smworsey (smworsey) wrote in faerie_tales,

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Robin Hood's Bay

Thought this community might be an appropriate place for this short(ish) story that I've just written...

A teenage girl meets a Selkie and hears her story, in this modern-day fairy tale.

Hannah clambered down the cliff, taking the rough path towards Ravenscar beach.

As she picked her way carefully between the rocks and bushes, she kept glancing up to scan the waves hopefully for any sign of the seals she’d seen while walking with her family on Christmas Eve - two days earlier.

She was disappointed. There were no dark heads bobbing above the waves this time. Only the countless gleaming rocks that jutted above the turning tide. Some jagged and dangerous, others flat with rounded edges like huge, hard footstools.

Dropping off the final ledge onto the beach at last, Hannah straightened up and looked around. The sea was quite far in, which left very little beach to explore. No matter, there were still lots of rocks to clamber on, and plenty of exposed soft grey cliff face to probe for fossils.

Hannah roamed the deserted beach for a while, deeply inhaling the damp, salty air. Everyone else would be shopping for bargains, she thought, or watching telly. How glad she was to be away from her nagging parents and hateful older sister, Jenna, who seemed so determined to turn every conversation into a fight these days.

‘God, what a bitch!’ she hissed, kicking a rock as she recalled the endless rows of the previous day. A tear of frustration dripped from her face into the sea.

Presently, she began to feel that she was being watched. Glancing around, she checked the beach for signs of life. Nobody seemed to be there. She then let her gaze travel over the water and started as she spotted a large grey, whiskery face gazing intently at her.

As she watched, the seal raised a flipper and nodded its head.

{i}This is nuts.{/i} Hannah thought. {i}That seal is waving at me!{/i}

Crouching awkwardly, rock by rock, she made her way towards the seal. The animal bobbed calmly in the water, making no attempt to dive or swim away, unlike the members of the herd she’d seen previously.

At last, she drew level with the seal. Squatting on a large, flat rock, she gazed at the animal, marvelling at the smooth grey spotted skin, intelligent expression and deep liquid-brown eyes.

‘Are you here alone?’ the animal asked her in a husky, feminine voice.

Hannah was so startled that she stood abruptly, almost sliding from the rock.

‘You spoke!’ she gasped. ‘Oh my god! A {i}talking{/i} seal!’

The seal seemed amused. ‘I’m one of the old sea people. A Selkie. I have the body of a seal and the soul of a human.’

Hannah didn’t know how to respond to that, so she answered the seal’s original question.

‘I’m on holiday here. My dad’s working away from home on the railways, so me, my mum and sister have come to stay in a guesthouse for the week, rather than us all be apart over Christmas.’

She squatted back down and adjusted her hair band.

‘My mum and our Jenna have gone shopping up in Scarborough but they let me just hang out on the beach today. I hate shopping. And I hate me sister.’

‘How old is your sister?’ the seal asked, flaring her nostrils as she spoke.

‘Fifteen. Coupla years older than me,’ Hannah replied.

‘I was about that age when I learned how to hate,’ said the seal wistfully.

‘Hate is a tragic thing. It sticks in your soul like a burr and infects all your thoughts like poison. It took me a long time to recover from the deep and passionate hatred I felt …and to learn to {i}live{/i} again.’

Hannah moved carefully onto the next rock, which was about the only flat one that didn’t have a puddle of water on top, and sat down cross-legged. She reached over and gently touched the seal’s flipper.

‘Please tell me about it’, she urged.

And so, in her clear and haunting voice that rose and fell like the music of the waves, the seal began.

‘Once upon a time, I lived as a human in Robin Hood’s Bay, a few miles along the coast from here. My mother and I shared a small room above one of the two inns, and we earned a living by mending fishing nets. My father had died when I was a baby, and times were hard for us. I hardly went to school, as my mother needed me to work with her and keep the house instead. I was glad about that, because the other children said I was strange and would not play games with me.’

‘When I was older, I started to get more time to myself and I would walk on the beach in the afternoons, glad of the fresh air and open space. I would watch the fishermen bring their boats in, and in time I fell in love with one of them, a talkative young man called Tommy.’

The seal sighed, pausing a moment to let the memories properly take shape in her mind.

‘Tommy was a handsome man, with thick dark hair and a sea-beaten face filled with laughter. He was a hard worker, getting up at dawn to row out, cast his nets and set his creels, and then he’d return in the afternoons with a catch of lobsters, fish and crabs. I used to wait for him on the rocks, watching out for his little boat, and then I’d run over and help him haul it in.’

‘We walked together on the beach most afternoons, the wind in our hair, dreaming of the future. Tommy would tell me that I was the most beautiful girl alive, and that we were going to have the best wedding imaginable, and everyone for miles around would come. He said he was saving up to buy the old white house at the edge of the harbour for us to live in. He gave me a beautiful necklace for my sixteenth birthday.’

The seal paused for a moment.

‘There was one problem though. Tommy wouldn’t take me home to meet his parents, because he said that his mother was mad and possessive. He reckoned that if she knew about me she’d try to stop him from seeing me, so he was going to wait until we had the wedding arranged before telling her, because then it wouldn’t matter any more if she was angry, and she’d just have to cope with it.’

She tossed her head and snorted.

‘As the months went by, I began to grow worried, because Tommy never said how long it would be until the wedding, he’d always just evade my questions and tell me that he needed more time. My belly was growing by the week and it would soon be obvious to everyone that I was with child, so I needed him to set a date soon.’

‘One day, he came round to visit and as we cooked soup, my mother and I got very frustrated. He stormed out, saying women would not bully him. I was full of remorse and waited on the beach the next afternoon for his boat, but it did not come.’

‘Every day that week, I went and stood on the beach, waiting for him. Eventually my mother could stand it no longer. She asked around until she found out where Tommy lived, then went round and knocked at the door. A young woman holding a small boy answered it.’

“Is Thomas here?’ my mother asked. ‘I need to speak with him.”

“He is away visiting relatives until tomorrow,’ the woman replied. ‘Would you like me to give him a message?”

“I can speak with his parents instead, replied my mother. Are they in? Are you his sister?”

‘The woman looked baffled. ‘Tommy lives here with me, his wife. His parents passed away years ago. Now please leave, you clearly have the wrong man.’

‘My mother was astonished and furious, but the woman closed the door in her face without a further word.’

‘She reported this conversation to me as soon as I got home. I wailed and beat my hands against the fireplace, accusing her of lying to me, but she was firm. I sobbed and tried to hold her, but she slapped me round the face and called me every name she could think of.’

“How could you?’ she shouted. ‘Look what you have done to us! I can’t believe you’ve been so stupid as to lie with a married man!”

‘I refused to believe it, convincing myself that my mother had made up this story in order to keep me from the man I loved. The next day was Christmas Eve. I avoided my mother all day and then went to the old inn by the harbour, to see if I could find Tommy, as he had once told me that he met his friends there. Sure enough, he was standing outside with a group of men, smoking and sipping ale. When I approached he looked alarmed, and said we must talk in private. He asked me to accompany him for a walk on the beach, so I did.’

‘I was overjoyed to see him again, and certain that we could now sort everything out and go ahead with arranging the wedding.’

‘Tommy was very quiet as we walked; there was no sign of his usual chatter and jokes. After a while, I asked him why he had disappeared for over a week and whether he was any closer to setting a date for the wedding.’

‘He just looked at me for a while. The night was very dark and cloudy and I could only just make out his face, but I knew he was frowning deeply.’

“There will be no wedding,’ he said at last.’

“I never said there would be. I just said that it would be nice if we could. However, I can’t. I am married with a son already.’ He quickened his pace and headed out towards the water’s edge.’

‘Of course I shouted at him then. I wailed and ranted, called him a dirty liar, asked him what would become of our child… but he showed no emotion at all.’

‘I caught up with him and jumped onto a rock just up ahead. The moon came out from behind a cloud and bathed us both in its cold, silver light. My hair fell loosely about my shoulders and my face was streaked with tears. I was shaking all over and my eyes must have had a wild rage in them, for he looked fearful at the sight of me then.’

‘Tommy clambered onto the rock next to mine and we shouted at each other, our voices rising above the pounding surf and the spray gradually soaking our faces and clothes. I jumped to the next rock along and so did he – we moved slowly along the shore this way, with me always on the rock just further out.’

‘After a while, he would no longer argue. ‘It is over,’ he said finally. ‘I never want to see you again’.’

‘He turned as if to make his way back up the beach, and I lashed out, intending to hit him across the face, but he spun round and caught my wrist, then in a swift movement stepped over onto my rock and clamped his hands firmly around my neck.’

‘He had me so tightly round the throat that I could not breathe, and as I began to choke to death he laughed harshly.’

“You won’t be bothering me again! I’ll row your body out to sea and cast it into the waves. Everyone will think you took your own life in madness – foolish girl!’

‘My body went limp and his hands were shaking so much that he lost his grip on me. I slumped backwards into the sea, and as I hit the water, my human form vanished and my shape flowed into a seal. I sank gracefully beneath the waves and with a few powerful strokes of my tail, I had soon put a safe distance between myself and him.’

‘Wow!’ gasped Hannah, who had been silent all of this time.

‘That’s amazing! What happened to that bastard? Did he get away with trying to kill you? Did he go to prison?’

The seal yawned, her sharp white teeth gleaming in the sunshine.

‘He didn’t go to prison, but from then on, he was cursed. Lots of people saw him walk to the beach with me that night, and when I disappeared, they became convinced that he had murdered me. There was never any proof, but people knew. Women talked about it behind his back. Men would no longer drink with him. Shops and inns stopped buying his catch. He was no longer liked in the bay.’

The seal continued, ‘I haunted him, all right. I followed his ship, day after day. Every time he dropped his creels, or lifted his nets, I’d be there. I’d sit on a rock, watching him with eyes of hate. I made holes in his boat. I tore his nets. I turned his fish bad. I made rocks appear were there were none, and the wind spring up when there was calm.’

‘Tommy couldn’t avoid me, and so he began to fear the sea. He tried to sell his boat and nets, but nobody would buy things that were cursed. He gave up fishing and took to drink, sitting on the harbour wall talking nonsense to all who passed.’

‘The years went by. Tommy became poorer even than my mother, and his wife eventually left him to go and live on her brother’s farm. One day, Tommy gave up on life. Filling his pockets with stones one Christmas Eve, three years to the day that he had tried to kill me, he walked slowly into the sea. His body was washed up the next day. I danced and sang when I saw him sink beneath the waves.’

The seal looked solemn.

‘That should have been the end of it for me, but it was not. I carried the hate within me for many years. After being consumed with revenge for so long, I did not know how to live in peace. The hate gnawed at me, filling me with inner rage. I became ‘The Dark Seal of Robin Hood’s Bay’, a kind of local legend, and for a while nobody dared swim in the sea.’

She flipped over onto her back, and rubbed her snout thoughtfully.

‘Now I am at peace,’ she concluded. ‘I have a happy life, swimming and playing with the other seals. I am content in myself, and no longer wish to be back among the fears and petty concerns of humans. However, it has taken me a long time to banish the hate and find happiness.’

Hannah nodded, wiping her eyes on her sleeve.

‘I understand what you’re saying,’ she gulped. ‘Hate is a very powerful thing, isn’t it. But anyway… what happened to your mother, and… the unborn baby?’

‘The child disappeared along with my human body, but I visited my mother often, for as long as she lived,’ replied the seal.

‘She recognised me straight away, as soon as I first hauled up out of the waves in front of her, shortly after I had disappeared. She cried and hugged me, and told me then that my father had not died after all – he had been a Selkie who had cast off his seal skin and seduced her one summer.’

‘They had planned to marry and bring me up together, but she was insecure, and had always feared that he would one day return to his seal form, and so she had hidden his skin from him so that he would be bound to the land. This saddened and enraged him so much that he had turned their whole house over searching for it, and upon finding it had changed back into a seal and angrily departed, leaving her to raise me alone in poverty.’

‘My mother had always suspected that I would one day become a seal myself and had therefore never questioned my love of the beach. I never sensed this part of myself though. I think that Tommy’s attempt to strangle me must have somehow forced me to transform’.

The seal thus ended her story with a smile, blinking in the bright sunshine.

‘Go well,’ she called over her shoulder as she slipped effortlessly away through the water.

Hannah had a hundred more questions that she wanted to ask, but the seal was gone.

She felt as if she had been touched by magic, and all her earlier concerns seemed to have melted away, as if carried out to sea with the tide.
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