How had her life become this crazy? Zandra asked herself as she ran from the kitchen in pursuit of the octopus. He was sliding and skittering towards the living room, trailing water behind him on the polished hardwood floor.
Her company was supposed to meet at her house for dinner. It had started as a plan to meet at a restaurant. But then with the random lockdowns, it was impossible to plan something in advance and make sure that they could carry through. Heck, since the team had eight members, some restaurants might not be set up for the to eat together.
So in a moment of insanity, Zandra offered her house. She owned the tiny working man Victorian in Washington Park free and clear, having inherited it from her grandmother. The location was central to everyone, being close to where the offices used to be. She even had a ton of parking in the back, since grandma had paved a vast portion of the back yard when she had grown too old to look after the lawn.
And the inside of the house was charming, since most of it was still grandma’s. And since Zandra lived alone and had no pets, and she spent most of her time at the computer, working or playing games, all she had to do was a quick dust and vacuuming.
But dear Lord. Why the octopus?
It had started with the idea she’d make spaghetti and meatballs, and then Nick had offered to give her his grandma’s recipe for sauce.
Nick was new to the group. They’d never actually met in person. He’d joined the group during lockdown. But she’d seen a lot of him at the zoom meetings. He was dark, and handsome, with an aquiline nose and curly dark hair, and a way of curling his lips up, just on one side, when something amused him.
Zandra wasn’t stupid. She knew herself for what she was. No ugly, no. She was okay for looks even now at almost thirty, if a little on the wan side, with her pale hair and oval face. But her blue eyes were darker than one would expect, and her mom used to say she had quite pretty lips, and why didn’t she use some lip gloss?
But what Zandra had realized, just about the time she’d realized males were fascinating creatures, was that she was that most awkward and strangest of creatures: Homus Geekus, female variety.
Any number of young men who had asked her out in either high school or college had scrambled away, almost backwards and cartoon fashion, when she started talking about things that interested her: programming, art, animation.
Eventually she’d learned to keep her mouth shut, but then the dates were just boring. And so she’d slid through life avoiding dates.
Even working for a small animation company, when it should have been a given all the other people “shared” what mom used to call her “obsessions” she’d learned not to talk about it outside work, and not to bring out her fantasy paintings or her weird ideas for how things should look. Her part in the company was programming the movement, not art. Now…. Nick did art.
Okay, that was ridiculous, and she was going to to with the fact that she was nearing thirty making her so fascinated with Nick. It was probably her biological clock or something, and it was crazy because what would she do with a kid? Probably teach him to draw and talk to him about her idea for how characters should look, and then she’d bring up all the golden age artists she loved.
Well, if she were to have any kids, which was unlikely, at least they’d sleep well, right?
She had the meatballs cooked, and ready, keeping warm in the crockpot. And she’d exactly followed the recipe of Nick’s grandmother’s spaghetti sauce.
But the cause of this insanity was the thing Nick had said in the email with the recipe. “Man, grandma was a great cook. I wish I could try her fried octopus again.”
And thinking of nothing but making Nick happy for a few minutes, Zandra had gone to the local oriental grocery, and bought an octopus. She’d thought he was frozen, inside the cloth bag, and she’d though he — she was absolutely sure now it was a he — was dead. Of course. He was cold and very still, and she’d left him on the counter while she worked in the morning. She’d just come down, recipe in hand — apparently you had to boil the tentacles before frying them — and the counter was empty, with only a puddle of water where he’d been.
She’d have been more baffled if she hadn’t caught a glimpse of an eye — unearthly attentive and cognizant – looking at her from behind the spice rack.
She’d grabbed her cleaver — which was of course insane, since she’d never in her life killed anything — and the octopus had taken off in a flurry of tentacles towards the living room.
With her — and the cleaver in hot pursuit.
She was almost sure she had no intention of using the cleaver. But she couldn’t let the octopus free in the house. What was she going to do? Put a collar and bell on him and introduce him as Fluffly?
She almost ran into the big comfy blue chair in the living room, when the octopus changed directions and went running into her home office, at the back of the living room.
By the time she caught up with him, he’d gone to the computer, and was …. typing.
“Name is Samirqoq,” he typed. “And is agent of great Star empire of Torwir.” He paused a moment, and Zandra caught up with him. At which point, the wrapped a tentacle around the wrist of her hand holding the cleaver, and said “NotfoodnotfoodotfoodSamiqoqnowantbeeaten.”
Zandra threw the cleaver in the trash can. “I’m not going to eat you,” she said. Which of course was when the doorbell rang.
“Stay where you are,” she said, and went to the door. It was Nick. And holy hell, he looked way better in person than on zoom. He was wearing a white shirt opened at the neck, dark pants, and he had a bag of the sort one puts a bottle of wine in. He smiled at her and said, “Five o’clock, right?”
She was about to tell him the dinner was for six, when she caught a movement on the floor, and reached down just in time, to grab a moist, writhing tentacle. Samirqoq looked back at her, his eye indignant and betrayed.
“You can’t go out,” she told Samirqoq. “It’s cold out there. You’ll die or go dormant, or something.” He stopped struggling.
“Er…” Nick said, stepping back. “Is this your pet?”
“No,” she said. “He says he’s a member of an intergalactic empire.”
“What?” Nick said.
And she looked up thinking that he was about to bolt, but his eyes were full of curiosity. “That’s fascinating,” he said. “How did he talk?”
“He types. On my computer. I swear I’m not making this up.” She got a firmer hold on him, near the body, and carried him with all his other tentacles dangling, exactly like a toddler who doesn’t want to be carried, she thought.
She sat him in front of the computer. “Tell the nice gentleman who you are,” she said.
The tentacles went up and moved at speed. “I is Samirqoq,” the octopus said. “And is agent of great Star empire of Torwir.” Stop with tentacles hovering on keyboard. “Many many times great great grandfather was agent. And my parent told me to stay ready and report to Torwir if they contact. Torwir stopped contact many many many lives of agents ago.” Pause. “I is not food.”
“No,” Nick said. “We wouldn’t dream of it.” And as Samirqoq’s eyes turned to him. “How about we put you in some water — not HOT water — and you stay very quiet while other people come and eat other things, and then we’ll talk again.”
Samirqoq typed “Kaythanx”
They’d put him in the bathtub in the guest bathroom, and the dinner meeting had gone very well, made even better by the fact that now and then she and Nick caught each other’s eye and smiled just a little. She kept her eye out in the hallways for sign of tentacle and movement. None came.
Of course, she would learn in time this didn’t mean that Sammy, as she’d started thinking about him, was doing as told.
As everyone but Nick left, and Nick turned to her and said, “May I stay to solve the intergalactic mystery?” she heard a sound from the kitchen.
They found Sammy on the counter, eating peanut butter straight from the jar.
After washing and somewhat drying his tentacles, they sat him back at the computer. Other than the fact that he typed in lolcat language, he seemed perfectly rational. Smart even. He seemed to have learned to type from watching the daughter of the Asian seafood market owner use her computer. Since he immediately asked about cats, by name and description, Zandra assumed that’s where he’d picked up the unbearably adorable grammar.
The intergalactic conspiracy if it existed, had happened many…. probably hundreds of thousands of years ago, since Sammy insisted there were no “hoomans” then.
And his ideas of empire, much less galactic were those of someone who’d watched cartoons.
They ended up adopting him, of course. “I feel guilty for having liked octopus so much,” Nik said.
And because they had a pet in common — and what a pet he was, given his tendency to get anywhere, eat anything, and generally behave like a toddler with attention deficit — they had ended up seeing each other almost every day.
Perhaps it was inevitable it should lead to marriage. And to their finding out that Sammy, Intergalactic Spy, was in fact a great babysitter for infants, always ready to go and call one of them should it be needed. But he was terrible babysitter for toddlers, because he’d escape his tank and both he and the toddler would end up covered in peanut butter.
And yet, even with all the trouble her very unusual pet caused, on the other tentacle, Zandra wasn’t sorry she’d brought home an all too lively octopus who would never be fried if she had any say in it.