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Cor de Wulf short story

Gather Sainted Jellyfish, ‘Tis The August Bloom

by Cor de Wulf

Hugging her knees, Anja buries her feet deeper in the sand. Out past the lighthouse, a gentle tide rolls shoreward, the sea’s fury calmed by an unusually mild day. Seeing the light still turning atop the tower, she wonders if De Haven is on another of his benders and makes a mental note to pay a visit on her way home, just to see that the old lighthouse keeper hasn’t fallen into anything more serious than one of his stupors. Sober and not, old De Haven has always been kind to her, his docile nature an antidote, however transitory, to Karel’s limitless venom. Envying De Haven’s seclusion, how it satisfies him in every way that hers does not, she wipes her eyes. These days, there is little that doesn’t bring her to tears.

Blinking, she notices that several jellyfish have washed ashore. When another wave crawls up the beach, more are ferried up with the foam, hinting at the numbers infesting the bay, sheltering in the strangely warm waters. Picturing them out in the shallows—membranous bells aglow with sunlight, thin-spun tentacles billowing in the current—she wonders if they know how close they are to being pitched up onto dry land, to being abandoned in a world they’re not suited to. As more of them are brought up with the surf, she wonders if any creature is truly suited to this world; certainly, she is not—something of which Karel is always quick to remind her, more and more frequently in their boy’s presence. With Karel’s crusade to break what remains of her beleaguered spirit, young Dani has grown more distant, his water-pale eyes becoming almost as empty as his father’s. She knows she’s losing the battle against all the things she cannot spare her boy, all the things that Karel is planning for him—things meant to change him for ever.

Staring out to sea, she tries to recall a gentler time, that time before Karel: the time of Jeroen. A guileless boy, he called her Anjike, a lover’s name that, on his lips, tasted of so much promise. She pictures a distant hot day, another bloom offering up its sacrifices to melt into the footprints she and Jeroen left in the wet sand. He called them Medusas, the lilt of it making her young face blush as he told her everything he knew about jellyfish: boneless, brainless, strange beings sensing their world through nerve endings and synaptic pulses; wired not to think, only to react; phantasms pulled by tide and hunger, ethereal beings that mesmerize then devour, mouth and anus one organ; solitary creatures gathering in yearly blooms, those enormous swarms briefly seized by some primal instinct for the safety of an inestimable multitude—all attributes, she laughs dolefully, shared by Karel. If he only shared their same lifespan, measured in months. But not Karel: he’s as suited to this world as I am not. And now, he means to prove it to me.

Wiping at her eyes again, she is still trying to accept that today is the day Karel is packing her away to Castricum aan Zee, to the sanatorium that will house her until his and Dani’s return. Her will no longer her own, she too is to be devoured by the medusae: having provoked her unraveling, Karel has declared her incompetent to hold sway over his son, has prescribed corrective treatments. He has decided that, stunted by her coddling, his boy now needs his father’s intervention, needs the company of men, needs to learn what the world is made of—and too, what it is, when necessary, to unmake it.

But Anja clings to Dani like a buoy, her only victory, her one contribution to a callous world undeserving of her son—the only worthwhile thing to come from a marriage so swiftly dissipated that she wonders if it was ever real, a marriage that never brought a fraction of the warmth she found with the gentle Jeroen before he disappeared. But we were happy for a short while, Karel and I, weren’t we—before it went so terribly wrong with the world?

When the breeze shifts, Anja glimpses in the corner of her eye movement down the beach: the postmaster’s boy—spindly, freckled face pinched against the sun’s glare—shuffles towards her, bare feet kicking up sand. She knows his name but, like so many things of late, she can’t recall it. Clearly unaware of the stranded jellies in his path, she is wondering why she feels no impulse to cry out a warning when he begins to shriek. Jerking upright as though shaken from a dream, horrified by the suffering brought on by her dereliction, her shame sears white hot, like the medusa’s sting. Head down, the boy’s squeals piercing her brain, she bolts for her shortcut through the dunes, forgetting entirely about checking in on the kindly old De Haven.


Cor de Wulf divides their life between the Pacific Northwest, Normandy, and the Zuid-Limburg region of the Netherlands. Their short fiction has appeared or is forthcoming in Club Plum, Every Day Fiction, Ink in Thirds, and Blood Tree Literature, which awarded De Wulf’s work first prize in its 2024 RE:BUILD contest. De Wulf has also recently completed their first novel.