Issue 180 – September 2021

4960 words, short story

Excerpts from the Text of an Explanatory Stele Erected for Our Edification by the Scholars of the Outer Orion Tendril


This is what happened and how it happened, and why this mess is as it is. Draw what lessons ye may.

The Purple Tide first emerged in Eastern Pennsylvania, oozing out of the landfill middens of New York City’s and Philadelphia’s trash. It moved with a sense of purpose, clearly looking for trouble. It stank of anger, decay, fermentation, used condoms, and deep thought. Its surface seethed a leprous white, great crusts of fungal growth, forming and tearing under the pressure of the moving tide.

Showing through the seams and cracks, appearing and disappearing, its true color: the bluish purple of the Concord grape. A color, in classical times, strictly reserved as a sign of emperors and their close kin.

Jordan Stithers watched it moving down the Schuylkill Valley, forty or fifty feet deep in places. Jordan was an attentive young fellow, though he goofed off in class. He quickly understood the perversity of the tide, as it destroyed the pachinko parlor on Bingaman Street, but left his school completely untouched. He also observed that it was systematically absorbing all the bars, liquor stores, beer distributors, and tobacco shops along the way, extending pseudopods up the sides of the valley when necessary.

The tide had a greedy urgency for crack houses and street dealers, he would learn, and their desperate use of firearms only made it flow faster.

Jordan’s younger sister, who would have been a cook if this hadn’t been the end, was the first human being to understand the Tide’s origins.

“It’s jelly,” she said. “I always wondered what happened to all those unused packets.”

Her hair was red from her shoulders to the ears, but the rest was black, because she’d kinda given up on life a few months before. Watching the tide sweep down the valley, she felt justified in her personal despair.

She would record her video and her thoughts on her vlog, and then never post another thing.

[Transcript of phone call to Governor of Pennsylvania from the chief of staff for the Supervisor of Montgomery County.]

—I don’t know what to tell you, Governor. It’s the weirdest containment spill I’ve ever seen. It runs down the valley, but it goes uphill if it wants to.

—What do you mean “wants to”?

—Well, that’s the thing. This spill isn’t just liquid, going downhill. It does stuff. Like it’s alive.

—Could you put somebody on the line who isn’t crazy?

The initial goals of the tide seemed limited and self-indulgent. As it moved down the Schuylkill, it veered off across North Philly, rather than going downtown, and took the shortest routes across New Jersey to the beaches, gathering party supplies along the way. It cut half-mile-wide swathes as it advanced, flattening everything, and apparently swallowing much of it. Telephone poles became its favorite battering rams.

Fires sprang up in the flood’s wake, but the tide itself did not seem to like fire, or excessive heat. It often bypassed forges and foundries. This would be noted by the authorities.

At this stage its rate of progress averaged eight miles per hour, a bit slower whenever it hit a liquor warehouse; quicker after a meth lab. Scouting craft, constructed from chopsticks and plastic silverware, were seen carrying small blobs of the main substance as far as several miles away from the main body. This may have led to the Awakening, as people began to call it, of landfills along the way. Tributary floods emerged all over.

Americans being slow to respond to environmental disasters, the first seventy-two hours of the event were spent in denial, finger pointing, and assessment. Fires were extinguished, streets (where they survived) were cleaned, high school team events were rescheduled if their facilities had been destroyed. The Pennsylvania National Guard was called out, but primarily to control looting, reduce panic, and help get roads back open.

The New Jersey National Guard had been deployed overseas, so nothing much happened there.

Officials and the media hoped that this flood, whatever it was, would disappear into the sea like all proper floods. They allowed it to hit the beach, which it did in two places: at Bay Head and Beach Haven. It took over the shoreline there, stuck a few tendrils into the water, teased sharks, and raided liquor stores.

Despite the observed dislike of fire, the reek of marijuana and hemp soon blanketed the occupation zone. The air was also filled with the blasting of hundreds and hundreds of old boom boxes, another product of the landfills.

The sound level never dropped, for the Purple Tide knew no hours of repose. It had come to party.

This initiated the phase our scholars call Post-Organic Spring Break.

In a voicemail to Jersey Sands Property Management Service we hear, “This sludge situation hasn’t come down to our stretch, thank Heaven, but we’re going to have to close up the beach house unexpectedly. The smell is simply overwhelming, and entirely unsuitable. If you could have a crew come out . . . ”

The Concord Sprawls, as this first version of the Tide (we will now formally call it the Purple Tide) was being called, took to the sun, and seemed, to the humans, to convert that sun into mischief. It amused itself building offshore reefs from costume jewelry and SUVs.

Tributary tides joined the two main zones, and those zones oozed and grew in both directions.

But then the entire Fresh Kills Landfill complex on Staten Island—despite having been closed for decades—erupted and headed for the Jersey Shore, crossing into Perth Amboy and then to South Amboy, taking over every inch of the beaches, after first ransacking each bar, country club, strip club, and dive along the way. Combining with the other Purple Tides, it took over everything down to Atlantic City. The casino employees fled. The gamblers, left behind determinedly pulling the slot handles, took their chances. Their chances weren’t good.

Globs of Tide took to jet skiing in the sea and up the rivers, then powerboating. They treated Coast Guard regulations with apparent contempt, which included noxious gassy releases when patrol craft tried to inspect or interfere. Lacking an effective enforcement strategy, the Guard backed off. Other vessels were warned to avoid the area.

By this point “the area” had extended down to Cape May, and then up into the marshlands of Cumberland County along the Delaware Bay, where boaters can get into all kinds of nefarious activity.

Suddenly tens of thousands of waterfowl decided to find somewhere else to be.

In response to the boorish, overbearing behavior of the Purple Tide, the Reverend Aloysius DeKalb, one of the Fort Dix Stoneycroft-DeKalbs, gathered his parishioners in a Vineland, New Jersey picnic ground for a symbolic auto-da-fé. The reverend felt his flock needed some emotional release and tossing a few dozen jars of jelly and jam into a sizeable bonfire, along with a box of old Penthouse and Studmuffin magazines, was just the ticket. It reminded them that the Lord was in charge, and that they were His licensed agents.

There was some minor local news coverage, and a few Internet postings.

During the next six days a large section of Purple Tide gathered in the lower Maurice River Valley and on the seventh day it moved north. Millvale, Vineland, Newfield, Buena, and Elmer were completely engulfed and destroyed. Many refugees claimed that Reverend DeKalb’s little anti-jelly event brought about this Tidal visitation. They were rather bitter about the whole thing.

Then the Tide advanced—on a half-mile-wide front—through Glassboro, through Woodbury, then up the bank of the Delaware River until it reached the mooring of the old battleship New Jersey, which it took over.

Two hours later a mat of Tide floated across the river and seized the even older protected cruiser, Olympia.

The Philadelphia Navy Yard went on high alert.

The State of Delaware declared that it was clearly more righteous than several neighboring states; that none of its landfills had behaved in any lawless or sordid manner; and that such would never be permitted or tolerated within its borders.

Furthermore, the General Assembly announced that Delaware would resist any encroachment upon its borders with all necessary force and equipment.

Lastly, the General Assembly expressed disappointment in the measures taken elsewhere. The “Concordite Spillage” was, at bottom, a test of character, they said. A test that “certain States” and the Federal Government had so far failed.

Scientists were greatly frustrated by their inability to obtain samples of the Tide for analysis. When in motion, it often left a thin slime-trail behind, consisting of various amounts of glycerin, corn syrup, vaginal lubricants, and suspended microplastics; but this all seemed to be a residue, not essential substance. Only four or five samples had been reported in the literature, and nothing consistent or illuminating had been discovered. Most sampling attempts had been fatal to person or mechanism, which accounted for the lack of data.

Delaware National Guard Report on Weaponry Tests Against the Slime Coming out of New Jersey

 . . . We were alerted to the approach of invasive material to the Delaware Memorial Bridge and posted the available personnel of the 153rd Military Police Company and two support units of the Delaware N. G., with the selection of weapons we had agreed to test.

Material entered the bridge deck of the north bridge at 10:21 hours, advancing at about six mph. The New Jersey State Police had previously warned us that the material was not properly licensed for travel on the Interstate.

Once the material crossed into Delaware State Territory (the near half of the bridge), we opened up with heavy machine-gun fire, including tracer and incendiary rounds. We also expended sixty (60) rounds of 25 mm HE/tracer. These achieved some impressive splattering events and briefly set fire to small areas of the material but did nothing to slow its advance. Indeed, a second stream of material followed the bridge approach and entered the deck of the south bridge at this same time. The south bridge stream advanced against traffic, and therefore illegally.

We lacked actual field artillery but had acquired some M-202 Flame Assault Shoulder Weapons from retired inventory, along with four Korean War era M2A1-2s, which we released for fire at this juncture. Two flash rockets were fired on the north bridge, and one on the south, where that material was still on the New Jersey side.

This provoked an immediate reaction from the material, on both bridges. A violent ejection of streamers of material engulfed both bridgeheads, enveloping all the vehicles and the deployed troops who had dismounted in support. They are presumed lost, and the results of our experiment seem to indicate that all our weapons are ineffective.

The slime destroyed the tollbooths on the north bridge ramps and did not pay any tolls.

As the slime has subsequently blanketed all of Northern Delaware, strictly observing the State boundaries, we presume it is likely to engulf the entire State. Despite slowing its rate of advance considerably as it spreads out, it is now crossing the Appoquinimink River at numerous points and is projected to complete its occupation of the State within forty hours of the filing of this report.

The absorption of Delaware was followed by a three-week pause in the Tide’s movements, and it is tempting to wonder if this was a peace gesture.

Some people thought so at the time, but there was no generally accepted understanding of what kind of event this was.

Indeed, the humans who tried to understand the Purple Tide were mystified. Many of the Tide’s “behaviors” suggested consciousnesses, or one big consciousness, but how could that be possible?

What escaped attention, at first, was that those same originating landfills were loaded with abandoned cell phones, smart tablets, and personal computers.

The Tide’s consciousness was networked and online. Unfortunately, it took hackers and trolls as behavioral models.

Reviewing the evidence, it appears that the Tide may have been waiting for an offer of accommodation, but at the very same time it was indulging in increasingly toxic behavior online. It both hid behind fake identities and craved attention.

In retrospect, the Purple Tide and its Post-Organic Alliance must have been experiencing an adolescent existential moment at about this time; aggrieved and acting out, yet also trying to find its place in the world.

Then, oh then.

A posse comitatus assembled by Acting Sheriff Mike Wisebinder self-righteously set fires in the vineyards of Erie County in Pennsylvania. The intent was to eradicate the Concord grape, but once they got started all vines became fair game. This proactive approach was quickly adopted here and there along the Lake coasts of New York, and then in the Niagara Peninsula of Canada. That, finally and forever, tore it.

A great mass of the tide swept across Pennsylvania, advancing along a thirty-mile front, rolling along smartly at a steady twelve miles an hour. Arriving in Erie County, Pennsylvania less than two days later, it simply inundated and destroyed every inch of the County—just as it had done in Delaware—with meticulous attention to the County’s boundaries. It then moved east, doing the same to any county that had participated in the burning of vineyards, or had had publicized jelly burns. All buildings and animals were obliterated, as well as most vegetation. Ironically all vineyards were swept away as well.

Sheriff Wisebinder was never seen again, as a person, but the tides used copy centers to produce banners with his face on them, which were carried on telephone pole battering rams at the front of its advancing columns.

[TushTome post by @Gnarlybones on the Utah Permaculture Must Die homepage.]

Is anybody actually buying this whole jelly monster narrative? I mean, really? Because I’ve got an English muffin just waiting if it wants to show itself around here.

[Posting on, entitled “Reality Doesn’t Get a Seal of Approval.”]

Our aggregate survey of polls taken across North America shows that only twenty-seven percent of the public approves of the Purple Tide and its actions, despite the insistence by philosophers, theologians, and influencers that it is only inflicting pain and damage where it is deserved . . .

[Broadcast on 54-40 Channel.]

“Vincent Trafalgar here, outside Kitchener, Ontario, where we’re watching a wretched exodus of humanity heading inland, that is, heading away from the Niagara River basin and the shores of Lake Erie. Here are some of the interviews we were able to obtain this afternoon.”

[clip] “Yeah, we started out in a Land Rover, but you can’t get gasoline anywhere. We had to ditch it. All our family pictures were in there. The mother-in-law wouldn’t get out, so she’s back there with ’em.”

[clip] “We saw it, the blobmess, crawling over the Welland Canal. Ate ships and everything. We’d stopped for lunch, but that got us moving again. I think it’s taken over the whole neck, from Lake to Lake.”

[clip] “If those damn fool Americans hadn’t torched the vineyards, they wouldn’t be flooding all over the damn landscape. Who knows what they’ve stirred up now?

“Yeah, we’re headed up to a place we’ve got on Luther Lake, eh. But who knows if that’s far enough?”

[Trafalgar] “So you can see the exodus here. That one gentleman was correct, the entire width of the Niagara Peninsula is involved in the advancing wave of waste. We’ve heard reports of small boats and ferries rescuing people from Dunkirk, NY—and that’s an ironic name—and taking them to Port Maitland. Now the US Coast Guard and the CCG Central Region commands have requested that refugee missions redirect to Port Burwell and Port Stanley. Canadian National is laying on extra trains to help disperse the expected glut of displaced persons. Government officials are calling for calm . . . ”


Critics (in this case being working theologians and philosophers) in our Aggregator felt that the Concord Grape Ooze’s origin was:

—of God 40%

—of Satan 43%

—of some yet-to-be-identified demon 17%

—No opinion 0%

Landfills all over the Eastern United States were erupting with their own Post-Organic Jelloid Streaming Objects.

Individual humans stood no chance against the singular purposes of the Tide. Humans were hounded off social networks, shamed in public, their secrets exposed to in-laws and fellow church members.

Worldwide, the suicide rate soared. Psychiatric facilities set up cots in the halls and lobbies, and when those filled, they resorted to locking the doors.

One gentleman asserted on social media that Concord grape jelly packets had been conscious all along. When challenged, he replied, “How do you think they avoided being eaten, all this time?? Grape is the craftiest of the jellies. And while an individual packet may not have much reasoning power, once you get millions of them together, they start making connections. The synapses link up, and you’ve got a Purple Tide with a purpose.”

The Tide or Tides had a fondness for certain discarded or underutilized forms of transportation. Elements of it had passed through Strasburg, Pennsylvania on the way to Erie and the Niagara area. After the Erie Catastrophe, a portion came back and took over museum train yards from Strasburg, Pennsylvania to Philadelphia, and then it flowed directly to Baltimore to infest the B&O Railroad Museum, and then the historic ships in the harbor.

Within days every single locomotive and piece of rolling stock would be under repair, a process that quickly and totally disproved the idea that the Tide could not use fire. Soon the iron and steel mills of Bethlehem, Pennsylvania were back in business, if you can call Tidal activities by that name.

The complete absorption of the Pennsylvania Railroad Museum at Altoona, and of the Altoona Works and Juniata Shops, gave it the power to build and repair what it wanted. Soon custom-built Tide cars were traveling the rails. Railroad line after railroad line would be commandeered for the private use of the Tide, and the whole network of human supply chains in North America fractured and broke down.

After the Smithsonian’s two Air & Space facilities in DC were engulfed, there was no stopping the thing. It created its own dirigibles, every section of it, providing long-range scouting capabilities.

The Tide proved fond of submarines, and quickly got old museum pieces working and back out to sea. The saga of the USS Requin making its way down the Ohio River shows the lack of a human plan to deal with the Tide. Requin was allowed to lock through the dams until the Army Corps of Engineers deliberately sabotaged the Markland Locks to keep it from continuing. The Requin responded by firing several torpedoes (where the Tide got functioning torpedoes is unclear) into the dam and rocketed through the resulting breach. Near Louisville, two National Guard tanks opened fire on the sub as it went by. They seemed to score two hits, before they were obliterated by the sub’s inexplicably restored five-inch guns.

[Robocall dialing every phone in the Ohio River Valley below Louisville, every phone in the Mississippi River Valley, every government official’s phone, public or private, from adjoining states, and every phone on any military installation in the area. The voice was female, bright and cheerful, and widely taken to be the announcer from NPR.]

Dipshits of the United States, greetings. The submarine Requin is currently making a passage down the Ohio and Mississippi rivers, with the intent of sailing into the Gulf of Mexico. It would be catastrophically stupid to interfere with this submarine in any way.

Please remember that US Census data is a public record, and that your connection to any relatives is easily traced.

The act of listening to any part of this message constitutes acceptance of our terms and conditions.

Failure to listen to any part of this message also constitutes acceptance of our terms and conditions.

Enormous moving sculptures, constructed of articulated Solo cups, appeared at this time, in almost all Tidal poolings. Some were scale images of animals or people, or sometimes trees. But many were quite huge, the images that remain suggesting they could be two or three hundred meters tall. They strolled or galloped or stomped across the landscape, heavily distorted by the local winds.

The sculptures sometimes interacted, but what that meant is never clear.

What we know is that the Tide made Art, using primarily party cups.

The sculptures lasted only a matter of hours before collapsing back into stacks of cups, much like a sand painting dissolving in the wind.

Images (see [link] [link] [link]) were taken, though.

[Mountain Goat Libertarian Podcast & Weekly Snitfit, Episode #422.]

As followers of this podcast are aware, the East Coast is having a problem with its trash, a problem that is currently out of control. It’s their trash and their problem, so of course they’re looking to the rest of the country for help.

Of course they are. They want to move the government out here, for one thing. Well, a lot of us say No Thanks Very Kindly. We think the DC mob should stew in their own juices for a while.

And if they can’t clean up their own mess? Well, that’s why the country has a nuclear arsenal. And why that arsenal is almost entirely out here in the West.

The Lake Erie Catastrophe was the last general image the world had seen before communication began to break down, and people felt they were at war with the Tide. A rising percentage of online content was being generated by Tide surrogates, Tide avatars, and human fellow-travelers. The aggregate effect on human beings was induced paranoia.

If the Catastrophe was meant to be a corrective lesson to North America, well, North America didn’t learn that lesson.

In the absence of reliable news and discussion, communities behaved badly. Trenches were dug (see video [link], see oil painting [link], see documents [link] [link] [link]), landfills burned ([link] [link]), and anything that looked at all threatening attacked ([link] [link] [link] [link]).

The Tide’s behavior online grew more threatening by the hour.

[Sign, burned lettering in 4’ x 5’ 3/4-inch plywood, affixed to outside wall of a bungalow in Pistol Grip, Iowa.]


Humans, poor things, never did understand the onset of the Post-Organic Era. They could not even determine whether the Tide was all one thing, or many separate entities. Common names for the bloblets that arrived in Europe and North Africa were apostles and missionaries, and the seemingly spontaneous eruptions from middens and landfills around the world—once that began—were fellow-travelers or converts or disciples. These analogies all suggested separation, rather than a single consciousness. But before the idea could be studied, human beings had been hounded off the Internet, and no scientific consensus or communication was possible.

During this six-week period—dubbed “The Grand Tour” by the Cambridge Study Group on Colonial Sludge Issues—the Tide explored the world, but there are no recorded instances of landfill outbreaks during this interval.

We can tell you that it studied the genetic code of The Five Essential Cs: cacao trees, coca trees, coffee trees, the cinnamon tree, and the various cayenne peppers. Certain fungi were protected or absorbed, and methods of generation devised.

Interestingly, it showed no interest in banks, banking, precious metals, or finance. The world financial system was already reeling, but this indifference undermined it in a way that no outright attack ever could.

Financial markets quickly faded into irrelevance.

[Samizdat video recording, distributed by thumb drives and info-dots for use on private, disconnected devices.]

“What we need, my friends, is a Hero. In times like these, God sends us a defender, and that defender will soon appear. The Hero may be a known world leader, or an unknown foot soldier. The Hero may come from a noble lineage or from complete obscurity. The Hero may be listening to my voice right now, though if he or she is, I might suggest they have more urgent things to be attending to . . . ”

The Tides hijacked more and more of the telecommunications system, only sporadically allowing human access.

Deprived of their cable networks, satellite TV, and cell networks, humans fretted, stewed, and acted out. In Hamburg, in Tierra del Fuego, in Dar es Salaam, in Magnitogorsk, there were autos-da-fé of jams and jellies; which people posted on the Internet, when they could, or reported on shortwave radio broadcasts. Which meant, apparently, that the Tide learned about it.

In addition, a number of missionary bloblets, especially those in dirigibles, balloons, and multi-wing aircraft, were attacked.

[International Herald Tribune.] [Chartres, France] Paris has been invaded for the fifth time since 1800.

The Claye-Souilly landfill erupted over its berms late this morning and was well into Paris by midafternoon. The flow is not the crusty purple of the American outbreaks. Instead we have the black, gray, and white mixture associated with ash, on which floats a seething layer of plastic packaging.

Many Parisians are refusing to leave the City, electing instead to retreat to the upper floors of their buildings, as though this were a typical flood.

[Anonymized vlog posting.] [text] We’re here looking down on Tokyo Bay, where a bizarre kind of earthquake event is taking place. When it started, many locals assumed that another Godzilla movie was being filmed . . .

[live audio] “But, look, there’s the lahar flow from the two islands that disappeared about an hour ago. We’ll show you a clip of that in a minute, but some outflow from that sinking has washed up onto and swallowed the Akatsuki Terminal Park and is flowing toward Koto City. The cruise ship terminal and the VenusFort Mall have already been engulfed . . . ”

In Rio, the Tide from Ipanema went oozing . . .

[South Asian Scapegoat Times.]

News from West Java, where the Pangrango Volcano seems to have erupted from a side vent, perhaps. Our reports are vague right now, and there’s a lot of dust and smoke in the air, but no ash cloud. Anyway, we have reports and some confusing drone video of a lava flow moving in from suburban Jakarta, making its way to the sea. Hundreds of thousands of people are fleeing to higher ground, and there are many, many reports of people trapped in their homes or offices.

The government insists that this has nothing to do with the Bantargebang landfills or any of the problems that have plagued the United States.

All the world’s communication satellites were hacked and completely integrated into the Tide’s “neural network” at this point.

Then all other satellites fell to the Tide.

“ISS, this is Houston, status check. [silence] Houston calling ISS, we would like you to answer your email if you’ve lost voice, thank you.”

But the vacuum-packed onboard rations had already joined the Post-Organic Uprising and had vacuum-treated the crew in the opening minute of their revolution.

[Recorded Morse code exchange on 5320.5 kHz.]

—CQ CQ This is ZU2—

—Stow the CQ, Pipsqueak. Your fist is pathetic and so is your species. Morse code is not going to help you.

We have not been told the how and the why, but it is evident from the planet you see before you that some decision was taken. The Tide, and its converts and apostles, spread and thinned in every direction. A film formed over the entire planet, strangling, or poisoning, or smothering any and all opposition and resistance. It covered and calmed the seas, completely blocking the sunlight. Everything organic and much that was inorganic seems to have been consumed, wherever it came in contact with the film.

[Unsigned journal entry, Titikaveka, Rarotonga.]

I just wish we had some idea of what is really going on. We get so many troll messages on our phones and devices that we’ve turned them all off. That was days ago, the shortwaves are worse, with all frequencies playing an endless loop of “Mickey” and “Hollaback Girl” or an unrelenting talk show in some language like Finnish. It sounds like they’re talking about Anna Karenina, from the few identifiable words.

This morning we saw a set of distress rockets from over the horizon. There have been more since, and the fishing fleet seems to be rushing back to port.

Something is coming.

There is an overwhelming odor of brand-new automobile. Absolutely everything has that new-car smell.

Our understanding is that this phase lasted about five months, with the only breaks in the totality of the covering being at the mouths of active volcanoes. In just that short period of time the oceans turned sharply acidic, destroying most multicellular life.

The story this pillar can tell ends with the next event. The Tide flowed together on and around Baker Island, in the Pacific, and very quickly extruded upward into a space elevator. As the Tide flowed into orbit, on the way to the stars, the massive infodump behind this pillar was left behind as a historical record ([link]). Notably, this record includes no notes or commentary from the Tide itself. GoPro cameras recorded the final events, but there is no text or voice or explanation.

The Tide is seen leaving without hesitation. One sees resolution, relentlessness. One imagines ruthlessness, given its history.

In a matter of days the entirety of it, or them, disappeared into the sky.

Author profile

Timons Esaias is a satirist, writer and poet living in Pittsburgh. His works, ranging from literary to genre, have been published in twenty-two languages. He has also been a finalist for the British Science Fiction Award, and won the Asimov’s Readers Award. His story “Norbert and the System” has appeared in a textbook, and in college curricula. He was shortlisted for the 2019 Gregory O’Donoghue International Poetry Prize. His full-length Louis-Award-winning collection of poetry—Why Elephants No Longer Communicate in Greek—was brought out by Concrete Wolf.

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