“There it is!”
I pointed and Elsie wriggled back into me. We splashed our feet, soaking the hems of our dresses, giggling and pretend-squirming away. But then we dipped our toes back in, waiting to see it again: slimy skin, a flopping tail, big black eyes the size of frying pans — that’s what Daddy had told me. Once, when Mummy was with the other girls, cutting fish open with pointy little knives, the monster leapt out of the water and snatched my dolly from my hands with its diamond teeth. When I told Mummy, she said I wouldn’t be getting another one, even when I said it was Elsie’s fault.
“C’mon, up to the big rock!” I tugged at Elsie’s dress and jumped onto the pebbles. As I ran along the bank, away from mummy and the fish barrels, I didn’t care about the stones digging into my soles and I could hear Elsie’s little feet crunching the gravel behind me. When the pebbles turned to boulders, I took big steps, balancing from stone to stone. The big jaggy rock was ahead and when I climbed up onto it, I scraped my knees and had to turn around at the top to pull Elsie up behind me.
“Look!” We peered over the steep drop into the grey water rippling below. “Daddy says there are selkies in there. He’s seen them from his boat.” The wind pushed at my skirt and blew my hair across my face. Under the water, something black writhed. Elsie gripped my hand.
“I want to see one up close!” I squealed and stepped closer to the edge but Elsie squeezed my fingers tighter. “Come on! I can tell Daddy I’ve seen it too.”
I thought of Daddy’s teeth grinning behind his beard and the oily smell on his jumper when he hugged me. Maybe he’d have a new shell for me when he came back this time.
I pulled Elsie to my side, rubbing her knuckles with my thumb, my gulping breaths matching hers.
We shuffled our feet forward, toes clinging to the sore edge of the rock.
Our joined hands swung back and I sucked in a big breath.
My eyes clamped shut and the wind whooshed up my dress. My stomach felt like it was holding its breath too and then the freezing cold roared over me, closing out the sound of everything. At first I thought a monster had swallowed us up in its jaws until I burst out of the water again, splashing and gasping and kicking. I swished my arms around feeling for a scaly tail or warm seal skin. I even ducked my head back under and opened my eyes to look for a face peering back at me, but it was only blurry green-brown that stung.
When I waded out onto the stony shore, my dress clinging to me, I knew Elsie was gone for today. I’d meet her here again tomorrow morning with Mummy, before the sun peeked over the sea. Elsie wasn’t allowed at home. Daddy likes her but Mummy says I’m too big for that now. “Enough of this ‘Elsie’ rubbish, Mary. That’s what little girls make up.”
She says my hands will be big enough for a pointy little knife soon.
Matthew Keeley is a writer and teacher living and working in Glasgow, Scotland. His first speculative novel, Turning the Hourglass, was published in 2019 by Black Rose Writing. In addition, he has had short stories published in various anthologies and magazines.