Short Stories

Short Story: Man Who Thought He Was an Octopus

He corrected his knitted cap, pushing the tentacles out of his face. He knew he shouldn’t wear the hat—that the neighborhood kids laughed and bullied him because of it, but it was the only way he felt closer to his true-self. Appearance made of yarn was the best he had been able to do in sixty-seven years. Despite all the doctors he had gone to see, he still was an octopus in the wrong body. He let go of the last tentacle he had been fondling without thinking to notice a woman across the street staring at him—the cars driving between them only made the fixed attention more uncomfortable. 

He turned on his heels and, with hunched shoulders, felt his way around the narrow walkway to the local corner shop. Every tap of his feet and swing of hands against the air told him what the mood was past the slab. It was like his skin could taste the flow of his surroundings. In the past, he had gone barefoot around the neighborhood, but then he had been forced to make a choice: the hat or the bare feet. Now he fore those fancy new shoes the yuppies, the running enthusiast, and other nutters swore by, the minimalists shoes. For him, they meant survival.

Inside the shop, he avoided the arguing couple at the aisle four. They were having one of those arguments people have on sitcoms, a silent treatment. Still, he could taste it. To make sure he wasn’t dreaming this all up, he had read about the octopuses. And they with their suckers could sense more than a human could from water. As he was bound to land, he was sensible to the vibrations and chemicals in the air. He kept his eye contact to a minimum, circling around the man who was on his way to his mum’s. The big man with tattoos up to his neck made him nervous. His kind of people always made fun of him. But there was something different about this one. But the world had taught him to ignore positive signals. It was safer that way.

He squeezed past the big man and tensed when their eyes met. The man nodded, making his chin do a little welcoming dance. He swallowed and nodded back, then hurried off. The hives on his body, or at least the doctors called them anxiety hives, turned bright red. He smoothed the sleeve farther along his arm to hide them, collected his shopping, and rushed out of place as fast as possible. To his fortune, the cashier was never in the mood to have a chat.

He almost got away with it—it being, venturing out to do his grocery shopping—but the woman, who had been staring at him when he had been, as always, wrapped inside his head, having one of his moments, was still there. She had walked across the street and was waiting for him at the pub corner. He hugged the shopping bag tighter against his chest to suppress the full-body attack of senses firing up.

She held her gaze at him, sure that he would have to pass her by.

He took a hesitant step, the cracks of the walkway pressing against the soles of his feet, pulsing with her heartbeats. Gentle but curious. No, he shook his head. A figment of his imagination. Passing on his own wants and needs to others and thinking of them as real. He took another step. However, it was too much. The shopping bag dropped from his shaking hands.

The woman reacted, rushing to his aid. Again, it was too much. He screamed and ran past her, feeling his two hearts pumping blood to his limbs and the third one shutting down his inner organs because of the flight. He didn’t stop even how excruciating it was until he reached his door. He dropped his keys when he tried to fumble the door open. The sound they gave was like those war bombs dropping to annihilate the other. He dived to get them and rushed the door open. He collapsed against it when he was indoors, clutching the knitted octopus cap. He let the tentacles swirl around his fingers while he took deep breaths in.

“Hey, mister, you dropped your food,” sounded behind his door. A knock accompanied them.

All his three hearts were bounding again. He was sure they would give in any moment now. To his amazement, his right hand reached for the doorknob and was pulling him up from the ground. He tried to make his fingers, his arm muscles to obey, but they along his feet let the door fall open. The woman from the street was there. She didn’t await an invitation. She pushed in. “We need to talk,” she said while lowering the shopping on a small hallway table.

The hives were back, and they were now white and blue. He massaged them in the vain hope to drive the pattern away. All the time, the woman chatted on. He, unable to follow a single word uttered. 

“… an octopus—”

“What?” he gushed out, meeting for the first time the woman’s huge bulging eyes. There was something familiar about them. The same intelligence that stared him back at the mirror every morning.

“I said that you must have fallen through the cracks and lost yourself.” She approached him, sending her arm before her. For a slight moment, it looked like a huge purple tentacle with dozens of infundibulum. The vision went away when she reached for his arm, a new one stepping to its place. He could see the entire universe—the galaxies, the space between them, the millions and millions of little planets pulsing life.

“We octopuses are the guardians of the universe, the ones who breathe life to it…”

And he remembered it all, leaving behind his earthly form. A fact-finding mission gone horribly wrong.

Thank you for reading! Have a refreshing day! And next time you see our copper-blooded friend, greet them with kindness. 

© K.A. Ashcomb

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