Very few denizens of the reef do not fear the octopus. All the fear that Umbra inspires in others however, does not compare to the fears she herself harbors. She prefers the shadows and is content to be shunned for she knows that in the sea there are real monsters to fear and solitude and darkness are ever her friends in avoiding them. Will Umbra have the courage to face those monsters when they finally come calling and threaten not only her, but all the reef as well?This book is available now in paperback, for the Kindle or Kindle App and as an audio book on Audible.com and iTunes.
Learn more here about this book's voice actor, Emily Kleimo and enjoy the sample below.
Umbra remembered her mother's voice. She recalled their dark den in the days when she and her siblings were newly born and had yet to venture outside that small crevice in the sea floor or beyond the reach of their mother. The days before they came and everything changed.
Though she spoke to all her children, it always seemed to Umbra that her mother's words were for her alone.
"You my darlings have two deep, dark, beautiful and sharp eyes that see in all save total darkness, but this does not make you special. You have eight long slender tentacles with speed and strength and suction, but this does not make you special. You have a hard sharp beak with which to defend and attack, but this does not make you special. You can squeeze your body into the smallest of places and change the color of your skin to hide when all should see, but this does not make you special. You can spill into the waters ink so black it seems solid, but even this does not make you special."
"What makes you special my darlings, what makes you unique in all this world are your three hearts. Three hearts when all other creatures have but one. Three is a magic number and that makes you a magic beast for you can love three times as much and three times as strong as any other creature you may meet."
"Know you now and never forget; your first heart is for your mate, your second heart is for your young, and your third heart is ever for the sea."
The water around her was black, seemingly endless and impenetrable. From outside the cloud of ink, it seemed as if a great hole floated in the water. More than a hole, it was a void and it concealed her completely. Inside she was still, unable to see, and unaware of anything outside the darkness, but she was not afraid. She was not afraid because she had made the water black and she knew that, unlike her, there was in most creatures an instinctual fear, an uncontrollable loathing of the dark.
Soon her ink began to dissolve and with it her courage. Out scavenging, she thought she spied a shark in the distance and had discharged her ink as much to conceal her from its view as she did to hide it from hers. As her veil slowly unravelled, she brought her eight long arms together. Straight like an arrow, she filled herself with the inky water around her and expelled it in a powerful jet that shred the darkness into a thousand different tendrils as it propelled her quickly and silently down and away.
Her kind are commonly considered monsters, feared and avoided, but she knew there were real monsters to fear, and darkness was ever her friend in avoiding them.
As she reached the ocean floor she immediately began to take on the colors of the sands and stones. Umbra was a master of mimicry. Within moments her body and arms were indistinguishable from her surroundings. She held perfectly still and scanned the waters with her two dark eyes for any sign of danger.
She could never be too careful. The slightest imperfection in her disguise or the littlest movement of a single tentacle could attract unwanted attention. She did not like being exposed. She preferred the confines of her den. She always had. Her only happy memories were of long ago in that den with her family and her darkest most dreaded memory took place out here in the open waters. As she sat motionless and hidden, it was that fearful memory that surfaced and confronted her yet again.
She had been so very young then and memories of the time just prior and soon after were always fractured and uncertain. These events however were sharp and clear and never far from her thoughts no matter how hard she tried to keep them at bay. The fear she felt then had not lessened, but instead had grown with her each day since.
It was their first time beyond the confines of the den. Umbra had been amazed at the vastness of the sea. Even her mother, Penumbra, whose body and arms had nearly filled their den, was tiny in the endless waters.
Umbra and the others swam close to their mother. Penumbra guided and corralled her children, gliding over and between the rocks that littered the ocean floor. Until that moment Umbra had only known safety and after, ever feared she never would again.
Silt erupted from the sea floor and clouded the water all around them. Umbra remembered thick, long, sinuous bodies winding around and encircling them. Penumbra gathered her children close and released a great billow of dark ink into the water, but the tail fins of their attackers cut great swaths through the blackness and it dissipated as fast as it had formed.
Exposed, Penumbra's skin changed in color to match the mottled browns of the sand and stones beneath her. All her children quickly followed suit. The act was futile. These eels had lain in wait and carefully eyed their prey. Having sprung their trap, they would not so easily lose sight of their meal.
Her ink was spent and her mimicry of the sea bed fruitless. If she gathered her limbs and jetted away she could escape, but her children could not follow. Penumbra looked frantically around for a crevice or hole into which she could usher them for safety, but there were none. Between her den and the reef there was a largely empty expanse and they were in the middle of it.
Umbra looked into the small, black-pearl eyes of the monsters as their maws gaped open, baring jagged rows of teeth. They lunged together and gulped up half of her siblings in an instant. Her mother reacted, wrapping her tentacles around the muscular bodies of the eels and shouting "Fly, my children! Find safety."
At once dozens of small little octopuses shot out and away from the tumult in all directions. The eels snapped and devoured one after another as Penumbra struggled unsuccessfully to restrain them. Umbra coiled and straightened her tiny arms again and again while exhaling thin jets of water in her attempt to flee, but the eels were too long and too fast. She watched helplessly as one of the monsters extended its open jaws to consume her.
Barely in time, Penumbra maneuvered a tentacle between her daughter and the eel, knocking Umbra aside. The monster's jaws clenched upon Penumbra's limb and Umbra watched in horror as the two eels turned their full attention on her mother.
Transfixed and frozen with fear, Umbra sank unmoving to the ocean floor. Luckily, her colors still matched the sand and stone and when they were finally finished, the eels failed to notice her. They nosed about and their eyes passed over her a dozen times before they finally turned and skulked away.
Umbra didn't move for a very long time and when she did, it was a slow and stealthy crawl that brought her back to the den. None of her family ever returned there as she had desperately hoped they would. Ever since that day, Umbra spent most of her time inside, hidden and alone.
Finally satisfied that the danger had passed, Umbra cast off the haunting memories of her youth and began to move cautiously and slowly along the sea bed towards home.
Umbra sighed with relief as she reached her lair. The opening was narrow and small, but she easily contorted her body and arms and slid gracefully inside. It wasn't large; there was but a single chamber. Umbra however, thought it magnificent. Here she could relax. She could let down her defenses and shake the fear that otherwise gripped her.
As she settled in though, something brushed against one of her tentacles. In the dim light she saw movement and a flash of purple and red. Her home wasn't empty and she wasn't alone. Fear came hurtling back and threatened to strangle her. Umbra couldn't contain herself and she began to wriggle and writhe against the confines of the small space. She pressed her body down into the floor of the den and her arms began to flail wildly.
In the commotion a tiny voice cried out, "Ouch, hey! Watch it!" as a small, thin fish with a long dorsal fin managed to mostly evade her tentacles.
As it entered her vision, Umbra could not control herself. Her skin instantly reflected what she saw.
"Ooooo, Neat! How'd you turn all purple and red? You're kinda big to squeeze in here. Were you trying to hide? Hey, are you an octopus? My dad's warned me about you. Are you gonna eat me? Do you really have a big sharp beak?"
The tiny fish tried to spy her mouth as he dodged her lashing limbs. As it spoke to her, Umbra went still and dropped her tentacles to the floor, coiling them about her.
"I'm Finn," the trespasser continued. "I'm a reef fish and I was exploring. What are you hiding from?" As he asked, Finn swam brazenly up and out of the den only to return a moment later.
"Whatever it was, it's gone now. What's your name?"
Umbra stared at him. She couldn't remember the last time she had spoken to anyone or that anyone had spoken to her. Most things fled if they saw her (which wasn't very often) and those that didn't flee were things she didn't wish to encounter.
"You do have a name, right? Oh! If you don't can I name you?"
"Umbra", she replied quietly. "My name is Umbra."
"Oh," Finn said, a little disappointed that he couldn't name her. "Well, that's a good name I guess. Hey, you didn't say if you were gonna eat me. If not, I should go soon. I gotta get home before my dad knows I'm gone."
Umbra studied Finn. He was very young. A firefish she knew from his colors. Concern crept into her voice as she spoke. "Why are you so far from the reef and how did you get here? It's not safe."
"I swam, silly. And I told ya, I was exploring. Besides, it seems safe enough. You are the first thing I've met out here and I had to swim in this deep dark hole for that. My dad said octopuses are monsters that will rip me apart and eat me up if they ever caught me, but you haven't done that yet. I'm still safe, see?"
Finn swam in fast little circles to emphasize his point and Umbra didn't know how to reply.
"Well, it was nice meeting you Umber."
"Umbra" she corrected him quietly.
"Right," he said, swimming up out of the den and out of sight.
Umbra edged to the opening and peered after him. She was startled as Finn turned around and stared at her from only inches away on the other side of the entrance.
"Maybe you can come see my home in the reef someday." Finn said excitedly. "I'll have to warn my dad first or he might think you've come to eat us." He giggled, turned again and began swimming along the sea bed toward the reef.
Umbra watched him from within her den. He swam straight with little heed of his surroundings. Of long habit she scanned the waters and the sands looking for danger and realized that even had Finn been looking too, he never would have seen the danger lurking right in front of him.
Candace's creativity is expressed in a variety of mediums from photography and craft art to her presentations and seminars as a public speaker. For this project she used watercolors, watercolor pencils and inks. All the illustrations for this fable can be seen in full color with the Kindle edition on a Kindle Fire or any color device using the Kindle app.
She has a great love for and interest in all animals and has spent countless hours helping care for and find homes for feral and abandoned cats. She has also dedicated time to the rehabilitation of wild critters including bats, birds and even opossums.