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Francis Eaden

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Selkie in Amber
By Francis Eaden
Posted: Wednesday, February 27, 2002
Last edited: Monday, September 06, 2010
This short story is rated "PG13" by the Author.

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Recent stories by Francis Eaden
· The 48th Ronin
· The Garden on the Edge of Time
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The Selkie, Fiona, roamed the oceans of the world until she fell in love with a human man. After his sudden death, she found herself trapped on the land, unable to give up her memories of human love.

SELKIE IN AMBER By Francis Eaden ( c copyright Francis Bonner 2001) 3,951 words Fiona stretched out on the rock. It was large and flat like a plateau, the top about seven feet above water at mean high tide. It was the place where she had first met Brian, ten long years before. Rather, it was where he had discovered her when she had, shamelessly, called to him. The rock was located just northwest of Nantucket, hidden by Tuckernuck Island from the view of the fishing boats plying the edge of the Muskeget Channel and the ferries out of Nantucket heading for Martha’s Vineyard. It was Fiona’s favorite place for sunning herself. Again, it was early May, just as it had been on the day that Brian O’Flynn, coming in downwind, quietly cut his engine at the sight of a beautiful, naked woman stretched out upon the rock. Her head rested on a pillow of what looked like shiny, black seaweed. With this sight came a sound, like the music made by wind chimes on a blustery day. Its volume surged and receded keeping time with the motion of the tide. At that instant, he knew she was meant to be his. There was neither sense nor sanity to what he did then. His mind and body were filled with the pulsating rhythm. It engulfed him, and he surrendered to it. He quietly lowered his anchor and felt it lock into the rocks under the boat, and he slipped over the side into the cold, waist-deep water. Brian moved quietly, afraid that he might wake her and have her disappear like the thing of mist and imagination that he suspected she was. There was a ring of boulders around the base of her rocky bed and, barefooted, he balanced on them for a moment trying to regain his wits. He wondered how he was going to climb up the side of the slippery wall to where she lay without scaring her to death. He felt the smooth side of the table rock and realized the only way he could get to the top was to leap up from his crouching position. He ran through the possible repercussions from this bold approach, the least of which would be that she would be certain he was insane. There was also a good chance that he would be arrested for assault when they returned to shore. Finally, realizing that a leap of faith was the only way he was going to reach her, he flexed his legs and jumped. The top half of his body barely made it over the edge, and his hands reached out to find something to hold in order not to slip back into the sea. That would really close the door on the relationship. She would count him not only rude but also an incompetent fool. Just as he began his slippery descent, his hands closed over something that felt like a pile of leather. This didn’t hold but began to slide with him. A strong hand clamping onto his left wrist stopped his movement. He looked up into Fiona’s face. She reached out again and grasped his right wrist. With very little effort, she dragged him up beside her. Brian O’Flynn was thirty, at that time ten years ago, and had a reasonable amount of experience with women. He had even seen some of them naked, but he had never seen a woman such as this one who sat beside him on a rock off Nantucket without a shred of clothing on her. There wasn’t a blush on her cheeks or any other sign of modesty. The thought crossed his mind that she might be a woman of easy virtue, like the ones who generally hung around the wharf bars when the fishermen came in with a good haul. He looked into her eyes and then no longer cared. He knew that he loved her. He started to stammer, trying to think of something appropriate to say, which was difficult in the present unusual situation. He settled for, “Hello. My name is Brian O’Flynn.” She saved him from further embarrassment: “My name is Fiona, and I will be your love. You have taken my skin. I was using it as a pillow.” As happy as he was with this declaration, Brian looked at her, bewildered. “My skin,” Fiona said and pointed to the soft, dark mass he still had clutched in his fist. Even though he was well educated, and had been around the world a few times, this was a new experience for him. He carefully stretched the skin out on the rock and looked at it. It was like a Halloween costume but somehow alive. It was warm and flexible and covered with a light, soft fur. He suddenly looked up at her and said, “Mother of God, you’re a Selkie.” “Ah, I’ve chosen well in calling you, O’Flynn. I sensed that you knew the old tales. Do you speak the Irish?” “Some,” he answered. He lifted the skin and offered it to her. She held up her hand in refusal. “Thank you, but I’m not ready yet. If I put it on, it will be a long time before I can shed it again, and I find it nice to be human for a while. As you are familiar with Selkies, you know that I can’t physically take it away from you, but you can’t hold it forever. I want you to hide it where I can’t find it so I’m not tempted to return to the sea. The skin carries with it great power which it transfers to the wearer. This can be very seductive, even to me.” “What would happen if I tried it on?” “It would not let you,” she said. Brian was beginning to shiver in his wet clothes. The idea of carrying sealskin with a mind of its own also contributed to this. “Come,” Fiona said. “We will get your boat and go to where you live. Do you have any extra clothes? We have so much to talk about when we get home.” Brian O’Flynn had an ominous feeling that he was fast losing the one thing he valued most: control of his own life. **** Brian’s house was a modest cottage in Edgartown on Martha’s Vineyard. It was white with green shutters and had a few touches of wedding cake Victorian mixed with Massachusetts seafarer. The small, front yard was punctuated with islands of colorful annuals surrounding a great iron anchor, half embedded in the otherwise carefully tended lawn. It was dark by the time they tied up Brian’s boat. When they reached home, he created a classic New England clam chowder accompanied by a boiled seafood dinner incorporating his particular catch of that day. Fiona ecstatically sampled a hot shower for the first time in her life. The nights were still chilly in New England, and Brian lit a fire in the sitting room fireplace. Fiona came downstairs wrapped in his terry cloth robe. She was the most beautiful thing he had ever seen. All of the issues that had caused him concern, such as Fiona’s singular decision to move in with him, melted in the heat of his passion. “Let’s eat and then we can talk,” he said softly. Fiona complimented him on his dinner. He had to explain the origin of each morsel: the kind of fish and how he had prepared it. She had eaten all of them before, but they had been raw. Brian was surprised. “How long has it been since you last shed your skin?” “How long?” She repeated vaguely. “It’s difficult for me to compress ages into your idea of time. It was before the Romans came to Briton. It was when only the Irish was spoken in Eire, and the people understood that all of creation was merely a reflection of the Creator. A thousand years before the birth of the Christ, the Selkies were imagined by the Celts that lived around the headwaters of the rivers now called the Rhine, the Rhone, and the Danube. Their priests, the druids, had better understanding of the natural world than humans do now. Their imagining made us become real. There were many of us, but we didn’t know what we were or what we were supposed to do. Unrecognized without our skins, we lived among the people and helped them by driving fish into their nets when they needed food. They began to revere us as goddesses which disturbed us because, like them, we were just part of a greater nature. Some mention of us appeared in a book on Irish mythology published in the twelfth century of your time.” Brian, who had been listening with great interest, interrupted: “Leabhar na hUidre, The Book of the Dun Cow. I was fascinated by it.” Now Fiona was surprised. “I know much about the society of men but, never, have I seen a fisherman with such knowledge. With all due respect, books like this and the Leabhar Laignech languish on the dusty shelves of ancient monasteries and university libraries and are usually just the obsession of Celtic scholars.” “. . . Or of peculiar fishermen who spend years earning a doctorate in Irish mythology from Trinity College in Dublin. Dear Fiona, I too have a secret skin.” They talked long into the night. At first, their talk consisted of Fiona answering hundreds of questions from Brian centering on references in Celtic mythology whose meaning had never survived the Dark Ages in Europe. When he finally exhausted his memory, Fiona began asking him to explain the curious changes that she had observed in humans over the last thousand years. She had seen men change from brutish creatures hiding in caves from fearful predators to the dominant species on the earth. She saw them master the art of sailing and develop the compass and the steam engine. She witnessed them learning how to fly and, once, had even seen them launch a fiery projectile into the dark void beyond Earth’s atmosphere. She saw all this and also saw the terrible damage these creatures did to the Earth in their frantic search for new conquests and understanding. Brian tried to explain the rationale for the behavior of his species. He saw a benign smile form on her lips as he tried to explain how one of man’s goals was to discover the nature of creation. He had to admit to himself that this sounded pretty damned arrogant, and somehow ridiculous, even though he had heard this phrase spoken many times by eminent scientists and politicians. Fiona curled up on the sofa and tried to understand what Brian said. Were they trying to discover the Creator in the fragments of their technology? They’re looking for answers to their questions in all the wrong places. It’s all so simple. She hoped Brian would be capable of understanding this in time. They were to be lovers; it was so written in the book of life. For uncounted years, after the passing of the druids, she had wandered the oceans of the world watching the evolution of man’s society. Sometimes she traveled with others of her kind but, without the purpose provided them by the magic imaginations of the Celtic priests, they eventually faded into the salty sea from which they had been spawned. Finally Fiona, alone, was left. This didn’t bother her, because seals are solitary animals, even though they sometimes share favorite rocks. They rarely bond with each other as humans do. If they had minds and emotions like humans, they would all go insane in the violent and bloody experiences of their environment. They had to go into the sea to find their food yet, there, they were relentlessly hunted by sharks and the killer whales and lost many of their companions and even their own pups. An unnoticed watcher, the Selkie roamed the northern seas; sometimes even swimming far enough south to mingle with the Harbor Seals in San Francisco Bay. But, all things considered, she preferred the Atlantic coast. Something instinctive kept drawing her back to the waters where she met Brian. It was peculiar. As he had approached her rock, she automatically sang the song that drew him to her. That had never happened before. It had always been her conscious choice. She had a feeling that something beyond her understanding was directing her as a character in a play written long before the oceans rolled upon the shore. The first time they made love, it struck Brian as almost being ritualistic. Fiona had joined him that day in the boat and fished with him. Brian was amazed. Just sitting in the stern she was more accurate at locating fish than his electronic fish finder. It was a special day. Up to this time, their conversations focused, primarily, on subjects no less profound than the meaning of life, as they each had explored the differences between them, they also had discovered great similarities. On this day, they avoided heavy subjects because these invariably left them in an almost Zen state of emptiness. Brian was learning that Fiona had a sense of humor. This delighted him. Fiona had never laughed before. It wasn’t a natural behavior in the seal species, but she had observed him as he laughed at things. Then, one day, she awakened to the meaning of humor. He loved to hear the clear ring of her laughter, and he fell in love with her all over again. On this particular day, he felt rather silly. For some reason, he was in high spirits and sang as he worked. Fiona found that she both loved him and liked him. This distinction was a new experience for her. She felt complete for the first time in her long life and, strangely, she felt almost human. The consummation of their love happened when Brian was pulling an exceptionally large fish over the side. It slipped out of his hand as he was removing the hook and fell to the deck. Both of them bent over to retrieve it and bumped heads soundly enough to momentarily stun them. They both sat down solidly onto the deck with the fish between them. They looked at each other and began laughing. The fish flopped out of the way in a vain attempt to escape. They stopped laughing and Brian turned the boat toward the harbor. They didn’t say another word. When they arrived home, Fiona showered while Brian lit a fire in the fireplace. He sat on the floor waiting for her. When she came out she was naked. She had abandoned the terry cloth robe she usually wore after a shower. Her beauty transfixed him. His love was so all consuming that it brought with it sadness from the realization that even this must someday end. He pulled her to him. As he entered her, she whispered in his ear, “There are no endings, only new beginnings.” This surprised him for a moment. Had she read his mind? This question became irrelevant as it was washed away by the tender and violent ecstasy of their love. **** They were together for nine years, until the day of the great storm. They had raised love to a new dimension, exploring each other on mental, physical, and spiritual levels. Brian learned about Fiona’s life and about the dark times she lived after the druids called her up from . . . only God knows where. In human form, she had been lonely, existing in an empty and featureless land in which she had no place. She felt at peace only in her skin, that she didn’t allow anyone to see after the passing of the Celtic priests. In the eye of the new religions, she would be a witch and dealt with accordingly. In time, Brian was able to feel what she felt. He sensed a loneliness and despair too profound and complete for human sensibility. Conversely, Fiona took the first tentative steps to understanding the human condition. The most difficult part of her exploration was the human preoccupation with the material, the things that, in her mind, were the most transient and least valuable. Eventually, they became as close as any living things of different species could. Even though this might sound simplistic, it will be understood by anyone who has a beloved pet. In order to spend more time together, and to allow Fiona to explore the modern world of the Atlantic coast, which she had only previously seen from the sea, Brian stopped his daily fishing trips and took a job as an adjunct professor at one of the local colleges. His superior knowledge of Celtic mythology was so apparent that he was offered other teaching jobs at two major, local universities. To their great surprise, he turned them down. His part-time job afforded him the chance to teach about the subject he loved, and an occasional fishing trip with Fiona provided all of the money they needed for their necessities and for their frequent excursions from Nova Scotia to Key West. The reason for the success of the fishing was due, of course, to Fiona’s special skills. They usually returned with only one fish, the relatively rare Bluefin tuna that brought a huge monetary return on the international market. The other local fishermen became first envious, then suspicious, and began following them every time they left the dock. They solved this by leaving at night and bringing their catch back to various ports after each outing. They saved some of their income to take a driving trip across the country to the west coast. This was a plan that caused Fiona a great deal of anxiety. She had never ventured more than a few miles from the ocean or from an estuary leading to the sea. Brian worked hard to ease her fears. In his mind, he always had the apprehension that she would someday be unable to resist the temptation of again donning her skin and leaving him forever. He had hidden her skin but knew that he would return it to her if she simply asked. He hoped that detaching her from the closeness of the sea might be the critical factor in making her completely and irrevocably human. They never took that trip across the country. The U.S. Weather Service predicted the storm in plenty of time. Brian went down to the dock to make certain, one more time, that the boat was properly rigged. Fiona stayed home and checked the availability of their emergency supplies. Brian had been gone about an hour, and she began to be anxious about his absence. Just then, a police car drove up to the door. The policeman told her how Brian had untied their vessel when he heard that two young tourists had taken a small rental boat out into the bay in the ominous calm before the storm. Brian went after them but never came back. Fragments of his boat, whimsically rechristened Selkie, washed up on the beach two days later. Fiona cursed herself that she never questioned Brian about the location of her skin. If she had known, she could have saved him. In desolation, she wandered the house looking at things that had been part of their lives. She held them in her hands trying to feel a sense of her lover. They were merely things, cold and lifeless. She desperately tried to think like a Selkie, to recover that feeling of peace and inevitability of change. It was impossible. She realized that she had become too human. She grimaced at the irony of her situation then, in a desk drawer, she found an envelope from Brian, addressed to her. It spoke of his great love for her and realistically predicted that he would be dead if she was reading the letter. Her anguish made it difficult for her to breathe. A key with a bank safety-deposit number was taped to the envelope. Fiona sat on the edge of the bed for a long time. She consciously tried to undo all of the neural connections she had made to become as human as Brian had desired her to be. She no longer desired to be human. The pain was too great. She remembered the great power she had when she was in her skin and, futilely, thought that she might even be able to bring her lover back to life if she could just find his body and clasp it to her breast. She might be able to dream him back to life like the druids did when they imagined her people into being. Even if she could do this, she knew there would be none of Brian’s body left now in the cruel world of the sea. He was truly gone, and she was alone. **** Fiona sat on the rock where Brian and she had first met. Her skin was spread out beside her, and there was nothing to hold her anymore except her memories. A part of her wanted to pull on her skin and lose herself in the reaches of all the seas of the earth, but she knew that if she chose to become a Selkie again, she must relinquish her memory of Brian. She doubted if she could go on living now without love or, at least, the remembrance of it. Like a human, she now needed someone to care about; to care for her. She felt like an extinct insect trapped in amber, unable to escape; unable to make a choice. She was so deep in thought that she didn’t hear the movement of a female seal and her pup as they clambered onto the rock. She turned as the mother cautiously barked in recognition. Fiona watched the interplay between the mother and the pup and tried to ascertain whether the protective concern shown was real affection or just instinct. Her mind suddenly snapped back to a more practical reality when she sensed impending danger: Carcharodon carcharias. The great white shark was cruising about forty yards northeast of their haven. The seal mother reacted nervously, and her pup picked up her anxiety. Unfortunately, the pup’s reaction was to dive off the rock into the path of the approaching shark. The pup’s mother didn’t hesitate, following her into the water. She quickly moved to place herself between the predator and her baby. In an instant, the shark closed its mouth over her and began the rhythmic moving of its head from side to side to reduce its prey to manageable bites. Fiona, knowing that the mother would not occupy the shark long, slipped into her skin and dove off the rock. She landed next to the little female just as the shark turned toward them. It hesitated, trying to evaluate the appearance of another larger seal in the water. Before it could attack, Fiona projected a warning into the creature’s small brain that it recognized as a deadly and undeniable threat. Instinctively, the shark turned quickly and swam away from the area as fast as it was able. A few minutes after the shark left, the pup calmed down and carefully approached Fiona. It looked at her for a moment and then came up to her face and gently rubbed her nose against the Selkie’s. Fiona would have smiled if she had a human face. She looked tenderly into the pup’s eyes and projected her thoughts: How would you like to be a Selkie, little one? I’ll teach you about a wonderful world I’ve seen.” End  


Web Site: Aphelion-Webzine, Issue 50, Vol. 5, Aug 2001  

Reader Reviews for "Selkie in Amber"


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Reviewed by Tami Ryan 10/16/2005
This is a wonderful story!

I did struggle with a few things. Most prominent was the reference to owning pets. It feels sorely out of place (show, don't tell). With your ability to tell a story well, I think the reader is able to make his/her own correlation without that reference.

I very much enjoyed this story.
Tami
Reviewed by m j hollingshead 9/19/2002
well done
Reviewed by m. Cundiff 3/19/2002
Great love story wrapped in a beautiful package of Celtic folklore.


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