Aveny no more than blinked and she was back in the little house by the sea. Sun glinted through the windows, casting dusty light across the abandoned floor.
The front door creaked slightly as it opened. The raven-haired woman stepped through. Her tentative expression hollowed as she absorbed the vacant room within.
The door banged shut behind her as she walked to the center of the room. Her eyes closed, as if she could still hear playful sounds echoing around her. She wrapped both arms around her torso and drew a shaky breath. Then she bent over and gently caressed a set of scribbles scrawled on the wall, marks of an adventurous young hand.
A tear ran down her cheek as she turned to go.
Then everything changed. The woman was racing through the sea in selkie form, jubilant – a young selkie beside her. Pure joy radiated off the pair as they swam together.
It was the woman’s daughter, Aveny now realized with a shock of recognition. But when? And how?
There wasn’t time to process.
The tantalizing aquamarine sea melted to black. The raven-haired woman stood high atop a crow’s nest, her wild mane billowing in the midnight breeze. Overhead an impossible expanse of stars dotted a velvet black sky.
She closed her eyes, inhaled the free sea air and smiled. Below, a man holding a flaming torch called up to her, laughing.
The raven-haired woman shouted something back in response, a mischievous gleam dancing in her eye. Then, smiling, she turned, propped one foot on the rim of the crow’s nest and launched herself out into open air. She fell in a graceful arc, over the ship’s edge and down into the midnight, star speckled sea below.
On impact, the water erupted into a spray of brilliant illumination. Glowing light traced her form, shooting wild sparks of vibrant bioluminescence in her wake. She soared through the water gleefully, leaving artful trails of light wherever she went.
A small group gathered at the rail of the ship, calling down to her and laughing at her antics. The woman surfaced and called back to the crowd – or tried to.
But something was wrong.
She was choking, Aveny realized with a wave of shock and confusion. A retch. A scream. A strange animalistic shriek as she broke the surface. Liquid strangled her words as her body heaved and contorted. Her form had become molten lava. Seal gave way to human which folded back into seal, all emitting otherworldly shrieks of pain.
The man seized a rope and leapt into the sea where he quickly bound the woman’s rapidly transitioning form. The others hauled the pair quickly back on deck, as the man clamped his muscular arms around her, trying to bind the unstoppable morphing. It helped, but left her human visage a pale shadow on the darkened deck. She looked … empty.
He knelt anxiously beside her, his clothing saturated with seawater. Then, he grasped his own chest and fell back, cringing against some unknown pain. Several people turned to help, but he waved them away. A silver haired woman pushed through the crowd and fell to her knees at the injured woman’s side.
She ran her hands over the heaving form, pressing and molding, uttering a strangely symphonic chant. The soft lilting sound was not unlike what Aveny had heard the cinnamon-haired girl muttering on that gut wrenching night of terror – though the intent felt far different.
The silver-haired woman cast her hands back and forth across the twisting body until her form solidified. Her trembling ceased and she went limp on the roughly hewn floorboards. The man, panting heavily, gently lifted her and carried her through the ship’s cabin door.
Aveny was electric with alarm. Was the woman dead? Was this how she died? What happened down there?
But even as the thoughts traced their way across her mind, she felt it and she knew. Nothing had happened in those bioluminescent waters. What had happened, had just occurred somewhere else, half a world away. The girl’s violent ceremony had unleashed a tsunami of pain – and it had just found land.
It was quiet and dark for a long time after that. Aveny hung in the void, numb with trauma, grappling with all she had seen. How could so much pain take place in one lifetime?
When she saw the raven-haired woman again, she was standing alone behind a large, leafy tree. Her sharp eyes were rimmed red and her face bore a pain altogether different than it had on the ship.
Before her stood row upon row of well-dressed attendants, facing what appeared to be an open casket. A priest in white robes stood beside the box, speaking somberly to the large crowd.
Aveny approached, moving past the woman into the assembled throng. She was pulled forward as if by a string, frightened curiosity burning within.
Inside the casket was someone Aveny would have known anywhere. The cinnamon-haired girl, her hair now white with age. Her appearance was obscured by the passage of time but it was her. Deep crevasses now lined the girl’s features and her once flowing locks had grown brittle and white.
Many decades had surely passed since Aveny had witnessed that fateful night on the beach. The girl had grown old and withered. Yet, her mother, the raven-haired woman, appeared unchanged.
Aveny turned to see an elderly man, and three middle-aged people, two men and a woman approaching the casket. Tears marked their faces and Aveny could hear the weight of their steps.
Her family, she thought.
Aveny gazed into all three faces, so much like their mother’s, and felt a pang of concern. Something was wrong. The men looked normal, but the woman seemed to be peering out from deep shadows. Her eyes darted back and forth, as she clung to her father and brother’s hands. Her face stayed downcast as she stuttered forward on short, terrified steps.
“She’s broken, isn’t she?” Aveny called to the raven-haired woman standing at the back of the service.
The woman gave no indication that she could hear Aveny. No response was needed. Aveny already knew the truth. Maybe they all were, in their own ways.
And then the scene shifted and Aveny was somewhere else – somewhere entirely unexpected.
The picturesque suburb street was lined with homes straight out of a 1950’s magazine. The sun shone down merrily, casting cool shadows under each of the deciduous trees dotting the sidewalk. Aveny thought she heard “Mr. Sandman” emanating from a passing car.
And then she saw the raven-haired woman striding purposefully up the sidewalk.
It made no sense – the flow of time was all wrong. Surely decades had passed since the funeral, but the woman remained wholly unchanged.
Aveny ran to catch up, her mind racing with confusion. She met the woman’s pace and took in her visage with a shock. Her hair remained as dark as ever and her skin just as smooth – but there was something. Centuries seemed etched into her weary gaze.
In the woman’s hands, which seemed as strong as ever, she clutched a small paper-wrapped package bound with string.
Aveny missed a beat as the woman turned and strode up the walkway of a yellow house with white shutters. Red petunias bloomed in a pot next to the door and a freshly delivered paper sat expectantly on the welcome mat.
The woman rang the doorbell and waited expectantly. Next to her, Aveny tried to decipher the contents of the package. Then the door creaked open and a woman in a blue housecoat came into view. “Hello,” she said cheerily.
Aveny thought she might faint.
Her grandmother’s jet-black hair was solid, not speckled with grey like she’d known it in her lifetime. But it was her alright, from her rainbow shaped brown eyes to her perfect dimples and red-lipsticked smile – her grandmother.
Aveny’s eyes involuntarily welled with tears. It had been nearly two years since her grandmother’s passing, yet here she was, standing before her; alive and well. At this moment, she couldn’t have been older than Aveny herself.
Aveny longed to touch her, to embrace her, to breathe in her scent. Did she smell like evaporated milk and powdered sugar yet, or did that come later?
A little girl with long brown hair poked her head around her mother and gave the woman a shy smile. Aveny’s mother – not more than five or six years old. The same age Aveny was when they’d lost her.
Aveny forgot, for a moment, to breathe. Her mother. Alive and well. And so beautiful – just like Tali. Aveny’s heart felt heavy with joyful sorrow.
Her addled brain scrambled to make sense of it all. Had this really happened? How? And when? It made no sense – no sense at all.
And yet, here they were, standing right before her.
“I have an important delivery,” the woman said. “Are you Catherine?”
Aveny’s grandmother nodded. “From who?” she asked curiously,” extending a hand to receive the package.
“It’s from your family in Ireland. I’ve come a very long way to bring it to you.”
Catherine’s eyebrows shot up in surprise. “I had no idea we had any family left in Ireland. I thought everyone immigrated to America in my grandparents’ generation.”
“Only one,” the woman said. “And she asked me to bring you this. It’s a special heirloom that has been in your family for a very long time. It was her dying wish that it be kept in the family. Her specific request was that it be given to her youngest living adult relative, which, I believe, is you.”
Aveny’s grandmother looked at the woman skeptically. “And how, exactly, were we related?”
The woman didn’t even blink. “This heirloom originally belonged to your great-grandmother Brigid’s great-grandmother. It was passed down through another line of the family until that line ran out. And now it belongs to you.”
Aveny’s grandmother nodded and examined the package in her hands. “Thank you,” she said, “for bringing it all this way.”
The woman nodded, then hesitated. “It may seem strange, but she asked that you agree to keep this heirloom safe and continue to hand it down in your family. Can you assure me it will be handled as such? It’s very important.”
“Sure,” Aveny’s grandmother said, a bemused look on her pretty, young face.
The interaction lasted mere minutes and just like that, it was over.
As the woman walked away, Aveny lingered, watching through the window as her grandmother placed the package on the kitchen table and began slicing apples for her daughter.
My mother, Aveny thought. It’s my mother.
As the scene melted into darkness, Aveny fought to hold on. She wanted to stay with her family. It was a foreign scene, yet so wonderfully familiar. She never wanted it to end.
As it faded to black, she saw her grandmother pull the string and open the package, revealing her skin inside.