‘Every Quivering Fold of Flesh’, Jennifer R. Donohue

Illustrations © 2022 L.E. Badillo

 [ Girls' night, © 2022 L.E. Badillo ] Stevie quit the cheerleading squad and she didn’t want to talk about it. Carly couldn’t drag it out of her, and Brett didn’t try. They stayed at the beach longer than the rest of the kids, not invited to the cool parties anymore, nowhere else to go. What were they going to do, sit home and study? Do homework? Beach parties were a thing you did, not because you wanted to, but because you felt compelled. It was a ritual from before. Before when, nobody much wondered. And even with the giant mystery thing washed up just a few feet away, there was nowhere better to be.

When it washed up on the beach, the news said these things tend to be giant squid, or whales, or blobfish. To the locals, it didn’t look like it was the right color for any of those things, gray-green and vaguely warted like a cucumber, but it’s what they said on the news. Whales had bones, though, and so did fish. And squid, at least one big long flat bone, and a beak. This vast mound of flesh, inclined to quiver, had none of those things.

Scientists came from the local university and took samples, and left again.

It was a marvel, a spectacle, but it was not beautiful to look upon. It wasn’t a breathtaking wonder of nature; it was something that people didn’t want to look away from, in case it did something.

It was haunting in its simplicity. Bulbous, with long trailing parts which might once have been tentacles, but they were too long, it was too bulbous. It was too big.

And it didn’t decompose. And the sea birds didn’t pick at it with their sharp beaks. The crabs didn’t tear ragged bits from its underbelly with their claws. The flies didn’t come. The town talked about hauling it off, or blowing it up, but everybody had seen that unfortunate internet video, and so council members argued themselves in circles that would last for months. The thing stayed on the beach. The caution tape staked around it shredded apart in the wind, was picked apart by sea creatures building nests, and finally the beach parties started again, when the thing didn’t react, didn’t change, after the summer ended and fall began its slide into winter.

Two six packs of cheap beer later, when they were the only three left, Brett took off her dad’s old jacket and climbed the blob, Carly standing on the sand below her yelling, “What are you doing?” She was laughing but it wasn’t funny. Except it was. Stevie drank another beer, staring at the fire.

It was surprisingly firm. Dry, despite how it looked, and wobbly like a stress toy or pudding with the skin grown over it. Brett’s hands and feet sunk in, not enough to break the surface and release whatever was inside, but enough that it was like climbing a hulking slug made of slackened memory foam.

She reached the top, or at least the part of it positioned skyward, and found a wound there, or a mouth. She thought a wound, maybe even what ended up killing it in the first place. It was hard to tell, even with the full moon reflected off the ocean and the stars a prom night scatter above. Maybe it just suffocated on the beach. Maybe it died of a broken heart. And it smelled… delicious?

“Hey Stevie do you have your knife?” Brett called over the edge.


“Well, come up here. I found something.”

Stevie climbed up slowly, so slowly Brett almost went down for her. “What do you need my knife for?” she asked once on top of the thing, breath rapid and cheap-beery.

“Do you smell that?”

Stevie made a face, and Brett held up her hand. Stevie sighed, looked around a little, sniffing. “Yeah, actually. What is that?”

“I think it’s coming from here.”

Stevie crouched down and pushed her bangs out of her eyes, looked at the area. “Get out your phone so I can see?” Brett did, and Stevie pried at the blob a little with her knife. It was a place that looked like a cutaway of a planet from a textbook, or like a shrink-wrapped block of something in a deli case. “This is wild.”

“What are you doing?” They’d almost forgotten Carly.

“Just wait a minute!” Brett yelled back, bending to look at the cut open place again. “Do you think we can eat it? I kind of want to eat it.” Stevie didn’t answer for a long time, and Brett wondered if this was when she’d find out what happened.

“This is really weird, but yeah, I want to eat it too.”

They looked at each other in the moonlight and the too-bright phone flashlight, and Brett shrugged and laughed. Whatever, right? “Well let’s cut some up and roast it over the fire.”

They cut burger sized slices and slid down the side of the thing. They wiped off the metal spikes somebody brought for marshmallows and stuck the meat slices over the flames.

“This is crazy,” Carly said, but she did it too. She was that kind of friend, the one who said we’re gonna get in trouble even as she held your shoes to climb the fence. Even as she was lookout for store security while you shoplifted. Even when she was your study alibi when really you went to make out with your boyfriend for an evening. “But how will we know when it’s done?”

Brett considered the possible options. What were they going to get, salmonella? Botulism? Some kind of weird ocean sickness? Ooh, parasites. “We’ll just have to guess,” she said.

Carly just shrugged.

“That’s gotta be long enough,” Stevie said after awhile, looking back and forth between them.

“You just don’t want to go first.” Brett pulled her meat out of the fire, examined it. It smelled like the best meal she could ever imagine, and at first it was too hot to pull off the stick. She waved it around and tried again, taking a respectable bite, chewing, swallowing, all in a rush in case it was actually terrible. But no. No, it tasted more delicious than it smelled. “Shit, it’s amazing.” She kept eating.

The others hesitated, Carly trying to eat it and stopping before it reached her lips several times, Stevie chowing down. Finally Carly did it, a smile spreading across her face. “Okay, yeah, this is the best thing I’ve ever eaten.”

Brett stretched, dropping her metal skewer in the sand. It was late, long after midnight, but she felt alert. Alive. Strong. Not drunk at all anymore. It seemed like she could hear so much, all the sudden. The nuances of the whispering waves, the flap of winged things hunting in the night, prowling cats. Somebody flushing a toilet in one of the houses near the beach.

She felt powerful.

They stood looking at each other, eyes taking their own light, phosphorescent in the night, brighter than the embers of the dying fire. Their feet were on the ground but they floated in the air, and as one they left the beach and went into the dark streets nearby, fingers bent at the ready, shoulders forward, heads turning, listening, seeking. Hunting.

If they had met anybody on the street that night, and been asked what they were doing, how would the girls have answered? Brett didn’t know, waking up the next morning sharp and alert, not cotton mouthed and hungover as had happened so many other times. It was funny that she thought about it at all. Why would she owe anybody answers? She wondered, briefly, what they might have been hunting for, but threw on jeans and a big sweatshirt, stomped into boots, and went out the door. Her mom yelled something after her, but she didn’t even pause. Why had she gone there? She wondered, as though she’d gone to a stranger’s house and stayed the night.

Carly was already at the beach, and Stevie turned up not long after. The morning mist burned off the waves as the sun rose higher. The girls built another small fire and cooked more meat, snapped it down voraciously. Their phones chimed around them, texts, calls, and eventually Stevie looked at hers, laughed. It seemed like it had been forever since they heard her laugh. “It’s a school day,” she said. Like somehow they’d all forgotten, but they had, somehow, all forgotten.

“Oh God, I have a chemistry test.” Carly ran up the sand, but unlike when they ran last night, they were all sluggish, like they were weighed down by the light. They slunk into school, not guilty and hangdog, but like sated predators, like lions which had run down the gazelle and later decided there was a site of interest to visit. The hall monitor lined them up, tried halfheartedly to read them the riot act, because he knew they were good kids. They only looked at him in silent resentment under the humming fluorescent lights, and the monitor let them go with a feeling of unease he couldn’t put a finger on.

They went to class, and though they all sat in different rows, in different rooms, they had a perpetual sense of each other. What they saw, what they heard, what they felt. When they passed in the drift of the halls, only had eyes for each other. When they were called upon to answer questions, their voices came as from a great distance. The dust of the school, of land, was heavy on their skin and in their mouths. When the final bell rang they just walked away, walked out of the school, started running once they were in the parking lot, their hair streaming loose, their thoughts at the beach, on the wind, in the water.

They lolled in the sand, some small fading parts of them wondering that they went to school looking the way they did, in whatever clothes had come to hand, their hair untamed. Wondering that they went to school at all. “It’s past dinnertime,” Stevie said at one point, after the sun had set, the tide come in and gone out again, lapping up near them but not near enough to touch without moving.

“My mom’s gonna have kittens,” Carly said, struggling to her feet. “I had chores to do.” It was mechanical, what it seemed like Carly would say, felt like she would do. She put her hand on the side of the blob, as though this was what anchored them in the world now, not their grades, not their parents, not college applications.

“Maybe Patty did them for you,” Stevie said, brushing off the sand slowly. She was the one who called the time, and she was the one slowest to seem like she wanted to go home.

 [ Porch lights, © 2022 L.E. Badillo ] “Maybe. Only if she wants something.” They laughed but it wasn’t right. Brett thought about that on her way home, kicking rocks down the sidewalk, hesitating just outside the yellow puddled porch light in her yard. She didn’t know how long she stood there, thinking about Stevie and Carly walking up to their houses, their porch lights.

“Brett did you eat?” Her mother pounced the second she came in the door.

“God, Mom. Yes, I ate. Me and Stevie and Carly all ate.”

“What did you have?”

“There was a cookout,” she said. Hardly even a lie. “What’s with the lights? They’re way too bright.” She had a hard time opening her eyes all the way as she took her jacket off and hung it in the front closet.

“Your father got LEDs for everything.” Her mother lowered her voice, conspiratorial. “I don’t like it either. It’s like a bus station when I’m cooking. But they’re supposed to last twenty years and save us electric.”

Brett shrugged. The whole house kind of smelled like a bus station, old grease and salt and funk. “What’d you make?”

“Tuna casserole, which I thought was your favorite. Call next time, okay?”

“I’m gonna go lay down. Sorry I didn’t call, my phone died.”

“Lie down,” her dad said from the living room and his crossword puzzle.

“Whatever. Language changes, Dad!”

He muttered something else, distantly.

She kicked her boots off and went to her room, flopped onto her bed. She thought she’d fall asleep right away, but she didn’t. Smelled the sharp toothpaste and mouthwash odor, and the soft moisturizer one, when her parents got ready for bed.

After the house was quiet, the smells died down, and she was still awake Brett texted Carly. //You awake?//

//WIDE awake. Stevie too//

//You feel okay? My house is too bright.// And the air was too thick, she felt it weighing her hips, her belly, her lungs. Her head.

//And everything smells weird.//

//And tastes bad.//


//Yeah.// Brett let her phone screen go dark, breathing in the night without thinking much of anything, but she was aware of a tidal force, more compelling than anything had ever been. More than her first crush, or wanting that doll so much the Christmas she was five. Like if she tried to ignore this she might die or worse. //Meet you?//

Carly answered immediately. //Yeah. Stevie’s coming too.//


Brett lived closest and had already warmed her fingers on the bonfire by the time the others plopped into the sand with her, even though the fire felt extra. Unnecessary. Her head was clearer already, free of the fug and confusion of how she’d thought and felt at home. Free of expectation. Ready to react. She wasn’t even worried about what. There were no worries, here, where they rested. Where they ate, where they bathed in the moonlight. They felt as though they were enlivened, emboldened. They were becoming who they were supposed to be.

The stars wheeled above them, the tides turned, and the sea birds began their morning songs. “We should—” Stevie started, forever their timekeeper. For the last time, their timekeeper.

“Fuck ’em,” Brett said. They didn’t go to school that day, or ever again. They didn’t go home anymore, and wondered that they had ever gone home in the first place, like spending the night with strangers. They didn’t cook the meat again, but they kept eating it.

Nobody came to the beach that day, or that night. Their phones ran out of juice, the electronic janglings faded, strange and distant already to their ears, inscrutable, and eventually the slim plastic boxes fell to the sand, irrelevant. They heard only the song of the deep now, and the call to feed.

There were no bones in their blob on the beach, only the skin and the rich sweet flesh beneath the skin, and as they ate they grew stronger, faster. Their eyes were trailing lights even when the sun beat down on them, and they burrowed into the sand beneath the blob’s diminishing bulk, slept with limbs and fingers and hair intertwined, sharing each other’s breath, sharing each other’s dreams. They communicated with a sigh and a glance, and plunged into the frigid salt surf when the impulse came upon them, because the cold no longer bothered them, only the dry, only the bright. Only the hunger.

The first sweep of searchers missed them, stapling missing posters to nearby telephone poles, shouting names that no longer had meaning with salt-choked throats. They didn’t come close enough to threaten the blob, ruin everything. All the living things that scavenged and scurried in the night scattered before them, and cats hissed from rooftops, dogs shouted from behind fences, closed doors. Parents woke from troubled dreams and looked out dark windows, seeing nothing but their vague forms mirrored back onto them. Babies cried, inconsolable.

The cheerleading squad and football team came down to have a bonfire, and there was not enough time for them to run when they saw the eyes swim up to them out of the darkness. Only screaming, and then abrupt quiet, and the wet sounds of teeth tearing flesh.

When the search party came again, with so many additions to their litany of names, their prayer of seeking, they found just their hair and bones, their paper bags of beer. They found the girls’ clothes blood-drenched and shed in the sand like old skins, like they had outgrown them, into a new adult stage, and there was nothing else that remained of anybody, or of the blob that had washed up.

© 2022 Jennifer R. Donohue

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