How to Drown a Kraken
The setting of “How to Drown a Kraken” was inspired by a defunct real-life lake theme park in Oklahoma that is now a Route 66 attraction. I often explore the lingering echoes of childhood memories. I’m especially interested in the question of what we do with those memories and how we act on them years or decades later.
Friends think I must have had so much fun growing up at an amusement park. They remembered Sea Land from the hooded eyes of their childhoods, how everything was big, how the kraken lowered its prey under the algae-soaked water as gleaming turtles basked their black backs under the Oklahoma sun. That was when the animatronics still worked.
Sea Land. Such a silly name for an amusement park built around a shallow landlocked lake. There was a small-scale railroad. A rattlesnake pit. Alligators fed with the naked bodies of plucked chickens, a spectacle for the visitors.
A rattlesnake bit my dad and he showed off the scar to every boy I brought home. One day, an alligator pulled Mom into the lake. She beat its snout until it released her, but walked with a limp ever after. They carried the alligator away, its nose wrapped in silver duct tape. I don’t know where it went.
Dad clucked his tongue. “She knows better,” he said. “Can’t take your eyes off them bastards.”
I could see the lake in the distance from the porch of our house. Cicadas droned in the darkness as yellowed lights clipped the pirate ship anchored near the shore. Its stern pointed to the sky, a googly-eyed green octopus holding tight to the body and the masts.
I was twelve and learning about myths and legends at school. “You should have built a squid,” I told my parents. “A kraken is a squid.”
Dad laughed over the dinner table as we ate pan-fried catfish my mom caught from the lake. “People love a story,” he said. “It’s even better when it’s not true.”
He told me he built the kraken for their tenth wedding anniversary as a token of his love, deep as the sea. She told me she wanted to go to France. But instead she got a kraken, and she named it Odysseus and dreamed of lands far across the ocean where the water shone in shades of turquoise and tourmaline, not brown.
When Dad walked the grounds after dark, Mom and I watched Fantasy Island.
“Would you go?” I asked Mom one night as the plane soared over diamond-flecked waters.
“In a heartbeat,” she said.
Dad came home, and she turned off the TV. He said the ringing of bells and PA announcements and laughter all day long was enough. Home needed to be quiet. So quiet, I kept my voice like a firefly in cupped hands, glimmering unseen in a tiny cave.
Mom never left Oklahoma. I sent her postcards from Paris. The spire of Notre Dame. The Eiffel Tower, angles and rivets against an aquamarine sky. For her birthday one year, I made her a card with a shaky line drawing of the Arc de Triomphe. I wrote, “Trip to Paris, on me. Anytime you want.”
Mom opened it and smiled. Dad frowned and she held it to her chest and thanked me. “Your dad needs me here,” she said. “Next year maybe.” After five years, I quit asking.
They closed the park, all but the lake. Dad patched together an asphalt parking lot and dropped in a Tuff Shed with a hand-painted sign reading “Ice Cream Shack.” He sold orange push pops and Nutty Buddy cones all summer from an electric cooler that moaned like a sick cow. People came to see the kraken of Route 66. He sold them keychains shaped like octopuses and showed them where the rattlesnake bit his wrist. Dad repainted the kraken and the ship. The paint peeled and Mom hardly ever left her bed anymore.
“She’s fine,” he told me when I came to visit. She told me the same thing, but she looked away when she said it.
I came home for Mom’s funeral in springtime as shining bluestars lit the overgrown banks of the lake with tiny tentacled flowers. The wood dock had slid half under the water, its posts decayed. The kraken held the ship to its chest. The final tatters of the sails hung limp from the masts.
I paid a guy to let me use his tow truck overnight. In the darkness of a half moon, I waded the hook out to the kraken, its rusty red eyes staring down at me. The cable slipped under the one-way mirror of the water. I put the chocks under the truck’s back tires and turned on the winch, watching the cable reel in like I was some deep-sea fisherwoman battling her catch. The line went taut. The beast in the lake screamed in metallic tones, and it was the same sound I heard in my head when Dad called to tell me Mom died. I thought it would make a wave as big as a building, but it fell so slow. The kraken slipped away under the silvery black of the water, just rust and metal pulled back toward the center of Earth.
Dad and I stood on the shoreline in the humid slick of morning. A decaying catfish rotted at the water’s edge. Dad worked a push pop with the palm of his hand. The air smelled of fake oranges and ammonia.
“Well,” he said, looking over the flat water. “Don’t suppose you know anything about that?”
I had gone back and scrubbed away the tire tracks, worked the soft dirt, spread last year’s brown and broken leaves over the ground.
“You know what a kraken is?” I asked him.
He looked at me like I was a stranger. “I loved her.”
“A kraken is a myth. It never was real.”
“I loved her deep as the sea.”
Deep as a lake. But I didn’t say it. The words decayed in my throat as I walked away, the asphalt crumbling under my feet. I thought of Odysseus and the exquisite pain of the siren song. How blue. How sweet the cold, pale water.
Amanda Kooser (she/they) is a journalist, rocker and writer. They graduated from the University of New Mexico creative writing MFA program in 2022. Her work has appeared in Vast Chasm, Yellow Arrow Journal, 101 Words, The Twin Bill and Conceptions Southwest. Amanda lives in Albuquerque and plays a pink-sparkle guitar in indie rock band The Dawn Hotel.