Tag Archives: selkie

Selkie Cove: Chapter Five

With Selkie Cove coming out July 25th, I’ve decided to post a chapter a week until it comes out. My apologies for not posting another chapter earlier in the week, but it was my birthday and I was spending it at my favorite place on earth, the Metropolitan Museum of Art. If you haven’t pre-ordered Selkie Cove, you can here.

Just as a heads-up, if you’re a paperback fan, they will be out by the end of the month, but they will not be available on the 25th (due to my own incompetence). I will let everyone know when they are ready to order.

Catch up on:


Chapter Five

Evolution

When Immanuel surfaced from the creature’s corpse, the blackbirds and robins outside the alley window had begun their morning trills despite the brumous day. Squirming on the narrow stool, Immanuel cracked his back and neck as he leaned back to examine the creature, which now lay in pieces. She was real. At lunch the day before, he never would have thought it possible. Even after seeing her final moments, he was hesitant to believe it hadn’t been a hallucination, but after working on the dissection all night and carefully documenting the anatomy of her organs, he knew he had found a human-pinniped hybrid. If only he had a microscope and supplies at home, then he could prepare slides and study the creature’s microanatomy. He had only studied human tissue under a microscope, but if he could get his hands on some seal samples, then he could—

“There you are!” Adam called as he threw open the workroom door but immediately brought his hand to his eyes. “Dear Lord, it’s bright in here.”

A weary smile spread across Immanuel’s features as he watched his companion grimace and squint. Serves him right, he thought, eyeing him warily for any sign of drink. Beneath Adam’s blue silk robe, he still wore his shirt from the previous night, but now, it had been buttoned to his collar. His hair had been brushed down, and without pomade to keep it in place, it stood out in floppy waves around his bloodshot eyes. As Adam took a step forward, he yelped a curse as Percy darted in, nearly knocking him over as he flew past. At the edge of the worktable, the cat wiggled his hips and flipped his tail. Adam reached for him as the cat dove for the liver sitting in the nearest metal tray.

“No! Don’t you dare!” Immanuel cried as he swatted at the skeleton cat.

The cat’s eyes locked on the liver as he took a slow step back. His tail wiggled and snapped, but when he pounced, Immanuel caught him, the scalpel clattering to the floor. Grimacing at the cat’s claws sinking into his wrists, Immanuel shoved him into Adam’s waiting arms.

“Take him, please. I’m not finished yet.”

“Fine, fine. Just stop yelling. My head is killing me,” Adam grumbled as he held Percy at arm’s length. “Ugh, he smells like a corpse.”

“I’ll bathe him later. Just put him in the kitchen.”

Tossing the cat into the other room, Adam shut the door and stood at Immanuel’s shoulder as he settled back into his work. Adam’s eyes flitted over organs he vaguely recognized before landing on the nearly empty cadaver. He had hoped that what he had seen the day before had been a nightmare from far too much gin, but even disarticulated, he recognized its mermaid-like form. While its hands still reached for something unseen, Immanuel had cut along its forehead and peeled the skin back to reveal a nearly empty human skull, its sightless eyes hidden beneath the flap. Adam shuddered at the thought that this nightmarish being lived inside of him, and one day, it would live on without him. Averting his gaze, he meandered around the room, looking through Hadley’s remaining tools and bobbles before turning to the gleaming wall of windows.

When his eyes started to burn and his head pulsed in time with his heart, he sat at the work table and began picking through the pages littering the table. Immanuel’s notes ranged from drawings as detailed as Da Vinci’s notebooks to page upon page of observations written in tight lines of German and English. Pushing through his hazy mind, Adam calculated the time he thought he fell asleep to when he came downstairs and divided it by the speed of dissection with pauses for reflection and study.

“Have you been at this all night?”

Immanuel continued working with his head down.

Adam frowned. “Why didn’t you go to bed? You have to go to work soon, don’t you?”

“I told Sir William I would be working from home today,” Immanuel replied, his accent formal and clipped. “He agreed, so long as I have a report on the deceased by this afternoon. If you don’t mind, I must get back to work.”

“I see.”

Pinching the bridge of his nose, Adam tried to remember what had happened the night before, but it only came in smatterings and blurs. He remembered the creature, he couldn’t forget that even if he wanted to, but what had happened to make Immanuel cross with him? It wasn’t like him to be so curt. He had awoken with the taste of stale gin on his lips, a splitting headache, and the only body in his bed an undead cat nestled on Immanuel’s pillow. As he stared at Immanuel’s notes, a pit formed in his stomach at a vision of Immanuel’s face breaking with hurt. Adam tried to remember what exactly he said, yet all he could see was Immanuel. What had he done?

“I made an ass of myself last night, didn’t I?”

“You could say that.”

Adam drew in a slow breath and winced as he scratched his wrist. Blood coated his nails, but he tucked his injured arm out of sight before Immanuel could notice. “I don’t remember what I did or said, but I am sorry I took it out on you, Immanuel. You must believe me. I would never try to wound you.”

Immanuel paused, his pencil hovering above a sketch of the creature’s lungs. “I know, but you did.”

Putting his work aside, he swiveled to face Adam. Their gazes locked, and the silent regrets snapped between them like a tether. In that moment, Immanuel wanted nothing more than to take Adam into his arms and kiss him until they both forgot the previous day’s trials, but he couldn’t do it. There had been a moment of alcohol-induced abandon when Immanuel felt the threat of impending violence. He swore Adam might hit him, and he couldn’t live with that fear. He refused to.

“Promise you will never do that to me again,” Immanuel said, keeping his damaged eye locked on Adam’s face even as it clouded. “I have to be able to trust you, Adam. I have been able to count on you thus far, but I can’t live with uncertainty when it comes to you. If you’re going to drink like that…” He shook his head. “I’m not trying to be dramatic. I just can’t do it after all that’s happened.”

Even if it means losing you. The words hung in his throat, but Adam knew they were there. He lowered his eyes to the floor and fingered the loosened scab on his wrist.

“I don’t know what to say, except that I will try not to do it again. I didn’t think it would upset you so. I thought it would take the edge off. It’s what I’ve always done.” He closed his eyes as Immanuel stroked his cheek. A little voice told him to tear his face away. He didn’t deserve it. “Anyway, after I get cleaned up, I’m planning to visit Hadley. I don’t want a position out of pity or loyalty, but the earl has connections and it would be foolish not to use them.”

Immanuel nodded, but as he turned back to his work, Adam put his hand on his arm and carefully turned him until they were face-to-face again.

“Immanuel, please trust me. I’m going to try to make things right. I promise I’m not going to let us sink.”

Drawing closer, Adam gently pressed his lips to Immanuel’s, his fingers sweeping his lover’s hair from his brow. Adam pulled him in deeper with the touch of his tongue upon his lips and a hand on his back. Entering his mouth, Immanuel could taste the tang of last night’s gin, and he wondered if Adam noticed the salt of the sea clinging to his teeth, a remnant of the dead woman’s final moments. Adam leaned between Immanuel’s legs, brushing his thighs as they parted. Heat sparked in Immanuel’s core as he rose upon feeling his lover’s hands squeeze his shoulders and slip along his side in time with their lips. He wanted to hate him, he wanted to be angry, but it seemed impossible to sustain.

“Am I forgiven?” Adam asked between kisses.

“We’ll see.”

Adam’s arms closed around him, hugging him closer until their bodies were flush. Stumbling back, Immanuel braced himself against the workbench as Adam’s lips skimmed the delicate flesh of his neck, sending a shudder through his form. As his palm brushed a metal dissecting tray, Immanuel stepped away and carefully guided Adam back toward the empty wall where crates of finished automatons had once sat. His lover’s hands kneaded Immanuel’s sides and back, cupping his buttock as his back collided with the wall. Immanuel lightly ran his tongue along Adam’s lip, eliciting a rough laugh from his companion as he tugged Immanuel’s shirt from his trousers. Before he could reach for his belt, Immanuel gripped Adam’s arm and slowly pulled it away. He stared at him through hooded eyes, his breath coming in heavy puffs as he steadied himself.

“We can’t,” Immanuel said, his voice hoarse with desire. “After, we will, but I need to finish this first.”

Disappointment flashed across Adam’s features, disappearing as quickly as it materialized beneath a concessionary nod.

“And I stink like a fishmonger. Please, Adam, I promise we can, but later.” Immanuel kissed him again until the tension released from Adam’s arms. “Later.”

Clearing his throat, Adam looked around the workroom as if seeing it for the first time. “I guess I’ll leave you to it, then. I’m going to take the train to Greenwich. Hopefully I can catch Hadley before she goes out for the day. Would you like to come? I could wait for you to clean up.”

“I would love to, but…,” he gestured to the glistening organs littering the table. “Send Hadley and Lord Dorset my love.”

Wiping his lips and straightening his clothing, Adam slipped out of the room. As the door shut behind him, a knot twisted in Immanuel’s stomach. Even if Adam had kept his head out of his cups long enough to think straight, there was something Immanuel still had to do. Reaching into a cabinet, he hefted a typewriter onto the only clean corner left on the workbench, a gift from Adam’s cousin and her husband upon his graduation. Carefully arranging his notes, he pecked out a report that would hopefully satisfy Sir William Henry Flower. He stared down at the page, rereading his half-truths and outright lies until he steeled himself against the knot in his stomach. If this plan was to work, he would need enough room to weave his story. There was only one missing component.

Reloading the typewriter with paper, Immanuel pulled his notes closer and hammered them out word-for-word. Judith Elliott asked for a comprehensive report, and he wasn’t going to fail his first mission as one of Her Majesty’s Interceptors.

***

Standing outside Miss Elliott’s door, Immanuel’s hand hovered, poised to knock. For a long moment, he merely stood in the hall, trying desperately to remember if he had brought everything he might need. During the entire journey to the Inner Temple Gardens, Immanuel had rehearsed all that he wanted to say, but the moment he reached the main hall with its sundial floor and practioners rushing between destinations like a swarm, his mind seized. What was he doing here?

After being attacked by Lord Rose in its courtyard and returning after the disastrous affair involving Lord Hale, he told himself that he never wanted to step foot there again, yet every few weeks he managed to slip in during his lunch break to exchange books with Judith Elliott. As he wove between Interceptors and made his way up the iron steps, he felt the deep resonance of magic reverberate through his bones like the hum of a hundred tuning forks. There was a whole building of people who in some way were just like him. He bit his lip to suppress a smile at the thought. Even after working at the museum for months, he still felt the distance of being an outsider. He was younger, quieter, less charismatic, less sure of his convictions, less accomplished, and certainly less English than any of the other curators. From what he had seen of the Interceptor Headquarters, there were plenty of young people and even those with darker complexions and accents that betrayed their origins. When he left Germany, a little part of him thought it would be a grand adventure. Maybe he needed to listen to that voice more. Immanuel tugged at his collar and straightened the strap of his leather satchel before knocking.

“Come in, Mr. Winter.”

Immanuel froze with a frown. Pushing open the door, he found Judith with her head bowed and her eyes on the paper in front of her. “How did you know it was me?”

“I could see you through the glass. Besides, no one who works here waits or even knocks. If you don’t barge right in, you aren’t an Interceptor.”

Barely raising her gaze, she motioned to the seat in front of her. Immanuel sank into the chair, clutching his bag as his eyes ran over the whitewashed cabinets lining the walls. Judith Elliott always seemed at odds with her surroundings. Her dark blonde hair had been expertly pinned and tightly bound in an elaborate chignon that hovered above the mandarin collar of her military-style jacket. Lining the perimeter of her office were display cases and art nouveau wallpaper that led the eye from shelf to shelf. Sunlight from the tall window behind her desk glinted off the crystals and artifacts locked within the cases. He wished he could borrow her powers just for a moment to understand how such a martial woman could own such a feminine space.

Finally surfacing from her work, Judith gave him a slight smile. “So how may I help you, Mr. Winter? Come to trade books?”

“No, I— I finished the report you wanted.” Immanuel reached into his bag and pulled out his sketch pad along with the packet of typed pages. “I tried to be very thorough, as you asked.”

“I can see that.”

Taking the papers from his outstretched hand, Judith flipped through them. Immanuel watched, holding his breath as her eyes skimmed over his notes before traveling to the black sketchpad between them. She returned back to the page, but every so often her gaze flickered from the rickety type to Immanuel’s face. After a moment, she cleared her throat and set the papers aside.

Folding her hands on the desk, she said, “This is all rather technical for me. Tell me, what did you find regarding our dead selkie?”

“Selkie?”

“My apologies, I meant to tell you, but I didn’t want to influence your findings. Selkie is the common name for what she was. Sometimes the Scottish call them maighdeann-mhara. I did some research on our friend after she arrived. According to several legends, selkies are creatures with the ability to take on two forms: one human and the other seal. I’m sure you’ve heard of sirens or mermaids in fairytales. Much like them, selkies are often described as beautiful women who lure men to their deaths or fall in love with humans and shun their true, animal form. Some folklore talks about how their magic resides in their pelts, which allow them to slip between forms or, like werewolves, they may be merely shapeshifters. It’s still unknown.”

“Did— did you say werewolves? Are they real, too?”

“Don’t fret about them, Mr. Winter. They are of little consequence at the moment.” Leaning forward, she tented her fingers and focused on Immanuel’s bisected eye, her mind’s probing tentacle nudging at Immanuel’s thoughts. “So how did the selkie die?”

“She was murdered.” Immanuel fought his mind as it threatened to travel back to that awful moment under the silty green water. “She saw something. I’m not certain what it was, a sunken ship or a foundation, but as she approached it, she was attacked by someone.”

“Was it another selkie?”

“No, I’m certain it was a human or at least close to it. I didn’t feel the same sensation I felt when I saw her for the first time.”

“A sensation?”

Immanuel chewed on his lip and watched Judith warily. Something about her made him nervous. Even if he was telling the truth, he still felt as if she might uncover a secret he never intended to hide. It made it harder to think, to find the words he needed to make sense.

“It’s like what Nichols described to me when he talked about meeting another person with magical abilities. It’s like an itch or a frequency resonating in my bones. I felt it at the museum when Sir William showed her to me.”

“Interesting. Tell me more about the murder and the murderer. Thus far, we know the perpetrator isn’t a selkie nor a practioner. Even so, we could still have an incident on our hands that could result in an uprising. These situations are touchy. Go on.”

Immanuel swallowed hard. He rested his hands on the cool wood of the chair, fighting back the sensation of water burning his throat. Closing his eyes, he rubbed his brow as pain constricted his temples. “She was stabbed, but when she tried to fight back, I think— I think she began to transform into a human. Then, she pulled the blade out. I don’t know what kind of blade it was, but it was long and thin, on a handle. It only took a few seconds for her to begin to bleed out. When I examined her, I found a tear in her heart and a matching wound on her chest. I couldn’t tell whether she bled out or drowned first due to the preservation fluid.” As he released a tremulous breath, he bit down on his lip until the pain blossomed anew. “Her thoughts… They were so human. She was scared in her last moments for the others. Does that mean there are others of her kind?”

“Oh certainly,” Judith responded as she flipped through the collection of sketches. Her mouth parted in surprise as she turned to the two page sketch of the selkie’s body exposed for examination. “She was mid transformation. Do you realize how rare this is, Winter? To see a selkie transform is a once in a lifetime opportunity. They don’t change in front of humans, that’s why there’s pelt versus shapeshifter confusion. A selkie mid transformation,” she repeated, turning the page to study her organs and bone structure, “what luck. The cryptozoologists will be beside themselves at the news.”

A pang of guilt rang through Immanuel’s gut. “Is this really something to celebrate? She’s dead, and it felt like my body was ripping in half when she transformed. Changing like that—“

Immanuel rubbed his arm where pain had radiated from the marrow as every bone broke and regrew in an instant.

“You felt it?” she asked, the joy sapped from her voice.

He released a tremulous breath and squeezed his arm to remind his mind that the visions of her underwater tomb were only a memory. “I feel and see everything they do as if I were in their bodies. It was excruciating. Her transformation, her fear, her death. Please understand that seeing their last moments is rarely a cause for celebration.”

“My apologies if I sounded insensitive, Winter. You must understand that we are an agency that studies these creatures, and selkies have been rather uncooperative and elusive despite living right off our shores. Don’t think this creature’s death was in vain. We can learn a lot from it. We already have. Your dissection findings and her remains will be preserved for future study, and who knows what we may learn from them given weeks or months to do so.”

Was she merely a specimen to them? Immanuel licked his lips before slowly meeting Judith’s eager gaze. “Miss Elliott, I’m not certain how to phrase this, but do you—and the Interceptors—view selkies as human?”

For a long moment, Judith merely studied him, her brassy curls blazing gold in the afternoon sun. The tendrils of her mind fell away as she said, “Cryptids, creatures of that nature, are not my area of expertise, so I claim no intimate knowledge of selkies. The Interceptors are divided on what constitutes a human being or, for lack of a better word, personhood.”

“I see.”

Clearing her throat, Judith rose. “Well, Mr. Winter, if that will be all, we greatly appreciate your time and help in this matter. We will send someone to investigate the case, but if we need any more information, we will contact you. May I borrow your sketches to have photographs taken? It will only take a few moments.”

“Yes, but—” As she reached for the doorknob, Immanuel opened his mouth twice, the words refusing to issue from his lips. He had to say something, for the selkie’s sake if not his own. Finally he called, “Miss Elliott, I would like to continue investigating this case.”

Judith stopped, her back ramrod straight as she looked back at the young man hunched before her desk. Despite her hard hazel gaze, Immanuel never wavered. She motioned for him to wait. Calling down the hall, Cassandra Ashwood appeared at the door. The dark-haired woman in her smart gown looked over Judith’s shoulder and spotted Immanuel as she gave her instructions. With a wave and a wide grin to Immanuel, she took the sketchpad from Judith’s hands and disappeared down the hall. When Judith turned back to Immanuel, her features were caught between annoyance and amity. Perching on the corner of the desk closest to him, Judith folded her arms across her chest and searched his face.

“So you want to join the Interceptors now. Why the sudden change in heart?”

Clasping his shaking hands in his lap, Immanuel fought to keep his eyes on hers. “I thought I could join unofficially for now. I would like to see if this is what I’m looking for before I agree to anything permanent.”

“You cannot possibly think you can join un—”

“It was in the contract. Read it for yourself, and you’ll see that I can be called upon to continue an investigation.”

“At our discretion.”

“At your discretion. You said it yourself that a scientist who is also a practioner isn’t easy to come by.”

“Yes, but we have everything we need from you. You finished the autopsy.”

Immanuel’s throat tightened. “I don’t know why the Interceptors want me and Adam to join together, except that you said we were more powerful together. It sounds like we would be an asset to the organization, and if they want us as badly as you make it seem they do, I’m hoping they might be willing to work with my terms.”

A faint laugh escaped Judith’s rouged lips. “Does Mr. Fenice know about your proposition? I seem to recall he was a tad skeptical of magic.”

“He has come around, but no, I haven’t told him yet.”

“That could backfire on you.”

“I know.” But both of them had so little to lose now.

“I’ll tell you what, I will plead your case to my superiors and get a file together for you. They may not agree, but there have been several discussions about how to bring you around,” she replied with a knife-sharp smile. “Now, you must know that a practioner doesn’t simply join the Interceptors like one joins a club. There are certain protocols that must be followed, especially regarding your and Mr. Fenice’s connection.”

“But I thought you said the Interceptors were tolerant of…”

“Not an emotional connection, a magical one. We can discuss that later. In the meantime, I would suggest you start figuring out what you will say to Mr. Fenice should they agree to your proposal. While you have your strengths and unique abilities, they want you and Mr. Fenice. You won’t get in by yourself.”

“I don’t mean to be forward, but why? What makes us so special together? Adam…” He paused for a moment, struggling with how to phrase it without coming off as insulting. “Adam isn’t a practioner.”

“Yes, but every practioner is better with their amplifier. Let me explain. You know that Cassandra is my partner in multiple ways, much like your Mr. Fenice, and she is a normal person. The reason why an Interceptor really needs a non-practioner partner is to ground us. They will see things we miss because we are too wrapped up in using our extranormal abilities. In your case and in mine, your partner is an amplifier, which means, as you have probably guessed, they can elevate your abilities by simply being in your presence. After the ceremony I mentioned before, Adam’s connection to you will be even stronger.”

“But what makes him an amplifier? Is it merely because we’re companions?”

“Well, a bond is necessary, but his alignments are the opposite of yours. You know about batteries and magnets, Mr. Winter?”

“Yes.”

“Then, you understand the power of opposite poles. What happens with extranormal abilities is that we tend to align with a specific element or pair of elements. In my case, mind-reading aligns with air while Cassandra’s personality is very much grounded in earth. Therefore, we are opposites.”

Immanuel fingered the stitching on his satchel thoughtfully. His mind reeled at the thought of the four ancient elements having any sway beside the growing periodic table. He wanted to reject the notion as superstition, but he had seen so much those past few months that sent his mind spinning yet it all proved true.

“What element is my ability? Air as well?”

“You,” she paused, “you are a strange breed, Mr. Winter. You have two elements. Which two do you think are most needed for life?”

He blinked, hoping the answer on his lips wouldn’t prove him to be a fool. “Water and air.”

“Precisely. My theory is you were born with the ability to manipulate water since you mentioned your alchemical heritage, but after suffering through a series of traumas, your body took on air as a way to adapt to your needs. It’s your wyrd.”

“Excuse me?”

“Your wyrd. Your fate. Your trauma shaped your abilities. It’s fascinating really. There are several known cases in ancient writings.”

For a long moment, Immanuel merely glared at her through his clotted eye. He had never found his traumas to be fascinating. Did they see him as another exotic specimen like the selkie? Swallowing down the thought, he added, “So that would make Adam fire and earth?”

“Perhaps. Though, he only needs one opposite element to boost your abilities. It would be ironic, wouldn’t it?” she said with a smirk. When he didn’t respond, she continued, “Adam, the Biblical figure was born of clay, and the name itself has its origin in the color red, which is your Adam’s most prominent feature.” With a dismissive wave of her hand, she added, “The point is by having Mr. Fenice with you, he will amplify your already unusual abilities, and the Interceptors won’t need to find you a partner. Trust me, Mr. Winter, you don’t want to have to tell your partner that they have been replaced by your lover. Peregrine can attest to that.”

Peregrine. Immanuel snapped open his pocket watch and nearly propelled out of his chair. “My apologies, Miss Elliott, but I have to go. I have an appointment with the director at the museum, and I didn’t realize I had been here for so long. If I don’t go—”

“Go on, then. We will be in touch about when the handfasting will be held, and I will have your sketchbook delivered to your address.”

As Immanuel reached the threshold, he felt the familiar touch of Judith’s powers knocking at the back of his skull. “Did I forget something? I really must go.”

“No. I was merely wondering what you’re planning to tell Sir William about the sideshow spectacle I brought him.”

“That it isn’t real, but the skin is. There’s a seal somewhere missing a pelt, and it’s possibly a breed I’ve never seen,” he replied slowly as her hold nudged deeper despite his futile efforts to keep her out. “That way I can keep the body a while more.”

“Very smart. You may want to start thinking of excuses for missing work.”

Immanuel cocked his head.

“You’ll need it if they agree to your terms, won’t you?”


Thank you for reading! Please let me know what you think, and if you’re interested, you can pre-order Selkie Cove on Amazon.

Advertisements

Leave a comment

Filed under selkie cove, Writing

Selkie Cove: Chapter Three

SelkieCoveLH

With Selkie Cove coming out July 25th, I’ve decided to post a chapter a week until it comes out. That’s how excited I am for you to read it. I’m still copy-editing, so please pardon any typos. If you’re interested, you can pre-order it here.

Catch up on:


 

Chapter Three

The Curiosity

On the walk back to the museum, Immanuel replayed what had happened at Benekey’s over and over, looking for a way he could have made Adam stay. He had been looking forward to his lunch date with Adam all week, so why wouldn’t it somehow end badly? Reaching the museum’s familiar Gothic façade, Immanuel stared at the masses of people tittering within. He swallowed against the tightness working its way from his throat to his chest and ducked around the side to take the servants’ entrance in. As he climbed the back stairs up to his office, he dreaded running into another curator as much as what awaited him at home. Adam was angry, and rightly so, yet the thought of wrangling with Adam’s vile stubbornness was more than Immanuel could bear. Whatever the solution, it would have to be Adam’s idea.

At the top of the stairs, Immanuel froze with his hand on the worn door. Someone was in his office. A shadow passed behind the mottled glass, disappearing near his desk. Immanuel’s heart pounded in his temples as the urge to run overtook his muscles and set every hair on end. Drawing in a steadying breath, he tried to banish all thoughts of Lord Rose. It had been months since he was attacked and Lord Rose’s soul was sealed in a lead tomb in the bowels of Interceptor Headquarters. Lady Rose supposedly shared a similar fate, but as the shadow paced past the glass again, Immanuel caught the unmistakable shape of a corseted waist. Could she have gotten free and come after him?

Slowly ducking back into the stairway, Immanuel fumbled through his leather satchel for his vivalabe. The moment his fingers brushed its cool, brassy surface, a wave of calm passed over him. The brass ball was the size of a compass and weighed twice as much. If he took it out at night, he could hear the steady cadence of its clockwork heart, ticking in time with his own. With two clicks of a hidden button, the ball’s lid fell back to reveal an etched face lined with minute chips of colored stone. In an instant, the marbles scattered like billiard balls, leaving only three clustered together: a white, a green, and an amber. Immanuel released a tense breath, letting his head fall back against the cold stone in relief that Lady Rose’s red stone was nowhere to be seen. He stared at the amber stone and bit his lip. Why would Judith Elliott come to see him at work?

Stuffing the vivalabe back into his bag, Immanuel smoothed his heavy wool coat and pushed a wet blonde curl from his forehead. Even if Judith would ultimately discern something was amiss, he didn’t want her to read it on his face. If she wanted to know, she would have to work for it. In three long strides with his eyes cast to the floor, Immanuel reached his office and slipped inside. Judith looked up from behind his desk, her hazel eyes meeting his without hesitation. With a knowing smile, she studied his latest sigils with a gold magnifying glass hanging from a chain around her neck. No matter where he saw her, Judith Elliott was unmistakably American. Where the British embraced etiquette to the point of meekness or passive aggression, her intentions were always as straight and loud as a gunshot. If he hadn’t known any better, he would have assumed it was her office by the glint her eye and the self-assured way she stayed rooted in his seat even as he hung up his bag and coat.

“Your sigils are quite interesting, Winter. Very complex for someone who has only begun. Did you know that no two sigils are exactly the same? Every practioner leaves their mark, their own mental baggage. Did the books I lent you help at all?” Judith asked, her blonde hair glinting in the electric lamps as Immanuel switched them on.

“Somewhat,” he replied, shifting uncomfortably beside the veiled specimen. “I’ve been trying to expand my knowledge outside of life and death magic, and it’s given me plenty of ideas. Some… some I can barely read. It doesn’t seem to click no matter how hard I try.”

“Too many archaic rules?” A smile quirked across her lips as she looked from the water-stained paper to Immanuel’s downcast brows. “Don’t be sheepish. It happens more often than most of us would care to admit, especially in the beginning. Some things won’t work for you. You’ll find magic is more of an art than a science.”

“The strange thing is, the techniques… It felt like a lot didn’t apply.”

“You’re an evolutionist, so it stands to reason that magic has also evolved over the centuries with human need and understanding. It morphs with geography, time, beliefs, and of course, the practioner. What worked then, doesn’t necessarily work now, and plenty of practioners made rules to prevent novices from getting any farther than the basics. I know some of the writings are dense, but I thought they might, inspire your work rather than act as a guide. Stop by Interceptor headquarters, and I’ll have the librarians give you some texts more suited to your interests.”

Immanuel stood at the end of his desk, watching Judith study his work. “I don’t mean to be rude, Miss Elliott, but what are you doing in my office? Does the director know you’re here?”

“Sir William was more than willing to let me speak to the curator who will be handling my prized specimen,” she replied with a flourish toward the creature.

His eyes widened. “That was you?”

“Technically yes, though it really belongs to the Interceptors. We heard from our sources off the coast of an interesting specimen that was to be sent to the Royal Zoological Society. The box mysterious disappeared and ended up at the museum with special instructions to have their resident seal expert examine it.”

“Fantastic.”

Judith chuckled at Immanuel’s grimace. “Finding a scientist who has a foot in both worlds is incredibly difficult. You should be flattered that we chose you, especially when you don’t officially work for us. I had to fill out a lot of paperwork to get an exception to involve you.”

“You believe the thing is real?”

“Despite what Sir William told you, there is more in this world than what your books lead you to believe. You of all people should understand that. What we need you to do is study the specimen, analyze it, dissect it, and tell us how it died. The latter may require you to use unconventional means. Before I leave you to it, I need you to sign the paperwork promising that you will not divulge what you find to anyone outside of the Interceptors, including Sir William.”

“Don’t worry, I have no intention of telling him any more than I have to.” Being the laughing stock of the department was the last thing he wanted to be if the thing turned out to be genuine.

Reaching into her reticule, Judith retrieved a folded wad of paper and smoothed it across the desk. She handed the pen from Immanuel’s blotter and pointed to each place he should sign. Immanuel released a soundless sigh at the magazine-sized stack. He should have read it, but he had neither the time nor the patience on a good day. Near the bottom of the fifth page, Immanuel paused. Any party involved may be recalled to carrying out a further investigation on behalf of Her Majesty’s Interceptors if Her Majesty sees fit. As he reread the minute type, Immanuel felt the nudge of Judith’s energy caressing the edge of his mind like the invisible arm of a jellyfish. If he let her, she would slip into his mind, probing through his thoughts until she found what she sought.

“You could have asked first,” he replied, ripping his mind away from her grasp with a turn of his head. Hastily signing the last of the documents, Immanuel pushed them back to her and dropped his pen into his breast pocket. “Will that be all?”

“My apologies, Winter,” she said, her eyes traveling over his scar before lingering on his crooked frown and faraway gaze. “I didn’t mean to offend you, but you don’t seem yourself. Is everything all right or have I come at a bad time?”

“I received some bad news at lunch, but I will have my report to you about,” he paused, trying to picture the creature trapped within the glass coffin, “whatever that is, by the weekend.”

With a nod, Judith tucked the contract into her bag and slipped past him. At the door, she stopped to watch Immanuel collapse into his chair. “There’s one thing I have been meaning to ask since we last spoke. Have you given any thought to becoming an Interceptor? You never gave me an answer.”

Immanuel stared at the pages of sigils littering his desk alongside his acceptance letter into the Royal Zoological Society. His nights were spent trying to manipulate cups of tea when he should have been knee-deep in research. He had a career now, one that he was actually decent at, and yet— He frowned, averting his eyes from Judith’s. Yet he still felt out of place at the museum. Every day he feared that at any moment he would be unmasked for the imposter he was. Something was missing. At times he wondered if it was the absence of fear now that Lord and Lady Rose were gone, but there was a bigger void that research and recitation, or even Adam, couldn’t hope to fill. And that terrified him.

“I fear I still don’t have an answer for you, Miss Elliott. I haven’t ruled it out, but I don’t know if I’m ready to take that step.”

“Fair enough. If you should change your mind, you know where you and Mr. Fenice can find me.”

Immanuel licked his lips and hesitantly asked, “Your… Your offer is still open to both of us?”

“Of course. Your earnest relationship makes you stronger than the sum of your parts.” She flashed a good-natured smile even as her power nudged at his mind. “Good day, Mr. Winter, and give Mr. Fenice my regards.”

With a final nod, Judith slipped into the hall and disappeared. Immanuel melted deeper into his chair, letting his head fall over the low wooden back. As his chair lazily spun, his eyes fell upon the dirty sheet covering the crate. Peace had sounded like a wonderful thing to have, but with most of his life, peace was fleeting. It had been foolish of him to expect that Judith Elliott wouldn’t come barging back into his life after all that happened. But did peace even matter now that Adam lost his job? Equilibrium had been destroyed by the time the creature reached his office.

Tucking the sigils back into his desk drawer, Immanuel withdrew the pair of gloves he kept tucked beside his sigil journal. He slipped on the elbow-length leather gloves and stood beside the crate. Immanuel drew in a long breath, steeling himself against whatever nightmare he was about to uncover. In one swift motion, he ripped off the canvas and tossed it aside.

Staring back at him from beneath the bath of embalming liquid was a seal with a human’s face. For a moment he merely stared at it, his mind unable to grasp how the mismatched pieces fit together so seamlessly. While the body retained the shape and grey spotted fur of a seal, the creature’s face appeared out of place with its sharp cheekbones and Cupid’s bow lips, but what held him wholly was the creature’s eyes. They were wide and round like the seals he had studied the past few years, yet they retained the colored rim of a human. Hers were the steely blue of tossing waves, now unnerving in their stillness. Immanuel lowered his gaze, following the curve of the creature’s body until he reached its hands. Hands. Where there should have been bow-legged fins, there were fine fingers jutting from a meaty furred palm. Backing up, Immanuel looked at her feet to find only a tail and nothing more.

Carefully opening the lid of the steel and glass box, Immanuel leaned closer until the embalming fluid bit at his eyes and left the unforgettable tang of death and alcohol on his tongue. With his nose scarcely a breath above the surface, Immanuel’s gaze probed the monster’s fur for any sign of stitches or manipulation from a charlatan. The Fiji Mermaid had been the talk of the scientific community until they realized Barnum had sewn a fish to a monkey in an attempt to dupe the public and scientists alike, but this was different. This wasn’t some poorly crafted hybrid freak, no matter what Sir William thought. Gathering his tools, Immanuel threaded tubes through the glass case, letting the preservative fluid drain into a large bucket until the creature beneath was laid bare. He locked eyes with the creature as he hesitantly squatted at its side. At any moment, he feared it would turn toward him with its sightless eyes and release some ungodly sound he only knew in nightmares. Carefully removing his gloves, Immanuel let his hand hover over the beast’s brow. He bit his lip, knowing that in a moment, he would see the last moments of a seal or a human or some strange life form in between. Drawing in a constrained breath, skin and fur met.

Water flooded every orifice, filling them with the cold salty murk of the sea as he hung weightless. His mind fought the unnatural sensation, but the body whose eyes he saw through merely twisted toward a dull hum thrumming somewhere nearby. He and the creature glided effortlessly toward the vibration. In the distance five massive  brown contraptions rose through the silt. He thought it could have been a sunken ship or the remains of some ill-fated dirigible from its steel frame and wire umbilical cords running up to the surface. As they grew closer, fear bubbled in her breast. Someone was supposed to be there. She had sworn she heard the call crying out to her beneath the waves with its hypnotic resonance. Watching the swirls of silt, a soft note wrapped around their mind. It spoke to a part of her so deep she felt it in her core and drew her closer to the forest of metal.

Immanuel felt it before they saw it: the thrust of water crashing into them followed by the sudden blossom of pain that started at their armpit and spread to every cell in their body. They thrashed, catching sight of a long pole and the faceless brown beast at the end of it, its face caked with mud and weeds. An indescribable feeling pass through their body. Something beneath the surface peeled away as pain tore through their arms and crept into every bone until their body screamed once more. In an instant, where there had been grey flippers upon the pole, now there were hands, but before Immanuel could stop them, they tore it out. Blood dribbled out, flooding their vision as a weight fell over them. Their mind reeled at the disorienting constriction of the net as their body seized with the current and they sank beneath the mass of their misshapen body. Their heart sputtered and their vision spotted. He was coming. The brown beast was coming for them, looming over them with its hooded, faceless head and hook at the ready. They drew in a breath, lungs convulsing against the alien burning of salt water. The others, she thought as the world darkened to a pinpoint of dim light.

Immanuel fell back, landing hard on his side as he gagged and wheezed. His lungs tightened as he released another dry heave despite tasting the brine of the ocean on his lips and deep in his throat. His stomach and lungs spasmed while his mind sought to save him from drowning on land. Resting his head against the cold planks of his office floor, Immanuel swallowed and fought to slow his breathing until the urge to vomit passed and all that was left was fatigue. The strength had been sapped from his body as if he had spent the entire day fighting the tide. Raising his gaze to the door, he made certain no one was coming before closing his eyes. His hands shook as he rubbed his forearms to silence the burning that had flooded his body accompanied with the deep cracks of tissue restructuring. He was fine, he reminded himself over and over until his body quieted enough that his mind could believe that what he had seen had happened to someone—something—far from himself. It had seemed so human. The thoughts felt more like his own than any cattle or chicken’s ever did.

Immanuel slowly climbed to his knees, fighting his trembling limbs as he used the desk for support. Squeezing his eyes shut, Immanuel wished Adam was there to anchor him to reality, to rub his back and make him tea to help the shakes subside, but then he heard the chatter of the curators outside his door and remembered there were hours to go before he could see Adam again. He staggered forward and knocked the lid of the glass coffin closed with the back of his hand before tossing the sheet over it to hide the creature’s lifeless features and half-human form. Sinking into his chair, Immanuel grabbed his pen and quickly scribbled out the details of the vision.

If he waited too long, there would be no proof of the beast who killed her, and Immanuel wasn’t going to let that happen.


Thank you for reading! Please let me know what you think, and if you’re interested, you can pre-order Selkie Cove.

2 Comments

Filed under selkie cove, Writing