The Logician and the Selkie
by Allie Dawson
Table of Contents|
parts: 1, 2, 3, 4
A logician once found himself lost in a tangled wood. He peered about, searching in vain for an orderly plan, proof that what lived and grew here did so out of necessity. At least he might find a way out. Instead, he found something much akin to his neglected little garden at home.
He sighed, seating himself glumly on a log. How could anything live in such a tangled, impenetrable mess? At least he knew his little garden was dead; but this place? Impossible to tell. He took up a stick and consoled himself by sketching some proofs in the dirt. Perhaps his students would surprise him and be engaging in the same pursuit.
“What’s that?” A little pair of white feet stood by his unfinished proof.
“Who are you?”
“I asked first,” she, whoever she was, replied with a laugh.
He lifted his eyes, and appraised her with some suspicion: glossy black hair tumbled over her shoulder, framing a face set with eyes blue as midnight, bending over his handiwork with the look of one who is mildly interested with understanding anything.
He grimaced, fixing his eyes back on the dirt. “It’s a proof,” he muttered.
“Proof of what?” she rose, eyes glowing with a restless curiosity.
“A logical truth,” he answered to his shirt sleeve.
“What’s a logical truth?”
He threw down his stick and buried his face in his hands. “Why do you care to know?” he asked, his rational vexation vying for supremacy with his helpless anguish.
An impish smile toyed with the edge of her lips. “You seemed so... enthralled, if I may say so.” She savored the word. “It must be important to you if that’s the first thing you think to do in the middle of a savage wilderness.”
He bit his tongue, struggling to maintain a veneer of composure.
“Now, where are you struggling?”
He opened his mouth, then closed it. “What?”
“Well, anyone with eyes can see that you’re stuck, silly.” She began to giggle, softly, but enough to strain to the point of desperation his already frayed nerves.
He threw up his hands. “All right, all right! You’re right. Now, would you please? Really, would you? Oh, just shut up!”
She stopped giggling, but the knowing smile worried him.
“Now, good sir, that’s no way to speak to someone who only offered to help.”
He let out a strangled groan. Would he ever get out of this forsaken wood? He thought of his home. Well, his room. It needed cleaning before the Chair stopped by.
He thought of his office, that comforting mess of books and papers. He needed to return a book to his colleague, and some of that mess contained a backlog of ungraded exams. He thought of his classroom, from which he was conspicuously absent. How many of his students would even bother to show up? Would any of them even care?
“A... B... a = b... but what does this mean?” A soft voice penetrated his reverie.
He peered through his fingers: the girl was kneeling on the ground, stick in hand, reviewing the steps of his incomplete proof.
“And,” he supplied.
He stood up. “That symbol,” he pointed to the symbol resembling an upside down ‘v.’ “means ‘and’.”
“I see.” She scratched a little on the ground. “So, A and B.” She looked at him with the glowing, curious eyes. “What’s A and B, then?”
“It doesn’t matter.”
“No. What only matters is the form.”
“Hmm.” She waved the stick back and forth over the obscure scratchings.
“Here, let me show you.” He took the stick and returned to the first step of his unwieldy proof.
He had forgotten how complicated it all was, as he watched her mull over the basics so instinctual to himself. Of course “v” meant “or,” and “E” meant “something”! Or did it? Perhaps this required more patience than he thought.
Nevertheless, she picked it up fast. She was already sketching simple proofs of her own. Best of all, she seemed to enjoy it, which was more than could be said for his regular students.
And yet, they were still stuck.
The resolution to their proof was hopelessly entangled in a knot of incomprehensible logical threads. Even he barely understood what they had done. The patch of dirt had, under their hands, become a seething ocean of “A’s,” “B’s,” vertical lines, obscure symbols, random dots, a swirling mess of logical quandaries.
“What were we even trying to do?”
He blinked, rousing himself from his logically induced stupor. What were they trying to do? “Ah... prove that... if every A is B... A and B...” he stared helplessly at the raging vortex of logic, and sighed. “I don’t know.”
She rolled her eyes. “Then why were we doing this in the first place? What are A and B anyway?”
“I told you, it doesn’t matter!”
The glowing eyes grew cold. “I don’t entirely appreciate being spoken to in that manner, sir. If you have nothing kinder to say, then please, shut up.”
Immediately, their quarrel was forgotten. The dark clouds he was certain had billowed up were nowhere to be seen.
The girl kept her eyes on a patch of bramble towards the heart of the wood. White and motionless, she pulled her hair and wrapped it behind her head. Purple and silver glinted in the light of the afternoon sun.
“Young lady, I...”
He blinked. “What?”
She grabbed his wrist. “Run!”
With a jerk of wrist, they were off at a blinding speed through the tangle of trees. She jerked him over boulders, round brambles, through dry leaves and damp puddles, up and down slopes till he was certain she’d pulled his arm out of the socket and dislocated the wrist. What gave them such mad pursuit? Rumblings sounded behind them, with a steady boom... boom, but she never slackened her pace enough that he might turn around.
Beads of sweat trickled down the back of his neck under his shirt collar, while a cold breeze blasted his face. “Young lady,” he managed to shout. “Young lady, slow down!”
She didn’t heed him but did slow down as the rippling creek grew wider and clearer. As it widened into a stream, she released his hand, lost her footing, and slid down the side of the hill.
The logician forgot his fatigue and hastened down her path, not forgetting how absurd he must look at the moment.
The girl slid through the leaves and over the twigs and pebbles, alighting on her feet smooth as a dragonfly at the base, whilst he slipped, tumbled, and crashed down the hill like a baby rhinoceros.
She whipped her head to face their adversary.
He got to his feet rather more awkwardly, stumbling over his ankles at least three times, but soon resumed his footing behind the girl.
What he saw as soon as he turned his head he hadn’t seen since his nightmares. Wait: “seen”? Would not “remembered” be more accurate? The lines between vision and reality blurred and intersected in his mind. The living, breathing, hulking monster cresting the top of the hill before them eviscerated his soul with far more terror than any of his boyhood nightmares.
Grey and black scales encased its skin; its long snout came to a graceful point, though the legs were shorter and rather stumpy. Two small, golden eyes were set far back on the snout, while behind it dragged a tail, long and agile. The two massive webbed wings sprouting from its back dwarfed the rest of its body.
Smoke licked the corners of its mouth and puffed out is nostrils as it lowered its head down the slope of the hill, closer to their level. What hope did they have of escape now, faced with this monstrous mass of death, this vast remorseless, brute, this...
“Dragon?” came his voice, small and far away.
“Sh,” was her only reply.
Her hand reaching deep beneath the water. Never letting her eyes wander, she splashed her hand to and fro, to and fro, till the shallow water was a pool of dancing light and swirling waves. The dragon pulled back its neck, the smoke tumbling out of its mouth darkening to an ashen black, ready to unleash the brunt of its fiery tempest.
Despite his terror, the logician let his eyes dart to the girl one more time. Why did she keep swishing her hands like that? The calm babble of the water chafed against his maddened mind like knives sharpening. What was she doing??
Then, she slapped the surface of the water as if she wanted to splash the shadowy monster in the face: but, instead of the useless sploosh the logician anticipated, he saw something he never had any right to expect.
A column of water rose and roared far above the surface of the tiny stream. The burgeoning fireball died in the dragon’s mouth, walls of water splashing its face, drowning its eyes and coursing down its mouth and throat, welling up under its feet, leaving it sputtering and flailing in the churning tide. The wave swallowed it whole and cast it back to its pit.
The water pooled back in the stream bed in its normal depth and strength. The girl stood, unmoved, black, purple, and silver strands sticking to her forehead.
Had he really seen what he’d just seen? The world he knew churned around his head, everything he had considered rational and possible flailed around in shattered fragments as defenselessly as the drowning beast. What sort of creature was this young lady? And, last but not least, “Where the hell am I?”
“We should go.”
He blinked. “What?”
“Now.” She sighed. “If we stay here any longer, we’ll run into that thing again, or perhaps some of its friends.”
He wanted to ply her with questions, but her cloudy countenance gave him pause.
“I should think someone like him would know better than to wander into a place like this,” she muttered under her breath.
He rather took umbrage at the last remark, but bit his tongue. If he ever wanted to escape this forsaken wilderness, it was probably wise to refrain from insulting his guide.
Where was she leading them, anyway? His sense of direction was poor on the best days, and becoming lost in an unfamiliar, untamed wilderness only destroyed it. What had possessed him to take that blasted walk through a strange forest in the first place? Reaching into his memory, he found himself unable to recall when he had left the familiar and crossed into the peculiar.
The level grass and humping rock gave way to a cliff face so steep and straight that nary a stone or a tree branch broke its smooth, rigid line. The whole of the slope and the wood, he now saw, were perched upon the top of a sheer cliff opening out onto the sea. Though the sea breeze was warm and refreshing, he shivered from the height.
Indeed, he hardly noticed the girl tread lightly towards the edge of the cliff. Her image had only just registered when, silent as a moth before a windowpane, she let herself fall off the edge.
That shock pierced the occasional nightmare the rest of his mortal days. Nearly toppling over the edge himself, he tried in vain to snatch her up before he lost her for good. But, he saw nothing of her, save a small circle of concentric ripples in the water far, far below.
He stepped away, still awed by the immensity of the plunge, shaking, sweating, walking in rapid, aimless circles, wringing his hands, tearing at his hair, racking his brains in anguished deliberation. How old was she? Thirteen? Fifteen? How could he be so... obtuse? Letting a girl plunge to her death like that, so easily, so carelessly?
Something new peeped out in the corner of his eye. To his right, perhaps a dozen or so yards off, the cliff sloped down to a gentle hill, making a pleasant walking path, which, together with the rocky terrain, formed the perfect natural stair.
Gaining a clearer view, he saw the cliffs sloped into a protective circle round what appeared to be a small bay. He swallowed: though he wouldn’t call himself exactly surefooted, he had done enough casual rock climbing to think he wouldn’t kill himself. Not without some reservation, he set his foot on the top of the slope.
The passage bore him down with remarkable ease, though without much swiftness. His mind chafed with impatience as he picked a careful path around the cliff side.
At last, his feet landed upon sand. He ran across the shore, searching in every crevice, crack, or hideaway for the girl. He feared to think what might have happened to her: he refused to believe she might be dead. A breath of salty air stuck him in the face, and that which sent it over struck him as awfully solitary in its immenseness.
Copyright © 2016 by Allie Dawson