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Octopod Orchestra

A Tall Tale

By Barbara Steinhauser Published 11 months ago 5 min read
Octopod Orchestra
Photo by Dustin Humes on Unsplash

Amelia plunged from the sky into somewhere wet and cramped. Had she fists, she would have pounded and scratched her captor, but she’d become a spinning globe of slime with no defense: a nothing. Dull light slit the darkness, providing focus. She gained control of the spin then stared through one light source, an eye socket overlooking a ledge covered with green lichen, a reality so alien it held no more context than a womb.

Stiff upper lip. New airplane, new engine, soggy runway… bloom where you replanted.

An alien body lay beside her on the ledge. More than three blue appendages moved in uncoordinated fashion and suddenly turning pale as she felt. These arms emanated from beneath her. There were more than six and they belonged to her. She’d been excreted into the head of an octopus with eight flailing legs bearing long rows of suckers and a conglomeration of color-changing reflective cells. She had become a cramped, awkward octopus. How dumb can you get, Mama would say.

Amelia knew little about mollusks. Octopuses had very large heads. Did that head contain any intelligence? Aristotle had labeled octopuses dumb because one approached his hand without fear. Evidently, Meli was also a dumb octopus, well-deserving a dark ocean grave.

Her body rested on a flat boulder, dusted with silt. Atop this rock rested sparkling, spherical clumps of manganese. Two of her arms foraged in and around the minerals. She felt into their length and skinny breadth, attempting to gain control tentacle by tentacle, but such command eluded her. It was as if they had minds of their own, waving and flailing at the water with intentions unknown.

Her brain felt spread across the breadth of these extensions. No impulse originating inside her brain activated them. They attached to rocks or didn’t. One swooshed away a lantern fish poking around the ledge. Several operated behind her back. What hierarchy assigned these responsibilities? Did every sucking thing think on its own? Some sort of decentralized conglomerate seemed to control the chaos.

A shark swam her direction and she reacted with shock, though the posse of arms maintained her position. If she hadn’t witnessed the color change, she might have thought her arms disappeared, so effectively did she blend into the sparkling manganese ledge, all three hearts pounding in unison. As the shark sped away from a hungry wreckfish, Meli thanked whatever had issued the camouflage command.

She had never considered she might reincarnate as an octopus; she’d never learned to swim. Amelia felt into the length and skinny breadth of each arm. The tentacles surely had minds of their own, waving and flailing at the water with individual clarity. Was it her imagination or was her brain stuck to her eye? No impulse originating inside her head seemed to activate them. They saw a problem and fixed it.

Still, she explored her options. One tentacle slapped her face; one sucker halted an incoming sparkle fish; one arm formed a right angle. She half expected to witness an arm slip through the square and tie itself in knots. With this many independent suckers, she could compose a collection of unique poems within the hour. Then she could read their minds and figure it all out. She could spend hours watching herself bend and twist.

Octopod Orchestra

I thought that I would never see

A conscious impulse energy

That acts without a central brain

With no conductor to arrange


She was a great contortionist. Such pleasure she gave herself, observing the effects of a body whose nervous system was, at best, decentralized. Her skin fascinated her, ever in motion with its transforming radiant of color, adapting to subtle changes of light and color.

Meli was an interactive organization unto herself. Amelia had never spent much time considering herself. Truth told, she hadn’t liked herself much, always trying to prove herself. She’d been external in focus, manipulating interactions between wing and wind, tail and nose, in a grand effort to keep the steel plane aloft. Now she was the wing, adjusting itself to waves aloft, applying more skill, more experience, more sensitivity.

Had Amelia’s intelligence, snug within its cranium, felt wind swirling over and under her wings? The answer was simple; it had not. She had relied on second hand instruments. The Electra had been flown third hand. For Meli, things were different. Activity occurred as needed, actions she witnessed with curiosity and gratitude, relinquishing control.

Waves of color moved across her skin like beads of dyed sand. Curious, she began to shape them, animating patterns, revisioning settings, packing them with sea creatures she had seen. Some had huge eyes in a world of little light; some had gaping jaws and jagged teeth; some were transparent, displaying their innards. A shark’s head she etched like a giant rattlesnake, ancient and threatening. An eel with a long snout gave her the shivers. She illustrated the glass garden blooming feet from her perch, sketched bloom-like silica, hydrothermal vents. She embraced her reality among squid and cuttlefish, snails, mussels and clams adapting to a scenario she hadn’t chosen but didn’t long to escape.

Suddenly, spikes, scaley tail, fantastical teeth swam towards her. As quick, her pale skin turned blue. She had projected a dragon. She had generated anime!

A Moray and grouper approached. Too late, her arms colored camouflage.

Meli projected sunlight, temporarily blinding the formidable pair.

Think. Think. What do I fear?

In unison, her tentacles transmitted, you fear yourself.

Not anymore! An enormous, interconnected image of the formidable pair glowed across all eight arms. Quick as a wave, the adversaries disappeared.

From that moment, no sense of boundaries remained within the system called Meli. Meli was neither octopod nor human, but a conscious impulse energy of One.

Short Story

About the Creator

Barbara Steinhauser

Thank you for taking time to read my stuff. I love writing almost as much as I love my people. I went back to college and earned an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults and often run on that storytelling track. Enjoy!

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