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Write Now: Clair's Island

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girl on a hill overlooking the sea

This is my post for the AW March Blog Chain. In honor of St. Paddy's Day, the theme was all things Irish.

For a while now I've been researching mythical creatures and have been particularly interested in exploring selkie lore in fiction. Selkies are similar to mermaids in that they're part human and part creature. Selkies are seals who can shed their skin and take the form of a human. Most of the stories I've read about them have been pretty sad in a Stockholm Syndrome kind of way. See, when a selkie loses it skin, it can never return to the sea. Most legends tell tales of men stealing a selkie's skin in order to force her to be his wife. Sometimes a genuine bond forms, but more often than not the selkie will find her skin years later and leave to go back home forever.

I find this recurring theme pretty depressing and in some cases downright awful, so I wanted to try something else. It was written pretty quickly, but I hope you enjoy it!

Clair's Island

Clair swirled her toes in the lough, absentmindedly tracing shapes on the water's surface and watching them dance and come to life. The sun dipped low on the horizon, casting an unflattering light on the rocky pathway that connected Clair's patch of untamed grass and soil to the mainland. This was her secret place, a secluded slice of heaven where her imagination ran wild, but tonight, and for the past few weeks now, her getaway had been abnormally quiet. Long forgotten were the playful island creatures she'd thought up and befriended—Mergles, she'd called them—along with her diligent search for fairy rings and other magicks buried in the land. Instead, she simply dipped her toes in the murky water and watched the sun make its somber descent.

It was Millie's turn to cook for the dormitory, and the prospect of a steaming bowl of her favorite soup lured her from seclusion early. Warm meals were a rarity at The Proper Ladies' Home except on the coldest of winter days, and Millie was the only kitchen maid clever enough to coax extra firewood rations from the Headmaster. Clair reached into her pocket for the crumpled piece of pink stationery she'd stashed there and dropped it in the water. As she she expertly climbed her way back to shore, slipping only once by accident, the paper bobbed and then all at once disappeared beneath the water.

~*~

Every afternoon for a month, Clair made her lonesome pilgrimage to the lough. Three days before Midsummer's Eve, she was surprised to find a strange girl wading just off the coast of her island. Reluctantly, she settled into her usual spot, trying her best to ignore the intruder.

"Hey! My name's Aine, what's yours?" the stranger asked. When Clair didn't answer, she reared her hand back and sent a large spray of water crashing into her.

"Oi! What's your problem!" Clair roared, shaking water from her limbs.

Aine flashed a cheeky grin and disregarded the question. "Are you here to watch the seals?"

Clair let out an exasperated sigh. "Seals?"

"They won't come this way, you know. They prefer the warmer water over there."

Clair didn't bother to see where she was pointing. "What makes you think I care about stupid seals, anyway?"

"Don't you want to see them transform for the Midsummer Festival?"

"I don't believe in that baby stuff," Clair huffed, crossing her arms triumphantly.

"Suit yourself," Aine shrugged and flopped backwards into the water.

Clair sighed again. As much as she just wanted to be left alone, she couldn't help but think what Headmaster would do if she knew how rude she'd been. Proper Ladies are always gentle and kind, she would repeat firmly, flicking the birch switch against her legs until they were red and blistered. She shuddered at the thought.

"My name's Clair," said Clair. Aine just splashed around. "Do you really believe in selkies?" she asked quietly.

Aine stopped wiggling and sat up. "Sure," she replied. "Seen 'em with my own eyes."

"You're lying!" Clair bit her tongue. A Proper Lady is non-confrontational. "I mean, you shouldn't lie about things like that," she amended haughtily.

"I ain't lying," Aine shot back. "I'll show you if you promise to keep it a secret."

~*~

The next day, Clair snuck out of Proper Ladies early to meet Aine at the place she said the seals would be. There was no way to get there without swimming, so she had left her overclothes hidden next to a boulder on her island for safekeeping. She would probably get scolded for her messy hair when she went back to the Home later, but at least her uniform would be dry.

Aine took one look at her and let out a howl of laughter. "You look like a drowned rat!"

"Hush it!" Clair glared daggers at the small girl who had at least had the foresight to wear a swim top. "Why are we here so early, anyway? I thought the seals didn't change until Midsummer Eve."

The girl pointed in the distance, still giggling to herself. A group of seals were swimming together toward the shore, barking and playing happily as they swam.

"The Midsummer thing is just a myth, you know," Aine explained when she'd calmed down enough to make words. "Selkies can change whenever they want. It's just traditional that they celebrate in human form for the Festival."

"What? No way." Clair cocked an eyebrow skeptically.

"Mhm, if you sit real still, you can watch 'em do it." Sure enough, once the seals reached land human shapes began climb out off their skin. Clair gasped, unable to believe her eyes.

The pair sat in silence watching the lithe figures sun themselves on the shore. Clair preoccupied herself with memorizing the face of each person so she would recognize them if she ever brushed shoulders with them on land.

"I know you miss her terribly," Aine blurted suddenly.

Clair was taken aback. "What?"

Aine produced a soggy wad of pink mush from her pocket. It was mostly destroyed, but Clair recognized it as one of the several notes she'd discarded in the lough over the past month.

"Where did you get that?" she asked, anger rising in her voice. "It's private!"

"Then why would you throw them away?" Aine asked innocently.

"They were for her," Clair mumbled.

"I know. I read them all." Aine dropped the pink blob into the water. "That's why I brought you here. You were so desperate to see if the myth about drowned souls becoming selkies was true."

Clair shifted uncomfortably, not wanting to be having this talk with an outsider. "It's not, is it?" the other girl asked.

"No," she replied in a whipser, tears welling in her eyes.

"Maybe she's out there somewhere," the girl suggested. "Souls are strange things, ain't they? Suppose she's one'o them, but looks different now?"

"What do you know?" Clair snapped suddenly, ignoring all her Proper Lady training. "You didn't know her. She's gone forever and I'll never see her again! Just leave me alone!" She pulled her knees up to her chest and buried her head in her arms, sobbing.

"I'm sorry," she heard the girl say some time later. "I hope you find her some day. I'm sure she misses you, too."

She heard the rustle of grass, the delicate splash of water. When Clair finally looked up, she was alone. Swimming away from her was a beautiful grey seal.

~*~

Thanks for reading! Be sure to check out the other participants in the chain:

jelyzabeth.com
awritersprogression.blogspot.com
jozebwrites.blogspot.com
laylalawlor.com
sudoone.wordpress.com
wrgingell.com


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7 comments:

  1. I've always loved stories about selkies, too :)

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  2. Oh! The ending is kinda sad. But what a way to reincarnate. I had forgotten all about selkies. Great post!

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  3. Wouldn't it be grand? Thank you so much!

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  4. Oh, what a lovely story! I love how vivid it is, and how much backstory you suggest (Millie's life at the dreadful Ladies' Home; her relationship with her lost friend) in so few words.

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  5. Such a great setting and so much life story crammed into a little space. Clair was a great, fully realized person which made her story worth reading. Thanks for sharing.

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  6. Thank you so much! I'm glad you enjoyed it.

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