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The Selkie

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Leonore slips out the door and makes for the burn. She flies across the heath and through the bogs, the peat wet and spongy under her bare feet, as the sounds retreat behind, the howls of anger and coarse insults. She bears a bruise on her arm from his grip, from where she twisted away, but it's only a single bruise. This time.

Water splashes down the hillside. Bracken arches over, and Leonore finds the rock between two ferns where she can sit and dip her feet into the icy water. As the water numbs she rakes her fingers through her dark hair until it falls past her shoulders, only a few knots left. One tear slides down her cheek and she rubs it away.

She's only a child, though she's twelve. She still clutches her rag dolly at night, though her brothers tease her. She still pretends, because pretending is one way to leave it all behind. She wants to escape, and would do almost anything.

So she looks at the water and wishes to make herself new. She would do anything to make herself new.

She will be a selkie. She will take a sealskin form and run to the sea and away from the father who makes her life miserable. She will be a selkie, and become magic and live forever under the foaming whitecaps.

She will be a selkie. She will be free. And more.

***

She finds the deep pool where the water is captive before it cascades down the kill to the sea. What will it take to become a selkie? She never asked when she had the chance. She closes her eyes and wishes, and wishes. "A changeling," she whispers. "I wish to change."

Leonore dives under the water. It's so cold she can hardly breathe. She doesn't mind because soon, she thinks, she'll change and she'll live under the water like a seal and breathing will not be a problem. She opens her eyes.

Her hair floats around her in the green light of the pool. Bubbles float from her mouth to the surface. She waits and wishes and waits, but instead of becoming silky seal-skin smooth her human skin is covered in small cold-bumps. Instead of breathing underwater she feels a pain in her chest like a rock pressing hard.

She has to rise out of the water, gasping.

"Please let me change!" she cries. She's so sure it's the only thing that will save her from a life of misery. She climbs out of the pool, shaking all over, and collapses into the moss and weeps. "I wish I could be a selkie." She presses her face into the moss. "Take me away, please, to be a selkie. Change me. Oh, Mother, please."

Be careful, the leaves overhead whisper. Be careful, swish the grasses.

Be careful what you wish for, comes a thought that lifts out of the very earth.

***

Leonore remembers her mother.

When Leonore is old enough to walk, she follows her mother everywhere. To the well, where the other women cast dark glances at the pale-haired, pale-skinned Fiona. To the cooper, who stands at his doorway watching them as they turn for home. To the woods, where Fiona gathers mushrooms and berries, all while singing quietly.

Leonore doesn't understand the mutterings of the other women.

Her father didn't drink so much when Fiona was still with them. He didn't hate Leonore then. That comes after.

***

Leonore remembers first seeing a selkie.

She and Fiona are hunting for crab along the rocky shore when the selkie rises from the water, its dark head shining.

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