Operation Octopi (Flash Fiction)

You’d think that by now I’d be used to three a.m. wake-ups from a spiteful octopus. Nothing can really desensitize you to the feeling of cold, wet suction cups wrapping around your ankles, though, no matter how often it happens. Besides, Greg has an uncanny knack for waiting just long enough between nighttime escapades to lull me into a false sense of security. Just when I think he’s gotten bored – BAM – cephalopod shenanigans. I’m pretty sure he’s taken ten years off my life.

Why are you being haunted by an octopus, Julia? you may be wondering. Why do you even have an octopus? And why is his name Greg? These are all valid questions.

First of all, I’d like to go on the record saying the octopus was not my idea. You can blame that allll on Jonathan. The study was supposed to just be on sea snails – Busycon carica, to be specific. The knobbed whelk. They’re ubiquitous on the Atlantic coast, which makes our little lab station here on the outer banks a logical place to study them. They may not be as flashy as lightning whelks (see what I did there? Flashy? Lightning? Sorry. I’m punchy when I’m sleep-deprived), but I’m fascinated by them. Which is lucky, since Jonathan and I caught and tagged 553 of those suckers over the last six months.

That’s where Greg came from, by the way. Jonathan found him marooned in a tidal pool, baking in the August sun, and brought him back to the lab with his whelk specimens. He said he thought Greg was done for, anyway, so he may as well be comfortable. That’s why I fell for Jonathan in the first place – his big soft heart – so how could I tell him no?

Obviously, Greg didn’t die, and he’s been plaguing me ever since. He adored Jonathan right from the start, though. I think he knew Jon saved him. Octopuses are crazy smart, did you know? Like, about as intelligent as your average dog. Actually, Greg is definitely smarter than some dogs I know. If Jonathan and I were working in the lab and Greg felt Jonathan hadn’t been paying him enough attention, he’d throw pebbles from the bottom of his tank across the room. It was really cute.

I, on the other hand, got sprayed with water from his syphon every time I walked by for weeks. Octopus vulgaris indeed.

Why don’t you get rid of him if you don’t like him, Julia? You know, I’d probably sleep better if I did. I could. It’s not like Jonathan would object now.

Smart as Greg is, I still haven’t figured out how you explain to an octopus that his favorite human isn’t coming back. I tried, this morning, while I schlepped him back to his tank, but I don’t think I got through. In the end, all I could say was, “I miss him, too, bud,” before I crawled back into bed and tried to get some sleep.

This flash fiction piece was originally written to participate in the Writers to Writers Challenge on Instagram in October, 2021.

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