by Nicole Lenoir-Jourdan
Jellies never travelled alone.
First time I’d seen one with a maid. I flicked a piece of tuna from my teeth and scanned the cave. The dancing stopped. Then, the music. The squid disco lights flickered as a group of mers sauntered to the bar. Their bowties sparkled over their scale-less torsos. I could see their jaws tighten as they looked at the odd pairing of jelly and maid floating through the entrance. It had been a long day. What with working a double shift, I just wanted to get home. Perhaps watch the tides change. Security was never ending these days. Plenty of work to be had. Less and less of us.
The jelly floated about a mer length in front of me. There was a stench of caviar. Couldn’t stand the stuff, myself. Although Letitia, the ex, she loved it. Probably one of the reasons she left me. Couldn’t get my hands on it after I left my job as a guide. Sturgeon were rare now and security just didn’t get that type of perk.
I called Louie. He swam over, rustling the reeds around the cave.
“Check it out,” I said, pointing my nose to the jelly. “Bound to be trouble.”
“Should we call in the whites?” asked Louie. He’d dyed his pectorals pink and they were flapping back and forth. Louie loved drama.
“Tough call. Don’t think they can be trusted with so much food around.”
“What should we do?asked Louie. His pecs swishing like a theme park ride. He’d been working all of two shifts. I always got the newbies.
The mers were watching the blob and his date. One maid floated over to them. She was long and thin with purple scales.
I watched the mer and the maid closely. It was one thing to break up a mer fight but I wasn’t touching no maids. I’d like my fin to stay in place.
“Seal the other entrances,” I said to Louie.
One of the worst things about working proms was the music. The DJ put on yet another whale rap and the maid began shimmying up and down. The jelly attached to her. She kept shimmying. Oh for Neptune’s sake, get a cave.
The other creatures started to float onto the dance floor now. They kept their distance from the blob. There were the baby eights with the long tentacles; the crabs who kept to their own little circle; the seahorses who were jumping from group to group. A few teen fish still in their school and the lobsters. The mers remained at the bar. I counted five. They each downed a krill shot. The tall one with the long seaweed hair and muscles the size of a puffer fish turned back to stare at the maid.
Proms. Bloody hard work. Preferred the corporate stuff, but that was drying up. There were far, far less creatures in the Blue. The gods of the no gills were pretty irate lately.
The Blue was a different world to the place I’d grown up in, where stranger danger was avoiding a worm on a hook. Nowadays the gods were testing us. First I thought they were happy sending us new food that looked like a flattened anorexic ray. It came in an array of colours. There were a heap that had the same design with strange markings. They were great for stuffing in a few bits of tuna but I had no idea what those symbols from the gods meant.
The hardtops, the greedy bastards, snatched the new food first. There weren’t enough blue bottles so they ate whatever they could. In the end we were pleased it was them and not us. The way they choked. Not a pretty sight. Even for a security guard. Then came more of the food. But the shore-smart like my kind, the top fins, we knew the gods were angry. We tried to avoid the stuff but sometimes it was clear and we’d get caught up in it.
There was less and less to eat. And it started to get bloody hot. We knew we’d angered the no gills but we weren’t sure why.
I missed my job as a guide. Knew the route with my eyes closed – from the triangle island down south through to the pointy bit where the whites hung out. No tours now. Just watching a bunch of too cool for school mers hang out with their fish friends in the middle of the Blue.
At least we got a feed of tuna before we started. My little one wanted to have one as a pet. Like really, a pet you could eat? It wouldn’t last too long around our area. We often got takeaways at the end of our shift, too. The maids hardly ate at proms. The mers did though, but there was still plenty of leftovers for the workers.
The seaweed haired mer was on the dance floor now. He was frowning. I got a shiver in my tail. A sure sign something was about to happen and it wouldn’t be good. I eyeballed the mer as he reached down into his skirt and pulled out something.
“Louie. Call in the hardtops,” I said and signalled above.
If we could keep it contained, we’d be OK.
I swam over to the mer who now had a jagged piece of coral in his hand.
“Back off,” he said. “I don’t need a fin telling me what to do.”
I bared my teeth. The mer gritted his. “Don’t you know who I am? Did they not brief you? You flaky flake.”
Whether or not he was Neptune himself, I still had to do my job. I hesitated a moment. Enough time for him to slash the jelly with the coral. The jelly’s stingers wrapped around the leg of the mer. Bang. The mer was down and began screaming bubbles by the hundreds.
Another jelly appeared. I turned towards the door. Those damned blobs were flooding the entrance.
There was only one thing to do. I opened my mouth and swam towards the crowd. I hadn’t dealt with jellies for a while. Not the season. I’d forgotten how gummy they were. The small ones were okay but the bigger ones were chewy blighters. Yet it was the only way. Swallow them whole.
Outside there were even more of the suckers. The hardtops were close. A few hundred were swimming down fast like anchors falling into the sand.
Wish I hadn’t eaten that whole tuna earlier. There was only one thing to do here and that was munch. I’d be shitting jelly for weeks.
As the hardtops descended the jellies shoved their way into the cave. Fish and mers were pushing against them to get out but there were too many. The hardtops were munching full speed.
“Can I call in the whites now, boss?”
We couldn’t chance it. Not with all the young mers. If they were attacked, it would be the end of blue light discos. I knew what I had to do. It irked every tooth in my mouth but it was the only way.
“Get Letitia down here,” I said.
“Your ex? You sure, boss? You said you never wanted to see her again.”
I flicked my nose back and forth. “Just do it. The swords won’t come without her.”
Louie turned and swam off leaving a trail of pinkish bubbles in his wake. Must have been some cheap dye.
I directed half of the hardtops around to the other entrance where a fat seal lolled. We had to get the young ones out. There weren’t many left these days. They often died, as the temperatures increased and food supply dwindled. A jelly massacre wouldn’t go down well with any who lived in the Blue.
It was too early for jelly season but then weird things were happening. Perhaps, I should have been more prepared. Feeling a knot in my stomach, I thought about being sent to the surface front after this. Most didn’t return from those jobs. I’d seen brothers flailing around after being defined. It was a painful and slow end. I looked to the surface and shivered. Then I saw it. The black.
It was spreading quickly. I’d seen it once before. Shiny dark liquid. It coated everything near it. The jellies were our best chance of survival now.
Back in the cave the smaller fish and creatures were swimming around in circles desperately trying to find an escape. But that would not help them now.
Old Eight Ball, the cave owner, was leading a line of baby eights into some hidden part of the cave. The eights could squeeze through anything. I swam over to the mer with my mouth closed. I wouldn’t be eating any more of the blobs. Not now we needed them.
“We need to get the jellies out alive,” I said.
“We don’t need any of your altruistic whale shit,” said the mer. “Those spineless creatures are taking over the world.”
“The Black is here. We need them outside. They can save us.”
“A jelly save us. Yeah right,” said the mer.
“Their mucus. It breaks down the Black.”
Louis flapped up to me in a swirl of pink. “There’s more Kevin. A whole bloom outside.”
“Best news I’ve heard all day, Louis.” I looked over at the DJ. He was herding the bobtail squids off the ceiling. “Get the squid. All of them. Get them through the back entrance and around to the jellies.” Louis flapped off.
Letitia the ex swam in with her swords. “You. Should have known. Only a loser like you could wreck a prom.”
I’d eaten too many jellyfish.
Letitia swam right up to my face. “You pathetic bottom feeder.”
I could feel something starting to churn inside me.
Blurgh. With the force of an atomic whale spout, tons of tiny pieces of jelly came out of my mouth. Letitia was covered.
“Sorry Letty.” I said and made my way outside. I’d never hear the end of this. That was if I survived the Black. If we all did.
I helped Louis to round up the squid.
We got through the back entrance to see a huge bloom of jellies. It couldn’t be just one bloom. It was too big. They started to form a channel. I could see the mucus already dispersing some of the Black.
I went back to the cave to check there were no fish left inside. Letitia was still there with the swords. Letitia came after me.
“It will be the surface for you. I should get the swords to cut you up.”
The seaweed haired mer floated up to Letitia.
“What do you want?” she said, opening her mouth wide.
“This top fin, Kevin as you call him, is a hero,” said the mer. “He saved most of us in here.”
“Kevin, a hero?” The bubbles spurted out of the shining mouth with too many teeth.
There was a high pitched sound and then in floated Neptune himself on a large manta ray. Never had I seen him in the flesh.
Letitia bowed low.
“Ah. Letitia top fin. This is your work no doubt,” he said looking down at the Jellies on the ground.
Letitia gave a toothy smile and whacked me out of the way.
The mer cleared his throat. “No dad. It was this top fin who saved all the fish.”
Neptune came over. “What’s your name?”
“Kevin”, I said.
“Well Kevin. You’ve done a brilliant job here. Louie outside told me how your quick thinking started to disperse the Black. Come and work with me? We need thinkers like you to help us fight the no gills. We need to get the Blue back to being Blue.”
“But who will do my job?” I asked.
Neptune looked over at Letitia and smiled.