A Shrill Skype in the Night
John Domini

Octopuses have been discovered tip-toeing with coconut-shell halves suctioned to their undersides, then reassembling the halves and disappearing inside for protection...
-- National Geographic News, Dec. 2009

(Text) Have a look & then we troubleshoot.

(Text reply) 2 browsers open.

(Text) Time zone here, Perth, 16 hrs diff. Have a look. See what Im saying.

(Text reply) Search wds, OCTOPUS COCONUT.

--Oww, look. Just look at it, death of a dream.

--He's got it. I call from the far side of the world, I give his lonesome bed a shake, and he's got it. Reliable as bebop on the soundtrack in a wine bar.

--Callie. I realize we're estranged or something.

--No, estranged, that's married people. You and I just had this project. First a concept, then a meeting, then another meeting...

--A project. We made it that far at least.

--Don't I know it got weird?

--Mn, a movie project got weird. Adrift in the Dream Factory, I thought it was the Tunnel of Love.

--Isn't it an occupational hazard, you start out with a movie concept, you end up with sweet nothings? Besides, bright side — didn't our creature turn into a feature? On paper we're still in development.

--Except, now this. The Multi-Touch display of death.

--She calls from the far side of the world...

--Cry havoc, off in the Outback.

--And he's got it, he's seeing what she's saying, all up on his screen.

--It's havoc. Google just two words, and you might as well put it on my tombstone.

--What? Tombstone? Mel, I mean, that's not the kind of talk I came looking for.

--She utters a shrill cry of warning, but already he's under the bulldozers.

--Okay now, lover, this kind of talk?

--Callie, it's our feature, our project -- the movie I'd been trying to make since I left Galveston!

--This kind of apocalyptic mumbo jumbo? Zombies on the horizon? This is exactly how, when it got weird, you made it weirder.

--Bad enough that you had to run off just when we'd gotten the green light.

--Here they come, lurching over the horizon, hungry for living flesh...

--Bad enough that, as soon as the thing becomes something, soon as the project gets to storyboards and mockups, she tells me she needs some space.

--Okay now, what I texted, I'm looking at it. "Troubleshoot," there it is, not a code word. Now, lover, can we lose this and do that?

--Troubleshoot. What I'm looking at is more like, shoot to kill.

--Can we lose this? Can we go back to before it got weird? Used to be, with you and me, what mattered was the dream. We were Team Dream. Now, please, can't we go back? Can't we just look at what we're trying to make happen up on the screen?

--What I'm looking at is the AP, out of Sydney.

--Lover, remember, it's only a movie.

--The AP out of Sydney, put it on my tombstone. Baby, it was great while it lasted.

--Great days. You and me, lover, we were rolling in it. Haven't I got some of that right here in my hot little hand?

--Uh. Look, you did catch me in bed...

--The phone. Talking about the phone in my hand. The apps that reach to the ends of the earth.

--All right, give a guy a minute.

--Mega-meta-phone. Phonapalooza. And our Team, our project, that's what paid for it.

--What? Oh.

--The advance? Are you forgetting what a score we made? They want to go 3D on a creature-feature!

--Sweet while it lasted. Every score was cherry.

--Plus, I hope you're not forgetting, we signed the voices. Don't we have the voices? With that kind of talent, this kind of concept -- you see what I'm saying?

--Well, I used to. I used to see it. Baby, we had it all. But now, look at this ruination.

--Mel, I mean, how about reading between the lines?

--Tonight it's the AP out of Sydney, tomorrow it's the papers in Iowa. Next month, it's afterschool on National Geographic.

--But don't we have some wiggle room? You and me, lover, don't we have room to wiggle? We're in development.

--We are until they read the papers. Or whatever they read, in LA these days.

--Plus we still have the voices.

--Yeah yeah. The ever-popular handshake deal.

--We have both the voices. Male octopus and female. Naturalborn.

--Callie, tomorrow morning they'll call in the bulldozers. Same suits who gave us the advance, they'll bury us. Tomorrow morning, our badass octopus, Evil Itself with tentacles and a beak -- he's going to be a joke.

--A happy denizen of the Great Barrier Reef.

--What came up on my browser, it's an octopus home movie. Makes me laugh even while it makes me cry.

--Look, don't you get it, I'm on it? I'm seeing the same streaming video, all that devastating domestic bliss, right here in my hand. Isn't he a diligent little critter?

--He ought to work at Home Depot. Even the word they use, "cephalopod."

--Anything but scary, and on top of that, are you getting this about the mate?

--Ozzie and Harriet, in their happy coconut home. Baby, it was nice while it lasted.

--Okay now, listen to yourself, Nightmare-on-Demand. I mean, why'n'tya ask instead, why'd she call? She's out ten or a dozen clicks from the nearest decent espresso and still...

--Don't tell me that what you've got isn't the ruination of what we've got.

--Look, wasn't I married to that badass, myself?

--Eight arms, eight weapons. Tentacles of death.

--Plus, you cut off an arm, what good does that do? Cut off an arm and, 30 seconds of CGI, it grows right back. Genetic modification.

--Godzilla meets Goldfinger.

--We locked up the international market, too, totally. In India alone, can you imagine, with this concept? If there isn't some Hindu god already, I mean, after this movie they'd have to make one up.

--You know, it's still a trip, to think we were the first, the originals. No one else ever got past sharks.

--Mel, really, how many times do I have to explain? For anyone on the creative end, you put "octopus" together with "movie," there's only one name that comes to mind. There's only Ed Wood.

--Uh. This isn't helping, bringing up Ed Wood.

--You're not hearing what I'm seeing. Why'n'tya ask, why'd she text, what's between the lines? Lover, look at what we've got, the way we can wiggle.

--Just, give a guy a minute.

--Don't you feel me, see what I'm saying, how we can get this back? Aren't we still in development? Don't we still have the voices?

--Mn. Interesting.

--So. You feel me? Is this a heads-up?

--So tomorrow morning, first thing, this is where we're going — I'm the one who sends a heads-up.

--It's lucky I was hiking the Songlines.

--I'm sending the AP link to a select few. To the name that goes above the title.

--A name as big as that, honestly, it's no wonder he come up with a voice as good as that. A voice that stayed with me ten clicks out of Perth. I almost thought the man was born a mollusk.

--First thing tomorrow, he reads my post. About, here's the word. Sympathy. Our creature goes sweeter.

--Sympathy, sweet, there's the word.

--A kinder and gentler octopus.

--There, lover, yes there.

--It'll play in Iowa too.

--Okay now, ask yourself, haven't we worried enough about that? The people picking up their paper in Iowa? The big multiplex in Little America?

--Callie, I'm with you. This opportunity, I'm all over it.

--All over it? Then we're all the way back, aren't we, the whole team theme? It's you and me and our kindly cephalopod keepers of the undersea environment.

--Takes us into the family demographic, too.

--Is that what you're thinking, Mel, the box office? Me, I'm not thinking, I'm dreaming. Pure cinema. I'm looking at the voices. The voices we've got, they could soften up a little, couldn't they? Diminuendo: start vicious, go cranky.

--Plus the suits were just itching for more 3D. This coconut cottage along the reef, for them it's the fantasy beyond fantasy.

--And can't you see it for the other voice?

--Beyond fantasy. She gets a character arc.

--Can't you grok the beauty of it, the bendy neverendingness of it, the superlunary concept? Our project was totally dying but with a cry in the night we slap on the paddles and defibrillate. It's adrenaline'd, it's flashing and yearning, it's bending and bending!

--Except, now this. Now, you caught me in bed and we've got to finish what we started.

--The beauty of it! The project like an aborigine, and all we need to do is, we need to see the Songlines. You're asking where's the threat?

--What? Oh.

--Where's the threat, you're asking, when the ones with the beaks and tentacles have become the nice guys?

--I, yes, you've got me -- tell me.

--I'm ahead of you there.

--Tell me, tell me.

--Because don't you think I came up with that same exact question? Out under a million stars and trolling through Google? It can get pretty intense.

--Intense. I'm shutting down my browsers.

--It can get so that anything is possible.

--Anything at all, alone in the dark.

--And it was at that exact kind of moment, same exact, when Stoly came up with what I needed.


--Stoly, like the vodka, get it?

--Like the vodka?

--Are you getting an echo? How's your connection? You there?

--Mn. Stoly just came into the picture.

--Stoly, well, don't I have to call him something? The Alpha male on the trail? Out here it's just Stoly, the stars, and the phone.

--A man like the vodka. Under a million stars.

--Exactly -- you and me, we'd never need another meeting. One look at that video, that happy critter in its home, and haven't I got just what I need right here on the air mattress?

--The answer's right beside you. And far overhead, across the night sky, sketches form and disappear.

--Are you seeing what I'm saying? You and me, lover, we've got a new movie. Stoly came up with it. He's got this thing he does with the day's catch, he loses a finger in the mouth -- funny out-there Outback thing. That's how he came up with it, exactly the threat, so exactly. I'm not even going to tell you. I'm going to text you. I'm going to show you the exact words, the ones to pass along tomorrow, the miraculous new movie.


(Text, same number) Hello? Yo? See what Im saying?

(Text reply) We going to teach a zombie to fish?

(Text) LOL. But, so, see? You w/ me?

(Text reply) I see. The project.

(Text) New threat = total new arc.

(Text reply) Shutting down now. Tomorrow Im all about the name above the title.

(Text) B't'f'l.

(Text reply) The movie I've wanted all my life.