It bothered Aveny, how quickly people disappeared. Now that her grandmother was gone, there seemed to be so little left of her – easily contained within a few boxes. And almost no evidence remained of those who came before her; just a few blurry photos and a stack of polite correspondence.
Was that all she’d be someday too? Just some old scraps of paper and an ancestry chart name? It frightened her, how easily people dissolved into the mists of time.
Aveny collected the photos of her ancestors and tacked them to the wall. She didn’t know them. Some, she didn’t even have a name for. But she’d come into existence through these people. It seemed wrong that they’d be entirely forgotten.
She found herself drifting away from other tasks to study their images, searching each face for answers. Who were they? What were they like? And most importantly, who had possessed the skin before her grandmother? Who else had touched this strange family heirloom? And what, if anything, had it done in return?
She locked eyes with each immobile face. She could almost feel warmth radiating out at her from behind those austere eyes. She pictured the link of parent-child bonds, extending like a chain through each of them, all the way down to her.
She reached up and gently touched a photo of three kerchiefed old women. I was created by these women, she thought. We belong to each other but they’re farther away than strangers.
The thought chaffed her; not just because it concealed the skin’s origin, but because it concealed everything – and probably always would.
Where had the skin come from? The most likely answer was that someone in her family had simply picked up a completely average seal skin along the way – and she was clinically insane.
But perhaps not. Perhaps it was something more. Her preferred theory – and further proof of her own madness, she feared – was that one of her forebears had captured a selkie; that this fantastical creature had lived, as the fables so often told, trapped as a human. Perhaps she had also died in this state, leaving her skin behind.
Was that where it came from? She wondered. From enslavement?
Perhaps, Aveny’s family had passed the skin down through their descendants – who only knew it as an heirloom – to Aveny herself.
Or – maybe it wasn’t a selkie at all. Maybe one of her predecessors had snared a magical seal whose powers still remained in its skin. Maybe this was what selkies really were – humans who got ahold of magical skins.
Was that it? Had someone accidentally bludgeoned some kind of mythical seal whose powers transmitted the experience of marine life? There would be a poignant irony in that.
As she explored each increasingly fantastical possibility, one thought tugged at her soul. She couldn’t think of a single scenario that didn’t involve some kind of trauma. She couldn’t imagine the skin simply being gifted to her ancestors. If it had been, surely her grandmother would have known what it was, and not kept it hidden away in the attic. That kind of family lore would have been proudly handed down, wouldn’t it?
Was there any possibility that the skin’s origins hadn’t been horrific? And, if not, what did that say about the power it wielded now?