Wednesday, March 17, 2010

A little St. Pat's Day gift

For St. Patrick's Day, I wrote a short story, prompted by Jon Paul at Where Sky Meets Ground. His idea? The Drunk at First Sight Blogfest, a playful twist on recent blogfests all about smoochies. I hope you enjoy this fairytale, and I wish you all a happy day filled with stories and good cheer.
The Selkie and the Thief
The morning after a fierce storm howled its way over water and earth, Hugh McCafferty stood at the place where sea met land.
"What's that?" he said to no one but himself.
A person floated lifelessly along the rocky coast. Hugh scrambled and slid down to where he could see it was a woman of uncommon appearance. She was naked, but a silky coat drifted by her side.
"Selkie!" Hugh gasped.
He was not a man given to industriousness, but, on this occasion, he found a piece of driftwood and used it to snag the coat. He pulled up the heavy mass, squeezed out cupfuls of water and tucked the coat under his arm.
The selkie's eyes opened at that moment and looked straight into his. They were golden brown and luminous as moonlight.
"You seem to have caught me, Man."
"Yes, and that means you must come and be my wife."
"As you wish." She slithered from the water and stood gleaming before him.
Hugh took a step backward. He put the coat in a sack he carried and unbuttoned his shirt.
"I can't cover you with your coat or you will return to sea, so you shall wear my shirt."
He was so proud of himself after taking the selkie to his cold, stone cottage, he left her there and went to his brother's pub to brag about his fine, new wife.
Eyebrows rose and tongues wagged: "Hugh McCafferty couldn't get a wife unless he tricked the poor lass." "Who'd marry that lay-about, I ask you?"
He raised his voice above the din. "I said I have a fine wife, and I should think you'd be buying me a pint then."
Hugh's brother, Cornelius, set down a glass of nut-brown stout topped with an inch of creamy foam. "Here you go, brother. Now don't you be bothering folks."
"What about a sip of whiskey, as well? It's not every day your brother gets married."
"Just how is it you got married? I don't recall you courting anyone." Cornelius poured the whiskey and shoved it at Hugh.
"I stumbled upon her, and she couldn't resist my charms."
Cornelius rolled his eyes and went back to pouring drinks for his paying customers.
Hugh savored the fire of the whiskey along with the creamy stout. As his insides warmed, he thought of the fine night ahead with the selkie. Perhaps he would show her off another night, and folks would have to buy him a few pints to be sociable.
When he returned to his stone cottage with its poorly-thatched roof, he found the selkie huddled in a corner.
"Have you no fire, Man? I am freezing in your cold house."
"You live in the icy sea. How can you be cold?"
"You took my coat."
Indeed, and he intended to keep the sack it was in with him at all times. So, he found some peat in his bin and built a meager fire.
"You should come to my bed," he said.
"You should have a home warm enough to keep a wife." The selkie would not move from the hearth.
It wasn't the sort of wedding night Hugh envisioned. Next morning, he went in search of something to burn. He didn't feel like going all the way to the peat bog. As he walked, he chanced upon a hawthorn tree. He shivered, knowing the hawthorn was favored by fairies. But maybe they wouldn't begrudge him one small branch.
Later, gazing into the flickering flame, he thought he saw something. A figure dancing? Perhaps he was dozing, dreaming--nothing more.
The following day he looked for more firewood, because the selkie wasn't satisfied. He searched up dale and down, but wood was scarce. The hawthorn, though, still had some branches to warm them. He hesitated, but nothing had happened the night before, had it? Surely, it was all right to take a bit more.
He went home and built a robust fire, demanding that the selkie cook his evening meal and boil water for tea. He dozed and woke with a start. In the flames he was sure he saw a face grinning. Disturbed, he wrapped himself in the selkie's coat and went to bed.
The morning dawned bright and clear. As nothing bad had happened, Hugh went straight to the hawthorn and gathered an armload of branches, whistling as returned home.
His eyes grew heavy as he rested in his chair before the crackling hearth.
"One, two, three times you stole from our tree, and one, two, three times you must pay," said a voice.
Hugh's eyes snapped open to see a grinning face in the flames.
"One: You must return the wood you stole. Two: You must make the tree whole. Three: You must dance with the fairies of the tree."
Hugh broke into a sweat. "But how can I return wood already burned? How can I repair a tree? And everyone knows if you dance with fairies, you never come back."
But the face was gone. Hugh turned to the selkie. "What should I do?"
She shrugged, putting the finishing touches on a dress she'd fashioned from scraps of cloth. "I'm not a wood fairy."

Hugh ran to his sister, who had seven children and the ability to sort out troubles. He told her what the fairy said.
"Tch, you foolish man," she said. "You may as well face your punishment. There's not getting around the fey."
Hugh ran to his brother, who listened to many tales of woe from his customers.
"Tch," said Cornelius. "You've made a right mess. I never heard a sure way to get out of a fairy curse."
Finally, Hugh ran to the tinker who told fortunes.
The gypsy didn't say "tch," for which Hugh was grateful. The man threw down handfuls of sticks and stared at them before speaking.
"You can return the wood and make the tree whole if you scrape every bit of ash from your hearth and bury it around the tree. But, mind you, do not let a single ash fly away."
Hugh was relieved. "What about the dancing?"
The gypsy turned away. "If the tree is whole, you will dance free."
So Hugh set to work. He scraped and brushed every ash into a bucket, but ash is not easy to capture. It flew in the air and crept into corners. Hugh had never worked so hard, but finally he had the cleanest hearth in the county.
On a still morning with no breeze, Hugh hid the sack with the selkie's coat behind his cottage so he wouldn't be encumbered, and carried the bucket with great care to the hawthorn. First, he dug a trench around the trunk. Finally, he poured the ashes in. With a sigh of relief, he reached for his shovel to cover the ash. But, just then, a playful breeze lifted half the ash and carried it away.
"No!" He sank to his knees.
Laughter burst from the tree--many voices making merry. Soon there was dancing, wild and dizzying, until like a whirlpool, Hugh was drawn down into Faerie beneath the tree.
The selkie watched from a nearby hill. A smile played on her lips as she threw her retrieved coat upon her shoulders. She wore it as a cloak and didn't change shape. Instead, she wandered to the pub, coveted by her husband and never shared with her.
When she entered, all heads turned.
"Hello. I'm a lone traveler. Might I have a pint in exchange for a tale?"
Indeed, everyone wanted to hear what stories she could tell.
She settled on a stool by the fire and took a long drink from her pint, licking the cream foam from her lips and smiling brightly as sun on water.
The room was hushed, waiting.
"Have you heard the tale of the Hawthorn and the Thief? It's an old favorite of mine." She drank deeply again.
The people watched her lick away the foam and pictured waves licking the shore, sliding in and gathering, sliding in and gathering in a never-ending dance.


Stephanie Thornton said...

Your writing is lyrical- "she wore it as a cloak that didn't change shape."


Bish Denham said...

Oooooo, good one Tricia. And beautiful too.

Yvonne Osborne said...

What a wonderful fun tale! Perfect for St. Patty's Day and you even nailed the language. Are you Irish Ms. O'Brien? Methinks you are.

So many great lines..."his sister, who had seven children and the ability to sort out troubles" and "I stumbled upon her, and she couldn't resist my charms."

And the last line is beautiful and the perfect ending to this little story. I love it!!!

Jane Jones said...

I love stories about the Selkies, they are one of the most entrancing fey creatures. Thank you very much for this, it was beautiful!

Robyn Campbell said...

Okay, this just goes to show why I am your biggest fan. (Not to mention friend.)

Your writing is positively POETIC. I love it.

Lá Fhéile Pádraig Sona Duit (Happy Saint Patrick's Day.)


Shannon O'Donnell said...

Beautiful - I love the fluency! What a great St. Patrick's day post. :-)

Jemi Fraser said...

Love it! He got what he deserved :)

Tricia J. O'Brien said...

Stephanie & Bish: Thank you, thank you. :D

Yvonne: Um, yeah, a bit of Irish heritage here. I'm sooooo glad you liked it.

Jane: Hi, welcome and thank you! That selkie just walked into this story and wasn't about to leave. I had great fun with her.

Robyn: Enjoy that feast, and, as always, thanks for being my fangirl, ha! Who thought I'd ever say that???

Thank you so much, Shannon! Cheers to you on this fine day.

Jemi: Didn't he just? Thanks. ;)

Tara said...

Oh, and old fashioned tale about silkies, with a faerie twist. Loved it!

Julie Dao said...

"She settled on a stool by the fire and took a long drink from her pint, licking the cream foam from her lips and smiling brightly as sun on water."

Your imagery is perfection. Reading what you write is watching the scene play out before my eyes. Beautiful as always!

Amalia Dillin said...

This was a great approach to the Drunk at First Sight theme! Very interesting and great imagery! Happy St. Patrick's day!

sarahjayne smythe said...

I love the flow and tone of this. And I love the different approach to the blogfest. :)

Anonymous said...

That was fantastic! I felt like I was reading a fairytale. Absolutely awesome!

Tricia J. O'Brien said...

Hi, Tara, welcome, and thanks for the comment!

Whee! Thanks, Julie, I love that you can visualize it. I'm so happy.

Amalia: I really enjoyed how we all had such different approaches. It was great fun.

Thank you so much, Sarah!

Wen: Woo-hoo! *happy dance*

Jon Paul said...

Beautifully done. The story is so simple but so compellingly told as well.

I particularly liked the ending. A great addition to the blogfest. Thanks for sharing.

And Happy St. Patrick's Day!

Just Another Sarah said...

Wonderful! I love fairy tales--and this was a really fun one! I like the end! :)

A.T. Post said...

Whoa, an ending half-expected and half horrific surprise. What an interesting take on the blogfest! Selkies, eh? Hadn't run across them before. Nor any hawthorn-related mythos.

I like the tone of this whole thing: sinister, grandiose, mystical. A totally unexpected and eminently worth blogfest entry. And if it hasn't been said enough before, the ending is poetically just.

storyqueen said...

I love selkies! (there is one in my middle grade. Not a main character, though.)

Well done!


Faith Pray said...

I love your fairy tale! Nice story!

Tricia J. O'Brien said...

Jon: I'm so glad you held this blogfest. I enjoyed writing this and reading all the others. It was a great St. Patrick's Day!

Thanks, Sarah! I hoped the end would satisfy.

Postman: Welcome, and thank you so very, very much for those enthusiastic words! I'm so pleased you picked up the sinister tone--I think every fairytale needs that.

Shelley: Oooooo, I didn't know you have a selkie in the MG. I'm dying to read it someday. :D

Faith: Thank you so much!

dolorah said...

That was a very good fairy tale. Just what the day - and the blog fest - called for. I am exceptionally entertained.


Claire Dawn said...

So this feels like an actual fairy tale- like it was written 500 yrs ago and has stood the test of time.


Liza said...

Compelling detail Tricia. I love this story.

Tricia J. O'Brien said...

Thank you, Donna!

Claire: Ooooooo, thank you so much. What a treat to hear that it sounds authentic.

Thanks, Liza!

Anonymous said...

How did I miss this yesterday?? I thought I had read them all. This was such a treat to read.

I'm with Claire Dawn on this one: it felt very ancient, like a tale that had been around for a long time. You did an amazing job with this.

Poetic doesn't begin to describe it. Along with everyone else, I especially loved the ending.

Well done.

Tricia J. O'Brien said...

Welcome, propinquity--gotta love that name! You've made my day. *silly grin* I love that you felt like it was ancient--and all those other wonderful things you said. :D

Sherrie Petersen said...

What a fun story! I love tales of the fey and you totally sucked me into this one :)

Donna said...

I've been away, so missed your blogs. Loved how the selkies and fairies took care of business in your tale, which was, as usual, delightfully written.

sanjeet said...

Compelling detail Tricia. I love this story.
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Tricia J. O'Brien said...

Thanks so much Sherrie and Donna. Your words mean a lot to me.