Chapter 1:

Three Flights Of Stairs

Help! I'm a Single Mom Falling for a Tentacle Monster

It's surprising how little actually changed after humanity recklessly violated cosmic order by summoning The Dark Lord Cthulu into our realm. When the terror indescribable by either the greatest poets or the most depraved madmen wrought its abysmal shrieking unto this world, everyone assumed that the flames of chaotic annihilation would spread like a fierce and unending plague in both ecstasy and freedom. But that moment never came, and at some point, people had to inevitably continue living their lives.

“Come on Annabelle, they aren’t going to carry themselves.”

I exhaled loudly, starting to loop as many plastic bags of groceries as my muscles could carry around an arm. My apartment was perfect for my needs, but every time my brain would get wrapped up in carrying food for three people up three flights of stairs. The numerical coincidence alongside solving the puzzle of just how many bags I could hold in one hand had me so distracted I didn’t notice the long sinuous tentacle deliberately stretching towards the side of my face until it was too late.

“Alright, let’s get th-”

I stopped, eyes widening to take it in. The tentacle waved beside me, thick and powerful, colored like shifting lavender hues of the sun setting over the horizon. I was mesmerized by the faint glow of its suckers, a color my brain wanted to call green but knew had never existed in the natural spectrum on Earth before recently. It was beckoning for me to turn around and witness the massive orb of writhing limbs floating just above the parking lot pavement.

“Oh hey there!”

If it had any eyes, I would have sworn that it was staring at me. No scientist knew how the tentacle monsters managed to navigate the world or much about their physiology at all, as none had volunteered to be directly studied. It just continued to gently bob up and down in the air as if floating gently on ocean waves. The particular appendage that had gotten my attention curled itself inquisitively.

“I uh, oh wait that’s right.”

I let out a defeated sigh, slowly freeing my arms from their self-imposed plastic bindings. I had found the letter taped to my door informing me that many of the newest tenants at Genesis Hills would be tentacle monsters. They had been displaced from the unknowable realm from which they came by a sect of deranged cultists and now they needed jobs and places to stay just like anyone else. I would have applauded my landlady for not discriminating against them, but I knew she just wanted more money and didn’t care where it came from.

“Hey there, can I help you?” I signed. As tentacle monsters didn’t have mouths or a way to speak that we knew of, most had taken to using what humans called TSL — Tentacle Sign Language. I was thanking my lucky stars that I decided to be one of those “cool Moms” who taught their babies sign language because enough of it transferred over that I could usually manage a conversation with Earth’s newest inhabitants without too much difficulty.

Its entire body shimmered like an amethyst suddenly thrust into bright light. I could only assume it was delighted that I actually knew how to sign.

“I actually want to help you,” it signed, whirling a single thick tentacle with far more dexterity than I had imagined possible. “I have seen how hard it is to carry up those bags every week and had considered it might be easier if I lent some of my countless limbs to your cause.”

I had never been the best at socializing to begin with, let alone with another species. My nervousness mentally dueled against my laziness. Why was it watching me bring my groceries up the stairs every week? Was this some kind of ploy to get into my house? All of that stuff about tentacles in anime couldn’t have actually been true, right? A brief glance back at just how many bags I had recently untangled from my arms convinced me to shove my paranoia aside.

“Thank you, that would be wonderful.”

Tentacles forcefully extended toward my body, dextrously snaking around my left, my right, over my head, and even under my legs to grab bags. It pulled its appendages back, managing to expertly avoid touching anywhere on my body. I had to guess this was made easier by just how rigidly I was standing in shock at having had so many tentacles rushing towards me.

“Mental note, tentacle monsters have an extremely different idea of personal space.”

Its communicating tentacle curled again in confusion and what I thought was concern. It must have been able to read my body language and know my lips had moved, but couldn’t hear anything I had said. I didn’t want to embarrass it over what might be a cultural misunderstanding, so I broke out the brightest smile I could muster.

“I’m okay,” I signed, before gesturing up towards the apartment. “I’ll lead the way.”

I briskly walked across the parking lot towards the outdoor staircase that lead to my apartment, hearing the rustling of plastic bags and groceries behind me. I unlocked the door, doing my best impression of perky and chipper despite just how much work getting all of this food into various cupboards and the refrigerator would be.

“You can leave those on the floor here,” I signed. “I can get-”

A tentacle had already reached out to open my door. I instinctually stepped aside so the creature could let itself in. It floated into my kitchen, even more tentacles exploring the bags to find cold and frozen items to put into my fridge and freezer respectively.

I plastered a smile onto my face as my eyes darted around the room. Where was Dinah? She was supposed to be babysitting Sammie for me but was not in the comfy recliner she usually occupied in the living room. I realized that this may have been for the best, I don’t know how she would have reacted to a tentacled intrusion.

It waved its tentacle in my line of sight once more. “Excuse me, but where does this go?”

“That’s bread, it goes in the teal box on the counter.”

My fake smile slowly became genuine, my sense of unease that had been coiling deep inside my belly starting to unwind at the absurdity of it all. The tentacles whipping around my kitchen could easily be seen as terrifying, but I couldn’t stop laughing. It bounced merrily every time I signed where something should go, putting things in their place like some kind of seasoned multi-limbed circus performer. It reminded me of the “dance parties” I’d have with Sammie sometimes, the bright and playful music making the chores I had to do around the house much more tolerable.

“I think that is it,” it signed, shoving the plastic bags into one large bag I kept beneath my sink for storage. I felt a pang of sadness seeing it start to float towards the door, seemingly ready to leave without saying another word.

“Wait!” I waved my arms frantically without thinking, hoping to get its attention. While I know it couldn’t have heard me, its tentacle curled once more as if to ask me what I needed.

Now I was on the spot, my thoughts racing to catch up to my actions. I had no idea what to say, the news had told me that tentacle monsters rarely interacted with humans outside of their jobs. I couldn’t tell if I didn’t want this to end purely because of how special it was or if I just felt awkward about it leaving with such a lackluster goodbye.

“You never told me your name,” I finally signed, thankful that my brain managed to sync up with my hands. “Mine is Annabelle.”

“I am Aluedethrh'zheh.” It understood how overwhelmed I was by seeing so many letters signed out in quick succession, so it added, “But you can call me Al. Shall I come to help you at the same time next week?”

“Yes,” I signed without thinking.

Al’s tentacle wiggled in acknowledgment. I stood dumbstruck in my living room watching it leave, gently closing the door behind it.

Wait, did I just make a date with a tentacle monster?!?

Taylor Victoria