1850 words (7 minute read)

Third Wheel

Chapter 3

I barely saw Brad and his friends over the next few days. I guessed they were holed up inside the main house as if it was the Ecuadorian embassy and they were all rapey Swedish whistle-blowers. The curtains and blinds were closed tight and the backdoor had been firmly bolted. I found this out after a late night attack of the munchies when I headed over to raid their kitchen but ended up face-planting into a locked door. In frustration I made sure to rattle the handle for at least five minutes. I just couldn’t help myself. I had visions of the people inside, rushing to cram themselves into various nooks and crannies throughout the house, streams of piss running down their legs, believing that the feds had come for them.

Of course, it turned out that the house was actually empty. They’d all legged it under cover of darkness a few nights previous. I discovered this after being forced to break in there. Baker and I had been playing Xbox on the sofa one evening when the pool house door swung open and then shut itself. Neither of us looked up from the TV immediately, as we were mid-corner during a race but after a few moments I hit the pause button and glanced over expecting to see Brad or someone looming over us. There was no one there.

‘Huh’ I said, a look of confusion on my face.

‘What’ said Baker, taking a swig from his beer and finishing the bottle,

‘Didn’t you hear the door open just then?’ I asked looking at him quizzically.

‘Nope. Now are we gonna finish this race or what, cos I gotta bounce soon. I got that court mandated community service bullshit’ said Baker.

‘I guess’ I said, a bit unsure. Instead of hitting un-pause, I placed the controller on the sofa and stood up. ‘I swear I heard the door go. You don’t think…’ I said before going quiet. ‘What’s that noise?’ I asked looking about the room. ‘Do you hear that?’ A sound had caught my attention now that the noise of race car engines were no longer roaring from the TV. A weird sound that I struggled to fathom. What was I doing? Getting stoned, drinking beer and playing video-games while over in the big house people who’d ripped off a military animal testing lab were hiding out. My brain was making connections between that and the noise. Suddenly I was feeling extremely paranoid. I went over to the window and looked out across the garden at the main house. All was quiet.

‘You’ve lost it dude’ said Baker shaking his head and tossing his controller down in frustration. ‘Call me when you’ve grown a pair. I’m out of here’ and with that, he strode into the garden, through the gap in the fence and away. I locked the pool house door behind him and pulled the curtains shut, plunging the room into almost darkness, save for the TV and a few other low sources of light.

‘Why am I feeling so nervous’ I thought to myself, anxiety now coursing through my body. I knew I hadn’t done anything wrong. I hadn’t broken into that lab or stolen any animals. I started to wonder whether I could be done for withholding information or harbouring a known fugitive when something touched my foot.

I screamed. Not a manly scream either. A full on toddler lost in the supermarket wail. I jumped too. Man did I jump. And fell on my butt. Hard! I scrambled backwards into a corner of the room and peered around for what had crawled over my foot. Moments before I was on edge. Now, I was in full blown fight or flight mode, hyperventilating, the darkness that surrounded me closing in. As my eyes scanned the room, they settled on a chink of light near on the far side of the room. The fridge door was open. ‘For fucks sake Baker, learn to shut the fucking fridge’ I thought to myself before shouting ‘WHAT THE FUCK’ as I glimpsed a massive orange tentacle reaching inside.

Frozen in place, I struggled to make sense of what was going on for a moment. Then, I heard the gentle clinking of glass bottles. Cthulu was stealing my fucking beer! I jumped up, grabbed the nearest thing that could be passed off as a weapon and cautiously crossed the room with an ice hockey stick held above my head at the ready.

In the low light I counted five, maybe six tentacles protruding from this slimy orange mass, all reaching in and rummaging around inside my fridge, pulling various things out and placing them onto the floor next to it. A shudder went through its disgusting, jellified body and it seemed to get visibly animated when it pulled out a bento box that’d been in there a few days. I’d fully intended to polish its contents off yesterday but hadn’t. The octopus dipped the tip of a tentacle gingerly into the box, pulled out a few pieces of something and put them into what I assumed was its mouth.

I stood there, hockey stick raised high, not really sure what to do. I just watched as it fished inside the remnants of my Chinese takeout and chowed some of it down. A few things suddenly dawned on me. Firstly, that my ass was really, really hurting. Second, that I hadn’t seen Brad or any of his friends popping out of the big house to feed this thing over the past few days and third, that it must have been fishing out all the prawns from the box of special fried rice, since I knew that’s what this type of octopus liked to eat from my research a few days ago. I lowered the hockey stick, but kept a firm grip on it. ‘I bet you’re starving’ I said to it quietly in a wavering voice. ‘Don’t think you’ll find much else in my fridge to eat but I can see if Brad has anything for you.’ I hesitated, unsure whether to walk out and leave this thing alone in my house or not, but reluctant to approach it.

The octopus had finished picking bits out of the bento box but didn’t resume rummaging through the rest of the stuff in the fridge. It just picked up the big block of cheese and the tube of cookie dough that it had placed on the floor next to it, put them gently back in and shut the door. Then it turned and looked at me. Our eyes connected for what felt like an age before the thing farted a big glob of mucusy black ink my way, all over my rug and skulked off under the couch. ‘Why you little shit’ I said raising the hockey stick back up but I knew I wouldn’t hit it. This thing was just hungry, scared, in an unfamiliar environment and to be honest, Baker had gotten worse things on my rug.

I decided to leave the octopus under the sofa for the time being and headed over to the main house to see if Brad was about. ‘Maybe he can help me coax the thing back into the pool’ I thought as I crossed the patio. I banged on the backdoor, kitchen window and shouted at the top of my lungs, but to no avail. I then muttered obscenities under my breath as I marched hurriedly around the house to try the front. Still no answer but I had come up with a plan. There was an adjoining door between the house and garage so if I could get into the garage, I could get into the house. I rushed back to the pool house, grabbed a coat hanger from my wardrobe and headed for the garage door. I didn’t even look to see if the octopus had moved from under the sofa.

I straightened out most of the wire coat hanger but bent a hook one end. I then feed this through the tiny gasket covered gap at the very top of the garage door, right in the centre. I was going fishing for the safety release catch mechanism that I knew would be there. It only took about 10 seconds before I’d released the catch and could roll the shutter door up. Baker had shown me this neat little trick. He’d taught loads of things like this. I had to then use another of the techniques he’d showed me when it became clear that the door which joined garage to house was also locked. Luckily it wasn’t dead bolted so I was easily able to slide a credit card between door and frame and pop the lock. OK, it was actually a Subway loyalty card but so what, it worked all the same.

There was no one about inside. The place was completely devoid of life. I headed to the kitchen and opened up the fridge. To my delight I found a tin of dolphin friendly tuna and some ethically farmed shredded crab meat. ‘Perfect’ I thought as I scooped it up and headed back to the pool house, being sure to unlock the backdoor as I went so I could get back in easily if I needed to. As I reached the pool, I saw ripples on the water. Looking in, I spotted the octopus gliding about in the depths. ‘Thank fuck for that’ I said in relief. I then opened the pot of crab meat and tossed its entire contents into the pool. The octopus went batshit crazy, darting all over the place and hoovering up every little bit of dissected crab flesh that I’d thrown in. I just sat on the pool edge watching in awe, fascinated by the octopus’s agility and speed within the water. It was completely at odds with the squished blob of slimy orange that I’d been disgusted by not ten minutes before in the pool house.

When every last morsel of crab had been gobbled up, the octopus slowed its pace and eventually settled down in a spot at the deep end. The sun was up high in the sky and I assumed that it was likely much cooler down at the depths of the pool then up near the top. I headed on into the pool house and led across the sofa. As I looked at the TV, I noticed that the racing game Baker and I had been playing earlier was no longer paused. It had reverted back to the menu. I shrugged it off. ‘The programmers must have set a timeout that bins you from the game if it’s been left paused for too long’ I thought.