without rhythm. His crew sheltered in the steamed-up cabin, so only he, at the helm, saw what happened next. To this day he’d never told a soul. He preferred to forget the events, so jarring they were to his sense of reality. Only the object flung onto the deck of his boat, now dried and hidden in his attic, testified to the truth of his experience.
He’d avoided the attic entirely for the past twenty years, simply because he couldn’t face the memory. He couldn’t decide if it hinted at early dementia, weather-driven delirium or simply a wildly fanciful imagination. But today the electrician was coming to fix his heating and needed access. Magnus decided that he’d better check the room before he threw it open to its first ever visitor. He hobbled carefully into his hallway and unwound a rope secured to a cleat on the wall. Holding tightly to the handmade monkey fist at the end, he pulled to release the catch that held up the attic stairs. Resisting at first, the stairs finally gave way with a creaking sigh and were lowered to the hallway floor. He secured the rope handrails, then climbed slowly, his knees groaning reluctantly beneath him.
Reaching the top, he stepped into the dusty room. He glanced through one of the tiny, peaked attic windows, noting an enormous container ship on the horizon. The clouds were bearing down on it. He turned to the boxes, eyeing them grudgingly. Up here, the atmosphere was thick with a presence that couldn’t be explained away as mere dust. He lifted a few boxes of unknown ephemera and put them aside, his mind now fully focussed on the timber ditty box lying below. He pulled his keys from his pocket, wondering at the box key that he’d carried for so many years. Despite its lack of use, the key was worn smooth and shiny. His fingers had regularly played over its profile like a brass version of worry beads. The key slid easily into the lock and Magnus jumped as the catch sprang open. He looked around, as if someone was watching over his shoulder, then remembering that he was alone, lifted the lid. The object lay still, partially shrouded as it was in the torn and stained fragment of his shirt that he’d rescued it with from the deck that day. Its metallic scales glinted blue, green and gold as a ray of sunlight abruptly lit the room. What passed as a mouth was silver and barbed. The single, glossy black eye appeared lifeless, but irrespective of the years it had lain hidden, the creature still gave him the eery feeling that he was being watched.
He closed the lid and replaced the padlock. The sun vanished as quickly as it had appeared as the storm moved in closer. Now barely visible out to sea, the container ship was shrouded by dark, menacing clouds. The sound of the wind was split by the round undulating clang of his ships’ bell mounted at the front door. He descended deliberately, feeling carefully for each step, then let the electrician in and pointed to the stairs. Magnus moved into the kitchen and put the kettle on, watching out to sea at the clouds jostling for position. A cold shiver ran up his spine as he noticed the clouds turning purple, and he listened for the electrician who was clunking away upstairs. His old ditty box was safely stowed in a corner of the attic out of the way. He jumped as a flash of lightning burst across the horizon. The thunder rolled in a second or two later, forcing the usual grimace of awe across his features. He was about to call the electrician down for a coffee, thinking it would be safer while the storm front passed, when a bolt of lightning cracked deafeningly close to his house. The electrician scrambled down the ladder and joined him in the kitchen.
“That was a bit close for comfort!”
“Aye. She’s an angry one, this one,” nodded Magnus towards the window.
“I think I’ll call it a day. I’ll be back on Thursday, if that suits you?”
“No problem. We are fine with a wee wait. Off you go then.”
“By the way,” gestured the electrician on his way out the door,” you may want to check on your cat. It sounded like it was chasing something in the corner of the attic.”
Magnus closed the door behind his visitor, then ambled to the hallway, pausing at the bottom of the attic ladder. He didn’t have a cat, and it was a long time since he’d had a possum or rat resident in his roof. Looking up towards the access hole, he noticed a glow coming from within and thought the electrician must have left his torch behind. He made his way carefully up the ladder, into the attic and across to the source of light. It was not a misplaced torch – the glow was seeping from the seams in his ditty box. He made up his mind then and there to return whatever it was to the ocean from where it had come. It was not his, and he didn’t want to remember the experience. It was better off surrendered to the deep where it could glow all it liked unseen. He retrieved an old canvas sheet from his storeroom, then wrapping the box loosely, carried it carefully down the ladder and out to his car.
The weather was fast transitioning into a ferocious storm, but Magnus was never put off by weather when he had firm land beneath his feet. He donned his weather-beaten oilskin jacket and fishing boots and drove the car down to the pier. It was thankfully deserted. The horizon and the container ship were now completely obscured by menacing, purple clouds. Carrying the box to the end of the pier, he sensed dawning relief that this would finally be over. His box would carry its secrets to the bottom of the sea, and the storm would deal with the contents. He placed the box on the timber decking and unwrapped the canvas. The wind tore the sheet from his hands and blew it over the opposite edge into the foaming water. He watched it go, helpless to stop it. Lighting blitzed the ocean again, and he checked his balance as the thunder rolled through, the vibration seemingly magnified by the wooden structure up through his feet. Grasping the box firmly, he walked to the edge and flung it as hard as he could out into the waves. The swirling wind lifted the box away, then violently returned it to the pier, smashing it into the pylon. The box sprang open, and a glowing figure, scales reflecting the surface of the water, spun upwards.
A sudden downward blast of wind knocked Magnus off his feet, and he landed on his hands and knees. Before he had time to react, a force grabbed him around his chest and hauled him into the air. He could see the pier getting smaller and smaller below him, as one of his boots fell off and disappeared with the falling rain. Up, up, up he flew until he was dragged into a void and fell gasping for air on a metal floor. He turned to see his captor, the three-limbed scaly critter that had lain dormant for so many years in his attic. Its eye was now clearly alive and the barbed mouth mobile.  Beside it stood a larger creature covered in black scales with a many tentacled face. They spoke in a foreign, expressive tongue to each other, the larger one apparently congratulating the smaller.
Magnus couldn’t make sense of the language, but the meaning was clear. It had taken years of patience, but the fisherman had finally taken the bait.

The One That Didn't Get Away: Work
bottom of page