You’d think that by now, I’d be used to 3am wakeups from a spiteful octopus, the glow-in-the-dark rats and the screaming. If I’d known that stealing three plasma rifles was going to land me in T9 galactic prison with a space piracy conviction, I’d have walked the other way. Seriously, space piracy. It’s not like I stole the treaty of Orion for Ouranos sake. If those rangers hadn’t left their guns lying about, I wouldn’t have been able to take them anyway. They should be buried in this muggy pit. Instead, here I am, at 3am, wondering if this overgrown ball of tentacles will eat me before it’s even heard my plan. That’s assuming it understands me at all. What I do know is that the sucker can climb, and that’s a skill I need.
The beast peeled itself off the glass cell wall. Its suckers popped from the glass one by one. It slithered across the floor. Its mottled purple tentacles whipped up, flicking foul goop across the room. It hit the carved cell wall with a slap. Two muscular appendages wrapped themselves around my wrists, another circled my neck.
“Alright, alright. I didn’t mean nothing by it.”
It clicked its beak inches from my face. The hot stench of rotting fish and seaweed wet my nose.
“I’ve got a proposition,” I nodded and motioned at my slimy noose with the only body part I could freely move: My eyes. “You put me down, and I might just tell you what it is.”
Its deep inky eyes stared, unblinking and vacant.
Do octopuses have eyelids?
“Alright,” I wriggled my shoulders, “maybe I can just?” I tried, unsuccessfully, to shuffle my right arm free.
“You know, since we’re bunk buddies, I’m gonna tell you anyway.”
To my credit, I ignored the glob of saliva dangling dangerously close to my face. “I can get us out of here.”
My nose scrunched at the slimy residue left on my neck as the creature released me. The goop glued my loose hair to my neck.
“Great, so you’re in?”
It waved a tentacle, flicking more foul goop across the cell, and returned to its usual 3am ritual of pecking pointlessly at the glass.
Three days later, the sucker marks on my neck and wrists had faded, but my determination to escape this prison was still firm. Although, the shrinking size of my only blanket was starting to make life uncomfortable. C’s unused blanket finally had a use. It sat in the corner, its thread woven into a length of rope. I sat on the floor, tearing apart my own precious blanket.
“You know, C, this would go a lot quicker if you stopped needlessly pecking at that glass and helped me.”
The pecking stopped momentarily, but the beast didn’t withdraw from the glass.
“Or you could just watch.”
And that’s precisely what the slimeball did. For the next three days, he tapped away, staring through the impenetrable glass at the jagged wall opposite and the dark canyon below. I stretched out my makeshift rope. It covered the width of the cell six times. I hoped that would be enough to get us to the surface. In reality, I had no idea how deep in the crevasse our cosy little cell resided.
Now all that was left to do was wait for my usual 3am alarm
“It’s time, C. Let’s get outta this hell hole.”
We waited, pressed to the wall on either side of the steel cell door. Footsteps approached, followed by the sound of metal scraping on metal as the slot in our door was opened. The dim-witted guard spent longer than I expected trying to locate the missing prisoners. Eventually, the slot scraped closed, and keys jangled on the other side.
As he stepped through the door, I sucker punched the fool.
He barely moved.
Rubbing his jaw, he turned to face me.
The guard lifted me off the ground by my collar.
“Little help here, C?”
He raised a first, and I screwed up my eyes in preparation for the blow. But it never came. My feet still dangling in mid-air, I squinted through one partially opened eye. C had wrapped his tentacles around the brute’s arm, and the appendages were slowly working their way towards his torso. When my slimy saviour wrapped a tentacle around the guard’s neck, he finally dropped me? From a crumpled heap on the floor, I watched the man struggle. C Immobilised his arms, and slime dripped from his beak as he positioned himself squarely above the guy’s head. Then, with swift terror, C consumed the guard. Top to toe, the three bites. Uniform, torch and keys included. Blood spatter covered the cell and me.
“C, that was awesome.”
The beast made a high-pitched squeak in reply.
“But also fucking disgusting.”
I wiped as much blood and goop off my face as was possible and stepped through the open cell door. From now on, we would be surviving by our wits alone. When they bring you down to your hole, they cover your head. I suppose it was to show you who’s boss as much as it was to disorientate you. For us, it meant we were just guessing which direction to take. Down a damp corridor, its walls carved directly into the rock, I was grateful not to see another soul. I couldn’t say the same for C, who rushed off ahead, apparently hungry now he’d tasted what he considered to be an appetiser. The walls arched around. I began to shiver at the cool breeze now penetrating my thin uniform. Not that I minded, I hadn’t smelt fresh air in years. We hit our first locked gate; not unexpected but not ideal.
“Couldn’t have spat out the keys, could you?”
Thankfully the path also sprang off to the left. C came to an abrupt stop, and his slimy, mushy body threatened to absorb me as I walked right into him. He barely moved but clicked his beak furiously. Out in front, the whole corridor dropped away, opening up into the vast chasm I’d spent the last two years staring at. The guards would often fly past our window, their mobi’s engines humming as they went past. Of course, we weren’t fortunate enough to find one parked at the opening.
“It’s your time to shine, C,” I said, holding out my makeshift rope. He nearly took my fingers off as he pinched one end in his beak and slithered his way to the edge.
“Now, not too far. I dunno if there’s enough there to get us all the way to the top. Just go to the next opening and let me climb up, okay?”
He glided along the edge of the wall, up the slick rock, and out of sight with no indication of understanding. I watched the pile of rope gradually get smaller, and smaller, and –
“T, have you not reached the next level yet?”
The rope continued to disappear. Only a couple of meters remained.
“T, you’re running out of rope down here.”
The end dragged along the ground towards the edge.
Shit. Ourano, I promise, if you let me escape this hell hole, I’ll never drink, swear or gamble again.
I jumped. Clutching at the material for dear life, at either end of the frayed material, we both slid slowly down the wall of rock and glass. Passing cell after cell of confused and amused inmates of every species in the galaxy. Above C scrambled, struggling for grip, and we began to slide faster. We passed a cell filled entirely with blue smoke. Another contained three women, all exceptionally beautiful except for their forked tongues and slit pupils. I winced as the jagged rocks tore at my clothes and skin. The light from the surface began to fade. We started to pass empty cells, some with broken glass walls. I considered trying to swing myself into one of them. Still, something about those dents in the heavy steel door and dried pools of blood decorating the floor seemed less inviting than falling to my death. My eyes widened. I spotted a shadow move in the corner of one such cell.
A tall thin figure, with tar-like skin and pale white eyes stood and turned to face me. I gripped my rope, helpless and for the first time, hoping we would slide faster. The creature let out a wail that echoed around the dark canyon. Its hot breath spread across the cell. It smelt like rot. I opened my mouth when it threw itself towards me, but my voice was cowering somewhere in my stomach. My stomach, which gave a terrible lurch as C finally lost his grip, and we found ourselves hurtling towards the canyon floor. Above me, the pale-eyed demon screeched. Its body writhing as it watched its prey slip away.
To be continued…
Written by Stacey Potter
Featured image by Masaaki Komori