It was standing upright in the darkness behind the black bins at the back of Neptune Court. David couldn’t see what it was, but it made his eyes water even from where he sat on the rickety fire escape, waiting for his stepfather’s voice to die down to a murmur.
He was out there again, with the same problem on his mind: he just couldn’t go on the boats next year. He wasn’t like his stepbrother Kendell, who boasted that he had never read a book. David loved reading. His oupa had taught him before he had even gone to school. This was David’s big chance to get out of Ocean View – the only place on the peninsula that you couldn’t see the sea.
At school old Miss Appel called him aside after every test and told him that he had potential – that he would do great things. She said he only needed to focus, work hard, and look beyond the cracked walls and the graffiti of this rotting suburb that the government had forgotten. Miss Appel was the only person who actually spoke to David like he was a human being, someone with feelings and dreams of his own. Just like Oupa used to talk to him, back when he was alive. How could David let Miss Appel down – go back to Sweetwater High on Monday and tell her he was going to be a fisherman like all the other men in the Fish Hoek valley? The idea made him sick.
David was so tired of the conversation that when it came up, he wanted to disappear. It was always the same. Whenever David had to clean the fish for supper, his stepfather was in the kitchen, sitting on an upturned bucket, smoking and watching. The gutting of the fish was David’s worst thing, and his stepfather knew: that’s why the man made him do it.
“I know I’m hard on you, but that’s life. You think the world out there is going to take it easy on you? You think you’re going to take your matric certificate to some law firm or ad agency and they’ll just give you a job like a lollipop? I’m looking out for you, laaitie. You should be grateful.”
And all the time while his stepdad was going on Kendell was riding the chair in the kitchen, his eyes half-closed, smirking, and David’s mother, her back to the fray, busy-busy, wringing her hands like dish towels. Sometimes she tried to change the subject, talking about the articles in the Echo on the missing teenagers from the valley. She only read the community newspaper, because it was free. David’s mother didn’t love books the way that he did. David had to hide them in the bedroom he shared with Kendell.
As the angry voice inside the flat went on and on, David rested his chin on the rusted iron railing of the fire escape. When the flat was quiet he would go back inside and see if his mother was alright.
Jissis, something stank! It wasn’t just the bins. He peered into the gloom, his eyes trying to make sense of the shape against the wall. It looked like a man standing dead still – his oupa, maybe, risen from his watery grave.
David whistled softly. He didn’t want to attract the interest of any of the usual ous who lurked around Neptune Court. The gangs were moving in from Manenberg and Lavender Hill, hungry for territory. Like sharks, they were keen for blood, and they didn’t care whose it was. Last week some Hard Livings guys had attacked a Naughty Boys dealer in Poseidon Avenue, shot the man and his family and then sliced them up with spades. It was another reason Miss Appel wanted him to leave.
The shape against the wall didn’t move, but Faces, Oom Jazz’s pit bull, began barking and throwing himself against the chain-link fence between the ground-floor flats. David hoped that it would hold. Faces attacked anything that moved: he was Oom Jazz’s prize fighting dog, and the animal’s face was covered in scars.
David twisted his body around and squeezed through the metal bars of the fire escape. Then he dropped the two metres to the ground, needles of pain shooting up his legs because he’d been sitting in one position for so long. He could smell the thing very strongly now. It smelled like last week’s bait bucket left in the sun, like vomit. David could never understand why the fish loved the bloody intestines of their brothers so much. Yet every time it successfully lured them to their deaths on the boat.
He needed light. David felt in the pocket of his jeans for his phone. He held it above his head like a charm. In the small magic circle of the blue light he saw the puddle, like blood or grease, sticky and thick.
Tentacles as thick as his arm lay in a twisted mess. Was it a giant squid? It looked like someone had shoved a broomstick or a garden fork inside it to give it a spine. David kept raising the phone, slowly, carefully, scanning the body.
One of the tentacles suddenly whipped out at him. David sucked in his breath to scream.
Tell us what you think: What creature is this? What should David do next?