He followed it with the flashlight and found himself looking at a cuttlefish. It hovered about two meters away, its crown of tentacles aimed at the flashlight, ready to defend itself. Waves of brown pigment chased each other across the striped body. It took Ian a moment to make the connection, then a gust of laughter swept through him. It was all he could do to keep his mouth closed on the regulator, and he knew he was close to hysteria, but a sodding cuttlefish for Christ’s sake! It was so obvious. He’d startled it, and it had released a cloud of ink and dived into the kitchen. A predator would see what all predators were most afraid of in the cloud: a larger predator. Ian had seen Dad. The haze in the living room was the remains of the ink cloud, which he must have been dispersed by his frantic exit.
Yet the cuttlefish wasn’t throwing out ink clouds now. It was doing what cuttlefish usually did when they saw divers, which was to withdraw to a safe distance and have a look at the noisy, clumsy creature invading its realm. Ian occasionally wondered who was more interested in whom when exchanging stares with cuttlefish, but now he wondered why it had reacted so violently. He must have startled it, he thought, or perhaps the ink was from an octopus that was still hiding somewhere. It didn’t matter. What mattered was that he’d seen Dad in an ink cloud and now needed to search Dad’s bedroom before he gave himself any more scares.
He inhaled and allowed the air in his lungs to carry him up, over the stone stairs. They were as bare as they always had been, but they wouldn’t stay bare for much longer. After a few months, they’d be scattered with the dark brown sausages of cotton-spinner sea cucumbers and the grey coral claws of dead men’s fingers that turned red in electric light.
Ian reached the top of the stairs and found himself between two doors. Dad’s on one side, his and Jakki’s on the other. He turned toward Dad’s door.
“You ever come in here, boy, and I’ll thrash your arse so you’ll be sleeping on your belly for a month!”
Ian rotated slowly until he was facing the room he’d slept in until he was fourteen. He opened the door before he realised he’d decided to do it.
Next week: The Bedroom
Cover by Manda Benson
Other stories by DJ Cockburn available online