Welcome to the March 2019 installment of First Sunday Short Fiction. Please enjoy the story, and remember; if you want to submit a story of your own, you can find instructions on our submissions page.
Selkie by Michelle Simkins
She walks the ocean floor, following a glistening line of pearls across the rippling sand. Her hair streams around her. She knows if she loses focus for a moment, she'll float away, lose the trail, lose her way. She can't let that happen; she's been searching too long. She knows this time she'll find her skin, and he won't be able to keep her anymore.
It's strange how the watery kingdom she traverses is so like a desert. Nothing as far as the eye can see but sand, except the tiny silver-white orbs, a trail of aquatic breadcrumbs to lead her home.
They told her she wouldn't be able to survive the sea in this skin. They told her she would drown like a human. Tonight she proves them wrong. She breathes the water as easily as she breathed the air.
But she doesn't move as well with these human limbs. She misses the warmth of her other form, the speed of sleek fins, the taste of live things.
She has spent so many weeks, months, searching. Drawers and cabinets, basement and closets. She searched his car. She even checked his safe deposit box, though she knew her skin wouldn't fit inside.
He couldn't have burned it. He wouldn't dare.
She doesn't know how he could have brought her skin down here without her knowing, but it doesn't matter. She doesn't know how the pearls got here either, but she knows they will lead her, and everything will be all right. She'll never leave the sea again. She's learned her lesson.
Finally, thousands of pearls later, the wasteland around her changes. A cluster of rocks, covered in barnacles and anemones, looms ahead. With her ears full of water, the thrumming of her heart is thunderous. Soon. Soon. She must be careful not to rush. She must be careful not to lose track of the trail. She must do everything right. If she does everything right, she will find her skin.
Passing through the opening in the rock, her hair catches on the rough barnacles. She doesn't let it stop her; she moves steadily forward, even when a handful of tresses yanks from her scalp with a sharp stab of pain.
She is forced to crouch after a few steps as the cave becomes smaller. Then she must crawl, and finally wriggle on her belly, sand grating over her bare skin.
When the tiny space opens up, she slithers into a perfect dome, shining with impossible lights, gleaming with pearls and crystals.
At the middle of this tiny cathedral is a simple wooden box. It sings to her. Her skin is inside.
Her hands tremble as she opens the box, anticipating the sleekness of her sealskin, the freedom of lifting away from the ocean floor, and shooting through the waters to find her lost kin.
But when she opens the box, ashes rise on the moving water. The ash surrounds her, stinging her eyes and throat. She backpedals, stirring the sand until it, too, floats in a cloud around her, turning the light-soaked air of the cave to a murky soup.
She can't see, she can't breathe or swim, and her skin is gone, her skin is gone, her skin is gone.
She opens her mouth to scream, and water rushes in.
She opens her eyes and watches the white bathroom ceiling waver. She's fallen asleep in the bathtub again, breathing under water. He hates it when she does that, so she does it as often as possible.
Her bath has grown cold while she dreamed, but she doesn't mind. It reminds her of the sea, where she can never return.
story ©Michelle Simkins, 2011
artwork by Sidney Perry, courtesy of Unsplash
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About the Author:
Michelle Simkins runs Hagstone Publishing from her home office in Gresham, Oregon, where she writes obsessively about herbs, trees, and encounters with the numinous, creates quirky knitting patterns, gardens haphazardly, reads voraciously, clumsily attempts to learn the Irish language, and watches too many reruns on Hulu with her wife.
Learn more about her work and her various obsessions at her website or follow her on Instagram.