Fiction by Chris Heavener

Octopus Facts

Best practice is to tell a new recruit about the octopuses when his first assignment is already underway, the shoreline shrinking into the horizon. Otherwise he’d probably never get on the boat. Alex taught me never reveal too much too soon. The recruit, shaking against the cold daybreak in his baggy wetsuit, is aware that cephalopods can squeeze their bodies through any opening large enough to accommodate their beak.

He’s obliquely aware that the creatures are natural burrowers. These invertebrates are inclined to find dark, cavernous places within which to make their homes. If no such habitats are available, they’ll create them out of whatever’s around. Corpses included.

Best practice is to wait until the recruit is geared up, sitting on the gunwale, ready to roll backward into the water, to tell him that octopuses have a tendency to leave skin and outer tissue intact and enter the body through the mouth or anus, eating their way through muscle, ligament and bone until they’ve hollowed out a comfortable enclosure in the chest cavity or lower intestine. Smaller prey will keep their distance from the predator’s new home. This leaves the outer tissue and clothing preserved for stretches of time much longer than would otherwise occur.

Alex taught me about bringing my authentic self to the table in a relationship. How it was the only way two people could achieve intimacy. He wasn’t wrong. He just wasn’t prepared for my authentic self.

Best practice is to wait until the recruit is already in the water, a neoprene buoy bobbing in the current, to tell him the stories of the body recovery units diving many fathoms to the ocean floor, in near darkness, relieved and elated to shine a dive light across the victim’s corpse not only present at the scene of a plane crash or where a jilted suspect confessed the body would be, but in a condition where the next of kin could identify them without too much trouble.

Don’t victim-blame Alex. How could he have known my heart was eaten by a demon that had since made a home in my chest? Piloting my body around the dry earth. Looking for more souls to eat.

Best practice is to not fall in love with your instructors.

The recruit would probably start swimming toward the shore if you told him about the recovery divers that came before him, running a length of nylon strap around the torso to take the body to the surface, only to be engulfed in black smoke flooding from the mouth and nose of the corpse, tentacles springing out of milky eye sockets and suctioning to his mask and regulator.

Best practice isn’t body armor. It’s a prescription. Professional advice from someone who’s been through a tricky situation before.

Best practice is the buddy system, for scenarios precisely like this. If you didn’t have someone willing and able to tear an octopus with a taste for human flesh from wiggling its way up your swim trunks and into your asshole, the shock and panic alone would be enough to make you black out. Alex knew best practice. It still didn’t save him from me watching with indifference as the octopus disappeared into its new home.

The recruit shines his light across Alex’s body, maybe a month dead, demon pilot inside keeping the skin and outer tissue in identifiable condition. Best practice won’t save him either.

Chris Heavener


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