The Night of the Octopus
On the hottest night of Summer, a kind of aimless madness possessed my little coastal town and we built a giant purple octopus. Well, that was the theory. The fact is, nobody can quite remember what happened that night but in the morning, there was the octopus and they must have built it, mustn't they?
"There's no other possible explanation," said my fiancé, Paul.
Which was true but no more comforting for all that.
I walked down the main street, deserted but for the handful of tourists that had made their way here this year. On the edge of town, just above the promontory, stood the purple octopus. I stopped and looked up. It glistened gently in the sun, almost as if it were alive.
I wasn't alone. Several tourists and quite a few locals were gazing up in rapture.
"It's beautiful," sighed a woman.
"It's hideous," I said. "It's all sort of sticky looking. And I don't like the look in its eyes."
People looked up at its eyes.
"What's wrong with them?" demanded a girl. "I think they're full of the wisdom of ages."
And so it went on. I stayed for a few minutes as people extolled the wonders of the purple monstrosity.
"Why?" I wondered aloud later. "Why build that?"
"Perhaps we had an empty space we needed to fill," my fiancé suggested.
"A giant purple octopus sized space?" I said.
"Maybe," Paul said defensively.
"Couldn't you have filled it with something else?"
"I like it," Paul said.
But then, my fiancé always had deviant tastes.
As the days went by, it turned out my opinion of the octopus was all on its lonesome. One weekend, a bus load of tourists came and snapped photos. They also had lunch and bought postcards.
The next weekend, two buses came, as did several families and couples. Some even stayed the night in Mrs Green's ancient motel.
The octopus made it onto the news. It sat in a little square over the presenter's shoulder, leering in its purple way.
Of course, this brought more people. I took to watching them and their inexplicable reactions to the octopus. Some children even ventured to touch the octopus's tentacles. A purply glitter attached itself to their fingertips that took some shifting.
One afternoon, I sat down to write an essay - Why this town DOESN'T need a giant purple octopus - when the front page of a newspaper caught my eye.
GIANT CREATURE WASHED UP ON BEACH! proclaimed the article. It talked of an enormous, octopus-like creature found dead on a nearby beach, bleached white by the sun.
And it mentioned several other similar incidents.
Later, I made the mistake of attempting to have a rational conversation with Paul.
"Look at this article," I said. "Coincidence?"
"It's about a squid," Paul said.
"It's an octopus," I said. "Just like ours only white."
"Er, no, we built ours," Paul said. "Remember?"
"No-one can remember!" I shouted. "It just turned up!"
"Yes," said Paul. "After we built it."
And so on.
I went back to the octopus, feeling a chill at the sight of it. Children jostled for space at its base, eagerly stroking its hideous purple skin.
I shuddered.
"Shouldn't you stop them?" I asked someone nearby who looked like a parent.
"Why? They seem happy. And it's better than the big banana."
I know it was my imagination, but that damned octopus looked triumphant at the sight of children cavorting so close.
The octopus has brought tourists and prosperity back to us, I wrote in my essay, but at what cost?
Three days later, Paul accosted me in the street, holding the 'GO HOME!' placard I'd pasted on the octopus.
"What's this?" he demanded.
"My right of self-expression," I said.
"Why are you doing this?" Paul said. "The octopus is good for this town. Look at all the people it's brought here."
"It's creepy," I said.
"It's not real," Paul said. "We built it. It's not some creature from the deeps come to possess us." He dumped the placard in a nearby bin. "Grow up, Lisa."
I watched him stamp all the way to the milkbar. A seed of doubt was growing in me. Maybe I was going insane. I turned back and gazed at the octopus.
It just looked so wrong.
Two days later, it disappeared.
"I suppose you all banded together and dismantled it," I said bitterly to Paul.
"Shut-up," was his response.
But the octopus wasn't the only thing that had vanished. Newspapers were full of the disappearance of Jordyn Little, a ten year old girl visiting the octopus with her family.
The last image of Jordyn, proclaimed the footnote of a photo of Jordyn and the octopus.
That evening, I walked up to the octopus's promontory and gazed out to sea. Something was making ridges appear in the water, as the whales often did in winter.
One of the ridges broke enough to reveal a vaguely purple something.
Over the next few weeks, the influx of tourists dwindled somewhat but the spirit of the town had returned. New shops opened selling purple velvet dresses and candles whose deviant shapes attracted my fiancé immediately. A few months passed before Jordyn's memorial was built.
"A purple octopus," I sighed as I stood before it. A light wind blew my hair as I bent to read the plaque.
I was thinking of hiring myself a boat and going after the purple octopus but then I remembered how Moby Dick turned out. And I didn't think my chest would look all that good as a cannon.
Next summer, a box of sneakers washed up on the beach without comment.
"There's no real ending to this, is there?" I asked one day as I browsed through the purple velvet dress shop.
"That's life," said the shopkeeper. "The only thing that has an end is the roll of toilet paper when you need it most."
Somehow I can't bring myself to end this story with those words of wisdom. So, here are my own.
Everything costs something. Just don't try to buy prosperity from a purple octopus.