The Logician and the Selkie
by Allie Dawson
Table of Contents|
parts: 1, 2, 3, 4
A soft ploosh! startled him out of his reverie. Clinging to the rock on his left, a bedraggled thing dragged itself onto the shore. Midnight blue reflected the light of the bright sea sun, with purple and silver glittering just above. He dared a few steps closer. Could it be...?
“There you are!” she sprang to her feet and ran up to his side. “Where were you?”
Hands firmly planted on her hips, she held herself with the sort of command demanding his compliance.
The midnight eyes smoldered. “Just like men, like stupid, stupid men.” she remonstrated, half to herself as she walked in a tiny circle on the sand.
Men. Why did she put it like that? It seemed odd to him, but he preferred not to rile her up any further. He’d no idea what he had done, but it was nothing commendable, he could tell.
“Young lady, what did—”
She whirled around and, planting her feet, looked him straight in the eye.
“Why were you here? What were you doing here? Don’t you know about the monsters that make their haunts here? Dragons just don’t go frolicking wherever their fancy takes them! This place is a waste! Did you even look around? Or were you just so caught up in your own stupid problems with your own stupid proof you didn’t even bother to see whether your little stroll had put anyone else in danger?”
The girl stood catching her breath, the passion of her fury quite spent, though not all the way, the logician feared.
“If I may ask, young lady” — the glint in her eye was less than encouraging — “What are you?”
“A sentry.” It was clear she wasn’t going to waste any more words than needful on him. “The reason monsters like that don’t fly away attacking anyone else is because my brothers and I keep watch and keep them at bay. But then men like you come blundering around heedlessly, waking them up! Don’t you know what damage you could have done if I couldn’t have stopped him?”
Monsters? Attacks? A sentry, this little girl? What “others”? What damage? He now was truly, truly lost. “No, no, young lady. I mean, ah...” how absurd the question seemed to him right now. “What are you?”
She stared at him a full minute, before an unbidden grin twitched at her lips. She smothered her mirth with her hands, before indulging the temptation with abandon, doubled over with a bad case of the giggles, laughing till she was gasping for breath.
The logician failed to find the same amusement, to say the least. He could endure any amount of disrespect, even cruelty, with his pride intact, but open ridicule left him feeling naked and vulnerable.
So he stood, annoyed and uncertain of how to proceed. She regained control of herself, standing upright and hiccupping. As she wiped the tears from her eyes, she caught his visage, decidedly unamused.
She cleared her throat. “But you can’t tell me you were serious, will you?”
He folded his arms. “I can, I will, and I do.”
“But... but... It’s obvious, isn’t it? You’re a bad-tempered man far too used to staying inside” — the displeasure in his countenance increased — “and I’m a selkie.”
Rifling through his memories, he found “selkie” nestled deep among his earliest ones, faded and somewhat vague; something to do with some kind of sea creature, he knew... “I won’t see you turn into a seal, will I?”
She groaned. “Only a rare few do something as showy as all that. But all of us find our home in the sea.” Her eyes widened. “You’re...? Are you from...? Don’t you live—”
“If I lived around here, do you think I’d have gotten myself lost so easily? Do you think I’d be asking you this string of such ridiculous questions? And where on God’s green earth are you leading us, anyway?”
“But, the men... they live...” she gestured indistinctly across the water.
“I don’t. I came...” he studied the forest from whence they came, now a collection of brown bundles. “Oh, I don’t know. Somewhere across that forest.”
To his astonishment, the girl — the selkie — had placed several paces and a large rock in between them. Her white face was sickly in hue as she hugged the shore, like the waves lapping against her ankles would give her protection. “No, no. No.” She kept shaking her head. “This can’t... It just... NO.”
“Young, lady, I... What’s wrong? What have I done?”
Her only answer was to bend down, cupping her hands in the water. Between her palms and the cracks between her fingers, she held what seemed like a sky in a rainstorm, water churning and lightning flashing, pulsing, shimmering and glowing.
The logician knew not what she planned to do with it but held back, deciding he’d rather not find out.
“What are you?” she barked. “A warlock? A sorcerer! How did you get here?”
“Answer me!” she lifted her hands, a breath away from unleashing it.
“I don’t know what you mean. I’m... I’m none of those things. I’m an academic, a professor of logic, a teacher! Please, I know as much about all this as you do!”
She lowered her hands. The lightings clasped in her hands mellowed to an eerie glow. “A teacher?”
He nodded. “A teacher. I have no... no powers, no magic, or any such thing. I teach logic, that is all.”
She studied him, her face guarded. “That language you taught me, back over there” — a jerk of her head indicated the wood — “how do I know those weren’t spells we were writing out?”
In spite of the surrounding tension, within and without, he laughed. “If those were any kind of incantation, young lady, you can bet my students would be masters in their field and I’d have left off teaching years ago, or conjured myself a promotion at least. Come now,” he gestured towards his now disordered suit and scuffed up shoes. “Do I really look like a sorcerer?”
She smiled, a small smile. “No, I suppose not.” She cocked her head. “You’re not quite so crafty.”
Despite the aspersions cast on his intellect, the relief washing over him made him more inclined to think it a compliment.
“Well, I dare say you are.” The offense in her countenance told him he’d better clarify. “What I mean is, I never saw someone take to logic as easily as you did. How do you—”
She laughed. “It’s just languages. You know how some people collect pebbles?” she tossed the now harmless orb back in the ocean. “I collect languages. If you swim around the islands, you’ll see strange inscriptions littered in the little caves. Well, I visited them all. Besides, if you know a few, the rest are simple.”
The cry of a far-off sea bird commanded her attention. The sun was now quite low on the horizon, though not quite at sunset. The forested cliff loomed above, an ominous presence in light of his recent knowledge. The thought of more such monsters roaming free made him shudder, he still clung to the vainest hope that there might be a way back home. Maybe?
Her lithe little feet took her into the churning surf.
“But,” he stammered, still surveying the cliff. A desperation crept over him, a strangling knot in his chest. “But... young lady!”
The girl stopped dead and surveyed him, her midnight eyes shining with a wondering sort of pity that always made him uncomfortable. “I... I can’t stay. I have a room, college, students. I need to get back.”
She? Well, he never “read people” all that well, but it seemed some turmoil afflicted her, some revelation blossomed within her, as she sized up his wardrobe, his manner, his face. She twisted her hands together, scanned the skies, kicked the sand, before regarding him once more.
She sighed, dissipating in that one breath the surrounding tension. “Well, since you obviously don’t belong here, we need to find a way to send you back home. And to do that, you need to come with me.” She studied the forest with a skeptical eye. “Do you know how you got here?”
“No,” he answered, fists clenched in futile frustration. “I never noticed.”
The beginning of an idea glimmered in her eyes. “I think I know something that does.”
She waded into the surf, but the logician hung back like the little boy too scared to step into the kiddy pool for the first time. “Young lady, I can’t—”
“I thought of that.”
She untied his shoes and pried off his socks, making him fall flat on his back. She loosened his tie and flung it away, before propping him upright and doing the same with his suit jacket, which good fortune had forced him to buy from a thrift store.
Running back to the surf, she returned cradling a handful of the sea. Before he could enquire as to why, she poured it into his mouth, and, clamping one hand over his mouth and placed the other firmly on the back of his neck.
He clutched at useless handfuls of sand, feeling more and more the idiot. Why had he trusted this girl? Was she demented?
An astonishing sensation crept over him. The gentle roaring of the sea echoed in his ears, then his brain, then his mind, till it echoed through his soul. The beatings of the waves pounded along with his heart, trickling down to his fingers and toes. He knew not by what power the selkie-girl worked all of this but, nonetheless, it was so.
Without a word, she lifted him on his feet. The midnight eyes latching onto his, the salt water enveloped his ankles, his knees, his waist; when at last she let him go, he saw he floated, weightless, submerged by the depths, in a world of clear blues, vivid greens, and light dancing through the rippling waves of the shallow sea.
Evergreen plants tossed and twisted limply in the currents, whilst schools of silver fish, like a volley of arrowheads, darted amongst them, and the mournful sound of water over the rocks haunted their ears.
The girl stretched and twirled about, giddy and free, swimming in whirls and loops with breathless energy.
Breathless? The logician caught his throat, looking up at the water enclosed over their heads, and back at the selkie-girl.
She shrugged, which sufficed as an explanation as far as she was concerned. Beckoning him after, she darted off, focused and intense, while he in his plodding way struggled to follow after.
While her path was far more smooth and swift, nonetheless he kept a good pace with her, not bothering to think where she might be leading him. They hugged the submerged portion of the cliff face, though the girl led them down further and further into the depths. A darker grey-blue, like the midnight of her eyes, superseded the blue-green of the shallower regions, all the while she brushed the rock face with the insubstantial touch of her fingertips.
When the light faded into blackness, she slipped into a small cove the logician would have failed to notice on his own. As he followed her inside, he saw her hovering in the strange silver-blue light of the little coven.
Veins of a strange, iridescent ore cast its long fingers through the uneven walls with an eerie glow, like a silvery and rose moon twinkling with blue, purple and white stars, illuminating the floating figure of the girl, white and fragile like porcelain, her ink-colored hair floating around her with a filmy softness. Something strangely like guilt jabbed him, like he was unworthy to be in the presence of such delicate, though formidable, loveliness.
About to slink away in this bewildering sense of shame, she grabbed his collar and pulled him to her side. It was then he noticed the inscription that captured her attention, something written in an odd, fluid script carved round the grotto, with patches of perplexing murals.
He ran his fingers over the inscription, chiseled and clear as if it had been inscribed yesterday, untouched by the incessant movement of the tides.
She pointed to the inscription. “What do you think?”
His labored efforts to learn to read as a toddler threatened to lose their undefeated title in this bizarre spray of swirls and dots. The various sorts of scripts and languages — natural and artificial — all the ones he had known or even seen flipped through his memory, all of them wrong or ill-fitting in some way. And yet, the script tugged at the back of his mind, addling his brain with some irritating sense of familiarity impossible to place.
The girl tapped the wall with her fingers, eyes riveted upon the conundrum before them. Her lips moved, though of course he couldn’t hear what she said.
He ran his fingers over the wall again. Her finger touched his.
She didn’t heed him.
What did she mean?
She pulled her hand away from the wall. The grotto suffered an influx of a cold current.
She shrugged. Unless... The midnight eyes widened, and she held her hands together, as if she feared contamination from the inscription. She fixed those wide, dark eyes on him now. “If I’m right, I don’t think I like what this is saying.”
“But are you right?”
She said nothing.
He examined it once more. The events of the day replayed in his mind in no particular order, his mind returning to the first thing he did with this strange little girl upon entering this extraordinary land. He thought of each premise, the artful compression of a single line, the wealth of meaning latent in a simple?
Copyright © 2016 by Allie Dawson