“Oh, Stop your hollering.” The froggy creature said while it pulled to get the snapping turtle free. Meanwhile, I had the strangest experience of looking at myself without a mirror. My sister was right, I look like a boy.
“Come back over hey! Help me get this hook out of my friend.”
Being the one to create the problem, I quickly walked up and plucked it out.
He bounced around the turtle, “Ah ha ha! You’re free, let’s go play at the bottom like we were. You go hide first, yeah?”
To my amazement the turtle nodded yes and scuttled away to presumably hide. The creature turned to run back into the pond but before he could, I yelled “Wait! You can’t just leave. I have questions. Good ones.”
“Oh yeah, good ones, huh? We’ll see. What?” He placed his hands at his slimey slim hips in a huff and waited.
“Um… Well, what and who are you?” I realized it wasn’t the most grand of questions, but it was basic, need to know stuff.
“Thought you’d be more fun than this girl.” He rolled his large eyes and huffed but did answer. “I’m Gilk, a water spirit. I keep this nasty cow pond alive. Do you think that all these frogs, fish and animals could live in here without me, with the filth that you humans put in here?” He looked accusingly at my eyes while I looked elsewhere.
Not sure of Gilk’s magical abilities, I tried to be diplomatic, “I’m sorry bad people polluted your pond. I’m glad you’re here to help.”
“Your sorrys don’t do anything, but you’re new to this world, so I’ll leave you alone.”
I let out the breath I’d been holding and said, “Thank you…so, um. What did you do to me?”I jumped high to demonstrate the change in my abilities. It was like bouncing on a cloud.
Fighting to hide a grimace of disgust I had to watch as he picked up a pond skimmer and popped the spidery bug in his mouth. Talking while loudly chewing, he said. “Don’t worry about that, it will wear off soon. Just don’t wander away too far. When your skin awakes it can leave without you. If it leaves without you, you’ll be here until it thinks to come back. Sometimes it’s forever before they remember. Your skin is a little lost without your guidance but it can get by. Unless something else hops in, then your stuck for good yeah. Stolen skins don’t last long.” I felt my eyes go wide and my gut clenched at the thought of watching my body wander away without me.
“Do I just jump at my myself to get back in or what?” I asked, as it seemed like something I didn’t want to mess up.
He nodded and lazily pointed at my body on the bank, “Just touch your skin and “shwoop” you’re sucked back in. Hey now, your lucky I told you this. I could be like some of the other water spirits and trick you into staying until your skin left. But I still got my turtle friend, Kiya to play with, so I didn’t trick you today. I only sprayed you so you’d help, now you wait for your skin to wake up and leave. I’m going to go play, your questions aren’t very fun for me.” I waved and he dove in, disappearing immediately.
Walking over to where I lay on the dirty bank, I did as Gilk suggested and tried to touch my cheek. Nothing happened and I waited a minute and tried again. Nope.
Sitting beside myself I got to thinking, what was Gilk’s idea of soon, really it could mean minutes, hours, or even days. I blew out a breath and concentrated on touching my cheek again. I passed right through. I realized that this must be what ghosts feel like. I’d become angry and haunt people too, I think. This sucked.
I decided to do as Mom always suggested and show some patience. I again watched the cute prairie dogs chasing each other. The odd thing was, they kept looking back at me and staring. Curious, I walked over to them. All the while keeping an eye out for my body to wake up. The cute little things didn’t run or bark. One actually came forward and smelled my hand. “I wonder if all animals can see spirits or what?” I said this aloud to myself and had no idea that the prairie dog before me might answer. It gave a cute bark and nodded its head up and down. “You understand me?” I asked and he tipped his head down to say, “Yes”.
“Wow! I wish I could…” My rambling was interrupted by fifteen or so of the prairie dogs barking and pointing their furry paws towards the lake. There was movement.
I ran back and saw a black smudge of a spirit floating above my body as it stretched and stood up. “YOU! Stay away from me!” I shouted and sprinted closer. It made a surprised pig-like squeal and slipped into my skin. “No!” I shouted and jumped in right after.
Instead of a joyous easy union of body and spirit, it felt similar to when I tried to fit into my fourth grade swimsuit this summer. I pushed back against the burning blackness, that had a head start on filling in my shell. My only advantage was that I’d been in me a lot longer and I knew exactly how it should feel. I concentrated on what it felt like when I stretched and walked. How my finger’s moved, how my toes wiggled. Then when I got control of those, I blinked incessantly until my eyes responded and my mouth began to make sounds I wanted again. I slowly and methodically took back control.
I cried with joy when I felt it leave. I knew the very second its dark stickiness left my body, because there came a warmth and comfort that flooded my spirit. Like when I hugged my mother before bed. I wept because I had won.
Drying my eyes, I saw that the afternoon had begun to roll over into evening, and I needed to go home. I picked up my fishing pole and began the walk back into town. My parents wouldn’t ever believe me, but Grandma would. She knew of these things. She’d told tales like this before.
I shiver thinking of how close I came to being stuck at Cross the Crick for eternity playing with Gilk. He wasn’t especially friendly and I didn’t really care for grumpy turtles either. I was glad to be me again.
This story is actualy based on something my Sioux grandmother told me once as a child. She said that if I ever feel off or not right after coming back from a body of water, I was to go back and call my own name a few times then leave. I would then be better again. My grandma said it was because when you visited a body of water your spirit would play with the water spirits, but sometimes your spirit didn’t realize you’d left and stayed with the water spirits until you came back to get it. Or you didn’t. Which strikes me as very sad. So obviously I changed some of the facts of the belief but that was essentially the inspiration for the story.