OCTOPUS by Claire Fitzpatrick
They talked about Harlan Stevenson, an author nobody else had heard of, for three hours straight. When she’d first approached Tina, the woman had been sitting by herself at the bar nursing a scotch on the rocks, her face impassive. Then Andy sat down, and Tina smiled. She thought there was alien life, but not in our solar system.
“There couldn’t be,” Andy insisted. “We’re all alone here.”
Tina was a surgeon and had studied for more years she could count. At 29, she was impressive and beautiful, and Andy, while enamoured by the woman, was slightly jealous. What did she have to show for herself? 26, unemployed, and sharing a unit with her sister. Hardly admirable for someone with three university degrees. Perpetually unemployed, her mother called her. But Andy liked to think of herself as a scholar. One day she’d find herself.
“But what about octopuses?” Tina asked. “There’s talk that octopus eggs were a new form of life introduced after extra-terrestrials seeded Earth billions of years ago when viruses, microbes, and even tiny life forms arrived on our planet from outer space.”
Andy smirked. “Octopuses, hey? Is that why you’re so clever? Because they’re clever?”
Tina rolled her eyes and gently slapped Andy’s arm. “I know you’re making fun of me, but yes, that’s exactly right. And octopuses are incredibly clever. Just ask them.”
Andy laughed and gently nudged Tina with her shoulder. The woman ordered another round of drinks, gazing around at the other convention attendees. Authors, fans, conspiracy theorists…they were all here, gathered together. Most of them wore black, as though they had just come from a funeral. But a select few wore garish 80s garb that looked straight from their parent’s wardrobe.
“Harlan Stevenson wrote a paper on it, though a lot of scientists say it’s garbage. I say he should keep on investigating. It’s super interesting, don’t you think?”
They chatted for another two hours before checking out a few other panels, sitting together in the back row. The two women listened attentively, Andy snorting when Tina asked bizarre questions about aquatic alien life. As the author’s squabbled amongst themselves, some debunking theories, others insisting their claims were true, Andy watched Tina from the corner of her eye, amused by the woman’s fascination. While Andy loved science fiction, she thought the discussion was tedious, and found herself watching Tina, smiling as her eyes lit up at the mention of octopus eggs.
“Isn’t this interesting?” Tina whispered, excitedly squeezing Andy’s arm. “Kepler-62e and Kepler-62f could have aquatic lifeforms! I mean, it’s just speculation, as the planet is too far away to properly study, but what if we evolved from the creatures from Kepler-62e? What if that’s where we come from?”
Andy smiled. “That’s pretty cool.”
She was more interested in science fiction stories on Earth and didn’t believe in aliens. She was more interested in predictions that had actually come true. The electronic tablet from ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’; smart home devices like Google Home featured in the 1999 Disney film ‘Smart House’; autonomous cars like the ones featured in ‘Total Recall’; androids like Sophia depicted in the 1927 film ‘Metropolis’; smartphones from ‘Star Trek.’ Countless imagined technological creations had come true. Andy was fascinated by the continued growth of technology and had tried out the Ocular Rift VR system, eerily similar to the one featured in ‘Back to the Future Part II.’ And now, sitting at the convention, she wondered if aliens had superior technology, just like Harlan predicted in his books.
Afterwards, Andy and Tina went back to the bar. Thought it was growing late in the afternoon, the convention was still in full swing. Two well-known Australian horror writers slow danced in the lounge. A group of ‘Buffy’ fans discussed the new generation of vampires. Andy led Tina over to a vacant table and handed the woman her drink. They clinked their glasses together, peering over the edges of their rum as they drank.
“Let’s say there really are aliens,” Andy said. “What do you reckon they’d look like?”
Tina hummed and took a sip of her drink. “I reckon they’d look like us. They’d have to if they wanted to blend in.”
Andy nodded. “What makes you so sure they’d want to blend in?”
“Wouldn’t you, if you were an alien?” Tina asked. “I mean, how else would you observe society? How else would you know it was safe to reveal yourself? I think all of us were crafted by the same hands, despite what solar system we come from. It’ll make it easier when we finally find each other.”
“So, you believe in God?” Andy asked, taking a sip of her drink.
Tina shrugged. “I don’t think so, but I don’t think you should rule out anything. If I were God, I’d make everyone look the same. Except for the octopuses, of course. Well, maybe the octopuses could be part human part Cephalopoda. I’d like to think life on Earth comes from alien DNA. Maybe that’s why they don’t look like us. They’re disturbingly smart. If they did, they’d raise suspicion. No other species can alter their DNA,” Tina continued. “And we don’t know how they do it. Yep. Octopuses are certainly aliens.”
“Maybe Cthulhu is God?” Andy asked, laughing. “That’d be wicked.”
“Totally. And the giant squid from Harry Potter is Jesus.”
After a few more hours of drinking, Tina and Andy left the convention together. Tina was unaccustomed to the dark. Living in the city, she had grown used to the warm glow of streetlights, flickers of orange piercing the lounge room curtains. She looked up at the millions of silvery dots peppered across the haze of black clouds stretched thinly over the sky. Tina’s eyes lingered on the yellow glow of the moon. What if it were really made of cheese? What if the silicate rocks within the crust of the Earth weren’t really silicate rocks but cheese? Perhaps one day the intense heat would cook the cheese so much it’d drip from the moon, hanging over it like yellowed curtains.
“What are you smiling about?”
“Oh!” Tina looked at Andy. “Sorry. I was just thinking how weird it would be if the moon actually were made of cheese.”
Andy smirked. “Perhaps it is. Scientists can be wrong, you know.” She winked and laced her arm around Tina’s, directing her to a park bench around the side of the convention centre. Tina felt a little lightheaded, and gratefully accepted Andy’s invitation to sit down. She hadn’t realised how much she’d had to drink. She leaned against the back of the bench and crossed her arms. The scent of Andy’s lavender perfume lingered in the air.
“Let’s say aliens came down from space and asked you to come with them back to their planet,” Andy asked. “Would you go with them?”
Tina shrugged. “Depends. I wouldn’t want to be coerced to come with them. I think if I knew their planet was equally as prosperous as Earth I’d go. I don’t have a lot of relatives. Both of my parents are dead. My dad used to write horoscopes, you know? Mum was a chef. I don’t have any siblings, and a lot of my friends have moved on, gotten married, had kids.” She looked at Andy and laughed. “I’m not saying I’m lonely!” she said, poking the woman in the arm. “I don’t mind being by myself, actually.”
“So, no one would miss you?”
Tina wriggled her eyebrows. “What are suggesting? We run away together, huh?”
“Of course. That was my plan all along.”
Andy wrapped her arm around Tina’s waist, her hand on the woman’s hip, fingers twisted around Tina’s jumper. She drew circles with her finger over Tina’s knee, then traced a six-pointed star. Tina’s heart skipped a beat as she felt the flush on her cheeks run down the side of her neck. She bit down on her bottom lip and inhaled sharply, feeling Andy’s lips on the back of her neck.
“Is this OK?” the woman asked.
Tina nodded, trying to ignore the butterflies in her stomach twisting like intestines like spaghetti. The woman kissed under her ear, then blew gently on the cold spot she’d left behind. A cold shiver ran down her spine as she closed her eyes, focusing on the scent of Andy’s perfume, on the feeling on the woman’s lips against her flushed skin.
“I think you try to blend in,” Andy whispered. “But you stick out like a sore thumb. As soon as I saw you on that panel I knew I had to have you for myself.”
“Thank God for Harlan Stevenson, right?”
Andy hummed against her neck, nibbling below her hairline. Tina let out a sigh and opened her eyes, staring up at the stars. The sequin-silver specks scattered like moondust across the sky, like someone had grabbed a handful and threw it up in the air, where it hung like rain-filled clouds about to burst. Tina smiled as Andy flicked her tongue along her earlobe, as the sky blushed purple and blue. She wondered if alien creatures were thinking the same thing as her. That the galaxy was indeed a wonder to behold. She pondered if Harlan Stevenson could ever describe a night sky so perfectly dark.
A shooting star shot across the sky. Andy’s teeth dug into Tina’s neck. Her fingernails elongated to become sharpened pincers, dripping with sticky flesh. A cephalopod arm broke through Andy’s neck, clustered suckers latching onto Tina’s eyes. Tina screamed as the arm dug itself into the tissue over her eye socket, the sucker pulling out her eyeball from the socket with the bloody retina still attached to the superior rectus and optic nerve.
Tina fell from the bench and rolled onto the ground, screaming as she pressed her hands to her bloodied eyes. She kicked her legs, hands slapping her remaining eye and empty socket, fingers coated in thick, dark blood. And stood over her, her feet on both sides of Tina’s body. Smiling, she stuck out her impossibly long tongue, wrapped it around the eye, then sucked it into her mouth as quickly as a lizard. She grinned as she pressed her fingers to her neck, gently coaxing the eyeball down her throat and into her stomach. She dropped to her haunches and winked.
“Do you still believe in God?”
Claire Fitzpatrick is an author of speculative fiction and non-fiction. Called ‘Australia’s body horror specialist’ by Breach magazine editor Bartholomew Ford, she enjoys writing about the human body and the darker side of humanity. Her short story ‘Madeline’ first published in Midnight Echo 11 was republished in Dead of Night: The Best of Midnight Echo. ‘The Body Horror Book,’ which she co-wrote and edited, was shortlisted for the 2017 Australian Shadows Awards for The Rocky Wood Award for Non-Fiction and Criticism. She lives in Brisbane.