Mandy in the Jar-O

by Craig Hallam

At first, she panicked.

A thousand thoughts flooded her mind:

I’m drowning.
I’m dying.
Where am I?
I have to reach the surface!
Ouch!

Flailing her limbs against the water’s drag, Mandy’s elbow slammed the side of the jar. The pain of a stricken funny bone brought her to her senses.

She wasn’t drowning at all. The viscous fluid held her suspended, filling the narrow glass tube; warm and surprisingly comforting in its support. What she had mistaken for drowning was the fluid filling her lungs.

I’m a pickle!

Amanda Hargreaves realised that she as naked. The glow from the floor panel was unflattering, making a textured spectacle of her cellulite. Despite her unexplained suspension in the miraculous fluid, Amanda tried to gather her modesty.

Swiftly approaching her 30th year, Amanda had noticed a pooching at the stomach which arrived unbidden and refused to leave. Her breasts, she thought, were looking sad; maybe it was from the lack of attention. Her reflex was to cover up. Legs crossed and knees raised, arms cupping her breasts, Amanda looked like a shy foetus. Her hair (which she now regretted not washing in case she were to be rescued by a dashing, flop-haired, billowing shirt-wearing romancer) floated around her in a cloud of tangles. She flapped at it as if swatting midges to better see her surroundings.

Through the tube’s distorting concavity, Amanda could see a room, or rather a gallery of sorts, which stretched away to an internal horizon in either direction. One wall, the opposite to her own, was lined with curved bulkheads, each one holding an equally curved window. Stars drifted past as if space were on a conveyor belt. As she watched, the windows were slowly filled by a green-blue mist that broiled against the windows and then was gone.

That’s a cool effect, she thought. I wonder how they do that.

Just when she was starting to think that something special, unique and magnificent could be happening in her life, she realised that she was not alone. To her right, another glass tube, another inhabitant. So, as usual, she was nothing special. Just another one of the herd.

Typical.

Her fellow captives were like nothing she had ever seen. On the long, dateless nights when she had little to do but wallow in her loneliness, Amanda had watched the Discovery Channel until she fell asleep, jealous of the beautiful and intricate mating rituals of the birds, the enthusiastic thrashing of the beasts in the throes of passion. The creatures in the adjacent jars were something that might appear in her Attenborough-inspired dreams, a mix of animals that may at first seem familiar but were warped by the fog of sleep into strange concoctions.

The creature to her right began to struggle as it awoke, just as she had. It swiftly realised its predicament and began to swim around the jar quite happily, paddling with its long-toed paws.

Humph, said Amanda, annoyed that what appeared to be an Ewok/Sloth hybrid had caught on faster than she had.

The jar to her left was full of pale tubing that writhed and ground together like a host of albino eels. Amanda recoiled when the tubes snapped apart to reveal eyes, almond in shape and colour.

A barrage of imagery assaulted Amanda with such force that her head was thrown against the tube’s side.

So deep beneath the sea that Amanda thought she might catch the bends when she woke, the city clung to a rocky precipice, suspended above an impenetrably dark chasm. Everything was pitch darkness. She clicked and squeaked as she swam, navigating her surroundings by pulses of shimmering blue that she could hear rather than see. She could feel the tickle of algae on her stomach as she swam, her body lithe and fluid in its motion.

The coils of the squid-like submariner snapped closed, bringing Mandy back to her own senses. For a moment, each finger was an anemone frond; her hair a tussle of seaweed; her eyes unnecessary in the dark. As the sensation faded, Amanda caught a rogue thought in the loose netting of her mind. Not a word, but a brain wave with intonation.

Captured. Zoo.

When she remembered how, she opened her eyes and jumped once more. Outside her jar stood one of Them. The light from her tube penetrated it, as it had no skin, and lit the chemical inner workings of the Thing’s anatomy. She was sure that it was peering in at her, even thought it had nothing to peer with.

Amanda had never felt such attentiveness.

Above all humans, she had been chosen; collected. She was a thing of beauty, a being to be beheld simply for the joy of it. The Thing rocked and swayed slowly on the spot as if to unheard music. Was it dancing for her? Was it displaying its affection in the only way it knew how? Was this her mating dance?

Amanda believed that no man could ever fall in love with her in her current state of imperfection, and so she had resigned herself to a life of loneliness when no fad diet or celebrity exercise regime would rid her of her genetic shortcomings. According to her magazines, if you didn’t have a husband by the time you were thirty, you weren’t going to find one. Her time was running out, and so Amanda was filled with hopeful love for this amorphous Thing. A creature such as that would have no concept of her impotent words, her clumsy body language, her stutters and stumbles. It wouldn’t know if her perfume was too strong, or if her scarf didn’t match. It would listen to the events of her day with fascination and would never expect sweaty, awkward sex in return.

She felt love like she had never felt it before.

Reciprocated.

With cautious fingers, she reached out, their tips paling as they pressed the glass, displaying small circles of compressed flesh to the Thing beyond. For a while, nothing happened. Then the Thing got the idea and raised a tentacle. Its flagella rippling and wriggling, the Thing caressed Amanda’s tube with a trio of tentative suckers, separated from her own hand only by the glass. The swirling in her stomach (which may have been seen as revulsion by another), Amanda took as the spark of chemistry between them. Who was she to deny the attraction between two beings? Even if they weren’t of the same species. How could she turn away such adoration when it was, above all else, what she craved. She basked in the affection of that unfelt touch…

Wait, she thought, come back!

Her Thing had tired of the charming glass-pointing trick and slithered toward the next jar where the Ewok/Sloth was swimming cute little somersaults. Amanda’s brief moment of extraterrestrial romance was reduced to a silicate residue on the outside of her jar. At first she was mortified to be so easily cast aside. But, with determination rising like indigestion, she set her resolve.

She’d never been leader of a pack, thinking of herself more as the extra packaging; or ahead of the curve, as her curves were lumps; nor a player of the game because she was pretty certain that everyone was playing by different rules. But to be beaten to the punch by an alien Teddy Bear, that was insulting.

So, her Thing was fickle, it bored easily.

Alright, she thought, see what you think of this.

She began to flail her hands and feet, slowly building momentum. Breasts trailing slightly behind her, her hair whirling in a slow-motion cyclone, Amanda twirled a watery pirouette.

The Thing wavered, and returned to her tube. Its flagella quivered and whipped the air like the flick of a cat’s tail.

Does that mean you like it?
she thought.

As Amanda span faster and faster and the Thing’s excitement grew. When its attention wavered, she changed her shape, or the direction of her spin. She would raise her arms like a ballerina, or her knee.

Yes, let me be your favourite, she thought. She felt pretty, exotic. She was happy to be the Thing’s pet, content just to please it and be pleased by its pleasure.

But, soon enough, she grew tired. Her arms drooped and her head lolled. She fought to keep spinning, but her hair began to settle around her face as her momentum lessened. How long she had span for, she didn’t know, but she had to sleep.

Whump.

The first jolt was more of a surprise than painful, but enough to rouse her. The Thing stood outside her tube, flaccid, disappointed.

Whump.

The light beneath her lit the fluid with a flash and the jolt came again. This time the pain came, setting nerves afire wherever the water touched her skin.

Amanda yelped, but the fluid stole the sound.

Wha-what’s happening? she thought.

Pressing her hands against the tube’s side, she worked her aching limbs back into a spin. Her feet flailed loosely, her poise was nothing like it had been.

Another jolt, stronger, and Amanda’s spine spasmed. Her gritted teeth almost shattered from the force.

Please, please, I’m so tired.

Whump. The pain.

Please, no.

Whump! Amanda’s eyes closed so tight that beads of blood began to form at the corners. Her body stiffened. She felt something snap but it was lost in the pain. Her chest was on fire.

Please…

The final thump of light, brighter than any before it, faded.

Amanda’s body hung like an old rag, toes dragging on the tube’s floor, spinning her this way and that with the flow of the fluid.

The Thing paused for only a moment, and then understood.

The tube’s light flickered and died.

The Thing stayed, but only for a moment, to admire the reflections of fleeting stars that skittered across Amanda’s motionless silhouette.

The End