Short Stories

I grew up reading the Brothers Grimm and Hans Christian Andersen. I’d be horribly drawn in by the dark but rich narrative of children lost in the woods, red shoes that make the protagonist’s feet bleed, cursed and unable to stop dancing.

I am currently writing a selection of short stories inspired by female protagonists who get what they need by tapping into the supernatural forces of nature. I have several pieces, including a werewolf, a female B list celebrity with a Jekyll and Hyde problem, and a businesswoman who clones herself. The following is based on the myth of Selkies. This is a tribute to my Celtic roots.


The Selkie

By E. L Kelly


Imagine a cloud covering the sun. That’s what it’s like when you enter Skull, a village clinging to the southern tip of Ireland. Where there was sunshine, a cold steel grey steps in. Where there was warmth, there is a persistent chill. The unforgiving climate compounds the bitterness of the folk who live there. When the Gaelic mist descends, you can’t see any signs, you can’t see a way out, and you are lucky if you can see your own hand.

Gerda was determined to escape, confident that swimming would be her salvation. Her cottage was set apart from the rows of houses huddled by the dock. It was a humble and solitary structure perched on the cliff overlooking the dock, built by Seamus Donohue, her great-grandfather. The Donoghues were fishermen, and the Donoghue women were strong, hardened by decades of men lost at sea. They found solace in the knowledge that all of them became Selkies in the afterlife.

Watching rabid waves dash the rocks on the cove, you can see the seals that are supposed to be the Selkie folk, sliding up to the surface to look at you, ever-present to witness the folly of their descendants.

Gerda learned to swim almost before she could walk. She understood why so many presumed her folk to be Selkies; she was at home in the water. Gerda remembers her mother telling her sisters when they were swimming at Black Rock.

‘’When you live near it, the best a mother can do is teach you how to master it.’’

She remembers the taste of the brine and the smell of the mineral-rich air when she thinks about her mother’s black hair and chalky white face. Her eyes two dark caverns of piracy as she dived and resurfaced, splashing Gerda, calling her to join her.

“These are the best of days,” she would say as she wrapped towels around their trembling blue shoulders.

“Just us and the sea.” Whispering in admiration.

Gerda remembers watching the sun extinguish over the horizon as her mum gave them steaming tomato soup from a flask to stop their teeth chattering and the burn of cold limbs. All of them huddled for warmth under a big red blanket, connected, glad to be alive.

When Gerda’s mother died, they were lost, frozen in time, and completely unable to live without her. Drifting and alone, fractured.

Left with their father, a hopeless drunk, who fished in the most inebriated of states. Secretly she hoped that he would become a Selkie. Then Gerda and her sisters wouldn’t have to put up with him. They wouldn’t have to clear up the broken plates. They wouldn’t have to become immune to the words that fell from his spittle-covered lips like knives. He was as flighty as the sails that hung from the mast of his fishing rig and as brutal as the sea he ventured out in.

Her mother died of cancer. It ate away at her until she was paper-thin, then eventually translucent. She was so fragile that she degraded and blew into the ether of their minds. Unable to cope, her father enlisted the help of his mother.

Mary Donoghue was a stocky and fierce woman with the imagination and wit of Oscar Wilde. The elderly lady drank gin as if she had the thirst of a desert explorer. She laughed loudly, and to be sure wasn’t for everyone, but did she care? No. The girls feared and respected their Grandmother. Most of all, they loved the late-night tales she could animate with her dulcet tones. Tales of dark and swarthy Selkie folk who avenged the slighted and brought a stealthy justice to Skull.

Gerda was such an impressive swimmer that she was tipped to be the next Irish sensation at the Olympics. Her coach created a relentless training schedule, early mornings and late-night sessions, and awkward moments in the changing room after her shower. This left no room for friends, fun or boys. She didn’t care, though. This would be her ticket out of Skull, the sleepy dead-end town where her mother died and her father drifted like a ghost ship.

Then there was Connor. He lived with his ma in a crudely converted lookout tower next to the Donoghue family. Gerda and her sisters had grown up with Connor. He had feline eyes and a multitude of piercings. He was constantly pestering Gerda to go to beach parties with him and her other sister, Magda. She always politely declined with:

“Piss off Connor”

It was the end of the summer, and Gerda had been training hard. After a particularly gruelling session with her coach in which he raged about her form, how it was off and that she wasn’t working hard enough, Gerda thought she deserved to see what she was missing out on. She needed to shake the feeling of his clammy hand on her shoulder.

Scrambling over the rocks of the secret cove, Gerda was drawn to the flickering forbidden flames of the revellers’ fire. Teenagers were drinking, singing and snogging. Unknown territory. Alien entities. The sea rolled and crashed, and Gerda felt reassured. She picked up a stone and skimmed it into the void. A seal slid from the rocks into the sea. As she approached, she could hear her sister showing off.

“Gerda doesn’t know how to have fun, frigid!”

Pissed off, Gerda swiped the bottle out of Magda’s hand, and the laughing stopped. The crowd watched her down the cider in one. Gerda’s eyes burnt as she gagged on the sickly booze, then, reassured by the wild whooping and laughing, she smashed the bottle and turned to Connor. He flashed a devilish smile as he…

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