Sammy! Give me my scarf back!” I chased my boyfriend across the stretch of beach.
“Nuh-uh!” Sammy said, looking back at me and grinning. He was much taller than me, so I could never catch up with him.
Sammy finally stopped mid-run and I collided into him. I looked up into his freckly face and he pecked me on the cheek as he lovingly wrapped my scarf back around my neck. “I'm so glad we could go on this vacation,” he said.
“Me too,” I said. We'd both been able to get off of work to rent a cottage at the beach for a week. It was two hours away from home, which was the perfect distance to separate us from our responsibilities. It was also the same beach that I'd went to every summer as a child with my family, so it was a special place for me. And now I got to share it with my boyfriend, which was wonderful.
We walked back to the cottage on the beach, holding hands as we took barefoot steps in the sand. “Isn't it nice to not have to go in to the office?” he teased.
“Isn't it nice not having to go into the auto shop?” I said.
Sammy shrugged. “I think the boys probably miss me, but we'll be back to normal life eventually.”
“Yeah,” I said, “eventually.”
He turned to me and we stopped walking. “Are you okay?” he asked. “You've been acting odd ever since we got here.”
“I'm fine,” I assured him.
We went back to the cottage and Sammy cooked me shrimp scampi while I sat on the couch of the cottage doing word-search puzzles. Afterward we watched a movie and then went to bed.
I laid next to my boyfriend, my arms folded behind my head, wide awake as he snored away. Truth was, I wasn't really okay. I hated working at the office; my boss and co-workers treated me like garbage and used me because I was just a people-pleaser. In the meantime, I got wrung out like a washcloth hung out to dry on the line. And Sammy didn't really care – mostly just because I didn't tell him.
That was the problem with Sammy – he always treated me like I was a guy, and guys process emotions differently than women do. Whenever I would want to talk to him about something the depressed me or bothered me, he never seemed to listen and a few times even suggested that I tell someone else. Sammy was definitely not a listener, but that was about the only thing I didn't like about him.
At least he was better than my last boyfriend.
In any case, I'd gotten a job offer right before we'd went off on vacation. However, the job was located a couple states over, which would mean either I would have to break up with Sammy or Sammy would have to move with me. Sammy was happy working at the mechanic's shop. In fact, he was more than happy; he was simply ecstatic to work on cars all day and loved all of his co-workers. He wouldn't want to move – maybe not even on my account.
But it was a great opportunity for me. And maybe it was time to move out of this little town that I'd been in for probably far too long.
I looked back over at Sammy, who was still snoring blissfully, and sighed.
I would take a long walk at the beach by myself the next day, and then I could try working things out.
It would all be resolved by the evening.
“Are you sure you want to cancel our plans, honey?”
I reached up to ruffle Sammy's curly orange hair. “I'm sure. I just need a few hours to myself today. Need to clear my head.” We'd planned to go water-skiing with a friend of Sammy's that day.
“Whatever makes you happy, Alissa,” he said, smiling. “I'll call Bill and tell him that we can go tomorrow instead. We still have a few days left here.”
“Thanks,” I said.
“I'll be here in the cabin watching a movie or something if you need anything.”
I kissed and hugged him good-bye and walked out into the windy, summer air. No one was at the beach besides a few stragglers. It was unusually cool for the tail-end of August and the clouds were an ominous gray. No one wanted to be at the beach before a rainstorm, which was perfect for me, because I could finally get a few moments alone.
I wandered around, thinking about the future and weighing the pros and cons of the job offer and imagined what life might look like then if I decided to accept the offer. Sammy could find a different job and then we could get a family house and then, maybe we could get married. I'd still want to get married at the beach. In the summer, right near the shore, and -
I heard a fwooshing noise behind me in the bushes above the shoreline that interrupted my train of thought. “Hello?” I asked. “Is anyone there?” Who would be following me, anyway? Panic suddenly set in. I stopped and breathed in through the nose, out through the mouth. In through the nose, out through the mouth. Just like I'd been taught in yoga.
I walked around some more, but the feeling of being watched didn't go away. Was I just being paranoid?
I finally sat down in the sand and pulled out my writing notebook and pen from my beach bag. A perfect time to journal my thoughts and -
This time I heard someone clear their throat right behind me. I stood up and turned around to face whoever it was.
It was a man, or at least it seemed like a man. He was strong; his muscles showed through his wet tank top. He was barefoot and his black hair lay limp, clumped to his scalp. The man had a strange purple-bluish tint to his skin. But even stranger than the color of his skin was the protrusion of tentacles from a few inches above his waist, below his arms. The tentacles had suction cups attached to them and were a little longer than his actual arms. “Don't be afraid,” he said in a deep, otherworldly voice.
I lunged at him, grabbing his arm. “What are you?!” I demanded. “Why have you been watching me?”
“Shh, Alissa,” he said, smiling sadly at me and slowly prying my fingers from his arm, which were digging deep into his skin. “I have not been watching you. I am trying to protect you."
“Protect me from who? I...” I finally gave up and sat down on the sand of the beach. “I have too many questions.”
The creature sat down beside me. “That is to be expected,” he said. “And I will answer your questions in time. But time is not something we have much of. So let's hurry back to the cottage.”
I gave up trying to understand for the time being and followed him. “It's Patrick,” he said.
“No.” My heart nearly stopped and I stumbled backward. “Not Patrick. Patrick can't be here. He can't be!”
“We have to hurry!” He pulled me along.
I resisted his pulls. “I don't understand. How do you know about Patrick? How do I know you don't want to lead me off to some shack and murder me? How am I supposed to trust a person who I'm not even sure is human?” At this point I was just about hysterical and incredibly confused.
“Alissa, I have watched you come back here nearly every summer since you were five years old. I care deeply about you. You need to trust me just for now,” the creature gurgled. “I can explain more later, when you and your boyfriend are out of immediate danger. If I had wanted to hurt you or kill you, I would have already, believe me. I don't want to force you to come, but you must trust me.”
“Could you at least tell me your name?”
“I call myself Octo.”
I shrugged. “Fine, let's go.”
He led me back to the cottage. The door was ajar. “You go first,” he said, pushing me into the entryway. The creature's hands were clammy and slimy.
I walked cautiously into the cottage. “Sammy?” I called. “Sammy, are you here? Sammy?”
I stepped into the kitchen. “No!” Blood was splattered all over the tiled floor underneath my boyfriend's slumped body. It looked like he had been stabbed several times in the back. I ran screaming out of the cottage, unable to comprehend the situation. I slammed right into Octo, sobbing.
“I, he, there's blood all over in there and I -” I stammered, breathless.
He held me tightly to his chest. “I was too late,” he said in a gravelly voice. “But Patrick has left. He's looking for you next.”
“Why?!” I screamed. “I did everything to get rid of him! I blocked my number and I called the police even though they didn't do anything and I -” I trailed off. Breathe in, breathe out. In through the nose, out through mouth. In through the nose, out through the mouth. Just like I'd been taught in counseling.
“Patrick has been tracking you for some time now. He followed you here. He's gotten worse since you left him. I am so sorry but we've got to move on.”
Still crying, I held onto Octo's arm and stumbled along. “Where are we going?” I asked.
“We're going to hide in the ocean,” he said matter-of-factly.
“Hide in the...ocean?” Even in the midst of my shock and grief, his comment took me off-guard. “We can't hide in the ocean; I'll drown!”
“Wasn't I correct about Patrick? You must trust me.”
We hurried back along the path to the beach and I was about to blindly follow Octo into the ocean when I saw a figure running towards us. I tugged at the creature. “Octo, Octo, who's that?”
“It's your ex-boyfriend, of course,” he said calmly. The surf washed around our feet.
Patrick stopped in front of us. “What, Alissa, you have two boyfriends now?” He had the bloody knife that he had used to kill Sammy clenched in his right hand. “I thought the first one was bad. Stupid kid didn't even fight back. Do I have to get rid of the second one too?” His brown eyes were as beady and angry as I remembered them and he smelled like stale beer and sweat and garbage. Patrick's presence released the terrible memories I'd tried so hard to forget.
I took a step back. I needed to breathe deeply. In through the nose, out through mouth. In through the nose, out through the mouth.
Just like I'd been taught at the battered women's shelter.
“You leave her alone,” Octo warned, getting into a defensive position.
Patrick took a step closer. “An' just what are you gonna do about anything, freak? This is between me and her – back off!”
I suddenly jumped forward and spit in his face.
“You bitch!” He started freaking out, wiping my spit everywhere and jumping around in a frantic frenzy. Patrick was a bonafide germaphobe – that's why he'd whip my legs and back and rape me. Because I didn't wipe down the counter six times a day or I'd forget to wash my hands before dinner or I wouldn't do the dishes right away or I'd forget to clean the bathroom in the evening.
I'd never told Sammy. I had been so ready to leave the Patrick part of my life behind.
And now Sammy would never know, because his body was strewn in the kitchen of our rented vacation cottage, covered in stab wounds.
Patrick was still jumping around in the sand. He'd dropped the knife, leaving a bloodstain on the yellow sand. I picked it up and threw it to the brush. Octo tackled my manic ex-boyfriend to the ground. I saw a spurt of black stuff – ink? If the situation wasn't so dire, I would have relished in the fact that Patrick was getting his ass handed to by a half-octopus man. I merely stared in shock.
“Alissa!” Octo screamed as they were wrestling. “Get back to the cottage! Get your cell-phone! Call the police!”
“I can handle this! Go!”
So I did as he asked. I went back up the cottage and used my phone to call the police. I left an anonymous tip. I'd talked to enough police officers when I'd been found with several broken bones on the side of the road after Patrick had tossed me out in a final act of road-rage one afternoon after taking me home from work. I didn't desire to talk to any more today, especially since I already knew who had killed Sammy, and that was enough for me.
I did not go back into the kitchen.
I waited on the stairs of the cottage for around an hour before I decided it might be a good idea to go back down to the beach. If the octopus man wasn't there, I could just go home. If he was, well, I would probably go back home anyway.
I just needed to know what had happened to my savior and if he'd finally done something with Patrick.
When I arrived back at the beach, Octo was standing at the shore next to Patrick's body.
“You killed him?”
“He drowned,” the creature said simply.
“You killed him.” I repeated.
“Does that make you sad?”
I stared at Patrick's dead body. Two dead today. I remembered our first date and how we'd had such a good conversation at the fancy restaurant, what a gentleman he'd been that day. He cared so much about me. I had never been happier than I was with Patrick in the first few months of our relationship. I was happy to excuse his slight over-controlling of me just to be with him and to spend time with him.
Then his father had died of a salmonella infection. Things began to really fall apart after that. He became obsessive-compulsive over germs and obsessed over me, nearly worshiped me. But he also had to control me – I could not go to the grocery store without him approving it. He made me quit my job and still I bleated that I loved him, I loved him, I loved him. It took the car accident, the women's shelter, the counselors and police for me to finally get away.
I turned back to look at Octo. “I don't know what to feel.”
“That's perfectly normal. You've gone through a lot in one day.”
“Are you just going to leave his body here?”
“Might be easier. You could come up with an easy alibi: you went to the store, came back to find Sammy's body, and Patrick killed himself.”
“I guess.” I didn't quite see how the details would work out now, but they would probably work themselves out later. Who would believe the real story, anyway?
“I'm sorry that it happened so fast for you.”
“Who are you?” I finally asked.
“I am Octo,” he said in an even tone. “I believe I was the result of a scientific experiment. I have lived here in the ocean all my life, of what I can recall.”
“What did you mean earlier about hiding me in the ocean?”
“I have a home in an underground cave; there is a pocket of air there. It would be safe for you to stay. Ingenious, really.”
“I don't doubt it.” At this point I would have believed anything. “So you've watched me since I was a kid?”
“Yes,” he said. “It does get quite lonely on my own. I have understood that I am different from others – I am not human, so I could never interact, but I could always watch. It was enough.”
“Until you somehow figured out that my ex-boyfriend was on a murdering rampage.”
“Well, some circumstances are extreme.”
I didn't ask him how he knew. At this point, they were both dead and it didn't quite matter anymore. I was so tired.
“What will you do now?” he asked.
“What will I do?” I repeated. “I'm going to go home and then I'm going to accept that job offer and start a new life.”
“Or you could stay with me. You always loved the ocean. I would protect you.”
Octo was getting borderline creepy, but I appreciated his sentiment. “I do love the ocean, that much is true,” I admitted. “But I've just met you. I have an entire life ahead of me...I mean, I'm only thirty...I'll...move on eventually.” I turned away from Patrick's body and the bloated sand.
“Are you going to come back? To this beach someday?”
“Maybe someday.” I gave him one last hug. “Thank you. For, well, protecting me.”
“I wish you the best of luck in your healing,” he said, blinking. “You deserve so much better than what life has served you so far.”
I got into my car and drove back home. I took slow, deep breaths. In through the nose, out through the mouth. Just like I'd been taught.
I never went back to that beach again.