Octopus (A Short Story)
Originally published in Little Obsessions, issue six.
Part of a novel in progress
I had met someone who talks to fire, and who sings to the smoke when he desires it to shift direction. His spiritual philosophy is self made, mostly through visions, some inspired by drugs, some by meditation, and he even talked to insects while visiting South America, a stop on his journey from Ghana to the United States, where he’s been slowly traveling to, as he describes it, “hack” our system of thought. At some point, he was curious about mosquitos, why it was they bit us, what their purpose was. So he decided to ask one. After he allowed one to bite his hand, he posed the question while it floated above the palm, zig zagging in a strange flight pattern; and it communicated to him in a non-language, something without words, but which could be roughly translated to mean they withdraw a sort of toxin that lives inside of us.
Another time, while taking a combination of salvia and ecstasy, he found himself in the tentacle of a cosmic octopus. He was pushing the limb forward, and observed other nearby tentacles with what he described as souls living in them. He tried to say hello to one, to grab their attention, but they made it clear that they would rather work than talk. After all, it was their job to keep this cosmic octopus moving, and G. better get moving himself. There wasn’t really time for questions or curiosity.
In fact, you didn’t really need drugs to have this insight, he told us. G. was able to make people hallucinate just by talking to them. Did we want to try it? Neither of us responded, but it is true that at some point in the conversation, lightly dazed from the weed, the unending beers, and the vague lighting from the flame and the stars, I did notice a shape softly reveal itself on a burning log. It was made of natural ash or embers; and though the ash was a combination of white and grey, I somehow could see elements of azure and of red. The colors themselves were tiny shapes. A blue triangle. A red square. They were contained with an outline of a sort of bird-like creature, no bigger than a fingernail. It felt iconic, though I had never seen it. My memory scanned various Native American symbols I had seen in museums, and of course I was aware that we were on land that was once sacred. But despite this, I really was only mildly aware of the image that I gazed at while listening to G.’s intricate and winding stories. His ideas that we were meant to observe rather than control. That it didn’t matter if society destroyed itself, because everything had already been “programmed” to an end. We were like chips in a giant supercomputer. But really, we were all in an infinite giant squid. By the time I saw the crispness of the bird and it had become vivid, the shape immediately evaporated and turned to ash once again. I got out a notebook and struggled to draw it, as it faded from my thoughts.
Later, as I walked to my tent, with a malfunctioning headlamp that wouldn’t stop strobing on and off, as if I was in some rave party, I thought of the things G. had told us, and my critical mind did notice a few peculiar details. It didn’t escape me, for example, that the sort of deity which he believed in and wanted to teach people of, was likely inspired by the writings of HP Lovecraft, a horror writer who has become more and more popular in recent years (perhaps because of the filmmakers and comic artists influenced by him), despite his racism and deplorable personality, which would normally warrant an outcry rather than passion. And it didn’t escape me that his computer metaphors were a byproduct of our time as well. There’s a book called The Shallows which details how every invention changed cultural metaphor, and our ideas of how to describe life. I also thought about the squid arms that G found himself in, propelling forward, and it seemed that this must be a side effect of the ecstacy heightening physical sensations in his cosmic hallucinogen. I have to admit, these thoughts did slightly embarrass me, as I didn’t want to psychoanalyze the conversation of someone so giving. To be honest, I only really believe in poetic truths, and so to me none of what he said mattered on a literal level. Even when he told us he knew how to levitate off the ground, why should I find this stranger than a friend sharing a ghost story. Earlier, when he had cooked the commune a large dinner, after emerging from a silent meditative fast, in which he was isolated for a week, it was his grandmother he wanted us to thank. He was channeling her, and that allowed him to cook without a recipe. To me, this didn’t sound like a crazy thing to say at all.
The air was cold and crisp, and I felt it slightly tingle in my nose. As I laid down, and put my hands behind my head, I stared at the blank walls surrounding me, which were something like a womb. I wasn’t sure of it, but it seemed I could see the stars piercing through the thick canvas of my tent.
- by Nate Wey. copyright 2020
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