It was one of those things, you know? They had always been a fascination for me. I studied everything I could about them, every little thing that I could get my hands on. From the time that I was a little kid, all the way through adulthood. I was always siding with them in arguments. People liked to say that something with their physiology couldn’t possibly be intelligent.
They were wrong.
When I found out that I could actually own an octopus, I was beside myself with glee. I didn’t really look into it very well. All I cared about was that I could have one of the fascinating creatures in my home, and I could watch it all the time. Whenever I wanted. I bought a large tank and set it up near my bed, so I could fall asleep with the faint glow of the aquarium lights. So the last thing that I would see before slipping into dreamland would be the octopus.
The one I finally found and purchased was young. Not very big. I was excited. The tank itself had matured for a month while I tracked down somebody who could actually provide me with the invertebrate of my dreams. The second I set eyes upon her, I was in love. Her brownish color, her many arms exploring the container she was carried in. She kept prodding at the lid, as if she knew that’s how she’d gotten in, and that was how she would get out. The guy said nothing about it, however, just handed her to me and that was it. Our transaction was done.
I felt confident that I could keep her alive and that I knew enough about her to take very good care of her needs. When I placed her in her new home, she seemed more than happy, immediately inspecting every bit of decoration I put in there, and even moving some around like she thought it would look better in another place. After a few minutes, she retreated into the hollow rock I had placed in the water for her to hide in during the day.
We coexisted peacefully. She got used to me and I played with her all that I could. I learned when she was hungry, she learned how to tell me she wanted a toy. I bought and created many things to stimulate her mind and keep her interest. She particularly liked things that had texture to them, she would slide her arms around to feel the different bumps or grooves, holding it up in front of her eyes as if she were a scientist discovering new species.
She grew fast, and I had to buy another tank before long. The other was left still set up with the idea that I might just put some fish in it. That never came to fruition, but that’s not important. The new tank took up an entire wall in my bedroom. It dwarfed the other significantly. I had to move my dresser out into the living room just to accommodate it. As I moved her, she grabbed onto some of the decorations from the old tank, and nothing I did got her to let them go. When I gave up and placed her in the water, she placed the things where she wanted them and went about the business of exploring her new, roomier, home.
One day, I noticed that the top of the old tank was open. I didn’t remember leaving it that way, but I couldn’t particularly recall not, either. It didn’t really strike me as curious. Nothing else was disturbed. I figured that I had just forgotten to close it when I moved my octopus over. I closed it and forgot about the incident quickly.
It was another six months before anything odd happened again. I managed to wake up in the middle of the night and look over to see my octopus with two of her tentacles out of the tank. As I leaned forward to make sure I wasn’t seeing things, a trick of the light maybe, she withdrew them. I let it go and went back to sleep. When I got up the next day, I noticed that the lid was askew. I locked it back into place and looked for the way she’d gotten it open. With nothing torn or broken, I just couldn’t see it.
I started to feel as if she was watching me whenever I was in the room. She would move in subtle but purposeful ways to keep her eyes on me. Her arms pressed against the glass, suckers holding her there tightly. Every once in a while it would unnerve me. She seemed to know this and would retreat into the darker places, but I could still feel her there, watching. Like she was waiting for something, for me to do something, or for me to be gone, I didn’t know what. I started to spend a little less time in my own room. Gradually it came to be that I was only in there if I was sleeping, and even then I was restless.
Don’t be silly, I would say to myself, she’s not menacing you. She’s a curious creature, you know that. She wants to watch what you’re doing, and she probably misses playing with you. You used to spend hours with her, and now you avoid being near her tank like she’s carrying disease.
I tried. I tried to get back into the routine of spending time playing with her. But it seemed more that she was spending time with me instead. Like she was willing to amuse me for a little while, but that was it. We played and I gave her puzzles, but before to long she would abandon it and turn her back on me, showing interest in something else in the aquarium until I left her alone.
Almost like a couple who has fallen out of love, we spent an obligatory amount of time each day going through this routine. She would bore of me quickly, or I would get that nagging feeling that she was up to something and leave. It was a strange relationship to have with an invertebrate. I didn’t want to give her up, I was still fascinated by her. Maybe it had turned into something morbid, maybe something inside of me wanted to see what it was that she was plotting, because I was sure she was. I called the guy who sold her to me, only to discover his number disconnected. No forwarding number. 411 had no address attached to the number, despite it have being a landline. I thought that strange. I resorted to going to the city’s aquarium and asking a guy standing near their octopus tank what he thought was going on. He said she probably just needed new stimulation. I bought her some new toys on the way home and went right into the room to give them to her.
Once again, I discovered her with tentacles outside of the water. Outside of the tank. I dropped the bag I held, and the noise alerted her to my arrival. Again, I watched her withdraw. Slowly, deliberately. Before replacing the tank’s lid this time, I inspected it to try and discover how she’d opened it. I still had no clue. But this time when I closed it all up, I placed some of my heavier books on top, as an added security measure.
She seemed content with the new toys. She was more enthusiastic when we played, I felt less creeped out by her. It was like we had rekindled the magic.
I was satisfied that she’d just needed something new.
It wasn’t until the following spring, one year later, that I finally got to know what she’d been up to. I was woken up at three in the morning by a drop of water. It hit me in the corner of my eye and the slight stinging there told my brain that it wasn’t rain. I struggled to open my eyes and rouse myself into clarity. I flipped on my bedside lamp and looked up.
What I saw filled me with fear.
She was above me, suspended from my overhead fan, her legs deftly wrapped around a single blade and securing her there. Four tentacles reached down toward the bed, they curled up only slightly as the light came on. She had been mere inches from my head. As my mind finally made the picture of the scene whole, I noticed that she wasn’t the only one.
There were a dozen smaller octopi surrounding her.
They, also, crowded above my bed, hanging onto the ceiling with their strong suckers. It was obvious they had been moving, as there was a sound that stopped happening when my attention was turned to them. A few froze with limbs dangling, one was on the wall behind me, which I discovered when my fright backed me up from under the long reaching arms of my octopus. It reached out as if to touch me, I moved quickly away.
Standing now, I saw that the lids of both tanks were open. Looking closer at the small tank, I saw that much movement had stirred the water, bringing up the debris of what they must have eaten. Mice. Bugs. Something unidentifiable. I could only surmise that she had been finding these things when I wasn’t home, or when I was asleep, and feeding them – those smaller copies of her that could only be her offspring. But how? Why?
Smartly, she pushed the fan so that the blade she was suspended from came closer to me. I turned in time to see her tentacles coming for me, feel them wrap around my neck. Then darkness.
My whole house is filled with tanks now. I spend most of my time tending them. I can’t go outside without wearing a turtleneck, people ask questions. Questions I can’t answer. If I answer, she’ll be mad.