Oswald pried his clam shell fortress open and peeked out. Withdrawing quickly, he snapped the shells closed, waited a moment, then lifted the lid again. Still no movement. Deciding to move quickly, Oswald extended his tentacles from within his shells, and trotted along the sea floor, dragging his makeshift shelter with him. He had spotted something else up ahead. Something bigger and rounder than a shell. It looked strong. Definitely worth investigating. There were just too many predators around these days to risk being exposed for long.
When he was almost to the new shelter, something approached. He felt the disturbance in the water and heard the soft clicking of the parrot fish’s beak. Oswald dropped to the ground and whipped his tentacles back inside, closing the top shell firmly over himself.
“Oswald,” the fish called. He recognised Penny’s voice. “Os, come out. It’s me.”
“Go away,” he hissed through his shells.
“What? Os I can’t hear you. Open up.” Penny knocked on the shell and Oswald cringed away from the reverberations that coursed through his whole body.
Opening the shells a fraction, he spoke again. “I said go away, I’m hiding. There are predators everywhere.”
“Penny!” another fish, Barry, called out and swam over. “Whatcha doing, dollface?”
“Oh no,” Oswald grumbled. “Make him leave.”
“What?” Penny turned to Barry and waved a fin. “Hey Barry. I’m hanging with Oswald.”
“Shhhhh.” Oswald hissed. Barry swam over and Oswald snapped his clams shut.
“Hey, Oddball,” Barry said with a heavy laugh.
“It’s Oswald,” the octopus replied, opening the shells a crack.
“What’s that, Oddball? Can’t hear you over the stink of paranoia.” He laughed again.
“That doesn’t even make sense.”
“Oh, Barry, leave him alone,” Penny said indulgently, giving Barry a gentle shove with one fin. “Os is just…being cautious.”
“Yeah, well, if I had nine arms and a giant head, I’d want to hide my face too.”
“Eight, Barry,” Oswald fumed. “I have eight arms. Learn to count, you fatuous triggerfish.”
Barry’s mouth turned down and his fins stiffened. “You callin’ me fat, Oddball?”
“Oh, Barry,” Penny began.
“No,” Oswald said. “I called you fatuous. It means–”
“Fantastic!” Penny blurted out. “It means fantastic. He thinks you’re fantastic. Don’t you, Oswald?” Penny rounded on him with a glare.
Barry puffed his gills and looked down smugly. “You know, Oddball, you’re lucky you got Penny around to translate all your dumb octo-speak. Otherwise you’re gonna get yourself into trouble.”
Oswald swept a tentacle in a mocking bow. “But of course, my vacuous comrade. I would never seek to question your asinine actions, or inane intelligence.”
Barry’s eyes crossed over his nose as he struggled with the words. “Yeah,” he said finally. “That’s good.”
“Barry, I think we should go,” Penny said, looping a fin through his. “I could use your help choosing a new coral.”
Barry nodded and Penny led him away. Oswald watched them go with a snigger. Finally, some quiet in which he could improve his defences.
Oswald couldn’t resist one last call. He extended an arm to wave them off. “Farewell, my cretinous chum.”
Barry stopped. Oswald slowly withdrew, sinking inside the shells and wondering if ‘cretinous’ was too close to Barry’s limited vocabulary. The triggerfish turned, pulling free of Penny’s grasping fins. Much too close. Barry charged. Oswald yelped and pulled his clams shut.
Barry hammered on the outside, sending reverberations through the entire structure. It was all Oswald’s suckers could do to cling on.
“Come out. Come out, you…you…”
“Omnipotent octopus?” Oswald offered.
“Omnipotent octopus!” Barry shouted. Oswald sniggered.
The banging on the shells increased, and Oswald began to fear they wouldn’t last long under such an assault. Barry’s attack was also shunting him along the sea floor. Oswald spied through a crack the thing he had originally been heading towards. A large round shell, thicker than any clam. It was fuzzy and brown on the outside, and white on the inside. But what was important, was that it looked strong.
Reaching an arm through the gap in the shells, Oswald began to pull himself along the sea floor, while Barry continued to ram him from all sides.
The triggerfish roared and took a snap at Oswald’s tentacle. He withdrew the arm quickly, before he could lose it. Once Barry moved around to the other side, Oswald reached out again. He was almost there. His suckers grazed the fibrous outside of the new shell. Barry saw his arm and charged back. Oswald latched onto the shell and swung it like a club.
The shell smacked into Barry, sending him spiralling. His eyes rolled and his fins twitched. Before he could recover from the discombobulation, Oswald scuttled free of his clams and held the new shell high with pride. It was hard, and strong, but still light. It was perfect. Oswald looked around for more of them, spotting several littering the sea floor. He stacked them up as best he could, wrapped a few tentacles around them, and used the rest to gallop away.
No one would be able to touch him now.
FlashFictionMonth day 7.
This was inspired by my recent discovery that certain types of octopus will collect discarded coconut shells and use them to build little forts. It’s actually kind of adorable.
Clever Octopus Builds a Mobile Home