By Abhirup Dutta
It was the last day of Pacifica City. The residents knew in their hearts that some form of apocalypse was around the corner, but no one imagined it would be the Shloop.
Adelita headed towards the beach, walking past the other residents scrambling the other way. The Shloop clouds emerged across the horizon in the blood-red skies. Though shorter than average, Adelita was athletic, and this was why she got the job here as a Field Scout.
Adelita decided to stay just a little longer, to have one last look at her home before evacuating.
Pacifica City wasn’t actually a city, like the ones in the old days before the global floods. It was a resource extraction zone; several “Happy Farms” extending out into the ocean and a few residential quarters on the cliffs, where the employees lived in shared rooms. The residential quarters were called “Play-Pods”. They were horizontal circular cross-sections of old sewer pipes painted into bright colors—red, blue, green—and stuck on the sides of the cliffs. The employees who lived inside them, two in each with a bunk bed, were called a “Play-Group.”
To have it classified as a city (for tax purposes), the JellyFun Incorporated simply salvaged a few Victorian houses off the beds of the historic San Francisco region and a few bells from the California missions, now burned and decomposing under the sea, and made a fake town-square out of them. It was called the Dolores Town Square – an homage to some church called Dolores (from the pre-flood days). “Great for PR,” the Chief Ideas Guru had remarked.
The town square was pretty, nevertheless. Adelita loved to stroll here at night when she couldn’t sleep. Pacifica City was a place where melancholy wasn’t allowed. The Happy Farms were filled with smiley-face stickers on everything, including the metal rivets binding the structural support. There were mandatory positivity exercises before work-hours. But the empty windows of the Victorians and the sonorous bells of the Missions mirrored what she felt on the inside. She couldn’t bring herself to say it—even in her thoughts—out of fear she might absent-mindedly say it out loud at her job. She used the term, “Need to be energized more” – which was acceptable as per company policy.
But she had wondered, who lived in those ancient pretty houses? What did they think? How did they feel? Were they always positive and energized? How ironic it was, that now Pacifica City, just like the historic San Francisco, would be abandoned. Adelita walked past the edge of the town-square and gently climbed down the sharp cliffs, balancing her weight equally on arms and legs. The beach was narrow with jagged rocks, slimy remains of jellyfish and kelp. A gust of wind from the sea, brought with it, the stench of the putrid Shloop. The Mission Bells rang ominously in unison.
Adelita had warned her superiors, several times, about the dead jellyfish on Shasta Island. It was her job as a Field Scout to warn them not to extend their farms (or rather factories, if she was being honest). It was not merely the jellyfish that had died, but several crabs, sea anemones and deep sea squids. The exact source remained a mystery, but it matched with the timing of the recent expansion of the farm operations. “Impossible. We are eco-friendly. We give nutrients back to the sea,” her boss—who hated the term “boss” and referred to herself as Adelita’s “big buddy” instead— said. Adelita was skeptical and had sent a high alert message to the Chief Ideas Guru reporting her suspicions.
But she wasn’t taken seriously. Instead, she was sent to a “Can-Do Crash Course” by Human Resources, to “process her negativity” and “bring back that Can-Do attitude at work.”
Meanwhile, the wild dead jellyfish had been picked up into a storm-cloud and were heading their way. This would kill all the enriched jellyfish in their farms. Enriched Jellyfish, the company’s product, were expensive, and they were losing trillions now that their Pacifica charter was closing down. The Chief Ideas Guru wasn’t a typical villain – a shrewd corporate shark, who worshipped money. Rather, he was an erratic social influencer, who used his charisma to inspire people towards a “happier future” one week, and then bungled up and went into complete radio silence the next, only to return “re-energized for leadership”.
Adelita reached the beach, and, pushing away the damp kelp with her feet, sat on a giant driftwood. She turned towards the beach floor behind and noticed a young unshaven man with scruffy hair in a fetal position. She fell into the routine of her emergency training and checked his vitals. He was all right. He attempted to smile but she knew it wasn’t a genuine one.
“Are you ok? What happened?” she asked.
“I’m fine. I just … felt … well … not very positive … almost too much not positive,” he said.
She nodded with kindness and said, “I know that feeling, trust me. Listen, you can’t stay here much longer. We need to get you up the cliffs. The evacuation center can restore your…”
“My positivity? Shall I tell you a secret? I’m tired. Really tired.”
Adelita couldn’t believe this person used a negative word like “tired”. She sighed heavily. “I know,” she said, and then helped him up, “I know. Is there anyone else here on the beach?”
“No, not since last night,” he said, putting his hand on her shoulders as she supported his waist. “I didn’t see anyone else. I come here to the beach often, when I can’t sleep. No one knows this.” He smiled weakly, sizing Adelita up, and said, “I’m not sure you would understand. You look so positive and healthy.”
Adelita stopped walking and burst out in laughter.
She said, “I go to the bells, and listen to their ringing. At night, when no one is looking, I go to Dolores Square when I’m not so positive.”
“Oh, you too? Oh.”
Adelita stopped and realized they couldn’t climb the cliffs in this man’s condition. She turned left instead, and walked up the service-ramp, taking a longer route—much longer than she had anticipated, given the speed of the approaching jellyfish clouds.
“My name is Adelita. Field Scout of the JellyFun Inc. Are you an employee, I mean, a ‘Family Member’ too? Or a contractor?”
“Does it matter? I’m not a security threat to ‘the Family’” the man said evasively, with air-quotes mocking the company term.
“I could read your badge if I wanted to. I am just being polite.”
“Okay ma’am, my name is Efrayim.”
Adelita stopped in her tracks when she reached the ramp. She held up the man, scrubbed the dust off his face and looked carefully.
“You are Efrayim? The Efrayim? The Chief Ideas Guru?”
“Yes. Yours truly.”
“It was you! You sent me to the Can-Do course when I warned the company about this.” Adelita could feel heat rise up in her chest and did not bother using the word ‘Family’. She contemplated tossing him aside and moving on to the Evacuation Center by herself.
“Well, urm …. sorry?” Efrayim said, looking confused and unfocussed. Adelita looked into his brown eyes and sighed. He wasn’t being flippant, just too tired to explain. Adelita knew that look, and she understood. It was the same reason she did not pursue the matter further. She also often felt tired, too tired to carry on. “Need to be energized.”
“Listen, I’m sorry about the troubles I caused you, and you can leave me and go on, ok?” Efrayim said. She could see he wasn’t just saying this; he was pleading with her to go on without him.
“We need to evacuate.”
“I don’t want to, please.”
Adelita heard the splashes of the waves and the distant cloud of jellyfish approaching them, almost close enough to the periphery of the farms. The stench in the air got worse, from only briny in the beginning to that of rotten flesh.
“Sorry to be a bit forward,” Adelita asked softly, “But do you mean to—you know? Stay behind? Even if it means…?”
“Why did you come here?” Efrayim asked.
“To have a moment of peace. To say one last goodbye to this place. And then leave … and you have to, as well.”
Adelita knew she was more athletic than him and could easily carry him to the evacuation center by force. She might even bag a promotion for going “over and beyond” in rescuing their “Chief Ideas Guru”. But she decided not to cross the personal boundary. It was not her place.
She mulled over her thoughts before saying, “Were things always like this for you? I mean the ‘not enough energized to be productive’ part. Full disclosure: I had a happy childhood. My Abuela raised me well. We often disagreed and bickered, but it felt good. I felt alive. Can I tell you a secret? I feel numb now. I have felt numb ever since I started working here.”
Efrayim’s expression changed. He rolled up his sleeves and shook sand off his head. “My happy place was here. Not the company, but the Jellyfish Cove Museum, higher up in the cliffs. This was in the early days before the Happy Farms were set up. I visited here with my Mom and Dad. We caught giant edible jellyfish, skewered them by the bonfire and talked about the exhibits we’d seen.”
“Jellyfish Cove Museum? You mean the tiny hole farther up the city?”
“Yes, it is no longer maintained and no one goes there anymore. But it is older than Pacifica City. The town was built much later on, using dynamite on the lower cliffs to carve out a flat surface,” Efrayim’s eyes shone as he began to explain the detailed history of his happy place.
Adelita appreciated his newfound, or rather, returned zeal, and formulated a plan that would convince him to at least get to the evacuation center.
“Well good news then,” she said, “the evacuation zone is right next to it. A block away. Since flying is banned in this weather, the only way inland are underground rails. And the upper cliffs are where the boarding zone is. Why don’t you show me this museum—your happy place, and then decide from there, what to do: leave or stay behind? And I will support you no matter what you choose. What do you say?”
Efrayim didn’t answer but nodded, gazing into the high cliffs where the museum and the evacuation zone lay, perched above the city.
The residential quarters were nearly deserted now, with the last few employees heading higher up in the cliffs. Adelita and Efrayim followed them until they reached a corridor by the town square. There was a giant sign above it which read Campañas de Dolor (Dolores Bells). They paused to take in the view of her happy place, large sections of recreated Mission stuccos with seven bells arranged in a square. Below the sign were two more signs on the left and right – You are in Oregon and You are in California.
“It was my idea to build this on the state borders,” Efrayim said. “Oregon charges green tariffs at the extraction points, while California charges green tariffs at the points of canning the product.”
“Let me guess. You built the extraction on the California side and the processing on the Oregon side so you can dodge tariffs in both states,” Adelita said, frowning. “Hmmm … I can see why they made you the Chief Ideas Guru.”
“Stop calling me that! My payroll says Regional VP. The Ideas Guru thing – I always found it annoying. I just went with it because of the company values.”
“Oh, company values? Don’t you mean Our Shared Family Values?” Adelita teased. “Hehe. Well, anyways, I’m hurting, you need to rest on my other shoulder now.’
The winds became stronger as they walked past Success Avenue, lined with bare cypress trees with billowing branches. The hurricane was approaching faster than she had expected. Adelita could hear the monstrous rumbling near the shore, where the piers that held the farm-units were collapsing into the tides.
Adelita and Efrayim were the last people to reach the evacuation zone. Two unimpressive holes could be seen in the cliffs, one with a broken neon-sign saying Jellyfish Cove Museum. The other, a block away, had a piece of paper stuck to it with ‘Evacuation Zone’ written in bright pink crayons and two smiley-faces on each side.
A uniformed security officer with strawberry blonde hair approached them. He handed them two tokens and said, “Wait outside, please.”
“But … urm … the Shloop is approaching faster than the predictions,” Adelita pointed out. “Can’t you see that the factories—I mean farms—have been destroyed? The State Alert had mentioned that the jellyfish can lead to shock and convulsion on contact with skin.”
The security guard gave her a saccharine-sweet smile and said, “Yes, it’s dangerous. But Impossible says I’m Possible. As per our Shared Family Values.”
“Did you see his eyes? They were dead inside,” Adelita whispered to Efrayim. “Courtesy of your Can-Do course. Anyways, let’s take shelter in ….”
Efrayim immediately hugged Adelita and covered her head and shoulders in his arms. “Don’t move,” he said.
It was happening.
Splashing sounds. Gross splashing sounds as large chunks of pink and red jelly began to fall on the ground.
The guard came out running and said “Come on inside,” but after chunks of jellyfish covered him, he fainted and fell to the floor.
Adelita dragged Efrayim inside the hole and then dumped him on the floor. He was unable to move, his eyes glassy, the back of his entire body covered in putrid smelling blobs, while his spine and torso were twitching like a lizard’s cut tail.
“No, no, no, no, no,” Adelita screamed, as she could feel her own mind shutting down. “No, no, no, please, not now”.
Adelita woke up to a musty smell. She blinked her eyes to take in what seemed like darkness, until it revealed itself to be the inside of a cave, lit up with soft pink lights on the floor.
Efrayim was crouched beside her, sobbing noisily. In fact, it was less of a sob with tears and more of a dry wail.
To Adelita, this was like death, like giving up on company policy and…. She felt something warm surge from her chest onto her nose and eyes, but she pushed it back down.
She was sad for Efrayim. He would be “parted ways with good wishes” for sure. But at least he was alive. In fact, Adelita was surprised he was alive. The reports said that contact with the jellyfish rains would result in numbness, paralysis and shortness of breath. Some of the sea-scouts who were on duty that day had even succumbed in the water and drowned because they couldn’t paddle or swim.
While she saw that Efrayim was affected he had recovered nevertheless. His body must have been stronger than it let on. Adelita began to feel queasy and threw up, and then she passed out again.
When she regained consciousness, she saw that Efrayim was no longer crying. In fact, he was exploring the place with rapt joy, like that of a child. She got up, made herself steady and followed the dim floor illuminations making a path inwards. Above the passageway was a rusting signboard saying: Jellyfish Cove Museum.
A wave of rotten air hit her from the storm outside as she felt the dry salt accumulating above her lips. She moved away from the entrance and the putrid smell of the jelly rain. She followed Efrayim inside, keeping her distance.
Why exactly was the Shloop happening? she thought as she carried herself, resting hands against the cool damp cave walls. The dead jellyfish picked by the storm and raining on them wasn’t the surprising part. There had been a frog-rain last year farther up in Oregon and a kelp rain down in Baja. The unexpected part was the dead jellyfish washing up on the shores in the first place. And it was not merely jellyfish, but several other creatures: squids, crabs and deep sea creatures. Why were they dead when the company specifically promoted their farming as eco-friendly and restorative with respect to the nutrients? Were they lying all along?
Adelita was taken aback by Efrayim’s sudden return round a corner. He said, “It’s all dusty now, but nothing is broken. Everything is exactly as it was when I had come here with Mum and Dad. You have to see this,” beckoning her farther inside.
This was an old jellyfish museum. Adelita didn’t want to go inside, lest they miss any chance of being rescued to the evacuation zone. It was raining outside anyway, and one quick look wouldn’t hurt to pass the time. Even if the company abandoned them, they could still hole up in the cave and ride out the storm. In fact, maybe looking into the details in this museum could help solve this puzzle. She weighed the pros and cons, and decided to follow Efrayim. They both entered a pink neon-lit area to a very old music playing on repeat.
Ay de mí Llorona, Llorona, Llorona ….
Adelita found herself humming to the melancholy song. It was something she remembered from her childhood, but did not know what the words meant. Her Abuela had known. She had told Adelita the meaning of a few lines but she couldn’t remember them.
“This was my happy place as a child,” Efrayim said, picking up the slow tune. “The old wild jellyfish were amazing. But I was fascinated by the exact same song played even back then, a salvaged record restored by AI. I don’t know what it means, but it makes you feel something; I don’t know what, certainly not positivity, but it makes you feel alive in a way.”
She followed Efrayim, leaning on him now, as he took her by hand and showed her around.
The museum had several live aquariums showing various stages of jellyfish-farming. Adelita recognized the traditional jellyfish – Georgia Cannonballs – large and translucent, and the Sydney Blubbers – tiny and blue. She passed several kelp-forests and bottom-feeders to come to what she was looking for: the specialty of JellyFun Inc.
Giant Jellyfish in bright colors of purple, maroon, blood-red and orange, all fondly called “Fruit Jellies”. These Jellyfish were a superfood, containing all essential vitamins and minerals for children, and specifically modified to have bright colors to appeal to them. These jellyfish were dried, powdered, and used for various desserts all over the world.
But the tank was old and unmaintained. Adelita looked up at the top to see a strange accumulation of red dirt floating on the surface. Then, it hit her. She knew what was wrong, why the jellyfish showers happened.
The modified jellyfish were distorting the ecosystem. They were meant to be eco-friendly, and even release nutrients back to the water to rejuvenate sea life. Her boss was speaking the truth.
However, the Chief Ideas Guru had approved a drastic increase in quantity to meet the market demand. Although the bay was large, installing giant racks of jellyfish had created an excess of nutrients, which led to the problem. An algal bloom.
The Shloop outside worsened, but the cave muffled the sounds of the drops hitting the cliffs and the Dolores bells rang faintly in the distance. It was relaxing, and she felt the fog in her mind clearing. The red ocean waters were algae – unchecked algae which absorbed all nutrients, grew over the surface of water and blocked sunlight and air to other sea life. That’s why all the jellyfish were dying. That’s why they were washing up on the islands. But no one had bothered to investigate. The superficial commitment to eco-friendliness had made things worse.
No se que tienen las flores Llorona
Las flores de un campo santo
The song’s words were now coming back to her. Llorona meant…
No, it was a negative word. Could she go against company policy? The tempo went up and down in perfect rhythm like the waves of the Pacific Ocean. She did not feel happy, but she felt alive. She and Efrayim locked eyes and even in the dim pink light, she could see a knowing look in his eyes as if they both felt it together. But she knew what the feeling was, and he didn’t.
They held hands and returned to the mouth of the cove. It wasn’t raining anymore. This was their chance.
The Evacuation Center was across Confidence Drive with the guards wearing the company logo and tag-line (Shloop problem? There are no Problems. Only Opportunities) waving their hands and beckoning them over.
They held hands and sprinted into the open air.
Adelita miscalculated. The pause wasn’t the end of the storm, it had been the center. The wind now blew in the opposite direction with red and pink jelly dropping on them from the skies. It was a circular storm and they had been fooled by the still eye, which had moved past.
The Shloop began to make her lose her motor functions. Her ankles and knees gave way. She slumped on the ground with Efrayim. She couldn’t move any part of her body including her eyelids. They were right about the Shloop making the body shut down.
But she could still feel. She could feel the cold slimy jelly slithering across her collar bones and falling off to her right. She could smell the fetid winds. She could hear the Mission Bells clanging by the sea. Dolores Bells. Dolores meant sorrow. Llorona meant to cry.
If she was going to die, she might as well go against the company policy. She could feel the knot in her chest loosen, heat rising up her throat, her nose and then her eyes. And then, she cried.
She stumbled up. She could move now. She turned towards Efrayim’s comatose body, covered in pink slime, and looked into his now glassy eyes. She didn’t have to say anything. She could see his eyes glisten looking into hers. Efrayim’s body shuddered as if it received an electric shock. He raised himself, hugged her and burst into a raw wail like that of a child.
“It’s crying!” the guards shouted. “That brings them back!”
Three of them lifted Adelita and Efrayim and brought them inside the evacuation zone. There were piles of comatose bodies gazing into a distance in whichever direction their heads were turned.
Despite the guards asking them to cry, no one did. Then, Adelita heard a giant blast of wind more monstrous than any before, followed by a resounding cracking sound and the roaring ring of all the seven Mission Bells hitting rocks after rocks and finally drowning into the sea. Then one person burst out crying, followed by another. Soon the employees were breaking off from their body-piles and emerging one-by-one filled with tears.
They were alive again.
About the author: Abhirup Dutta was born in India and currently resides in California. When he doesn’t code, he blogs about solo-traveling (https://earlgreykick.com), helps with diversity events in the software industry and tries to keep his houseplants alive. He is a fairly new writer and has been published in the Scarlet Leaf Review, Corner Bar Magazine & Freedom Fiction. (https://abhirupduttawriting.
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