From the Commandant's Encounter:
“Wait a moment,” I instructed, staring at the inhaling and exhaling
creature from such an incredibly close distance, our existence still
unknown to it in spite of our voices. “Do not move quite yet.” I
allowed us three to regain our breath in preparation for our next
maneuver. Of course I was also studying the creature, but did not
observe much other than a few legs and a closed jaw on an incredible
reddish-black core, at least that color in the dawn light. The original
architect of the largest wooden boat operated by the Canadian military
may have been the only other human to see this creature and survive.
Contour lines, corrugated they seemed, formed its hull. No step or other
segment to its abdomen that I could see. This led me to believe the
creature swam submerged in the water and not buoyant on the surface. Its
skin was more smooth than scaled, and appeared damp. I watched it labor
as it breathed but it was so featureless that I was unable to locate a
nostril or spiracle. It was not amorphous; it held its elliptical shape,
but my eye was brought to the region of detail: its legs. There were six
and not four. If its jaw was its front, which I am still uncertain, then
its front was to our right and we observed it broadside, facing its
right flank. We therefore saw its three right appendages as it rested on
its hull. I studied the detail of its closest leg to my position, its
front right, although it was partially tucked under its weight, claws
facing forward. Perhaps they were not terribly large in proportion to
its size, but each clawnail was easily longer than one of our swords.
The peculiarity, however, was that the same appendage on its trailing
edge appeared finlike. It was long and broad and if the creature was
moving in the opposite direction, through the water with the jaw
trailing, these fins could serve its motion as the claws either steered
or simply dangled.
Once I passed my first break in focus on the creature, although for less
than a second, I considered the mission and realized the objectives were
almost certainly dead. Perhaps through a technicality they were not
killed by the authority of my sword, but however they perished was a
great relief regardless. Yet as the creature ignored us, and as I saw no
ocular adaptation for what I began to believe was a blind, seaborne
creature that beached itself ashore to die, I felt encouraged to finish
our mission. “Men, advance carefully. Take its legs first,” I
commanded. “I’ll attempt to occupy its attention, if I can find a
set of eyes.”
Lyell began walking as Ellard began protesting, “Are they not dead,
sir? Why instead do we not watch for several moments to be confident
they have suffocated, then return to York?”
“Because we are not to return to York without the gifted objective’s
eyes. And they are inside the creature. Now advance slowly.”
To my surprise he did not protest further. I suppose he saw that the end
of our mission was in sight. Lyell advanced on the front right
appendage, Ellard on the middle right, and I positioned to face its huge
jaw. Still I saw no eye of the creature. With nervous sight on each
other, we set into our positions. Able to speak casually without
alarming the beast I instructed, “Strike your swords into its claw on
my command, understood?”
“Yes sir,” they responded.
I waited for them to draw their swords, raise them above their heads,
and yelled, “NOW!”
They drove their blades, piercing the flesh of its claws: an attack met
by a low-registered screech. The beast, now alarmed and aware of our
presence, became startled and vocal with a terrible bellow that not only
deafened us, but rattled our armor, and even vibrated our bones. Ellard
fell backward away from the creature as Lyell, more committed to his
strike, continued to drive and twist his sword into his assigned claw.
A seventh appendage emerged from directly opposite its jaw, coming from
the distant end of its huge body, far from where I stood. What I could
not officially determine as its rear was where this whip-like,
tentacle-like, tail-like adaptation emerged. It had been entirely tucked
beneath the hull, buried in the silt, but now was pulled over top its
deck and was long enough to reach the Canadian soldier of its desire.
At first appearing to be a tail, it lashed its own newly afflicted side.
It defended itself where it was attacked, and with incredible force
struck Lyell to the ground. Ellard, already apart from the creature by
enough separation to survive, stepped back further with his mortality
“Ellard, pull Lyell away!” I yelled. He approached to comply, but
the creature continued to strike its own front right claw, with
Lyell’s committed sword buried in its flesh. It lashed several times
as Ellard disobediently but wisely backed away, and each time struck on
or near Lyell’s body within his armor.
The appendage opened a lid, a lens I could say, and revealed the
long-awaited eye. It was one eye only, and it looked from above and
overtop its body. It stared briefly at Ellard and at me, then turned
towards the sea while its entire body pivoted. Its jaw now faced Ellard,
but the creature was retreating into the water. It escaped evenly,
without favoring a single foot. The swords had done nothing. By some
grace or mercy, or simple rule of nature, the creature spared Ellard and
me and slipped amphibiously into the depths of the sea, fins forward and
presumably already in use.
“Lyell,” said Ellard.
Excerpted from "Ancient Canada" by Clinton Festa. Copyright © 2011 by Clinton Festa. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher. Excerpts are provided solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.