The rolling, rocking motion of the gondola forced Tom to grip the edge; the smooth, wet wood slippery under his white knuckled grasp. Brine and ether coated his skin, clothing, and hat. The port he had before disembarking left a pungent imprint on his tongue, and already he regretted the silver coin he had traded for the bottle.
He stuffed the bottle into his knapsack, trying his best to ignore it.
Regrettable also was the gondala ride itself, costing a mere handshake and a token.
The gondolier stood at his perch, rowing ever onward, knees bent at an angle, strong arms flexing with each push. His round flat hat stayed firmly on top of his head as if glued there. He did not seem bothered by the wind, or the lick of salt water, or the cold void, even though he wore a sleeveless shirt.
Underneath his bushy moustache, a smile remained plastered in place during the entire journey.
“How much longer?” said Tom. A whip of water smacked his face, flooding his nostrils and stinging his eyes. Foulness washed over him, not from the salt. Something more elemental.
Of course he paid the gondalier to take him back. Tom dreamed of revisiting the past. Seeing old friends. Correcting his mistakes. All of that. He had not dreamed the journey through time to be so… inhospitable.
“Until what?” said the gondolier.
“Until we get there,” Tom said, not hiding the snideness nor impatience in his tone.
The gondolier shrugged his muscular shoulders and kept rowing, the smile ever present under his hairy lip. Not even the moustache could hide his pleasure, even though it tried its damnedest.
The gondola buckled, throwing Tom inches above his seat. Steam rose from the water, phosphorous green in the hazy lights of the time void. Smells of acid and vinegar filled the air.
“What was that?” Tom said, looking around him in every direction. He saw nothing, but filmy fog and misty shapes. His heart hammered in his chest. He gripped both sides of the vessel now.
The smile under the moustache disappeared for a flicker before returning. The gondolier shrugged again. He rotated his head until his neck cracked like a falling tree in an empty forest.
“Kraken,” said the gondolier.
Tom stood up straighter, popping every vertebrae in his spine.
“What do you mean kraken?”
“As in, kraken. The monster that fills the voids. Eats the unwary. That.”
“What the hell is it doing here?”
The gondolier shrugged. His habit was wearing thin on Tom. The waters buckled the gondola harsher, quicker now.
“Don’t worry, kid,” said the gondolier. “I’ve been through worse. This one is only a type four.”
“How many types are there?”
Tom wasn’t entirely sure if he should be reassured by this news. Or if type four was better or worse than type five.
The gondolier stopped rowing for a brief respite, letting the craft simply drift on the waves of time for a bit. He pointed to the distant horizon, completely obscured by fog.
“That there is your stop, kid.”
“How do you know?” said Tom.
The man smiled even wider, revealing jagged teeth, like a shark’s mouth. Each tooth was pure white, and pointed dagger-like. He rowed.
“Just remember,” he said. “The kraken don’t care where you stop at. He just wants a piece of you for the toll.”
“What!” Tom’s hands slipped from their grip as the gondola nearly capsized. He slid on his backside, catching a grip on the seat and landing face first back into the vessel.
He turned. The gondolier was still at his his post, oar in hand, smiling.
“I said,” said the gondolier.
He didn’t get to finish his statement.
A green, slime crusted tentacle wrapped around the gondola and squeezed. Red painted wooden planks snapped like pretzels, splinters and paint chips scattering to the waters.
The monster rose out of the sea little by little, like in a bad horror film. First the crest—green and red scales, bulging eyes, smooth puckering mouth. More tentacles than Tom could count followed. Each unique in some way.
Some tentacles were knobby and cracked. Others smooth and reflective like blown glass. All the tentacles had suckers on them.
Tom looked over his shoulder at the gondolier for guidance. The man, still standing straight, oar in one hand, swept off his hat and bowed to the kraken.
The monster swept the gondolier with a slimy tentacle and brought him to the puckered mouth. The man got sucked in, like a fresh oyster, oar and all.
The gondola broke away from under Tom’s grasp. He clutched a plank with all his might, but it wasn’t enough to keep him afloat. The only solid object in this dread sea was the kraken.
The plank slipped and Tom sank into the dark sea. He could not breath. He could not move. Cold, bitterness overtook him. Something snake-like wrapped around his waist. He was brought back to the surface.
He stared directly into the kraken’s eyes. This was what the token and handshake had bought him. A type four kraken, whatever that truly was. Tom was no longer afraid. Death would be kind.
The puckered lips sucked him in, and all was dark. He could breath, but barely. He could move, but his movements were like molasses. The air stank like a fetid fart mixed with stomach juices. The walls were juicy and soft.
Blind, he grabbed something. Long, wooden. A staff? No… an oar.
An idea popped into Tom’s mind.
Perhaps a foolish, stupid idea. But an idea.
He had to work quickly. He opening his knapsack, feeling with cold fingers to find the port bottle. He broke it across the oar, adding wine flavor to the already abominable smells.
With the jagged bottle, he cut open the kraken’s soft tissue. He could feel the monster react and flail, though the movements were mere jiggling from the inside. The cuts he made wasn’t perfect, and for a long baited breath he was afraid the bottle wouldn’t cut deep enough.
But it was enough.
At least enough to cut back the layers of tissue and fat. Light poured in through the expanding hole. Frantic, Tom tore his way to the other side of the kraken.
And landed in a street that smelled of baking bread and dead roses. Memories became present. Tom left behind the broken bottle and oar, and started his life again.
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