personal development, Short fiction

Silk and Air (or why I love a transformation tale…)

I’m back from my coaching intensive and I’ve got to say woah! I’ve learned more about myself in one week than I have in the five years I’ve being on this personal development journey! I’m going to be rolling out a whole series of changes to this website over the 12 weeks of my practical (including a whole new site layout – keep your eyes peeled for that one!) Can’t wait to share this journey with you all!

My favourite tool on the coaching week was the “transformation tale” – you all know how much I enjoy telling a good story.  I love how words strung together can give us new perspectives on our lives, and if they have a bit of magic, all the better. As a post-coaching-intensive-gift to you all, I thought I’d share one with you today…


Stories about the selkie wives are as old as the islands themselves. A fisherman falls in love with a sweet young selkie, so he hides her pelt and traps her in marriage. She bears his children, and pines for the sea. She keeps his house, and pines for the sea. She fades while she lives, until she slips away – to the sea, or to the grave.

This is not that kind of selkie story. Dania was not that kind of selkie.

She picked up her sketch-pad for the third time that hour. Smoothed a few lines, before reaching for her rubber with a scowl. She flung her pencil down. It skittered across the table, rolling off the edge to fall to the floorboards with a clatter. No messages on her phone, no missed calls. Isla was late.

“You’re full of the jitters today, love,” her husband said. “Why not go wait by the water? I can send Isla out when she arrives.”

“I’m fine.” Dania replied, her leg bouncing against the seat.

“Yes. Fine.” He laid his hand on her knee, stilling it. His eyes crinkled around the edges as he gazed at her. “Not nervous in the slightest.”

Dania sighed. “You got me.”

“Always. Now go – you’ll feel better for it.”

She looped her pelt around her shoulders; silver gleaming against her dark curls. At the door, she looked back, questions on her lips. But his smile mopped them up. His comforting bulk dammed their flow. He dropped a swift kiss on her brow, gave her pelt a tug so it lay soft against her neck, then nudged her out the door.

Dania stepped out of the door, snicking it shut behind her. Their cottage nestled between two grand houses, a tiny up-and-down house that suited them perfectly. Turn right at the gate, and the path swept up to the mountains her husband loved. He was not a man of the sea, had never picked up a fishing rod in his life. He filled his day with fresh air and damp earth, and the dark winter nights with stories of forest and hill that still entranced Dania.

She did not turn right. Instead, she turned her back on the hills and walked to her other home. The air was frost-laced. It nipped at her ankles, lay love bites down her throat. But Dania was born on a northern beach, white fur luminous in the light of the moon. She would always remember how the cold stole her breath the first time she slid into the North Sea – the air could never bite as sharp as the water that day.

Now, her pelt hung looser on her shoulders, worn more for comfort than to fight back the chill. Her steps were swift, eating up the space between herself and the sea. Cars raced along the shore road, halting her steps to a barely leashed bounce. Three… four… five cars passed, before she dashed through a gap and onto the sand. She shed her shoes at the edge of the tarmac, the cold sand caressing her from toe to heel, and the knot in her chest loosened – just a thread. Her pace slowed – just a beat. This was her beach, the door to her other home.

Dania’s mother raised her on tales of magic. Land magic. All the wonders that mortals had made with their mind and hands: boats that skimmed over the land, whisking people away to the places beyond the shore; pelts in a rainbow of colours, a fresh one for each day and every mood; boxes filled with people that rose up into the air and made scratches across the sky. Dania’s favourite was the mòr-bhùithtean – a magical place where every kind of food could be found, and all that you need do was leave shiny treasures to take whatever you desired.

Little wonder she had crawled out of the sea as soon as she was able.

She spent her childhood days bobbing along the length of the bay, head popping above the cresting waves. She had watched the human children playing on the beach. They ran, and chased, and tumbled – she ached. Their laughter set her heart on fire. Her pelt darkened to pewter as she counted down the moons to her first heat. To the time she could shed her skin and walk on land. She wanted noise, fellowship, fun.

So out she’d stepped, her pelt dragging a groove in the sand behind her. She fought for her land-legs between its folds, the hard-packed sand resistant to limbs more used to water’s flow. Dania had wedged her pelt at the base of a cliff, in the hollow between two grasping rocks, before running through the village. She scrumped clothes from washing lines to cover her new-made body. Her sea-lust for jeans was damped by their scrape on her clammy flesh, so she swaddled herself in layers of cotton and wool before returning to her beach to wait.

Dania met Eleanor on the first day of her land life – a red haired girl with soulful eyes and a laugh like a mama seal’s bark. Dania spent hours trying to startle the sound out of her, each one a prize that she tucked into her heart. Eleanor spoke of life in a distant city, Dania of life beneath the waves. Neither believed the other, but they each enjoyed the telling. And as the cold air leached the colour from their hands, Dania wished for her pelt. Not to warm herself, but to share with her first friend. That night, crouched in the lee of the cliff, she took a wicked edged stone and hacked a slice off her pelt. Dania stole needle and thread from the deck of a boat, her shiniest stones left as payment for the fisherman. She sewed all night, made her pelt into mittens with clumsy stitches and weeping fingers.

She gave away a piece of her pelt, and tied herself to the land. To her first soul-kin.


The cool kiss of water on her toes made her jump. She had been lost deep in the past. Her pulse smoothed out as she lost herself in the whisper of the sea – a language she only half-heard in this form, but it spoke to her soul regardless. Dania did not pause to roll up her trousers. She plunged through the waves. The sea hit her ankles, knees, thighs, but she did not stop until the water was well past her waist. Each wave bobbed her from her feet, lifting her from the floor.

Dania stood for a heartbeat, then another, the moment sinking into her bones. Eventually, she covered her hair with her pelt, wrapping it around her neck and shoulders in tight spirals. She had practiced wrestling her way into her ever shrinking pelt, and now it came easy – the balance tipped smoothly from covered to transformed. Joints popped; skin shrank; limbs switched for flippers and she felt the tremble of water on her whiskers once more.

This was movement, a fluid grace she never found in her human body. Thoughts sizzled from brain to body. She tumbled through the waves, lost in the flow of action and the power in her muscles. There was no space for anguish, for second and third guesses about the meeting to come. There was just motion, and the press of water on her sleek fur.

She centred in on her target, chasing in spirals around her favourite destination – a large rock jutting up from the sea, barnacle decked and stained green by kelp. Dania heaved herself out of the water, chest pressed into the rock for one thud of her heart, before she twisted herself around and out of her pelt. Human again, she stared at the horizon. One foot dangled in the water, one knee hugged to her chest. Her mind and heart torn in two again.

The first time she met Isla, a primal drumbeat had ripped through her. They’d sat all afternoon, breezy chatting about nothing in particular, but Dania had felt every word thrum in her chest. I know you. I am you.

Isla had a quiet kind of beauty. She bundled herself up in layers – silk around her neck, endless clouds of the finest wool – creams, blues, the colours of spring skies. Her hair was short, her eyes soft, her smile so shy it seemed a surprise every time Dania nudged it to existence.

But her words… Dania loved those most of all. Isla spoke with candour. She knew the ugly lines of the world. She’d been ripped apart and pieced herself back together once more, had outlasted the thunder and the fire. Isla’s tales bloomed in the mind, spinning truths that Dania hadn’t even known she knew. Yet she had such hope. An unshakeable belief in the beauty of the next sunrise, the promise that new months would bring new experiences, new joys.

They spent long winter evenings together, listening to Isla’s tales of the places she’d been. Dania was entranced by stories once more, and by the woman who told them. And her husband had room in his house for anyone who kindled his wife’s smiles so quickly. They’d sat, the three of them, one stitching, one whittling, the other weaving words, as moons waxed and waned and the seasons tipped to spring.

Until one night, Isla had asked for a jumper. And her husband had spoken to her in the dark of the night, about the weight of a choice between the water and the woman.
So Dania sat, pelt around her shoulders and a foot in the sea, staring at a wheeling gull that rode thermals with a flick of his wing.

She could not have both – the sea and Isla – but she didn’t know how to choose.
She felt stretched apart by the pull of the tide and the fine silver threads that anchored her to the land. To her soul kin.


A shout bounced across the bay, from rock to hill to Dania’s ear. She turned, and saw Isla waving at the sea’s edge. She was wrapped in wool again, greys in every shade from dove to storm cloud. The wind dragged fingers through her hair, a tangled riot that begged to be smoothed. Isla waved again, then laughed as Dania jumped down, drenched anew as she waded back to shore.

“Your husband said you’d need this,” Isla said, holding a towel out towards her.

“He’d be right,” Dania said. “I’m soaked.”

“That’ll happen, when you go swimming with your clothes on!”

They walked up the beach in a companionable silence, across the road and the green to her cottage beyond. Inside, a fire blazed in the hearth and her work book lay ready. Dania left Isla downstairs with the sketches as she went upstairs to change.

She pulled her favourite dress on over skin still prickled with gooseflesh. Her pelt was folded, placed lovingly in its box at the foot of her bed, then pulled out again. She dithered, bundling it into a ball, smoothing it out again, knotting it tight around her shoulders. She wanted to hide it, gift it, never see it again – all at once. Eventually, laughter from below drew her back down the stairs, pelt still clutched in her hands. At the foot of the stairs, her husband waited with a hot drink and an encouraging kiss. She swapped pelt for the tea, then crossed to sit by Isla. Her hands were already wrapped around a mug, the sketchbook lying open across her knee.

“I can’t believe I’m going to have one of your designs. I’ll be a true islander at last!”

“I don’t know if Old Maeve would grant you that,” Dania replied with a laugh, “but it’s a step closer, at least.”

“They’re all so beautiful. I love this one – it’s like light on the waves. Or this one-“
Isla flicked between the designs, in raptures over each one and its neighbour. Jumpers and dresses, shawls and shirts – colours had flowed from her pens as she sketched, but silver gleamed on each one.

“So which d’you like?”

“How can I choose? I only wanted a jumper and this is practically a whole wardrobe!

Just…” The hesitation hung on Isla’s lips. Wrinkled her brow.

“Just what?”

“The silver. That’s fur, right?”

Dania grappled for her usual line. “Oh, that. Don’t worry – the pelt I use is ethically sourced. It’s a traditional craft, very few on the island still work with-“

“No.” Isla’s quiet voice cut through her babble.

“No?”

“No.” The smile Dania hoped for didn’t come. “Tell me the truth.”
Dania looked to her husband, eyes begging for help. But he just sat back – the words were hers to tell, even when they stuck in her throat. “I… don’t know how. There’s no way to say it. No sane way, at least.”

“I can start you off?” At Dania’s mute nod, Isla continued. “I was walking on the beach, looking for my new friend Dania. But she wasn’t there. It was just me, alone except for a seal out on the water. Then what did I see?”

“I don’t know what you’re thinking, but-“

“I’m thinking my new friend is a selkie. Bit of a shock at first, I needed a good sit down when you popped out of the air like that. But now I’d like to hear you tell me yourself.”

“It’s… I… am. A selkie.” Dania’s whisper was barely audible over the crackle of the fire.

“And the pelt?”

“Mine.”

“Why would you put that on my clothes? I don’t want to trap you on the land. I would never hur-”

“No, no. It’s not like that. You have to believe me. I’ve given bits and pieces to all my soul-kin. I’m happy to do it. I’ve done gloves, and hoods, and lined coats for my bairn when he was small. It’s a gift, nothing more.” Dania’s words tumbled now, each one faster in her hurry to reassure, to persuade.

“My sporran’s her finest work,” her husband said with a soft smile.

“What’s a soul-kin?”

How do you describe that? Dania wondered. Is there even a human word for that feeling? It was different every time: sometimes it felt like swimming in synch, slick twists and turns, moving together to chase down a game that hovered just out of reach; another, it was the opening chord on a guitar, the first note that haunted the pub at the start of a seishun. Her husband was a perfect poem that lingered in her head for weeks. Months. Years. Each one warmed a different corner of her wild and dreaming heart.
“It’s-“ she began, hesitant. “It’s like something in you strikes an echo in me. I know you, somehow. I don’t have the proper words for it.”

“I do,” her husband said. He sat forwards in his chair. “It’s love. What our Dania’s trying to say is that when she finds her soul-mates – those people who fill her with this feeling – she gifts them her pelt. It’s her wildish way of saying ‘I love you.’“

“It’s no big thing.” Dania cut in, her cheeks flooding with heat.

“It’s a very big thing.” Isla’s voice was husky, but her gaze was steady. “Very big. But what happens when you run out of pelt?” Isla fanned out the sketches again, seeing the silver of seal-skin running through them all anew. With these, Dania would drape her in it; cover her in silver until every curve shone. Seal-skin to skin, the softest caress she knew how to give.

“I’m better at the cutting than I was. I’ve met many soul-kin and made many gifts over the years. But this would be the last. My soul-kin are all here – on land. I’d give up the sea for them. For you. You’re worth it.”

Isla lent over, pressed her lips into the soft curve of her cheek.

“Dania,” she said, voice as soft as her lips, “you beautiful creature. I could never take the sea from you. Just like you’d never take the road from me. Wind a braid through the trimming, weave yourself in as tight as you’d like. But leave enough that you can still be free.”

So Dania took Isla’s hand, and gave her a promise and a smile to do just that. She looked at her soul-kin, her dearest people, as they smiled in her parlour. At her, yes, but at each other as well.

She knew the glory of being loved and giving love freely into the world as well. To her soul-kin.

Dania was a selkie of the water and the world. She was not tied to the land; not trapped, nor taken, nor fading away. Her loves did not trick her, they trusted. She bloomed as she lived, each day vibrant and free. Until at last she slipped through the veil to the water beyond, still gleaming. Still free.

 

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