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.



Storm Salvage

The smell of ozone lingers in the air.

I sip my cup of coffee from the ancient wooden gliding chair on the screened-in porch, and look out at the water. The rolling cliffs leading down to the beach below are blanketed with grape vines; the light undersides of their leaves are exposed.

The weather stick – a novelty gift item my great grandfather had picked up in a Vermont country store – nailed to the wall next to me, pointed straight down.

These were the three surest signs of an impending storm I had; my family put more credence in them than any meteorologist. Our maritime radio, alongside a pair of high-powered binoculars, sits on the arm of the glider, within reach. The radio is on. Amid the static I hear bits of emergency broadcasts.

“Wind speed up to seven-tee-three knots. Seas ten to fifteen feet. Chance of showers, and thunn-der storms,” the robotic voice of the emergency broadcast warns.

I finish my coffee and step across the warped porch floor boards, damaged from years of exposure to the ocean just down the cliff. About a mile out on the water, I can see a wall of rain moving in. At the rain line, the water abruptly changes from glassy calm, to choppy and dark.

The leaves rustle, and I feel the first gusts of wind from the incoming storm make landfall. I know I don’t have long to prepare for the gale-force storm that’s about to hit.

I quickly zip up my light-weight rain jacket and matching pants, then grab the radio. I drape the binoculars around my neck, and take a long length of rope hanging from a fish scale next to the porch door, then head down to the beach.

The wind pelts the bluff with sand as I arrive at the top of the tall wooden bulkhead, so I shield my face with my hands. I stand at the edge of the wall and look down. Normally there’s about a ten foot drop to the beach, followed by a stretch of sand that slopes down to the ocean. But with the flood tide, the beach has all but disappeared, and the water is rising against the aged boards. Our stairs down to the beach have been carried up in preparation for the storm.

I take the length of rope and tie a quick clove-hitch around a tall post we use for hoisting up the rowboat. With the other end, I make a bowline around my waist. My rule for salvage is simple: stay on the line. The coming waves could easily crash over the bulkhead and sweep me out to sea if I’m careless.

But the risk is worth the thrill. In the past, I’ve found rowboats, an inflatable trampoline, even a small motor boat which I begrudgingly returned to its owner.

The sound of rain pelting the water shakes me from my reminiscing. I look up and watch, as the storm line dashes across the water and slams the beach. Chop springs up on the water, and a downpour beads off my Marmot rain shell.

The expanse of cottages clinging to the cliffsides quickly dissapears in a shroud of mist. All I can see is the edge of the bulkhead, and the swirling water below.

There is a thunderous crash as a huge wave broadsides the wall, spraying foam and mist. As the raindrops roll down my face I look up and down the beach, knowing not a soul is out doors for miles around.

But the lure of unknown keeps bringing me back to the edge – here.