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The Octopus, The Horse and The Maiden

February 18, 2017

onehundredandfiftyseven

 

Once upon a time there was a maiden, though, by the time of our story, she was only a girl. Once, twice, thrice a girl. Perhaps more. For language has decided that, beyond thrice, a thing is no longer worthy of record. And who could argue? Three times anything has ceased to be an action and a matter for the ledger and the courts. It is a nature and is a matter for God, or someone like him.

This erstwhile maiden, this girl by nature, came down to the sea to bathe. In sheaths of cool autumn rain she bent and bowed her bare feet on the damp stones as she floated down the beach. Her hair was the colour of corn, soft as prayer, and her skin had the smell of milk gone sour. She wore a white dress, barely a slip, which she cast off like a caul as she walked down to the cloudy water. Naked, she knelt down in the surf and foam and, with small, childlike hands, she washed herself in the brine.

At a good distance a shadow watched the small white and gold figure attend to it’s ablutions in the rain on this timid edge of the roaring ocean. The shadow was a horse. Made of sinew, glued as firm as mortar and brick. A mountain of ideal proportion, of dense bone and thew. He saw the figure and pricked his ears. Behind him was a rake to which he was lashed. Like a plow in size and resistance but made to sift the grains from the stones of the beach. Day after day he pulled it. Who had set him to the work he could no longer recall. Forward and back for spring summer and winter, before and alike to the tide, forwards and back.

He drew his load closer and closer to the shape that bathed itself in the foam. The closer he came the more his enchantment grew. As the blurred edges became bewitching curves the form dwarfed even the heaving sea in his perception. He stopped just short of her and announced his presence with a stamp of his hoof on the sand and shingle that it was his commission to separate.

She turned and smiled with a smile as pink and white as was her mottled, milky skin, bathed in chill saltwater.

“Hello Mr. Horse” she said.

“Hello young maiden” he said in a voice that was as broad and deep as his chest. “It is a fine day for bathing, despite this rain”.

She smiled shyly and ran a handful of water down the length of a slender arm.

“It certainly is. Have you come to bathe also, Mr. Horse?”.

“No. I wish I were here for pleasure. I must rake the sand, for it is my position”.

“How sad” she said and her blue eyes swelled “however, you have done such a fine job, the beach is a portrait, have you not earned a minute of rest?”.

The horse, Mr. Horse, seemed to fathom this suggestion. His nostrils flared and his tail swished as he calculated the aons for which he had pulled this apparatus and attempted to ideate if, perhaps, this may have earned him the opportunity for leisure, if even for just a minute.

The girl, Miss. Maiden, who had gone back to her bathing, looked back over her shoulder and watched him struggle between duty and deference. His narrowed, roaming eyes caught hers. She smiled understandingly and, inevitably, duty was undone.

“Hmm” said the horse “perhaps. I might. That is to say, I could. My father used to say ‘overworked and unmotivated, the beast becomes the burden’. I would need someone to disengage this rake, of course?”.

“Of course” she smiled and, standing up, naked as Eve, she set about the straps and buckles that so encumbered the horse.

“My” she said as she ran flat his hair that was in disarray from the fixtures “you have been made into muscle by your work”.

The horse, his eyes heavy and his tail swishing with pleasure, allowed her to admire his grandeur in silence. Her tiny, gentle hands worked each fixing and stud til the stud himself, finally unburdened, stretched out each tendon and joint til they bulged under the unyielding hand of the girl.

“You are as much monument as mammal” she said, standing back to appraise him as a whole.

The horse rolled his glassy chestnut eye over her own esteemable form.

“You are an angel to apprehend yourself, Miss.”, he said, giving one final stretch, shrug and shudder to relieve his nude body of the memory of its bindings, “and a nurse to tired flesh”.

She giggled to herself and, returning to the surf, knelt down again in the water. The horse trotted over and stood in the lapping tide. He looked down at the water and then at the naked girl who was scrubbing at the inside of her thigh with her hands.

“Miss, once you have attended to yourself? The water looks very inviting but I am unequipped to enjoy it to its fullest extent” the horse said looking at his dull hooves.

Stopping her own bathing immediately the girl stood, brushed her long damp hair over one shoulder, and began to adorn the horse’s aching muscles with cool water.

“How beautifully your chestnut coat shines when it is wet” she said.

The horse put back his head and faced the grey sky, the drizzle falling and sticking in his long, dark lashes.

And so we have two from our title, and where else would we find our third but in his home, and half of our setting, the tumultuous sea? For our strange bathers were being watched.

He had spied the lonely girl coming down the shingle of the beach, disrobing as she went. He had watched with keen intent as she knelt in the water to bathe. He had watched the horse watch the girl with an intent of its own and had equally watched, though through slitted lids, the horse approach and engage with the girl. Now, though his eyes still watched, his agile, alien mind was trained on the imagination rather than the image. He wondered how he might insert himself to greatest effect amongst our already introduced and enamoured souls.

Let anyone who has never known an octopus bet against him and lighten their purse! For the octopus is the sole survivor of the world that went before, so they say, such is his peculiarity to the rest of us, and they neglect to speculate if he was even native to that penultimate world of which he is remnant. The octopus has made a fool of cataclysm once and such cunning is to be revered.

A shimmer of light rippled across his body in involuntary reaction, and portent, to the idea on which he had settled and, utilizing his most cunning arts, he spread his limbs wide and allowed himself to float up to the surface.

The girl was still bestowing ardent caresses of water across the unending fields of muscle and sinew that belonged to the horse when she saw it.

“Oh! Mr. Horse, would you look?”.

Her hands falling away from his flesh and gathering between her bare breasts she took a step toward the floating object that so intrigued her.

“Mr. Horse, isn’t it beautiful?”.

The shape on the surface of the water was an iridescent marvel of gold and platinum on the grey sea. A facsimile of the sun as it might appear sculpted or in stained glass. Its beams, its spokes, undulated and hypnotised as the shape bobbed in the water. Its core, as bewitching as the boss of Minerva’s shield, was a whirlpool of flax and ochre and pale ozone blue, all intermingling and dazzling the girl who stared, transfixed. Her eyes as wide as a child’s, her mouth opened and she emitted a surprised little moan.

“Oh…”

The horse snorted, as horses are wont to do, but there was derision still to be heard in the sound. He flicked his tail in a haughty way and rolled his eyes to the far end of the beach but, even in his affected disinterest, one could still catch a twinkle in his pupil.

All of this was exactly as the octopus had ordained for, of course, it was he who, with his talent for mimicry, was assuming the guise of the sun. He had no time to relish the efficacy of his actions, all that he had was going into the charade. Each intricate wave of his arm, each pinwheel movement about his crux, each ripple of enchanting colour had to be studied and executed with the utmost delicacy and concentration if he was to continue to captivate the maiden and confound the horse’s earthy charms. Preparing for his denouement he galvanized all his powers of art and deception and prepared his ink pouch.

Still enthralled on the shore, the girl gazed, glassy eyed, into the kaleidoscope of solar colours that continued to spin on the surface of the water.

“Mr. Horse, Mr. Horse, it’s the sun itself, I swear it!” she cried.

“I don’t see how that could be” he muttered derisively.

Either paying no heed or not hearing at all she sighed contentedly as she continued to observe, stood in an inch of water, her feet ankle to ankle. The drizzle that came from the grey sky mixed with gentle tears and her hands at her side fluttered like birds.

“It is. It’s the sun itself. It’s come back” she whispered.

The shifting pattern that the octopus was administering grew in intensity and vibrance. Yellows as bright as a field of cornflower, silvers as delicate as the scales on a fish. For a moment it stopped, a second of infinitesimal duration and, in an explosion of shadow the water around it turned black. The shape’s colours melted into rust and apricot, it’s arms retracted and, in a most perfect impression of the setting of the sun, it sank into the blackness.

The girl watched in equal parts awe and despair. The final act had been of exquisite drama and yet now the show was over. Even the horse, forgetting his supposed disinterest, was watching with anticipation for an encore, his ears twitching hither and thither.

Looking up at the rapt forms from beneath the cloud of ink that still sat atop the water the octopus smiled and allowed himself to float upward. In the slick of shade on the surface, two eyes blinked open.

“My goodness!” cried the girl and started to clap her hands, “Bravo!”.

The horse looked on suspiciously as the octopus adopted a more perceivable colour and floated closer to the beach. He reached a long tentacle to the girl and, as she offered her hand, he wrapped his appendage delicately around it, drew it down and kissed it lightly.

“Oh, what a wonderful show” she squealed as she straightened up. “Wasn’t it a wonderful show, Mr. Horse?”.

“Hmm” said Mr. Horse with eyes as green as seaweed.

Madame et monsieur, I am so pleased you took such pleasure in it. My name is Diogenes, what are your own?”

The girl and the horse looked at each other, a little confused.

“Well, nevermind that” said Diogenes, “How do you both fair on this very fine day for bathing?”.

“Who gave you a name?” demanded the horse of the octopus, quite impolitely ignoring his asking for his health.

“I gave it to myself” said the octopus, Diogenes the octopus.

“Pshwah!” snorted the horse, employing one of his own honed arts, for few if any beasts of the land, air nor sky can snort as a horse can.

“And why, Sir?” said Diogenes peevishly, “An appellation is not a kiss, one may bestow one upon oneself and still retain its majesty”.

“Well, where did you find it?” said the horse.

Inflating somewhat in mass and flushing a royal blue shade, Diogenes answered.

“I read it”.

“Ha!” the horse brayed, “A likely story!”

The girl, seemingly too entranced by the strange new visitor to hear, let alone scold for the impropriety of, the horse’s remarks, looked on, wide eyed.

“Diogenes” she said, reverently, “what a marvellous name. Where did you read it?”.

Smiling with his strange eyes and blushing salmon and plum tones, the octopus replied;

“On a temple wall. Deep, deep beneath the waves where the sun is not lost because it was never known. I reached out and touched it where it was inscribed in the stone. Feeling out each letter and shaping my mouth to their forms I spoke it out loud. It was the sound of a clap of thunder. I knew I had to take it for my own”.

“How exciting!” said the girl.

“What a lot of tripe” said the horse. The girl flashed him an admonishing gaze.

Diogenes was riding a wave of pomp and conceit from which the horse’s disdain could not knock him. He flashed his skin the most regal colours he knew and twirled and twisted his many limbs into fascinating knots as he continued to peacock for the girl.

“What other adventures have you been on, Diogenes?” asked the girl.

“Oh my, too many to mention!” replied the octopus.

“How thrilling!” squealed the girl, reaching out to touch the creature’s peculiar, chameleon skin. “I do love the sea. Did you ever come across a boat in your adventures, Diogenes?”.

“Well, I have scoured many a wreck and found in their bellies such treasures”.

“Oh?” said the girl, and there was a twinge of disappointment in her voice.

“Oh yes” said Diogenes, continuing to posture and pose “quite remarkable treasures, in fact. Metals that catch and bend the light. Jewels cut into the most fabulous forms. Statues so real you would swear they were the subject’s own form petrified and set on a podium”.

Diogenes paused here for gravity. In a sly and mordant tone the horse beseeched him.

“But what of ships, Diogenes, what have you seen of ships that float still on the ocean?”.

“Oh yes” said the girl “tell us, do!”.

“Alas” said Diogene, casting a narrowed eye at the horse, “of them I have yet to be acquainted. But I am sure there is still time”.

“Oh” said the girl and her bare shoulders sank.

“Oh” said the horse, and he flexed his neck, “I’m not sure about that”.

“Don’t say that” exclaimed the girl, her eyes filled with sorrow “There may still be. Just because Diogenes has not seen one does not mean that there are none”.

She stood, abandoning the octopuses studied caresses, and looked out to sea. The horse stepped beside her.

“Perhaps you are right” he mused, “Did you ever see the Admiral in the park?”.

“You’ve seen him too!?” she cried.

“Why, of course. Who could miss a man of such bearing?”.

“Of whom do you speak?” spoke Diogenes, but his voice fell on deaf ears.

“Do you really think he might still sail a ship?” asked the girl of the horse.

“Of course”, said the horse, “for what else could he be waiting so patiently?”.

“Who is this admiral?” Diogenes interjected again.

“There is a park near here” explained the girl, “It is so very beautiful. The trees touch the sky they are so tall and the ground is covered in lush, green grass. It’s as soft as a feather bed. Have you ever been, Diogenes?”.

“No” said the octopus, “it sounds very wonderful” he added, without much enthusiasm.

“Oh it is, isn’t it Mr. Horse?”.

“Quite wonderful” he affirmed.

“There is a fountain in the centre of the park. It’s dry now, of course, though it still fills when it rains” she said delicately and, indeed, her own eyes began to fill as she recounted the place. She placed a steadying hand on the horse’s broad shoulders as he smiled out to sea.

“There’s a man in the fountain” she continued, “He’s made of stone. He wears a coat of stone, too. A great shipman’s jacket, the kind that can break even the wind at sea. And in each of his upturned hands are a stone compass and a stone spyglass”.

“What a wonderful picture you paint” said Diogenes, “What great man is commemorated by this monument?”.

The horse and the girl looked puzzled.

“It’s the Admiral” said the horse in a condescending tone.

“But which admiral?” said Diogenes, “there have been many. Surely whoever erected the thing left a plaque, or some such, by which to recall the subject?”.

“Whatever do you mean, Diogenes?” asked the girl, “He is the Admiral. Now he is of stone but before… Why, once he must have been of flesh and blood, surely?”.

“I imagine, my dear, it is a statue. A monument to a great man”.

The girl looked perplexed.

“But, who could have turned him to stone? Who would be so cruel?”.

“It was never a man. It was always of stone”.

The girl’s eyes flashed and then clouded.  

“Oh, Diogenes, you are fanciful!” she said, “Whoever saw a man of stone walking around, no less one step up into a fountain and stand there as still as a game of Grandma’s Footsteps?”.

“You misunderstand me” said Diogenes, “I am saying the statue was built. Of stone. And only ever to stand in the fountain”.

The girl and the horse laughed and their giddy feet splashed in the shallows.

“Diogenes, you are a silly creature!” she giggled, “You mustn’t tease me just because I am a girl. I certainly never built the Admiral and I cannot believe you kid on that it was Mr. Horse?”.

“It was not I, certainly!” cried the horse, with some pride.

She knelt in the surf and took Diogenes’ arm.

“And what reason could either of us have to make a man from nothing?”, she said as she stroked his tentacle lovingly, “You mustn’t make sport of your new friends”.

Diogenes felt a fool and a child. A gravity built inside him and he adopted a jet black countenance out of which his eyes burned like hot coals. He wrapped his tentacle gently round the girls forearm and locked it like a subtle vice. Altering the geography of his nebulous body in such a way as his voice would boom and whisper both at once, he spoke;

“There was a time, once, when men of flesh and bone took iron, stone and pitch and built entire worlds. Such was man’s capacity to create that he dreamt up a dream of how he was birthed and then built cathedrals to these mothers and idols of his own invention. He painted the walls of his cave, layer upon layer until they became a reality themselves. And from that reality, a New Man was born. But the New Man did not know the joy of creation. He knew his God and did not need to dream him up. And, just as the Old Man supposed in his tomes and testaments, when one knows one’s God in the flesh, such a thing cannot be tolerated…”

He stopped. His strange flesh was as dark and red as a clot of blood. It trembled like jelly.

“…and one will nail him to a lonely tree”.

The girl’s eyes were as wide and wet as pools as she gazed into the octopus’s piercing eyes. Her hands were trembling in his grasp and her pale, naked body seemed to shrink away from the frightening ideas that Diogenes espoused.

“Then…” she said, meekly, “Then we are all alone? Only stone and the wrecks of ships remain?”.

“Alas” said Diogenes, “It is all I have seen. But there is hope”.

He reached out a tentacle and caressed her feverish cheek.

“As long as there is beauty like yours then life may yet best what was lost. Perhaps ships will sail, if only to see your smile”.

“Oh Diogenes” she whispered and, whilst one hand raised his limb to her mouth to be gently kissed, her other slipped between her parted thighs.

The horse had listened to Diogenes’ discourse with a scornful ear. Now, watching the girl’s hand slither deeper and deeper into the shadow between her legs, his fury grew and its white hot core bloomed into desire. He stamped his hooves in the surf and tossed his fetlocks impetuously as he worked himself into a state of frustrated arousal. The girl looked over and her quiet moaning was struck dumb by the sight of his agitated and prodigious issue.

“My goodness!” she gasped and, nervously but impulsively, she took her hand from Diogenes’ grasp and reached out to explore the article of her interest.

Dismayed, Diogenes let his tentacle fall into the surf as he watched her hand, at first timidly, but then with growing boldness, explore the considerable flesh that the ardent horse had presented. The horse himself was grunting and blowing, his feet striking and scraping in the silt.

Diogenes was alarmed and, somewhat, abandoned. But cunning and resolve were his oaths and he knew in an instant that which he could employ to return the girl’s favour. He reached down between the girl’s thighs and drew her inexpert hand from its search. He splayed wide the fingers, held it steady in place and, with his most dexterous appendages, fell about to work with sucker, edge and tip on her Mound of Venus, the fleshy part at the base of the thumb. Exhibiting all of his wild knowledge, the science of the Occident and the esoterica of the East, he manipulated the most secret, but potent, of the body’s sensory organs with a surgeon’s precision.

Woken in chill and, hitherto, unexplored corners of her senses by the octopuses manipulations, the girl cried out in surprise and exultation. She writhed like a cobra and squirmed like a hare in a trap. The horse blew hot breath into the cold, damp air as she adored his most private person. Diogenes churned the silt with his unoccupied arms as he sought best purchase on the girl’s other limb. The girl closed her eyes and moaned, the drizzle falling between her parted lips.

Her two studious paramours, though each lost in their own devotions, found each other’s eye, given time. Course hatred whipped through the air above the girl’s bowed and trembling head.

“Let her go!” snarled the horse, “She prays with one hand only because you bind the other!”.

“Ha!” snapped Diogenes, “Give up and step off, nag. I do more with this little plot of flesh than you could with a sea of young skin. Once she tires of your trinket I will have her forget your existence”.

“Gelatinous fiend! Your magic tricks and stolen words will never keep her heart and they do not distract her heat from that for which it burns!” cried the horse.

“Stinking crowbait! When the fresh sweat on you that sways her good sense has turned to reek she’ll be well beyond its miasma and in my arms. You crude knot of shit and organs, I should crack your neck and have your head as a trap for eels!”

“You slimy bag of fish heads and brack. I’ll smear you across this beach!”.

The horse bounded at the octopus. The girl was saved from a kick in the head only by her collapse into the surf, exhausted by experience as she was. The horse’s hoof came down next to Diogenes with a force that would have clove him in two had it met its target.

Diogenes body flashed a brilliant blue and golden rings woke on his skin like cat’s eyes coming open in the dusk. For, though he had a tongue as sweet as honey, a vein of toxin ran all about him. He coiled his limbs and launched himself at the horse, who reared and pulled his head away, neighing in terror. Diogenes wrapped his tentacles about the horse’s neck and, once his grip on the flailing beast was assured, he tore into the flesh with his horny beak and vomited poison into the wound. The horse screamed and thrashed his neck, throwing Diogenes onto the shingle.

“You have killed me, you treacherous cur!” he cried.

The girl, regaining her senses, lifted her head from where it lay and watched the octopus flail his arms in mockery of the stricken horse.

“You deserve nothing less you priapic thug!” he hissed, “I pity the poor clerk who finds an envelope bearing your glue, for now you’re not even good for that!”.

The horse was beginning to foam around the jaw. Sweat ran in streams down his broad sides. But his race are made of oaken will and, often, as death creeps upon them, they are galvanized to feats and deeds which the other beasts can but dream of. So it was with our Mr. Horse.

“You lousy web of effluent! You cuntish jelly!” he roared.

His eyes were ablaze, saucers shot through with bloody threads. He reared on his hind legs and hung there, his forelimbs treading the air. He leered down at Diogenes.

“I’ll split you like a child whore!”.

He crashed his hooves down and struck the octopus who appeared to burst in a shower of ink and queer blue blood. The horse collapsed in the shallow water by his victim and, drawing a breath so huge the atmosphere seemed to contract, died with the air rattling its way over his yellow teeth.

Diogenes was wheezing in a dusky spreading pool of his own humours. The girl stood up, still shaky of leg from her exertions, and looked down at him. She put a hand to her flushed chest.

“Oh you silly boys” she said, plaintively.

Diogenes tried to speak, but his voice was choked by the various alien ichors which bubbled up from whatever ruptures his rival’s attack had caused. The tips of his tentacles coiled reflexively and the colours of the rainbow flashed brilliant across his body, one by one, until they were all extinguished and all that remained was an ashen mass in the shallows.

“Oh you silly, silly boys” said the girl.

She turned and walked up the beach and across the stones from whence she’d come. The drizzle had stopped and the sun threatened to break through the hoary cloud. She bent to pick up the dress she had abandoned, slipped inside it and disappeared across the horizon.

 

 

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2 Comments
  1. There was something heartrending about that. Something fable-esque and austere and very beautiful but the core of the thing is just throbbing with emotion. I feel like I’ve changed after I read it and it’s been a long while since a story made me feel that way. Thank you for writing this.

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