The idea for this story began when we tried to encourage a bee to leave the studio where we hold our regular writing group meetings. It was very reluctant but we managed it and then came up with the idea of using letters of the alphabet as the inspiration for our stories. B for bee, C for sea, etc, so I used the opportunity to write a dark story about being trapped and yearning for something you can’t have.
A sad woman stares unseeingly out of a window onto a vista of grey. The sky and sea are formed from the same colour and blend into one another. A fishing boat looks like it is flying and gulls seem to float on the water.
The winter’s afternoon is turning imperceptibly to dusk as Shona waits for her husband to return from his latest fishing trip. Her heart yearns for him to have been swallowed by the inky depths, air in his lungs replaced by icy water; a sacrificial offering to the sea and his pale, lifeless body washed up on a lonely shore. However, her head knows that if Douglas drowns, she will be trapped forever, unable to return to the sea.
Shona realises that she should be using the time she is on her own in the cottage to search for that which has been stolen from her but is overwhelmed by listlessness. She has looked everywhere in and around the small dwelling so now suspects that he has hidden it elsewhere, probably buried deep in the earth to rot and moulder.
She has been a good, obedient wife to this man she doesn’t love, who tricked her into remaining with him on this desolate island. She is thankful that no children were born of their marriage as it would have broken her heart to have left them behind. She knows the island women gossip about her dark looks and stare when she goes into the village but doesn’t care. She has nothing in common with them and their dull lives.
The light has quickly fled the sky so Shona turns from her ghostlike reflection in the darkened window and makes her way by firelight towards the mantelpiece. Once there she lights a candle and is about to head towards her rocking chair when something catches her eye; a deeper shadow cast from the flickering light. She holds the candle closer and realises that a sliver of wood stands proud on the wall next to the chimney breast. She prises the piece loose and tucked into the nook is a small silver key. Picking it up, she places it on her palm and muses over her discovery.
She is sure that this key will unlock the hiding place of her property and is filled with a sudden sense of urgency. Her mind is racing but she forces herself to calm down and think clearly. Shona knows the cottage and its environs well, having lived there for over five years, so she is almost certain she hasn’t overlooked anywhere. Almost.
Shona lights a storm lantern, throws a cloak around her shoulders and goes outside into the cold, still night. Moving methodically, she works her way around the cottage looking for anything out of the ordinary. Just as she is about to start her third circuit, Shona notices that one of the timbers near the ground looks thicker than the others and reaches down to investigate. Placing the lantern on the ground, she pulls at the plank until it shifts and reveals a keyhole. She clenches her teeth at the realisation that Douglas had hidden it right under her nose. He must have been laughing at her behind her back all these years.
She holds her breath as she turns the key and only when she hears the click does she start breathing again. A small door opens to reveal a gap containing what looks like a fur coat. Her eyes fill with tears as she grasps the sealskin and runs her fingers through the thick fur.
Although Shona becomes human on land, she is in fact a selkie and her true form is that of a seal. Douglas was captivated by her when they first met and she liked the attention from such a handsome man. However, his desire to own her made him behave cruelly and one night he plied her with mead then stole her skin and hid it away. Without her sealskin, she would never be able to return to her former life and she had no choice but to marry her captor.
She gathers the skin in her arms, walks purposefully to the shore then gently places it on the sand. Removing her clothes, she lies down and wraps the skin around her. Within moments she has transformed into a beautiful seal, sleek and with dark, liquid eyes. Shona hitches herself into the surf, relishing the cold saltiness washing over her fur, then dives into the dark water without a backward glance.