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I’ve lived within the colorful confines of this reef my entire life. The small town of fish that live here alongside me have never ventured beyond it. Stories circulate through our small community of unknown creatures more frightening than the ones that often visit. The ones that presently plague us float above our small community, poke and prod us. They flash bright lights in our faces and stea pieces of our homes for no reason.
I, on the other hand, take special care to go as far out to the border of our reef as possible. For as long as I can remember, the vast, open ocean has fascinated me. It’s murky blue canvas calling to me to explore it.
My parents are, of course, hesitant. They think my adventurous personality will not only risk my life but the lives of everyone we live with. But as I’ve grown, my curiosity has blossomed and my fins have strengthened. They’re at the point where I can handle the depths my friends all seem to be concerned about.
But I’m not going to idly sit by and let them make up my mind for me. I’m going to see for myself what’s really out there. Currently, I’m camping out in my section of my family’s coral cluster. I’m waiting for the light to be right for me to make my expedition under the cover of early morning. I can barely wait. Eventually, the light gets bright enough that I can see where I’m going. I dart out of my cluster and swim as fast as I can towards the outskirts of the reef.
Exhilarated, the water cools as the ocean floor falls further away from my steady position at the surface. The porous rocks become further apart as I swim faster and faster, a flutter of excitement pulsating throughout my entire body.
All of a sudden, I let my tail direct me based on the current. I loosen the muscles around my fins and float this way and that, spinning with the slow waves. I close my eyes and smile as I flip around and twirl. It’s a freeing experience, unlike anything I’ve ever felt.
I had been traveling all day and the light was now warm against my spine as I wandered. The entire experience was ethereal.
After some time, I regulate myself, making sure my movements stay quick and frequent to keep up with the cooler water that’s now surrounding me. I realize I can no longer see the ocean floor. What had been a landscape of seaweed and rocks has now become a void. All I saw was black. I was enticed at the thought of exploring more but was also struck with a sense of dread. I decided to head back before it got dark again.
Turning around was not as simple as I had anticipated. Living in such a small portion of the ocean gave me a false sense of security. I was only a small fish, how was I supposed to survive in the deep ocean? The warmth on my back was the only comfort amid the confusion of trying to swim towards shore. The void below me never seemed to end. I swam as quickly as my tired fins could take me.
My trek out here was longer than I remember, I must have let myself get carried away with the current too far. I began to think that I wasn’t swimming towards the shore at all. However, I pushed past my fears and continued swimming in a straight line.
After a long while, the rocks and seaweed presented themselves through the sandy floor. I slowed my speed a bit once I saw the familiar shapes and almost cried with relief.
I pushed myself to go a bit further and before I knew it I saw my reef. With the colors I knew so well before my eyes, I knew I could relax a bit and take my time getting back.
That was until I saw something soar over me. It almost looked as if it was one of those monsters with the flashing lights. A bulbous head with broad shoulders swam overhead. As it continued its journey, however, the shoulders devolved into eight, long trailing arms.
My parents had always warned me about octopuses, but the ones I knew were all friendly and only ate crabs. This one was much bigger than the others I’d seen.
As it swooped its large body over my tiny one, I froze. It was huge, so large that I could only see parts of its pale flesh at a time. The eyes were milky, yet alert. It had red rings all over it and in its tentacles it carried an object I’ve never seen before. It stopped short before me, ballooning the net of flesh between his arms to quickly change direction. It’s pale complexion reflected against the light streaming down into the water.
“Well hello,” it said, in a low voice. I said nothing. “You’re a bit far from the reef, my tiny friend.”
I remained silent, I was frozen with fear and couldn’t put words together. I was too busy thinking about how worried my family would be when I didn’t return home from a trip I had already hidden from them.
“Not very talkative today? That’s alright, tiny friend. I don’t need to talk.” its eyes narrowed and it backed up to fan its tentacles around the space I was floating in. I dodged them and tried to swim towards the reef. I managed to make a space between the octopus and myself enough that I felt like I could actually make it. Before I knew it, however, it was gaining speed again and making its way back to me.
“Do you know what this is!?” it shouted as it cut me off yet again. “This is the skull of a monster. I killed it myself. Monsters have the tastiest meat of them all. Once you’ve tasted one, you long for the day when you can taste yet another.”
“A monster?” I said, struggling to keep myself from shaking. It could tell I was frightened and used that to its advantage.
“Yes, and if I can handle a monster, I can surely handle a pesky little fish like you. You think you can outsmart me with your quick little fins?” At this, he jabbed me with one arm, a sucker sticking to the side of my body in the process. He wrapped the tip of that arm around me and pulled me close; my body barely bigger than the space between his eyes. “You’re nothing more than a mid-afternoon snack, tiny friend.”
“Then why haven’t you eaten me yet? What good is it to brag to me about past conquests when you could have it over with and eat me?” The octopus could obviously feel my nerves through his grasp as I spoke, but he loosened it nonetheless once I finished speaking.
“I…like to make my meals suffer…mentally and physically, I’m the monster of monsters!” it said, gesticulating with the arm I was in, causing a bit of nausea on my part.
“Sure you are” I replied, more confident now that I would get away with my life, though still unsure how I would get out of its grasp. “I have an idea” I mused. It paused but didn’t say anything, so I continued.
“You’re really proud of that accomplishment, but let’s face it. At this point, you’re just bragging to little fish so they feel scared but end up escaping and telling their friends how scary you are. Am I getting warmer?”
‘Well…I..” it trailed off, looking downward.
“Let me go and I’ll take you to my friends and family so you can terrorize them” it’s face lit up as much as an octopuses’ can.
“That sounds wonderful!” it exclaimed.
“I thought so, now let me go and I’ll take you there.” Its grip loosened and I led the way back home.
“You know…” it started, after we’d been swimming for a while. “I didn’t really kill this monster. I found this at the bottom of the ocean one night and thought it looked cool so I brought it home with me. It has helped me nab some really nice meals though.”
“That must be nice” I replied. “Make sure you tell everyone you’ve eaten a shark, they’ll flip!” A giggle emitted from the octopus. As the ocean floor came closer to the surface, the octopus crawled along it, camouflaging itself against the sand. The reef was only a short swim away, so I turned to the octopus.
“You stay here, keep hidden in the sand so no one sees you. I’ll go back to my cluster and once everyone has welcomed me back, I’ll say something like ‘I’m so glad to be home!’ then you come out of nowhere and scare everyone.”
“Oh that’s maniacal, I love it!”
The octopus made itself flat and hid amongst the sand. I swam up to my cluster to the cheers and sighs of relief to those around me. Once the chatter calmed down I said, a little too loudly, “man am I glad to be home!” With only a moment’s hesitation, the octopus, pale and red-ringed, descended upon the coral. Growling and scaring off the smaller fish with the monster skull, it made itself large and known.
What I had expected was to see my new friend show off its monster skull, terrorize some of my friends, and leave. I thought maybe I’d see it again sometime and was excited at the prospect.
What I hadn’t expected was retaliation. Once the fish in my small coral community realized that there were more of us and only one of it, they attacked. Jellyfish attached to its head, its arms pinned down under sea urchins, it was bitten into and nipped at by those I had loved and called family. Its screams were muffled by the onslaught of fish schooling around it and tearing its flesh to pieces. It cried for me, but there was no way this tiny fish could help. With a heavy heart, I watched my new friend be torn to shreds.
Now they keep the monster skull next to its remains, warning all others that trespass. I, on the other hand, would rather take my chances in the open ocean.
Last Week’s Story: Independence Part 4 (Finale)
Next Week’s Story: Cold Hands, Warm Heart
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