Author / Speaker
Blank Spots on the Map
There was no rational way to tell Marty her theory, so she told him straight out. They sat in his tidy cinderblock office just back from the air strip. It wasn’t something you broached in public, even to someone as circumspect as Marty.
She called it a theory because this left her with a toehold in sanity.
It was ninety-eight degrees outside, sixty-five degrees within, courtesy of an air conditioner that, for ten years now, had issued arctic blasts and a last death rattle. Model airplanes, suspended from the ceiling with monofilament fishing line, spun slowly in the not-insubstantial eddies. Behind Marty’s desk a framed document proclaimed “OAOO”. Besides Marty, Cedar was the only one on the island who knew what it meant. One and only oasis.
To his credit, Marty absorbed her lunacy soberly. But she did not miss how he avoided her eyes and how he chose his words carefully, as if the merest whiff of agreement would land him in the same lunatic ward.
“So,” he said, tapping a broken-nailed finger down a regimental line of pencils, “something is out there. Not something. A snail, actually. A snail that might be the size of a bus, or possibly larger, big enough to be mistaken for a patch of reef on a depth finder.” She knew he wasn’t mocking her. He was trying to make it easier to digest. “An animal capable of ingesting a man completely.” He trailed off. One of the pencils rolled away from its brethren. Marty let it roll.
She placed the pencil back in line.
“Let me help you along,” she said. “Not a snail. A cephalopod. And even in its conventional size, a ruthlessly efficient predator. If you ever came out on my boat, you’d see what they can do.”
“Only that would be stranger than this.”
She gave him a look.
He raised his hands.
“I’m sorry,” he said. “I know you’re serious, so I’ll be serious too. Even if you’re right, I wouldn’t share your theory with anyone else just yet. Here’s the short version. You have no visible proof. Without visible proof you’ll lose your reputation, your business and everything you’ve worked for. And not at a good time. If there is a good time for such things.”
Cedar knew what he was thinking.
“I haven’t said anything to Justin yet.”
This, at least, was true.
“Good. You still cling to a thread of reason.”
“And what if I’m right?”
Marty ran a hand over his close-cropped curls. Nothing budged.
“I already said that’s possible. But there’s another possibility. What if you’re not? I am afraid of the ocean, but that does not mean it doesn’t interest me. I have read that ninety-five percent of the ocean’s depths are unexplored. Surely such a sprawling blank spot on the map might sequester inhabitants we have never seen. Please note the last word. We see, we believe. I’m not saying that’s science, but it is the way our science works. Not to mention our friends and neighbors.”
The air conditioner rattled. Above Marty’s head a Grumman Hellcat dipped its nose to the floor.
He looked at her beseechingly.
“Do you have anything, Cedar? Anything other than your theory and a depth-finder that might possibly be on the fritz?”
She had made up her mind before she came.
Marty’s kind face watched her. For a moment her resolve wavered.
“You are willing to risk everything?” he asked softly.
He was right. Everything he said made absolute sense. He was the yin to her yang.
“It’s really irritating, you know,” she said.
“What’s really irritating?”
“You. You don’t even realize we’ve had ten years of arguments and I’ve never won one. One. You could at least throw me a bone.”
“Mmm. That is quite an impressive record.” His smile disappeared. “Here’s your bone. I said don’t go public. I didn’t say you were wrong.”
She actually leaned forward.
“You believe me?”
She knew she sounded desperate but she didn’t care.
“I respect you. As much as anyone I’ve ever known.”
“There’s a difference.”
“There is. Respect forces me to be honest with you.”
She stood. Marty stopped pushing the pencils and looked up at her.
“One more thing,” he said. “If you are right, do you think it wise to be taking divers out to the reef?”
That very question had kept her up most of the night.
“I think the attack was a solitary incident. I’m almost certain of it.”
She didn’t say planned. She didn’t say vengeance and retribution. She was not ready to give voice to all her beliefs just yet. She knew Marty wasn’t willing to shimmy out on that fragile branch with her. It was too early to lose her only ally.
Marty counted the eraser heads as if he didn’t know how many were there.
“And if you’re wrong?” he asked.
“It will be my responsibility.”
“I fear you already ferry an unbearable weight of responsibility.”
It swept over her. It was what she had wanted all along, the reason she had come to Marty. She spoke before she could stop herself.
“Then help me when I ask for help. Please.”
At the door she turned back to him.
“Have you ever seen anything unusual when you fly?”
“I don’t know. Maybe a shadow where it shouldn’t be?”
“Look around,” said Marty. “Shadows are everywhere.”
For once his smile was forced.
Outside the heat rushed over her in a volcanic belch. She hesitated on the bristly doormat. She wondered what Marty was thinking on the other side of the door. She wondered if he had sensed her lie.
It made complete and utter sense to tell him about the eggs. They were more than a small shred of evidence. They were an exact replica, albeit thirty times the size. We see, we believe. But she hadn’t told him, and in this matter, too, she was equally adrift. She had never shied from decision before. She had left her husband and her comfortable life and moved halfway around the world to raise a son. Every day she made decisions; about weather, about divers, about fuel, about life. But now her mind foundered for purchase as if it were no longer her own, cut loose and adrift upon a sea of indecisiveness.
As she walked across the shimmering air strip, a frigate bird rode a thermal, making ever tightening circles as it rose. The tourists loved frigate birds, but they always reminded her of vultures and death.
She wondered if she really was insane.
Your scientists denigrate, ridicule, and pooh pooh each other. It is part of your nature and your process. Skepticism is healthy, but sometimes it blinds you.
A paleontologist from Massachusetts has broached an interesting theory, based on numerous ichthyosaur bones found in the Berlin-Ichthyosaur State Park in Nevada. The bones, he notes, are arranged strangely, piled as if collected. Some bones are marked, the marks strongly resembling sucker marks made by members of the Coleoidea, which includes octopuses, squids, cuttlefish and their relatives. The ichthyosaur, I should point out, was, or so it was believed, the apex predator of its time, and not inclined to being stacked.
The theory of the paleontologist, a Mr. McMenamin, is straightforward. A giant squid, like nothing man has seen, crushed and splintered the ichthyosaurs, then hauled them to its lair to feed. This kraken, opines Mr. McMenamin, would have been a beast of otherworldly power and size nearly 100 feet long.
The problem to those outside paleontology may not be obvious. Cephalopods are primarily soft-bodied; with the exception of a sharp beak, they leave no fossil record. You require hard evidence. In weigh the other scientists. Impossible. Ridiculous. A case of reading the bones as if they were tea leaves scattered to tell a fortune. Too many nights watching the Science Fiction channel. Without evidence, there is only conjecture.
I put forward my own theory. Perhaps Mr. McMenamin is only partly right.
Yet another scientific discovery, this one by biologists in Indonesia. Observing veined octopuses in the wild, the biologists watched as the creatures carried a halved coconut shell with them across the exposed muddy bottom. When the octopus stopped, it placed the shell over its head for protection. This was not a case of a hermit crab selecting a shell. This was an example of advance planning before crossing hostile territory.
Your scientists were again astonished. Chimpanzees use tools, but not even chimps use natural materials to create shelters over their heads. “This is evolution in action,” opines a scientist. “In fact, this may be happening in species beyond the octopi.”
You don’t say?
Changes are afoot. We have always been full of surprises. Now we are evolving quickly. We have to. You are changing the rules of the game.
You must adjust your mindset to keep up.