That Time

By Shari Prior (96PHD), 2019 Write Now Finalist

I am a Gabite. My people have lived in River Haven longer than anyone remembers. We warn our youngsters, polyfries, about the dangers of bringing landjunk into the Haven, but some young adults, lanksters as we call them, can't resist. They bring back tokens from their adventures on land. Most release their treasures to the current before they reach their Gilling time, but some gilled elders still hide keepsakes in their pouches. In spite of the dangers, a few keepsakes are tolerated, but no one will ever dare to bring a "P.F." (I can't bear to say the name) into the Haven. Not after what happened That Time to Mabe. I was with her that day.

Mabe was flow gazing, looking for signs of That Time when a movement caught her eye, "There'r kids on the railroad bridge again."

"Don't they know it's dangerous?" I asked.

"They should, but they're kids."

"Well, we better shoo 'em off, it's about That Time."

Mabe and I quietly slipped out of the water and into the pedestrian tunnel, where we shrugged on jeans and hoodies from the clothes cache.

There'd been talk among the humans of tearing the tunnel down for safety's sake, but the Gabite lanksters -- who could pass as human -- had arrived at the City Council meeting en masse, and through crocodile tears begged the officials to keep the tunnel open and not cave because of a few bullies. It worked, surprisingly enough. But they ordered a study -- humans around here are really into studies -- to see if the tunnel really did encourage crime. This meant that the Gabites would have to keep watch at the tunnel to keep the bullies at bay. Another thankless service to the community.

The tunnel served as a changing place for lanksters as they transitioned between River Haven and Universe-City. But it also marked the Connection Point between this world and the other. Gabites are good at lots of things, but maps aren't one. Without the tunnel to mark the spot, we would lose the Connection Point and never again experience That Time.

As we left the tunnel, I asked, "Should we scare them or reason with them?"

"I don't know, do they look reasonable?" Mabe replied.

"They're kids. No such thing as a reasonable kid."

"Okay then, we hafta scare 'em."

"Okay-- are we bullies or cops?"

"Uncle Hine says they're one an' the same," Mabe quipped.

We watched the kids as they climbed under the tracks. I stepped out and yelled, "Hey! Get out of there, a train's coming!" Just then thunder rolled through the sky. The kids' heads shot up, their eyes bright with fear. "Don't just sit there, go, go, GO!" Mabe yelled. The kids scurried out and took off. "Well that was easy," Mabe commented.

Now that the coast was clear we anxiously awaited a sign of That Time. Mabe and I had only recently transformed from polyfries to lanksters so we hadn't experienced That Time before, but we'd heard all about it. When the gilled elders got together, all they talked about was That Time. "You remember That Time with the frogs?" "Yeah, but what about That Time we ate crow?" "I'll never forget That Time the cat, well, you know, old Dae was never the same ... " They'd wink and smile and give us polyfries and young lanksters knowing glances. Now it was our turn to experience That Time.

River Haven, hidden under the murky surface of the Iowa River, was our home for Now, but everyone assumed Now was Forever. We were comfortable in Universe-City. When lanksters had gone to land in other towns, they'd attracted unwanted attention, but at Universe-­City our natural hair colors -- blues and purples, mostly, with an occasional bright red -- blend in with the students who come and go in cycles each year. Some years the Gabites look more "normal" than the humans. Some adventurous lanksters even move to land to live among the humans. Most come home pretty quickly, but occasionally someone will stay until they reach the Gilling time, when they have no choice but to move back underwater.

Mabe's Uncle Hine, who was born with black hair -- a true mutant right in her family -- had lived amongst them longer than anyone, and had even gained some local notoriety with his band, Ambidextrous Amphibian. When his Gilling time came, he had stuck peacock feathers in the holes and passed them off as "body modifications" (he'd actually coined that phrase). Eventually even Hine returned to the Haven, although some said he only came back to escape the law. He had been pushing Mabe to venture out more, but she just wasn't sure she had the stamina to stay on land. She did keep one of Hine' s peacock feathers tucked in her pouch though, and she wouldn't mind seeing the strange bird that had shed it. She thought maybe the much anticipated coming of That Time would give her a sign about what to do. She was daydreaming, mindlessly caressing the feather, when the sky lit up and thunder exploded above her.

More lanksters surfaced and made their way to the tunnel to dress for the occasion. The gilled ones hovered just under the surface, sharing knowing glances and reminiscing about past Times. The polyfries, safely tucked-in deep below, had no idea what they were missing.

I was standing behind Mabe near the river bank when the sky opened and rain came hard. She started dancing and the rest of us joined in. The wait was over and we were enjoying the Moment. Mabe climbed up to the tracks and held her precious peacock feather high above her, still dancing.

We've always blamed the feather, but no one really knows. We'll never forget it though. That Time Mabe and her feather were carried away by the train.

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