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Cover image: The Octopus and I by Erin Hortle (Allen & Unwin)

My body is brimming is pulsing is purring is ready. The world moves so slowly as tide washes with inhale in exhale. It was enough before but now my body is full and I notice too much and I touch I see I taste the fish filth clotting my skin. I notice it is not clean enough for my eggs and my den so snug with its doormat of crab husks not enough for my eggs. The world sighs slowly but I need it to sway swiftly I need currents to swirl and whorl and rush.

I feel the roar pulsing and purring and promising and rumbling. I leave my den my body brimming as I ripple and spiral and snatch a scuttling crab and crush it in my beak then jet off jet on.

I feel the surface sink and I feel I see moonlight with my skin and it is caught up in the eddies that bubble and swirl about my arms that curl and unfurl and the moonlight envelops me caressing my arms as they caress the kelpy floor the kelpy shore. I snatch a scuttling crab and crush it in my beak and ripple and dance and jet and twirl across the bed of swaying weed towards the thunder and rumble that beckons and calls.

The surface dips down as I dip up and I snatch another scuttling crab and crush it in my beak as the surface slides from my body and drips and trickles and mellow moonlight settles on me as the air yawns and murmurs about me. I become heavy become flat become fixed become pinned to the sand and I cannot spiral and jet I can only slither. But the ocean hammers the shore beyond the land it clamours and calls and beckons.

The sand clogs my suckers and stifles my slime and slivers of grass prick and slice as I drag myself pull myself roll myself and my arms beneath me cannot spiral and dance and chase and they cannot snatch as crabs scuttle. I need them all and I need to focus and this is not right because I am too heavy but I am ready and I feel the rumble and boom and crash beyond the land and it is close so I press on.

What is it?

I see I feel too much cold light as a beam so bright too bright blinds my skin and I cannot see the land before me but I can touch can taste and I pull myself forward blind I haste towards the crash and rumble and beckoning liquid boil.

The light tracks on tracks off tracks over me and I see shapes dark and eerie in the moonlight and they are moving beside me alongside me.

The roar rumbles through the ground and I feel it pulse against me pulse in me.

The sand turns hard and rough and is like limpets on the rocks to touch but it tastes different and wrong of tar and oil and—

What is it?

Something grabs at me and clasps one of my arms and gently pulls at me.

I touch her see her taste that she is she like me and I curl my arm around her wrist and she is warm unlike me. I taste she is curious is scared is sad is frantic her skin tells me even though it is dumb skin it tells me. I stroke her and her skin welcomes my touch and I feel her pores open letting me in and I ripple against her shining the dust from her skin the dust of her skin and I taste her see her touch her and she is worried is frantic and—

What is it?

I see I feel too much cold light and we are hit I see I taste I touch metal and oil and we are in the air and I am not heavy not flat not fixed not pinned to the ground and for a moment my arms can spiral and dance on the air and I taste a flash of shock and the fear on her skin and I do not let go of her and I am with her.

The ground meets us and I try not to let go of her and I hold onto her seeing her tasting her touching her and my arm does not let go of her but is pulled from me is pain is gone. I roll and slide on a wave of air crashing and bubbling across the ground and I am caught up in a current and I roll on and cannot make myself stop and I am bashing across the ground and grazing bleeding hurting stinging.

I am still.

I see her stir and then she is still and I see the shapes of others like her about her.

I press on. I drag myself across the hard rough ground that tastes of tar and oil and onto the sand and the pain clots my skin and is sharp is searing where my arm no longer is. The ocean rumbles and calls and thunders and beckons beyond the land I feel it I feel it I press on and the sand is beneath my suckers and the pain sears and bites and the ocean bellows and billows so close and I press on.

The waves rush with inhale in exhale as the surface rises and falls against me and the water boils and foams with air then I am immersed and it is right.

I let my body wash in and out and out and in and out and out as currents and waves swirl and churn about me and my arms spiral and curl and coil as the water bubbles against me and I am light am drifting am ushered out to where the water is full and languid and the currents billow in long ocean arcs. I touch I taste I see the water so clean and clear and full and ready and perfect for my eggs and the water curls about me and caresses my pain and my body is full is ready.

This is an edited extract from The Octopus and I by Erin Hortle, published by Allen & Unwin.

The Octopus and I is available now at Readings.