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Squid #534
(published April 14, 2011)
Notes from the Giant Squid: Damn Those British Ships
Who is Poor Mojo's Giant Squid?

Recently I took it upon myself to Google and Bing my own name. To Alta Vista and Yahoo myself. To sift the silt of the Internet(s) for what has been said of me, has been falsified about me, and has been obscured. Also to discern at what proportion I have been photographed at festive events holding aloft red plastic tumblers of uncertain content (Damn you, curséd Book of Faces!)

It was difficult. As it turns out, there are many, many "Giant Squids" in these electronic aether that writhe and jibe. Many are spoken of that are distant cousins, or worse: octopuses. One can see how madness lurked at the end of this path, somewhere near page thirty-five of the Google results. But attend, Dear Readers, it was well nigh of that Point of No Return that I did happen upon a letter written in scrawled hand by a seaman of the Great Lakes and scanned in by a distant descendent as a curio.

In this letter, dated 1817, were references to Your True Narrator and to various deeds I committed in service to my great Country at that Time.

I reproduce the letter here as text, more easily indexed than the blurréd image scan (and a GIF, no less!) which I uncovered deep in Google's bowels.


My Dear Wife,

I write to you not knowing if this letter shall find you. We have faced hard times and ill luck at sea this fortnight past. I fear for my safety. This will undoubtedly come as quite a shock after the rosy tidings of my last letter. But alas, my promotion weighs heavily and ill winds blow.

We have been at sea on this Lake Erie for nearly a week now, pursuing remnants of the British. Their ships mock us on the horizon. No matter the speed we achieve or the wind we find—and despite the notorious cunning of our brig—they stand forever out of reach. Some men suspect witchcraft. There has been talk that the British across this lake have made sulfurous pacts with heathens, that these heathens lend their art to these crafts we chase. I do not believe it. There is none more given to fancy and superstition than a sailor.

Our captain has fallen ill. It has been two days since I composed the previous verse. Two days full of oddities and weirdness. The captain collapsed belowdecks and our cook swears upon his Bible that a toad crawled forth from the man's mouth. Geoffrey Wallace injured his leg whilst asleep—shattered in three places. It's not the kind of break a man recovers from. Already the cloyingly sweet smell of gangrene—but no. I shall not write of such things to you. I vowed to be truthful in all my letters, but propriety allows for a certain amount of omission. In addition, Terrence Baker has gone missing. He was belowdecks, securing cargo during a rough peak and never came above again. There are no portholes down there, Mary. None at all. We have searched our cargo and all the hold but the man has simply vanished.

I am now acting officer. The men have begun to insinuate we should return home for the sake of Mr. Wallace's leg. And perhaps before these heathen magicks grow more deadly.


It is morning now. I look back upon my words of last night and laugh. How could i have thought things were so bad? The sun shines today and our nets have brought a bounty of fish to our board. Full bellies and clear skies have chased away the darker impulses of yesternight. We are gaining on these ships, wife. We shall best them within the day. They have been at sea at least a fortnight and cannot stay fresh much longer.


Hours later. My optimism was foolish. At three six bells of the afternoon watch a dark shape loomed out of the water and snatched Frost from the deck with a whip-like appendage. Mary, it was so very large. The shadow of it on these chopped waters dwarfed our own 12-gun brig. It took Frost and left. His screams. I have never heard the like, not even at war. It returned within the hour and carried off Morgenstern and Williams. The men all refuse to go abovedecks. I cannot blame them. I write this hunched in the Captain's berth. Forgive the penmanship. My hands tremble so.

A curiosity has joined our crew, wife. It happened in such odd circumstances. In the middle of night I and the crew crowded about the stove for warmth. We were adrift and silent in the waters. Any thoughts of pursuing those damned British ships had fled from our minds. Home was all we could think of, and that great bulk in the sea. The Hungry Shadow, the men called it. As you know, Captain Clark forbade alcohol under his command but there were secret stores of it known only to the cook and the gunnery sgt. I know I shame you with this admittance but I did break with Temperance and drank my fill that night. It seemed the fitting thing to do. The spirits buoyed the men so, you see. Without them . . . well, I fear what would have come in those short hours of the night.


Allow me to apologize for my rambles. It has been days since I slept soundly.

Whilst we were in our cups the sailors and seamen took to a game of sorts. They dredged up from their water-logged and rum-prodded memories every tale of sea beasts they knew. The Monster of Loch Ness. The Lake Champlain Creature. Mermaids. Naiads. Narwhals. Dolphins that spoke with the voice of a grandfather long dead. Ghosts that sailed doomed ships under moon-less skies. The Flying Dutchman. The Gibraltar Dragon. Simon's Folly. All of them tales unfit to repeat in your company, but the names alone shall suffice.

All the while the ship bobbed and tilted on the waves, unguided by human hand.

The parade of faerie tales and sea stories worked a chill into our bones. The spectre of death already harrowed our path, it did not take much to put our minds into such condition that every creek and groan of the brig became the cry of a ghost, the plaintive song of the bane-sidhe.

Footsteps! Of all things, footsteps rang across the deck. I have described to you the men I served with in previous letters you surely know them as hardened, fearless veterans of many a long naval campaign. Well Mary, there was not a soul in that room that did not leap and cry when those footsteps echoed across the foredeck. The men huddled and moaned in the manner of children below a table while I as acting officer felt duty-bound to see what new torment had boarded us.

I was greeted by a welcome sight. We had been met by a schooner out of Fort Cleveland bearing supplies and men. I do not know how they found us adrift and lightless that night. Their navigator was an Ojibwa who had been pressed into service. Perhaps he knew heathen tricks to sound us? Perhaps he spoke with birds. He would not speak to me, neither in French nor in the few halting words of Ojibwa I had learnt from the captain afore he fell ill. Not but their chaplain spoke to our crew. They loaded us with fresh coal, butter, milk and rum. Crates of foodstuffs and the like. If I had not been so weary I would have made a full inventory. But I was so very weary, Mary.

I spoke to the chaplain of the Shadow on the Water and he nodded perfunctorily as if he knew already. He told me that the British had loosed a horror upon the waters at the end of our war. Poor sports they. This chaplain—who I suspect was both more and less than a chaplain—informed me that the British ships we pursued were attempting contact with the creature. For capture or to goad it further he would not say, only that the British must be kept from contact by all possible means. Harrow them, he said, until they wreck upon the rocks of Dunnville.

It was then he introduced the curiosity that would join my crew. His insignia, carefully stitched between the fire-puckered waterproof seams of one of his sleeves indicated the rank of an Army "specialist," though I was never offered his name and, Lord forgive me, I was too frightened to ask.

He must have been a dwarf; that is all I can reason. For reasons I cannot fathom, he elected—or Lord help us, was consigned—to dwell within a riveted copper cask, circled all around with small portholes of leaded float-glass, each no bigger than my outstretched palm. From low on this cask projected his two arms, longer than one would expect of a man small enough to ride within the cask. But this enlisted man stood taller than any man in our crew, for his strange drum suit was mounted upon an elaborate contraption: From the waist down he resembled nothing so much as a crab made of iron, with cantilevered limbs twitching and scratching at the deck.

Seeing my astonishment, the chaplain curtly offered that the Specialist could not long survive the open air without the suit, from which I took that the man had suffered rickets or some other depredation in his youth, like the storied Norseman, Ivar the Boneless. The chaplain waved the Specialist over and the Specialist scrambled across my ship, gouging shaving from the wood with as much effort as it would take a child to stir a cup of milk. The Specialist bowed low and spoke in a slurred and booming voice. The voice was mad and lost. Every other word was nonsense yet it seemed to understand our problem.

The chaplain explained that the Specialist had been drafted for this very mission, to fight the Shadow in the Water. I would say I was relieved, but I could only think of the advice of my grandfather (the constable, not the other) when he said, "It takes a thief to catch a thief." Only in our case I believe we were hunting a monster, and so what would that make this Specialist? I dared not conjecture.

The chaplain and his crew left with haste. Their entire resupply had taken less than an hour. And I found myself alone on the deck with this curious monstrosity. It was a warm night, all things consider, and yet I had a powerful shiver in my bones.

I took the Specialist below decks. His crabbed feet were nimble on the ladders. I hazarded a glance up at his descending form and felt a wave of vertigo cramp my body. Tons, I thought at the time, this thing must weigh tons. What would have become of me if it had fallen? This is a question I am glad to not know the answer to. The Universe may keep that riddle to itself. I introduced the Specialist to the men and explained his role in slaying this terrible shadowy thing. The men were alarmed at first but quickly warmed to the Specialist as he passed rum and cheese to the men and sang them songs so bawdy that the paint in the mess curled from the walls. The Specialist called himself the Giant Squid, but the men were having none of it. No one chooses their own nickname on a brig like this. The men dubbed him "The Iron Spider."

If the men have a nickname for me I do not know what it is. I find I am glad of this.

We sailed with purpose the next day, driving on toward Dunnville as the chaplain had recommended, and by the time the sun was full high above, we spotted those two British ships on the horizon. We approached with caution. Every post was manned, both long guns and each carronade armed. But this time the ships did not flee. They grew larger with every passing minute. Their quiet stained the sea.

Private Drinkwater was in the nest with the spyglass. He called out what he saw. The ships were anchored. Their sails were torn. He spied no movement. No life. They rode low in the water and the starboard ship listed slightly to port. The sea was glass around them. The sky gray and hung with clouds.

We should have come around and fled, but it was as though we were caught by a following sea, and almost like we were drawn to what were clearly derelicts by the lodestone of our own willful ignorance.

We approached. The men's spirits were high. They cheered and made whooping sounds and all sorts of carrying on. Our quarry was done with, they called. And I gathered from the fragments of gossip that passed my ears that the men suspected another American vessel had bested them first. But as we drew near the men grew silent as the sea. The ships were unharmed. Their masts stood strong and tall. The sails were whole. Their cannon stood locked and muted. Whatever befell them came as surprise.

I formed a boarding party and made way to the portside ship. A sleek schooner she was, and empty of all crew. The Iron Spider came with us, jabbering in his moon-speech the entire time. He spoke of currents and waves, of crabs that ate only human skin, of creatures from the deeps that breached the surface with tremendous force.

This was when our ship was lost. Not the sleek schooner, no, our 12-gun brig. The Phorcys collapsed in on itself. I ran to the gunwale to see what could have happened. A two-hundred ton ship does not tear itself in twain. My first thought was sabotage, but then I saw it. The shadow had risen free of the murky depths. It revealed itself to me then and I felt my soul flinch within my chest. The beast possessed a mouth like a yawning cave with ragged teeth each as large as a man's hand. It was a deep gray in color, so dark it was almost blue. Eyes black as pitch and hard as marble burned with fury in its fatty head. It resembled a whale gone mad. But it was not a whale. Behind its jaw where a whale might have massive fins this creature had a ring of barbed tentacles each as long as a mizzenmast and as supple as an oiled hempen line.

You may think me mad from this description. I would think me mad as well. Who could see such a thing and stay sane? Did I invent this bogeyman to cover up the disastrous wreckage of my glorious brig?

I am not mad.

The beast chewed through the hull as if it were made of bread and the ring of tentacles lashed out and plucked the crew one by one from the sinking vessel. The beast snatched up the men and dropped them into its maw as if they were grapes from the vine. The Phorcys sank quickly. I can only hope some of the men drowned as they were carried under. The beast can't have eaten them all. If there is a Lord in Heaven—if there was ever One of Omnibenevolent Light—then it would be sure that many of the men, that almost every last one, was crushed or drowned or rattled insensible before it met those cutting arms, those gnashing teeth, those black and unplumable eyes.

The Specialist next to me clucked its tongue like a teacher who has caught a pupil cheating. "Monstrosity," it named the beast. "Abomination. Whalesquid," he said and then leapt into the sea. The Iron Spider bellowed a challenge and the battle began in earnest. The beast was as large as ten of the Specialist, but the noble dwarf was imbued with all the flair and untreadable spirit of our Young Nation, and like a Yankee boll weevil, he bore into the terrible brute.

Their battle raged for a day and at night. They fought on the surface and below the waters so deep that only the roiling mud knew where they were. They fought on the wreckage of the Phorcys and atop our seized British schooners. The beast continued to snatch men from the sea, from the British ships, from beside me, and it tossed them into its maw. The Giant Squid dove and darted, spun and leapt. He fought like a mad hawk in the wind.

It has been six days now and I have run low on paper. And rum, although the bottle itself will no doubt serve well to preserve these pages. The beast slunk away in a cloud of blood. The Specialist sank beneath the waves, his crippled armored suit leaking a viscous fluid. The schooner has been slow to sink. I perch now upon the fo'c's'le, scratching out these words with an urgency that, strangely, seems ill-suited to what is itself a lovely day, the breeze strong and easterly, the skies clear. I could be home to you before nightfall, had a even a poor ship. The water has not yet reached my knees. The remainder of the ship is well below the waves. No dinghy survived the fray. Nor did any of my men. I see no land at any horizon and fear I may be far from assistance. I wonder, of course, about Our Father. It seems likely, despite being in these bounded waters, I am beyond even His assistance. 

I have seen a shadow in the water growing closer.  

I believe I shall finish this letter now. I hope it finds you and offers you some semblance of Peace.

Your Loving Husband,
Thomas Stone

Hah! This entire incident had slipped my mind completely until I looked upon the blurry images of those waterlogged pages. That was indeed a lovely day; such nostalgic wonders are your Googles and Bings!

I Remain,
Your Giant Squid

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