Regular Romp is an interactive fiction activity over on our Twitch stream where I ask a regular a series of questions before turning their answers and a corruption of their username into a short story. Stop by twitch.tv/blainearcade if you’d like to participate.
He leaned over the edge of the boat, letting a rope of orange-stained drool drop into the sea and drift away. His name was Bob Badcork, and this was, if his stomach was telling the truth, the sixth time he was going to vomit that day.
There were a number of factors to consider, from his unexpected seasickness, to the choppy waters generated by the approaching storm, to his diet of limited edition candy-shelled chocolates, cheesy tortilla chips, and Thai-peanut turkey jerky. His head hung there, over the side, for several minutes while his stomach made up its mind.
“Is that…” he muttered, staring into the crystal clear waters. Something was swimming down there. That wasn’t particularly interesting, as his rented boat floated over a reef that was teeming with aquatic life. He’d already deleted a hundred pictures of sharks, jellyfish that looked like plastic bags, plastic bags that looked like jellyfish, and colorful groupers. The bigger ones were the right size, but none of them were the fabled Exigecki creature, supposedly native to these Jamaican waters.
The shape under the water might have been his target, but its exact silhouette was obscured by his own dissolving colorful drool. He needed the camera. Bob lurched away from the safety rail, nearly hitting his head on the wooden beam of the sail; he couldn’t remember what it was called. His camera was tangled up in the sheets of the tiny cabin.
By the time he made it back, the shape was gone. There were some dark clouds on the horizon, but Bob wasn’t worried. He’d braved plenty of storms in his motor home as he traveled across the United States and Central America in search of various cryptozoological creatures: the leech fairy of Niagara Falls, the Toe-chewer of Western Oregon, the telekinetic poodle of Inky Springs, and many others.
His next goal was a photograph, no matter how blurry, of the Exigecki. It was said to resemble whatever sea creature it wanted, whether it had fins, tentacles, or jointed legs. The only constant in descriptions of it were wide, round, lidless eyes of endlessly swirling color, like a cross between an owl and the most expensive kaleidoscope ever made.
He thought about going in for an exploratory swim, but the wet suit he’d rented had proven too small. Most of his efforts afterwards involved tying his waterproof camera to a pole that probably had some legitimate use for the sailboat, and dipping it under the surf while it filmed. He went to retrieve his pole, but lightning cracked across the sky, startling him.
Bob Badcork slipped on a wet empty bag of chips, struck his head on the railing, and fell into the sea, never to rise again. His boat, full of his toys, treasures, and snacks, drifted along for several hours before it was found by one of the most curious creatures to ever exist. The Exigecki grabbed the boat’s railing with one tentacle when it was in the dark of the storm. A hand came up next, followed by three sets of hermit crab-like legs extending from what was sometimes a pair of shoulders. All these limbs pulled Exigecki aboard, but it fell tot he deck and squirmed like an upside down tortoise.
The creature was never meant to exist on dry land, but not because it was limited to gills, no, it could grow lungs whenever it wanted, just like the sea turtles or the porpoises. Exigecki was meant to stay under the surface so no camera could easily capture it, but it had to roam these clear waters so that those cameras could come close. Exigecki was supposed to be a legend. It was the creature’s job to tease men and women like Bob Badcork with flicks of a fin or a glance across a vast distance, when its head might just be bobbing trash.
Exigecki found the monster enthusiast’s body, but not before the sharks. There was almost nothing to learn about what was left, but then it realized his death presented an opportunity. There was a boat, full of human things, just sitting there. So the creature pulled itself over the side and then went to work building a new body that was better-suited to the slippery cramped space.
The crab legs receded to be replaced with fleshy fins like those of a mud skipper. The front of its body took on a shape much like a human torso, complete with a strangely long neck for its rounding-out head. Exigecki pulled itself forward, out of the rain, down the tiny staircase, and into the cabin. It cooed at the sound of the rain on the roof, thinking it sounded like water sprites dancing.
It pulled itself into Bob’s bed and spent a few minutes stroking the blankets as if they were alive. It stuck its fresh webbed hand into a crinkly bag and came out with a pinkish strip of turkey jerky. There was no chewing with its current mouth, which was little more than three flaps leading to a straw of flesh. What did jaws feel like again? Exigecki fished around in the tangle of sheets and found Bob’s smartphone.
It lit up at the creature’s touch, displaying a picture of Bob proudly holding up his only cryptozoological catch: a two-headed lake bass that was the result of some rather illegal runoff in that lake three years prior. It ran a suction cup-tipped finger across the picture, the flesh popping over the man’s cheeks. That was what they looked like…. on a male human anyway. Exigecki twisted its head back and forth on its neck, mulling its own flesh until a jawline formed. The three flaps turned into one pair of lips and a pale tongue like a sea cucumber.
The jerky was salty and scrumptious, distractingly so. In every way it tasted like the land, which Exigecki had never seen or smelled. The creature was limited to an isosceles triangle of the ocean well off the Jamaican coast. The creature snapped out of it a few minutes later. It had to hurry before its supervisor showed. It couldn’t tell the position of the sun through all the rolling thunderheads, but it felt like it had been nearly nine hours since the last check-in.
Exigecki tried to unlock Bob’s phone, but couldn’t guess the password, though it was painfully obvious: bigfootsize12. His laptop computer, at the foot of the bad, was already open though, pre-loaded with plenty of data, and still flying high on seven hours of battery life. This was Exigecki’s chance to learn what Earth really was past the triangle. It just knew it was more than fish and coral and the rainbows those things provided.
The sea monster couldn’t read, but you didn’t need training for context clues, and there were millions of those once it figured out a basic image search and the ability to scroll. The colors in its eyes swirled faster than ever before, little-used parts of its brain lighting up. The emotional rush wasn’t intended by its creators; that brain just existed to morph the body into odd shapes that confused and tantalized the humans. Learning with it was surely a misstep, for while a falling satellite blazes across the sky beautifully, it is never meant to touch the ground again.
Exigecki had already figured out tractors, livestock, concerts, hot air ballooning, gourmet food, and pasta factories by the time its supervisor arrived. The computer screen went black as a ball of bright light popped into the middle of the cabin. Exigecki was disturbed by the sound, muffled as it usually was by the surrounding water. It curled up against the edge of the hull, twisting the blankets around its body until it was mostly obscured.
The ball of light hissed as it expanded down like a sword being pulled form the forge. It grew arms and legs, but the legs didn’t bother touching the floor, especially with so many nasty crumbs ground into the small shaggy rug. There was a head, but the face was simply the brightest part of the light. Exigecki’s eyes were so large and so bright in order to deal with these rather brilliant interactions.
“Uhh… what are you doing?” the creature’s supervisor asked, hands on its hovering hips. Exigecki couldn’t speak, so it just shrugged and gurgled in a way that made it sound innocent and confused. It made its eyes larger and its cheeks puffier in order to appear more adorable, but it ended up looking like a cross between an octopus and a brain-dead bulldog.
“Don’t give me that face, whatever that face is,” the supervisor went on. “You’re supposed to stay in the water. The water.” He pointed outside. “Where’s… where’s the guy?” He pulled a sheet of light out of thin air and ran his finger down it. “Bob Badcork. It took me a month of clues to get this guy out here.”
Exigecki’s head morphed into something shark-like while one of its hands turned into something like a miniature human, albeit with the skin of a flounder. The creature mimed chewing on its hand and growled ferociously.
“He’s dead!? He got himself eaten by sharks!? What a moron; they only kill like six people a year. All he had to was stick a camera in the water and get your blurry outline. Let me see your blurry outline; I want to make sure you can still do it out here in the air.” Exigecki flopped out of the blankets. The supervisor didn’t sneer or snort, but the creature sensed something in its glaring glare. It didn’t like displaying its body for him. The supervisor acted like he owned Exigecki. Still, it complied, using its loose shape-shifting flesh to become vapor-like and utterly unidentifiable in the event of a photograph.
“Okay good, that’s still working,” he muttered. “Nobody could tell what you are. You remember that you need to keep being that, right?” Just a smudge on the lens. Just an implication. You don’t actually exist, got it?” Exigecki nodded, but very slowly, as if it might’ve just been trying to stay awake. The supervisor went quiet, but then his head turned toward the computer. A finger of light flicked toward it, and the screen came back on.
“There’s nothing for you out past the triangle,” he insisted upon seeing the images Exigecki had just memorized. You can’t become part of that world. If all the world is a spectrum then you’re just a tiny sliver. You want to go past the sides of this place?” Exigecki didn’t move. “The humans aren’t ready. If we want to open this gateway to our dimension, they have to first adjust to things from our reality. It’s like dipping your toe in a cold pool. They have to just tap it first. Pictures of you are that first step.” Exigecki grabbed at the blanket, but the supervisor pulled it away. It dropped to the floor immediately with a smoking burn in the shape of three fingers at the top of its crumpled pile.
“Over time, maybe a couple hundred years, we can let them see more of you. Once the Jamaica Triangle is as famous as that stupid worse one over in Bermuda, we can think about rewarding you. Until then, behave yourself and get back in the damn water.”
The supervisor popped back out of existence, back to his home dimension. Exigecki was just a glimpse of that other world, just a blurry taste so the humans wouldn’t panic too much. If all went well the triangle would eventually open, and the grand inter-dimensional triangle highway could run through Earth without risk of any physics or soul-related collapses.
It was still raining when Exigecki pulled itself out under the sail. The supervisor would be back in another nine hours, but the creature he could sniff out any lies about how time was spent. There was no excuse to stay on the boat, until there was a bump on the starboard side. Exigecki went flat as a flounder, twisting one eye so they both could be on the upright cheek. It heard voices and saw another sail.
“Bob! You there?” a woman called out. “I don’t hear him.” Three sets of feet stumbled closer. Fellow cryptozoologists, Exigecki guessed. They were going to step on the creature if it didn’t move quickly, but there was nowhere to go other than over the side. Not yet. Bob was dead and had taught Exigecki so much. It could barely contain its excitement at the thought of a living teacher.
A foot, complete with hanging transparent plastic sandal, stuck itself over the railing. Exigecki looked up at it. It was coming down. There was only one disguise that made sense. The woman’s foot dropped, and slipped on a bulge of flesh. She squeaked, the rest of her body tumbling onto Bob’s boat. The camera around her neck bounced on its strap while her giant sunglasses slipped off her face and slid across the deck.
“Oh! Bob!” she stammered, hopping back to her feet. “Hey, I found him… He’s… God Bob, why are you naked?” She put up her hand like a blinder. “Oh and I lost my sunglasses, so you don’t even look tan.” She turned around and rushed into the cabin, grabbing the singed blanket off the floor. She came back and wrapped it around his shoulders. He grabbed at its edges with shaking fingers and held it closed.
Two more people, a man and a woman, stepped over from their boat. The trio was sunburned, but they were all smiles, even with a naked Bob before bearing the most vacant expression they’d ever seen on the man. The second woman pulled a strange device out of her fanny pack and held it aloft, checking for signs of monsters and beasts. She was quickly satisfied that there was nothing nearby.
“What happened to your clothes Bob?” the man asked. Bob shrugged. “Oh, you were being open with nature again weren’t you?” With no other recourse, the creature disguised as Bob Badcork nodded its head.
“What?” the woman with the camera asked. “What are you talking about Phil?”
“Oh it’s a great story,” Phil assured, “but Bob tells it better.” Bob shook his head in the negative, insisting with a flap of the blanket that Phil go ahead. He sat down on the railing with wide eyes, as if listening to a story around a campfire. “Okay, well. There was this one time that Bob was out in Maryland on the trail of the Bulbous Beast of Barrelton.”
“Is that the one with the head shaped like a satellite dish?” the camera woman asked.
“No, no, it’s this one,” the other woman said, holding out a smartphone. They all looked at the picture, though it was extremely blurry. It could’ve been anything.
“Oh right,” how could I forget. Go ahead Phil.”
“Thank you,” he said, shaking out his hands as if he was a conductor interrupted mid concerto. “Okay, he was after the Bulbous Beast, but the trail was beyond cold. We’re talking ice pop box sunk in the arctic cold. Bob needed a clue.” Phil pointed at Bob, who pointed at himself in response. He couldn’t believe what an adventurer he was. “The Bulbous Beast only attacks cattle, so he did what he could to make himself look like one. He sprayed himself in cow urine, went out into a farmer’s field, sans permission to do so, and ate grass with his cattle. Bob mooed and chewed into the dead of night.”
“No,” camera woman insisted.
“And he was out there naked as he is now,” Phil insisted. “He told me he was open with nature, even forgetting he was human in the process. It was like being a cow, a cricket, the grass, the moon, and the clouds all at the same time.” Exigecki’s human disguise bristled, but it kept the shudder under control. What fun that sounded like. Maybe Bob could leave the triangle. There was even a built-in excuse to travel the world, to meet the other things stuck in other triangles, the other sign-spinners for the highway of the future.
“So did he get a picture of the beast? Exactly how bulbous was it, because I’ve read conflicting reports.”
“That picture you just showed,” Phil said, pointing at her phone. “Bad ol’ Badcork here took that.” She squinted at her phone, then at Bob. “So it’s no wonder he’s out here in his birthday suit; that’s probably why he didn’t want us ruining it, sending us off on that wild goose chase. He knew the Exigecki was here, in the storm.” His voice went low and ominous, but that was just as the a ray of sun broke through the clouds and the patter of rain ceased.
“Alright Bob, get your naked butt over here for a picture,” camera-woman insisted. Exigecki stood up and waddled over, keeping the blanket held tight. Its flesh rippled and changed under the blanket, alive, positively untamed, with the possibilities of living as Bob Badcork. Its chest was a mix of seahorse ridges, squid siphons, urchin needles, and brittle star arms. All of the sea monster’s focus was in making the human smile believable.
There was no telling what would happen with Exigecki finally in the center of a frame. The only predictable thing was the supervisor’s eventual reaction. He would spit light, stomp his feet on the air, and scream about how bad this made him look, but Exigecki would be long gone. It smiled, every tooth in place and angled just as Bob would’ve done it. Phil and the other woman put one arm around Bob’s slumped shoulders. The creature stilled the transforming flesh so they wouldn’t notice.
“Say fiend of Flatwoods!” the camera-woman said. The cryptozoologists on the other end obliged, though Bob’s voice did sound a little like the croak of a frog. The flash went off. Nothing exploded. No beings of light appeared and attacked them. They were just out on their boats, having a grand old time searching for the liquid form of the Exigecki. Eventually the picture was uploaded to the camera woman’s social media pages. The comments were more interesting than anything that happened in the Jamaica Triangle.
Bob your eyes are so pretty!
Are you naked in this picture?
Why is Bob all blurry?
One or two people might have lost their sanity over the photo, but Exigecki gained its own and a few friends in a few other triangles.