Legal Theft Flash Fiction: Sideshow (609 words)

“Are those tentacles?” Zain leaned toward the glass, but didn’t touch it. He held his hands in his pockets, and tilted his head.

The water in the tank was entirely the wrong color, blue-green as an entire ocean when there was only an arm’s length between the glass sides. The single lamp barely lit the windowless cabin and the water seemed to glow, turning the thing inside into shadow. It swayed, glided from one side of the tank to the other. The glass was rippled, thick, and flawed, distorting it from moment to moment.

Jaera circled the tank, keeping Zain’s same distance. “I think some of them are.”

Leaning one shoulder against the wall by the door, Terius shut his eyes. “I don’t want to think about that.”

“That one definitely has joints,” Jaera said. She almost touched the glass, pointing to a limb tangled with the rest.

“So, it’s an octopus?” Zain tilted his head a little farther, as if he might hang himself upside for a better look next.

“The sign outside clearly says it’s a baby kraken,” Terius told him.

“With extra tentacles sewn on,” Jaera said. “I can see the stitches.”

“And deer legs?” Zain asked.

“And puffer fish spines,” Jaera said.

“Please!” Terius pushed himself off the wall. Almost, he turned for the door, then spun back. Hands raised helplessly he looked from Zain to Jaera and back. “It’s some living thing.”

Jaera tilted her head to look at the tank again. “No,” she said.

Zain squinted. “It’s very dead.”

“It’s moving!” Terius protested.

“The water’s moving,” Jaera said. She waved one finger in a circle. “Spinning sort of.”

Terius hesitated. “Really?” He tilted his head, too. “The tank is closed.”

Zain nodded at him with a smile. “It’s the water. I don’t even know if this thing was ever alive. It could be stuffed silk.”

Jaera bent around the glass to glare him. “It has joints.”

“Right,” Zain said. “As we said.”

Carefully, Terius approached the tank. He glanced at the glass once, then above it at the red curtains that dropped from the ceiling, and the matching set that hid the base of the tank. Circling the thing, he paused, then he stepped in close enough to touch the glass. And he kicked the curtains.

There was a metallic clang.

Jaera raised her eyebrows.

Zain squinted and tapped the glass. It thunked calmly with the water behind it.

Dropped to one knee, Terius pulled the curtain away. There was another tangle underneath, less limb, and more pipe. It glinted into the low light, wet and dripping in some places. It hissed a little as well. Terius dropped to the floor, rolled onto his back, and kicked until he had head and shoulders underneath them.

“I don’t think you’re supposed to be under there,” Zain said.

Terius and Jaera both snorted at him.

Lightly, Zain kicked Terius in the ribs. “Quit looking up the magician’s skirts!”

In an instant, Terius had grabbed him by the ankle, yanked, and dropped his cousin onto the floor as well. Zain made a terrific thud, even catching himself on his hands and Jaera glanced at the door, mouth covered to hide a laugh.

Terius just met Zain’s eye, and held it, sharply incredulous. “You were counting legs on a dead octopus,” he murmured. “The magician is already mortified, you idiot.”

Zain glared at him lightly. “You’ll get us kicked out.”

“You wish,” Terius said.

Jaera snickered.

Terius ducked under the contraption again. “Just keep watch. It was your idea to pay for ten minutes with this monstrosity. I want to make sure you get your money’s worth.”

I’m a thief! I stole the first line of this piece from my friend, Kate. Be sure to stop by her blog to see what she originally wrote before I mangled it. Then check out all the other thieves.

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