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The Bashful Octopus

Oliver was an octopus. He lived in a rock pile at the bottom of the ocean. He was not a fierce and ferocious sea monster. He was only about as big as a dinner plate. And he didn't like to fight. In fact, he was rather shy. If something frightened him, he scooted right into a crack in the rocks of his rock pile and hid.

Oliver lived a quiet life. Sometimes he crawled along the ocean bottom looking for clams and crabs to eat. Sometimes he swam along like a little torpedo, catching fish. He had eight tentacles to catch them with. But most of the time he just hid in his rock pile.

One day, while Oliver was resting inside a crack in the rocks, another octopus swam by. He was a much bigger octopus than Oliver, and he was looking for a new home. That pile of rocks looked like a fine place for an octopus to live. He swam over to it and began to crawl along the rocks.

If there is one thing an octopus will not stand for -- even a bashful octopus like Oliver -- it is another octopus invading his home. Oliver stormed out to defend his rock pile. He glared at the other octopus, and his skin quickly changed colors, first pale, then dark. He was trying to scare the other octopus away. But the strange octopus was much larger than Oliver, and he refused to budge.

There in the water a great battle began. From the beginning it looked certain that Oliver must lose the struggle, since he was so much smaller than the stranger. But Oliver was determined to fight to the death to defend his home.

The two octopuses wrestled and thrashed about, grasping with their tentacles. Each was trying to get into a good position to give the other a deadly bite.

Oliver fought on bravely. But little by little he was losing. The other octopus was so much stronger.

Just as the large invader was about to slash at Oliver with his beak, there was a sharp thud. Oliver felt the tentacles of his enemy slowly loosening. He looked about. What had happened?

The large octopus had been shot by a skin diver, and now he lay limp on the ocean floor. Now the man was pointing his gun at Oliver too.

Oliver was almost too tired to move. So he tried his last defense. Suddenly he shot a cloud of ink out into the water. Too late! As the cloud of inky blacknesss whirled around him, Oliver felt a tiny pain. And then the world seemed to end.

When Oliver awoke, he was lying on the bottom of a tank filled with sea water. A boy was peering in at him, his nose pressed against the glass. The boy's father was a scientist, who was studying sea animals.

"Hey, Dad," called the boy. "He's awake now. Will he be dangerous?" "No," his father assured him. He was just explaining that octopuses are really shy animals, when Oliver spotted a pile of rocks in the corner of the tank. With a whoosh of water, he jetted across to it. In an instant he had slipped into a crack between two rocks. Now not even the tips of his tentacles were showing.

For a whole day Oliver stayed hiding in the rocks. But he was getting very hungry. Finally he ventured out to catch one of the crabs the scientist had placed in the tank. He scooted back to the rock pile with it. But soon he was coming out more and more often. The scientist's son Donny often came over to watch him.

Now the scientist was ready for his experiments. He was trying to find out how intelligent octopuses and other sea animals are. And soon he found that Oliver was quite smart indeed.

Oliver learned to swim down a special tunnel, toward a light. He would rather have stayed hiding in the dark, but he soon found that the scientist had a tasty crab waiting for him at the light end.

Then Donny helped his father tie crabs to round plates. Oliver learned that he could often find a crab attached to a big plate. But there was never a crab on a little plate. Soon he could pick out the big plate even when there was no crab at all. He also learned to tell the difference between a triangle shape and a square shape.

But after a while, Oliver began to mope. He missed his home in the ocean. He began to stay hidden in the rocks more and more. He was not eating well, and he began to nibble on the ends of his tentacles just like a child biting his fingernails.

The scientist tried to coax the little octopus out of the rocks with treats of food. But Oliver did not cooperate in the experiments any more.

"I guess I'll have to catch a new octopus," the scientist remarked one day. "What should we do with this one?"

"That's easy, Dad," said Donny. And the next day Oliver was back home at the bottom of the ocean.



©1973, 2013 The Silversteins