That night, Brand and Miriam piled their seal brood into the car and headed toward the sound. Miriam had acquired something close to the stone Aveny had described at the local craft store. Aveny just hoped it would work.
When they reached the sound, Brand lifted Aveny, concealed beneath her blanket and carried her along the forest path, toward the water’s edge. “You first,” he said. “If it works, I’ll get Miriam and the kids.”
Aveny nodded solemnly, all her hopes hanging by a thread.
“You know,” Brand said, “if anyone saw me doing this, they’d think I was dumping bodies in here every day.” He laughed to himself. “Funnily, that might be the least of my worries.”
Aveny wriggled, sliding the blanket away from her eyes, so she could see him properly.
As it fell away, electrifying tendrils ensnared her face. The sensation burned.
It forced itself through her nose, mouth and ears, threatening to tear her apart from the inside out. She writhed, struggling against the onslaught.
“Aveny!” Brand exclaimed, struggling to hold her and clumsily lowering her writhing form helplessly to the ground.
The pain blossomed within her like a San Pedro Cactus, shooting excruciating jolts through every pore.
No! she thought, Not again!
She gasped and sobbed. The pain only intensified.
“Aveny?!” Brand cried, reaching for her. “What’s wrong?” He grasped the blanket and threw it aside. “Oh shit!”
“What’s happening?!” Aveny shrieked, acutely aware for the first time of her own human voice.
“I don’t know,” Brand exclaimed, panic lacing each word. “You’re all mangled up; it’s like your human face is coming out of your seal chest.” He gagged. “It looks really, really bad.”
Aveny thought she might be sick. Brand looked like he might too. The forest canopy hung around them strangely suspended in a deep midnight blue. Aveny was nearly blinded by the brilliance of the full moon casting its glow over her.
Then realization struck.
“Moonlight!” she screamed, her voice tearing through the pain. “It’s the moonlight!”
Brand gasped, comprehension dawning. “That night – the moon got covered by storm clouds right after you went into the water. And it’s been cloudy every night since – until now. You haven’t seen moonlight until now and this…” he looked nauseated.
“It’s not the stone,” Aveny panted. “It’s the moonlight. That’s why I got stuck – why we all did.”
“Can you transform?” Brand asked, trying not to gag.
Aveny couldn’t breathe. “It’s too much!” she cried. “I need to be in the sea. It needs to come through the water!”
Brand seized the blanket and hoisted her like a sack. The pain’s progression ceased as the moonlight was extinguished. The agony stabilized.
“Hold on,” he said, his emergency training kicking in. “I’ll get you there.”
Aveny inhaled in deep gasps as he ran, struggling to stay conscious – to stay alive. Swells of pain came in great heavy bursts, then dissipated to a dull ache before welling within her again.
She was the sea.
It reminded her of childbirth, that intense sensation of contraction and expansion. But that was nothing compared to this.
And then she was being lowered into the sound. She felt the cool rush of water encompass her. The darkness lifted and she saw the blanket flying off overhead, revealing an icy sea of diamonds glowing on the water’s surface.
And then the shifting – the becoming and unbecoming, spiraling in on herself, flowing out – and she was whole – human and whole.
She rose to the surface and inhaled a large gusty breath of air. It felt cleansing in her renewed lungs. Then she flipped backwards and morphed down into the deep – the other half of her true self, jettisoning freely through the water.
Aveny carved a wide arc with wild glee, leapt to the surface, flipped and splashed back down again. Then, remembering the others, she propelled herself toward the shallows and morphed, rolling into a run in the waist deep water.
“Quick! Get the kids before the moonlight disappears again.”
Brand was already running to Aveny, lowering his bundle as he went. The two stood back in awe as Luca and Brecken unfurled, transforming into human form, then immediately morphed into selkie and jetted off through the water. Soon Miriam was there, lowering Tali into the water.
Aveny grabbed the back of Brand’s neck and pulled him close, pressing her lips into his and luxuriating in their ample warmth.
Then she laughed, leapt sideways into the illuminated water, and chased after their offspring; their childlike glee at this unexpected delight echoing excitedly through her head.
“Excellent,” Miriam breathed, finding a seat atop a flat boulder.
Brand collapsed beside her, completely spent and utterly at a loss for words.
Miriam scratched his back comfortingly. “You did good, dear. Let’s let them have a little swim and when we get home, I’ll make you a nice cup of tea.”