In Jellyfish, We Trust
by Melissa R. Mendelson
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It was a strange sensation to dream. Vivid images filled my mind like a movie. Voices drifted across darkness. My body stirred, and my mind pulsed. Thoughts invaded a forbidden space, and somewhere deep, someone was talking to me. I was talking to me and then a weight bore down on the back of my neck. And those voices, those dreams were silenced.
It was time to wake up. I was lying on my stomach, staring out the bedroom window. My skin twitched, and I knew that it was awake. I could feel its tentacles digging into my back, and sometimes, I would make the mistake of touching my neck. I would touch the bell instead and then be punished by a sharp sting, which really woke me up. And I could smell the fish being cooked downstairs for breakfast. I used to like that smell. Today, it made me nauseous.
After a quick warm shower, I threw on a loose, red top. The bell hung just over the collar. Its mouth tightened on the base of my neck. It was irritable today, and I felt a slight chill. Was it sick? Was it dying? Please, tell me no, and I forced myself to eat the small fish waiting on my plate. And then I drank two cups of water.
The school bus arrived ten minutes later outside my house. Without saying a word, I left my parents to finish their breakfast. My brother and I grabbed our bags and boarded the bus. We each sat in a separate seat, and then we stared ahead as the bus took off. As we headed to the school, there was no talking or laughing or anything. It was just quiet, and that never bothered me before. Today, it did. Today, I felt different, and some of the kids looked at me. If they sensed something was off, then it would be reported, and I would be dealt with.
The first class was Mythology. We were discussing Medusa. It was an interesting topic especially the comparison to the creatures on our backs. I found her face fascinating. Despite all those snakes, she was beautiful, but as I stared at her, I did not turn to stone. Maybe, I should have because the swarm of students nearby looked at me the same way. They sensed something, but they weren’t sure as to what. Did they know that I dreamt, that I thought? My face remained blank as the class ended, and we drifted off to the next class, a line of pale bodies with pulsating white-bluish bells on their necks.
The second class was History. I found History frightening. It was hard to imagine living through some of those horrific events like September 11, 2001 or Vietnam. Maybe, that world was better off left behind us. Then, we discussed the night of the meteor shower, followed by her awakening. She lived in the ocean, and she was determined to take back control and save the world, save the world from us. She had a million babies, or so they said. And her babies invaded the stormy skies, taking us over as hosts and reclaiming the world. And a lot of people died, but we now live in peace. And those refusing to be saved are eliminated, preventing the world from returning to those dark days.
The third class was Social Studies. We discussed historic Washington D.C. and all the empty buildings that were still there. One day, we might even take a field trip there, and I hoped that we would. It was hard imagining what politicians were or even having a president, who would determine how you would live. She was not like that, but there were uprisings in the beginning to have her killed. They didn’t understand, and she survived. And now the police were used to hunt those people down. I did not want to be hunted. I almost touched the back of neck, but I remembered its sting. It was quiet today. It was usually more active, silencing my thoughts, but deep down, I knew. And I didn’t want to know.
Lunch was next. More fish and water. I enjoyed the apple sauce more. At least, we still had some other things to eat. I wondered what sugar was. What did a cookie taste like? My parents couldn’t remember. I was considering getting another plate of apple sauce when the dogs came in. They looked in my direction, and a knot rose in my throat. Then, they started barking, drooling. It was over. It was all over, and I shut my eyes as the police lunged toward me, grabbing the poor soul next to me. Her creature fell off.
“I’m sorry,” she screamed. “I’m sorry.”
They dragged her outside. None of us moved. A moment later, a single gunshot was heard. I lost my appetite, and I hated those dogs. What was I going to do?
Gym was next. I was feeling sick. Luckily, the teacher did not ask any questions. She seemed disturbed. Did she know the student that was killed? Was her creature dying too? For the entire class, I sat alone, worried and afraid, and the creature stirred, trying to reassure me. It was a failed gesture, and again, I wanted to touch it. I didn’t care if it stung me. I just needed to know that it was still there, but I was fooling myself. And the students nearby looked at me.
Math was after Gym, followed by Science. I liked Science especially with the lab. Today, we were talking about the human anatomy and how our bodies were made up of over fifty percent of water. I wondered, if that was why there were no fat people because fatty tissue contained less water than lean tissue, and they relied on the water in our bodies. It’s what sustained them, and those that were fat in our society didn’t last too long. I always wanted to be fat, and I giggled at that thought. The room grew quiet with all stares piercing through me. How could I be so stupid, but after a long moment, the class continued.
The last class was English. It was the least favorite of mine. It was more propaganda if anything not literature. Today, we discussed those that lived in small groups with fortified walls to keep us out. The military sat up quarantine zones around them, and if they crossed them, then they were gunned down. Somehow, they still slipped through, and every now and then, they would turn up somewhere else. They just could never get close to the oceans. She made sure of that, and I wondered what it was like to be free. I enjoyed dreaming this morning and thinking. It was a new experience, but it was one that I didn’t need. Everything was fine, so why did it have to change? Lately, a lot of them weren’t living too long. Scientists were trying to figure it out, struggling to find a cure. What would happen to this world, if she lost control? I didn’t want to think about it.
The ride home was quiet. There used to be stories about bus rides, where people would talk to each other. They would laugh and play. Some of them would be mean and bully others. I didn’t understand bullying, but today, I kind of did with all those stares that I received. They sensed something, but the dogs missed me. At least, today, they did, but what about tomorrow? Would my life end tomorrow?
Dinner was at six. Fish and water again. I had to force myself through it, but my stomach turned shortly afterward. I ran the sink in the bathroom to hide the noises of me throwing up. As I lurched one last time, I felt something slide down my back. I shuddered and spun around, and there was the creature sprawled out on the floor. Its bell was sickly white, and its tentacles were everywhere, curled and disintegrating. I felt behind my neck, touching blood and a gaping hole where its mouth had sunken in. My mind exploded. Voices and thoughts shattered the emptiness, and I nearly screamed, covering my mouth with a sweaty, cold hand.
My brother knocked on the bathroom door. He demanded that I answer him. I shouted back that I was sick. He seemed okay with that, but I heard him go downstairs. He was reporting to our parents, and they would investigate. They would ask questions, and if not satisfied, if they suspected the worst, they would call the police because only the police could eliminate. They would eliminate me.
I grabbed the tentacles, and a sharp sting ran through my body. I almost screamed again, and I’ve never screamed before. It was a horrible sensation, and the tentacles dropped to the floor. I scooped them up with toilet paper and flushed them down the toilet. Then, I touched the bell, but funny enough, no sting. I held it over the gaping hole in the back of my neck, and I opened the bathroom door, coming face to face with my parents.
“You okay,” my parents asked.
“Yes. The fish made me really sick.” I kept my face blank as my parents searched for any sign of being human. “I would like to sleep now.” My voice was steady, but my body shook lightly.
“Okay,” and my parents stepped aside.
I could feel their gaze weighing down on me. My brother stood nearby, also watching me. I walked into my bedroom, grateful that the dead creature had not slipped off. I waited for what felt like forever until they all left the hallway. Then, I gingerly closed my bedroom door and dropped the dead creature to the floor. The tears were flowing now, and it felt strange to cry. But I had no time to experience that. Instead, I grabbed a small black bag from the closet, and I threw as much as I could into it. I hurried over to the bedroom window, grateful that the jump would not be too high, but then I stopped. I wanted to say good-bye to them, but in doing so, I would die. And I wanted to live. I don’t know what I’m going to do or how I will survive, but I don’t want to die. Maybe, I could make it to those free like me, or at least, try to. Either way, I had to leave now, and I opened the window. I landed roughly on the ground. Luckily, nothing felt broken, and I started running, hoping that no one saw me. Maybe, the world was better off the way that it was before she arrived.