Chapter 19

Aveny gazed at the glinting waves rolling methodically into the secluded shore. She loved it here. The tiny cove was framed on both sides by impossibly steep hills, hugging a small, horseshoe beach and a deep blue bay. A lone island stood sentinel in the middle of the basin, one exceptionally persistent pine clinging tenaciously to its apex.

The shore was lined with driftwood architecture; various huts and forts assembled by ambitious beachgoers during a sunnier season. Its name, Deadman’s Cove, felt like a fitting moniker in these cold, rainy months.

Brand helped Brecken, Luca and Tali rearrange a few fallen structures into a family masterpiece. Miriam had stayed home to finish “cleansing the house,” as if a good dose of sage would drive the spirits form Aveny’s mind.

Aveny smiled at the thought, then stared back at the waves and contemplated her options. She didn’t know what to do.

Although the voices had quieted since that last eruptive night, they’d not given her more than a few hours rest. Despite their constant vying and bickering, she was no nearer to determining a course of action. But she had deciphered one important clue.

Aveny and Miriam had returned to her grandmother’s genealogy, armed with the memory of what the raven-haired woman had said to Catherine, when she gave her the skin. “This heirloom originally belonged to your great-grandmother Brigid’s great-grandmother.”

Together, they’d traced along the brackets, stemming backward from Grandma Catherine, until they found Brigid.

From here, they counted back names to each of her great grandmothers. One stood out, bearing only a single name: Rionach. No last name. No birth, baptism, or death dates. And no ancestors filling the preceding lines.

Aveny knew this happened sometimes, when the record keepers didn’t know someone’s origin or other information. Sometimes they were just taking an educated guess. But in this case, perhaps the information wasn’t there for an entirely different reason.

Beside Rionach’s name was her husband, Patrick O’Connor.

Aveny’s heart raced. Patrick – the woman had called her husband Patrick.

Could Rionach be the raven-haired woman in Aveny’s dreams? Or maybe nightmares is a better term, she thought ruefully.

“Look,” Miriam had pointed out, “Rionach and Patrick’s sole offspring –  Mary Catherine – was christened late. She would have been four or five at the time. That’s unusual.”

Aveny nodded. “Patrick must have done it after they left that little house by the sea.”

“So you think that’s her, then?” Miriam asked. “It is a strange name, isn’t it, Rionach? I wonder if it’s a traditional Selkie name… I’d love to learn more about that culture.”

Aveny smiled, then tested the name on her tongue. “Rionach … Rionach.” Suddenly it was much more than just a name on a page.

Brand pulled a camping chair next to her, startling her from the memory. “Still puzzling?” he asked.

Aveny nodded.

“Do you want to go over it again?”

She shrugged. “From the sound of it, I can keep things like they are and run the risk that I, our children and all those who come afterward will be mentally and physically broken. And I’d have to keep taking my chances in the water, where things will likely cut, hit or eat me.

“Or, I can ‘reunite with the skin’ which I don’t know how to do, and ensure health and harmony for myself, our kids and all our descendants, plus safety in the sea, which sounds good but might actually turn out worse because the voice says the woman can’t be trusted. We may all end up happy, healthy murderers…”

Brand rubbed his face with both hands.

“What do you think I should do?” Aveny asked, feeling desperate.

Brand laughed ruefully. “I’m so far in, I can’t see the woods for the trees. I have no clue. And ultimately, it’s not up to me anyway. From the sound of it, too much outside pressure is what set your great, great, great … how many greats is she?”

“Maybe six – if she is who I think she is.”

“Well, it sounds like too much pressure from her husband is what drove her over the edge … literally.” Brand laughed. “I don’t want to do that to you.”

Aveny sighed, her shoulders slumping.

“Although,” he added with a mischievous twinkle in his eye, “I definitely think you’re on the right track asking someone who has no real knowledge of any of this.”

Aveny chuckled. Laughing felt good.

“What does Miriam think?” he asked.

Aveny sighed. “She just said, ‘If you don’t know what to do, it’s because you don’t have all the information yet. Just give it time and the answer will become clear.’”

“Seems smart,” Brand said.

“Unless I go crazy first, from these two bickering in my head all the time,” Aveny groaned.

“Well,” Brand continued, “for what it’s worth, I really like the idea of safety and mental stability.” He paused, then added, “The whole murderer thing, not so much.”

“Not helpful,” Aveny deadpanned.

“Maybe we’re looking at this wrong,” he offered. “Maybe she wasn’t a ‘murderer,’” he drew air quotes around the word. “Maybe she was just a pirate or something. And she certainly wasn’t the only one out there, right? Maybe it was just her, you know, job. She didn’t, like, murder her family or anything, right?”

“Not that I know of.”

“Well there you go. That seems like a good sign.”

“I guess.” Aveny turned and glanced back at the kids, still working on their structures. “They’re pretty capable kids. They’ll probably be alright either way, right?”

“I’m prepping them for some real manual labor,” Brand said, kicking back in his chair. “It’s time they started pulling their own weight.”

Aveny watched as Brecken and Luca hoisted a flat piece of driftwood over their structure to form a roof. “Don’t drop that on Tali’s head,” she called.

“It’s ok,” Brecken called back. “She’s not in here.”

“Where’d she go?” Brand asked, turning quickly.

The boys shrugged and picked up another piece of driftwood. Aveny rotated around in her seat, scanning the shore for her daughter. Brand stood and began walking toward the structures. “She’s probably just hiding,” he said, then began calling, “Tali! Where are you?”


“Boys, help us find your sister,” Aveny shouted. She was on her feet now, trying to keep the panic at bay. As Brand searched the driftwood, she ran along the edge of the forest, calling into the green abyss.

“Tali!” Brand called, scanning the beach and hillside. “When did you boys last see her?” he demanded. 

“She was just here,” Luca said. “Then she said something about asking mom for a snack.”

Aveny’s heart stopped, freezing her body in the process. She turned and raced to the chairs. Her bag sat open, sunscreen and crackers spilled on the sand. She scrambled for it, tearing it wide and thrusting her hand within.


The skin was gone. And so was her daughter.

“Brand,” she choked, “it’s gone!”

He arrived breathless. “What do you mean, it’s gone?”

She showed him the sack’s gaping maw. “The skin. The skin is gone. I think she came looking for a snack while we were talking and we didn’t notice her opening it.”

“What does that mean?” he demanded angrily, the tremor of barely contained terror reverberating in his voice.

“I think it means she’s out there,” Aveny’s voice broke, tears now streaming down her face.

“Then go get her!” he yelled.

“I can’t – not without the skin,” she cried. “I’m just a person.”

Brand pressed his face into both hands and drew a shaky breath. He exhaled like a bull.

“I’m calling 911,” he fumed, his eyes sparkling with barely constrained tears. “You have 10 minutes before they get here to figure it out.”

Aveny waded into the water, screaming and calling for her daughter. Maybe she would feel her presence and come back. That is, if she wasn’t already too far away.

Aveny recalled the wild abandon of her first time, how she rocketed through the ocean with no concern for safety or return. And she was an adult. How would her six-year-old ever survive? Sweat poured from her forehead, drenching her in dread.

Aveny didn’t remember the first responders arriving, or the policeman wading in and extracting her from the frozen sea. She only vaguely recalled the search parties hiking through the woods, or the news reporter who showed up asking her inane questions until Brand chased him away. She remembered Brand’s rage, and her boys’ wide-eyed fear.

And she remembered begging –an unending mantra in the back of her mind louder than the helicopter circling overhead. Rionach – or whoever you are – save my daughter and I’ll do whatever you want. Save my daughter and I’ll do whatever you want. Save my daughter and I’ll do whatever you want.

And then she recalled a small grey form washing up on the shore – tiny and muted against the greater landscape. No one else noticed. Perhaps she felt it, more than saw it. She stumbled toward it, drawn in as if by a tractor beam, all the world’s chaos and confusion behind her.

She bent to pick it up, a sand strewn empty husk – devoid of all life or animation. And then she broke down on the ground and sobbed.

The skin had returned. Empty.

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