If we had a voice, we would scream and wail and cry so loud that no creature would dare come close to us for fear of going deaf. We would scream until the strain tore our vocal cords to shreds and the taste of blood coated our raw throat. But alas, we don’t have that option. We have no voice, no mouth even; just a slimy, gelatinous body covering hundreds of square miles of the ocean’s surface in a thick crimson biofilm. The floor below us is cold and distant, barely illuminated by the few faint rays of sunlight that manage to pass through our body. Seagrass sways gently in the current and small crabs bury themselves in the sand. Every once in a while we will see a fish darting around, scrounging for food. It was much more common to see the body of a dead fish floating by, so seeing living fish swim about was always a bittersweet surprise for us. On the one hand, it’s nice to know there are still fish out there, alive and healthy. On the other hand, we wish to never see another fish again in our lifetime. They have no idea of the danger they put themselves in every time they pass beneath us.
A large loggerhead turtle swims underneath us, her red carapace glinting in the flickering beams of sunlight as she glides along the ocean floor, snatching up a large whelk in between her powerful jaws. She swiftly propels herself through the water, flipping over to expose her pale cream-coloured underside. She is pregnant and is making her way to the shore to lay her clutch in a sandy nest where they will incubate. We wish to call out to her, tell her she must go somewhere else, anywhere else but here. We want to warn her that this is no place for her or her babies, that she is putting herself at great risk by being near us, that her precious eggs will surely die here. But no matter how hard we try, our screams remain trapped inside us. The turtle pulls herself onto the shore and begins digging a hole in the sand.
Today is a beautiful day, as are most summer days along the coast of Florida. There is a warm breeze and not a cloud in the sky. It is the perfect environment for us to grow and thrive; truly a nightmare come to life. The sun, a fiery hot ball above us, bathing our body in nutrients. We have no choice but to absorb it into ourselves. Tidal waves of energy course through us as we eat up the rays of light, all the while wishing we could refuse the sun’s force feeding. From below us, the decomposing bodies of the many fish whose lives we’ve claimed release nitrogen, a nutrient our slimy scum adores. Our body craves it and the energy it gives us. We can feel our cells growing, multiplying, latching onto every piece of solar radiation that beams down on us from above and every atom of nitrogen that rises from the depths below, pulling it in, converting it, forcing us to eat when all we want is to starve. Try as we might, we can’t stop it; we can’t stop our cells from doing the one thing we were designed to do: consume. Nothing compares to the high of photosynthesis, that huge surge of power as the first rays of sunlight hit our skin, the energy running deep within us like electricity, a warm, prickly feeling similar to drinking a soda that’s been left out in the afternoon sun. It feels so good, and yet so wrong.
A distant gleeful scream announced the arrival of our worst nightmare: people. Sure enough, seconds later we watched as two young girls emerged from the treeline, giggling and shrieking as they ran out onto the sand. In tow behind them was a boy, slightly older, and two adults, a man and a woman carrying fabric bags of towels and beach toys and a plastic red cooler. They seemed the perfect happy family. The woman wore a bright yellow one piece, not a strand of blonde hair out of place and perfect red lipstick. The man walked with a certain confidence that told everyone he was the boss of his family. The three children appeared joyous and free, not a care in the world. The two girls cautiously approached the loggerhead, now burying her eggs, expressions of awe plastered on their rosy faces. The boy seemed to have no interest in this. We watched him wander around the beach, kicking at rocks and collecting pieces of driftwood. He eventually crouched down next to the half-decomposed corpse of a dead fish, poking at it with a stick, inspecting its rotting guts with curiosity. One of the girls ran over to her brother, babbling away about the sea turtle and how cool it was. She let out a shrill shriek upon seeing the dead fish and ran off to her mother.
Deep down, we always knew this day was coming. This thin rocky strip of sand barely qualified as a beach. There couldn’t have been more than 30 feet between where the sea met the land and the sparse treeline, and the sand was riddled with sharp rocks and prickly shrubs. Despite that, we always knew that eventually humans would come here. This cosy little spot was far away from the main beaches that hundreds of humans flocked to every day, allowing for a much quieter and peaceful beach day. Still, we wondered how anyone could look out onto an ocean of fiery scarlet and not realise that something wasn’t right. Surely if the sight of the discoloured infected water wasn’t enough of a sign, the malodorous smell of sulphur would be a sufficient warning. Yet one of the little girls was already knee deep in the water, kicking her legs up to splash water high into the air. After being scolded by his mother, the boy now also stood in the ocean waves, splashing gently against his ankles as he skipped a stone across the water. The stone skipped three or four times before disappearing below the water’s surface, tearing a hole through our delicate gelatinous body as it sank.
A cool wave of relief washed over us when the adults finally began repacking their bags. The woman’s face was scrunched in displeasure as she called out to her children, a hand pinching her nose. Clearly the horrendous smell of our rotting body had successfully been carried ashore by the wind. The children complained loudly as they dragged their feet through the sand, pleading for just a few more minutes in the water. I didn’t blame the children for wanting to stay. Even with the clouds that had begun to appear in the sky, the beach itself was beautiful, quiet and serene. The only sound was the waves crashing against the sand. There wasn’t even the cry of seagulls to disturb the peace. That family surely didn’t know, but we knew why there were no more seabirds and waterfowl roaming the skies or resting on the water’s surface. We knew why there was scarcely any fish left in these waters and why aquatic foliage was a rare oddity. We knew why the deep cerulean of the waves had been tainted with an ugly crimson hue.
Hours after their departure, we couldn’t stop thinking about that family. Those kids, so young and innocent and bright… had their brief exposure to us been too long? Would they notice a rash beginning to form on their skin as they washed the sand from their bodies that evening? Would they wake up in the middle of the night in a cold sweat and puffy eyes to throw up their half-digested dinner? Would the morning come only for the sun to peek through their windows at their paralysed bodies, fear engraved across their tear-stained faces? If we had eyes, we would surely be sobbing, salty tears mixing with the saline sea. As if to mock us, the sky began to cry too. The thought of those precious souls dying because of us, their parents weeping over their limp lifeless little bodies, kills us inside. We wish it would kill us faster.
Despite our wishes to die, to gently sink to the sea floor as our body decays and become one with the sediment below, we only grow bigger and bigger, gaining more power and creating more destruction. The more we expand, the more casualties we cause. The bodies of dead animals in varying stages of decomposition litter the ocean floor. Even the seagrass and other aquatic plants are decaying now. After two months, the eggs laid by the loggerhead begin to hatch. The babies poke their heads through the sand, slowly emerging and crawling across the beach towards the water and their impending doom. So many innocent lives, barely begun. How many of them would die because of us?
We’ve watched now as many humans come to the little beach, not to swim in the water or suntan on the shore, but to look at us, to watch us. They know we are here now, and they know the dangers we cause. Finally, they understand. We wonder what finally led them to this realisation. Had something horrific happened to that family? Those three kids, so young and bright, had something happened to them? Had we murdered them? We would never know.
The watchful humans seemed to be waiting for something. Several children craned their necks to look up, some pointing to seemingly nothing in the sky and whispering among themselves. The adults stood still, glancing at their watches and mumbling to their partners and friends. As the sun reached its highest point in the sky, the humans vacated the beach in quick succession, many of the parents yelling sternly at their obstinate children before wrestling them into their arms to be carried away. Within minutes, the once full strip of beach was completely barren. Perhaps they had grown tired of gawking at our presence.
Just minutes later we heard the start of a deep low rumble, barely loud enough to be heard. This soon turned into a steadily growing mechanical roar, an ear-splitting sound. Even from all the way down on the surface of the sea, we could see the source of the deafening cry growing closer, soaring across the sky at unbelievable god-like speed. We had seen aeroplanes before as they flew overhead, leaving soft, wispy contrails across the sky, but these planes were different. There were five of them, much smaller than the giant commercial planes we were used to seeing, flying in a perfect “V” formation. As they continued on their path, we realised that the planes were rapidly losing height, swiftly descending towards the water. They made dramatic, sharp turns in the air, miraculously staying in their perfect uniform formation. When they were a mere few hundred metres above us, two panels on the bellies of each plane flew open to release a strange non-Newtonian liquid. The unusual substance rained down on us, coating us in a thick layer of electric blue that clung to our slick, slimy body like glue.
The burning started almost immediately. The horrid amorphous substance they had doused us with felt like sulfuric acid against our body. The searing white hot pain was unbearable. It felt like we had been set on fire, condemned to hell where we would burn for all eternity as atonement for all the death we had caused. We thought that the pain couldn’t possibly get worse, but we were quickly proven wrong when we began absorbing the blue solution into our bodies the way we would the burning sun. It ran through us like blood through a vein. We could feel it inside us, feel it digging away at us, tearing us apart. Somehow, through the excruciating agony, we felt a sense of relief and even a hint of gratitude as our body was burned away from the inside out. After what felt like an eternity of torture, we were almost numb to the fiery pain. Patches of our body peeled away from us as they died, morphing from bright red into a dull greyish brown. Dead pieces of us slowly drifted down to their weary grave on the ocean floor, and the rest of us simply waited for death to consume us.
The smallest movement in the water below caught our attention. A small minnow darted around erratically below us, avoiding the slimy strands of our decaying body. The side of his iridescent body became scorched, leaving behind a festering wound, seeping blood, the edges tinted an unnatural blue. The small smidgen of gratitude we had once clung to in order to bear the pain evaporated in an instant. If this horrific chemical solution had so violently ripped our body apart from the inside, what was it doing to him? What would it continue to do to every fish that swam through these waters? What of the remaining plants, already barely hanging on? Even though we still had no mouth, at that moment we were letting out a raw, guttural scream of anguish.
About the Author
River Mossfield is the pen name of a first-year student at Selkirk College who hopes to study psychology while also pursuing their love of writing. They like to write fiction and creative non-fiction short stories and they have a knack for writing from unusual points of view and about darker subject matters. Outside of writing, they enjoy drawing, painting, and cuddling with their cat.