It's been a little less than two years now. Two years of trying to forget the sounds and the shapes. If I've slept, I don't remember. He killed himself, you know. Not many people are aware of that. I would have done the same, but I've glimpsed what awaits me on the other side of that threshold. Paul gave in; I have fought, even though the very warmth of life has trickled from my soul over these long and painful months.
It started in 2008. It was a more colourful, more innocent time. The Oberhausen Sea Life Centre was on the up and we were told to find a way of bringing it into the national consciousness. With Germany glued to the football team, it was natural that we tried to leverage that obsession. We didn't realise what we were creating.
Paul had been hatched a few months prior and was already an adult by the time of Euro 2008. You know, I think, the story. Someone had the idea of letting him pick out the results of Germany's matches by presenting him with a pair of plastic boxes, each containing a flag and fleshy chunks of mussel. Before each match, Paul predicted the winner by opening one of the boxes and consuming the food.
Euro 2008 saw him get five of the seven results -- 71 percent -- correct. It was called 'luck' by most, and that's what we thought as well. We are scientists. Were scientists. Skepticism was rife among the staff, but we'd succeeded in our goal of raising the aquarium's profile, and everyone was happy. Except Paul, now known as 'the Psychic Octopus'.
After the tournament was over, he became moody, distracted. When visitors came to see him we had to tempt him out of the jagged rocky crevices in which he preferred to lurk with food. He'd creep towards it, tentatively grab it with an outstretched, suckered arm, and jet away to his lair as soon as it was secured. People were disappointed. We said he was 'just shy'.
Paul lived on. He was a healthy, if strange creature. The common octopus tends to be inquisitive and requires significant stimulation in captivity. Not so with Paul. Presented with a puzzle, he seemed disinterested, preoccupied. He'd eat enough to stay healthy; no more. Stranger still, we noticed several times that he'd creep out of his hiding place when our backs were turned only to be caught darting back to safety when one of the staff turned around.
We were a little worried when the World Cup came around two years later. Paul was expected to be the face of the Centre, and it was far from clear he'd be interested in participating. There was talk of getting another octopus in if the original couldn't perform. Who'd be able to tell the difference, anyway?
But when the time came, Paul was an enthusiastic participant. It was as though he'd been waiting two long years for this. Germany. Serbia. Germany. Germany. Germany. Spain. Germany. Spain. All correct. Luck again? People said so. Others claimed that he might be biased towards certain patterns. But something didn't add up. He knew exactly what he was doing and seemed to be relishing the chance to show off his skills.
We knew we had to get out of the football game after the backlash over the semifinal. Paul picked Spain over Germany, and the eventual champions won 1-0. He was called a traitor to the country, given death threats. How I wish now that they'd been carried out.
More confident in Paul than ever, the staff continued in secret to ask questions of him in the aftermath of the tournament. At first, they were about world events. It might seem ludicrous to some that we were asking an octopus about the news, but we were deathly serious. He got every question -- and there were lots -- right. Some of us were afraid to continue. Those afflicted by that lurking, prescient dread stopped coming to Paul in the dead of night, but the rest pressed on regardless.
I don't remember whose idea it was to give him the choice between a happy face and a sad one, but it marked the beginning of the end. He didn't hesitate, latching onto latter and fishing out the tasty morsel contained within. There was some consternation at this. There was even more the following day when he ignored the pure white dove in favour of the fire and bombs that symbolised war.
We told everyone that Paul had died of old age. We were on the verge of forbidden knowledge, and we didn't want anyone else stealing it away from us. The experiments continued for a week, until one day I decided to present him the choice of a stick figure on the left and a completely empty box on the right.
I try not to forget the scream Anna let out when Paul casually ripped off one of his arms, and with blue blood spilling into the water from both his wounded mantle and the detached limb, deposited it in the empty box. Remembering that scream drowns out the deep, primal hum that's haunted me for years, if only for a fraction of a second.
She had fainted, poor girl, and I took her to the staff room so she could lie down. Having recovered, she fled home. I was the only one left, so I hastened back to Paul's tank. What waited there filled me with a mixture of awe and dread. Blue blood had been mixed with fish paste to smear a message on the side of the tank.
I assume it was a message, anyway. It wasn't in any language I knew, or had ever seen. The symbols, neatly-formed despite being written in dripping ichor, seemed to shimmer and shift if you looked at them too closely. I took several photos, hoping to pass them onto a linguist. The camera refused to register them.
Paul had noticed my return and went back to work, using his torn arm to sketch on the glass wall. I tried to look away. I couldn't. He was drawing It.
Describing It in words is pointless. Rules of geometry, of space and time, were discarded. It was beyond such trifling things. It wriggled and writhed on the wall, a grotesque mass of snapping jaws and tentacles. There were no eyes to be seen, so I hoped for a brief instant that It wouldn't be able to look back at me.
I was wrong. Its focus snapped to me, crushing my fragile intellect in a vice grip. Finally, I could see what Paul saw. I saw our future ended by a malevolent power so far beyond our understanding that we would never begin to comprehend even one hundredth of a percent of their terrible thoughts. Even the tiniest fraction of Its image was far too much for me to bear.
Brave Paul's life work was done. He'd warned us, the trusted humans, of our future, and now he could escape from it. My friend jetted at full speed into his sketch, his fleshy mantle splitting open and covering the glass with yet more gore before he sank to the floor, a wreck of broken tentacles.
The colour washed out of him with unnatural speed as the bloody drawing reformed and intensified. I ran. I ran and ran, despite knowing that running is futile. I will be found no matter where I go, and even if I tell the world there's nothing we can do to escape the doom that lies upon us. I'm still running.
But It is coming. I can feel It in my bones and hear It in the depths of my soul. It is coming and I am afraid.
In November 2012, a skeleton, tentatively identified through dental records as belonging to missing German marine biologist Dr. Stefan Ascherfeld, was found in an abandoned yurt in the Gobi Desert. It was clutching the above journal with both hands, hard enough to leave fingernail imprints and dried blood on the cover.