Chapter 23

When Aveny awoke, she was staring up at a very familiar ceiling. Home, she thought. I made it home.

She laid there blinking upward, breathing in the familiar scent of her own comforting space, postponing motion, which she intuitively knew would rack her body with aches like she’d never experienced before.

But at least she was here, alive. Whatever trauma she’d endured hadn’t necessitated yet another hospital stay – and the accompanying questions. Would they ever have released her, if she’d come in for a third round of unexplainable injury?

Aveny shifted subtly, moaning as a ripple of pain shot up her side. She froze, holding her breath against the ache. She panted softly until the suffering subsided.

All was still and quiet in the house. Where was everyone?

She closed her eyes and drifted in and out of sleep for a while. When she roused herself, small streams of light were peeking through the window shades. The linear illuminations stretched along the ceiling in an intricate pattern. Each one zig zagged back and forth in jerky little motions belying the unevenness of the surface beneath. The spackling stood out like tiny mountains in an infinite range.

There was something strange about it, Aveny realized. What, she couldn’t quite put her finger on. It seemed … too small somehow; as if she was gazing upon it from an unusual distance. And where was everyone, anyway?

Summoning all her strength, she rolled over. Her body felt swollen, like one giant bruise. Each millimeter of motion felt like a bludgeoning. Just as she came to rest on her side, she became aware of something else – the bed, but not as she’d expected. It was the side of the bed. And she, she now realized, was lying on the floor.

She must have rolled off, too delirious to realize it. She struggled to sit up, hoping to climb back in before Brand noticed, but the idea was laughable. She could no more sit up at the moment than she could sprout wings and fly through the center of the sun.

She relinquished the attempt and lay on the floor, panting. Slowly, she focused in on the blankets folded neatly beneath her. Did Brand lay me here intentionally? He probably didn’t want the bed smelling like seaweed. Aveny felt a brief annoyance at the thought. After what she’d been through, it seemed a trivial concern.

And then she saw something else beneath her: a long, grey form. The skin? Had it not worked at all? She shifted to see it more clearly and the form moved. She reached out to grab it and it moved again.

And then she screamed.

Only a harsh barking sound emanated from Aveny’s lungs. The flipper jerked back as if to withdraw itself from her.

As waves of pain roiled her body, Aveny took stock of the situation. Something had happened. She had transitioned. And, it seemed, she had stayed that way.

She thought, briefly, of trying to transition back, but considering the excruciating pain of her already limited mobility, that seemed ludicrous. It would have to wait. At least she wasn’t locked in a cage this time.

So she did the only thing she could – lay there, trying not to fall into a panic spiral, until Brand opened the door. “You’re awake!” he cried, a look of relief brightening his face. “Miriam!” he called. “She’s awake!”

Brand squatted down on the floor beside her. “You’ve been asleep for almost 30 hours. I was really worried. I monitored your breathing but there wasn’t really anything else I could do.”

He knelt next to Aveny and placed his hand on her forehead. “You’re balmy and cold. And a seal. I have no idea what temperature means on a magical seal person.”

Aveny blinked rapidly in response.

“Do you think you can transition back?”

Aveny shook her head painstakingly from side to side.

Miriam came bustling into the room, a tray full of teas and tinctures at the ready. “Oh good! We were so worried. You have no idea!”

Aveny thought she had some idea, considering her current state.

Miriam sat down next to her and began placing warm, scented washcloths over her body. “This will help you relax,” she explained. “Do you think you could eat?” I have some dried nori that might do the trick. If not, maybe a can of tuna?”

Aveny shook her head. The thought of food made her stomach turn.

Brand looked at Aveny expectantly. “I wish you could tell me what happened down there. I just saw you go back under the water and then you were gone for a really long time. I thought I might see some motion or something. I don’t know – like churning water or lights, or maybe fountains or something supernatural. But nothing. It was just calm and quiet.

“Then a storm rolled in and it started to rain. I took cover under a tree at the edge of the beach and tried to stay warm, and then I noticed this thing wash ashore. It was you – this you. And you were lying next to this.”

Brand held up something long and gray. Aveny’s eyes widened in recognition.

The skin.

Her mind launched into overdrive. How was this possible? She’d gone into the sea to reunite with the skin – to heal the rift and become a full selkie. How was she stuck as a seal now, if the seal skin was in Brand’s hand?! How was it there and not on her?! And if it was there, how was she … this?!

Her mind raced, struggling to make sense of the inconceivable.

“You were barely breathing,” he continued, setting the skin beside her. “I don’t know how to do first aid on marine life, so my supplies were basically useless and I wasn’t even positive it was you. But I took a towel and rubbed you all over, like they do for newborn calves to get them oxygenated. That seemed to help.

“Finally, I got you to respond but then you passed out again. I waited there for a long time. I didn’t want to take you home like this but the storm was getting really intense and nothing was happening. I even dipped you in the ocean again – just to see if that would help – but it didn’t.

“So I just picked you up and brought you home. You were so heavy – all slippery and floppy. I almost dropped you. Actually, I might have. It’s hard to remember. Are you sure you can’t switch back?”

Aveny nodded, groaning.

“I could take you back to the sound and try again,” he suggested.

Aveny’s mind locked onto the idea. Yes – the sound. She needed the sea. She stared into Brand’s eyes and nodded intently.

“You want to go back to the sound?”

She nodded again.

“Can you even move?”

Aveny paused. Not really. But the sea would help. She nodded one more time.

“Ok,” he said. “Miriam, could you pick the kids up from school?”

“Well, I climbed Everest and trekked through the Amazon,” she said with a laugh, “so I think I can manage that.”

“And maybe help me get Aveny out the door?” he ventured hopefully.

“Good heavens, boy,” she replied. “I’m 80 years old. You’re the firefighter. Do one of those rescue holds.”

“Those are designed for people … with legs,” he said gesturing at Aveny, who didn’t appreciate the look.

Miriam patted him on the shoulder, then used the leverage to stand. “I’ll make you a nice cup of Builders Tea, keep your strength up.”

Brand laughed, then said to Aveny, “How do you feel about riding in the trunk? If anyone saw a seal in the front seat … feels like a seatbelt fit violation at the least.”

%d bloggers like this: