Kiss of the Leviathan
1. The ex
The city is sweltering. The drive home in his ratty hatchback is sweltering. The apartment is sweltering too, when Theo opens the front door and finds Albert waiting for him in the hall. It’s your ex, he says, scrolling Instagram and completely avoiding eye contact. He just showed up. I panicked. I invited him to stay for dinner.
My ex? Theo hasn’t talked to most of his exes in years. Not the barista or the mortgage broker or the IT guy. Sometimes he runs into the poet. You said dinner, he says, because he can smell something baking in the kitchen — and underneath that, an eerily familiar dampness. Oh, he says.
The sea monster is waiting in the living room — a dark, uncertain mass coiled in on himself, magma-red eyes blinking while tendrils reach out to fuss with Albert’s knickknacks and Theo’s books. I don’t have to stay for dinner, the sea monster says.
Theo clears his throat. He’s been running back and forth across the city all day, covering Fringe Festival shows. The last thing he wants right now is an awkward conversation with an ex. He’s exhausted, just wants Albert — tall and soft and hairy — wrapped around him on the couch. But he hasn’t seen the sea monster in years, the sea monster hasn’t reappeared on dry land in years, and Theo can’t stop himself from imagining what Carla would say if he didn’t get a story out of this. Something about sabotaging his career, probably. You should stay, he finds himself saying. My editor would kill me if I didn’t get an interview.
Always straight to the point, the sea monster says.
2. Strictly professional
When they met, the sea monster was doing B movies. This was years ago, when Theo was first trying a staff writing gig. The sea monster was in a whole series of films directed by this lesbian cult horror director who famously self-medicated. They called him the Leviathan. The scripts were schlock, the characters cardboard, but everybody agreed the sea monster had something.
They met at a gay bar, this basement called Electric Avenue. The sea monster was there for the wrap party for Call of the Leviathan. Theo was there to write a something about the DJ — this skinny knob who seemed to have no sense of what the crowd was into, or didn’t care anyway — but he couldn’t stop himself from staring at the sea monster standing in the corner, back curved and shoulders pressed against the ceiling.
Theo couldn’t help himself; he had to go over there and ask for an interview. If he turned in two stories, especially if one of them was with the elusive Leviathan — well. Maybe he’d start to get somewhere. And then later something clicked, when he managed to tell some offhanded joke and the sea monster smiled, volcanic glass teeth flickering in the strobe light.
3. Dietary restrictions of a sea monster
Albert won’t sit down. Albert keeps disappearing into the kitchen and returning with more and more things — cutlery, napkins, plates, a bottle of wine, neon plastic drinking cups, a jug of water, bocconcini salad and the leftovers from last night’s focaccia. Theo doesn’t want to have to tell him that his ex-boyfriend won’t eat any of it, can’t eat any of it, he doesn’t want to have to explain the dietary restrictions of a sea monster. But then he reappears with a beef wellington he made from scratch.
Albert, he says. Babe —
This all looks amazing, the sea monster says, scooping up an entire plate’s worth and depositing it somewhere. He’s being polite. How did you two meet, anyway?
Albert sits like the question has deflated him. I do this baking show on YouTube, he says. He was interviewing me —
The sea monster’s laughter rumbles. Theo cuts him off. He’s great, Theo says. He’s applying to be on Bake-Off you know. Well. Canadian Bake-Off. Theo winces, has to stop himself from explaining any further.
Albert straightens, taking a sip of red wine. So, he says, a little too loud. What brings you back to town, anyway?
Just nostalgia, the sea monster says. It’s been years.
4. Excerpt I
How did you get into acting?
I’d been on dry land for about six months and I didn’t know what I was doing. The city was noisy, noisier than anything I’d ever experienced. I was sleeping in somebody’s backyard swimming pool and commuting downtown to work at a french fry place in the food court. I don’t even eat potatoes. And Martha [Springwood] was shooting this slasher flick, Kiosk Killer, in the basement. She loves poutine. She started talking to me about this new project she was working on. She kept talking about queering the monstrous or whatever. She called me her muse, said she’d been looking for the next big thing in monster movies. I think she was just happy she wasn’t going to have to stuff some guy into a bad rubber suit. And she named me.
She named you?
There are no names underwater. No identities, or fantasies. There is only the endless, endless churn of the waves. There are a million of us down there, but we are all one. We are the ocean. Only then I was on dry land. And Martha said, You can’t really put that on a poster. She talked a lot about biblical imagery — not that I knew what she was talking about — and then she said, We’ll call you the Leviathan.
5. Pie in the freezer
The sea monster keeps telling stories about back then. Theo keeps asking questions about why now. There is something familiar about this, about the way the sea monster expands when Theo begins to get under his skin, the way the pipes in the ceiling begin to churn loudly.
Theo takes a gulp of red wine and asks, Are you making a new movie? Nobody’s heard from Martha Springwood in the last three years, not since the night at Cannes. Are you the lead or do they just have you doing a cameo?
No, the sea monster says. The sink gurgles loudly in the kitchen. Do you remember the time you made me go to the opera and I had to listen to prolonged slut-shaming in Italian?
Albert clears his throat and says There’s pie, does anyone want pie? When did he have time to make pie? I made it last week! It was in the freezer!
Theo leans forward, elbows on the table. He is trying not to think about how they ended things, that final terse conversation with the sea monster staring into the window of Theo’s old fourth-floor apartment before disappearing into the bay. Are you here for a convention? It is easier, funnier to think about the sea monster crammed behind a folding table, signing autographs. On a panel with the guy that played Gorgo, and some Mothra cosplayer.
The toilet tank is running. The sink is rattling. Thank god they don’t have fire sprinklers. I was thinking about that one time, you know, when you took me to the flea market and we found all that Leviathan merchandise. Did you keep any of it?
No, Theo says, because he knows it will hurt. C’mon, you can’t leave me hanging here.
It sounds like the toilet is overflowing. Fuck, the sea monster says. His tentacles won’t stop twitching. The sea kingdom is invading, okay? Fuck!
Albert shoots to his feet. I think we need pie!
6. Who is the Leviathan?
Martha Springwood’s Leviathan movies — the guilty pleasure of film students everywhere — all have the same plot: the sea kingdom is rising up and declaring war on the surface world. Humanity is on trial. Certainly the details change; in The Leviathan Awakens they just outright say Atlantis is invading, but by Dial L for Leviathan, someone’s decided that it’s Lemuria instead. The major city on the precipice may be London or Djakarta or Vancouver or New York. The hero might be a square-jawed naval officer fresh off a divorce, or a plucky teen detective or a golden retriever. Doesn’t matter.
The audience is there for the Leviathan.
People dress up like him at conventions. When those film students are feverishly composing their dissertations on ecological horror, the Godzilla Effect, whatever — when they bring up the Leviathan, they don’t talk about the freshness of the tropes. They talk about the effect of seeing the Leviathan on the big screen.
Dwarfing tankers and cruise ships, the Leviathan juts out of the dark waters of the bay, a statue carved from metamorphic rock with coral-barbed tentacles like hair. An eighth wonder of the world, half-man and half-tsunami. That’s all that’s visible; who knows how vast the Leviathan is below.
The oceans have turned against you. The Leviathan’s voice rolls in like a thunderstorm. You will be punished for your crimes.
The mayor is always at the front of the crowd, with a megaphone. The mayor is the mayor from Jaws. He wants this invasion or whatever it is to go away. He’s shouting at a sea monster about the impact on the local economy.
Nobody cares how it ends. Sometimes humanity rallies, launches a bomb. Maybe there’s an elite SEAL team. One of them ends with King Arthur emerging from a British tomb. What people care about is seeing something — someone — on that scale when they know it’s real. The first time Theo saw one of the Leviathan movies, it felt like his ribcage was going to swing open.
7. Feel the words
The humidity in the apartment is rising. Theo sits with his elbows on the table, watching the sea monster across from him while Albert sets slices of apple pie topped with hand-whipped cream in front of them. So, Albert says, You are here for a new movie.
The sea monster doesn’t say anything but his whole body puckers, gills opening along his shoulders and releasing steam. I’m not talking about a movie, he says, finally, and Theo can feel the words in his stomach, in his bowels.
When they broke up, it was because the sea monster had to return to the sea. He didn’t explain why at the time, offered no excuses or reasons, didn’t blame Theo for his endless needling and questions. Martha Springwood’s PR team sent out a press release a few weeks later, explaining that she was going to be working on a new series of films, a trilogy of holiday films focusing on the Easter Bunny. There was no mention of the Leviathan or the sea monster. Old photos occasionally cropped up in the tabloids, photoshopped to show him working in McDonald’s or or an Amazon warehouse or playing some dive bar with the corpse of Elvis Presley.
Theo clears his throat: Is that why you left?
Thick spines erupt from the sea monster’s flesh. Really? That’s what you’re concerned about? I’ve just told you that the sea kingdom is going to rise up and destroy the surface world and you want to rehash our breakup?
They always went back to Theo’s apartment. He didn’t even know where the sea monster lived. We could go to your place, he said, once. He didn’t know where he expected the sea monster to live — in the bay? A private tank at an aquarium? Did he carpool in from the suburbs, where he rented someone’s swimming pool? Maybe there was a seafood restaurant …
I have roommates, the sea monster said, without looking over. They were in the middle of some late-night schlock with a guy in a rubber monster costume destroying a city, pressed up against each other on the couch, still boneless from fucking. It was the sea monster’s idea; he’d stare into the screen, as if taking notes.
Theo shoved a spoonful of dry cereal into his mouth to stop himself from saying something, from asking something. There were other things, things the sea monster wouldn’t talk about. Things that dug into Theo’s brain, because he was like that with unanswered questions. They made his palms itch. They gave him gas. So he kept bringing it up. Only later, when the sea monster was leaving, when the sea monster was breaking up with him, he said, You never asked the right questions.
9. Excerpt II
You’ve received a lot of blowback from people on social media who feel the Leviathan movies are “woke scare-mongering” — how would you respond to those comments?
I mean, I don’t know what you want me to say here. The science is all there — we know exactly what kind of an impact the surface world is having on the oceans, on every aspect of what humans call the environment. Nothing I’m saying, nothing Martha’s saying, nothing the movies are saying, isn’t something you already know. Entire species die every year. The climate is changing, irreparably. I don’t know how to state this any more plainly. The world is ending.
Moss spreads across the angular planes of the sea monster’s chest as he looms over the table, eyes opening everywhere. You have to be fucking joking, he says, and Theo remembers, distantly, what the makeup sex was like.
It’s like he’s stuck inside Kiss of the Leviathan. It’s “the gay one,” the one where the Leviathan falls in love with a human being, with a man, and stops the invasion himself. The sea monster made it while they were together in real life, said it was his statement movie. Fandom is split on the movie’s value; people argue that it breaks the formula, that they don’t want to know about the Leviathan’s inner life. You can still find it running on late-night TV, and sometimes the Rio does midnight screenings for Valentine’s Day.
Only the Leviathan is a fictional character and Theo hasn’t seen the sea monster in years. His husband is in the next room, washing the dishes and trying not to listen in. Theo isn’t in charge of stopping the end of the world. It starts to rain inside.
11. Truth or dare
Albert asked him once, what it was like. This was when they first got together; Theo and Albert would stay up playing gin rummy and Truth or Dare at the same time. Whoever lost a hand had to pick. Neither of them ever asked for a dare. Albert told him about the drug dealer, the circus acrobat, the boy on the beach in Mexico. When Theo lost — finally — Albert grinned and shuffled the cards, asking, What was it like with a sea monster?
Theo didn’t know where to look. It was — hot, he said, staring at the ceiling. He didn’t know how to describe what it was like, exactly, when the warm stone and moss peeled back. It was like being wetly kissed everywhere. It was like standing on the beach in monsoon season, it was like waiting to drown.
Theo is stammering out something like excuses while the sea monster has forgotten to bother with flesh at all, has become a tightly wound hurricane. Theo doesn’t know where to look. The rain is coming down so hard he almost can’t breathe. The windows rattle, the wallpaper is starting to peel. The stucco ceiling disappears beyond thick, dark clouds coalescing over their heads. Moss spreads out across the carpet and up the walls and it’s like he’s choking —
Albert reappears from the kitchen. He clears his throat and asks, Is everything all right? He ignores the rain even as it rolls down his forehead and into his eyes, holds up an unopened bottle of wine and asks, Do you want something to drink?
The storm deflates. No. Thank you. There is something about a storm managing to sound embarrassed that is unnerving. I don’t know why I even bothered, the storm says. The sea monster says. The Leviathan says. None of the movies ended like this. Theo tries to imagine how he’d review it. The sea monster grinds out, I give up. And then the rain stops, sharply. The storm is gone. The sea monster is gone.
13. There will be black mould
They are sitting side by side on the couch in the living room. The couch is soaked. Theo can’t stop thinking about that one summer, his first year with Albert, when they went camping. They woke up to rain and to a rain of fish. That’s when he first told Albert about the sea monster. He couldn’t not say something, with fish wiggling all around them, all around the campsite. So I used to date a sea monster. But that was years ago. Feels like a completely different life. He was a kid back then.
They can’t stay. They’re going to need to move. They probably won’t get their damage deposit back. There’s the carpet, for one. There will be black mould. Someone will have to rip that right up. Redo the walls completely. There needs to be a new toilet tank, too. They have lived in this apartment for ten years but now they can’t stay. Except is it worth it? Moving? If the sea kingdom is about to invade?
Because that’s what the sea monster’s going to do, right? He’s going to sound the Horn of Proteus like in the movies, and all the creatures of the ocean — his siblings, the sea monster’s siblings — will rise up. Who wants to be apartment hunting in the middle of an invasion? Who wants to be navigating a U-Haul across town? Stuck on the freeway with the water rising over you and the Leviathan roaring past.
Ben Rawluk is a queer writer of fiction and poetry living on the traditional, ancestral and unceded territories of the Musqueam, Squamish and Tsleil-Waututh. A graduate of the University of British Columbia’s MFA Creative Writing program, his work has appeared in Maisonneuve, Plenitude and Cosmonauts. More: benrawluk.ca or Twitter @brawluk