Three seals raced through the frigid waters towards a rocky island in the distance. Their sleek coats shimmered in the morning sunlight. They flitted through the water playfully circling and leaping over one another. Their joyful barks rang through the morning air.
Stopping at the gravelly shoreline, they pulled themselves from the water and onto the sunlit boulders. Water dripped off their bodies as they waddled up to the topmost, warmest rocks.
As the three seals reached their destination, the first seal grabbed her sleek, black fur just under her chin with one flippered foot. She forcibly yanked it back over her head in one swift motion, and the fur loosened to slough off of her body. Rather than revealing a bloody mess, it revealed the body of a naked woman. Her hair was long and black, as sleek as the fur coat that she had removed. It covered much of her nakedness as she lounged against the rocks. Her large, brown eyes dominated her face, and she had a rounded nose. Though her face held these sea-lion characteristics, she appeared to be otherwise human.
The other two seals beside her shed their skins as well. Laying their seal pelts to one side, the women leaned back against the rocks and basked in the sun’s glow. They talked and laughed enjoying the warm sunlight as it heated their bodies.
A lonely fisherman, named Dylan, approached the shoreline. He was young, but his rough living had taken a toll on his visage. He may have been handsome once, but now, creases lined his face. His mouth was so unused to smiling that he bore a permanent frown, and his brown hair was coarse from the salty, sea air. Despite his haggard face, his body was strong and muscular from daily hard labor. His muscles bulged against his thick, tan jacket as he fought the choppy waters and headed toward the island.
As he rowed closer to shore, he prepared his net to cast. He heard the women’s laughter and looked up sharply. From his vantage point, he could see the heads of two women and the full body of a third. Glancing at the latter, he noticed the first woman who had shed her skin. Scanning her profile, his eyes took in her long, silky hair and her beautiful brown eyes. They roved over her luscious body, and he was instantly entranced. He had to have her.
He eased his boat into the shallows careful to remain hidden. Tying the boat to the shore, he cautiously climbed the slick rocks behind the lounging women. As he emerged into the sunlight, he noticed a pile of seal pelts lying directly before him. Looking from the skins to the women, the fisherman realized immediately what they were. These women were selkies.
Now, legend told of a creature who could change its form from the playful seal to a beautiful woman by removing its skin. If the selkie’s skin was stolen and hidden, she was forced to remain in her human form for the rest of her life. Unless he returned her seal-skin, she became bound to her skin’s bearer for all of time.
The fisherman, like all of the mainlanders, knew the stories of the selkies. From the time that he was born, his mother had warned him about the dangers that they bore. Though they were beautiful and brought great fortune to the man who captured them, they would only bring him sadness and pain in the end. For, if the selkie ever retrieved her skin, she would leave her captor and return to the sea forever, never to return to her human shape.
Although the fisherman knew the risk, he was captivated by the beauty before him. He couldn’t bear the thought of never seeing her again. His mother had died several years ago, and he lived alone in a small cottage by the sea. He longed desperately for the companionship that only another living person could provide.
Despite the warnings flashing through his mind, Dylan reached for the pelts lying before him and hesitated. There were three pelts. He had no way of knowing which skin belonged to her. He would only have this one chance, and he didn’t want to grab the wrong pelt. He would lose her forever.
In a moment of madness, he grabbed all three pelts. Holding them tightly, he moved closer to the women and stood before them so that they would see him.
“Uh . . .,” Dylan stammered unsure of where to begin.
Two of the selkies looked up at him. They wailed and grabbed for their pelts, but he turned to one side and held the skins out of their reach.
“Give them back!” One cried.
“That’s not yours! They belong to us!” Cried the other.
His selkie only turned her head and glanced at him. She remained silent as she watched him with sadness in her eyes. Unable to hold her gaze, he blushed slightly and looked away.
“I . . . I have your pelts. You belong to me, now.” His voice was rough from lack of use.
As Dylan spoke, the two selkies only cried louder. They threw themselves against the rocks pleading with him to give them back, but his selkie merely came to her feet quietly and stood before him. Seeing their companion’s surrender, the two selkies slowly came to their feet. They huddled together weeping softly.
Unsure of his next move, Dylan paused. “What are your names?”
“I am Keeli.” His selkie told him in a voice of pure silk. “These are my sisters, Leata and Eiya.”
“My name is Dylan.” When there was no response besides a soft sobbing, he said awkwardly, “Well, um, my boat is down this way.”
Dylan stepped to one side as Keeli moved forward. She walked by him with her head held high, and her sisters trudged along behind her. They moved easily despite their bare feet striking the sharp rocks. They were used to their ragged edges. Burdened by the selkies’ pelts, Dylan moved carefully down the rocky slope.
As he reached the shore, he noticed that the women had already settled into his boat. Their backs were facing him as he stepped into the water and boarded the small boat. He set the pelts behind him as he sat down and grabbed the oars. Leata and Eiya’s eyes gazed longingly at their skins as the boat began to slip away from the island, but Keeli’s morose, brown eyes bore deeply into Dylan. He wondered aimlessly if selkies were able to read minds.
Dylan was used to the bitter cold of the sea, but he always carried an extra coat and a few blankets just in case. He handed them to the women.
“I don’t know if your kind gets cold, but I have these if you’d like to cover up.”
Keeli took the blankets and handed them to her sisters who wrapped them around themselves gratefully. She slipped the coat over her shoulders.
“Thank you.” She said as she adjusted the coat to cover her nakedness. “The sunlight warms our bodies for a short period of time, but without our pelts, we would freeze.”
Guilt washed through Dylan’s veins, and he turned his head to avoid the sadness in her eyes.
The mainland was nearly an hour away from the island. As they entered deeper waters, several seals swam up to the boat and called out to the women. Leata and Eiya reached out to them for comfort and cried plaintively as Dylan rowed quietly along. His heart constricted painfully as he watched their sorrow.
Keeli ignored her companions. She sat stiffly as she watched him. She seemed aware of his conflict. Uncomfortable under her scrutiny, Dylan felt like he should fill the silence.
“I will be good to you. I promise.” Dylan said softly to Keeli. “I don’t have much to offer, but what I have is yours.”
Keeli stared at him for a long time and then, nodded.
Finally, the mainland came into sight. The seals around them began to disperse until it was just Dylan and the selkies once more. At their retreat, Leata and Eiya’s wails grew unbearable. They crossed their arms over their chests and rocked back and forth in their seat. Dylan felt that his heart would break from seeing their pain. His brow furrowed, and he had to blink his eyes several times to keep the tears at bay.
Keeli sat still and quiet. For an instant, her eyes flitted towards the mainland and a ragged breath escaped her. Upon hearing this, Dylan lost his battle. A single tear raced down his cheek to land in the boat. He stopped rowing and released the oars. Turning slightly in his seat, he grabbed the pelts.
He knew what returning the pelts would mean. He would never again see these beautiful creatures before him, but he couldn’t bear to see them suffer this way. No one deserved to have their lives stolen. No matter how much he needed them.
Keeli watched as he placed the pelts on his lap. Leata and Eiya had stopped rocking and glanced at him hopefully.
“I . . .” Dylan started but his voice cracked. He cleared his throat and tried again. “I was wrong to take you.” He looked at Keeli. “I was so lonely, and I hoped that if I took you home with me that you would come to love me someday.”
He looked down and rubbed his hand along the soft pelt. “But, I know that what I did was wrong. I hope that you will forgive me.”
Keeli sat up straighter as he grabbed one of the pelts and handed it to her.
“Please, don’t think ill of me.”
Leata reached across her sister and snatched the pelt from his hand as she threw off the blanket. Dylan handed the second pelt over, and Eiya quickly seized it. She too threw off the blanket and held the pelt against her chest hugging it tightly.
Holding the last pelt in both hands, Dylan held it out to Keeli. “Here you are.” His eyes were full of remorse. “I’m so sorry.”
Keeli hesitated as if uncertain. Then, unexpectedly, she pushed the pelt back towards Dylan. His brow furrowed in confusion.
“Keep it. I will stay with you.” She said quietly as she placed her hands in her lap.
“What!” Eiya exclaimed.
“No! Keeli, you can’t!” Leata screeched.
“Why?” Dylan asked uncertainly.
“Because I see your heart, Dylan, and it is good.” Keeli said leaning towards him and looking deeply into his bright, blue eyes. “You could have taken my sisters and me as your own, but instead, you chose to return our lives to us. For that I will be forever grateful.”
Dylan stared into her beautiful eyes as she continued. “For your compassion, I give you my life in return. I will love you and honor you for the rest of my time on this earth. I swear it.”
Leata and Eiya sobbed behind her. Keeli turned to her sisters and placed a hand on first Leata and then Eiya’s cheek.
“Don’t cry for me, sisters.” She told them. “This is my choice.”
The sisters leapt forward and embraced tightly. As they released, Leata and Eiya donned their seal skins. Within seconds, they’d returned to their seal form. Keeli hugged each of them once more before they slipped off the side of the boat and into the water. They barked a final farewell before disappearing into the sea.
Keeli wiped the tears from her eyes as she turned back to Dylan.
“Are you sure, Keeli?” Dylan asked her hopefully.
Keeli looked at him fondly and a smile spread onto her face as she nodded. “Yes, I’m sure.”
Dylan smiled, and setting the pelt behind him once more, he reached forward. He held her hands in each of his and placed a kiss against her palms. Giving them a squeeze, he looked up at her.
“Thank you,” he told her sincerely. “You won’t regret it. I promise.”
The corner of Keeli’s mouth lifted. “I know.” She said serenely.
Dylan released her hands and grabbed the oars once more. He glanced at his bride-to-be, and his heart swelled with gladness. He would never be alone again.