I’m not terribly moved by Valentine’s Day. I’m a hopeless romantic in the right context, but the commercial holiday generally feels pretty hollow and forced to me. Or rather, it did until I found just the right angle from which to approach it. It started as one of those fanciful questions born of woolgathering: What if a sea creature fell in love with a Great Old One? Who’d dare be that bold or foolish?
Why the blue-ringed octopus, of course, third most venomous marine animal on the planet after two species of box jellyfish. Despite their adorably small size, one blue-ringed octopus carries enough of the neurotoxin Tetrodotoxin to kill 26 adult humans in minutes. They are shy creatures, only biting humans when provoked and directly handled (those bright blue rings are meant to send a very clear warning), but their bites are virtually painless and their victims don’t even know they’ve been bitten until respiratory failure and paralysis start to set in. Oh yes, and there’s currently no known antivenom.
So I’m imagining that a greater blue-ringed octopus (Hapalochlaena lunulata) has fallen head over tentacles for Othuum, The Oceanic Horror, described as “a twisting tentacled mass, with a single alien face somewhere in the center of the slimy squirming mass.” How does this besotted cephalopod show their love and try to win the affection of an ancient, unearthly, and horribly powerful being? Why, with a grand romantic, possibly fatal, gesture.
That train of thought is how I found myself up to my eyeballs in spackle, paint, assorted ocean ephemera, and synthetic tentacles, creating a monstrous Valentine’s Day art project that grew so elaborate, more than one February 14th passed until I was able to officially declare it complete.
And here it is, my eldritch undersea altar. I decided that what my lovesick venomous octopus would do was make an offering to the object of their quite possibly ill-fated affections.
First I created my octopus. I started with a plain toy octopus (one that’s actually much larger than a real-life blue-ringed octopus, but that’s okay) and painted it to look like Hapalochlaena lunulata. Then it was time to set the stage for their amorous sacrifice.
A proper offering requires a suitable altar, which I made using one of those large heart-shaped cardboard boxes of valentine chocolates, a decorative column pedestal, an assortment of other heart-shaped craft objects, Apoxie Sculpt, spackling paste, and a variety of paints and stains.
Because my altar is meant to exist somewhere on the ocean floor, I decorated it with a variety of interesting seashells, sea urchin spines, clusters of barnacle shells, corals, and some delightfully rubbery fake anemones from the aquarium department of my local pet store, all of which I textured and weathered to give them an ancient, undersea feel.
An altar dedicated to a Great Old One must have be sinister, so some of the shells contain old doll parts – arms and heads – that I also textured and weathered. They reach and peer out from inside clam shells, barnacles, and the altar itself, severed pieces of past offerings, perhaps. Or maybe they’re all that remains of unfortunate souls who strayed too close to Othuum.
The octopus rests atop the altar clutching human offerings in some of their tentacles, waiting for their love to arrive and react, well aware that they might be perceived as the sacrificial offering. But this octopus would rather be devoured by Othuum than exist with all their venomous love unrequited.
Now Othuum is coming. I painted Finger Tentacles and positioned a few so that they’re emerging from large barnacle shells on one side of the base, an then affixed the rest around the top section of the altar to serve as the first sign of the Great Old One’s arrival, their dark tentacles surrounding the octopus, for better or worse.
Good luck, my tentacular lovers. Cthulhu fhtagn, here’s hoping your love doesn’t wake him.