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  • DAVID IS proceeding with set purpose from the railroad yard up Race Street to the Saint Mark’s rectory in the damp gathering gloom of Easter Eve, 1910. It is foggy. It’s also dusk; he can’t see much. He’s not too worried, though, because he’s just seen Terrence Malloy cooking up some food in a tin lean-to down in the rail yard.

    As he makes his way up the street, a two-and-a-half-pound octopus crawls out of a manhole just behind him. David suddenly gets a whiff of something like a pile of rotting fish in the sun on a hot summer day. He spins on his heel and sees the creature slithering toward him. Slithering at a pretty good clip, as a matter of fact.

    Strange creatures, these octopi, he thinks. I wonder how one got into the storm sewers of Mauch Chunk, Pennsylvania.

    Actually, he only thought it was an octopus, because he’d never actually seen one.

    So he shakes off the apparition and starts jogging up the street, barely staying ahead of the pursuing cephalopod. By the time he reaches the rectory kitchen door, he’s pretty well out of breath, but he manages to slip inside before the octopus reaches him. Placing his ear to the inside of the door, he hears a squishing sound, which he takes to be the octopus colliding with the outside of the door. What next, he thought.

    “Is that you, David?” He hears his mother’s voice from the kitchen, where she and Julia are hard at work making preparations for the Easter feast. Baking smells, rich with spices and flavorings of vanilla, cinnamon, chocolate and delicate pastry dough, assail his nostrils, giving flight to the stink of dead fish.

    “Yes, Ma, it’s me.”

    “You’re very late getting home. Where have you been?”

    “You wouldn’t believe me if I told you. I’m not sure I believe it myself.” Right! I was spying on a man who wants to kill me, and then an octopus chased me up Race Street. No, I think I’ll keep that to myself.

    “Well, Mister Man of Mystery, wash up and get in here for your supper.”

    “Julia,” David said. “Do you know anything about cooking octopus?”

    “Octopoos? What is octopoos?”

    “Hard to explain. Here.” David picked up the pencil his mother had been using to make notes for herself. He drew a crude eight-armed creature on a scrap of paper. “See? Octopus: it’s a kind of fish; lives in the water. Do you know how to cook them?”

    “Ah. We call them spruts where I came from. Big delicacy, mostly for the nobility and the aristocracy in Moskva and Peterburg. Why you want to cook this...octopoos?”

    “You’ll have a hard time believing this, but one followed me home. I think it’s still out in the yard.”

    Mary snatched back her pencil and tapped it against the table. “Enough of this nonsense, young man. Julia has more important things on her mind than cooking an octopus which is obviously nothing more than a figment of your imagination.”

    “Spruts,” Julia cried. “Ha! I can cook them! Is simple. Just remove beak, then boil till tender and grill with herbs and oil until crisp. Then slice and serve with nice parsley garnish. Go out and fetch creature. Bring him in and we will save for after
    holiday. Then eat him.”

    This is an example of what happens when a writer, determined to write something, can't think of anything coherent to write.
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