For the Love of Grape Jelly

An image of a jar of reddish jelly, with the cap open and a spoon stuck into it. It is set on a red tablecloth, with a few plums scattered around it.

Record, Year Nine of Our Universal Leader, Zerxa. (For purposes of thorough documentation, the human date is December 1, 2025.)

My name is Zingblart. My best friend Favricorn and I volunteered for the dangerous and high-risk mission that is undertaken once each year by two members of our race. I’m charged with recording every aspect of our journey, as others did in previous years.

Favricorn and I are of the Draazkovt race, who’ve lived in the Earth’s hollow center at least twice as long as humans have inhabited the Earth’s surface. There are many differences between us and humans. We operate according to ancient rules of logic. We are empathetic and compassionate, but lack certain human emotions, like lust, shame, and self consciousness. We speak to each other silently, from mind to mind, and can move things with our minds. We have genders, though most of us are male and we follow a Great Matriarch, like certain types of bees on the Earth’s surface.

The Earth’s hollow center can only be accessed via entrances at the North and South Poles, which are kept secret, as we wish to keep to ourselves. Some among us sacrificed themselves to pose as humans and spread lies, such as that the core of the Earth is actually molten lava.

We have nearly all we need: sources of nutrition, our own light, and heat. But once each year, two volunteers make a trip to the surface of the Earth, to a particular shop in New York City, to replenish our supply of grape jelly. The Great Matriarch of the Draazkovt favors nothing more, and since I was a tiny splurt, I longed to volunteer to be the one to bring light into those five fiery lavender eyes.

The mission should be as easy as falling off a grumpkin, as we’re members of a civilization far more advanced than humans. But, having read the records of those that undertook this mission before us, anything can go wrong. If day to day life in the Earth’s hollow center is uniform and predictable, life on the Earth’s surface is the opposite: chaotic and random.

Before we leave on the trek, we’re given an information packet and an envelope full of human money of various denominations, sent from contacts who live on the Earth’s surface. We choose to exit the Earth’s hollow center via the South Pole, as we feel a special kinship with penguins, whom we resemble. We are disguised as human children because they are the right height, and adults tend not to take too much notice of them.

Favricorn is “Sven,” a boy of ten with a freckled face and orange hair and red Osh Kosh B’Gosh suspenders with a green silk bow tie. I’m “Jen,” a girl of eight with blonde pigtails and a sweet pink flowered sundress. To finish the outfit, Favricorn has a straw boater and I have a small pink, fancy fascinator with a profusion of pink silk flowers.

Someone occasionally asks where our parents are, at which times, we point to nearby adults, then run away as quickly as possible.

We finally make it to the continental United States, and take buses to New York City. It’s pouring rain. We go to Zabar’s and buy fifteen cases -- all they have -- of our Great Matriarch’s favorite organic grape fruit spread. We’re very lucky, because in the last three years, the Draazkovt representatives could secure only eleven or twelve cases. I find this auspicious.

We go behind Zabar’s. Pigeons coo above us and discharge droppings the shape and consistency of blobs of white plaster, reminding everyone of the power they wield. Favricorn warms up the miniaturization ray and miniaturizes each case for easier transport, then places it carefully into my carrying bag. After he finishes miniaturizing the fourteenth case, the miniaturization ray overheats, so we must wait a few minutes for it to cool down.

Before it fully cools down, we’re surrounded by four boys who seem ten to twelve years old. They’re wearing baggy pants or shorts and oversized T-shirts.

The tallest boy, with a shock of mud-brown hair, looks us up and down, rubbing his nose with a sleeve of his hooded garment. “What the crap are you two wearing?”

A boy with shiny dark hair says, “I’ve never seen you around here.”

Steady, I transmit to Favricorn. I say pleasantly, “I’m Jen, and this is my big brother, Sven. We’re visiting from out of town. Right now we’re waiting for our parents, who are shopping in there.” I gesture to Zabar’s.

A child I’d taken for a boy, but who seems in fact to be a girl, says, “Why do you have a case of grape jam? That’s twelve jars!”

“Jelly,” says Favricorn as gently as the rustling of leaves. To me, he transmits: wouldn’t you agree this organic grape fruit spread has more of the consistency of jelly than jam?

Definitely. To the kids, I say, “It’s for our Mother. She’s quite partial to it, and in fact, passionate about it. On Festival Days, she waxes poetic--”

My dear Zingblart, you’re meant to be an eight-year-old human, Favricorn transmits.

I stop talking, wishing to shoot away like a marble. But I can’t. I show all my human teeth, hoping it resembles a smile.

The tallest boy narrows his eyes. “You talk funny.”

I continue exhibiting my teeth.

The boy breaks into a laugh. “You guys are a trip. I’m Alonzo.”

“I’m Miguel,” says another boy, with a baseball cap pulled down so I can only catch glimpses of his brown eyes (which incidentally, are beautiful specimens of human eyes). “We’re on our way to school. Too bad we can’t bring you. The other kids would die.”

“I love jelly,” says the girl I’d taken for a boy. “I’ve never tasted that kind before. I’m Zara.”

My dear Favricorn, I transmit. I know this grape jelly is the most important commodity to our race, so this seems almost unthinkable...but in the interests of interspecies friendship -- although they won’t know this, of course -- shall we…?

Yes, says Favricorn.

I open the case.

“Have you got any spoons?” I ask. “You can each have a jar.”

“But won’t your parents mind?” asks Zara. “What if they come out here and see us?”

“They take forever when they’re shopping,” says Favricorn. “Don’t worry about them.”

The kids dig into their lunch boxes for utensils. Alonzo and Zara have spoons, Miguel has a fork, and Min has chopsticks. They each dig into a jar.

“Awesome,” says Min dreamily, purple smears on his cheeks. “Wheaties have got nothing on grape jelly.”

Zara adjusts her baseball cap, and sleek, dark cocoa brown hair spills down her shoulders. She lets it be. “Where’d you say you guys are from?”

“Denmark,” I say, at the same time that Favricorn says, “Portugal.”

Zara laughs. “My geography isn’t the best, but…?”

“Doesn’t matter.” Alonzo tugs Zara’s sleeve. “We’d better get to school. We’ll be at least ten minutes late…”

“Worth it,” says Miguel.

“I agree,” I say.

“Definitely,” says Favricorn.

We make it back to the South Pole entrance without any incidents, and are hailed by the Great Matriarch as her conquering heroes. She never notices or asks why one of the cases of grape jelly is missing four jars.


An image of Susmita Ramani, a person with shoulder-length black hair and a suit jacket smiling into the camera.

Susmita Ramanis work has appeared in Pure Slush, 365 Tomorrows, The Daily Drunk, Secret Attic, 100 Words, Six Sentences, 50 Word Stories, Vine Leaves Press, and other publications. She lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with her husband, two daughters, and eleven pets.