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Wednesday, June 22, 2011

First Contact (1)

"Look, Daddy!" Gina pointed with a chubby finger and stooped, a little unsteadily, to touch the sea water ebbing at her feet.

Jack leaned over the child, worried about her getting scratched or pricked by something dirty. The water in the tidal pool was clear and warm. Floating among the rocks and sand were a dozen or so shapeless creatures that looked like a bloom of jellyfish, except that they were bright red.

"Aren't they pretty?" He said to Gina, a hand on her little shoulder. Her skin was as smooth and delicate, like perfectly puffed bread dough, and her hair smelt like fresh out-of-the-oven bread. He thought about his fortune --- the ex-wife gladly handed him Gina's custody so that she could run off, untethered, with her new beau to the south of France.

It was the second day of their vacation on Tasmania. Just the two of them. Jack had left his cafe in Wellington in the hands of his capable manager and girlfriend, Joyce. The beach was beautiful and nearly deserted. Jack watched Gina walk close to the water, dip her toes into the gentle wave, and then run back shrieking with delight. I should ask the hotel staff for a bucket tomorrow, Jack thought, so that we can build a sand castle together.

"Fis, daddy!" Gina hissed the "sh" between her teeth and reached out to grab at the small bloom of the jellyfish.

"No, no," Jack gently held her back. "Hold a minute. Let daddy see if it stings." He leaned over and scooped a handful of water with a jellyfish. It did not sting. The translucent head glowed with a red hue in the colorless sea water. Jack had never seen anything so beautiful. Under the head, very short tentacles wiggles weakly. As the water leaked between his fingers, the jellyfish looked small and fragile.

"Bubble, bubble!" Gina muttered and poked at the head. With a faint snap, the head burst and squirted a crimson liquid in Jack's face. Jack was startled and dropped the jellyfish, and Gina laughed. He laughed as well and wiped the slightly viscous "juice" from his face.

When he turned to look at the water, the bloom of red jellyfish had disappeared without a trace. By now Gina had already turned her attention to picking shells. Jack straightened and thought he saw a large red patch with the size of a sailboat, darting way into the sea. Odd, he thought, Can jellyfish swim so fast?

That night, Jack became violently ill and died. The cause of death was cardiac arrest caused by extreme diarrhea and subsequent dehydration. However, the local medical examiner could not determine the infection that caused the diarrhea. Gina was sent back to Wellington and, unable to find her mother, the child welfare department allowed Joyce to adopt her.


A few months later, the American National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) received a request from the Australian Ocean Data Center to obtain satellite photographs of several areas near and south of the Tasman sea. The photographs showed an area in which the sea was flaming red. The area covered approximately 15 square kilometer and was, the scientists soon realized, expanding.

(TBC)

****

I had planned for only a short story, but now it is growing like the flaming tide. To be continued tomorrow.

I have not actually read "The War of the Worlds," but I know the story, which has inspired this story.

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