Three rust-colored leaves floated past Sala’s balcony and landed on the water below. The sun smoldered just above the horizon. Drawing on a pipe, the captain gazed over the railing from his white wicker chair. Sala was still in bed, her little form resting on top of the blankets, sweaty and feverish.

The dog’s head lifted from the rug and his ears went up. The captain took notice. He stood and leaned over the balcony. There they come, he said. One after another green, spindly fish-men lurched out of the water, gills pulling in the cold air. The girl watched them through the balcony balusters without moving her head. Are they coming for me, Captain? she asked.

The Captain smiled. He could hear the fish feet slapping the wood floor downstairs. No, you’re one of us now, he said. Soon three of the fish creatures crowded through the bedroom doorway and stood dripping on the rug. The dog growled and then barked, backing away. You can’t take her, the Captain said calmly. The glassy fish eyes stared. She’s one of us now. But just as he said that a harpoon pinned his right hand to the railing. He yelled. Another one shot straight though his chest. The fish-man lowered his harpoon gun. Then the other two fish-men went for the child with a weighted net. You’re too late, she said, rising up on the mattress before they could reach her. She held up her hand and spread apart her little fingers. No more webbing! She ran her hand down the side of her neck. No more gills!

The fish people stared. A fourth fish-man pushed through the doorway, raising a spear above his head. The girl stood tall and let out an ear-piercing screech. Before they could react she jumped off the bed and ran out down the stairs.

Soon she was outside on her bike, pedaling like mad up the muddy road.

When she arrived at the old cottage it was nightfall. Smoke floated up from the chimney. She banged her tiny fist on the red door. But out of nowhere fish-men rose up behind her, blocking the moonlight. She banged on the door more urgently then tried the knob and it opened. She slammed it behind her and slid the lock closed. I’m human now! she shouted through the door with the biggest voice she had. You’re not my family anymore!

She stood by the door, listening. It was quiet. Minutes passed. Is that you, Trip? asked an old woman seated by the pot-bellied stove at the other end of the room. Sala turned. Hi J.P., she said to the old woman. It’s me, Sala.

J.P. rose from her rocker and looked deeply into Sala’s eyes. You have clear eyes, she said. Not fishy.

Thanks to you.

Yes, I remember, J.P. said. She walked slowly to the window and looked out into the blackness before drawing the curtain. You will have to face them one day, you know. Your family, that is, she said. Sooner better than later, the old woman continued. She opened a large trunk. Take this. She handed Sala a glittering trident. Sala beamed and touched the three impossibly sharp tips with her finger.

Later J.P. made a bed for Sala on the couch. Sala smiled up at J.P. as the old woman covered her with a large quilt. She was still clutching her new trident and smiling as J.P. blew out the candles and went upstairs to bed.



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