When the Sea Calls
by N.V. Devlin
N.V. Devlin writes dark and speculative fiction to better make sense of the world. N.V. was the 1st Runner-Up for Indecent Magazine’s 2022 Queer Quivers Contest and has had or will have work appear in the Creepy Podcast, Tales from the Moonlit Path, and Rebellion LIT’s The Start anthology. Some favorite authors include Edgar Allan Poe, Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu, Joyce Carol Oates, Shirley Jackson, and Neil Gaiman, and N.V. aspires to someday write even a fraction as well as them. Find N.V. on Instagram (@nvdevlin).
She told me that if I handed over my skin, she’d become the mother I never had. She told me that if I lived in her cottage with her as her daughter, she would give me the love I had never known. She told me that if I gave her my trust, I would never know strife or loneliness again.
So I handed over my skin.
I lived in her home.
I gave her my trust.
And she betrayed it all.
It started with little things, such as hiding my skin from me. She feared that I would one day get the idea in my head to leave her. She never told me where she’d hidden it, even when I fell on my knees, tears stinging my eyes, as I begged her to place her faith in me as I had her.
Then she stopped my lone walks by the sea. She refused to let me leave the cottage without her, so we would walk arm in arm and stare down into the tidal pools. She’d tell me how much better my life was with her, how I had a roof over my head, food in my belly, and clothes on my back.
And I had her love; she told me to be grateful for it.
Then she stripped away my trust by locking me inside the cottage when she went to the village alone. She’d leave me for hours at a time, expecting to have the floors swept, furniture polished, and dinner prepared by the time she returned. If I didn’t, she would lock me into my room for the night.
Once I had no one but her, she began to hurl insults at me. Water slut. Sea hoyden. A lying selkie, no daughter of mine. Her words punctured my confidence like daggers, tearing my self-worth into shreds.
I stopped begging for my skin.
I started living only inside my head.
I trusted no one, not even myself.
On the nights she locked me into my room, I heard the tides whispering my name: “Celina, Celina.” My ears strained to catch their calls as I soaked my pillow with my tears. Even though I had no family in the sea, at least I had been free. My eyelids clamped shut as I recalled fonder times: gliding underwater with dolphins, exploring hidden sea caves, water rolling off my back as I burst to the airy surface.
Long, lonely nights swept into years. I was nothing more than an empty oyster in the home of the woman who’d promised to be a mother to me. I thought this was it for me as I tended to her home, her gardens, and her cravings for companionship.
One day, she caught me staring out the window, glimpsing at a hint of the sea sparkling between lush, green hills. She slapped me hard across the cheek. My mouth gaped open, stunned; that was the first time she’d ever slapped me.
Her spittle rained down on my face as she shouted, “How dare you still crave the sea? After all I have done for you? After all I have given you? You’re nothing but a simple-minded, sea hoyden. You wouldn’t know a mother’s love even if yours rose up from her watery grave.”
Something like fire flickered inside my chest, my fists curling at my sides. “Don’t mention my mother.”
“I am your mother now.” She stomped across the cottage, swiping her keys from a tabletop. “Not that ignorant selkie that died before you were old enough to swim.”
Walls shook as she slammed the door behind her. Her key grated in the lock, then her footsteps crunched on the gravel outside. I stared at the door for a long time, my cheek stinging. This wasn’t living. This was far from it. I was as good as sealed in my tomb if I remained in this cottage.
A seagull cried outside the window. I threw back heavy drapes and peeked outside, again staring out at the sea. I heard what no human ears could as my name rolled in on its waves: “Celina, Celina.”
My jaw clenched.
I whirled on my heels.
And I tore the cottage apart.
Dishes and bowls smashed as I cleared the cabinets. Tables and desks collapsed as I ripped out drawers. Clothes, scarves, and ribbons fluttered around me as I searched trunks and closets. When I found nothing in those places, I dug my nails into the walls and cracked open floorboards with my fists.
It was in her bedroom, under the floor, that I found my skin. I lifted it to my nose and inhaled the lingering, salty ocean spray.
Home. My true home, motherless and all.
A tear streamed down my cheek, its sting now gone.
When her footsteps crunched on the gravel, I slipped behind the door, clutching a candlestick. Her key scraped inside the lock. My breaths were deep, ragged, my lungs burning as if I still wasn’t filling them with enough air. Each second was a century as I waited for her to come inside.
The door creaked open. She closed it, and the last sound I heard slip from her lips was a gasp before I bashed the candlestick into her skull. Her chest still rose and fell as I dragged her body outside. I left her covered under bushes far from the cottage, so she’d at least survive what I planned to do next. It was the only kindness she deserved.
I returned inside long enough to grab my skin and light a tallow candle under the drapes. Mesmerized, I remained long enough to watch the little flame grow, grow, grow as it climbed up the wall like ivy. Then I dashed out the door.
Legs aching, heart leaping, I ran down to the shore. I smelled smoke on the breeze as I slipped into my skin and submerged myself underwater. Bobbing in the sea, I watched as flames danced between that gap in the rolling hills.