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Bewitching the brine

By Alix McMurrayPublished 6 months ago 8 min read
Credit: TheSP4N1SH via istockphoto standard license


“Shut the hell up, Dofleini, you look like a clown!”

“The people eat this up, Hart, you know it.”

“Yeah, but that doesn’t mean you have to play to it. God, I am so embarrassed right now….”

“Stop being so sanctimonious—lighten up, will you? Let me have some fun for once.”

Dofleini wrapped himself up around the yellow nerf, all his tentacles squeezing around it, bringing it to his mouth. The crowd gasped, thinking he would actually ingest it. “Really? Do they not know I have nine brains?” With a flourish, he ejected the ball with all his might, banging it into Blue Anemone 7 Stage Left.

“Ouch! Bastard!” BA7SL spewed.

“Sorry, man. Just trying to give the people what they want.”

Hart turned away from the glass and looked back at her tide pool. The smell of brine was strangely intoxicating and she felt a bit of a head rush. How close to lunch was it? That venti on an empty stomach was a bad idea. She had left her cell phone in her locker, company policy.

“Dof, what time is it? I’m hungry as shit.”

“What am I, omniscient, Hart? Ha! Oh, yeah, that’s right, I am! Eleven forty-seven.”

“Thank God. I am packing this up right now.” Hart felt for her keys in her left apron pocket, then she locked eyes with a little redheaded kid with a “Future Oceanographers of America” sticker on his shirt. Her heart melted, again. Ouch, indeed.

“It’s just like the stuff in a pickle jar, except for the pickles and vinegar. Here, you can put your hand in and touch them, just be careful, not too rough. Just think of them as cats with claws all over their bodies.”

A beatific smile spread over the little guy’s face as he petted the urchins. So careful and gentle he was for a little boy!

“Dof, hey this one, do you think he’ll make it?”

Dofleini undulated away from the right edge of his enclosure where he was trying to unscrew the lid to a jar to impress a bored looking teenager. Ah, finally! He pulled the lid off and gave it a bit of a spin, so it would carom off for dramatic effect. The teenager met his gaze as he did this, looking startled and strangely respectful, then lumbered off, with one side-eye glance back at the glass.

“Dof, did you hear me? Will the little guy get there?”

Dofleini looked over at the little boy and sighed, his balloon head fluttering sadly. “I know you always root for the underdog, Hart. I get it, so do I. Yeah, he’ll make it through the event, he’s a strong swimmer. But as for protecting the oceans, he will make a donation or two but he’s going into alternative energy, still a worthy thing. But you missed the kid in the hoody. That young fella will save three people later today and then become CEO of a Venezuelan company that turns ocean plastic into building materials. He’ll get the subo, but he’ll recover okay.”

“Well, good to know. Hey, when’s the event, anyway? I want to be prepared.” Hart started shaking, her palms sweating. Maybe the venti and her blood sugar dropping. Maybe the subo kicking her ass again. Or maybe, just maybe, she wasn’t so chill about the event anymore. It was getting closer and closer—how could she not get nervous?

“Why can’t you tell me, Dof? It’s not fair. I of all people should be on your short list.”

“You are the only one on my list, Hart. You know that. But telling is against the rules.”

“Ok, well, see you after lunch. I do have time for lunch, right?”

“Yes, enjoy yourself, have a Caesar salad for me.”

“I will. When I get back, you had better do a dance-of-the-seven-veils like you’ve never done before. It’ll be the last time after all.”

“You won’t be disappointed, Hart, I promise.”

“Good, okay, see you in an hour.”

So this was it? The last day? It all seemed so prosaic, and why didn’t anyone sense it besides her? As Hart slid her tray down the familiar steel rails in the cafeteria, every detail suddenly seemed so precious. Even the scuffed jade green vinyl floor with only a palimpsest left of the original coral reef design. This was a grand place, her home, and possibly, her ark. Hart felt tears coming and her pulse rise up again. Damn subo.

Savoring the briny anchovies and rolling a crouton in her mouth, Hart saw and smelled and felt it all again. The breaking had happened when she realized that what she was looking for could not be found in these device-addicted mannequins. (Dofleini loved that term!) Though it felt like having her heart cracked by a giant nutcracker, Hart was grateful that the epiphany had come in her safe place. Stood up for a date on her fortieth birthday, she had sought the darkest wing of the Aquarium to cry out her disappointment, the wing where the octopus was.

Puffing and blowing in somnolent greens and blues, Dofleini had felt her approach and blushed himself into a coppery pink circus canopy. This was the moment to dance, the wait was over! With every meter of his being he stretched and swayed and flung his tentacles, embracing every surface of his enclosure, a dervish wrapping up the stage in his swirling cloak. Hart stood transfixed, knowing that this was for her and her alone. When he knocked on her mind, she let him in. The bond was made, but it came at a price.

Takotsubo cardiomyopathy seemed to be affecting more and more people. You get it after surviving the virus, the media said, but Hart knew differently—you had to get your heart broken, and hard. Maybe people were becoming unconsciously aware of the event, and it was breaking their hearts to leave the world they knew? Hart knew it was breaking hers, but Dofleini promised it was the only way to save the world, by cracking it wide open, rinsing it out, and starting over. There would be losses, but it would be clean again and those who survived would be the true, ethical leaders.

This was not without self-interest. Dofleini had noticed the white lesions but passed it off, especially since Hart was so obsessed with noticing them. “Senescence, a natural part of the life cycle, Hart.” He could be as cavalier as ever, but since his color changes were taking longer and longer, it was obvious what was happening.

When Hart wouldn’t stop crying about it one day, Dofleini threatened to leave her. “I’ll croak right here and now if you don’t stop being so dramatic!” It stressed him out, seeing her like that, since he secretly worried about her subo. They had to be careful not to break each other before the event.

Hart looked at the Poseidon clock on the wall of the cafeteria—12:58—shit, she had better get back to the gift shop and open up. Seemed so silly to worry about time on the last day, but apparently she was the only one who knew. The people need their resin keepsakes, even if it is the last day.

Stepping briskly down the long hallway, Hart took in for the last time all the ornate undersea scrollwork in the walls, humans’ clever mimicry of natural beauty. Even though Dofleini thought it looked silly, Hart still felt sentimental about the blue whale suspended from the ceiling, still so convincing in spite of a couple of cracks in her fiberglass fins.

Breathing as normally as possible, Hart tapped in the eight-digit code to the gift shop, propped the door open with the doorstop and walked to the register. Tunnel vision was setting in and she wasn’t sure she could continue to maintain. Maybe the imminently heroic teenager would walk in, even the would-be little oceanographer—those two had not devolved into mannequins yet, and she wanted to feel the good in them, just in case this day would be it for her, too.

The afternoon wore on too long. At times Hart felt like she was hardening into resin herself, mimicking the gestures of the mannequins, the everyday redundancies of hi-can-I-help-you and did-you-find-what-you-were-looking-for-thanks-and-have-a-nice-day. It made sense that the world was breaking under the strain of the redundant and meaningless. Hart looked down at her forearms and thought she saw white lesions.

At first it was just a clucking groan, like something metal being dragged across a concrete floor. Then it got louder and Hart heard a popping noise. Several customers in the gift shop startled and reluctantly walked out. Hart walked to the shop door and looked around the Great Hall. The floor looked moist as if it had been recently waxed, then she realized it was water. She smelled brine and heard water running. On instinct, she ran down to the beluga whale exhibit. A steady stream of water was pouring from the side of the largest observation window where the epoxy had already started curling back. The belugas were still blowing bubbles from their foreheads, unfazed.

Then the floor shifted, Hart couldn’t tell in what direction, but she couldn’t quite walk upright. People started screaming and a large man holding a sandwich fell to the floor and just sat there, looking confused.

Between tunnel vision and the tilted floor, Hart struggled to get to Dofleini. The lights flickered and then went off. Hart keep running into people and people kept running into her, like some free-for-all fight club, every contact a punch or a jab. Hart spread her arms out in spite of the punching and felt for the familiar textures in the walls. She could feel her way down to the hall where the octopus exhibit was.

When Hart got there, Dofleini’s tank was dark and her pulse dropped. Then, from the skylight above Dofleini’s tank, a silver beam pierced through the darkness and she saw him. He was dancing his wild, dervish dance, legs curling and uncurling, the veils of his webbing flashing in silver light.

“Hart, come dance with me!”

“On my way, Dof!”


About the Creator

Alix McMurray

Come join me hanging out with the Dodo Bird on the beach, waiting for the odd chupacabra, or chasing shadows into corners. And you can read about my life as a therapist on

Reader insights


Excellent work. Looking forward to reading more!

Top insights

  1. Compelling and original writing

    Creative use of language & vocab

  2. Excellent storytelling

    Original narrative & well developed characters

  3. Eye opening

    Niche topic & fresh perspectives

  1. Heartfelt and relatable

    The story invoked strong personal emotions

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Comments (3)

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  • JD Pernoste and Anneliese Dahl3 months ago

    Great story, terrific dialogue, and strangely terrifying.

  • Anfas Mohammed3 months ago


  • Savannah Sveta6 months ago

    Ooh, very interesting... and ominous. What a great story! Thank you for writing and sharing!

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