STORY OF THE WEEK

Badly Behaved Cephalopods Lead to Amazing Occurances

Madelyn Lemons

Be an octopus research scientist you said. It would be fun, you said. No no, they can’t steal things. Absolutely not. They don’t memorize night guard patterns and steal fish from other exhibits. They don’t open their tanks, slip their grubby tentacles out, teach into your candy drawer, and steal your Almond Joy. Not them. Dumb fish, yes they are.

            Hahaha, kill me now I think, shoes squeaking on the ugly yellow linoleum as I follow the puddles left behind in his mad dash for freedom. The little bastard’s escaped again. Lenny, we call him. He’s not much to look at, just an Octopus Vulgaris, literally the “common octopus”. They’re everywhere, and I think they’re stupid.

            Well, not stupid stupid. He’s actually one hell of a little scientist, testing new ways to gaslight everyone on staff into thinking he’s secretly working for the Soviets. But his behavior is ridiculous, no matter how inspired, and I resent him for it.

            I narrow my eyes at the flowerpot in the corner. I’ve seen Finding Dory. But no, it’s just a worn-out and cracked clay pot, with sad little rainbows painted on the side. Flowers in varying stages of death peek out of it, the pot too crowded for Lenny to shove himself into easily. I sigh as I approach the tropical fish exhibit, bright light shining from around the corner. He loves the tropical fish exhibit, and I honestly can’t blame him. If fills the entire cavernous room, styled to look an “rainforest” (Although the plastic tiger in the corner is a bit overkill if you ask me) he tank itself must be nearly fifteen feet high and thirty feet wide, a gigantic clear wall displaying an underwater world filled to the brim with colorful fish, swaying green seaweed, brightly colored algae-covered rocks, and an enormous number and variety of anemone species. I’m almost certain that’s where he’s gone, since he loves prying open and eating clams that live near the bottom of that massive tank.

            Beautiful swirling schools of fish dart from fake rock to fake rock, eyeing me with suspicion. Knowing full well that Lenny can change colors and assume varying shapes to hide anywhere, I scan the bottom of the tank carefully for any oddities. I’d once caught him waving his tentacles like the seaweed he’d hidden with, but I don’t see him trying that now.

            Out of the corner of my eye I catch movement, something much larger than the fat puffer fish currently scowling at me. I turn my head to the left, hoping it’s not some gigantic shark that I have to worry about eating Lenny.

            Oh thank God, it’s just Bill the fish man. He was slowly flippering his way with his little oxygen tank and orange swim trunks towards a sizable group of striped snowflake eels hiding within the coral, each eagerly flapping their mouths like hungry baby birds. His hair is nearly the color of his fluorescent trunks, which honestly makes that outfit a terrible choice for him.

I’m pretty sure his name isn’t actually “Bill the orange fish man” or even “Bill” at all, but I’ve never actually talked to him. I do think it’s a bit odd that he’s dressed like a tourist instead of a person being paid, but it’s after hours, so he’s probably not too concerned. I suppose he hasn’t seen me yet, given the distortion the glass produces. I shrug, and continue searching the sand at the bottom of the tank. He’ll be useful for getting Lenny out, unless Lenny’s in a mood. In that case, we’ll just have to wait until he returns on his own, unless someone’s willing to get chomped on by his beak, covered in nasty ink, or choked out by his tentacles.

            There! I grin, finally spotting the little miscreant posing as a rock. It pays to count the rocks — you never know when Lenny will pretend to be one. I point at him accusingly, and I know full well he sees me. His little eyes narrow, and he angrily ejects water from his funnels. Even when they’re camouflaged to look like horizontal lines on an oddly shaped rock. I know his pissy eyes when I see them. Well, so much for a cooperative Lenny.

            “You little shit, I hope a shark somehow gets in there and eats you!” I swear at him. I know he’s a cephalopod without the ability to even perceive sound the way humans do, but that doesn’t stop me from calling his irritating fishy ass lots of names. I stick my tongue out at him, and the ends of his tentacles twitch in irritation. He regains his usual pumpkin color from the slate gray color he’d used to pose as a rock. If he were capable of verbal expression of thought, he’d probably be saying something along the lines of “look what I can do, silly human. Can you change colors? I think not, useless bony creature. Hahaha, I laugh at your stiff land-locked species. Ha!”

            However, Lenny assuming his normal pumpkin color alerts Orange Bill, who seems very startled to see a rock become a mid-size octopus. His eyes, magnified by his goggles to slothlike cockeyed perfection, blink several times. He glances at me, and then points at the octopus curiously, as if to say “is he supposed to be in here?” I shake my head no and point back the way I had come. Seemingly convinced to procure the escaped octopus, he begins swimming towards Lenny’s hiding spot by the rocks, just to the left of a large Leptopsammia, a bright yellow pom-pom of a coral.

Oh no bad idea don’t do it danger zone he’ll eat you Jesus Christ Lenny’s one mean little bastard when he wants to be- No matter how horrified my hand waving and how panicked my facial expressions, Orange Bill doesn’t seem to notice. Reaching Lenny, he attempts to get a good grip on his bulbous angry orange head. I cover my eyes in absolute horror. I know Lenny isn’t big enough to kill anyone, but this will not end well!

            Peeking through my fingers, I immediately regret calling attention to Lenny in the first place. Poor Orange Bill has been absolutely lost in a cloud of deep black ink, which will no doubt stain the hell out of everything he’s wearing, and perhaps even his skin. I suppose it could have been worse — he could’ve gotten chomped on by Lenny’s horrifying beak of a mouth, or even strangled by his eight suction-cup laden appendages.

            I quickly run over to the side door entitled “Staff Only” and open it with my key. Taking the steps two at a time, I reach the top of the tank in sixty-seconds flat. I skid to the side of the tank near the exit ladder, and stick my head almost into the water to see if I can find Orange Bill, but all I see is a slowly drifting cloud of very dark ink-laden water. I’m honestly worried he might get stuck on or cut up by some of the sharper coral species, not being able to see. This incident was a bit my fault, and I feel sorry about what happened to poor Orange Bill. My face so close to the water, I fail to notice the inevitable until it literally smacks me in the face.

            “BWAHARGL!” I shout, grabbing my now bleeding nose and falling SPLAT into the water like a fat penguin. Cold salty water surrounds me, still darkened by Lenny’s ink fiasco. I begin flailing in the inky water, completely lost as to which way is up. Hands grab me, and direct my head to the correct orientation. I gasp when I reached the surface, thrilled to have air again. I wipe my stinging eyes with my hands, and grasp the ladder that was so frustratingly close to me the entire time.

            I suppose I should have figured that Orange Bill would swim straight upwards in an attempt to evade the ink, and it would have been silly for him to expect some idiot octopus scientist to be dangling their head inches above the water. After pulling myself onto the small deck area, I examine my nose in greater detail. I suppose it’s not bleeding that much, so at least I’ve got that going for me.

            Hearing an “UMPH” noise, I see that Orange Bill has hoisted himself up after me. He pulls off his miniaturized scuba gear and sits it next to him. He isn’t really orange anymore — both his fluorescent trunks and ginger hair look far darker than usual. Goodness knows my formally white shirt is probably a purple shade at this point. Wiping his face and eyes with his hands in a similar way to how I had earlier, he shakes his hair out like a dog.

            Damn… I suppose the glass had distorted him more than I expected. He doesn’t actually look like a ginger sloth with massive googly crossed eyes. He has a strong jaw, normal sized eyes, adorable little dimples at the corners of his mouth, and a cute little perfectly shaped nose.

            Thinking of how I must look in comparison… Ugh. Drowned rat with a mildly bleeding nose probably wasn’t the best look for me.

            “Hey, uh, so are you, uh, ok?” I ask, not exactly accustomed to speaking to strangers. Octopus ink isn’t poisonous or anything, but it isn’t pleasant to get on you. He blinks at me several times.

            “Yeah, not… bad. Why is he so angry?” he asks, seemingly puzzled by Lenny’s behavior.

            “Yeah, he’s a bit of an asshole. He escapes, and then treats anyone who tries to return him like they’re a shark that murdered his whole family.” I reply, rolling my eyes. Not-soOrange Bill snickers, and attempts to get some of his inkstained hair out of his eyes. I giggle a bit myself while trying to wring out my white T-shirt.

            “So what’s your, uh, actual name?” I ask, a bit ashamed to have been referring to him by a made-up nickname.

            “Actual name?” he repeats, tilting his head to the side like a confused dolphin. I blush.

            “I don’t know your real name so I, uh, have been referring to you in my head as like ‘Bill’ or something…” I trail off, embarrassed. At least I left off the “Orange” part. He laughs, and messes with his hair even more.

            “I’m Travis,” he says, smiling a beautiful smile with perfect teeth. Wow, his dentist must’ve charged a fortune…

            “Jim,” I say, smiling as much as I can with my head-damaged nose and bright red cheeks. He smiles even wider.

            “Well then Jim, would you like to help me feed the fish tomorrow at eight? We could try for round two with the angry pumpkin,” he says, winking at me. I turn an even brighter shade of red, if that’s even possible at this point. Was my nose still bleeding? Am I hallucinating?

            I can hear him now. Lenny the asshole cephalopod… “Silly inflexible human, fear is for the lesser species. Seize the clam, eat it, and live a bit. But I still hate you.

            I laugh out loud, and grin at Travis, fear and awkwardness gone for once.

            “Sounds great to me.”

Fin (Or tentacles)