Lockdown Fiction: Option Five

Cover image of flames and tentacles.

My responses to the Improbable Press fiction prompts tend to be optimistic, but this has gone very dark. Oh well. The muse is obviously In A Mood.

Option Five

The sea was on fire.

No, wait.

Hang on.

The rolling waves of flame, sparks flickering like sea spray, lapped against a shore made of ice which, despite the heat, didn’t melt.

That left Marnie with four options. The burning sea, or the illusion thereof, was the result of too much caffeine, too much poppy seed cake, the concussion, or a combination of the three.

Marnie probed her forehead with long, slender fingers. The bump, big as an egg, was still there. Still sore to the touch. She wished she could remember how it came to be there. Flashes of memory cascaded through her mind as she touched it, fragmented and unsatisfactory. A blue sky; the scent of salt water; the serrating cry of seagulls; a hulking shape rising from the waves…


Marnie sipped her coffee, still piping hot after all these hours on the icy shore. She took a bite of seedcake, moist and delicious. She tongued the little seeds between her front teeth and bit down. She had been eating cake, popping seeds, watching the flames and the ice, prodding at the lump on her forehead for a long time now.

A very long time.

Or no time at all.

The sky was no longer blue but a silvery grey, pulsing with a hidden light. The scent of the sea had been replaced with that of flames that crackled and whispered, a sound much lonelier than the gulls.

The hulking shape flashed in her mind’s eye again.

She had watched hippopotamuses – hippopotami? – rising up from rivers in Kenya, their comical roundness hiding the danger that lurked in their jealously territorial hearts. The shape from the sea had made her think of hippos. Grey. Wet. Soft. Tentacled.

No wait.

Hang on.

Marnie had seen octopuses – octupi? – in tanks at aquariums. The Giant Pacific Octopus at Monterey Bay, roiling sinuously across the rocks, limbs curling and unfurling, suckers twitching, till the animal pulsed upwards. Reached out of the tank. Hulked out of the water, baring sharp teeth.

No wait.

Hang on.

Marnie gulped coffee, scalding hot, then soothed the burn with cake, then ran her fingers over the bump.

The sea burned, and Marnie hoped it was because of one of four options. Coffee. Poppy seeds. Concussion. A combination.

She looked down at her feet, melting into the ice, becoming stone and dissolving into the sand underneath.

Option five. Probably it was option five.

The crackling flames whispered the names.


The Old Ones.

Madness everlasting in the last moments of the world.

Marnie, concussed, sipped coffee. Ate cake. Became stone.

Became ice.

Became flame.