The Logician and the Selkie
by Allie Dawson
Table of Contents|
parts: 1, 2, 3, 4
Crunch! The girl glanced at the logician, but he could only shrug. Crunch! This time, punctuated by a low growl. The girl’s white face turned ashen. They peered over their shoulders, dreading what horrid creature awaited them.
Standing in the shadows was the figure of a man, short, but with the broadest shoulders the logician had ever seen on a living man, if he was indeed a man, which the logician knew he couldn’t now know with certainty. A tangled beard tinged with pewter obscured his unpleasant face, with wild yellow eyes winking out. The logician detested those eyes, merciless and bestial, devoid of proper rationality.
The girl stood erect, holding her ground in front of the spring, while the logician edged behind the nearest tree.
The girl wet her lips as the man approached, crouching over the precious spring.
The man stooped down to the girl’s eye level, breathing oddly labored. The logician thought it exhaustion: but what accounted for that eager, gleeful gleam in his eye?
“Pure water?” the man enquired, in a low, gravelly voice tinged with mockery.
She held those horrible hungry eyes steady as the man hulked over her. He seemed ancient, withered and exhausted from an agonizing, slow passage of time. Yet a palpable savageness hung about him, the years of solitude in the wilderness turning him to something wholly bestial.
“But the water’s good for nothing, if it’s stained with blood.”
In less than a blink, the man disappeared and a vicious, ravenous wolf jumped upon the girl and held her between its paws. The logician cowered by a tree, hating himself yet not daring to come any closer, as she struggled and fought against the monster.
Now the logician had observed few wolves at close quarters, but he didn’t believe that any wolf was half the size of the one in the flesh before him. Black and pewter fur bristled all over its back, stained with patches of dried blood and scars never to heal. The yellow eyes burned with a ferocity of knowing malice.
Between the girl and the wolf’s neck, light began pulsing in a blinding flash. The wolf whined as the light permeated throughout the whole of its body, like though a lampshade. It darted its massive jaws at her throat, her shoulders, scraping its paws through ground in his effort to puncture her flesh. But the ball of water and light kept sending out its intermittent flares. She twisted and squeezed, till she had inched half out from his grasp. The logician risked, for a moment, some hope.
The girl’s shrieks of agony pierced his ears, a frightening sound. The wolf tore off her sleeve, deep trenches of blood pouring from her arm.
Something snapped in the logician’s paralyzed consciousness: presented before his mind’s eye was the image of his sister, lying in the dirt after taking a nasty fall from a tree. She lay helpless, screaming and pleading for help. He‘d been much too small to help, and could only stand there, helpless and sobbing.
Not this time: the logician abandoned his hiding place. Without pausing to consider the prudence of the situation, he hurled himself at the wolf, tackling its neck. The wolf howled and flailed its paws in the air: the logician dragged him off the girl, nails digging into its coarse fur and calloused flesh, before slipping out of his grasp.
He kept an eye on the girl as she scrambled away, hugging her arm. The wolf barreled into him; he kneed it in the gut. Snarling, it lunged for the logician again. But the logician refused to acquiesce. Heedless of the danger presented by its mouthful of knives, he ducked under it and grappled its throat, gripped it, and squeezed.
The wolf scratched him, bit him, smacked him in the head with its tail, but the logician squeezed till it whimpered and squealed with the pathetic tones of chastised puppy. He felt the neck shrink beneath his arms, and the savage growls became the ordinary ragged breathing of a man. The man jerked, twisted, grunted: the logician grit his teeth, trying to maintain his grip. He wondered, for the first time, if the wicked creature might gain the upper hand.
But only for a minute.
“Good sir, come here!”
The girl stood over an endless font of the purest water. The logician kicked the man in the back, and then, rising onto unsteady feet, jumped across to the other side.
She entwined her limp arm in the logician’s. The flood began to rise, a gentle swell at first. “Hold on,” she whispered. The logician didn’t dream of doing anything else.
The water poured and tumbled and splashed through the valley, till it became a swirling deluge of clear, glittering water. As the water rose to the tops of the trees, the logician and the girl floated peacefully in the swell, coasting down to the cliffs. The logician thought he spied the werewolf, thrashing and flailing the raging waters, the flood washing him and the rotten works of his dead master out to the sea.
At last, having spent all its fury, the flood poured over the cliffs, a waterfall of the moment, whilst settling the logician and the girl upon the edge with the gentleness of a morning breeze.
The two sat, panting, and let the purest gladness wash over them as they admired the last precious moments of the sunset. The evening star appeared in the sky above the fading purples and roses, and the intermingled scents of the briny ocean tang and the freshness of a rain-soaked earth wafted up around them. The logician thought no man deserved, on his own merits, to sit and bask in the beauty that bathed him now.
But the girl went rigid with tension. He saw her gazing at something near the bottom of the cliffs. Something grey and dark; the logician felt his skin prickle.
“Wait here.” She slipped off the cliffs to the sea below.
The logician strained his eyes to catch what transpired beneath him. It seemed she found another person down there. He wondered what they said, but didn’t dare follow to find out more.
The sky had darkened to the deep blue of twilight, and another cluster of stars shimmered above the horizon, as the faint traces of a crescent moon rose in the sky.
“Sir.” The girl stood behind him, midnight eyes dull in the twilight, still as stone. He didn’t like it. But he said nothing, letting her tell him as she pleased. “I spoke to him. The werewolf. I know where to go.”
The logician gaped at her, aghast. Her face had the same ashen color as when they first laid eyes on the beast. She twisted her hands together and, in dulled eyes, didn’t see the trees and rocks around her.
“I did.” She took his hand and pulled him to his feet. “Do you want to go home or not?”
She led them, rather unwilling, back into the forest. The logician wondered if he would ever let himself wander into a forest ever again. But he forgot those thoughts as he watched the girl, and her slow, plodding path through the wood. He wrapped a silent arm around her shoulders.
“I don’t... I wish... Oh, I don’t know.” Her face was wet. “I never wanted to kill him.”
He really had no idea what to say. All he could manage was a rather pathetic “Kill him?”
“Well, he died, anyway. I’ve never seen anyone die. I’m supposed to... Well, people aren’t supposed to die because of me.” She clutched his shirt. “I never killed anyone.”
The logician stared at the stars for succor, desperate and barren of ideas. “Well, I don’t think you did wrong, at any rate.” He managed at last. “There was only one way to rid the filth from that place, and that werewolf had no compunctions about killing you. I don’t think there was any choice, really. And you did protect people.”
“I guess,” she responded softly. But her breaths become more regular, and the energy returned to her step. She became the leader once again.
The girl came to a halt. In the middle of dell rose a wide, gnarled tree, the middle of it completely hollowed out. The girl gestured to it. “Go through here.”
He had no memory of this place.
“But how did I?“
“Were you paying attention when you came in?”
She shrugged, as if to say, “Well, there you go.”
The logician poked his head in the hollow, craned his neck all around, but in the end found nothing unusual.
Straightening up, and stuck out his hand to the girl. Her midnight eyes had regained their spark but shone with regret. She laughed. “You absurd little man.” She disregarded the hand, instead wrapping her arms around him. Much as she had irritated him, much as he had driven her mad with impatience, he laughed, and found himself returning the embrace. Then, she let him go, and pushed him through the hollow.
“Oh!” she gasped as if struck by an arrow.
He whipped around. “What?”
“No... I just” — she grinned — “I think I figured out the proof.”
What proof? Oh, that proof.
“Yeah! You made it too complicated. If you used that arrow thing; what was it?“
“Yes! You were using a... a biconditional, and that’s where we went wrong. Use a conditional subproof, and then the last two subproofs become unnecessary. It’s simple, really.”
“And,” she called out, before he made a step further, “If you wanted to come... I mean... If you happened to...”
“How do you expect me to find my way back?”
She shrugged. “Well... for what’s it worth, I thought you were a fine swimmer.”
With that, she turned on her heel, and disappeared into the wood.
Though the prospect of crossing from one world to the next daunted him, he couldn’t help but smile as he crossed over the threshold of the hollow tree.
He reeled in the blinding sunlight. Car horns honked in the distance. Strange smells assaulted his nose, ones he later remembered as smoke, exhaust, garbage, and those bizarre smells that blew from the cafeteria. Voice chattering, clamoring, invaded his ears, causing his brain to throb. He had forgotten how loud the city was at midday.
Midday! What time? What day? What place? Disoriented, he took stock of his surroundings: he stood in a lush, neat garden, with a large iron gate but a few steps away. He ran and unlatched it, stepping out onto the sidewalk.
A clock tower rang in the distance: boom... boom... boom... Three o’clock! Why, if he ran, he could just make his afternoon class!
Never mind he hadn’t known if he had reached his college. Never mind he didn’t know the day, the month, the year even. For all he knew, he was presumed dead and they had already replaced him. None of that entered his head, as he ran like a lunatic down the campus, knocking down a gaggle of dawdling students as he raced through the open door up the stairs to his office.
He rifled through the heaps of papers and books on his desk, mind racing, when he caught a sound of rippling water from the water fountain in the hall. He listened for a breathless minute; then, disregarding the papers tumbling to the floor, he closed his door calmly and walked to his classroom.
He didn’t hear the collective gasp as he entered the classroom. Nor did he regard the odd looks and repressed chuckles from the students, unable of course to know the reason for his bare feet, torn bloody shirt, water-stained pants and various cuts and contusions.
“Now,” he said, uncapping a marker, “I want this period to be spent solving” — he sketched a proof on the board, deceptively simple to the layman, but his students knew enough to release a collective groan — “this proof.” The same as he and the selkie labored over. “One premise, one outcome. Begin.” He capped up the marker, and sat down with a pad and pencil.
The time he gave students to puzzle out proofs he ordinarily spent sketching out proofs of his own. This time, however, he doodled and wrote, and scratched out and started again, an outline of what happened to him and the girl. What was she? What had happened? The events of the past twenty-four hours sloshed and collided in his head, till they throbbed like the music of the ocean.
A boy in the front row coughed. “Uh... sir?”
The logician snapped up his head and glanced at the clock. Five minutes past the hour. He’d have thought they’d be more punctual than that. “You may go. If you think you have solved it, please come see me; otherwise, we’ll discuss this next week.”
The class sighed in collective relief, gathered up their things, and filed out of the room in less than minute.
A piece of notebook paper floated towards him across the tables. The logician grabbed it, studied it, then almost dropped it. For, written upon it was the proof, written out perfectly from beginning to end. There was nary even a scribble. “How..?”
The words caught in his throat. The possessor of the perfect solution was a small, slender girl, with dark hair and blue eyes. Her head cocked to one side, trying to make sense of the choking noises tearing at the back of this throat.
He cleared his throat, but still blurted out, “Have we met?”
The girl smiled, a small, shy smile. “Not outside class.”
“Well,” he grinned and shook her hand with a vigor that rather unnerved her. “Congratulations, young lady, it’s perfect! I... how did you...?”
She shrugged, visibly discomfited by his unusual demeanor. “Thank you,” she answered in voice not above a whisper. Blushing, she gathered up her things, and made for the door.
“Do you like the sea?”
She paused, hand on the knob, and stared back at him with a strange, knowing look in her eyes. “I do. Actually, I live there.”
Face still red, she bundled out of the classroom with an impressive speed.
The quiet air of the room augmented his stupefied astonishment. He stared at the ceiling; the paper in his hand; the door from whence the girl had departed so quickly. Finally, he did the only rational thing left for him to do. He laughed.
Copyright © 2016 by Allie Dawson