Mystery Underground
Real Heroes Read!

Deep Green Sea

Pensacola, Florida
September 9, 3:45 pm

Emma Garland stared at the Gulf of Mexico from the backseat of her family’s minivan. The Gulf’s normally brilliant green waters were dreary and black.

“What’s up with the water?” she asked her parents in the front of the van.

“It sure is gloomy,” Mrs. Garland agreed.

Mr. Garland chuckled in the driver’s seat. “Don’t worry, ladies. The hurricane just stirred up the Gulf a little. It’ll settle back down in a day or so.”

“I hope you’re right,” Emma said. “It looks nasty.”

This region of Florida was called the Emerald Coast. The water along its sandy white beaches was usually bright and tinted green. The nickname had been given to the area in 1983 by a junior high school student. A contest had been held to invent a slogan for the area to attract more tourists.

“Da-da-da-da!” Emma’s baby sister Dora cooed in the car seat next to her. The eleven-month-old couldn’t talk yet, but that didn’t stop her from trying. Or from making a lot of noise.

“That’s right, honey,” Mr. Garland said in his best baby voice. “Daddy will keep you safe from the hurricane monster.”

Dora squealed, grinning from ear to ear.

“How much farther?” Emma asked.

“About fifteen minutes,” Mrs. Garland replied patiently. She had already answered the same question half a dozen times during the five-hour drive.

“Good!” Emma said with relief. “I can’t wait to get out and stretch. I think every part of me is asleep.”

“Let’s just hope that Hurricane Hillary didn’t blow away our house,” Mr. Garland joked. “She was a big bad wolf filled with hot air.”

“That’s not funny,” Mrs. Garland frowned.

Mr. Garland turned in his seat to wink at Emma. To his wife, he said, “Alright, alright. I’m sure the house is okay. The hurricane was barely a category two. Mean old Hillary tried to take over the world, but she wasn’t strong enough.”

“Well, she was strong enough to force us to leave town for a couple days,” Mrs. Garland corrected.

“Yes, dear, she sure was,” he agreed. “Hillary chased us all the way to Grouchy Glenda’s house.”

“Hey!” Emma piped up. “Grandma Glenda isn’t grouchy!”

Mr. Garland laughed. “That’s quite a tongue twister.”

“At least we were safe and sound,” Mrs. Garland said.

Three days ago the Garlands had fled their home. Hurricane Hillary had been raging toward the northwestern panhandle of Florida where they lived. The family had taken refuge at Emma’s grandmother’s house in Crawfordville. Now that the weather had cleared, they were headed home.

“I’m just glad we had somewhere to go,” Emma said. “But I’ll be even gladder to get home.”

“Florida can have fierce weather,” Mrs. Garland said. “It has more storms than any other state.” She meant especially during hurricane season, which lasted from June through November.

“That’s true,” Mr. Garland cut in. “But I’ll take a tropical storm over a blizzard any day. I don’t know how people survive in the snow. Maybe they’re part polar bear.”

Honnnnkkkk!

Blaring its horn, a big SUV whipped past going the other way. Its headlights flashed crazily. The vehicle’s front bumper and hood were drenched with a dripping, shiny green substance as if they had been peppered by paintball guns.

Mr. Garland slowed, swerving to avoid the careening SUV. “Whoa! What’s that guy’s problem?”

“Maybe he’s trying to tell us something,” Mrs. Garland suggested. “That’s the first car we’ve seen in a long time. There could be trouble up ahead.”

“Yeah, trouble if I catch that driver,” Mr. Garland huffed. “I’ll bet it was some high school punk trying to act tough in front of his friends.”

“I don’t know,” Mrs. Garland worried. “Please be careful.”

Mr. Garland grunted. “Hey, Emma, did you see the green stuff all over that SUV? It looked like a monster sneezed on it.”

Emma giggled. “Yeah, Dad, it was a real booger-mobile.”

“A snot-rod!” he laughed.

“A green-machine!”

“Enough!” Mrs. Garland snapped. “Really, you two, booger jokes? You’re setting a bad example for the baby.”

The family remained quiet for only seconds. Then Dora chirped happily. Who knew, maybe she liked booger jokes. The Garlands shared a long laugh.

Emma quieted when she gazed out the window again. Seeing the dark water affected her mood, and her thoughts drifted gloomily.

What if the people in the SUV really had been trying to warn them about something? What if the green slime on the vehicle hadn’t been paint? What if it had been something worse? Something alien? In all the stories she had heard, aliens were supposed to be green.

“Hey, Dad?” she asked softly. “Where is everyone else?”

Mr. Garland had slowed the minivan to a crawl. A trio of parked cars sat diagonally in the road. Two of the vehicles had their doors wide open. Their drivers and passengers were nowhere in sight.

“And what are those cars doing in the middle of the road?” Emma wondered nervously.

Mr. Garland exhaled slowly. “I’m not sure where everyone is. Maybe they haven’t come home yet.” He cautiously nosed the minivan around the abandoned vehicles. “As for these cars, well, they were probably blown around by the hurricane.”

“But you said the hurricane wasn’t that strong,” Emma reminded him.

“Hmm, that’s true,” he admitted. “It wasn’t. Strange.”

Mrs. Garland turned and placed a hand on Emma’s knee. “Don’t worry, honey. I’m sure there’s a perfectly good explanation for what’s going on.”

But Emma could tell from her mother’s voice that she was worried. All of the Emerald Coast had become a ghost town. There were no other people anywhere.

Downtown Pensacola, their hometown, looked abandoned. More empty vehicles filled the streets. Businesses, homes, and government buildings remained boarded up against the hurricane. Palm trees, mailboxes, roof shingles, and garbage littered every yard and sidewalk. The city looked like the aftermath of a zombie apocalypse.

“Home sweet home,” Mr. Garland announced, pulling into their driveway.

“Good thing our house didn’t blow away,” Mrs. Garland said with obvious relief.

“Good thing we didn’t blow away,” Emma said. “We might be the only people that didn’t.”

“Bah, quit worrying,” Mr. Garland countered. “We’ll find everyone. It’ll be the greatest game of hide-n-seek ever.”

Mr. and Mrs. Garland climbed out of the minivan and gratefully stretched their cramped muscles. Emma, however, barely paused. She scrambled out of her seat, dashed into the house, and flipped a switch in the entryway. Light flooded the room.

“We have power!” she cheered. Next she checked the TV in the living room. It turned on but the picture was fuzz. None of the channels worked.

“No TV though,” she sighed.

“The cable must be down,” Mr. Garland said, entering the house with luggage under both arms. “That’s not unusual after a storm. I’m surprised the lights work.”

Emma slunk onto the couch. “This stinks,” she griped. She raised her cellphone to her ear. “Maybe Layla’s home.”

Mrs. Garland, holding Dora on her hip, said, “The house phone doesn’t work either. It’s making an awful sound.”

“Does it sound like crackling static?” Emma asked.

“Exactly,” Mrs. Garland nodded. “How did you know?”

“My cell is making the same noise.”

Smiling, Mr. Garland came inside with another load of luggage. “Mystery solved! I saw some people down the street. It looks like they’re lined up outside of city hall.”

“Thank goodness,” Mrs. Garland said. “I didn’t want to say anything, but I was a little worried.”

“I set up the stroller,” he said. “Do you girls want to take a walk and see what’s going on?”

“That would be nice,” Mrs. Garland smiled. “I could use some exercise after being in the car so long.”

“Do I have to go?” Emma asked. “I don’t want to leave. We just got here.”

Her parents shared a quick look and they both nodded.

“Sure, you can stay here,” Mrs. Garland said. “But don’t change your mind and leave. We won’t be gone long.”

With no TV or phone service, Emma tried the internet. No luck there either. She was limited to playing Angry Birds on her cell. This might really be the zombie apocalypse!

An hour later, Mr. and Mrs. Garland hadn’t returned and Emma started to worry. She stepped outside to peer down the street. Were her parents chatting with neighbors outside city hall?

Eerie silence greeted her outdoors. No birds chirped, angry or otherwise. Emma felt utterly alone. She crept to the end of the driveway and looked apprehensively left. City hall stood at the end of the block, but not a single person stood in front of it.

Was she really alone?

A furtive movement flickered in her peripheral vision. She gasped and jerked her head toward it. There was nothing there.

“H-hello?” she called.

Seemingly in response, a pitter-patter skittered across sidewalk behind her. She whipped around but saw nothing again.

“What’s going on?” she demanded, becoming angry. “Who’s there?”

Now she spotted it. Near a car parked half-in and half-out of the neighbor’s driveway. Something green scurried out from behind the driver’s side rear tire.

Emma screamed. It was a jellyfish. A jellyfish creeping across dry land on thirty wiggly tentacles. Its umbrella-shaped body was as big as a coconut and bright green like the waters along the Emerald Coast normally were.

Frozen in place, Emma screamed again. How was this happening? Jellyfish didn’t walk on land! They were marine animals. They lived in the ocean.

As the impossible jellyfish approached, Emma detected a faint crackling noise. It sounded like the static she had heard on the TV and on her cell phone. The noise increased as the jellyfish scuttled nearer. Emma didn’t wait to hear more. She ran. Her parents were in city hall. They would be able to explain what was going on.

To her alarm, the jellyfish slithered after her. It moved with incredible speed and its tentacles lashed at her ankles like tiny whips. The little green brute was trying to grab her!

The garbage can seemed to appear out of nowhere. Emma tripped over it at full speed, falling with her arms out. Luckily she hit the pavement and rolled onto her back. At the same time, she grabbed the closest weapon she could find.

The lid to the garbage can.

She lifted her eyes in time to see the jellyfish launch itself into the air like a jungle cat. It was flying straight at her face! Screaming again, Emma raised the lid to shield herself and turned her head. Splat!

The jellyfish rammed into the lid and burst like an overfilled water balloon. Emerald green slime splattered the area like a skit on a Nickelodeon TV show.

“Just like the SUV!” she gasped.

She realized then that the SUV she and her family had seen had been trying to warn them. Its bumper and hood had been covered in jellyfish goo.

Trying not to scream again, Emma scrambled to her feet and started to run. The now-familiar pitter-patter of jellyfish followed her. More jellies poured out of doorways, parachuted off rooftops, and scampered out from under vehicles. All of them shared a single mission.

Get the human!

Emma ran like never before. The mass of jellyfish behind her swept forward like a giant green tidal wave. The static sound crackled loudly in the air and the jellies seemed to glow electrically.

“Almost there!” Emma told herself. She was twenty feet from city hall.

In her panic, she didn’t notice that the windows in the building also glowed green. City hall looked as if it belonged in the Emerald City from The Wizard of Oz.

Emma ducked through the glass double doors and slammed them shut. Emerald jellies smacked sickeningly into the glass. Some of them exploded in showers of slime. Others suction-cupped against the surface of the glass and flailed their tentacles angrily.

“Mom, Dad-—help!” Emma cried, spinning wildly in search of her parents.

The hall was packed with people—young and old, male and female. Emma recognized many of their faces. They used to belong to her friends and neighbors.

Now they belonged to the jellyfish.

With glowing green eyes, the people in city hall wore jellyfish on their heads like bonnets. The jellyfish’s slippery tentacles clung to their necks and shoulders.

“What’s happening?!” Emma wailed. The scene in the hall was worse than she had ever imagined.

She whirled, intending to flee. Better to face the jellies outside than the zombie people inside. Her family barred her escape. They wore jellyfish on their heads and their emerald eyes blazed.

Worst of all, little Dora twitched and then blinked at Emma from her stroller. The jellyfish on the baby’s head flashed with a wicked green light.

“Join us, Emma,” Dora said in an awful voice like static. “It only hurts for a moment.”

Emma fell to her knees, horrified. The baby that couldn’t speak had spoken. If the jellyfish could do that to a baby, what would they do to her?


The End.
Thanks for reading!

Copyright © 2013 Sigil Publishing, Inc.
All rights reserved.


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