J S KHAN
J S KHAN // STORIES, ETC.
Deepsea octopus, black bgd, Ernst Haeckel, pub dom.jpg

THE OCTOPUS WRESTLER

The Octopus Wrestler by J S Khan. Fiction. First published // Yalobusha Review Issue 17 2012

 

“For there’s no such thing as a reckless octopus hunter. You’re either careful or dead.”
—Wilmon Menard, “Octopus Wrestling is My Hobby,” Mechanix Illustrated, 1949


STINGRAY PREPARES

With only hours left now before what will indeed prove the most deadly match of his career, “Stingray” Radcliffe Stevens prepares for his confrontation with Gog, cunning progeny of Proserpina, not by watching more footage of his non-terrestrial rival’s ghostly movements, his gliding creep and flow in cold water, but rather staring into his own eyes in the locker-room mirror: singed red halos circling two smoky craters. And those irises once so blue. His optics have been scorched spending too much time in salty seas staring into darkness, the most predacious of all prey lurking somewhere in the murky silence. Stingray retired from such madness years ago, happy to relish a not-yet-forgotten glory, but even in his dreams he still finds himself floating in a similar false serenity: an unseen but palpably present monster slinking in the void below. But where? Inside him? Old Morey, requiescat in pace, once relied on a famous philosopher in the wrong context, explaining to Stingray one morning that he must be careful when staring into the abyss—for the abyss stared also into him. Stingray had never philosophized a wit until this night, but hearing the crowd’s screams shudder through the walls of Kanegawa Stadium as the dwarves finish their tag-team match versus the sea lions, he now realizes he cannot agree more with this sentiment as once expressed by his lost comrade, and thus forever misapplied.

Does Stingray doubt himself then? Is that true philosophy? Forget such rot. But what folly could’ve induced him to return to the aquarium, into Dai Kanegawa’s clutches? Was the death of “Vicious Moray” Vincent Morey, his former friend turned foe turned friend again, all it took to drive him to such wanton acts of suicidal self-negligence, or did his love, however destructive, for Hailey Jane, the aged card-nymph (nereid specifically), play its part too?

Stingray leans back, looking full hard upon his ruinous visage, the thin white scars like spider’s webs down his shoulders and neck, and his left hand minus two digits, the pinky and index finger, reduced to nothing but stubs by Proserpina, the first of her kind, octopus bathymistikos apollyon. Weighing over three hundred kilograms, with tentacles thirty feet in length, Proserpina had been the largest octo ever discovered—until the maturation of her son Gog, who is now already a proven killer and fiend for human blood.

The stadium is filled beyond capacity this night, and Stingray listens as the crowd rattles and shakes the rafters, screams and claps with drumfills echoing from loudspeakers. He slips on his wetsuit, feeling the neoprene cold over his skin. It will take forty minutes for the aquarists to prepare for the battle, and so he begins stretching his legs, imagining Gog in the oversized tank hauled on an eighteen-wheeler and then transferred via a specially designed sling into the aquarium, made of indestructible quartz. Gog’s freakish mantle rears above his dangling tentacles, eyes as big as Stingray’s head (as is shown on the promotional poster, Stingray staring into that enormous alien eye, almost lost in it, an image generated by computers although when first he saw it Stingray shuddered, feeling as if it had been conjured from his own dreams). No doubt Gog broods on the crowd, voyeurs all, with tentacles tasting the air with bioluminescent suckers. Slimy and maladroit out of water—loose sacks of flesh more fit for some planet with a different gravitational field altogether—but in water supple strands of quick moving muscle, and overwhelming in the all-out grapple. Perhaps the most dangerous predator to survive the Mississippian sub-period of the Carboniferous, dark child of the most primal nautiloids.

Standing with knees slightly bent, Stingray extends his arms, breathing deeply, feeling the strain in his upper back followed by a nasty crackling down his spine.

Will he be dragged from the aquarium with a grappling hook snagging his mouth in a grotesque smile? Water dribbling down his chin, his dangling fingers, just like Morey?

Will Hailey scream his name?

 

EXTRACT FROM Nahk, Sonja (2003). An Archeology of Sports: Both a Practical Guide and an Examination of Empire Building via Cultural Imperialism, Phäeton’s Chariot Press.

[under entry ANIMALS IN SPORTS]

…another extreme sport is octopus wrestling, a martial art with deep roots in prehistory. Unlike other sports involving wildlife (see elephant polo preceding), the octopus is no ally to be tamed and trained but rather the very obstacle to be overcome. One even finds traces of the sport’s representation on Bronze Age vases in Tyre when other primitive sports involving animals (see bull leaping) were first being developed in Crete. Yet despite the uncertainty and controversy which surrounds the mysterious origins of the game, octopus wrestling achieved worldwide prominence in the middle of the 20th century, in the 1960’s with annual championships in Puget Sound, Washington. Thousands of spectators attended the event in the western United States, and in 1963 more than a hundred divers from all over the world competed to see who could dive and capture the largest octopus dofleini apollyon, which was the largest recorded species at that timeAs the century progressed, octopus wrestling declined in popularity in the U.S. although it still remained a widespread passion on several islands across every ocean of the earth. Fact: octopus wrestling found a new promoter in Dai Kanegawa, a Japanese entrepreneur who made a fortune promoting various sumo wrestling stables (see sumo wrestling). Despite being arrested for the murder of one of his former employees, Dai Kanegawa was acquitted and went on to accumulate enough capital to build a casino and vacationing hub on the island Aru, located just north of the Mariana Archipelago. The casino’s main draw is Kanegawa Stadium, where the businessman founded the first World Octopus Wrestling League. There, divers and trained combatants enter a 100,000 gallon (approx. 380,000 liter) aquarium to battle octopuses of incredible girth. All octopuses are raised from birth by Kanegawa’s scientists or are snatched from the North Pacific’s intertidal zones. Several critics have filed lawsuits or sought charges against Kanegawa for animal cruelty, while several of his own wrestlers have accused him of extortion. Nevertheless, as no government has jurisdiction over the isle Aru, owned by Kanegawa, the WOWL remains above the law, and fans of the sport multiply yearly… 

 

FROM SUNLIGHT TO SHALLOW

When Radcliffe first landed in Puka Puka all those years ago, he’d walked from the airstrip south to Teonemahina as the sun rose over the lagoon. He had never been on the island before and, walking along the sandbar, drew sketches of insects and lizards slithering over black rocks, a paradise flycatcher flitting about in the understory. He met Rahiti in the village, his contact, who like most of the villagers wore nothing but a loincloth stained the same dirty yellow as his eyes. He also met Vincent Morey, the other marine investigator hired to find out who was purloining the pearls. Morey was an Englishman, unlike Radcliffe, and sat in the shade reading Tennyson of all things.

Rahiti took them both in a canoe north of Puka Puka, toward the isle Napuka. He rowed at a leisurely pace, and as he did he spoke to them in bad French, not knowing English, and he told them about the wrecked farms, the torn locks and raided clams. The lost black pearls.

Rogu-Tomu, he said. The creature whose father created the earth—pulled it from the bottom of the sea.

Morey laughed at that. Have you seen it? he asked.

Only its shadow. Ma c’est la-basSes confreres est partout.

When they reached the smaller atoll they pulled into the lagoon, the water so dark Radcliffe was reminded of the blueholes in the Bahamas, the cavernous sinkholes that harbored all manner of diverse life forms. That night Radcliffe and Morey sat around a fire with Rahiti’s family—essentially the whole village—all of whom worked the pearl farms for the same jewelry company that had sent Radcliffe and Morey, Die Fabel vom Goldland, Inc. The sound of the bats in the caves reminded Radclife of his own home in Trinidad where he’d lived as a boy with his marine biologist parents.

The next morning they ate fish and copra, dried meat of the coconut, then walked the beach with Rahiti and four others who did not speak French but only their own Marquesan tongue. They walked by the sheds where the pearls were grafted and Rahiti and his brethren carried long bamboo shafts.

Are those to fend off Rogu-Tomu? Morey asked.

No, Rahiti said with a smile. For his little brothers.

They came to the first set of cages on the far side of the reef where Radcliffe and Morey changed into wetsuits and strapped on aqualungs. Then they dove down in the warm water, and from sunlight to shallow the lagoon dropped off in a murky abyss. They flashed their flashlights on and found the locks torn open as Rahiti had described, and several rows of clams had been torn open with a precise hole drilled through each shell by what looked like a single sharp tooth. They fixed the locks and rewrapped them in intricate knots, installing three cameras on the beams of the cage. Wartriddled fish slipped by above and watched them with big dead eyes. Turtles and triggerfish, and an enormous stingray like a voluptuous phantom blotted out the sun.

They surfaced and swam back to shore, and when they did they saw Rahiti shouting as his friends dove naked in the water on the other site of the reef. Curious, the two of them padded over in their flippers and leapt in, sinking beneath the frantic bubbles.

Writhing in sawgrass, they saw something billowing round one of the islanders, a flexing mass of muscle first red then orange, then pink, threatening to swallow him. Dust kicked up as they spun on the seafloor and tentacles clenched the man’s wrist as another tightened around his waist and a bulbous head bulged suddenly from the dust and thrashing grass. One large malevolent eye stared at them and Rahiti swam over the men circling the fight and descended over the creature as one of the tentacles shot up to snatch him. It latched onto his chest but Rahiti let it draw him in, straining his neck toward the creature and—in a gesture Radcliffe at first mistook for a kiss—bit it in-between its eyes. The octopus immediately went limp and Rahiti lifted it to the surface where his comrades burst too, laughing and splashing.

Laid end to end on the beach, the octopus was about ten feet long, an octopus vulgaris.

All morning and afternoon Radcliffe and Morey visited the pearl farms along the lagoon and angled, secured, and started the underwater cameras while also replacing the shattered locks. Rahiti and his companions hunted octopuses in the meantime and killed eighteen that day alone, several of the vulgaris variety or south pacific red and a few cyena, dayfeeders in the coral reefs, smaller than the others, all of which they carried back to the village on the tips of bamboo shafts like gruesome trophies or totem masks honoring some ancient alien world. In the village, the women slung the octopuses over ropes before cutting and cooking them, so many that the scent of their wet raw flesh was thick in the air. That night they feasted on the overabundant octopus meat, thick and chewy, and several men played their pahu drums with their sharkskin covers as the women danced, hips vibrating and their arms thrown out. Rahiti explained that it was a dance of great octopus magic to seduce Rogu-Tomu so he might be more easily captured. The women drew octopus shapes on the men’s foreheads with ink from the octopuses’ own sacs and whispered incantations that in their urgency and fervor reminded Radcliffe of the women who practiced obi in Trinidad where his father had studied the coral reefs but where he, skipping school, had mingled with moko jumbies instead, stilt dancers and practitioners of shamanistic magic. Morey merely smiled and muttered with ironic malice:

From many a wondrous grot and secret cell
Unnumbered and enromous polypi
Winnow with giant arms the slumbering green

The next few days nothing happened. The cameras’ feed was accessible via their equipment, which showed a monotonous stream of illuminated darkness interrupted by occasional streaks of gold or silver, tiny schools of fish, or crabs walking over the screen and staring at the light. On their fifth day, they awoke to see the cameras for cage # 3 had been disconnected or broken. One showed simple darkness, the other the nothingness of a bright brown light. Rewinding the feed, they watched on their laptops as something large, a behemoth possessed of an incongruous grace, engulfed the first camera’s aperture, rolling in on a rush of bubbles to tear the camera loose from its cage. The other camera, facing in the other direction, had caught none of this, though the bar it was secured to began to rattle violently until something smacked it loose and it went tumbling to the ocean floor.

Diving down, they found the locks on the gates unhinged and one of the bars snapped clean at a fissure point. The clams had been scattered, many bearing the same perfect hole as the ones from before. Several smaller black pearls glittered in the coral. They replaced the cameras, this time turning them facing one another, as well as adding a third. After twenty days they rowed back to Puka Puka and its airstrip, receiving new equipment and batteries for the cameras. They also sent field reports and all the footage to their employer.

They spent entire days fishing, diving with the men and watching them wrangle with the octopuses, and soon Radcliffe and Morey began practicing with them and working as a pair. They learned the shoulder-slide to avoid the double-row of suckers whenever the octopus lashed its tentacles, how to sever the octopus’ neural line with their teeth alone. They began diving like the other men without masks or wetsuits, and eventually learned to hold their breath over two minutes underwater. Rahiti offered several of his sisters as brides. They told him, to be polite, they would consider it.

On their thirty-fourth day on the unnamed atoll, Radcliffe and Morey were in the lagoon replacing one of the cameras as had become their routine. Radcliffe held the flashlight as Morey tightened the screws on the camera’s sleeve, not really paying attention, his mind occupied by the octopus hunt that evening. Then a tentacle wrapped around his right thigh, sleek and forceful and yanking him down so the flashlight tumbled from his hand. Morey turned surprised to see Radcliffe thrown up against the rails as tendrils withdrew into the depths, a red ink soaking them in sudden shared darkness. Days later a dead tiger shark washed up on the beach, over eighteen feet long, its sides stripped of flesh in long pink lines as thick as Radcliffe’s arms.

 

WONDER YE THEN?

Stingray sees the doors leading from the stadium open as he finishes his stretches, and though he yearns to see Hailey Jane’s long legs step into the room, instead Little China and Snubnose enter. Waterdrops bead on their shoulders and their chest hairs glisten in the fluorescent light. The exhausted dwarves approach Stingray in their scaled, glittering Speedos. Neither speak, though both stare into Stingray’s eyes.

What else is left to say? All three had belonged together to the WOWL’s “Golden Age,” participating in some of its most famous events, such as Tangled Up in Aru, when Vicious Moray and Stingray had fought a gristly battle royale for over forty-three minutes against two Giant Octopus—enteroctopus dofleini apollyon—and three blue-ringed octopus, the secondmost venomous organism found not only in the sea but on dry land as well. It was the same night Snubnose first earned his nickname too, being bitten by a sea lion in the sideshow.

But could they know the sinews of Stingray’s heart if he did not know them himself? For what the octopus had been to Rahiti, a primal Titan connecting all time and space, that was painfully clear; and what the octopus remains to Dai Kanegawa—a means of expanding his financial empire, of which the octopus doubles as a symbol—has always been evident; but what the octopus is for Stingray, that as yet remains unsaid.

Stingray wonders vaguely if the octopus could have meant the same thing to Morey. Doubtful, he thinks, remembering his aesthetically sensitive, vaguely hysterical, rigid friend. Controlled, quiet, ever-driven in the pursuit of a perspective ultimately doomed to failure, hard won, easily lost—a fool’s game. But why are beautiful people so atrocious?

Aside from the more obvious considerations touching on the octopus, there is another thought, or rather, stalking, nameless horror concerning the creature which at times in its intensity completely overpowers Stingray, yet is so mystical and well-nigh ineffable he has succeeded all these years in suppressing its deepest meaning. Well, no longer, for whelmed by his standard pre-match anxiety commingled with grief and foreknowledge of some terrible end, he realizes it is not the weirdness of the octopus but rather its familiarity—the way it reminds him of his own self—that has always drawn him into its cold embrace.

Not so with Morey. There had been something inhuman about Morey, really, the way he’d taken to the sport only to shame himself and scorn his knowledge, to cast off his past, to make himself ridiculous by risking all. For Morey, the octopus became the locus of all his blind desire for self-debasement. What else?

But it would be a mistake to think Radcliffe’s own obsession with the octopus grew from such suppressed desires, just as it would be a mistake to think his obsession grew instead from the stories and mythologies which clung to the mysterious creatures; how enormous octopuses purportedly attacked ships during the Age of Exploration, how Greek sailors fought Scylla or how in ancient Hawaiian myth the octopus was the sole survivor of a former world, having escaped a primordial Ragnarok by crawling deep into the abyss as the cosmos burned around it. All these legends would never have been enough to draw him to so deadly a dance, to give his life to it, though they gave—it must be admitted—a certain fullness to the dream.

Nor could it be said that Stingray finds the octopus a living sign of the Other. Far from it. Nor that he views the octopus as representative of nature itself. In a similar vein, never has he viewed the octopus in conjunction with some wicked empire to be toppled by a gladiator’s fearless charisma. What is Kanegawa but a petty tyrant of the Pacific, one who fulfils a destiny in which he too is ensnared? Certain biological facts might be of passing interest to Radcliffe, a former biologist, but none are or ever were enough to captivate him: such a notion entering one’s head would be as deceitful as the octopus’s own skin-tone, which adapts itself to mimic its surroundings via the flexing of muscles, shifting chromatophores. Nor the octopus’s highly-developed, tentacled brain cushioned by three hearts, having no shell or bones other than its barbed tongue, nothing but a mass of finely wired flesh possessed of uncanny intelligence and an ability to emit its own dark stream while engaged in sexual cannibalism; nor its eight tentacles or the mysteries such a (holy) number represents, from the luck it conjures in Chinese culture to its Hebrew meaning “superabundant fertility”—eight being the number associated with resurrection and regeneration (which stands to reason, as the octopus is known to regrow missing limbs), nor the fact that eight is also the first cube (2*2*2) and thus something of transcendent perfection, the tetrakyt doubled, plus the dominical number associated with the LORD’s name, IHSOUS, or Jesus:

I = 10
H = 8
S = 200
O = 70
U = 400
S = 200
888

None of these facts, either biological or numerological, are of special interest to Stingray—though Morey often enumerated them in his own offhand manner, as if it didn’t matter, when in reality it was clear he clung to such trivia as one clings to the love of a woman whose indifference disdained to annihilate him.

Rather, after being engulfed by the creature’s ink that first time with Morey, Stingray felt some aspect of his own personality rising to the surface, something lurking in his own impossible flux of love and hate and fear. He lived on the surface of his own skin, but something since birth had been hidden inside him, even before that, when he was a shapeless mass of budding flesh: a dense coil of his own self-secreting darkness: some pre-life virus sprouting an invidious worm and feeding at the core of his own heart. His brain? Between the two, Stingray has never distinguished. Yet it is this same intuition, coupled with the conviction that the octopus not only reflects his own inner state but all reality as well, connects all things, entwines him and Morey and Hailey and Kanegawa, is both his hope and terror and entire conception of the universe, yes, never a fixed state but an impossible swirl of becoming in all its elaborate grandeur, tendrils uncoiling in strands across a nebulous void, impossibly phallic, irresistibly labic, the loneliest creature alive yet possessing a gliding elegance like a woman in a lace dress, bubbles bursting from her twin funnels, geysers of worlds, clinamen’s monster, water boiling over her head as stars burst in the cosmic folds of her skin—of all these things the octopus is reckoned in the ruin of Stingray’s mind. Wonder ye then at the fiery conflict the octopus inspires in him, both the loathing and desire?

 

THEIR PERISTALTIC THRUMPING

Kanegawa’s scouts discovered Radcliffe and Morey still environing in the Îles du Désappointement, surprised to find two white men living among the Polynesians and even more surprised to find that they were the two most respected octopus hunters in the village. Rahiti had died earlier that year, but Radcliffe and Morey had both long forsaken their job with the pearl company, Die Fabel vom Goldland, Inc., after the raiding of the cages stopped just as suddenly as it had started. They’d given themselves wholly to the hunt. The Japanese scouts offered them money and fame but this was not enough to draw them to Aru, where the scouts described Kanegawa’s vision to build a “Mecca for all octopus wrestlers,” a place where “heroics beyond those witnessed at Rome’s Coliseum” would be enacted. Still, despite the two men’s curt refusals, the scouts stayed and witnessed one hunt, seeing the enormous octopuses drawn in and surrounded by their native friends, who’d taken to calling them “Stingray” and “Vicious Moray” in their own tongue. The scouts took notes, then left in a canoe for Puka Puka and its airstrip. 

A few weeks later a red seaplane landed near the atoll, and a woman with red hair and a bright green skirt descended from the hatchdoors behind two Japanese men. She was resting topless on the beach when Radliffe and Morey first saw her as they trekked back from the far side of the lagoon with two smaller octopus like Gorgon heads wrapped in their fists.

Been a long time since I’ve seen a woman with red hair, said Radcliffe.

Been a long time since I’ve seen a woman with pink nipples, Morey said with a grin.

That night Hailey sat around the fire with them, drinking a strong coconut liquor. She wore no makeup but was still beautiful despite her thick Australian accent, Radcliffe thought. She told them they were fools not to accept the challenge WOWL offered, adding that in her opinion they were suffering from a particular melancholy associated with tropical climes that was also dulling their senses.

Fighting octopus in a big fish bowl? Morey said. How does that compare to hunting in the wild?

The octopuses bred and raised by Kanegawa are trained from birth for the fight, Hailey said with a smile. They are fed only the finest crabmeat and are much larger and more powerful than anything you’ve ever come across on this island, believe me. You ever seen a Giant North Pacific Octo? No end to the things you can teach them.

Does Kanegawa say the same things about you? Radcliffe asked.

Hailey eventually went to her tent, set apart from the tent shared by the men who escorted her. When she left she threw them both a look over her shoulder, a smirk hiding in her eyes.

A challenge?

The two of them sat around the fire getting drunker, occasionally looking at the other across the flames. Finally they both wandered off, lying under the stars. Radcliffe listened to the sound of the ocean sizzling over the sand and the bats yelping in their caves until he walked back to the village’s outskirts. There he saw Hailey’s tent and inside the light of a faint lantern that had not been burning earlier. A dark groping shadow rolled over itself inside. A faint murmur issued, a few groans. Approaching, Radcliffe saw between the half-open flap Morey behind Hailey, both naked atop a sleeping bag, their eight limbs sliding over each other in frantic frenzied gestures. Hailey looked, her hair falling in her face and her breasts knocking up into her chin as she reached a hand out to Radcliffe, beckoning him, and he slid down to his knees and insinuated himself among their supple bodies, their peristaltic thrumping. Hailey led them on. Radcliffe and Morey did not speak at all.

The next morning Radcliffe woke sprawled near the fire. He did not feel hungover, only slightly drunk, , and he turned to see Hailey’s tent was already gone—as were those of her guards. Trying to remember what had happened, he staggered to the beach and there found Morey sitting in a pair of ragged jeans looking out at the blank sea.

Plane’s gone too, he said. Radcliffe nodded, sitting beside him.  Morey intoned:

This withered root of knots of hair
Slitted below and gashed with eyes,
This oval O cropped out with teeth
The sickle motion from the thighs...

More Tennyson? Radcliffe asked.

Morey shook his head.

Eliot.

Might as well be fucking British.

Three days later the same red widgeon returned, buzzing in from the north. This time Radcliffe and Morey were present to see it land, but when the hatch opened and the two guards dropped the yellow raft, the person who followed was not Hailey Jane but rather a small Japanese man like the other two, only with unusually thick hair rearing from his skull in frosty tufts. The men rowed the raft closer and as it did they could see Dai Kanegawa sported thick glasses and a blue blazer, white-striped pants and gray cowboy boots. When they got close enough to the shore, the two guards leapt out, getting their shoes and khakis wet carrying the sports promoter over the rolling waves.

The great white octopus hunters, Kanegawa said with a smile when the guards put him down. He bowed, and when he did Radcliffe saw the fat diamond in his ear and the rubies stacked atop each other on his fingers.

I come before you in humility, as an admirer and as a potential ally, asking will you join me in the task of erecting a new legend unto the world, a spectacle to resurrect the hope of bygone ages?

Kanegawa spewed such elegance in overly harsh English for hours, his mandibles having long ago chewed such mellifluous thoughts to a potent intoxicant. It felt like he was chewing on their brains. Neither Radcliffe nor Morey really listened, though they signed the papers he presented them without question. Perhaps if they had not spent years away from modern civilization, had heard of Kanegawa’s career as a sumo-wrestling promoter and the countless cases of underpayment and thrown fights due to his ties with the Japanese Mafia—but then, Hailey’s beauty had already enchanted them both. Kanegawa dilated on the constellations they would inhabit, like Perseus and the Kraken, how they would become signs of a lost glory remembered for eternity, literally stars, and not for their own pleasure but to assure the continuity of man’s dreaming—

But who was Hailey, both wondered, reading the same answer in the other’s eyes: Hailey was Andromeda, and, as per the perverse rules of this logic, there could be only one Perseus, one Kraken. Who else?

But who was Hailey really? Another peasant in Kanegawa’s game of castles and towers? She doubled as an aquarist, raising and feeding the octopuses, as well as acting as one of the card nymphs, swimming in the aquarium before the fights with a placard, her bright hair and pale skin illuminated in the tank’s ghostly light, the refrigerated seawater making goosebumps on her belly. Having raised the monsters, she was one of the few people they would not attack and she became just as famous as Stingray and Vicious Moray, who quickly rose to the wrestling federation’s top ranks. When the fierce tournaments ended and one of them stood victor—and one of them alwaysstood victor—she was the one who crowned them, rising on her tiptoes in her two-piece, pearls glistening down her arms and breasts, and her figure stretched over them smelling faintly of algae.

Every spring and summer, tourists flooded Aru and its park by day, visiting the octopus petting zoo before descending into Kanegawa Stadium at night. The rivalry that developed between the sport’s two top wrestlers was intense. Why would Hailey not crown one of them forever? Rumors flew of her skinny dips on the beaches, how she would meet one of them and then the other, swapping partners, sleeping with whoever held the first rank at the time. Guests in Kanegawa’s hotels saw some of these frolics with their own eyes; the island was small, after all. There were times Little China had to tear Stingray and Vicious Moray apart in the locker room as cameras barged in, Snubnose shouting that they should save it for the octopus. Ratings for their fights skyrocketed, and people from all over the world united in their obsession with this private but thoroughly exhibitionist ceremony, a cult following coalescing around a spectacle in which sacrifice remained the basis of entanglement. 

Kanegawa observed every fight from his glass box directly over the aquarium.

 

“WHAT REMAINS UNSAID”:
A TRANSCRIPTION OF A TELEVISED

INTERVIEW WITH “STINGRAY”
RADCLIFFE STEVENS

Q: Your return to the sport—people find it quite remarkable, after your final fight with Proserpina five years ago…

A: [nods]

Q: Do you want to talk about it?

A: Well, it was terrifying, you know? I mean, six hundred pounds of liquid muscle attacking from everywhere, bigger than any octo I’d ever encountered…

Q: After Proserpina, when she grabbed your waist, your face—you couldn’t hear the shrieks from the tank, I’m sure, but the cries in the rafters [shudders]… then the blood…

A: Yeah.  No one had ever been bitten by a bathymystikosbefore—no one had ever even fought one, but the tetrodoxin deadened the pain, made it all look worse than it felt… took my fingers right off though [holds up mutilated left hand]…

Q: But you killed her, in the end, before the venom caused you to stop breathing and you were rushed to the emergency ward. Forty eight minutes—the longest recorded match in the history of octopus wrestling!

A: Yeah. Most octos tire quickly, and the trick is to draw them into a desperate offensive, then outlast their assault until they weary. Proserpina, though, she was different…

Q: And it was the horror of this fight that caused you to retire?

A: What? F— no. It was Kanegawa, that sick f—, sucking the sport dry, having wrestlers throw fights to make more money, the gambling… then Morey and me… [shakes his head]

Q: Were you surprised when you discovered afterward that Kanegawa’s scientists had already harvested Proserpina’s eggs? To find he’d raised the sole surviving paralarvae, Gog, in secret?

A: Not as surprised as I was to find Morey had agreed to return to the tank and fight Gog. I mean, we’d finally gotten loose from our contracts with Kanegawa, finally made peace with each other, put aside the vendetta we’d let Kanegawa manufacture between us…

Q: When Vicious Moray got killed, beaten into the coral—

A: [cuts him off] I’ve seen the footage.

Q: —you issued a statement to the press accusing Kanegawa of knowing full well that Morey stood no chance after so much time out of the tank.

A: Kanegawa’s a bad man, you know? Would rob his own mother, kill his own brother. You asked earlier about harvesting Proserpina’s eggs—but hadn’t he already been accused of tampering with the different octos’ DNA?

Q: Do you think Vicious Moray agreed to fight Gog to prove he was greater than you? Out of remnants of the bitter rivalry that raged between you for over a decade?

A: I… I don’t… [sighs] If I can make it right, I will…

Q: Do you agree with Lacan, believing the death drive is merely a mask of the symbolic other?

A: What? [pause] That’s the kind of question Morey answered. Not me.

Q: Do you think Vicious Moray was still angry because, after you triumphed over Proserpina, Hailey Jane left you both, marrying Kanegawa?

A: [long pause] No comment.

Q: Does a similar anger affect your own desire to battle Gog, who in a psycho-schematic sense could be representative of their first child?

A: What? No f— comment.

 

THE CONCH SHELLS BLARE

The conch shells blare, their high hollow wail sustained in a furious cacophony echoing through the Stadium. Stingray hears their united song pass through him, lulling him, rippling through the fibers of his heart, reverberating in his head like wind in a bell. He turns to the doors, and Little China and Snubnose approach, both nodding and giving him one last slap on the ass. He nods with solemn seriousness, then turns and opens the doors leading to the ramp. The crowds’ roar is deafening, surrounding him in a darkness punctuated by the scattered starflashes of cameras. Stingray moves up the ramp quickly, at a brisk trot, his eyes fixed on that deceptively tranquil gigantic blue cube in the center of the stadium glowing like something descended from deep space. The spotlights find him, rivet on him as he moves, and he hears the announcer’s voice rumbling out his name and the rails clanging around him and sees the faces emerging from the dark along the ramp and the banisters rattling below. The conch shells trumpet again, seeming more urgent than ever before.

Stingray hits the staircase leading up the aquarium’s side and looks up to see the box overhead right before he reaches the top step. Dai Kanegawa leans down in a peagreen suit rubbing one ruby-studded hand over the other, a thin grin frozen on his face. At his side stands Hailey in a dark red gossamer dress, curls tumbling down her shoulders. When her eyes meet Stingray’s, she turns away quickly. His breath stops in his throat.

Just before jackknifing into the cold aquarium (his signature entrance) Stingray feels a lump in his throat as always, something slimy and foreign he can never quite swallow, and instead of hesitating as the camera’s shatter the darkness around him he jumps, curling around his knees and plunging, the cold of the seawater fitting him like a glove. The crowd’s shouts are a distant rumble now. Bubbles hiss. Staring down, he sees Gog slipping from his den and rising, his tentacles pink and blue and parachuting around him like an eight-fingered hand, suckers all in their double rows and glowing like UFOS, and those fleshy lips opening at the center of Gog’s being, the black beak twitching, the savage tongue inside.

 
 

COPYRIGHT 2016 J S KHAN
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