The month of March has come to its close, which means another piece of short fiction from yours truly. This flash fiction piece was inspired by the Scottish/Irish/Faroese myth of the selkie. The selkie is considered a sea fairy that for most of its existence lives in the open water in its seal form. Occasionally they come to shore and remove their seal skins, revealing their inner form of that of a beautiful woman or a handsome man. Depending on the area, stories of the selkie can differ, but they are generally romantic tragedies. At 963 words, I present you my flash fiction piece for March:
A story of the selkie
by K.E. Skedgell
The ice cold sea thundered upon the shore. The selkie's shoulder throbbed, the sand beneath him soaked in his blood. Weak from the orca bite, he lay unable to remove his seal skin wrapped around his legs.
A human voice. High in tone. A female. He opened his sand-caked eyes to a blurred vision of a hand touching his wound. Her words meant little to him, having learned precious few from their men-folk who fished the open sea. “Help”, “safe”, and “home” he understood. Warm hands lifted him and arms wrapped around his chest. The seal skin pulled away as his legs dragged across the sand. He tilted back his head. Her lips bowed upon skin that glowed beneath the pale moon, and he fell into unconsciousness.
Ethan set the kettle on the stove to boil. A cool breeze wafted through the sunny kitchen window, carrying a hint of brine from the sea and rain from an approaching storm. Sara's laugh rang from the garden and that of her companion's. Her friend must have arrived while he took his afternoon rest. Tea and biscuits would be a good way to introduce himself.
As the water heated, Ethan arranged a tray with cups, biscuits, and teabags. Sara's voice carried through the open window. “What a treat it's been havin' you here, Danielle. It's been a long time.”
“Aye, too long. We have much catching up to do. I need to come back to Birsay more often. So, tell me more about Ethan. You've barely scratched the surface. How d'ya meet?”
“It was a couple of years ago on the beach . . .”
Ah, she was about to tell her “heroic” tale of how she saved his life, a story he could recite word for word for all the times she'd told it.
“It was the anniversary of m' late husband's death. I'd been drinking to drown the memory of the day his fishing boat wrecked at sea. The entire crew perished.”
“Thank you. The evenin' had grown late and I was 'bout to head home when I stumbled upon Ethan. He was laying unconscious 'tween the rocks of the shore. I wasn't sure if he were alive or dead.”
“Y' know, we've been close since our childhood until these last few years when you moved to Edinburgh with yer husband. We've told each other many secrets.”
“May I burden you with another?”
“Of course. Tell me anything. Nothin' you say will leave this garden.”
Ethan stood to the side of the window to get a better listen. Sara and Danielle sat at the little bistro on the patio as grey clouds blotted out the sun. Was she going to tell the truth?
“Remember the stories my father told us as wee lasses of the selkies he claimed to have encountered while fishing out to sea?”
“Aye, he firmly believed they existed. But why . . . oh!” Danielle cupped her hands over her mouth. “Don't tell me?”
Sara nodded. “He was bitten by a shark or whale, which I don't know. His legs were wrapped in his seal skin. He might have swam to shore to seek help, but was too weak by the time he washed up on the beach to go further.”
“And selkies can't speak so he couldn't tell you what happened.”
“Aye. But he understands what I say. Not at first, but he learned. Thankfully for him he washed up at the house of a nurse. I dragged him here and cared for him m'self. A hospital was no place for a selkie. He's been under my wing e'er since.”
Under her wing. More a prisoner. 'Course, without her help he would have died. Ethan quietly slid the window shut. The kettle whistled and he took it off the heat. Every day he dreamt of returning home to his family and searched the house for his skin when Sara was away. Without it he couldn't return to the sea, and she knew it. He set the kettle upon the tray and carried it to the door.
“So yer hidin' his skin somewhere?” Danielle said as he carefully opened the door.
“Hidin' it? He thinks it's 'round here. Selkies make fantastic lovers and do whate'er you ask of 'em. Ethan is here to stay. No, I'm not hidin' it. I rid m'self of that horrid thing.”
The tray fell from Ethan's hands and crashed upon the patio.
The women jumped in their seats. “Ethan, what are you doing out here?” Sara started.
Ethan raised a hand and ran. His instincts had been right. The woman had never kept his skin. He was a prisoner. Humans couldn't be trusted, a common knowledge amongst his kind he regretfully ignored. And now his only option laid out before him across the beach, the waves beating the boulders beneath a blackening sky, for his other choice was no option at all.
“Ethan, stop!” Sara shouted after. Ethan raced across the sand while relieving himself of the dry, false skins humans called clothing. He splashed through the frigid water and gasped. “Stop, Ethan! You'll drown. Come back to me and I'll take you home.”
The waves crashed against his body, pulling him further into their icy grasp. “Ethan was your husband's name. Not mine.” He turned to her standing at the shoreline, her hands stretched out to him. Lightning seared the sky. “The sea was where I was born, and where I will die.”
“You can speak? When could you speak?”
Pairs of black eyes bobbed above the surface. His selkie family clicked and whistled, telling him they were here to take him home. Teeth clenched his wrists and ankles.
“I always could, but you never would have listened.”