This story is by Mari Hotchkiss and was part of our 2018 Spring Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
My head bobs above the glassy surface of the water. The faint scent of wood smoke wafting through the dense fog makes me taste bile. One is close. I glide between unfamiliar silver and cream rocks, silent in my seal form. The Goddess provides.
A liquid plunk echoes through the early morning silence. I follow the sound. This hunt is my only chance. If I shift it will be my last time. Don’t think like that, Milla. You will succeed. The Goddess has chosen you.
Skimming along the shoreline, I hear a discordant hum and follow it into a sheltered bay. A figure stands on the shore behind the vail of fog. Swimming forward, the form resolves into a human holding a red fishing pole. I huff to get its attention.
Our eyes lock. Attack me.
Trembling I sink beneath the surface and tug at my pelt. It resists. I have to work the nail at the end of my flipper into the tiny seam down my chest. The pendant is the only thing keeping my pelt from locking me in. As it slips away my shoulders broaden, limbs elongate, and fingers emerge.
I grab a jagged rock off the bottom and let my head break the surface. With my lips above water I refocus on the human.
It’s alone on the beach. Thank you Goddess. It watches me with wide unblinking eyes, the rod hanging from limp hand.
I take four heartbeats to find weaknesses. Tall, broad shoulders, long limbs, young; like me. Warm clothes, heavy boots, and tidy golden hair curling from beneath a knit hat.
Be quick, Humans are vicious.
Taking the few steps onto the beach, I let my pelt slip from my shoulders to the pebble shore. My dark hair clings to my wet skin as I clasps the jagged rock behind my back.
“You’re a Selkie.” The human’s voice cracks on the “ie.” I understand the language, but I will not respond. Stay detached. I can’t resist shaking my head, no.
“Finfolk,” it says, through tight lips, stepping away from me and raising the rod like a saber.
With heavy deliberate strides I will the human to strike – it does not.
Diving low, I roll to the side anticipating its long reach. But it moves backward.
“Please, no,” it says, wide, piercing blue eyes flicker to the rock in my hand. His disbelief cuts me.
I’m trained to hunt and kill this savage, but he’s not attacking. It doesn’t matter. The Goddess chose him. Gripping the rock I spring.
He stumbles and his rod swings up, the tip glinting like a spear in the thin morning light. Unable to change course, the slender pole connects with my chest bending until it snaps in half. The jagged fragment stabbing above my left breast.
My gull-like scream slices the sky. I collide with the ground. Heat explodes in my shoulder. Lightning shoots through my head, everything turns white.
I blink. He’s above me… his lips move… I hear nothing… he blurs into fog. My vision closes on liquid crimson against the silver-gray pebbles. Then I’m lost to the dark. Goddess have I failed you?
“Wake up,” says a voice luxurious as a silk blanket.
A sharp throb builds in my head as stars burst in the dark. They twitch, dance, streak through the sky in a halo of light. The room sways like I’m underwater. A shape solidifies, becoming his face.
“Hello,” he says, white teeth glinting from between full lips. “How do you feel?” He’s asking me how I feel. He impaled me with a fishing rod. No, wait … I did that.
“Bad.” My lips twist around the thick foreign vowels, as I take in the uncluttered room.
“You speak Norwegian.” A kind smile pulls up the corners of his lips. “Does your head hurt?” I flinch when his gentle fingers graze my left temple.
“Sorry.” His eyes pinch at the corners as he pulls his hand away. “You hit your head when you fell. No sutures there, but your shoulder took four. You should be able to bludgeon me again in a week.” He chuckles, the sound light and still boyish.
“You help me, why?” I stumble over the unfamiliar shapes of simple words.
“You needed it.” He shrugs, as if anyone would do the same. I wouldn’t.
I close my eyes against building pressure. Why would the Goddess want this gentle human as my trophy?
“Are you hungry? Thirsty?” His concern tugs my heart.
“Where is my pelt?” I ask, fear replacing sympathy. I open my eyes as he points to the footboard where it’s draped without a wrinkle or spec of sand. He knows what I am, but he didn’t take it. Why?
Goddess, this Human is not a vile savage. Why put him in front of me? He saved my life when I was trying to take his. It’s not a fair trade.
“You need food and rest.” Standing he towers over me, but I don’t feel threatened. In fact his presence is calming. I sink into the warm blankets breathing in the soft scent of lavender, and listen to familiar kitchen sounds.
He returns, carrying a bowl with a thick slice of brown bread perched on the edge.
“Can I help you sit?” he asks, setting the bowl on the slender bedside table. The clean scent of salt with a richness of buttery clams makes my stomach rumble.
“Yes,” I say, holding out my right hand. As his warm fingers wrap around mine I’m aware of my nudity. It didn’t matter when I was trying to kill him, but now I clutch the blanket pressing it and the empty pendant to my chest.
“Can I ask you a question?” he asks, handing me the bread. I nod and take a bite. “Were you …?” My swollen eyebrow stings as I lift it. “Trying to kill me?” He drops his gaze to his clasped hands, pink flooding his cheeks. With a naked woman in his bed, this is when he blushes.
“Yes,” I say. His body stiffens and his skin turns white.
“And now?” His head tips up so that his eyes are on mine.
““No.” I shake my head. He drags his hand over his head, removing his hat and releasing soft curls.
“Drink your soup.” He hands me the bowl and strides out the door. The thin broth tastes of home. He returns holding a short knife and sits. I chew my lip and set the bowl in my lap.
“Why kill humans?” he asks, placing the knife on the table, handle toward me.
“For blood.” What else is there? He could kill me with that knife. One slice, quick, and it’s over. But I know he won’t. Why?
“Blood?” he asks, a range of expressions play on his face.
“What happens if you don’t kill me?”
“I’m trapped as a seal.” I point at my pelt.
“And that’s bad?” he asks.
“So, you or me?” I nod again. “Can I donate the blood?” I shake my head.
“I need heart blood.”
Standing he paces the small room, feet heavy on the wood floor.
“Oxygenation,” he says, clapping his hands. “It will work, the heart is the changeover point. But the second it’s cut open all the blood is oxygenated. Blood from any part of me is exactly the same.” He scoops the knife up pressing it against his finger. “I need a container?”
“Heart blood is sacred. It’s where the spirit lives.” Goddess, why would you require death if there’s another way?
“All blood is from the heart. It circulates. It flows to every part of the body.” He’s still holding the blade to his finger.
Grasping the pendant my hand trembles. I flip it open. Could this human be my salvation without having to die? Goddess what are you asking of me?
“Ready?” he asks, his voice full of life. The bed creaks as he sits next to me. I hold the pendant under his hand. He hisses as the knife slices his finger. How could the crimson drops not contain his spirit?
“Why are you doing this?” I ask, a weight lifting from my bones.
“I don’t want to die. Do you?” His face relaxes as he smiles. I shake my head and watch the blood fill the chamber.
“Done.” I shut the pendant as he stands.
“I need a bandage,” he says, pinching his finger, his blue eyes gentle as the summer sea, he leaves the room.
The little silver blade rests on the table, a drop of crimson clinging to its tip. Could this work? Is everything I’ve been taught a lie? I could sit here drinking this soup and turn my back on my Goddess, or I could use that knife and appease her?
The pendent lies heavy between my breasts, weighted by centuries of tradition, expectation, sacred duty, and blood.
The soup tastes like life.