The writing group was asked to write 500 words beginning with “It was big…”
It was big…
“It was big”. That’s it? That’s all he’s said?”
“Yes. From the moment we found him, that’s all: it was big.”
“And he was just sitting there on the beach?”
“Just above the high water line, and more curled up, cowering like.”
“Any idea who he is?”
“Nope, no I.D. at all. He was wearing yellow oilskins though, well what was left of them. There’ve been no Maydays tonight, but he must have come from a wreck. I’ve alerted the team for a search from first light, if anything else has come ashore they’ll find it.”
Coastguard Sector Officer Barnard stood in his dripping grey waterproofs and stared beyond the rain spattered window, the only sounds the hiss of the radio that wove with the shrieking storm outside. After a while, he turned back to his Station Officer.
“You seem to have everything covered but keep a visual watch going, and listen out on Channel 16. I’ll go and see him; which hospital did he go to?”
“The Cottage, but apart from shock he was uninjured so they discharged him to the Mission; that’s where he is now.”
The Fishermen’s Mission was in a narrow lane off the harbour. Barnard parked on the quay, by the bucking sheltering boats, and ran to its door splashing through puddles of diesel-sheened rainwater, the acrid scent of smoked fish in his nostrils. The Mission’s canteen smelled too: of stewed tea, baked beans, and stale chips. Barnard found him there, alone amongst the otherwise ordered tables, at the centre of a widening whirlpool of furniture: a human maelstrom thrashing and pushing away everything around him.
Barnard grabbed an overturned chair and sat, but immediately found himself fighting the man for control of the table between them.
Eventually, whatever the man was grappling with relented and his clawing hands moved instead to encircle a half-spilled mug of tea and rum. Draining it in one swallow the man stared silently into its empty depths, searching. Then he suddenly slammed the mug down, his wild red-rimmed eyes looking directly into Barnard’s and said, almost pleading, “It was big. Big”.
Barnard spoke quietly, reaching out a hand to reassure him. “You’re safe now. Safe, do you understand?”
But the man recoiled, seeing something other than compassion in Barnard’s still glistening wet arm. He howled. “Safe? Safe? It was BIG!”, and then overwhelmed he fell forward, wrestling again with his table demon.
By morning the man was re-admitted to hospital, deranged beyond comfort of reason, religion or rum. A boat was reported missing, but the searchers found nothing.
A few days later, further up the coast, a trawler snagged its nets on something that towed it backwards for 5 miles. They thought it was a submarine, but the navy said that none were in the area.
Later still, a dead Sperm whale washed up. Not of itself unusual, but its stomach contents were: lengths of thick tentacle, a huge gelatinous eye, and a beak festooned with shredded yellow oilskin.
05 September 2014