This story is by David Anderson Bain and was part of our 2023 Fall Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
Loch Ness Retold
Scotland has a rich history involving fair folk, selkies, and kelpies. Humans see selkies as seals. When a selkie removes her skin, she becomes a woman of amazing beauty. Falling for a selkie is dangerous but not as dangerous as being enchanted by a kelpie. Kelpies also live in bodies of water, but when on shore they become beautiful magnificent horses. Any good Scotsman respects Scottish folklore for fear of discovering he is wrong during his first, and probably last, meeting with a kelpie.
As a descendant of fair folk, I love telling our story. Evangeline is my Great-Grandmother six generations ago; her ancestors are fair folk. I say are because her people live for hundreds of years.
You would call her a fairy. However, be warned, referring to fair folk as fairies could result in crop failure, the death of one of your animals, or your own illness. Scots would never refer to Evangeline’s people as anything but fair folk.
For centuries, our family has lived in the area of Loch Ness. However, this part of our history began in 1870.
The story begins generations ago when my sixth great grandfather, Fergus was just a young man, making his living as a farmer. Both his parents died young and he had no siblings. From the age of nineteen, he lived alone. He dealt with his loneliness by playing his tin whistle or singing. While music was very popular in Scotland, Fergus was severely criticized and seen as young and frivolous wasting time on music when others thought he should be working his crops or tending his sheep.
To avoid conflict with his neighbors, Fergus would hike to a remote area of Great Glen. He would sit on a rock ledge, midway up a hillock, to enjoy his music.
Approaching fair folk was never a good idea. If you sang badly within their hearing, they would punish you. However, if you sang or played well, and my grandfather did both beautifully, they would become extremely curious. If you were good enough, they just might approach you.
Fergus had been escaping to the glen for three years. He began these trips shortly after his mother died a few months after his father. The glen gave him the privacy he needed to enjoy his music. Music helped him grieve. He played a single tune on his tin whistle, but after spending a bitter winter alone, the tune was too cheery for his mood. He put aside his tin whistle and began to sing Loch Lomond. His singing was so mournful the hillock wept with him.
Fergus did not know his life was about to change forever. Nevertheless, this is Evangeline’s story to tell not mine. Please meet my sixth Great-Grandmother.
Unbeknownst to him, I have been watching him for a year now. His favorite hillock is my home. My name is Evangeline and my parents are fair folk. Over time, his beautiful music increases my curiosity about this human. Today, his mournful tune draws me to him; I allow him to see me for the first time. Seeing how easily I move from place to place, he realizes my people are fair folk. While my people are beautiful and pass easily as human, we are feared. Something about my countenance wipes away any fear he may have.
I keep my distance. He knows better than to approach me. I am enchanted and remain there until a few seconds before dusk. As he plays, his tunes become increasing more joyful.
When he returns the following Sunday, he begins by singing Loch Lomond. However, this time his singing is not mournful. In fact, it sounds like a love ballad.
He looks disappointed when I do not reveal myself. He switches to the tin whistle and begins to play a dance tune. In that moment, a cloud moves away and the entire hillock basks in warming sun light. As the sunlight moves into the glen, I cannot resist and begin dancing where he can see me; however, I remain a fair distance away.
He continues to woo me with his music and by the first cold days of fall, we are married. A year later, our first-born son, Malcolm arrives. Three years later, my baby girl, Grace is born.
Being born of fair folk, Grace’s beauty exceeds any other in the land. She begins to attract suitors well before puberty. Her father makes it clear their interests are neither desirable nor appropriate. However, he cannot be with her at all times; therefore, Malcolm becomes her protector.
Malcom loves fishing with Fergus. Just before his eleventh birthday, he walks onto the beach and begins baiting his line. Down the beach a short distance, he notices a seal pup. She looks abandoned, weak and feeble. The first fish he catches is too small to take home so he throws it to the seal. With effort, she manages to eat it all. Two or three fish later, he catches another too small to take home and tosses it to the seal. This is the beginning of a lifelong friendship between Malcolm and his pet seal, Nessie.
Grace is not the only lass in Glen Mor attracting suitors. Isabella, the daughter of Duncan, the chief of the local clan, is older than Grace by a few years. While she is not as beautiful as Grace, Isabella has her own beauty and the advantage of being Duncan’s daughter.
For Duncan, his children are a means to an end. In Isabella’s case, she is his path to peace. He intends to marry her off to a son of a neighboring chieftain. Once the marriage ends the warring between them, he can focus on increasing his wealth. Money is his sole concern.
Isabella has other plans. She has fallen in love with a distant cousin. To annoy Duncan, she encourages her suitors, focusing her attentions on one until she tires of him.
Isabella’s problem then becomes finding a way to get rid of an unwanted suitor. Being as selfish as her father is, she makes a deal with a kelpie. Obviously, Isabella is not concerned about how an unwanted suitor goes away as long as he goes away. Once she tires of a suitor, she makes plans to meet him at the lake where he encounters a kelpie. Focused on winning Isabella’s hand, he ignores what he knows of Scottish folk lore and assumes he will win the fair maiden when she sees him astride this beautiful horse.
Once a man mounts the back of a kelpie, its magical hide keeps him from dismounting. The kelpie then carries him away to a watery grave.
As Grace matures, her suitors become increasingly aggressive. Because of their aggressiveness, I fear for the life of my son and husband. I need a solution to our problem.
As I walk the path along Lake Loch Ness, I discover Malcolm fishing; a seal plays in the water near him. Fearing that the seal is a selkie, I keep my distance but continue to observe the two of them.
After a time, I realize it is just seal. I approach them and while the seal is cautious, she displays no fear. I have my solution to our problem.
By this time, Isabella has rid herself of three suitors. Rumors abound and I use the rumors to our advantage. I have the power to create spells; however, I seldom use them for fear of endangering our family. No human, outside the family, knows my identity. Were the truth known, all our lives could be at risk.
My plan is both simple and ingenious. I will put a spell on Nessie so that anytime we sense danger Nessie will be seen as a huge pre-historic monster of the sea. We very quietly begin to spread the rumor that this sea monster devoured Isabella’s missing suitors.
Nessie loves Malcolm and senses that she is somehow protecting us. I put an additional spell on Nessie protecting her from capture or worse death.
The plan works. Suitors begin to fear the area around Loch Ness. When yet another of Isabella’s suitors disappears, the rumors become rampant. Grace, still far too young to be courted, cares only that the disgusting men have gone away.
Now, centuries later, as a descendant of Evangeline and Fergus, I have to laugh when I hear talk of the Loch Ness Monster. Even though she is now over a hundred and fifty years older, Evangeline is still with me. As one-generation passes and a new one matures, Evangeline puts a spell on one of Nessie’s descendants and she takes on the role of the Loch Ness Monster. When Fergus passed, Evangeline returned to the world of the fair folk giving birth to children that will carry on her role in this amazing Scottish folk tale. However, if you value your life, you will never refer to them as fairies.