Megan Marie Sullivan graduated from Northwestern University with an MA in Creative Writing in 2012. She lives in Chicago and trains robots for a living. Sullivan has an undergraduate degree in music, which is surprisingly useful in the business world. She enjoys dramatic political podcasts, madrigals, gym nerds, tahini rolls, mean cats, little free libraries, urban churches, sea shanties, five-string bass guitars, the artwork of Catherine Forster, potty jokes, Japanese seals, medieval fantasy role-playing games, regional specialities, docker files, young adult fantasy novels, Chiberia days, wood burning stoves, video essays, chinaware with disputed origins, and humorous portrayals of existential dread.
A short fantasy about tiny sea creatures**
By Megan Marie Sullivan
Are you ready? Okay!****
* Blondie stops by and says we have to go out tonight.
“What time?” I ask her and she says “right now.”
I say “Okay!”
But she comes inside and we have to wait.
We never leave right away.
Blondie’s carrying her big shoulder bag. Out of all the amoebas in the ocean she has the heaviest bag. She says she wants to put it down for a little bit.
She asks me if I want to pre-party and I say yes.
Blondie has been my friend ever since I joined this pack, and I really like partying with her most of the time. She likes to party a lot, but she has more friends than me, and I get jealous of her sometimes. Also, she’s so enthusiastic about everything. Every night on the Feeding Ground is just an amazing experience, she thinks. Every chance to experiment will make her a wiser, smarter amoeba in the long run, she says. We are young, she says, we should have as much fun as possible. I concur.
“Then why are you sitting here in the dark?” She asks.
I tell her I was taking a nap. I don’t want to tell her the truth: that I’ve been swimming around the reef all day by myself, randomly picking up microbes and putting them back down, wondering if there was a purpose to my life.
I don’t have to tell you the ocean is a vast place. You could meet organisms every day of your life and still never meet everyone there is to meet.
This is especially true on the reef. This is where all the life is, all the nightlife. Culture in abundance. There’s a lot of loose words floating around too. I’ve been secretly collecting them, trying to build up enough to make a novel. I have a secret stash of them hidden under a rock, about twenty thousand or so. Some days I run around, pulling in several thousand, other days I can’t even look at it.
I don’t even know why I bother, why I waste my time.
Today was one of those days. I shuffled my favorite words back and forth.
After my swim, I came back to our home and hid beneath the coral skeletons, where the sun could not reach me. When she stopped by I was just thinking to myself that I needed to get out more, be with organisms, but why would anyone want to hang out with me? All I ever do during the daytime is hide in the dark.
She asks me if I’m tired. I tell her no, I’m ready to party.
She’s got a speck of slimy shroom, but do I have anything to wash it down with? All I have on me is a bottle of Lady Glycerin, sea-weed flavored. It’s been chilling for months. Someone brought it over once. We couldn’t drink much of it then. We had better options. Now Blondie and I need to get toasted and neither of us like getting high on slimy without getting drunk too. We have to have the high and low all at once, all the energies together, an experiential vomit. I find a couple of holders that are clean and pour big shots of the Lady Glycerin. Later, we will drink straight from the bottle, when the slimy shrooms kick in and everyone starts gathering to leave. While we drink, we talk about really important things, such as amoebas we like, and some we don’t like. For instance, Blondie doesn’t like the Tall One, but I find him fascinating. I tell her that he reminds me of my father. She says “Shut up!” I, like her, like all of us, don’t have a father.
“Those ideas you gather on the Feeding Ground,” she says, “they’ll never be your life, Amee. Don’t be like that girl we don’t like. The food is not our world.”
She’s right. The food that we eat is the words of another world, and, while we eat, we can read the stories and dream of the lives of the organisms that wrote these words. We have to remember that their world is not our world, though. It is only a strange, ethereal dream we have to enter as we gather the words for our nightly feast.
The girl we don’t like follows the group around and tries to pick up what we leave behind, which isn’t much. If she can get one of us to listen to her, she tells lies, and we don’t know why. Blondie and I dedicate a portion of our pre-party to the various reasons why she is a parasite.
These are the rules of being an Amoeba:
★ Everybody has to work together to create delicious meals that proffer good dreams. If you work alone, you eat filth, and you dream nightmares.
★ Whoever thought of the idea first owns it, unless they can’t execute it, in which case the owner is the amoeba who makes it happen.
★ Some amoebas can get away with anything, if they are really important or if lots of other amoebas like them.
★ We will always dream when we eat, no matter what we eat. It’s part of our digestive process: we must break down the story of the components as well as the matter of the components as well. But it’s up to us to find good food and good dreams, which is why we came up from the chasm to the coral reef and the feeding grounds, so instead of eating garbage and death we can eat pure words, and create our own dreams.
★ We can use our imaginations to evolve, wear clothes, have body parts, whatever we think we should dream about ourselves we can have, but it has to be our own dreams to be true. We can dream of easy things ourselves: clothes and more bendable pods, sometimes even body parts, are the easiest. But we never knew of families before we dreamed, which is why we don’t have parents or siblings. Though we are individuals, each of us, the truth is that each is a twin of a twin of a twin. A set of DNA created at one specific point of time with one emotion and one purpose, and this is the amoeba that we are. We can look to others for guidance but no one is really smarter or wiser or even older. We grow, we split, we arrive. That’s it.
★ If you’re in a pack, you have to stay with the pack. It’s not easy sometimes, but it’s safer. Loose amoebas can get eaten by . . . . well, anything. Or swept up in a big wave and be totally separated from everybody else. So it’s better just to go along with your pack and stay with your pack.
★ Every amoeba dies.
Our friends, Olga and Quiny, come by and say it’s time to go out already, everyone’s going to the Feeding Ground and Blondie and I have to come too. Blondie is ready to go, and so am I – they always go out and everyone always has to go (everyone, except for, of course, that one girl that nobody likes.) So Blondie gets her heavy bag and her green coat and I’m in my black jacket.
We go wait outside with everyone else until everyone is ready to go. It takes a long time for everyone to get ready, because once we’re all together we have to move in orderly, circular fashions, greeting each other in groups of two, three, four, six and so
until someone asks why we are waiting
and someone says that we’re waiting for you to go,
and then we say let’s go,
and then we go.
*Let’s go! Everybody is 26 of us, including me, (Amee) and Blondie, there is Charlie, Dekar, Eugey, Franz, Gilbert, Hardy, Isme, Jobie, Kelli, Lara, Margot, Nettie, Olga, Padraig, Quiny, Ronna, Stella, the Tall One, Una, Vasily, Willowbee, Xing, Yvonne and Zeke. You should hang out with us some time.
*Let’s go! We have to take the jet stream to get to the Feeding Ground. We’re not the only ones traveling through the water. Some of the packs don’t look too tough, and we’re riding along, gossiping as usual about who’s been drinking the most and who’s been eating the most, when Jobie, one of the popular girls, stops talking. There’s a whole gang from the pseudopod pack riding right behind us. The pseudopods look rough, but we think it’s just a big delusion on their part.
The guys in our pack start scoping out the pseudopods, because they know the pseudopods are scoping us. The girls in our group are making furtive glances, the girls in their group are glaring at us as we have no good reason to be in the stream at all. One of the guys in our group steps a little too close to them, and we begin to fight – that is to say, there’s great gnashing of mandibles and twirling of tentacles. Nobody hits anybody until Xing tosses an old plankton spore in the pseudopod’s general direction. They rush at us. We outnumber them, but cell by cell they out-weigh us three times over.
Blondie and I are yelling and heckling, grabbing random garbage that’s floating in the stream to throw at the girls, but Jobie and the other popular girls are standing aside quietly, letting the guys in the group just show off. We’re not really fighting over territory or food or anything. We’re all just energized and ready to explode into the night. I look at Blondie and her ocelloid is wide like the ocean. I think mine are too – I’m taking in more light than I was before the fight got started.
Just as things start to look good, a pack of Krill boys come in and basically break up the fight, also running off with several of the pseudopod girls. No losses on our end. Maybe they shouldn’t have gotten so inflated.
***Let’s go! We get off at Flotsam’s, our favorite noshing place to go before we hit the Feeding Ground. There’s other packs there, but Flotsam’s is neutral territory. There’s plenty to drink here and loud beats and waves. Jobie and Lara get drunk very fast and hit the dance floor, somehow managing to stay on their cilia in ways I could never achieve. They are also dressed up and fully made-up in ways that I could never figure out – mitochondria nicely colored with lipstick and blush – and their ocelliods perfectly lined. Every time I try to put eyeliner on my ocelliod it melts through the night all over my plasma and just looks tired and dirty.
Every pack has to contribute their own music. We yodel and stomp our feet and clap, chanting Obas got the ground, no one else around, Obas got the pass, Obas are on task, Obas Obas hit the ground, Obas Obas all around, and then we dance in circles, first in one big one, and then breaking off into smaller and smaller groups. I’m starting to feel the slimy shrooms really kick in now. I have a strange desire to stare into everyone’s ocelloid. Blondie’s feeling the shrooms too. She’s singing louder, waving her cilia, but also looking around, with sort of a confused look on her face. When we break into smaller groups I follow her, and she accidentally joins another pack in their dance and song, which she doesn’t know, but she’s trying to follow along anyway. They look at us and whisper, “Where did the stow-aways come from?” and I get self-conscious and drag her back to our group.
We’re supposed to go to the Feeding Ground soon. I’m starting to wonder when it’s going to happen, and I overhear “the Feeding Ground,” in whispers and snippets of conversation. Even in my drugged-out state I start to sweat and salivate. Then Willowbee comes up to me and Blondie and leans in, not wanting the organisms in the other packs to hear. “The Ground, five minutes, you better be ready.” I say “We’ve been ready.” Blondie nods her head, then says “What are we talking about?”
Pretty soon everybody’s buzzing about, and Blondie and I go outside. Of course, then we have to mill about again, until Jobie says “It’s now or never, the drain’s going to open in the park.” We break from a circle to a long line, cillia in cillia to stay together, there’s so many other packs and organisms here, and the Obas in front are moving fast. I keep my eye on the Tall One as we walk. He does remind me of my father, or I should say, someone that was someone else’s father: a father I read about on the Feeding Ground. He keeps his back to me the whole time, he has no idea how I feel, and he never will. He’s part of the popular crowd, the group that tells us where to go and what to do, and while we have to hang out with them all the time, they never really talk to me or Blondie that much.
We swim quickly past huge coral outcrops to the Feeding Ground, and then we have to push past so many other packs with their own chants and stories to get to the plateau. The noise is so loud we have to yell into each other’s ears to be heard. There’s organisms from all over the reef here – we hear native accents as well as drawls from the west and pops from the north.
As we swim past a group of organisms from the tide pools who are really lost, I almost lose sight of the Tall One. Blondie is way ahead of me, walking with Quiny and telling him about the shrooms we took and how she just wants to experience everything, everything in the world.
She is so happy and loving the trip. I don’t know how she could be having so much fun – my body feels almost paralysed with fear, and the signs around us bounce to their own rhythm as we walk. We finally get to the plateau – just in time. The other packs are chanting up a frenzy and Everyone is starting to dance again. Even though I’m tired, I dance too. We all dance, and we beat together in the salty ocean, and we celebrate the waves and the stars and noise and the night.
A grand wave opens, and the dance and the song changes as the words pour out on us. Some of the packs that are too close to the drain get washed away by all the mashed up sentences and even some paragraphs and chunky, bulbous block quotes. The drain is thick tonight with academic offal as well as the usual porn, prose and poetry. We get to work, nabbing at the words with our cilia and chanting occasionally to communicate. I’ve been going after the T words this month, and the water is ripe with them. Plenty of tit, but also titular and transcendental. Torrid and tangled make their way into my pockets, and then I come across what must be a page out the dictionary, and I mop up talionic, taffeta, tabasco and taboo. Also tactual, taction, taffrail, tacenda, tabernacle, tabloidese, and tabification. Blondie’s going for the q words, a tough group, but she’s actually had a time of it and is folding all the letters of quintessential to fit into her bag. We’re there for hours, gathering away. A few times we join together to break apart the block quotes, scraping down the sentences to get every last thus and therefore. As time passes the drain slows to a trickle and we regroup to count our words and string them into sentences and stories. We form a tight circle and wrap our cilia around each other to hang the words, which we release one by one, slowly weaving together the a’s and the’s and with’s and other’s, seasoned with punctuation that we always carry pinned to our jackets. Jobie and Willowbee are carefully noting who’s brought what, and if any words are left out. Quiny and Kelli and Lara argue over the best use of the word apodictic, and as a group we have to rework an entire chapter to fit it in, but, in the end, we get it, and Charlie leans over to tell me that the Tabasco was a good find. In the end our cilia are full of rope, a glistening quilt of anecdote and article. “Bon Appetit!” says Lara, and we devour through our skins, careful to savor even the scraps of letters twisted into the molecules before they float away.
When we eat, we dream. We have no choice. As we consume the words, they consume us. It’s delicious, although sometimes the dreams can be very sad. Everyone else is absorbed with a tale of a magical boy who goes to a hidden school and discovers that Jesus Christ was actually married to Mary Magdalene, which leads him on a whirlwind adventure with a teenager named Bella and her incredibly sexy but mostly abusive vampire boyfriend. We all agree that it makes for a fine dessert.
My plate has a chapter about a girl on a study abroad trip who spends an evening in the bathtub, smoking cigarette after cigarette, because she thinks she’s flunking her literature class, but realizes with terror that she doesn’t care at all. It’s dense and philosophical: a hearty existential entry that I encourage the others to taste.
But as I take up the last vowel I get a very weird dream: I dream of myself, standing with my group, just as we are now, but there are different words hanging on our coded ropes when there’s a great tripping and tugging, and my cilia are ripped from my body and flung into the ocean and I’m standing there, limbless and shocked, while my pack gawks at me. “They will grow back,” they moan, hopeful, but the nightmare ends before they do, and I rub my cilia when I come back to reality and blame the terrible vision on the shrooms.
We start packing up the leftovers, washing up the commas and periods for next time, and then we get on the jet stream, when the girl we don’t like shows up. Apparently she came along with Ronna and Stella, who are rolling their eyes at everything she says. She’s been following along about three steps behind them this whole time, and now she’s sniffing around our leftovers, complaining that she was allergic to the words in the stream. If we could give her a taste of our food she’d feel a lot better. Blondie and I put our food deep in her bag and then hold up our hands and say “Sorry, there’s nothing left.” She sighs and pouts and screams at Jobie, who ignores her and turns her back to talk to the Tall One. She turns back to me and says “That Jobie is so mean!”
I sort of nod and turn back to Blondie – I actually want to agree with her. Jobie can be very cruel at times. But saying so in front of Jobie would be very rude. And publicly agreeing with the girl that nobody likes would make me look like a parasite too.
We all decide we need to drink more, and head back to Flotsam’s to sit in the booths and gossip and flirt with the other groups.
Flotsam’s has calmed down a little bit, everybody’s tired from the scavenge but nobody’s quite done for the night. Other groups are chanting lullabies to each other, and the sounds melt into a blissful drone occasionally punctuated with a lazy ripple. We get to the point where Jobie and Willowbee announce who’s gathered the most and who’s getting the longest sentences. I’m ranked one of the lowest, but Eugey, who’s pretty much in charge of transitions between the panels and plates makes a note that the large words I gathered were not only unique but also useful. Charlie, one of the popular guys, just shakes his head. He always gathers the most, and he and Willowbee think that anyone who’s not keeping up with them should be left at home. Dekar leans over and says “You guys, she did a good job. We’ve got more than enough the’s and then’s to last a lifetime. You gotta get over the stupid quotas.” Eugey agrees with him and Jobie smiles at me, and then moves on to the next order of business, which I’m not even listening to. I’m pretty nervous about the gathering because I certainly don’t want to get left behind like the girl that we don’t like. Sometimes I’m afraid that nobody in this group really likes me. Blondie’s been talking to Quiney all night since I dragged her away from that other pack, and I can’t believe I ranked so low in my word count. I thought I was gathering as fast as everybody else.
At the end of Jobie and Willowbee’s talk, I’m feeling pretty nauseated, and I decide to go home on my own. The jet stream is still running, but it won’t be for much longer, and it seems like everybody else is going to stay until it’s time to walk home. Blondie’s been hanging out with Quiney since we got into Flotsam’s, and nobody else is talking to me.
I go over to Blondie and I tell her I have to go. She looks up at me, very hurt that I would just leave like that. I tell her I’m not having any fun, I don’t even know where I am any more, but I want to take the jet stream home now, and I’ll be okay. We’re not supposed to go out on our own, alone. It’s too dangerous. She tells me to stay just a little bit longer, but I can’t, I just can’t. “I’m jetting” I tell her and I take off, just leaving her there.
I walk out of Flotsam’s and float over to the jet stream, with crowds of others who are taking the last stream home. I’m really embarrassed to be so drunk and high, and the stream is packed so I have to stand. Everywhere I look there’s an ocelloid staring back at me. There’s bubbles everywhere and it feels really bright after the darkness of Flotsam’s and the Feeding Ground. Even in the reflection there are ocelloids and they burn into my nuclei. When I get to my station I am so tired I just stop and sit on a bench for a minute, letting the waves pass over me for I don’t know how long.
When I left the chasm with this group, it was because I wanted to travel. I’ve always wanted to see the world, especially after meeting organisms who talked about the Feeding Ground, the tide pools, and large shredding centers with so much scratch paper that you could just eat forever and ever. But now we’ve been here for a year or so and I’m starting to think about the other worlds out there. Perhaps I’m not really fitting in with this group after all. I’ve noticed that things that really excite me don’t always thrill them. All in all, I’ve got this “settled” feeling that’s starting to bother me, just like it did when we lived in the chasm. We go to the Flotsam’s and the Feeding Ground every single night, and all the popular kids are really happy to have the same experiences every single time. It’s a group of organisms just obsessed with getting drunk and high and working the same boring job night after night, and I think I’m just getting obsessed along with them because I don’t know what else to do with my life.
Only Blondie and my roommates know that I picked up a travel book on freshwater deltas last week. I want to travel again, by myself, but I’m so scared to do it alone. The ocean is vast and I’m just one tiny amoeba who’s always felt lonely, even when I’m part of a group. What am I supposed to do on the other side of the world, where they eat characters instead of letters?
I don’t know how long I am sitting there when Hardy shows up, but all of a sudden he’s leaning into my nuclei, shaking my plasma and trying to get me to snap out of my daze.
“Are you okay, Amee?” He asks with concern.
I stare at him. I barely recognize him. I think I was only sitting here for a few seconds when he just came out of nowhere. Perhaps it was longer than I thought. How long was I just sitting here? I must have been really high. I look around me, the darkened ocean spot where I landed, full of coral debris and arrows for noshing spots and the occasional plankton idling by on a breathy current, and I know that I have to wake up.
He takes me by the cilia and walks me home, talking to me sweetly as we stumble along. “What’s with you tonight?” he asks. I tell him about the slimy shrooms and he just smiles and asks me how long I was sitting there, but I don’t even know. I must have been really high. I decide I probably shouldn’t get that high again, but I know that Blondie won’t stop getting shrooms, and I’ll eat them again with her.
Hardy smiles at me but I know he’s thinking I’m pretty pathetic. But that’s just how things are. The popular kids control everything, there’s smart kids and fast kids and great kids and then there’s Blondie who’s just crazy and me who could be smart if I didn’t drink so much, and Hardy of course who’d be popular, but he’s not, because some people still think he’s too different.
So Hardy and I get some coffee and slowly, the world stops bouncing along. Finally the shrooms are wearing off and I’m so grateful. Hardy and I are talking about the stories that we’ve eaten the past year, and the stories we’re going to eat next year, and the boys in other packs that he’s been talking to.
We hear the chanting in the distance – the Obas are going back to the Feeding Ground, and they want Hardy and me to rejoin them. Hardy asks me if I’m ready to go and I say “yes.”
We both order shots of fermented algae – we have to get ready to go again. Our words slur into each other as we swiftly walk back to the Feeding Ground. We’re both smiling and laughing when we get there. We’re hungry again. Charlie says “look who’s here!” when he sees us, and I kiss Blondie on her plasma and ask her if she’s excited, and she says yes.
Just like always.
From the Editor:
We hope that readers receive In Parentheses as a medium through which the evolution of human thought can be appreciated, nurtured and precipitated. It will present a dynamo of artistic expression, journalism, informal analysis of our daily world, entertainment of ideas considered lofty and criticism of today’s popular culture. The featured content does not follow any specific ideology except for that of intellectual expansion of the masses.
Founded in late 2011, In Parentheses prides itself upon analysis of the current condition of intelligence in the minds of these young people, and building a hypothesis for one looming question: what comes after Post-Modernism?
The idea for this magazine stems from a simple conversation regarding the aforementioned question, which drew out the need to identify our generation’s place in literary history.
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