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The Painting by Christopher Butt

The Great Southern Shore Museum.

“This was the last picture my grandfather painted,” Roberta Barton said as she pointed to a picture on the wall. “It was done on the day he confessed to his best friend that he accidently killed his brother. I think this picture brought him some peace.”

“What would drive him to confess such a thing?” her friend James from Toronto asked.

“He was sick with lung cancer and decided that the time was right.”

“A death bed confession?”

“No, he wasn’t bedridden, but he didn’t have a lot of time left. He told me later that sometimes you need something wrong with your chest to help you get something off it.”

James nodded and stared back at the painting. The Newfoundland community portrayed in the picture felt like a place of peace in stark contrast to the sea whose tranquility could change in a heartbeat. Stories of lost men and women on the sea permeated the island nation and filled funeral homes with crying families.

“What’s the story then?” James asked. “You’ve piqued my interest.”

Roberta sighed and led James to a bench in the middle of the hall. She tugged at her wool turtleneck sweater and brushed the curly red hair from her face. James could tell she was hesitating. After straightening her plaid skirt and looking down at her boots, she asked, “Do you know what a Kraken is?”

“Yes, it’s a sea monster. Wait a minute, you’re not going to tell me some wild fairy tale, are you?”

“I knew you wouldn’t understand,” she said, and started to get up.

“Wait,” James said and gently touched her arm. “I’m sorry. Please carry on.”

Roberta saw the sincerity in his face and sat down. She looked back at the painting to give her strength.

“It was the last day of lobster season.”

Forty years earlier.

John Simms grabbed the ax from inside the wheelhouse and stepped out into the driving rain. He instantly lost his balance. His shipmate Bryan was pinned to the stern of the boat by an ungodly appendage. John staggered toward his friend and raised the ax.

“Do it!” Bryan screamed as he struggled for his life.

John drove the ax through the slimy limb. Blood shot from the stump as it slithered away into the water.

“Get Tommy!” Bryan screamed as he worked the hooks and suckers off his skin.

John turned and, holding the ax in one hand and steadying himself on the railing with the other, he made his way along the starboard side. Ignoring the tentacles that gripped the boat, John saw Tommy at the bow swinging a baseball bat at the black stone beak that snapped at him. It was having little effect.

In the water to the right, John spotted the giant demonic eye of the creature. Thinking fast, he dropped the ax and pulled a harpoon off its hooks. Steadying himself against the railing, John threw the harpoon. It struck the eye, sending blood and white fluid into the water.

The creature screamed and released the boat. As it slunk beneath the waves, it showered the boat with ink. Tommy turned around and looked at the blackened face of his friend and started to laugh. John wiped his face and smiled.

As Tommy walked toward John, a tentacle shot out of the water and grabbed him around the waist. He was pulled toward the railing but managed to brace himself. John reached down, grabbed the ax and raised it above his head. As he brought the ax down, the boat shifted in the stormy waves. Tommy’s eyes went wide.

John looked at the ax that protruded from Tommy’s chest. A sad smile came over Tommy’s face as he was pulled over the side. John fell to his knees and cried. Bryan came up and knelt beside him.

“Where’s Tommy?”

“It got him,” John said, looking down at his hands.

Bryan screamed and got to his feet. He stood at the railing, yelling and ranting at the sea. John stared at the deck, shaking.

Present day.

James shook his head and stared back at the painting.

“I’m sorry but I don’t believe it. It must be a tall tale.”

“Not according to my grandfather. In fact, on the day he told Bryan, a large mysterious carcass washed ashore about ten kilometres down the road. It made the national news.”

“I guess I wasn’t pay attention to the news that day,” James said.

Roberta was about to speak when a young woman touched her shoulder.

“Excuse me, Roberta, you’re wanted at the front. A gentleman wants to buy one of your grandfather’s paintings.”

Roberta acknowledged the young lady and said to James, “Stay there, I haven’t finished yet.”

James chided himself as he watched her go. He didn’t mean to come off condescending, but you didn’t hear stories like this in Toronto. When he turned back to the painting, an older gentleman was standing in front of it. James stood up and joined him.

“Did you know John Simms?” he asked the old man.

“Yes, I did. In fact, he was my best friend.”

“So, you know the story?”

“Quite well,” the old man said.

“Forgive me, but I have a hard time believing that a giant octopus attacked that boat.”

“Believe what you want,” the old man said, taking off his jacket. He stretched out his forearm for James to see. It was covered in perfect circles with dots in the middle. Rubbing his arm, Bryan said to James, “Still hurts, but not as much as losing my brother over a few lousy lobsters.”

Bryan turned and walked away. As he watched him go, James spotted a painting he missed earlier, and a chill ran up his spine. It was the creature from the story. James felt sick as he imagined the tentacles reaching out of the picture for him as its giant eye looked straight through his soul.

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