After his manuscript on the sex life of the peripatus was rejected for the thirteenth time, Professor Devin crumpled and wrung his master copy about like a paper rattle before storming out of the scientific world for a sector that would better suit his talents: confectionery.
The lab he’d dedicated to the proliferous procreation of his precious peripatidae was repurposed into manufacturing the candy of his dreams, using techniques he’d pioneered on his vermal companions. For weeks he toiled away, spinning together raspberry ribosomes, malty mitochondria and nutty nucleic acids within a rich, mucous matrix of gummy goodness that would get those investors throwing money like he did at the shapely dancers at his favourite club that was to be the namesake of his bite-sized product: Jelly People.
‘All jelly, no bones’ was the initial slogan, which he revised to ‘all jelly, no belly’ when he realised he could go lo-cal with the formula. In batches and all varieties of colour the jelly clones came; in jelly men and jelly women that he separated into flavour colonies to make and hybridise jelly offspring. They had gooey cherry-vanilla centres for brains and hadn’t evolved nerves as far as he knew, so he figured his methods were well within ethical standards.
They proved a hit during festivals, which were often family affairs, so the packages came as jelly mums and jelly dads with jelly kids and dogs and cats, or just couples for those more romantically inclined. There followed an expansion into jelly accessories for the Professor’s jelly creations – jelly rings for proposals, jelly gowns for graduation, jelly scalpels for circumcisions, and jelly reindeer complete with actual droppings for Christmas. Everyone was welcome to celebrate every occasion imaginable in this very jelly world.
Oh, except for the 10% or so of the Professor’s output that failed to meet expectations. Invariably, there were the odd specimens missing a limb or a head, but the ones with behavioural issues were the real problem, namely those that persisted in copulating with mates other than those he’d assigned, to the point where some even refused segregation according to his painstakingly designated flavour profiles, going cross-colony with their contaminant jelly genes.
As these misfits grew in number, he was forced to sequester them en masse; in containers that warranted specialised disposal, so of course what he did instead was to deposit them in a neglected corner of the city dump, to stew over autumn and winter, through spring and then the sweltering heat of summer…
When disaster struck, just as Professor Devin, having one-upped both Nature and Nestlé, was about to commemorate the one-year anniversary of his resounding success. A gargantuan, multi-limbed, multi-headed monster had risen from the refuse and was headed for the city, wreaking destruction in its path.
Well, who better to come up with ideas against a fifty-foot-tall jelly monster than the jelly scientist himself? He was escorted to his horrendus opus, a heaping gestalt of molten speckly goo, with whom he attempted to reason, promising cures for its deficiencies if it would only calm down and be reasonable. But it couldn’t or wouldn’t, and attempted to crush the fleeing escort with its many jelly feet.
A jelly priest was called in next, in the hopes of exorcising the monster, promising to expel the demons that had corrupted those nice, normal jelly folks trapped within. Unconvinced, the monster roared and smashed the jelly church with its jelly penises before moving on to city hall.
There, the jelly politicians scrambled and begged, crying that it wasn’t them or the system, it was the fault of individuals like that mad scientist, and that if it went away in peace, they’d give it with cash and a nice home near the trash heap where it grew up. The monster tore through the building regardless, breaking the pipes that then flooded the area and the nearby courthouse with raw sewage, into which it popped jelly eggs from its jelly vaginas.
Finally, the monster reached the facility that had birthed it. Breaking through with ease, it caught the cowering Professor and gave him a choice between being boiled alive in a vat of JP mix 2.0, or getting stuffed in a case full of ravenous peripata. The Professor pleaded that he’d do anything to be spared, and to his relief, the monster released him and pointed to some Jelly People packages awaiting pick-up for distribution. With that, it promptly expired in a collapsing fountain of sticky, rainbowed rawness that would take two whole months to clean out.
Rebuilding the city and finding all the jelly eggs would take much longer; even then, the stench of excreta and garbage continued to linger around the court and city hall, though those that worked there swore it smelt no different from before.
As for the Professor, he’d learnt his lesson. No more would those unwanteds be corralled away and unceremoniously jettisoned; from now on, they went into assorted packs, marketed as ‘Mis-Fits’ for half the price of the regular packages.
‘Mis-Fits, except for your mouth, where they taste just the same!’ went the updated slogan. ‘A monster of a mix!’ might have been snappier, but it was a tad insensitive; jelly lives had been lost after all, and the Professor had a new book on battling monsters to sell.
And how does one defeat a monster? It’s simple, the Professor concluded: just give enough to keep them grateful, but not so much that they’ll feel entitled to more.
It’s a fine balance, he added, like keeping jellies from growing too tough… But get it right and they’ll never resist.
KH Lim is a Brunei-born, Singapore-based writer who has also previously lived in London. His novel ‘Written in Black’ is the first by a Bruneian about life in his home country, and he has also written for regional presses Lontar and Songket Alliance. Reach him on @KHLwriter.
(Photo: mural at The Castle, Berlin Mitte. Artist unknown)2