by Melion Traverse
The waves lick salt tongues across your legs as you stand at the mouth of the sea. The air breathes mist across your face and dampens your hair into limp tendrils that clutch the curves of your cheekbones. The taste filling your mind and your throat is hot despite the whisps of chill rolling with each wave. You hug the seal skin closer to you. For an hour – maybe longer – you have watched the bob and dip of a form out on the water. The tide teases it closer to shore, grabs it back. Push pull push pull. Your heart shivers with the pulse of the waves.
You know what – who – that form is. You knew last night in the cold reach of starlight when you saw the silhouette hang like a smudge before the moon and then plunge straight to the water-slicked crags below. The waves smashing against the earth hollered in your ears – thank the gods for that – the crunch of bone, the slop of flesh, as the body hit the rocks would have powered a thousand nightmares. You knew who he was when you screamed his name after him, even when you knew that it was too late because he was gone.
Anyone who goes over the cliffs out on the far point washes up here, at the spot where the seaweed strokes your calves and the waves smooth the beach. Others have gone over before, but none of the others were Renaldo. None of the others had pressed you amid the sand and thrust with the steadiness of the waves as your sounds melded with the light call of sea terns. None of the others had sat upon these beaches with his head in your lap and the spark of dreams swirling into a blazing fire of hopes against summer twilit skies.
The others were strangers, this one was half of your heart and he took that with him to dash against the water-swept rocks.
Why did he not listen?
The chest. He had laughed that silver-edged clap of laughter which always drew forth your smile. But as you threw yourself between him and the chest you kept near the bed, you did not smile. Horror shot too deeply through your blood and back through your heart to give any room for laughter.
“Why not?” he said, and though he started backwards, the jest did not leave his voice. “Let me guess, it’s where you keep the desiccated hearts of your lovers once you have lured them to your bed and used them for all they are worth?” It was an old, bawdy joke between you and him because you have eyes that echo the sea and even if the price were his heart, many a man in the village down beyond the hills would chance it.
“It isn’t funny,” you said, backed against the chest, feeling the wood dig against your legs.
“I-,” he could not find words, Renaldo who laughed and spun wild yarns like a fey-world bard in the moonlight. “Very well,” he managed. “It is not my business what you store about your cottage. But if it is the hearts of your lovers, do not put mine among them. Keep mine in the drawer by your bed so that I can be closer to you than them.”
Of course you would tell him . . . in time.
You thought he followed you into the kitchen. Why didn’t you look back? Because you trusted him.
Too late you heard the sharp breath of horror, the thud of the lid tumbling shut. Spilled onto the floor in a glossy puddle was the mottled skin of your mother, soft with its fur, shadowed in empty eyeholes.
“You -!” Renaldo hurled the word and its spear point sank home.
He fled through the door and into the wash of moonlight. What if you had spoken faster? What if the shock of the pelt at his feet hadn’t ripped the breath from your lungs with the sensation that you were plunging through your own life?
“It was my mother’s!” Your voice tore through the coastal wind, but he might have imagined only seal barks. And then he went up before the moon, hung for that moment and – no! You will not think of that last sight.
As your hand strokes the pelt, the fur prickles your finger tips. Your mother.
Father stole it long ago as she lay upon the shore – this same shore that laps at your ankles – stole it and kept her. He said he would return her one day, but her life faded with your first breaths, and now there is only her skin.
You slipped it on once, when you were young, hungering for the mother whose life you drank. The skin wrapped itself around you, grew into your own flesh, pulled at your bones. It scared you, to think that you would need the ocean for always, and you struggled out of the skin, tore it from your body. You rolled it away into a chest and thought you could forget. But salt air calls in daylight and a world that owns your blood calls in dreams.
Renaldo’s body lifts and sinks upon the waves. A sea tern calls far away.
You slip one foot and then the other into the pelt, finding that you must lay down upon the gritty sand to struggle all your limbs inside. The skin grips your legs, joins them together as you maneuver one arm at an awkward angle into a flipper. Your free hand pulls down the face over your own and you see the world through those once-dark eyeholes.
Somewhere, deep beyond the soft swell of the waves, you hear the call of your people. Flippers paddling across the sand top, you head towards the ocean and dive into the waves as Renaldo’s battered corpse washes overhead. The ocean embraces you as you swim for its depths.
Transition – an Urban Fantasy short story written by Melion Traverse – Folklore meets tragedy upon the rocky shore of this somber tale.
Melion Traverse can be contacted through her blog https://delusionsofsanityblog.wordpress.com/
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