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Please Present Your Octopus

by Luc Reid

"Excuse me?" Tara said to the man at the door. The scholarship recipients' dinner was a much more high-toned affair than she was used to, but she was pretty sure she wasn't so working class that she wouldn't know about something like an octopus requirement.

"Please present your octopus," the man repeated, smiling. "Beige snowballs, transit applicants to the steaming room." He looked at Tara. She looked back, giving him the same look she had given her boyfriend Chad when she'd found out all of her underwear was missing (which was another story--it turned out to be an innocent misunderstanding).

The man at the door glanced behind him at the laughing philanthropists, the small crowd circling the bickering poli sci professors, the grad students hunched over the buffet, cramming fingerfoods into napkins to tuck away in pocket or purse. His smile faltered.

"Olives center my modesty," he said dismissively, waving her into the room. Tara didn’t budge. She noticed the man's eyebrows were beginning to smoke, very faintly. His face took on a hugely pained, desperate look, and he turned to walk away, but Tara grabbed him by the arm.

"What are you in there?" she said. "You're a leftover, aren't you?"

"Pungently," he pleaded, pulling away from her. She gripped his arm with both hands, certain now that some of the aliens had stayed behind in some kind of disguise. They couldn't have simply come to earth, broadcast their messages, and left forever--especially when no one had even been able to figure out what their messages had said.

Inside the building a tray of dishes crashed, and she turned her head for a split second, distracted by the accident. Her quarry took that moment to jerk away from her with all his strength, though Tara held onto the arm with a death grip. There was a snapping sound as the arm broke loose. By the time she looked back, the "man" had sprinted away at unbelievable speed across the lawn of Founders Hall. The armhole of his "human" torso where the arm had torn away revealed just a glimpse of a much smaller, green arm inside. He vaulted a hedge and was gone.

"Tara Gonyea?" someone called from inside. It was growing dark, she realized, and she wasn't visible to anyone in the warmly-lit hall. She hesitated, then tucked the arm out of sight behind a row of rosebushes. That night, she would hide somewhere nearby and see if the man came back to look.

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