Once upon a time there was a little octopus named Nove (because Nove had nine arms, and nove means nine in Italian). Now if scientists had known about Nove, they would have said she wasn’t an octopus at all, but rather a nonopus, on account of the nine arms, which was closely related to the octopus, but a separate species altogether. Only scientists didn’t know about Nove, because nobody knew about Nove.
You see, generally speaking, octopuses (also known as octopi and even octopodes) are shy creatures, preferring caves and the undersides of rocks and docks to sunlight. They live on the bottom of the ocean after all! But amongst themselves, octopuses, especially octopus children, can be quite genial creatures, rather social, and they enjoy playing communal games like hide and seek, can you fit under this rock? or what color am I now?
But not Nove, who didn’t know she wasn’t technically an octopus (since no scientist was around to tell her) and who hid from the other octopus children because she didn’t like the way they made fun of her and excluded her from all their games. In fact, Nove got to be so good at hiding, all the other octopus children forgot she even existed.
At first Nove was saddened by her lack of friends. Her mother tried to help her, and give her ideas on how she might try to fit in. Once she even helped Nove decorate their cave, and prepare bowls of shrimps and crabs for a big octopus party, but nobody came because the other children were afraid that if they got too close to Nove, they would grow an extra arm. After that, Nove stopped trying to fit in, and her mother stopped trying to help her, and instead Nove spent her days exploring coral reefs, and discovering new caves, becoming the octopus community’s foremost authority on sea cucumbers, had anyone ever bothered to ask.
In fact, there wasn’t a square inch of the ocean floor where Nove, with her nine arms, hadn’t travelled. (Incidentally, unbeknownst to Nove, she travelled particularly fast for an octopus, her nine arms providing superior propulsion capabilities.) But there was one place Nove hadn’t travelled, one place where all the octopus children were warned never to travel, because it was the one place where Gastrominous the Menacing Shark lived. And his favorite meal was octopus (and nonopus) children, which is why he lived in a cave instead of swimming near reefs like the other sharks.
One day, while Nove was out exploring a new section of reef that she hadn’t seen before (a new coral colony had just moved in and were starting renovations) she noticed a school of octopuses squirting by, which Nove thought a little bit weird. The other octpuses children never swam out this far to play their games. So Nove followed them quietly, using all of her excellent camouflage powers so the other octopus children wouldn’t know she was there.
“It’s this way,” the pink one whispered. Her name was Rosa, which means pink in Italian. Octopuses are literal creatures. With a great appreciation for Italian.
“No, it’s to the left,” the blue one named Azzuro responded.
“How do you know? You’ve never been here before,” The green one said. His name was Verde.
“None of us have,” Rosa said, “but it’s what it says on my map. Look!” She held out an old tattered map made of seaweed, the octopus ink drawings faded with age, and pointed at the picture of a cave with one of her arms. “My great granddad said that before Gastrominous moved in, this used to be a favorite spot for teenage octopuses to meet.”
“You mean for kissing?” asked Azzuro. “Gross!”
“Shhhh!!! Someone’s coming,” Rosa whispered. And for a second Nove thought she’d been discovered. But it was the sound of Gastrominous leaving his cave for his daily constitutional. Just because Gastrominous lived in a cave doesn’t mean he didn’t take care of his health.
“You guys stay here, I’m going inside to look,” Rosa said.
“No! You can’t! It’s too dangerous” the other octopus children whispered, holding onto their friend’s tentacles, with all of their arms. But octopuses are slippery creatures, and Rosa slipped out her friends’ grasps. Quietly, she swam into the cave. Reluctantly, her friends followed her. And for a second, nothing happened.
Then all of a sudden, Nove heard a “look out” and a “don’t touch that” followed by a thump and really loud screaming. The mouth of Gastrominous’s cave filled with inky bubbles as only two octopus children burst through the opening, fleeing for their lives.
“Where’s Rosa?” Nove wondered. “She hasn’t come out yet. And what was that thump I heard? I better go see if she needs my help.
Once inside the cave, Nove couldn’t see anything except for a huge rock. It was Gastrominous’s octopus trap. The only way he had figured out to keep even the most intelligent octopus from escaping (since as we mentioned before, they’re rather slippery creatures, and everyone knows how smart they are at solving puzzles and springing locks).
At first Nove thought she was alone. Perhaps Rosa had escaped some other way? But then she heard a sound like someone crying coming from under the rock. That’s when she noticed Rosa’s head sticking out, with all of her arms pinned to the ocean floor.
“Are you hurt? Are you dying?” Nove asked, rushing to Rosa’s side. But Rosa merely shook her head and sobbed, “It’s no use. Save yourself. You have to leave before Gastrominous comes back!”
“But I can help you,” Nove said.
“No you can’t” Rosa wailed. “My friends already tried to lift the rock, but it’s too wide. They couldn’t get a good hold.
“That’s because they only have eight arms,” Nove said. “I have nine.” She wrapped her nine arms around the giant rock, attached her suckers, and lifted ever so slightly, because even with nine arms and the buoyancy of water, the rock was really heavy. No matter. Octopuses, without bones, can slide out from underneath the tiniest of openings. And because she had no bones, and because sand is soft, Rosa wasn’t injured in the slightest.
“Thank you Nove! You’re magnificent.” Rosa cried, wrapping all her arms around her newest and best friend ever. “I’m so sorry I never played with you. I was so mean to you and you saved my life anyway!”
“No she didn’t” said a deep voice with a deep chuckle, as a dark shadow filled the mouth of the cave. Gastrominous had returned. “Although she tried really hard. It’s a shame to eat such a brave octopus (Gastrominous didn’t know any scientists either), but I’m afraid I can’t pass up the opportunity to eat one with nine arms.” And he lunged at the new friends with his open, cavernous, mouth lined with a thousand teeth.
But fortunately, cavernous mouths, although terrifying, are cumbersome things, especially when opened. And Rosa, who was the best ink squirter in her class, sent a black, confounding cloud to hide their escape. Even more fortunately, Nove’s super fast propulsion wasn’t hindered at all by the weight of her friend, who held onto her ninth arm, and the two octopuses shot safely past Gastronimos before he could even bemoan their loss.
In fact, Nove swam so fast, and Rosa’s ink cloud was so big, they couldn’t see where they were going, and they smashed into the wall of angry octopus parents who were on their way to rescue them. Following their parents came two octopus children, so scared for their friend, and for the punishment they knew was coming, that they didn’t look either blue or green, but rather a pasty yellow.
Once the octopus parents had shepherded the octopus children home, they received a severe scolding and were made to clean algae off all the chalkboards and school desks as punishment. But Nove didn’t mind one bit. She’d never had friends before. In fact she’d never had so much fun in all her life. Good friends can make even the most mindless chores enjoyable.