And that's where it happened.
The dark mudflats loomed like wet, flattened dunes stretching deep into Skookumchuck Bay in front of house. From a distance, they looked too barren to support sea life. Up close, they still did, unless you knew where to find the hearty clams, worms and tiny creatures that flourish in mud so fine that at least two Evergreen State College grads get stuck every June during their naked graduation prance across the bay's shallowest neck. I'm not sure why I decided to take a look. It was still an hour before sunrise, and I knew exactly what the bars looked like in the moonlight, but for some reason, I couldn't resist.
I heard it long before I saw it. It was an exhale, a release of sorts, and I instantly wondered if a whale was stranded again. We had a young minke stuck out there two summers prior, and it made similar noises until the tide rose high enough for rescuers to help free it. You would have thought the whole city had a baby, the pride people showed in guiding that little whale to deeper water. I looked for a hulking silhouette but couldn't find one. I waited, but there were no more sounds. Still, I went toward what I thought I'd heard, avoiding stepping into the mud until I had to. I knew the flats well enough to know I could get stuck just about anywhere. The general rule was you didn't venture out past the shells and gravel with an incoming tide. I sank up to my knees twice, and numbing water filled my boots.
South Sound is the warm end of the fjord because most of its bays are no deeper than forty feet and Skookumchuck is shallower still, but even in August the water rarely climbs much above fifty-five degrees and it can still take your breath. I kept stepping toward the one sound I'd heard, a growing part of me hoping I'd find nothing at all.
When I stopped to rest and yank up my socks, my headlamp crossed it. My first thought? A giant octopus.
Puget Sound has some of the biggest octopi in the world. They often balloon to a hundred pounds. Even the great Jacques Cousteau himself came to study them. But when I saw the long tubular shape of its upper body and the tangle of tentacles below it, I knew it was more than an octopus. I came closer, within fifty feet, close enough to see its large cylindrical siphon quiver. I couldn't tell if it was making any sounds at that point because it was impossible to hear anything over the blood in my ears. My mother once told me that she had an oversized heart. I took her literally and assumed I was similarly designed because there were moments when mine sounded way too loud for a boy my size.
The creature's body came to a triangular point above narrow fins that lay flat on the mud like wings, but it was hard to be sure exactly where it all began or ended, or how long its tentacles truly were because I was afraid to pry my eyes off its jumble of arms for more than half a second. I didn't know whether I was within reach, and its arms were as big around as my ankle and lined with suckers the size of half dollars. If they even twitched I would have run. So, I was looking at it and not looking at it while my heart spangled my vision. I saw fragments, pieces, and tried to fuse them in my mind but couldn't be certain of the whole. I knew what it had to be, but I wouldn't allow words. Then I gradually realized the dark shiny disc in the middle of the rubbery mass was too perfectly round to be mud or a reflection.
It was too late to smother my scream. Its eye was the size of a hubcap.
From The Highest Tide by Jim Lynch, pages 1-8. Copyright 2005 by Jim Lynch. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission from the publisher except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles or reviews. For information address Bloomsbury Publishing,175 Fifth Avenue, New York, NY 10010.
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