Once a jellyfish got caught in the riptides of the mind. Its entire life, the jellyfish had contentedly drifted from one place and one experience to another without giving any of them much thought. Currents came and currents went, and the jellyfish floated along as if each was the same as all the others. A state of blissful drift, not a cloud in the sky or in the mind either—what creature wouldn’t give itself up to luxuriating in that? No ups, no downs, no surprises, hardly a ripple really in the long smooth tides that bore the jellyfish from one day into the next. Life was good. At least this life was. So good the jellyfish must be the envy of others the world around. Given half a chance, which of them wouldn’t have changed places with it, eagerly and without a second thought? Not one, the jellyfish smiled in tingling self-satisfaction, imagining a sea of gelatinous longing spread out in the moonlight as far as the horizon. Imagining the same in the sunlight brought another tingle. And then more still in the moonlight again. So pleased was the jellyfish with its lot that it barely noticed the first, ever-so-faint pull at the far tip of a tentacle. Nor did it give the unaccustomed sensation much thought. Trifling shifts in an otherwise serene existence were bound to occur when good fortune allowed one to drift along without a care. Or so the jellyfish told itself; until it felt another tug, that is, this time on a different tentacle and more insistent. Then another. At which point the jellyfish went absolutely nuts. Its first reaction was to flail out with every tentacle at this most unwelcome development. On the rare occasions when its world had been even slightly disturbed in the past, the venom from a single stinger had been quite enough to set all things right again in an instant. And then its carefree drift could continue as if nothing had happened to call it into question. Until now. Now was not as things should be. Something must have slipped in the appointed order of the universe or in the jellyfish’s unquestioned role as master of its carefree center, or both. And the shock of that abrupt change, the inexplicable, unjust nature of such a turn, brought utter turmoil to the mental faculties of the jellyfish. Sudden disquiet veered just as suddenly to the worst: was this the beginning of the end, the jellyfish gasped? It couldn’t say for sure, but change was change, was it not, and any reversal of the free and easy life must necessarily and rapidly suck one with it into the abyss, into chaos and the end of everything. Never again would the jellyfish know inner calm! Never again enjoy freedom from quivering dread! A nightmarish unknown yawned open to receive it, each increase in depth more darkly terrifying than the last, and by a factor of ten! Aspin in the maelstrom of its panic, the jellyfish felt itself buffeted from every side and flattened, tumbled, twisted into contorted extremes, drawn thin to the point of fainting one second and the next snapped back just as far into jangled panic. What scant shape there’d been to its thinking beyond an unexamined faith in the absolute rightness of jellyfishdom was all but beaten to a squishy pulp. With one exception: the venomous sting of a contentment denied. Normally ranged against any and all outside threats to the jellyfish’s self-assurance, countless doses still stood ready to be triggered, only now they were aimed at lethal cross-purposes. Could its very confidence in everything it had taken for granted about the whys and wherefores of its life prove its undoing? No rest for the jellyfish, ever again. Not when every day, every hour, every minute, every second could be its last. Swept under by the riptides of the mind, where nothing you’d come to count on can save you, least of all from yourself.
Copyright © 2011 by Geoffrey Grosshans