One of my favourite people in the world is the inimitable Laird Sapir, who I met back in my senior year of high school in our creative writing class. One of the projects we were assigned was to write a novel collaboratively — each student had to contribute a chapter, starting their portion of the story where the previous student left off. All of the chapters were then gathered together and bound as a book. As you can imagine, the story took quite a few twists and turns, and it was a lot of fun to see where other people took the narrative.
Back in April, Laird came up with the idea to start a similar project online, and approached other bloggers to contribute a chapter. You can read Laird’s initial entry here. The subsequent chapters, by a group of immensely talented and inventive writers, can be found here. I have had a blast reading through everyone’s posts, and I’ve really enjoyed being a part of this project. Little did I realize at the beginning, however, that I would be the person writing the FINAL chapter. No pressure or anything, right? I have to admit I was a little nervous about the responsibility of giving Simon, Ninja and Marguerite a satisfying conclusion to their adventure — and I have the feeling my entry is kind of on the long side, but I wanted to treat the subject matter with the appropriate sense of gravitas and tie up some loose ends. Anyway, this has been one of the most fun and entertaining experiences I’ve had in a while, so thanks Laird for putting it all together!
A mini Mr. Jones rose majestically on the wings of the Gunbrella, his slicked-back comb-over flapping in the breeze. He zapped a garden gnome, freeing it from its permanent apple-cheeked caper. In a move worthy of someone much taller, he swooped down, grabbed Marguerite, and mounted the gnome, spurring it to a mad dash across the evergreen lawn.
Braden sat back abruptly, flopping Simon out into his denim lap.
“Well now what?” Simon gasped.
THE OCTOPUS KNOWS: CHAPTER 17 — DENOUEMENT
London, England — One Year Earlier
“Headmaster Jones will see you now. Please come this way…”
Ninja unfolded himself from the small wooden chair on which he had been perched and followed the secretary down the long hall to Headmaster Jones’ office. The secretary ushered him in, closing the heavy door behind her.
“Ah, Ninja. My star pupil!” Jones beamed, rising from his desk. “To what do I owe the honour of this visit?”
Ninja swallowed nervously. “I’ve been thinking about your offer, and…I’d like to accept it”.
“Marvellous! That is excellent news, my boy. I truly think that you will soar to new heights in this role. Never before have we had a Liberace impersonator as part of our roster. When you think about it, it’s the perfect disguise. After all, the very best place to hide something is often right out in the open, where no one would ever think to look for it. And who could be more in-your-face than Liberace, in all his glittering, sequined, spangled glory? With you in our arsenal as a solo act, there’s no telling what we can do!”
Ninja nodded. “I think so, too. I wouldn’t be doing this if I didn’t think it was the right move…although I don’t know how I’m going to break the news to Simon and Marguerite…” He trailed off.
“Don’t you worry about Marguerite,” Jones purred reassuringly. “I’ve already got a new role lined up for her. That girl is a rare talent. One of the best assassins we have…and she’ll make an exquisite Judy Garland”.
Ninja considered this. With her crimson locks and cutting eyes, he could well picture Marguerite as Judy Garland. “What about Simon?” he asked. “Have you found anything for him to do? He’s going to be crushed when he finds out that our act is over”.
Ninja, Simon, and Marguerite had been best friends for ten years, ever since they had each shown up on the doorstep of the St. Albans School for Orphaned Boys and Girls, just north of central London. All three were eight years old at the time of their admission to the orphanage and had been placed in the same form. The school had a very particular method when it came to the education of its young, parentless charges — its headmaster, Mr. Jones, was not a teacher at all but a scientist who was obsessed with genetic mutations. Jones was brilliant, but unfortunately quite mad, and had dedicated his life to creating a master race of super-assassins. He used the students at his school for testing out his deranged experiments, and had been quite successful in modifying their genetic makeup, turning them into finely tuned killing machines. As a cover, the students posed as singing groups competing in talent shows and competitions around Europe, culminating in the annual Eurovision contest. For the past five years, Ninja, Simon and Marguerite had perfected their act as a Bee Gees tribute band. Ninja was Barry, Marguerite was Maurice (for someone with such delicate features, she could pull off sideburns and a handlebar moustache surprisingly well), and Simon was Robin. They were an incredibly popular draw and had been crowned the champions at last year’s Eurovision. For Ninja, however, the gig was getting stale. He needed a new challenge, and when Headmaster Jones had propositioned him with the idea of a solo career, visions of fame and fortune danced before his eyes. Sure, the role would also mean more challenging hits, but Ninja was indeed the star pupil at St. Albans…in fact, he was the best damn assassin the school had ever seen.
“Ah, yes…Simon” Jones sighed heavily, breaking Ninja out of his reverie. “Simon has never really…how shall I put this…lived up to his potential. It is very unfortunate. But I do believe I might be able to find some clerical work for him here at the school after graduation”.
Ninja felt a stab of guilt. He hated to abandon his friend. But Jones was not wrong — Simon had long been the weakest link in their act, and was rather hopeless as a killer. He lacked the cutthroat instinct necessary for the role. Besides, Ninja was eighteen years old now…he had his entire future in front of him. The glamorous world of murderer-for-hire/Liberace-tribute-artist — with all its heady trappings — was laid out before him, his for the taking. He could not pass up this opportunity.
He squared his shoulders and faced Headmaster Jones.
“I’d like to tell Simon the news myself, if that’s okay”.
“It’s up to you, Ninja. But do it quickly. The Copenhagen Pop Festival is in two weeks, and we need to get you up and running. The Danish Ambassador has been causing trouble lately. I’m afraid he’s got to go”.
Ninja nodded his head in assent “You can trust me, sir. I won’t let you down”.
Later that night, Ninja tossed and turned in his bed. He couldn’t sleep. He was making the right choice, he was sure of it…but an unsettling feeling was gnawing at his conscience. He had to speak to Simon now. He crept across the dorm room they shared and shook Simon awake. “Hey man. Let’s sneak out. Go for a walk, get some fresh air”.
“What time is it?” Simon asked blearily. “You know we have to get up early tomorrow to practice our routine. I know I can hit those high notes if I just try a little harder!”
Ninja felt another stab of guilt in his chest. “Yeah…um…there’s something I need to talk to you about”.
Simon suddenly sat bolt upright in bed. “Oh my god! I totally forgot to feed the octopuses today! Ninja, you gotta come with me. Oh shit oh shit oh shit. If Headmaster Jones finds out, I am so dead!”
Simon tripped out of his bed and raced around the room in the bewildered manner of a person who has recently awoken from a deep slumber into a state of complete panic. He hustled Ninja out the door and they ran towards the science labs, which housed large aquariums full of various sea creatures. No one knew quite what Jones was doing with them, but rumours abounded that he was attempting to infuse marine life with superior intelligence in order to create some kind of army of underwater spies which could infiltrate enemy submarines and warships. It was all very hush-hush.
By the time they reached the octopus aquarium, Simon was practically hysterical. “I can’t believe I messed this up! I can’t do anything right…!” he moaned to himself.
“Calm down, Simon!” Ninja ordered him. “Just find the food. I’ll open up the tank”.
Gingerly, he started out across the walkway suspended over the aquarium. He rotated a lever and the lid of the tank slowly began to slide open.
“I found it!” Simon exclaimed gleefully. He started running towards Ninja, his excitement making him even clumsier than usual. “Now, what was it you wanted to tell me…?”
Ninja watched it happen in slow motion. Simon, underestimating the distance between himself and his friend, ran smack dab into Ninja, knocking him into the octopus tank. Simon’s horrified face was the last thing Ninja saw before he plunged into the cold water below…
Tucson, Arizona — Present Day
And now, here they were. It turned out that Jones’s plans were far more malevolent than anyone had imagined — the next stage of his nefarious plot involved transferring the brains of his own students into the bodies of octopuses (who could brandish eight weapons at once). In a tragic twist of fate, Ninja became the first subject when he fell into the tank and had his brain instantaneously transported into the awaiting octopus. Upon realizing what had happened Simon had panicked, stuffed Ninja into a duffel bag, and fled the grounds of the school. For a year they had been holed up in a dive apartment, where Simon assuaged his guilt over his role in the accident by consuming massive amounts of Pringles and Oreos. Ninja had taken to getting blottoed on Courvoisier to numb the pain of his own deception, and to deal with the transition from human to marine form. All of this had led them to where they were now — lying sputtering on an octegenarian’s front lawn in Tucson, fending off attacks from overgrown toddlers and predatory felines, while a madman on a garden gnome made off with their best friend. It was a fine situation to be in, indeed.
Ninja felt a sense of helplessness wash over him. What could he do, trapped in a plastic Dixie cup? Nothing! He was utterly powerless. He banged his tentacles against the side of the cup in frustration.
His despair turned to astonishment a moment later, however, as he caught a movement out of the corner of his eye. Braden was attempting to scoop Simon back into his pocket, but Simon was having none of it. He kicked and punched at Braden’s hand, and when that failed, he bit down hard on the soft flesh between Braden’s thumb and index finger. Braden howled in pain, dropping Simon onto the grass. Simon rolled quickly out of the way, and scrabbled around for a moment before lifting Sparky triumphantly in his hands. In a swift motion, he ran towards the oncoming Jones and Marguerite, sending a bolt of electricity from his wand towards the garden gnome which froze on impact, returned to its original stone form. Simon rushed over and tackled Jones, pinning him on the ground. His excessive weight gain over the previous year had a silver lining, it turned out, as it allowed him to easily overpower the also-out-of-shape Jones and keep him trapped underneath his hefty form.
“Listen, Jones.” Simon snarled. “Here’s what you’re going to do. One: you’re going to transform us all back to our regular size. Two: you’re going to turn Ninja back into a human. And three: you’re going to order your lackey here to get off our backs…!”
With these last words, he twisted around and shot another bolt of electricity at Braden, who had been stealthily creeping up behind him. Braden was knocked to the ground, screaming in agony.
Ninja could only shake his head in wonderment. By god, Simon had saved the day! Who would ever have thought he had it in him?
“I could…do all of that…for you…” Jones wheezed. “But ask your friend…about his plans…to go solo…leaving you behind!”
Simon turned to Ninja with a stricken look on his face. “Ninja…is that true?”
Ninja hung his head, choking back tears. “Yeah man, it’s true. I’m so sorry. But I didn’t know then what I know now. Which is that you’re the best and most loyal friend I’ve ever had, and it would be an honour for me to put on that white leather glitter suit with you again”.
“Does this mean what I think it means?” Marguerite interjected.
Simon and Ninja exchanged a look. Each friend could read the apology in the other’s eyes. Simon smiled slowly.
“Yes, Marguerite, it means exactly what you think it does. Break out your platform boots, my love…the band is getting back together!”
“And one more thing, Jones,” Ninja said, turning towards the headmaster. “We’re out of the assassin game. No more killing. From now on, people will be stayin’ alive!”
With that, the three friends linked arms (and tentacles), and strode forward across the grass to reclaim their title as the best Bee Gees tribute band the world has ever seen.