The Comeback Squid
I BEGIN MY PRE-FIGHT RITUAL by wiggling my arms, as always. Then I roll my tentacles up like a couple of Fruit Roll-Ups, hold them there for ten seconds, and then shake them out again. It’s a common misconception that squids only have tentacles, like octopi; we actually have eight arms and two tentacles. It’s pretty easy to tell which is which. The tentacles are way longer, and they’re usually the ones we use to dole out sick punches and jabs.
I wiggle off the wood bench to look in the mirror of the locker room. I would sigh, if I had vocal chords. Naturally, the chromatophores in my skin have changed colour to blend in with the ugly yellow lockers around me. Not a hot look, and it definitely clashes with my custom blue shorts that fit perfectly around my eight arms. I normally don’t care too much what I look like, but if I’m going to be the first pro squid boxer, I’ve gotta look the part.
There’s a knock on the locker-room door. Before I can wiggle over to open it, my human manager, Debbie, barges in as usual, wearing a shimmery silver blouse. Her long hair cascades down her shoulders like waves on the ocean, and her sea-blue eyes light up when she sees me.
“Yo!” Debbie shouts, grinning. “There’s the champ! You getting nervous, bud? Wait, don’t answer that!”
She bends down and lifts me up by the crooks under my tentacles, even though she knows I hate that. Or maybe she doesn’t. I’m not actually physically capable of telling her. It makes me feel like a dumb pet instead of a pro fighter. She swings me around in a circle, as though we’re waltzing, and my arms flap around embarrassingly.
She grins at me, then stops abruptly.
“Don’t give me that look,” she says crossly. I wasn’t aware I had any motor control over my face. “The big match is about to start. Come on, dude! Get pumped up!” I stare back at her and lamely wiggle my arms around.
“Maybe some TV will help calm your nerves,” she suggests, resting me on the wood bench again. She sits down next to me, grabs the remote control and flips on the ancient box TV hanging in the corner of the room.
It’s on the sports network. Two attractive human anchors are discussing tonight’s match. I feel my stomach drop.
“It’s the match of the century!” the woman says. “Heavyweight boxing champion Rex Brickson will be, for the first time in boxing history, squaring up against a non-human challenger! That’s right, folks: newcomer Squid Jones will be taking Brickson on for the title of World Champion in tonight’s highly anticipated fight.”
“That’s sure putting it lightly!” the man says. “The whole world will be watching. Now, typically in boxing, both opponents must be at the same weight…however, due to the species discrepancy, the World Boxing Association has made an exception! It’s clear that not everyone’s pleased with the new rules. Earlier today, Brickson took to Twitter to slam Jones, saying ‘Tonight, I’ll prove cephalopods have no place in pro sports, hashtag calamari!’ There’s been no response yet, as Jones doesn’t have a Twitter account…probably because smartphone screens don’t recognize suction cups!”
Debbie winces as the announcers laugh, then flips off the TV. I feel a chill run down my mantle, although that could just be because I’m naturally cold-blooded. She gets off the bench and kneels in front of me, looking into the closest eye.
“Hey, Squid,” she says, her voice tender. “You’ve worked so hard to get where you are. Don’t let a jerk like Rex Brickson get to you, all right?”
I stare blankly at her again.
“You can’t get discouraged now!” she pleads. “Not after everything we’ve done together. Don’t give up, Squid. You can do it.” There’s another knock on the door.
“Come in,” Debbie says.
A volunteer opens the door slightly and pops his head in. “Excuse me, Mr. Jones,” he says. “You’ve got someone here who really wants to meet you.”
Debbie looks at me. I blink once, our code for “yes.” She turns to the volunteer.
“Let ’em in,” Debbie says.
The volunteer swings the door open and steps aside. In walks a human woman wearing a red dress, carrying in her arms a little squid.
“Mr. Jones?” she says, grinning sheepishly. “Oh, wow, it’s really an honour to meet you. I’m sorry to bother you, but…you’re my son’s hero. It would mean the world to him to get your autograph.”
She pulls a ticket from her pocket. “Would you mind?”
I look at the little squid in her arms. He’s almost entirely camouflaged himself to blend into her red dress, but his little black eyes blink at me with a kind of childlike wonder. I stare back for a moment before blinking once to Debbie.
“Of course,” Debbie says, lifting me up. The little squid’s eyes light up, and he turns bright orange. “Who should he make it out to?”
“Oh, thank you so much, Mr. Jones!” the mother says, holding out a pen. I wrap my tentacle around it and hover it over the ticket. She blushes.
“Well, uh, this is a little embarrassing,” the mother says. “My son’s name is Squid too.”
I look down at Little Squid and wink as I scribble aimlessly on her ticket. I have no idea how to write, so the autograph ends up looking like a bunch of lame squiggles, but the mother passes it to her son nonetheless. Little Squid’s beady black eyes shine as he holds the ticket in his tentacle.
“Thank you so much, Mr. Jones,” the mother says. “Good luck tonight. We’ll be cheering for you!”
The volunteer swings the door shut behind them, and Debbie places me back down on the bench.
“See, Squid?” she says. There are tears in her eyes. She wipes them away with a smile. “This is about so much more than you.”
The lights flicker twice. Debbie looks up and grins.
“It’s time!” she says.
She fishes out my two custom boxing gloves from my bag and carefully slides them on my tentacles, then carries me over to the mirror. I’ve turned a beautiful silver colour, matching Debbie’s blouse.
“Knock ‘em dead, tiger,” she says to me. “I mean…Squid.”
She sets me down on the ground and holds the door open for me. I wiggle across the cement floor, shimmying my arms back and
forth to propel me forward. I wiggle my way down the hallway to the doorway of the stadium, where the volunteer waits with a headpiece and a clipboard. Only a thick black curtain separates me from the stadium. I can hear the crowd screaming as the lights go down. The announcer’s voice echoes through the hallway.
“Introducing first…coming in from the red corner, weighing 213 pounds…current World Champion Reeeeeeeeex Bricksoooooon!”
Rex’s theme music plays. I imagine him waltzing up to the ring, hamming it up as always. I think about how great it’ll feel to punch him right in that smug mammalian face of his.
Finally, after a few minutes of non-stop cheering, the announcer starts up again.
“And now, for the challenger,” the announcer shouts into his microphone. I have to strain to hear him talk over the loud mix of cheering and booing from the audience. “In the blue corner…weighing just twenty-four pounds…the first ever non-human challenger...Squiiiiiiid Jooooooones!”
My theme starts to play and the volunteer pulls back the curtain. “Good luck out there, Mr. Jones,” he says. “I’m rooting for you.” I salute him with my tentacle as I wiggle into the stadium. I’m met with a wall of noise, both cheers and boos. I slide my eyes back and forth, taking in the audience. I see a few diehard Brickson fans shouting and throwing popcorn at me, but they’re far outnumbered. Hundreds of people, humans and squid alike, cheer me on as I wiggle to the ring. They’re wearing my T-shirt, shouting my name, wiggling their tentacles in the air.
I wrap my tentacles around the rope and pull myself into the ring where I find myself face to face with Rex Brickson. He towers above me, six and a half feet of pure muscle, and beats his boxing gloves together menacingly as I take my place. The referee stands between us, looking a little uncertain.
“So, we finally meet, Jones,” Brickson growls at me through his mouth guard. I couldn’t trash talk him if I wanted to. Instead, I look up at him, trying to appear as menacing as possible. I don’t think it works very well.
“Say, I was thinking,” Brickson continues, “after the match I was gonna grab something to eat. Wanna join me? I was thinking…sushi.”
He smiles at me, showing off rows and rows of perfectly white teeth behind his red mouth guard. I pull back my arms and show him my beak. He grimaces.
“All right, boys, I want a nice, clean game,” the referee says. “Now touch ’em up.”
I hold my tentacles up. Brickson taps his gloves against mine and stares me down, all jokes gone.
The bell rings, and we engage. Brickson immediately lowers into a boxer’s stance, hopping from foot to foot. I rise up on my arms and sway from side to side, tentacles in the air, mimicking his stance. He circles to my left and I instinctively hop to my right, regaining my ground. Brickson is speedier than he looks, but lucky for me, cephalopods are known for their speed.
I jump in and swing my right tentacle up. My hit connects immediately to his jaw before Brickson can react, and the crowd gasps.
“First punch is an uppercut from Jones!” the announcer says. Brickson frowns down at me and rubs his jaw with one of his gloves. He bounces back and forth again, and tries to psych me out a few times. He goes in for a jab, but I dart to the left—right into his cross punch.
It hits me hard. I fly to the edge of the ring, bouncing weakly against the rope and onto the canvas. I lie there lamely for a second.
“Right off the bat, that’s a knockdown by Brickson!” the announcer shouts. “Not a good start for Jones!”
The ref starts to count, but I hop up before he can get past one. I can hear the audience laughing, and wiggle back to the centre in shame.
How did I come to this? Not five years ago, I was just another squid in the ocean. Now I’m here, fighting a human in a ring for entertainment. I’m out of my league.
Brickson winks at me from across the ring, then re-engages. I spend the round dodging his hits, only getting a few good punches in myself. Round one is over before I even have the chance to wear him down.
Back in my corner, Debbie is waiting with my water bottle. “Come on, Squid, you can do this,” she says to me.
The roar of the crowd almost drowns her out as she dumps the water bottle upside down on top of me. It reminds me of the ocean, of everything that I left behind for this. I look up at her and she gives me a small smile.
The next two rounds follow the same pattern. I’m hit over and over, thrown across the ring like a puppet. Midway through the third
round, Brickson hits me with a right hook so powerful I bounce off not one, but two ropes before hitting the canvas. The referee hangs over me, pumping his arm up and down. The audience shouts along with him.
I look over at Brickson, jeering at me from the far corner. “…three…four…”
I look back at Debbie. Her gaudy silver blouse glimmers back at me, and she nods.
I look into the audience. I see the mother in the red dress who visited me backstage, and—
—her son. Little Squid is seated next to her, clutching his autographed ticket, beady black eyes fixed on me.
This isn’t about me.
I hop up, and the crowd goes wild. I wave my tentacles above me, storming across the ring to Brickson, wiggling as fast as my little arms can go. Brickson is looking over me at the crowd, waving his arms in the air in celebration. A perfect target.
It’s about so much more than me.
I hit him square in the jaw with a right uppercut. Brickson hurtles backward into the ropes, his feet flying up into the air. The crowd gasps as he rests there, looking down at me in shock.
Behind me, I can hear Debbie cheering.
“A strong uppercut by Jones!” the announcer says. “Can you believe the power behind that punch? Unbelievable! Who knew the squid had it in him!”
Brickson stands again, and we shadowbox for the next minute until the round is over.
Debbie douses me in water again, and, to my surprise, plants a kiss on my mantle. I look up at her and she gives me a wink.
The next round starts. Brickson comes in fast, waving his arms around like a maniac. I dodge every punch and get in a few strong jabs, but nothing too solid. I can feel Brickson’s anxiety rise as I bob and weave under his wide swings.
I may be fast, but there’s no way I can knock out a powerhouse like Brickson with just my tentacles. I need something else…something more.
He comes at me with a wonky jab, and I counter with a cross. Winded, he stumbles back, looking down at me with wild eyes.
“No way!” he shouts, his voice obscured by his mouth guard. “There’s no way I’m losing to a—a squid!”
He dashes at me, winding up for a hook. I lower my right tentacle, and—Wham.
The uppercut hits him square in the jaw, stronger even than last time. Brickson’s legs swing out from under him and he crumples to the canvas, unconscious. The referee doesn’t even need to count.
For a moment, the stadium is entirely quiet. Then, like the tide rushing in, I’m hit with a wave of sound from all directions. Cheering floods the stadium, washing out the boos from Brickson’s diehard fans. The referee stands next to me, proudly grabs my left tentacle, and holds it up.
“I can’t believe it!” the announcer shouts. His voice is barely a hum beneath the ear-shattering cheering. “Squid Jones has won the World Championship with an incredible fourth round knockout! Ladies and gentlemen, we have our very first squid World Champion!”
Suddenly, I’m in the air. Debbie has come up from behind me and lifted me up for everyone to see. In the audience, I see Little Squid’s mother holding him up in the air, waving him around as well. Debbie spins me around in a waltz as cameras flash and reporters clamber into the ring for an interview. For the first time, I actually don’t mind being lifted up.
Debbie lowers me to her eyesight. She’s beaming from ear to ear, but tears—salty, ocean-like tears—drip down her cheeks.
“Oh, Squid,” she says. “I’m so proud of you.”
She pulls me in closer.
“Can I…kiss you?” she asks in a whisper.
I blink once.