The Bottle Message
The Adventures of a Boy on a South Sea Island
By Janet Tooke
Chapter Ten: A Weird Sea Monster
Synopsis: Tee Totum and his chum, Namay, leave Waiki-pali to search the neighboring islands for Jack, Tee’s twin brother, who was lost form the wrecked ‘Mynah.’ Landing on Mahina, they find nothing but a flock of wild goats, and decide that no human being is there. After being caught in a violent storm, they return to the beach to find their canoe gone, apparently carried out to sea. Faced with the prospect of remaining indefinitely on this desolate island, their future looks dark, when they suddenly catch sight of a line of sea shells, obviously placed there by human hand. Following the shells, they find their canoe, safely stowed away from the storm. There is a human on the island after all! Perhaps Jack? they search and call, but no reply returns. Intrigued by the actions of a flock of mynahs, the boys follow them, and discover a splendid but abandoned palace. The next island they land on is a weird barren place, from which they return to Mahina after strange adventures and with many coral cuts.
Darkness had fallen sometime before Tee and Namay pulled their canoe up the beach of Mahina, but the boys were thankful for the soft welcoming sound of the trees and the warmth of the sand after the oppressive and baleful influence of Lani-Lani.
The first thing Namay did was to light his two candle-nut lanterns and, handing one to Tee, set out in search of the Kukui tree. Tee was now beginning to understand Namay’s anxiety about their wounds, for his flesh felt as if it had been laid on a red-hot plank and been sizzled.
Fortunately, they had not far to go, for the Kukui tree was plentiful on Mahina. Selecting a dozen ripe nuts, Namay cut them into thin slices, instructing Tee to do the same. After washing the wounds free of blood, the slices of Kukui nut were laid on the wounds like a plaster, and kept in place by strips of the boys’ shorts, which they were forced to tear into ribbons for the purpose. Their wounds dressed, Namay breathed a little easier, and proceeded to prepare supper.
“Him much bad coral for cut,” he explained. “Sometime kill if not careful!”
They were ravenously hungry, and when their appetites were sated, so utterly exhausted were they after the day’s experiences that they threw themselves to the warm sand just as they were, and in a few moments were fast asleep.
For a time Tee slept soundly and peacefully, then the pain in his limbs started to make itself felt. He stirred restlessly, fell into a soggy slumber, and dreamt that enormous eels were coiling themselves around his legs, and squeezing them to mush. He tried to run, to scream, but he was powerless. His legs seemed weighted with lead, and refused to move, his throat ached with the effort to shout, yet no sound came.
A spasm of pain wakened him at last, and he looked around him with vast relief. His legs were smarting and aching, to be sure, but the other part was nothing worse than a particularly unpleasant nightmare.
The moon had risen, the air was still and warm, and Tee mentally raised a prayer of thanks that he found himself on Mahina instead of Lani-Lani, as he might well have been. Never had he known such a malignant atmosphere as that which seemed to hover over the small island.
Rising, he dragged himself stiffly to the canoe, drew forth his blanket, which he spread on the sand, with an end rolled up to serve as a pillow, and lay down again. Now perhaps he would sleep easier.
He was in that pleasurable state between waking and sleeping, that moment of blissful sinking into unconsciousness, when again the feeling of impending danger overcame him with a sickening rush.
It was the result of his painful limbs, he assured himself, coupled with the frightening experiences of the day before. He thought of all the pleasant things that had happened to him – his uncle coming to claim him. Peter Malua. His fight with Namay, and their consequent friendship. But still the feeling of some unknown horror persisted.
He lay tense and expectant, his ears attuned to catch every sound. The gentle breathing of Namay and the lap-lap of the waves, sounds that as a rule were comforting and soothing, now had the effect, only of quickening his senses.
Something was drawing near – he felt sure of it now. Yet he dared not cry aloud. He lay as if hypnotized.
Then – something touched his bare skin! Something alive – clutching at his shoulder. His breathing stopped, and he squeezed his eyelids tight. He would not show fear!
The thing gripped him tighter now, shook him!
The cords of Tee’s throat contracted, seeming to choke him. His eyes opened. A man stood over him, huge and dark in the moonlight, and naked like himself, save for a girdle of leaves.
He hauled Tee to his feet, and silently pointed seaward. Tee looked in the direction to which the man pointed, and then something happened to his throat – the sound that had been dammed up so long burst fort in such a blood-curdling yell as that island had probably never heard before.
In an instant Namay was on his feet, clutching Tee’s hand, pulling, and half-carrying him into the darkness of the forest. The hanging vines tore at their faces; they limped and whimpered, every step an agony, glancing every few seconds over their shoulders, then stopping to lean breathlessly against the bole of a tree.
“Him no come in here!” whispered Namay, between gasps.
“What in the name of Heaven was it?” whispered Tee, trembling from head to toe.
Namay shook his head. “Dunno! I think much bad sea devil. Me run quick. No can see well.”
“You don’t suppose he’ll come up here, Namay?”
“No. Never come off beach.” His breathing became easier. “Want to come back look now?”
“Gee! I’d like to have a look at him from a safe distance.”
“All right. We go slow. Then peep!”
So saying, he led the way through the fringe of trees bordering the beach; and in another moment they were gazing on the ugliest monster that it was ever man’s fate to see.
To Tee the thing seemed like a huge mass of jelly-like flesh, almost as big as a native grass hut. Two bulging eyes at the near end suggested some kind of a head. Beneath these eyes hung what appeared at times like an elephant trunk, but which he constantly blew up like a balloon. It was really a monstrous pouch, from which protruded at times a yellow feeler with a suction affair at the end.
On the upper side, and toward the saucer-like eyes of the creature protruded a long tentacle with what looked like an enormous eye on the end of it. This eye glittered and shone with red and green lights like a huge gem of brilliant and scintillating flashes. The tentacle on which it rested constantly waved and swayed in all directions, giving the impression of a lantern being waved on a railroad track.
The sides of the great mass of flesh – partly in sea and partly on land – heaved back and forth with a heavy breathing motion, while the back and other parts shivered crazily like a jelly that has not properly jelled. The whole mass was phosphorescent, mostly of a greeny-blue hue, but changing rapidly from one color to another. From every side of it stretched snake-like tentacles that curled and twisted in the sand with a restless, hungry motion, tapering off from the thickness of a young tree near the body to worm-like slenderness at the tips. Sometimes these things coiled and reared into the air like snakes. And always, always they moved!
When Tee had first caught sight of the monster, it appeared to be walking on these tentacles. They then took the shape of long legs wobbling fantastically under the enormous body, while the trunk-like thing shot out toward the boy, and the other tentacles waved constantly. It was little to be wondered at that the boy yelled.
Not the thing lay, partly immersed, every inch of it apparently moving purposelessly and at the same time, each bit moving independent of the other, while what could be seen of the under part of the tentacles and of every other part of it was a mass of suckers, like two white lips sucking, sucking; and over all a stench unutterably disgusting.
The boys stared fascinated from the shelter of the thicket, and thanked Heaven for their narrow escape. What their fate would have been if they had not awakened when they did, they shuddered to contemplate.
As they watched, the great brute turned his lantern-like eye on the canoe, lighting it with a weird greeny-blue light. It played there an instant, then a tentacle darted forth with the swiftness of a snake, grasped the canoe in the centre, and crashed it to atoms as a child would a dead leaf.
A prickling sensation ran up Tee’s spine; and he felt as if he would faint with revolting disgust of the sight and the smell.
“Let’s get away!” he whispered. “It’s – beastly!”
They crept back into the darkness, and sank to the soft carpet of leaves and moss. There they sat until well after dawn, when they ventured out again. Their limbs were very stiff, though the burning sensation was considerably diminished; and they negotiated the way back to the beach with painful slowness.
Not a word passed between them until, peering apprehensively through the screen of foliage, they found that the creature had retired, leaving a great dent in the sand to show that what had happened was not a nightmarish creation of their own brains; and, as if that were knot enough, there were the remains of their wrecked canoe, sprawling pitiful and useless on the sand.
“Do you think it’s safe to venture out now?” whispered Tee.
Namay nodded. “Safe now. He never come out in daytime. Come!”
They limped toward their precious canoe, and examined the ruins mournfully. It was splintered into bits, and beyond all hope of being patched up.
“It gone this time!” sighed Namay, “No good any more!”
“No. It’s no good any more,” agreed Tee. “But – we’ve got to be thankful it wasn’t either of us!”
Strange to say, their food supply, which had been well packed in leaves and oil-cloth, and tucked into one end of the canoe, had apparently escaped the creature’s notice. At any rate, it was untouched and unharmed. This they joyfully unpacked, and prepared part of it for their breakfast.
“Do you realize,” began Tee, when their spirits were somewhat restored, “do you realize that it was that man who saved us again?”
Namay nodded. “Me just see him, then he go – like that!”
He made a significant gesture with his hand to show the lightning-like disappearance of the mysterious visitor.
“I’m going to find that man,” declared Tee. “Even if it’s only to tell him how grateful we are to him. Gee! If it hadn’t been for him, where would we be now?”
The thought of what they had escaped filled him with loathing, and he started up with sudden determination.
“I’m going to beat this bush all day!” he resolved. “I don’t see how he can hide forever. He’s so big, for one thing!”
“All right. We try,” agreed Namay, in a tone that was willing, but doubtful.
Caching their food, they armed themselves with staves, not so much for protection as for support, to save their sore feet and legs. Yelling at regular intervals, and begging their unknown deliverer to show himself.
Beating the bush, with only painful limbs to support one, is a difficult job; and the intervals of rest were becoming more and more frequent. Once more Tee yelled into the air: “Show yourself, man. Then we’ll go, and trouble you no more.”
He had the weird sensation that the man was watching them, listening to all they said and probably chuckling at their puny efforts.
Then the idea came to him. What, after all, did they want of this man? Nothing, except to ask if he had news of Jack. If the man were near enough to hear, why not ask him what they wanted to know, and trust to his good nature to answer? It would not be necessary for him to show himself.
He put this proposal to Namay and received his eager approval. Then, after pondering the matter a moment, he began:
“Hey! Man! Listen!” he made his voice as powerful and far-reaching as possible. “I am looking for a brother who has been lost for a long time. He is supposed to have been rescued from the freighter Mynah about eleven years ago, when that boat was lost in a storm.”
He hesitated for a moment, and listened. Then continued. “My uncle and his friends on Waiki-pali have searched long for this boy, who was, at the time of his rescue, a baby. They offer a reward for news of his whereabouts, and – well, I’d like awful well to find my brother. You see, he was my twin, and …”
He stopped, sheepishly aware of the foolish figure he must cut, shouting at the top of his voice to nobody, then the gravity of his quest overcame his embarrassment, and he went on:
“Anyway, we want to thank you for saving us from death last night, and for rescuing our canoe from the kona.” Then with admirable candor, “But what we want most of all is to ask you if you ever heard of a baby being rescued from a boat in these waters about eleven years ago.”
Again the boy hesitated, pale and expectant. Dead silence fell on the air and he did not know how to continue. Looking to the right and the left of him, he listened, desiring intensely for an answering voice from the dense bush. But none came.
He sank to the ground, tired despair in the droop of his shoulders and head; and when a moment later he felt Namay’s hand close on his, the fingers grasp on his own with a tight clutch, he darted a startled glance at his companion. Namay was gazing steadily over his shoulder at something beyond the visibility of Tee’s prostrate form, and the latter sprang upright.
Beyond a mound of gigantic ferns directly at the back of the boys, loomed the huge figure of the man who had entered Tee’s sleep the previous night. A figure that Tee, at times during that day, had found it hard to convince himself was not part of a dream. Now he knew. This was the man, and he was very real.
Solemn-visaged, silent, brown and, save for a girdle of leaves, naked, he stood looking at them with the immovability of a statue.
Tee swiftly regained his senses and sprang to his feet. “So there you are!” It was impossible to mistake the joyful welcome in his tone, yet the newcomer made no sound or movement; and Tee was at a loss to know how to proceed. Then, trembling with excitement, his face flushed, he blurted out:
“Say, ‘twas grand of you to come and warn us last night. Won’t you … won’t you sit down?”
The man advanced slowly and deliberately, stopped directly in front of the boys, and bowed low.
Tee and Namay bowed in the same manner, and the stranger seated himself.
Unable any longer to hide his delight and anticipation, Tee grinned widely. “What is your name?” he asked. “Mine is Tee Totum, and this is Namay.”
“My name Kalillo,” was the dignified, unsmiling reply.
“Kalillo!” Tee savored the name with a sense of pleasure. “Say! You heard what I said about my lost brother, didn’t you, Kalillo?’
The man nodded.
“Do you happen to have heard anything about him?”
“White baby live here with me.”
The effect of the words was momentarily paralyzing. The boys could do nothing but stare stupidly at the source of them, Tee feeling as if he were in some strange kind of dream, the words coming from afar with the unfamiliarity of a foreign tongue. Then he spoke; his voice small with incredulity.
“My brother! … Here! … With you!”
Again the man nodded. “His name John. Very small baby. Nice. Come. I show you.”
Instantly he was on his feet, parting the green plumes of the forest, and plunging through.