The Cult of Ampliatas

There were things living at the bottom of White Pines Harbor that one would not care to encounter even on the sunniest of days. When the clouds rolled in over the root beer-colored water, swimmers knew better than to enter. Even boaters were hard to come by. Most dreaded the thought of brushing against the wandering tentacle of a certain loathsome creature. . .

At least, that’s the story we fed the each year’s incoming class of gullible novice rowers. The story started after an odd bit of graffiti appeared on the side of our boathouse. The picture was of an evil looking octopus; bright yellow with purple speckles along its tentacles. It all began as an off-the-cuff joke, but when a superstitious teammate bought into it, the varsity team doubled down

“That’s why we really need to nail down the backstory. Create some lore we can draw on,” Tyler insists.

“Oh, shut up and pass me the seven-sixteenths wrench, will you?” I ask, rolling my eyes.

He leans across the crew shell to hand me the tool bag, so I can take what I need. We’re gathered around a Wintech quad, which is up on slings so we can de-rig and trailer it for our upcoming regatta.

“I dunno, Tyler might be right. Could be a lot of fun, especially if the story lasts after we graduate. It would be kind of like a legacy!” Alana chimes in. She stands on tip-toe – being our vertically challenged coxswain – and works on the slide tracks. She scrapes off crusted salt with a metal file, and greases the components to prevent rusting.

“Well we should keep it simple, right? Ampliatis was kind of an ass pull, but it was the only mysterious sounding thing I could think of at the time,” I admit. “Who does it hunt? How do you avoid it? That’d be the next question anyone stupid enough to buy into this will ask us.”

“Hmm,” Tyler scratches a patch of scruff on his face. He’s staring into space, clearly reaching for an idea. Then his eyes focus, and lock onto a yellow-painted single-seater racing shell. “What if this thing just likes the color yellow?”

“Why yellow?” Alana asks.

“Why not? The water is dark. Yellow stands out. Easy to see,” Tyler reasons.

“Okay, I’d buy it if I was fucking stupid,” I concur.

“You’d buy anything if you were up to your neck in that water and something brushed against you,” he counters. He’s not wrong. I’d fallen into the harbor more than once after an ejector crab – when the boat is moving quickly, your oar gets stuck in the water and keeps going, and the handle slams into your sternum and throws you out of the boat.

“Okay. And how do we stop him?”

“You can’t. You just want to stay the hell away from those yellow singles. It’s like painting a target on your back,” I jump in. “Or your ass,” I reconsider.

Alana nods in agreement. “It’ll make the newbies think twice about asking to take out the single. That boat flips more than any other anyway-”

“Except the pair,” Tyler corrects her. I nod in agreement.

We wound up being right about the legacy of our legend: The Cult of Ampliatas became a canonical part of our team’s habits and history. Within three seasons, enough people objected to rowing in the yellow shell for our coach to have it repainted. She tried to figure out where the rumors were coming from, but could not.

The more people who believed it, the more powerful the superstition became. And eventually, when the rowing club came into some money, the source material was painted over. But that seemed to only further cement our myth.

Sometimes, all it takes is a little mystery to create the most striking stories.