Part Four

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The restless streak of his memory hurried on, and he discovered a vision of her bobbing in the river beside him. They held hands under water, where their fingers elongated and bent. Floating in the river, they paddled their legs just enough to mitigate the desultory current.

"Trah-lah-lah!" she sang. "Trah-lah-lah! Did you like my songs the other night? You never said."

"Yes, I liked them very much," he nodded. "Can I ask a question?" He asked.

She giggled. "I think you just did. Trah-lah-lah!"

He braced. "What happened to your last boyfriend?"

She lowered her head and watched his reflection rippling between them. "My sister. My sister happened."

"What a relief."

She splashed him.

"I meant-- I heard a rumor-- he was-- eaten?"

"Oh. A prairie monster, right? Yeah, I heard that too."

"Six legs, they say," he mumbled.

"Eight," she corrected.

"I thought you said--"

"It would have been eight. That's what lives across the prairie."

"Ah," he nodded.

She looked up. The sun stabbed through the leaves. She continued. "Powerful. Agile. Fierce." She paused. "Hungry."

"You-- like monsters?"

"I like strength," she answered. "And sometimes you can only find that in a monster."

He canted his head. "Is that true?"

She cast off her far-away look. "My sister stole my boyfriend. Didn't know you could steal people. Now I do."

"So-- you two did have a fight," he ventured.

"She lied to me, and then denied it! And I found half her scarf on his-- and then last night, the other half, and his-- Look, I don't want to talk about it."


"I mean, how could they do such a thing? Oh, I hate him. I hate her. I hate them both."

A tree overhead rustled. Half-a-dozen dried midges fell into the river. As the current swept them away, finned beasts surfaced, claiming their meals in an eager staccato.

"Well that's weird," she mused.

More dead midges fell, scattering closer to them. And a few more, closer still.

He shouted, "It's leading right to us!"

More beasts burst from below, swimming and gulping the midges in short leaps like a circus of trained animals.

"The surface waves!" she called. "Go under!"

They dove to the bottom. Reaching black sand, they looked up to see the feeding frenzy converge nearer. They turned upstream to flee, but an abrupt wall of scales blocked their escape. The great blue-green beast glided past-- a slow, oblivious slide of sparkling skin. The monstrosity's thick, scattered black spots passed in a curl. They marveled at its thick red stripe from gill to tail.

They squeezed one another's hand.

He panicked and struggled to resurface, pulling her with him. She panicked too, but swam in the opposite direction. Each thought the other had been caught. They pulled as hard as they could to free one another, going nowhere.

At last their grip broke and they snapped to the surface, gasping for air.

"Did it get you?" he called.

"No, I thought you--!" She pointed.

The feeding disappeared down river, and they realized what happened. They laughed. She dared to splash him.

"Don't!" he said, half-joking.

"Wasn't that amazing!" she called.

"Amazing? We couldabeen--"

"Getoutofthewaterrr!" came an atonal blast.

Her enraged father and his trumpet of a scream frightened them so much, they did the exact opposite. They plunged again into the maple-colored water, submerging quickly beneath its fluid fold.

Their unclasped hands sought each other-- and twenty fingers joined, lattice-like.

He wanted to kiss her-- kiss her, hold her, remain forever inside their private, liquid limbo.

"Brr sah eh tur!" her father insisted, his trumpet now more like a busted tuba, bleating as it was through the water.

They sloshed out of the river. Her father posed akimbo over them. His eyes, weighted heavily by paternal obligation, narrowed into disapproving slits.

Her father shouted, "You could be eaten alive!"

As they stepped out of the brown wash that lapped the crumbly earth, he tried to help her climb the bank, but her father yanked his daughter out of reach.

He lifted his gaze to meet hers as her father led her away.

"Goodbye," she said.

Hanging now in the void, he could still hear the river.

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