Laser Squid Goes House Hunting
By Douglas DiCicco
“This one has everything on your checklist.” I held open the front door of the four-bedroom colonial. It wasn’t quite big enough for my client, who left greasy marks on the doorframe as she squeezed through. “We can always get that expanded for you. We work with some excellent contractors in the area.”
A shriek from the living room told me Cynthia Whitecrest, the homeowner, hadn’t cleared out as I had politely but firmly suggested. I prefer to show a house on my own. The owners always think they’re better salespeople than I am.
“Hello, Miss Whitecrest,” I said with my practiced smile, ignoring the shriek. “I’m sorry, I didn’t think you’d be home. I’m showing the place to a potential buyer today. As I mentioned in my many texts.” The last part was snarkier than I’d meant to be, but Cynthia was already on my last nerves.
Cynthia cowered behind a tasteful sectional, white as a sheet. “Wh… wh… what is… that… creature…?”
Oh no. She was going to offend the buyer. I needed to do some quick diplomacy. “Miss Whitecrest, let me introduce—”
The client intervened before I had the chance. She dragged herself along the cherry hardwood floor, tentacles making a wet slapping sound with every movement.
“You cower before Laser Squid, terror of the depths!” The towering cephalopod shot multicolored beams of light from every orifice, turning the living room into Pink Floyd night at the planetarium. The display was more impressive here than it had been in my office.
“Miss Squid is a highly motivated buyer,” I discreetly informed Cynthia, trying to coax her out from behind the couch. “And she’s preapproved for a mortgage at your asking price.”
Cynthia was unconvinced. She grimaced at the trail of slime Laser Squid had left on the floor. “But…”
I pulled away before she could object. I needed a commission today. My divorce had been finalized, and I had absolutely no faith my ex was going to pay any of our daughter’s tuition. Plus, now I was left making the payments on the goddamned houseboat all on my own. The houseboat was way too big for just me, but I was still stuck with the thing.
This sale had to happen.
The laser show ended. Laser Squid slumped, arms and tentacles splayed out around her. She gazed expectantly at me with her great unblinking eye.
I clapped my hands together. “Let’s start the tour!”
“This is the bonus room. Big enough for both a grand piano and a pool table. You could convert it into a fifth bedroom if you plan on having guests—”
“This is where krill shall be devoured,” Laser Squid declared. “Will this residence accommodate pumps for a twenty-thousand-gallon tank?”
Cynthia wrung her hands. “I’m don’t think we’re zoned for—”
“Absolutely,” I interrupted. “And they had solar put in last year, with a battery. You’ll have power for up to eighteen hours in the event of a blackout. Those pumps will run just fine.”
“Check out the view from the terrace. You can see all the way to Fisher Elementary. Great schools in this district.”
Cynthia stayed inside, not wanting to share the admittedly cramped space with Laser Squid. “Do you… have children?” At least she was attempting conversation.
“The spawning is upon us.” Laser Squid touched her bulging mantle. “This one must have space for the young to swarm.”
“And of course, the backyard pool.” This was an old technique: end the tour with the feature the buyer will be most excited about. “Thirty-eight by eighteen. Diving board, adjacent patio…”
“Adequate,” Laser Squid declared. “I shall spawn here. The pool and the above ground hot tub shall cradle the young until they are ready to conquer your world of dry air.”
“We were going to take the hot tub with us,” Cynthia said.
“I’m sure that’s negotiable,” I added.
“Can I talk to you?” Cynthia dragged me aside without waiting for an answer. “I’m not selling to this thing. This is a family neighborhood. We have kids here.”
“She’s about to have a very large family,” I replied. “And there aren’t many buyers interested at your asking price.”
“I don’t care.” Cynthia stamped her foot, raising her voice. “I’m not selling my house to some sea monster.”
I winced at the slur. I could feel my houseboat payment slipping away.
Laser Squid scuttled closer. “Laser Squid will pay ten thousand over asking price.”
“No. I’m sorry, but no.” Cynthia didn’t sound sorry.
Laser Squid’s eye narrowed. “You shall regret this decision.”
“Are you threatening me?” Cynthia was aghast. “I am vice president of the homeowner’s association. What is something like you going to do about it?”
Laser Squid glowed with power. Red beams shot forth from her beak, setting the porch veranda ablaze.
“Oh. Right.” Cynthia stared at the flames, jaw slack with surprise and alarm. “Lasers.”
We had to rush to get Laser Squid into my hatchback before the fire department arrived. I’d put down a plastic tarp to protect the carpeting from her various secretions, but it slid out of place in our hurry to cram her into the trunk. I could only pray that the backseat upholstery would be spared.
“I’m sorry that one didn’t work out.” I tried to project calm as I drove away, doing my best to ignore the approaching sirens. “But I do have a few other matches in your price range that I’d love to show you.”
I was being very generous with my use of the word “matches” there, and something about the way Laser Squid wobbled in my rearview mirror told me she knew it. Laser Squid’s list of requirements was extensive and demanding, and Cynthia’s place was the only one of my listings that ticked every box.
“We shall resume the hunt for our new lair tomorrow,” Laser Squid announced, flopping onto her side with a plasticky squelch. “The teeming horde gestating within Laser Squid consumes even Laser Squid’s prodigious stamina. Laser Squid must return to the abyssal depths to gather her strength.”
My shoulders fell. Even if I made a sale tomorrow, the commission wouldn’t process in time for the houseboat payment. My credit was going to take another hit. “We could stop off and get a bite to eat before we look at the next one. When I was pregnant, sometimes that was enough to perk me back up.”
“You have spawned before?”
“I… don’t usually call it that, but yeah.” The sirens were starting to fade. I pulled over. I hadn’t quite figured out where we were going next, and now that we had some distance, I didn’t see any reason to drive around aimlessly.
“Your offer of prey is appreciated.” Laser Squid tiredly waggled a tentacle. “But Laser Squid can only truly replenish Laser Squid’s energy in the darkest depths of the oceans.”
“Can I ask you a question?” I knew what I was about to ask would put my sale in jeopardy, but curiosity compelled me.
“Laser Squid will permit it.”
“Why do you want to buy a house, anyways?” Laser Squid’s gaze shot to me, locked on my reflection in the mirror. “I mean, if you have to rest in the ocean, why do you want to live on dry land?”
Laser Squid was silent for a moment. Her tentacles slowly unrolled from her mantle, adopting a less guarded posture. “In the darkest depths of the ocean, the lords of the abyss struggle endlessly for territory. It is a place of blood, nightmare, and arcane powers beyond your comprehension.”
“Sounds like some of the neighborhoods I sold in when I was new to the agency.”
Laser Squid ignored my attempt at humor. “Laser Squid seeks a better life for her progeny. They shall need the knowledge of the surface dwellers. Your public school system will not allow Laser Squid to enroll her offspring without a terrestrial address.”
“Oh. I get that.” Trying to find common ground and build a rapport with clients was reflexive for me now. But after I said the words, I realized I actually meant them. “My daughter’s in college now. It would’ve been so much less expensive if she’d gone to a state school, but… We all want the best for our kids, right? And the Ivy League is just… well, expensive is an understatement.” I laughed nervously, hoping Laser Squid wouldn’t think I’d been trying to brag about my child’s academic achievements.
“Laser Squid is aware of this burden.” The cephalopod spoke with a sympathy I hadn’t heard from her before. “Laser Squid has attempted to price out private school tuition for the hundreds of paralarvae she expects. Such cost is beyond even Laser Squid’s vast undersea fortune. So, Laser Squid must obtain a lair in this dry, alien hellscape you call the surface world.”
Normally I wouldn’t agree with the description of our little coastal town as a dry, alien hellscape, but ever since the divorce that sounded pretty much right. “You sure you don’t feel up to checking out one more place? There’s a townhouse I think you might like. Four bedrooms. Aquarium adjacent. And–”
“You are impatient for Laser Squid to obtain a lair.” She sounded more curious than accusatory. “This is because of the financial burden you spoke of?”
My instinct was to brush it off, to give her some bullshit about how I was just eager to see her find the home of her dreams. For whatever reason, I couldn’t do it. “Yeah. I’m sorry. I just got divorced, and things have been a little tough.” I got the car moving again. “It’s not your problem, don’t worry about it. I’ll get you to the beach, we can try again tomorrow. Or whenever you’re ready.”
“Your surface world legal system is confusing and infuriating to those who dwell beneath.” To us too, I thought. “But Laser Squid thought that in situations like ours, the mate you exiled from your territory would be obligated to share their treasure hoard with you and your shared spawn.”
Ours. Had Laser Squid also gone through a divorce? Or whatever the undersea equivalent was? She’d never mentioned a partner, and I’d been trying to diplomatically avoid the subject. “Yeah, you’d think that, wouldn’t you? But my ex is a deadbeat.” I sighed, frustrated at my own unprofessionalism but unable to stop venting now that I’d started. “He’s moved all his money into this account in his new girlfriend’s name. He could pay the tuition, no problem, but he’d rather spend it on her. Getting more perfect social media pictures of them in Cancun or wherever.”
The great mollusk’s terrible eye narrowed, full of foreboding menace. “Bring Laser Squid to him.”
By the time we arrived at my ex’s new girlfriend’s house, I was pretty sure this was a bad idea. I just wasn’t quite sure how to back out. “Uhm, what exactly… what are you planning to do here, Laser Squid?”
Laser Squid popped the trunk and slithered out onto the sidewalk. “You need not fear. Laser Squid understands that it is not the surface world way to resolve these matters with tentacle and laser. Wielding lasers against others is a violation of your so-called laws.”
“Well, yeah. I mean, usually.” I was somewhat relieved that Laser Squid wasn’t planning to wield lasers against my ex, but that still left a number of concerning possibilities on the table.
“Laser Squid knows this. Yet Laser Squid’s patience was pushed past the breaking point by the one called Cynthia.”
Laser Squid clacked her beak in distaste at the name. “When Laser Squid took vengeance upon her home, you could have abandoned Laser Squid, or turned Laser Squid over to your terrestrial authorities. But instead, you assisted Laser Squid’s escape.”
“Well, sure.” I grinned lopsidedly. “Us moms have to stick together, right?”
“Indeed. And so, Laser Squid shall—”
We were interrupted by the rumble of the garage door opening. There, just about to step into his brand-new Mercedes, was my ex. He froze in shock, eyes locked on Laser Squid. “What the—”
“Tremble, surface dweller!” Laser Squid charged forth with sudden vigor, her earlier fatigue seemingly forgotten. Blood red lasers shot from her suckers, illuminating the garage with the ominous lighting of a photographer’s darkroom.
Laser Squid’s command was clearly directed at my ex and not me, but I found myself obeying it all the same. I cowered behind the hatchback, equal parts terrified and mortified, desperately hoping he wouldn’t see me.
“I don’t… wh…” My ex seemed to have the trembling down, too. Full sentences seemed beyond him. Though that wasn’t different from his usual.
“Laser Squid knows you have neglected your offspring and hoarded your treasures!” Laser Squid reared to her full height, the tip of her fin brushing against the garage ceiling.
“I didn’t… I mean, I was going to…”
I peeked out and saw he was trying to do pretty much the same thing I was, hiding behind his car. It was our similar approaches to things like conflict resolution that had brought us together in the first place. And, ultimately, driven us apart. Terrified cowering in the face of conflict is not a good long-term strategy for communication in a relationship.
“You shall surrender your treasures so that your spawn may conquer the knowledge of the surface world!” Laser Squid boomed, lasers flashing with increasing intensity.
“I… I will!” the ex squeaked. “I’ll make the next tuition payment. I promise.”
“You shall do as Laser Squid commands NOW!” Laser Squid slapped the side of the Mercedes hard enough to briefly lift it onto two wheels.
“Will you take a check?”
After another speedy retreat, I carefully inspected the check Laser Squid had intimidated out of my ex. It was enough for the next year’s tuition, plus the houseboat payment. If the check cleared, my financial problems were over.
I was pretty sure it would clear. My ex was a weasel, but he was also a coward. He wouldn’t have the nerve to write a bad check to Laser Squid.
“You really didn’t have to do that,” I said, giving Laser Squid a grateful smile. I’d moved her into the front passenger seat. She seemed more comfortable there, with the seat reclined all the way back to let her spill into the back. After what she’d done, my upholstery was a small sacrifice for her comfort.
“It was Laser Squid’s pleasure to deliver the justice of the abyss.” Her voice was strained, exhausted. She’d already been tired, and all the lasers at my ex’s had clearly taken a further toll. Her eyelid slowly descended. “As you said, broodmothers must swarm united against all who would dare oppose us.”
I was pretty sure I hadn’t put it exactly like that, but I agreed with the sentiment. “I’ll get you to the water. Is the marina okay? I should actually—” An idea interrupted me, derailing my train of thought. After considering it for a moment, I continued. “Would you be up for looking at one more place today? It’s right by the ocean. Actually, you could view it from the water.”
Laser Squid’s eye opened wide again. “Laser Squid was under the impression beachfront property was outside of Laser Squid’s price range.”
“I think we could swing it,” I said with a smile, thinking of all the unused space on the houseboat. “How would you feel about a roommate?”
By Valerie Valdez
Once again, that was Laser Squid Goes House Hunting, by Douglas DiCicco.
I loved that this story had a fun candy outside with a delicious thoughtful core. The way the single moms bonded over shared problems was sweet and poignant, and the ultimate resolution brought it home, literally!
Escape Pod is a production of Escape Artists Inc, and is brought to you with a creative commons attribution noncommercial no derivatives license. Don’t change it. Don’t sell it. Please do share it.
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And our closing quotation this week is from Agatha Christie, who said: “A mother’s love for her child is like nothing else in the world. It knows no law, no pity. It dares all things and crushes down remorselessly all that stands in its path.”
Thanks for joining us, and may your escape pod be fully stocked with stories.
About the Author
Douglas DiCicco is an author of speculative fiction living in Clovis, California. He has worked as an attorney, a teacher, and a renaissance faire performer.
About the Narrator
Mur Lafferty is the co-editor and sometime-host of Escape Pod.
She is an American podcaster and writer based in Durham, North Carolina. She is the host and creator of the podcasts I Should Be Writing and Ditch Diggers. Her books have been nominated for the Hugo, Nebula, Philip K. Dick, and Scribe Awards. In the past decade she has been the co-founder/co-editor of PseudoPod, founding editor of Mothership Zeta, and the editor or co-editor of Escape Pod (where she is currently).
She is fond of Escape Artists, in other words.
Mur won the 2013 Astounding Award for Best New Writer (formerly the John W. Campbell Award), and the 2018 Hugo Award for Best Fancast for Ditch Diggers. She’s been nominated for numerous other awards and is always doing new things, so check her website for the latest.