And the year winds down to an end! I'll see about my own year in review post sometime this week. I mean, everyone else does it! In the meantime, one last story. I hate how many days I missed this month. Family, the flu, and family with the flu stole a lot of my time. I managed to get some writing done on the two novels I am working on so that's good, but no short stories.
I'm not sure why, but yesterday I was thinking on Erynna and Clyde from this story. So, I have visited them again. I like these characters, all of them, and their setting, and would like to do more with them all. Probably as occasionally visited people in short stories.
For now, enjoy!
Erynna's Fate, Sealed
Erynna sat on the beach as moonlight slid over her wet skin. Clyde had abandoned her again, swimming longer and deeper, searching for something she might never find. Tears mingled with seawater and she let them soothe her skin as the wind gusted tangled black locks around her face. The worst of it was the knowing. Clyde had changed, despite his lame attempts to hide it, and she knew. Now, sitting here, if she closed her eyes she could feel his exuberance.
More tears, her own fears and regrets brought forth most, but there was also the gladness for her brother. If she would be denied, so be it, but the ocean was not so cruel as to steal their heritage from them both. That was good, and it allowed her to sit in the chilly, autumn sand and stare into the ocean until her eyes ached.
A blanket was draped over her shoulders and she tilted her head up to blink at her father. Kyle said nothing, but he sat in the same sand as her and stared out at the sea with a longing that was, if not entirely the same, as filled with need and regret as her own gaze. Her tears fell in silence, but he knew, and he pulled her a little closer to him. Kyle wouldn’t speak, not right now, because he understood. Oh, not exactly, but if anyone understood a longing for something that each day drew closer to not being, it was him.
In the east, a hazy light began to spill upon their separate, shared misery. The scent of the ocean, a comfort that stung, filled her senses and she closed her eyes. Clyde would be up soon. Knowing it was enough, she could not watch him appear. Kyle could be the witness to her twin’s transformation. For her, there was the screech of gulls in her ears and the scent of a home never to be in her nose. It was enough to make her want to cry once more, but she did not. She would not in front of her brother.
“Graduation is today,” Kyle said as she listened to new footsteps. “You should let me get you home to clean up.”
“I’m not going.”
At her twin’s words, Erynna opened her eyes. Her friends had thrown themselves at her brother and he’d waded through them without a care. He was, she’d realized early, most definitely their father’s son. Their biological father. Not Kyle who still mourned the loss of Ewan after five years.
Clyde wasn’t looking at them, his head had twisted and he stared at the sea. Her nose wrinkled at his attractiveness. Like their father, it would trap him someday. She was sure of it. The longing he showed, that she tried to hide, drew his steps to the cool water drawing closer with the morning tide. He was already gone, she realized. The lure of the sea had settled deep within his spirits and he would not resist.
So, she stood and reached out for Kyle. He stared at her hand, watched her blink once, and took her hand despite not using her help to get to his feet. She released her foster father’s hand to embrace her twin. He patted her on the back once. Kyle got not even a look before Clyde bounded for the sea and disappeared into the waves with a sleek brown fin breaking the water once, as if to wave.
“I can’t believe Clyde didn’t show,” Lucy whispered.
Whispered, despite the loud music spilling onto the beach. Because, of course, they’d gone to the beach after graduation. Erynna hadn’t wanted to come out, but Kyle had given her a small smile and shoved her out the door. He meant well. He always did. And, who knew, maybe it was better this way. The sharp scent of the ocean filled her senses in a way the smoke from the bonfire could not. A fall chill had everyone bundled in coats, but she’d only donned a sweater for the celebration.
Lucy, more of a Clyde groupie than a real friend, drifted off to get another beer when Erynna said nothing.
“He changed, didn’t he?”
This voice captured her attention. Erynna turned from the cruel ocean to see Artis grinning. They had not always been friends, despite what their parents wanted. Artis’ mom and Erynna’s dad were best friends. She thought, possibly, they had hoped she would fall for one of Artis’ brothers, but they did not appeal. Not in comparison to their sister with round, freckled cheeks, full lips, a fuller- That was where Erynna stopped herself. Always. Because Artis showed no interest of that sort.
“Earth to Erynna.” Artis grabbed her arm, looped it with hers, and led her away from the fire. Not closer to the water, for which she was thankful. Instead, to her surprise, she led her over to her car. “Come on. I don’t want to be there anymore than you.”
“Why not?” Erynna asked the question as she gazed at her now friend’s arm in hers. It felt nice. Or maybe it was the beers.
“Because I don’t like most of them.”
“Yea, me either.”
They laughed before Artis took off and began to drive, inland. The only noise to keep them company was the crunch of tires on unpaved roads. Erynna kept her window rolled up as if that would stop the teasing scent of the ocean from following her.
“He did though, didn’t he?”
She knew what was being asked, but could not force the words from her tight throat.
“I’m so sorry, Erynna. But, it could still happen, right?”
In a way, it was nice having a friend who knew your blood father was a selkie. In a way, though, it was not. Despite the odd whispers about her and Clyde, most people accepted Kyle as their father. The island was small enough there were no squelching rumors, but they all tried to keep a low profile and engender no new speculations. Because of her mom’s relationship with Erynna’s dad, Artis knew more than most.
“Erynna? Do you want me to take you home instead?”
“Instead of where?”
“I thought we’d go to the old sheep farm.”
“It smells like sheep.” Oh. Erynna blinked twice, but a tear fell despite her efforts. “You’re a good friend.”
“Nah. I just don’t want to go home yet either.”
Also probably true as Artis had been arguing with her mom for the last several months. At least Kyle did not expect her to go off to university somewhere. With Clyde gone, she wondered if he would try to hold her closer, but dismissed the idea. The one thing Kyle had always been good at was letting go. To his detriment. She wished he would find someone new. If anyone deserved it, he did.
“Quit moping. We’re here and I need you to get the gate.”
Erynna opened her door and stuck out her tongue. “I wasn’t moping.” But she was, and they both knew it. Once Artis had driven through the gate, Erynna closed it once more and climbed in for the ride to the cottage. The night was cold and she wished for a coat now where she hadn’t on the beach.
“I came out earlier and stocked the cottage. Grandda thought it was to get ready for the winter herders and I did not dissuade him.”
“Do you still want to winter here?”
Artis had been talking about taking the job from her grandda. A few months with nothing but snow and sheep sounded like torture to Erynna, but Artis said it would be lovely. Sometimes, she thought her friend mad.
“I do. Grandda said he would hire me, but I have to get mom to agree. And she’s so keen on getting me off the island and into university it’s not funny.”
The car rattled to a stop in front of the small cottage and neither of them hurried out into the cold.
“I don’t know what I’m going to do.”
“Take the winter to think of it. In a way, the school troubles were a boon to all of us. We have a whole year to decide what to do instead of a few months.”
The school troubles had been a gas explosion. Which meant there was no school. Well, some parents boated their children to another, but most had simply waited for school to resume. That was the way it was on the island.
“Come on. It’s only going to get colder out here,” Erynna said as she shoved her door open once more. The inland wind always chilled her bones the way the ocean’s cold could not. It was unfair, how connected she felt to the sea when she was denied a true embrace. Fresh tears threatened her, but she blinked them back into her dark eyes as Artis opened the cottage door. They swiftly built a fire in the wood stove and added a pot of water to the top to make cocoa.
A couple of lanterns lit the room, neither interested in running the generator. Erynna because she hated the smell, and Artis because she hated the noise. They’d been coming here since they were children and it was small enough to have no surprises in the layout. As they waited for the water to boil they hauled blankets from the bed to the couch where they bundled up and listened to nothing but the occasional sleepy bleat of a sheep.
“Do you want to talk about Clyde?”
“Not really. Not tonight. Maybe later.” Maybe never, but she doubted that. They were twins, he would always be somewhere in her mind.
“I heard your dad was going to sell his boat.”
“That’s ridiculous!” Kyle would never sell the Dick. “He loves that boat.” Erynna scowled at her friend for even suggesting such a thing, but Artis only held up her hands and laughed.
“I only said I heard it. Mom said it was a stupid rumor as well. She’s going back to deckhand for him full time. Now that I’m all grown. Being the last one and all.”
“I’ll probably see her more than you if you stay up here with the sheep.”
Artis leapt up when the kettle shrilled its readiness.
Erynna shook her head, but watched her friend with care. Something was bothering her. How had she only now just noticed? Oh, right, because she’d been wrapped up in her own sadness.
“You ok?” she asked once Artis was back on the couch. “You’re being weird.”
“I am not!”
They both laughed, but Erynna was not going to be deterred. She did let Artis finish her cocoa, but that was only because she wanted to drink hers and finish warming up. The wind gusted against the cottage, searching for cracks to break through and steal away their warmth. Shrill whistles rattled the shutters and they both jumped.
A nervous laugh accompanied Artis’ scooting closer on the couch. Erynna had no idea how she’d survive up here on her own. She was frightened of any noise. Always had been.
“Bogeymen outside?” Erynna asked as she looped an arm around Artis’ shoulders.
“It’s not funny. I saw one here once.” Artis had sworn since she was twelve she’d seen at least one bogey haunting the area by the cottage. She was sure they stole sheep on occasion.
“How are you going to make it up here alone?” Erynna demanded.
“I was hoping I wouldn’t have to.” Artis twisted in the blankets and took Erynna’s hand. “You could stay. You don’t have to work the Dick this winter.” They both giggled, because they’d giggled over the shorthand name of Kyle’s boat since they’d learned what it meant.
“Stay here? With the sheep?” With Artis. Which would be both boon and nightmare. She wanted to be close to her, but not only as friends and she didn’t know how she’d handle the sting of disappointment at such a situation. Not after Clyde.
“With me,” Artis said as the wind rattled the shutters once more. “You could keep the bogeymen away.”
“Artis- I don’t think- It’s not a good idea.”
“Why not? I’m not crazy, you know. I’ve seen them. And the old woman in the cave said they’re getting stronger.”
Erynna’s laugh came quickly she hated the way it made Artis flinch.
“How can you not believe?” Artis demanded. “You’re a selkie!”
“Because I’m not,” Erynna screamed. She shot to her feet, blankets hanging about her shoulders as she glared in the lantern light. “I’m not, Artis. Clyde is. I’m nothing. I can’t- I can’t stay here with you.”
“Why not?” Artis was not upset by her outburst. They were rare, but not unknown to her best friend. She knew Erynna would calm down soon enough.
“Because I don’t believe in self-flagellation.”
“Well, good?” Artis reached for her hand and Erynna let it be taken.
Maybe she did believe in it at least a little because she did not let go of her friend’s hand.
“What’s the real reason, if you’re not afraid of bogens?”
“You,” Erynna whispered.
“What do you mean?”
“I mean, I love you, Artis. And don’t say you love me too, because that’s not what I mean.” Erynna looked down at their hands together and pulled hers away from the temptation their knotted fingers made bare.
“Tell me.” Artis took her hand again. “You can tell me anything.”
“I can’t.” Erynna’s bark of laughter was nearly a sob, but pride protected her. “Because I don’t want to lose my best friend.”
“You won’t. I promise.”
Oh, how she wanted to believe. For years, she’d dreamt of a chance to tell her friend how she felt, but now there was fear in her way. The wood in the stove shifted and sent sparks visible through the grate. Neither of them said anything until, finally, to drown out the wind that bothered her friend, Erynna spoke.
“I’ve wanted to kiss you since we were fourteen. Maybe longer. I just remember, at your birthday party, you let Lyle kiss you behind the house and I wanted to punch him. Every time you went on a date I dreaded hearing about it because I was so jealous. And, I know you’re not like me. So, I never said anything, but I-”
“I dreamed about you.” The whisper froze her throat. There was nothing else to say. So, she waited for Artis to make a joke, or yell, or get up and move away from her.
“I’m not like you,” Artis said, but she didn’t move away. “I like boys fine, Erynna. And I know you don’t. I’ve always known.”
“I’m sorry.” She blinked and stared at the shuttered window. There was no ocean scent in the room, she noted. Only the smell of wood smoke, and sheep, and Artis.
Artis whispered in her ear, her breath warm on Erynna’s skin, and she shuddered. Her friend kissed the side of her neck and she bit her lower lip hard to keep quiet. Maybe Artis had been right and a bogen was here and it had possessed her friend. Which meant, she should not turn her head and let their lips touch. She definitely should not do it.
Except, she couldn’t help herself.
And the wind may have rattled the cottage as mad bogens tried to get in, but neither of them paid it any mind for the rest of the night. Because, there was time enough for sheep and bogeymen when the sun was up. For now, Erynna’s entire existence shrank down to Artis, and even the sea was forgotten.
“You know our children are out together,” Selma said over coffee with Kyle the next morning. “At least, I assume so since Artis never came home and Dad said she was up at the cottage.”
“Well, it’ll do her good to be away from beach for awhile.” Kyle topped off his coffee before asking, “Did you know? About Artis? I knew Erynna, well, I suspected, but…I never said anything. Not directly. Maybe I should have?”
“Children,” Selma said with a snort. “They think we know nothing about them. I’d caught Artis kissing her fair share of boys and girls, but only gave her the same lecture my mom gave me about getting pregnant.”
The boat rocked under them as the sun broke through the fog, finally, and gave them a shot of warmth even the coffee could not match.
“I hate how I feel,” Kyle said, getting to the truth of the matter.
“That she’s not going to swim off to the sea?”
“Yea. I’m a shitty dad, Selma. Because I always knew I could lose them, but every year I lied and told myself maybe not.”
“You met the new butcher in town? I hear he’s single.”
“Stop trying to hook me up!”
“I can’t. There’s only so few of you on the island. When I see a fine specimen I immediately covet him for my best friend!”
Kyle had seen the new butcher. The sight had perked up more than his eyes, but he blamed it on celibacy. Ewan’s leaving had been too hard and Kyle had allowed himself to get lost in work and childrearing. Maybe for too long.
“I should talk to him about business.”
“Yes!” Selma’s fist shot into the air and she spilled coffee onto her old sweater. It joined the rest of the stains.
“Yea,” she said with a smirk. “Dick business.”
Kyle had to laugh, sometimes the teenager was too close to the surface. But, he still worried inside. For Clyde, out at sea, and for Erynna, up with the sheep.
“Do you think they can handle the bogens by themselves?”
Selma sighed and touched the iron nail worn around her neck. “I think our daughters might finally push them back high into the hills.” She shook her head and glanced out at the sea. “I blame this all on you, you know. Before you dallied with your selkie everything knew its place.”
“Oh, Donnan knew his place.” Kyle couldn’t resist. Not the words, or the selkie who still swam ashore every now and again.
They both laughed before finishing their coffee and, once done, Kyle let Selma drop him off at the butcher’s.