When the Selkie Comes

My name is not Elisabeth. My eyes are not full of tears. My life has not just changed forever. My best friend is not dead.

Mum screeches my full name like a fishwife, carrying over the howling winds of the bay, and the magic is broken. Every evening I sit looking over the sharp rocks and grey water of Limeslade Bay, hoping I might see Sophie. Hoping that somehow saying the words could undo everything that happened. The sky turns a deep slate blue as night falls, and I can hear Mum getting frantic. I don’t want her coming out to the cliff to find me. I’ll try again tomorrow. I have to keep trying.

selkieIt was Sophie who taught me about magic. We were walking along the coastal path when she pointed. “Do you see her?”

I glanced up the path. “Who?”

“Oh, Beth.” Sophie sighed as she put her hands on my cheeks and turned my face until I was looking out to sea. A dark round head bobbed in the grey water, huge brown eyes watching us.

We spoke in the same moment. “Seal,” I said and “Selkie,” said Sophie and her warm breath touched my face.

“She’ll shed her skin at the full moon and come onto the beach.” Sophie watched me from the corner of her eye. “To find a lover.”

“Why would she do that?”

“Because she is all alone. Because she isn’t like the others. Because the seals don’t love her. Not like she wants to be loved.”

Those round brown eyes stared unblinkingly at us standing up on the path. A cloud covered the sun, and I shivered in the sudden chill. “Let’s go, Sophie. Let’s go home.” She held my hand as we ran along the trail in the rain.

There are no blood stains on the rocks. There are no more bullies. There’s no world in which Sophie left me. There’s nothing wrong with love.

Every chance I get, I look for the moon rising over the bay. I watch the dark waves for a sign. I listen to the whispers of the tide. Maybe today is the day that the magic will work.

I never knew anything about Welsh magic, even though I’ve lived here all my life. Sophie told me the stories of the Sea Morgen and the Pwca and most of all the beautiful Selkie who shed their skins in return for love that they can never keep. They get one night only when the moon is right. She never told me what moon is the right one.

Every day after school, Sophie would brush my hair and whisper stories into my ear, so no one else could hear. She said that the wind off the sea would protect me forever because I was a child of the old lands. But when Brittany and her friends chased us, Sophie didn’t turn to magic. She fought.

Four of them surrounded us on the beach. I thought maybe if I just talked to them if I just said the right things then they would go away. I’ve known them all my life. I’d only known Sophie a year, but we’ve spent every free moment together since she moved here. She’s my best friend. So I couldn’t understand why I suddenly felt surrounded by strangers.

Sophie bared her teeth and snarled.

“Fucking pair of lesbos,” said Brittany. I turned around, looking at the empty beach to see who she was talking about. As I turned back, a closed fist rushed at my face. I felt the sand fill my mouth and nose before I knew she’d hit me. Sophie was a twisted blur, fighting the other three. A wet sound of soft flesh took her down, and she fell retching into the sand. Melanie and Michelle kept kicking her in the stomach until Brittany pulled them back, said that was enough.

Sophie lifted her head, lying on the ground completely shipwrecked, and snarled at them again, like she wanted some more. “Don’t,” I whispered, spitting the sand and blood from my mouth. They would have kicked her again, but when someone shouted from a distance, the girls ran and disappeared into the dunes.

I struggled to my knees. Sophie’s face was a fierce mask of hatred. Her eyes blazed with anger. She reached out and touched the side of my face, and I flinched away. She stared at her fingers, covered with blood and sand. Her angry eyes filled with tears, that fierce-hearted girl who was ready to take on everyone. She forced out words I’d never heard her say before, “I’m sorry.” I wanted to tell her that it wasn’t her fault, but she ran off before I could get the words out. Before I could find the words to say, “I don’t care” or “you are my best friend” or even “I love you.” That’s the last time I saw her. She didn’t show up for school, and I thought maybe she went back home to England. The police came round after school.

I didn’t miss my last chance to tell her.

The magic doesn’t stop me crying. It’s been seventeen days. Her parents had a funeral with a closed coffin, but we all knew it was empty. Some walkers spotted her broken body on the rocks at Limeslade Bay just after dawn. It was gone before anyone could get down to recover it. The tide stole her away. Everyone called it a suicide but I know they are wrong.

Sophie didn’t jump. She just shed her skin. I’ll be waiting for her on the beach when she comes. This time, I won’t flinch.

Previously published in Daily Science Fiction, 2014, and SciGenTasy. Reprinted here by permission of the author.