by Jean-Francois Dubeau
I wrote two stories for the Sword & Laser Anthology. I don’t like to think of the results as being rejected as much as being ‘not accepted’. Regardless, I’ve decided to publish one of them here, on Foil & Phaser for the public to enjoy or critique. I invite you to check out my nascent blog where I chronicle my slow progress towards hopefully, one day, getting a book published, as well as art, stories and other nonsense.
My grandpa is a living cliché. He’s an old wrinkly bag of mischief. He’s never met a nurse he didn’t hit on and he seems capable of producing candy for children seemingly from out of nowhere. Like many old men, he seems to go back and forth between being a deep well of wisdom and an insufferable pervert.
As with people of his generation, he’s also prone to tall tales. A veteran of two wars he’s got more scars than years and two stumps for good measure and you can be sure that he hasn’t endured a hangnail without coming out of it with a story of heroic courage.
Between how he lost his arm in Korea by throwing away a ration container onto a land mine and seducing his way out of a Nazi POW camp in occupied France, you’d think there was nothing the old man wouldn’t invent to make himself seem interesting, but of all the old wounds he likes to brag about, it’s the one on his left calf that has the more incredible tale. That’s because it’s completely batshit insane.
Now, I haven’t been able to verify half of gramps life. Even his service record is hard to make sense of, but I do know that he has lived an interesting existence. Grampa spent most of his life in the service, at least that much is true. In fact, you could say my grandfather practically worships the army, and why wouldn’t he? Being in the service probably saved his life.
Before joining up, he was a street urchin, doing odd jobs, begging and stealing, essentially living the life of a Charles Dickens character but in Boston instead of old England.
That’s when and where he got shot in the leg by a cop. At the ripe old age of twelve. Wait, that’s not the crazy part. Let me tell you the story.
The Great Depression was still almost a decade away, but somehow, my grandfather, Kent Birmingham, had managed to explore new depths of misery and impoverishment. Orphaned when he was a decade old, he somehow slipped through the cracks and fell under the system’s radar. Yet, he’s always credited those times as the years when he grew the thick shell that would take him through two wars, countless wounds and a field amputation, all with a smile on his face.
Kent kept himself alive, and quite lavishly by the standards of the homeless, through a clever combination of thievery and hard work. A natural disdain for authority made him shy from any offer for help and fierce pride had him turn most handouts away. Between unloading boats and running errands for sailors, such as delivering messages to prostitutes on their behalf while posting letters to their wives and girlfriends at home, Kent would help himself to any piece of stray food left unattended.
It’s after having lifted a whole crate of oranges from a merchant who was setting up shop one morning that Kent made the first of two unlikely encounters. I use the term ‘unlikely’ because it would be disrespectful to call it impossible or even more accurately; insane.
He probably would have been fine pocketing an orange or two, but greed and hunger conspired to convince Kent he could somehow get away stealing a full crate of the precious fruits, in the middle of winter no less. Success would have made him a king amongst his ilk, if only for a day or two. Even Cheap Chad would have parted with some the delicious fresh bread he somehow managed to regularly acquire for a single ripe orange. Unfortunately, things didn’t work out that way.
Less than ten paces after having picked up the crate, Kent heard the shop owner call out: “Thief!”
“Oh well,” thought Kent, “worth a shot.” before tossing the crate over his shoulder and high-tailing it towards the most crowded street.
If there was one thing the boy could always rely on, it was the slow reaction time of the average crowd member. Most people were much too focused on their own affairs to attempt and apprehend a running child. The same however couldn’t be said of local authorities. With the cops, it was always a gamble. While most of them were much too disgruntled to bother with petty thieves, occasionally, there was the one officer who took his job much too seriously.
So Kent wove through the sailors, merchants and travelers, hoping to make it to a narrow alley before anyone cared enough to snag him by the collar. The last thing he wanted was to be relegated to an orphanage. So it was, that by worrying too much about who was behind him that he didn’t notice what was in front of him. When he rounded the corner and into an almost empty street, he ran headlong and full tilt into someone else.
Kent and the stranger both exploded into a cloud of sweet-smelling, white powder. Knocked to the ground and winded by the impact, it took Kent a moment to rally his senses.
“You god damned idiot!” he screamed before he could even piece together what had happened “Why don’t you look where you’re going?”
He was met with little more than angry, annoyed mutterings that didn’t even seem aimed towards him. Unintelligible words intermingled with harsh curses and pleas. The one behind the strange utterances looked like a child roughly the same age as Kent.
Kent thought he knew pretty much everyone on the streets. After all, on particularly rainy or cold days, they’d all gather and huddle near the warehouses on the docks (or inside them if they could break one of the locks). This kid however was like no one he’d ever seen.
To start with, he was small, maybe half a foot shorter than Kent and thin as an old lady. His eyes were huge with irises a dark pink hue. In contrast, his ears were tiny and jutted out from the sides of his skull like a monkey’s.
What an ugly kid, he thought.
The stranger was struggling to gather up the contents of his bag, stuffing handfuls into the pockets of the many coats he wore; a full kilo of pristine white baking sugar that had spilled to the ground and was now sinking into the moist mud between the cobblestones.
“He turned here!” Kent heard a voice call out. It was Carlyle; half-cop, half-mule, all idiot. He was overweight and lazy, concentrating all his efforts into harassing the homeless, the beggars and anyone whom fortune had overlooked. Kent had run into him, sometimes literally on several occasions and the fat representative of the law was probably responsible for the boy’s aversion to authority in the first place.
“Aww shit.” Kent murmured under his breath. “Let’s go!” Without thinking, he grabbed the other boy by his collar and dragged him away from his pile of sweet treasure. It took a second for the other kid to gain any momentum as he was always looking back to his lost plunder, but once he got going, the little bastard was as lithe and quick as an alley cat. He climbed up a gutter, inviting Kent to follow and once both boys were on the roof, took out a large rusted rivet from one of the many pockets that lined his many coats and tossed it at a pile of refuse in an adjoining alley.
Crouching down, not to be seen, both boys listened to make sure officer Carlyle has taken the bait and was well away before daring to say a word.
“Thanks for dragging me out of there.” the strange boy said, straightening a jacket that lay under several layers of other shirts and overcoats. His hair was platinum blonde and blindingly pale in the morning light, adding to his already weird appearance. Kent thought he might be an albino, though he couldn’t be sure as he’d never seen one before.
“Hey, no problem. Sorry about your sugar.” the apology couldn’t have been more sincere. That much sugar would have been an amazing source of barter or perhaps the boy could have sold it for actual money. It was a score worth mourning over and Kent understood the loss.
“Don’t worry about it.” the strange boy answered in a distracted tone. He had a strange accent, not quite Irish and not quite French. “If you’ll excuse me, I have to go find a replacement now.”
The boy stood up and looked around, taking stock of where he was. Once his bearings reaffirmed, he looked up at the bright sun and sniffed the cold air. An ephemeral smile curled up on his thin lips for the briefest of moments. Then he started walking on the rooftop in some arbitrary direction.
“Hey! Wait up.” Kent lept to his feet and followed. “Maybe we can help each other. I’m Kent by the way.”
“Ophelius.” the boy extended his hand in a courtesy that was unusual to my grandfather at the time. Strange boy, strange name.
“If we hurry, we can probably get a few loafs from one of the bakeries on Causeway.” Kent answered, returning the handshake.
“Bread’s no good.” Ophelius answered as he crouched to climb down a gutter.
“What do you mean? Warm bread’s the best! And I know we can score a couple of loaves if one of us distracts the baker.”
“Sorry. I can’t help you. I need sugar.”
“Sugar?” it was an oddly specific demand. Usually getting any food was immensely fortunate, good food even better, but no one without a roof over their head should be that picky.
“My master needs sugar. Only sugar and lots of it.”
The two of them walked near the waterfront. Ophelius was staring at the various shops and eateries, looking for something sweet to go unattended. Meanwhile, Kent couldn’t take his eyes off his bizarre companion.
The boy kept shivering despite his many coats and jackets, even though the weather was getting warmer, almost pleasant. In fact, it was one of those days when Kent was glad he had no school, work or family to hold him down and he could loiter around the marketplace with impunity. If he hadn’t been so intrigued by his new friend, his day would have been dedicated to mischief.
“So who’s this master of yours? Is he your teacher? Your boss?” Kent figured that Ophelius probably worked for another bum or maybe a gang. He’d stayed away from gangs himself, not wanting to get involved in the politics and violence that seemed attached to them.
“Neither of these. He’s my master, my lord. I take care of him and one day, he’ll reward me.”
“What kind of reward?” Kent asked, his curiosity increasingly teased.
Ophelius answered with nothing more than a sincere smile of absolute optimism. Whatever this reward was, it filled the strange boy with all the joy and comfort he needed just knowing that it was to one day be his.
“I want in.” Kent declared before he even knew what he was saying.
“Do you?” Ophelius held his smile but there was mischief in it now, maybe even a little doubt. “And why should my master want you anyways?”
Kent mulled it over, first looking to his feet and then to the horizon. When his eyes landed on a structure to the North, he put on his own wicked grin.
“I know where to get sugar. All the sugar your master could ever want.”
Ophelius was doubtful and immediately wanted to know what this source of sweets was, but Kent was reluctant to let his one bargaining chip go. A couple of years living off of such bartering had thought him a thing or two about playing the game. So a stalemate was established between the boys, one that would be resolved once Kent was allowed to meet with this ‘master’.
They wandered further South until they came to the Terminal. There, Ophelius spotted an abandonned shed, tucked away between two dilapidated railroad cars.
Kent had been here a million times and had never known of this part of the Terminal.
Ophelius motioned for him to follow as he went behind the locked shed where a hole had been dug out of the dirt and gravel, allowing the two boys to crawl under the wall and into the crumbling structure. The shed itself was empty save for an out of place looking spiral staircase that dug into the ground. It was all dimly lit by a few flickering incandescent bulbs that made Kent wonder how the strange boy had found such a luxurious place to squat. Perhaps this ‘master’ had his merits indeed.
They walked down the noisy metal steps a couple of flights until they ended up in what looked like a tunnel, half of which had apparently caved in. The electric wires that kept the room lit and warm still protruded from the rocks and soil that had, at some point, sealed off this end of the tunnel. Kent marveled at his new friend’s good fortune. Clearly, after the tunnel collapsed, no one bothered to check if the other end might have remained intact.
“Whoa. This place is like a palace!” he exclaimed over the echoes of their steps. “How’d you find it?”
Ophelius walked reverently to the other end of the collapsed tunnel. There, a lone armoire sat, gathering dust and debris. Once it must have belonged to some rich owner or perhaps a banker. Now, it just stood there, colorful paint slowly flaking off as the wood underneath rotted from the surrounding moisture and warmth.
“My master…” Ophelius said, perhaps as an answer but more likely as a means of reverential introduction. He then kneeled and bowed deeply in front of the armoire, forcing Kent to wonder if the strange boy might be worshiping furniture.
After a moment, Ophelius rose again, standing up in one fluid gesture and slowly closed the gap between himself and the armoire. Gently, he pulled both doors open to reveal its content of a single item; a huge glass jar. The thing must have been able to contain a gallon of water, but instead, it was filled with a thick, translucent goo in which swam a weird-looking creature. Quickly, the strange boy pulled a handful of the baking sugar he had salvaged from a pocket and sprinkled it into the jar.
The animal was the size of a large rat but looked like a glowing jellyfish. To Kent, it was a wondrous curiosity that fired up his imagination, but to Ophelius, it was clearly so much more. The boy whispered nonsense words into the jar with devotion and reverence. The animal seemed to react to his words, swimming to the surface of the liquid with slow, deliberate waves of the many tendrils attached to its head.
Cautiously, Ophelius presented the jar to Kent, who took a careful look over the lip of the container. The thick syrup reeked of rotting sugar. Yet, despite the repulsive aroma, the creature itself had a unique beauty to it. It’s translucent limbs moved with slow grace and glowed with faint, ever-changing colors. It had no eyes or mouth that Kent could see and looked very soft and fragile.
Strange boy, strange pet.
“I’ve shown you my master, now you must show me where to find more sugar.” Ophelius reminded Kent of their bargain. “My lord hungers.”
Kent smiled. He didn’t mind playing the game. It was a pretty neat pet after all.
The day was slowly creeping towards noon and thankfully, the temperature was still warming up at a pleasant pace. In fact, Kent was surprised at how warm it was and shocked that his new companion didn’t seem bothered by his many layers of clothing. The again, Ophelius was much too busy fussing over his pet to be concerned with the weather.
They had debated hotly on wether or not to bring along the huge jar. Ophelius argued that his ‘master’ needed sustenance as soon as possible and could not be kept waiting. Kent, on the other hand, thought it would slow them down if they ran afoul of some over zealous cops or worst, that they would drop and kill it should they have to run. The strange boy was insistent however and Kent had to relent, figuring that it wasn’t his jellyfish anyways.
They walked through the increasingly busy streets towards the North Beach on Commercial. There, Kent figured, they’d have less chances of looking suspicious and attracting the attention of cops and other curious adults. Intentionally, they stayed under the shadow of the railway, keeping to themselves and talking little to better blend into the edge of the crowd.
People were coming out in droves, prompted by the pleasant change in weather. While it was still bitterly cold, the temperature hovered a little above freezing which was a damn sight better than the bone-chilling frost of the previous week.
Before long, standing high above their heads was the building for the Purity Distilling Company. Already, the air was thick with the smell of sugar. Ophelius wrinkled his nose in disgust. Even Kent, who would never have turned down a piece of caramel or candy thought the odor too overwhelming and sickening. The creature in the jar however was going crazy, swimming in circles through the syrupy goo, almost leaping out on several occasions.
The boys slipped from the crowd and snuck in closer to the large storage tank that was attached to the facility. Overlooked by scaffoldings, walkways and a complex network of tubes, the tank was a monster that contained over two million gallons of molasses. It was an ill-maintained structure that creaked and groaned under the constant strain of its heavy content. More importantly however, especially to the boys, it leaked. Not sufficiently for the Purity Distilling Company to care, but enough for Kent to fulfill his part of the bargain.
It wasn’t the first time that Kent had come here. On days where food was particularly scarce and Boston was especially stingy towards its less fortunate residents, he’d come here to scoop up a couple of handful of the sticky syrup. On average however, he avoided it if possible. That much molasses would give him terrible stomach aches and the places where the leaks were the most convenient were also too exposed, leaving him open to being caught in the act. Having sticky hands for the following day was also rather unpleasant.
This was different though. While he might have avoided it for himself, it was mostly Ophelius who wanted the sweet goo.
They finally arrived near the spot Kent had been looking for. It was too close to the street but by far the easiest to get the molasses from. The ground was sticky and brown with the stuff. In the summer, all manner of insects would buzz around, getting caught in the syrup. The constant sound of wet globs of sugary slime slapping against the floor guided them to the exact place where they’d find the leak.
Ophelius wasted no time. As Kent stayed back a few paces, keeping his eye out for the cops or an employee of the distillery, the strange boy stood under the leak and held the jar containing his weird pet directly underneath. The slapping sound became a repetitive splash as the thick brown goo dripped into the jar. With each drop, Kent could hear his companion gasp with satisfied enthusiasm.
After a few minutes of this, Kent began to feel nervous. They hadn’t discussed anything, but he had hoped the heist would have been a quick affair. This was taking too long and with each moment the chances of someone noticing them increased. Finally, he turned around to alert his companion that they should probably leave before something unfortunate happened. That’s when Kent noticed that the jar his companion kept his pet in was overflowing with dark brown molasses. Yet, despite the tar-like substance having all but replaced the clear syrup that filled the container, he could still see the glowing creature, now brighter that any incandescent light bulb he’d ever seen. The beast itself was writhing furiously in its jar, swimming around in a frenzy.
Then, the animal that lived in a filthy mason jar hidden in an armoire in a forgotten tunnel spoke to him.
“More!” it demanded. It spoke without a voice, without words. The concept of hunger and the desire for much larger quantities of sweet syrup materialized in Kent’s mind uninvited. The thought could have been his own if it hadn’t been so alien.
“what…?” the boy murmured to himself, struggling with the confusion.
“My master speaks to you doesn’t he?” Ophelius asked, walking closer, a smile on his thin lips.
“What is that thing?” Kent asked stepping back,
“Does it matter? A demon or a god, an angel or devil. He is weak now but if we serve him, if we feed him, he will reward us!”
“It’s a fish Ophelius.” he answered, half arguing and half trying to convince himself that he’d never heard the creature in his thoughts.
“He wants more Kent. We can provide him that. It will make him strong again. We owe him that much.” the strange boy insisted. “And he will reward us!”
“We can’t!” Kent insisted “Where are we going to find more sugar?”
Ophelius lift his head, looking at the enormous tank filled with molasses destined to be turned into alcohol.
“What? No! That’s crazy! We’re going to get ourselves arrested and we’ll end up in an orphanage, or worst. Then you can kiss your crazy fish-god goodbye.”
Ophelius was about to argue further when his eyes went wild and, grabbing his huge jar tightly, he turned on his heels and ran.
Immediately, Kent spun around just in time to see the large paw of officer Carlyle closing on his collar. Instinctively, the boy dropped to the ground, his naked hands plunging into the thick puddle of cold, sticky ooze that was slowly spreading on the ground. Quick as a hare, he sprung back up and immediately bolted after his companion. Judging by curses that rung in his ears, the officer wasn’t far behind him.
Barely a step in front of Carlyle, Kent was desperately looking for a way to outwit or outmaneuver his pursuer. Unfortunately, the resentment and anger of having lost the two boys earlier the same day gave the officer unusual amounts of tenacity while his longer legs made him faster. If Kent couldn’t find something to climb up or under, he’d eventually get caught.
Meanwhile, from behind the boy, officer Carlyle was trying everything in his repertoire to get Kent to stop and surrender himself. One moment he was promising that all he wanted was to ask a few questions, the next threatening to strangle him with his bare hands. A particular comment about how no one would miss him bit harder than anticipated, but Kent kept on running.
After a few minutes of cat-and-mouse, running and squeezing through tight places attempting to get away from his pursuer, Kent heard the voice of his strange companion cut through the sound of his frenetic footsteps and the incessant voice of officer Carlyle.
“Kent!” Ophelius cried out from an open door to the distillery proper. “In here!”
So he didn’t just ditch me, Kent thought gratefully. Ophelius’ initial abandonment had been disappointing if not surprising. The strange boy’s allegiance was clearly towards his squid-master first and foremost. Still, Kent was glad that someone had his back. It was an unfamiliar feeling, but one he could definitely get used to.
Without hesitation, Kent swerved towards the open door, his leather-soled boots skidding off the ground endangering his traction.
Carlyle was just as decisive, following Kent, hardly losing a step in the process. His constant talking had become a constant string of threats and creative cursing.
“We’ll all see how fast you run a leg or two shorter you sewer-swimming son of a bitch! It’ll do the city a kindness to string you up as an example to the other thriving rats that crawl all around the harbor!” the increasingly enraged officer bellowed between labored breath as he struggled to keep up.
Kent darted through the doorway just in time to notice that his head barely cleared a large iron pipe, wielded by Ophelius. Air sang through the end in a low-pitched whistle as the pipe swung, blowing Kent’s hair back as it brushed over his scalp. The sound it made when it made contact with officer Carlyle’s chest was surprisingly low but no less stomach turning as the large tube crushed half a dozen of the officer’s ribs, knocking the wind out of him and sending him sliding back on the floor.
When Kent turned back to see for himself, he was amazed at the sheer size of Ophelius’ weapon. The pipe he was holding, like it weighed little more than a dried tree branch, must have been almost ten inches in diameter and a full inch of iron in thickness. It was roughly six feet in length and there was no way an adult dock worker, let alone a bird-limbed child, should have been able to swing it around like a vulgar baseball bat.
Carlyle seemed to be out cold, sprawled on the floor, his heaving chest showing an unnaturally concave shape. Ophelius looked over Kent for a second. The strange boy looked like a giant in the dim light of the distillery, still holding the enormous pipe, almost daring anyone else to challenge him and his formidable weapon.
Once satisfied and upon hearing the approaching steps of what was likely several distillery employees, he dropped the monstrous pipe, which produced an unmistakable clamor as it bounced noisily to the ground. The strange boy then bent down to pick up his jar and made for a scaffolding which he started to climb with one hand, the other being preoccupied with holding the jar.
Kent couldn’t believe his eyes. Why would Ophelius waste a perfect chance to escape like this? Not to mention he’d just attacked a representative of the law. They had to leave, now. Leave the distillery, leave the harbor. Leave Boston.
“Where the hell Do you think you’re going?” Kent screamed at his fleeing companion while grabbing on to the scaffolding and climbing after him.
“I’ve got to get more sugar…” Ophelius answered obsessively.
“Really? We’re going to get caught!”
Kent continued to try and reason with the strange boy, feeling that he owed him for saving him from Carlyle, who was whining with a gurgle as he recovered from the shock of the assault. His arguments however went unanswered.
As Ophelius finished his ascent, pulling himself on to a platform overlooking the distillery, Kent heard a loud crack that reverberated and echoed through the large room. Almost immediately, his left foot slipped from the scaffolds but when he tried to put it back up, a sharp, agonizing pain exploded in his calf. Looking down at his dangling leg, Kent saw that it was bleeding profusely, a dark red stain blooming through his pants and sticky red liquid filling his boot. Further down, over three stories below him, he could see officer Carlyle, prone on the ground and halfway through the door, pointing a smoking pistol in his general direction.
Realizing he’d been shot and struggling to avoid passing out from the pain and shock, Kent called out one more time to his only ally and companion.
The strange boy looked back, no doubt sensing the urgency and distress in Kent’s voice. He looked down at the boy, then immediately at Carlyle, who was now training his pistol at him. Ophelius hesitated for a moment, eyes darting back and forth between his precious master, writhing and swimming in its bowl, ever hungry for more sugar, and Kent, who’s strength was slowly failing him.
After an agonizing handful of seconds, the strange boy finally made up his mind. Clenching his small jaw in determination, he turned away from Kent, ducking lower on the gangway to gain cover from Carlyle’s gun and went on running.
“God dammit…” Kent murmured as he watched his only chance to avoid a fall run off towards the giant molasses tank.
When Ophelius reached his goal, a covered port that gave direct access to the content of the monstrous tank. Carefully, he put his jar down and pried open the cover, allowing a large cloud of thick vapor to billow out from it. Then, with utmost reverence, the strange boy scooped up his strange pet from its jar and with much ceremony, held it aloft over the opened access port in both hands. Unmitigated joy radiated from Ophelius’ face as he murmured something unintelligible to his master before carefully lowering it towards the steaming molasses in the tank.
Then, Kent heard the loud crack again. At first, he was afraid he’d been shot a second time and was terrified of the pain he’d feel once his nerves caught up with events, but the bullet hadn’t found purchase in his flesh. Instead, it was Ophelius who fell to the ground, crumbling like a tent without a pole. The strange boy did not cry, whimper or even attempt to steady himself, dropping the most precious thing he knew irretrievably into millions of gallons of molten syrup.
Who knew Carlyle was such a marksman? Kent thought, seconds before he heard the rumbling.
That’s when grampa’s story becomes really hard to believe.
After Ophelius’ master dropped into his much coveted molasses, all Kent could think about were new and painful ways to wedge himself into the scaffolding to avoid his fall to the ground. Several times he’d instinctively forget about the raw wound in his leg and use it to try and stabilize himself, each time worsening his situation as the pain got more debilitating.
However, before he could fall to the ground, a low rumbling started emanating from the gigantic tank. Soon, rivets began to pop from the structure as the immense container strained and buckled from some unseen assault. After a moment, the turmoil calmed down, but only for a second before the whole tank exploded.
The outer shell seemed to fall off as it was crushed and submerged by two and a half million gallons of burning molasses. The steaming syrup spilled in every direction, crushing and swallowing everything and everyone in its path. The interior if the distillery became an instant pool of flowing sweet tar that half drained itself into the crowded streets of Boston and half poured into Charles River. The sound of twisting metal, crumbling bricks and screaming men, women and horses were deafening to Kent, who through the miracle of adrenaline and good fortune, held on to the only part of the scaffolding that wasn’t torn asunder during the catastrophic collapse.
In the middle of the confusion however, as the world seemed to rip itself apart around him, doing its very best to drop the boy into the flowing hot molasses to drown, Kent witnessed the unbelievable.
Out of the viscous, steaming sugar rose an impossible creature. Lifting itself on three thick tendrils, the monster extended itself vertically to tower over Kent who was still hanging over thirty-five feet in the air. As brown syrup slowly oozed off its body, it revealed translucent skin that glowed with coruscating patterns of vivid color. The beast shook off the worst of the remaining goo before swinging its enormous head towards the boy. For a second, it looked at Kent with three golden, alien eyes that were deep pools of unearthly intelligence.
It was Ophelius’ jellyfish at its full potential. Fed to satiation, it had unleashed its true form.
During that brief moment of communion with the monster, Kent understood the devotion and reverence that Ophelius must have felt towards it. Assuming the strange boy had been able to perceive but a fraction of what Kent now saw in the beast’s eyes, then the fear alone would have been sufficient to elicit obedience in but the bravest and most foolish, let alone a young boy.
Then, without further action, without helping him or attacking him, the creature coiled itself and plunged back into the flowing river of molasses, slipping off towards Charles River with two fluid strokes of its powerful tendrils.
Numb, Kent hung from the remains of the scaffolding that still threatened to drop him to the ground. His arms should have been burning with the continued effort of holding him up and the pain in his leg and loss of blood should have rendered him unconscious by now. However, the boy felt like he’d just stared into the face of god, and perhaps he had. His mind couldn’t be bothered to process anything else for several minutes, let alone trivial things like pain or shock.
Eventually, grandpa did pass out and fall to the ground. Despite the thick layer of cooling molasses, he still managed to break an arm. In the end, the incident landed him in a hospital and, ultimately, an orphanage.
Gramps never told us if he ever found out Ophelius’ ultimate fate, or what became of officer Carlyle. Though, in he confusion of the catastrophic events, anything is possible.
Then again, there’s very little reason to believe any of it either. The ramblings of an old man or the flights of fancy of his younger self. Misremembered dreams that, with time and age, bleed into reality. Still, gramps told us a lot of stories before he passed away. Tales of fixing the engine of a B-17 while standing on its wing, thousands of feet in the air or wrestling a bear at a circus on a dare. Had all of it been true, his memoirs would have been encyclopedic in size and legendary in breadth. In the end though, none of his imaginings ever delt with the supernatural the way this one did, nor did any invite the kind of mournful wonder in his eyes that he got whenever he’d recount this particular story.
I wonder sometimes if gramps really did see that creature. If gazing into the beast’s eyes is what makes him stare into the distance in quiet amazement during each retelling. I like to imagine that, of all his stories and long form lies, that one stands out as true and that every other tale is but an attempt by an old man to frame one incredible event in an otherwise ordinary life. That somewhere in the world’s oceans, because of my grandfather’s unwitting action, there swims a god.