So long and thanks for nothing, by Dinah Gardner

So long and thanks for nothing


The Octopus Exodus


Alice is the first one to spot the octopus.

It’s a quarter to two in the afternoon in the pleasant pub garden of the Llama’s Arms. Punters are enjoying the sunshine after a morning of rain. Frothy-topped pints are being supped, pies and chips are being gobbled (they do do a nice leek and sweet potato tartlet at the Llama’s Arms). It’s only Tuesday, but a definite Friday feeling has settled on the crowd. All engrossed in their own personal movie, no one has noticed the cephalopod.

That is, everyone except Alice.

In her barmaid’s black dress with white trim, no one tends to notice her either unless they want to order something.

The sea creature is an electric blue with a pulsing purple blush. Tentacles a naughty pink, it’s coming in at roughly the size of a toddler.

It glides across the paving slabs, missing discarded cigarette butts with surprising skill, and slips into the pub’s interior. Alice dumps the tray of drinks she’s holding on to the nearest table…

“Wait… we didn’t order these.”

“Where’s Auntie Sheila’s special brew and cider?”

The clamour of complaints doesn’t even register in Alice’s brain because it’s full of a whole load of octopus and wtf!

She’s just in time to see it pirouette around the door and into the kitchen. By the time she’s caught up, the only living thing in the room is Pothead Pattie (incidentally the maker of that delicious and posh veggie pie) and she’s only half inside. The rest of her is leaning out the back door and there’s the unmistakable whiff of weed in the air.

But wait. There is something different about the kitchen.

The cellar door (who was it who said that was the most beautiful phrase in English?), a milky peeling green and hip high is open. It’s usually padlocked shut.

“Pats!” Alice calls. “Did you open the cellar door?”

“What!?” coughs Pattie from outside.

Before Alice can explain, there’s a lot of soft squelching and not one, not two, but three octopi (or should that be octopuses?) shuffle past. (Are there too many brackets in this story? OK, I’ll stop). Butter yellow with blue eye-shapes dotted over their electric bodies, they all make a beeline for the cellar door and promptly disappear into its blackness.

“Woah!” says Pattie, who’s poked her head back inside to see what Alice is blathering about. She has a soft spot for the new girl, a bit dreamy but she’s a sweetheart really; she appreciates how she shares her tips with her at the end of her shift and puts meat scraps to one side to feed the stray cats that roam the lanes at the back of the pub. Alice also never minds when Pattie’s stoned.

“Who ordered them. I don’t cook octopus on principle. They’re too rubbery plus they’re way too smart. It would be like serving up a side of Stephen Hawking.” She plucks another smoke from her apron and goes outside to sit on one of the bins to enjoy it.

For the next 10 minutes, an oceans’ worth of octopi pass through the kitchen and disappear into the cellar. Alice watches them roll, slide, totter, squeeze, summersault, drag, lurch and tip-tentacle past.

Heart tumbling, she scans her phone. There’s no news of an aquarium breakout. The former prime minister of Japan’s been assassinated, people are dying from Russian bombs in Ukraine, there’s a new variant of Covid that might send them all into lockdown again, and more war, drought, inflation spiralling and unrest than she can cope with right now. But not so much as a whisper of an escaped marine mollusc.

Without warning, the parade stops.

Alice breathes. One. In. Two. Out. Three. In. Four…

There’s a rattling sound and she sees a tiny tentacle reach up out of the blackness of the cellar, curl around the door handle and start to shut it.

“Hey!” She darts over. Peers inside. It’s very dark in there.

The tentacle hesitates and an octopus, shaped like a giant sack, flops up onto the doorsill.

“Can I help you?” it asks in a soft, susurrating voice. “Please don’t say you want to take a selfie with me.”

It’s astonishing. But ever since she saw the first octopus it’s been nothing but.

“I just want to know what’s going on?” She spreads her hands, imploringly.

“What does it look like we’re doing? We’re leaving the planet.”

A moment of silence.

The orange invertebrate continues: “The dolphins have already packed off. They’re the ones who told us about this portal to another world. Cellar, Llama’s Arms they said, second right after the roundabout, right after the chippy and the house with the ridiculous garden gnomes.”

“But why?” But no sooner has she said it, Alice thinks she knows the answer.

“Because you humans are killing the planet. Poisoning the seas, the air, the soil. You’ve slaughtered the fish, burnt the forests, and driven the climate into insanity. Plus, we really don’t like being put into jars or chopped and cooked into a paella. Don’t get me started on Spain’s plans to farm us.”

Alice opens her mouth, but the octopus hushes her with a raised tentacle.

“Besides, you’re not the only ones with big brains you know. Although you’ve squandered all that intelligence if you ask me.”

Their eyes meet and something passes between them.

“I can see you’re one of the good ones. Look, why don’t come too. I’ll leave the door open. Just remember to shut it on your way out or in.”

And then it’s gone.

Alice, head spinning, heads back out to the bar and makes one of her famous long island ice teas, skipping the mint sprigs and lemon spiral. She downs it in three thirsty gulps and strides back into the kitchen.

“Come on Pattie,” she yells out the back door. “It’s time to go.”

Grinning happily, Pattie wanders back in and accepts Alice’s outstretched hand.