Here's the Octopus I Owe You

Hi - since you're reading this, do you mind if I ask you for a small favour? In return for which, I've tacked on to the bottom of this post a free story about man-eating octopuses in the Birmingham canals for you. Can't say fairer than that, can I?

I wrote the octopus story a couple of days ago for Den of Eek!2, but it turned out that somebody was already doing an octopus story. Who'd a thunk it? Maybe there's something in this - maybe octopuses are the next Thing in fantasy literature. Anyway, so I'm recycling that one on this blog and in its place I've written the story of Wurlitzer von Trippenhoff.

Nope, sorry, that's all you get. If you want to know who the esteemed Wurlitzer von Trippenhoff is, you're either going to have to come along to Den of Eek!2 or buy the ebook when it comes out. Although there are at least two people out there in the World who will have heard the name before.

The favour? I'm getting to that.

After I graduated from being a student to being unemployed I lived for a year in a student house - yes, I know, always a bit late for the party, me - sharing with two postgrad mates from Birmingham Uni's roleplaying society: Chris and Lorrie. If you've ever lived in a student house you'll know exactly what it was like, and if you've never lived in a student house then whatever you're imagining is also exactly what it was like. Although, we did have an anarcho-liberal washing-up system which was surprisingly effective; you knew when it was your turn, nobody told you or hassled you about it, and you just bloody did it. We may have been unique amongst our peers in being a house full of single young men in which the washing up always got done. Now that's an achievement to be fucking proud of. Inspired by the mad-as-a-bag-of-pants album 'Captain Lockheed and the Starfighters', we also invented the alter-egos of Wurlitzer von Trippenhoff, Hildegard Sputnik, and the Rabbi Tufty Hummocks, as an answer to the increasing amounts of junk mail we received - and that's as close to the story as I'm getting. I'm also proud that I'm able to still count those two gentlemen as my friends, even though I haven't seen either of them anywhere near enough as the years have passed.

Look, just skip to the octopus if you want. I won't mind.

Here's the favour. Chris is sick. Fuck 'sick' - he's got cancer. He's got a wife and two very young daughters and at the start of this year the doctors gave him six months to live and now it's August and the whole thing fucking sucks. The story about Wurlitzer von Trippenhoff is for the Den of Eek!2 event in September which aims to raise money for cancer research, and the favour I have to ask you is please, even if it's too late to help my friend, would you go here and buy the collection of last year's stories to help somebody else's? Even if you never read it (although I'm kind of hoping you will, because it's got that story of mine in it about the guy with the hand). Better than that, buy a ticket to this year's event when they're available and you can hear Wurlitzer's story for yourself.

In the meantime, here's the octopus I promised:

This is a true story. It was told to me by a friend of the guy that died.

Everybody’s heard that New York has alligators in the sewers – that’s probably not true. You might have heard that Birmingham has more canals than Venice – that definitely IS true, and we can go one better than the Big Apple, because we’ve got man-eating octopuses in the canals.

Nobody knows for sure how they got there. Most likely some escaped from the Sea Life Centre at Brindley Place, because octopuses are highly intelligent and notorious escape artists. There are many stories of them leaving their tanks at night to raid and eat the inhabitants of other tanks. Give them a hole wider than their beak and woosh - gone. But it also means that they can creep up into places you’d never expect, like the grey water drainage pipes and sewage systems of canal-side properties, for example.

So this friend of a friend – let’s call him Gary - lived alone in a swanky apartment overlooking Gas Street Basin, with a balcony and a water view, and one night after having some mates around for a few beers he woke up in the early hours needing to answer a call of nature. He went into the bathroom and lifted up the lid and got on with things, still half-asleep and not really looking because as we all know blokes tend to aim only vaguely in the right direction. But then he heard something splashing heavily in the bowl, and he looked down.

And there’s this octopus. Looking at him. And right away, he could tell that the creature wasn’t happy.

From the octopus’ point of view, it must have thought it was being attacked by a rival male – which in a sense it was – and so, backed into a corner and being ‘inked over’ by an admittedly fairly short tentacular appendage, it quite understandably retaliated, launching itself at its opponent. Octopuses are capable of short bursts of incredible speed when on the attack and Gary, still half-asleep, simply wasn’t quick enough.

Now, it would be a lie to say that, to begin with and for the briefest of moments, the sensation of having an octopus latched on to his groin was not entirely unpleasant. They are, after all, mostly muscle. But they also have very hard, sharp beaks, which they normally use for breaking open mussels and crab shells. And it started biting.

And Gary started screaming.

Another thing about octopuses is that their tentacles are strong enough to capture sharks and break through the plexiglass of aquariums, plus it outnumbered him by eight arms to two, and so it proved next to impossible for him to disengage the writhing creature. Yelling and tearing at the monstrous mollusc which was masticating his manhood, Gary staggered out of his bathroom towards the kitchen, looking for a weapon – a knife, maybe, to cut the thing off him, but even through the agony and the horror of what was happening to him he realised that this probably wasn’t a good idea.

I may have mentioned that Gary’s apartment had a balcony overlooking the canal, where he and his friends had been drinking earlier that evening. Fortunately it was one of those very muggy summer nights and he’d left the sliding glass patio door open, through which he could see the balcony table still littered with beer bottles. He knew he could use one of those to club the bastard thing off him.

He lurched onto the balcony and grabbed for one of the bottles just as the octopus gave a particularly nasty nip; he howled, jack-knifed in pain, overbalanced, struck the balcony rail, and pinwheeled over and into the water thirty feet below.

Gary’s floating corpse was discovered the following morning. The cause of death was recorded as accidental drowning brought about by alcohol, and although there was no sign of the octopus, his entire body was covered in numerous small triangular bite wounds which were officially attributed to rats.

As I said, this is a true story. It was told to me by a friend of the guy that died. But whether or not you believe me, one thing remains true. There is a delicacy which you can find in many of the canal-side cafes and restaurants in Birmingham and the Black Country – you’ll have to ask for it specially because you won’t find it listed on any menu – but if you’re ever up that way I hope you’ll try the local deep fried canalamari.