10.4.2018

The Kelpie of Loch Goraidh

Each-uisge Loch Goraidh

The Kelpie of Loch Goraidh

 

Note: This short story is from my collection Fadó, Fadó: Selkies, Kelpies, and Other Celtic Creatures, which you can get for just $2.99 on Amazon!

 

Once upon a time, in a small parish in Scotland, on the yellow banks of Loch Goraidh, there lived a poor farmer with three daughters. Moyna, the eldest, was thin and wispy, and altogether plain. She was even-tempered and kind, but even the sweetest heart wasn’t enough to add sheep to a dowry in those days.

It was Fiona, the second of the farmer’s daughters, with hair like spun gold, who was the parish’s pride and joy. She had only to make a marvelous match, and it would lead her family into a life of luxury, in which her father would not have to toil so hard. She wanted to do this for her boban—her papa—whom she loved dearly, but it wasn’t until her elder sister married that Fiona could make that fortuitous match.

And the farmer worried. For Fiona was sickly and had spent many years in the sickbed with the same ailment that took the girls’ mother young. Fiona was a sweet girl, with a hearty spirit, and she always did right by her family, but the farmer did worry that the match would not be made in time.

It seems a cold-hearted thought for a father to have, but the land was tough in the hills, and the farming difficult in this land chosen by his father’s father’s father. The poor farmer had only one horse to help him, and the crop each year was hardly enough to feed both horse and daughters. Especially the latter.

Of which he had a third.

And that was Greer, a girl so dreamy and prone to bouts of fancy that she would lose herself in the hills and fill her head with such daydreams that it would take her sisters’ calling to bring her back before she dreamed straight through supper. This wandering gave way to her reputation around the valley—wagging tongues would call her “idle,” or “indolent.” And so she became known far and wide as a right layabout.

If only I had horses enough for daughters, the farmer was known to murmur as he worked the land for all it would give.

It was the August of Moyna’s eighteenth year that changed everything. The August that the girls’ grandmother fell ill.

The month was unnaturally rainy, if rain in Scotland could ever be called unnatural. Still, as accustomed as the people were to the constant companion of drizzle, this particular August couldn’t give a single hour of sun unbroken by rain. Which is why the sisters grumbled and fought over who would go to their seanmhair to deliver food and comfort.

“You’re the oldest!” Greer would insist, shoving a fully laden basket at her eldest sister.

“I’ll go,” genial Fiona offered, pretending her cheeks weren’t pale and her brow damp.

“No, Moyna will go,” the farmer cut in one evening as he looked out the window over his barley glowing golden in the lingering twilight. The road ’round the loch was long, but the summer nights bright. The farmer nodded. “You go, Moyna. Please.”

Moyna sighed softly and donned her cloak, but none of the girls knew what the farmer saw.

And that was Laird Lewis’s son, Callum, ambling along with no apparent destination. The boy was short and slow, two things that made the gossipmongers flay him around Loch Goraidh, but the farmer had seen the boy admire his daughters from afar, and he’d encouraged Moyna to talk to him. But Moyna was far too shy. So the farmer determined he would instead place Moyna in the boy’s very path and hope for the best.

“I’ll go with you, dear sister,” Fiona said, rising.

“No,” the farmer said quickly, turning from his prey. For what suitor would look at Moyna when Fiona was near? “Greer, you go with your sister.”

Grumbling, Greer took her own cloak from Fiona, who had retrieved it for her sister, and threw the hood over her head.

Moyna was the first to step out the door, but she stopped immediately, one foot still inside.

“What is it?” Greer asked, giving her sister an elbow to the back.

Moyna shifted the basket to her other arm, and turned to look at her father. He didn’t see her looking, his gaze still out the window, but the hopeful look on his face was enough to make her heart flip in her chest. For she’d seen Callum, too, walking along the water’s edge, just in the direction they would have to take to Granny’s. She knew her father’s hopes, but Callum was not a kind sort of person, and she’d hoped, in time, another would catch her father’s eye.

But she also knew she had only to make a match—any match—so that Fiona could find a man who could save her father from leaving this world with a broken back in the field one day. Or starvation. If his lone horse, Ruadh, were to perish, they would all be in such danger. No, she had to do her father’s bidding, for her sister’s lives hung in the balance.

So she swallowed, hitched the basket higher on her arm, and stepped outside.

The air was chilled, and the earth muddy. They started on their usual way, but it wasn’t three steps before Greer gave a deep sigh.

“Lord, I’m not walking ’round the long way!” she said, stopping abruptly and turning back toward the farmhouse. “Let’s take the dinghy. I’d rather my arms hurt tomorrow than my legs.”

Moyna gave her little sister a soft smile but shook her head. “Dadaidh wants us to walk for a reason,” she said, lifting her eyes to Callum, who stood along the way, throwing stones at a wandering sheep.

Greer followed her gaze. “You can’t be interested in him,” she said snappishly, for Callum Lewis was the nothing like the dashing rakes of her daydreams.

“I have a duty to the family,” Moyna said simply. “And a responsibility to do what’s best for my father and sisters.”

“Yeah, but he’s dumber than Ruadh,” Greer insisted. “He wouldn’t know the different ’tween a cow and horse, Moyna. You want a good husband, a good man.”

“Better I do soon than well, I think.”

Greer’s irritation melted away a bit, for she saw the sadness in her sister’s gaze. She thought for a moment. “Let’s take the boat, Moyna, and I’ll tell Boban you talked to Callum. Let it lie a little longer. There are other men in the parish with designs on you, Moyna. I know it.”

Moyna was silent. The sisters watched as the sheep Callum was tormenting grew tired of the game and charged at him. Callum gave an almighty shriek and landed on his backside.

“Aye,” Moyna breathed, turning away. “Let’s take the dinghy.”

 

*

 

It was as the girls tended to their grandmother that Greer noticed the heavy fog forming over the loch. “There’s a strange wind blowing, Moyna,” she said, nodding toward the window. But Moyna, being the sweet granddaughter she was, only nodded and continued caring for her dear seanmhair.

In fact, it wasn’t until they left that Moyna noticed the mist. “It’s awful chilly,” she said, pulling her cloak tighter around her.

“I’m right glad we brought the dinghy,” Greer muttered, moving swiftly down to the water.

Moyna was on her heels, and they noticed almost at the same moment that the dinghy was gone. Greer gasped as Moyna looked around them. They were utterly alone this far from the village. No soul but Granny lived on this side of the loch. So the only time the dinghy traversed the loch at all was when the girls visited their grandmother or a traveler came to the village from the south.

“Is there a visitor do you think?” Greer asked.

“I don’t know,” Moyna said, squinting into the fog as Greer scurried back toward the grass and began gathering sticks.

They built a fire to put up smoke with some difficulty, and then sat around the small fire and waited. But they both knew it was unlikely anyone would see the signal to send the dinghy across in this fog.

Moyna sighed. “Greer, I don’t think anyone’s coming. I bet Fi is asleep and Boban—”

“What are two lovely lasses doing ’round a fire in this weather?”

Moyna startled delicately, but Greer jumped to her feet, brandishing a stick like a sword at the deep male voice.

“Callum?”

But the figure who stepped out of the fog was not Callum. The tall, lean figure hopped over the stream beside Granny’s house and came closer. “I doan know a Callum,” he said, “but I should like to warm by your fire before I make the journey into the village.”

Greer lowered her makeshift sword. “You shouldn’ go startling people when it’s all spooky out, you know. Creepin’ in the fog like a lost soul.”

“Not lost, no,” the man said with a chuckle, and as he stepped up to the fire, the girls could see he looked no older than Moyna herself. He wore dark trousers and a worn red sweater. The cuffs of a faded white shirt peeked out from the sleeves as he held his hands to the tiny blaze. Moyna could see something long and green and slimy in his hair, but she didn’t think it polite to point out to a stranger that he may have been accidentally wearing a bit of seaweed from the loch on his head.

“Did you take the boat?” Greer asked churlishly.

“Greer!” Moyna snapped, aghast. “Don’t be so rude. And how would he be here if he’d taken the boat across?”

Greer shrugged, and the boy laughed again. “How, indeed?”

“Sorry,” Greer grumbled. “I’m cold is all.”

“Yes, I must say, this isn’t a very strong fire, is it?” he said, standing and rubbing his hands together.

Greer harrumphed. “It’s the signal, to get them to send a boat over. But I don’t think anyone’s coming.”

“I’m headed that way, as well. Might I enjoy your company on the walk back to the village? Take my mind off the cold, it will.”

“Aye, we might as well start walking, Greer,” Moyna said, sliding a shy smile to the visitor. Greer caught the look, and while she wanted to be annoyed, she felt herself soften. She felt so sorry for her eldest sister, having to court dopey Callum Lewis, and wouldn’t it be wonderful if this visitor turned out to be her one true love? Or at the very least only half the bore Callum was. And to be sure, he didn’t seem as dumb as Ruadh, like Callum. Though he did have big, clear eyes like Ruadh, which Greer supposed a girl might like—if she was looking for such a thing as marriage.

Which Greer was not. She wasn’t far off from the ripe age, but she was holding out hope that if Fiona found a good man, she would be able to slide through life an old maid without her father making any matches behind her back.

Moyna’s soft laugh brought Greer back to reality. Moyna and the stranger walked a few steps ahead of her, their path curving around the edge of the loch. It was a long walk, but Greer was used to being her own company, so she hung back and let the older set talk.

“Do you see the roe?” the stranger said suddenly, coming to a halt.

Greer looked up to see his arm outstretched, holding Moyna’s arm. There was a smile on her face as she followed his pointing finger to the trees a bit away. Sure enough, a roe deer stood between two trunks, watching them with careful eyes.

“She’s beautiful,” Moyna breathed, and the stranger smiled as he let his arm drop and stepped carefully on.

Greer listened as he pointed out other signs of animals, but she didn’t let her eyes leave the deer until they were well past her. The deer didn’t bolt, as the creatures were wont to do, merely watched Moyna and the stranger walk on.

“Aye, we’re all hoping, little one,” Greer murmured, watching her sister giggle.

It wasn’t until they were nearing the path that led away to the Stuarts’ home, which Greer always noted as the halfway point between their house and grandmother’s, that the little traveling group was intercepted by another creature. This one much more unwelcome than the last.

“Well, if it isn’t a few birds flown the coop,” Callum said, tossing the rocks in his hand into the loch.

Greer rolled her eyes, and Moyna lowered hers. The stranger gave an amused chuckle.

“Is that how you talk to all ladies of your acquaintance?”

Callum’s eyebrows lowered. “Maybe. What’s it to you?” Before the stranger could answer, Callum shoved his hands in his pockets and demanded, “Just who’re you?”

The boy gave a friendly smile and inclined his head. “Just a visitor. I’m headed to Ross-shire, and I was told there was friendly lodging to spare near Loch Goraidh.”

Callum’s eyes flew up and down the boy before flicking to Moyna. He grunted and then spit on the dirt at his feet. “Walk with me, Moyna,” he said, nodding toward the village. “You know your father’d like it if he saw you strolling home with the likes of me.”

Greer realized Callum was maybe not as stupid as she’d always assumed. Apparently, he’d noticed her father’s designs upon him, too. Moyna had come to the same conclusion, for her cheeks turned a bright red, and she put a hand to one, as if that might return it to its proper color. Luckily, the falling night was in her favor. She looked helplessly to Greer, her eyes pleading.

“A-actually, Callum, I wanted to ask you something,” Greer said, stepping forward.

“But—”

“Come along,” she interrupted him. “It’ll take me a while to explain.” It took great effort, but Greer managed to loop her arm through Callum’s and drag him down the shore. He looked back over his shoulder once, before giving in. “You spend an awful lot of time with sheep, don’t you? Can you tell me how wool is made?”

“You’re a daft bird, you know that?” Callum heaved a sigh before embarking on an equally daft explanation.

Greer hazarded a glance over her shoulder and saw the stranger flourish an arm before him for her sister to walk first. Moyna smiled and began in Greer and Callum’s wake, the smitten stranger at her heels.

This just might work, Greer thought smugly just as Callum snapped, “You’re not even listening!

 

*

 

For a stupid man, Callum Lewis had words enough for the whole of Scotland. Greer was exhausted from play-acting her attentiveness by the time they reached the edge of the village.

“We best get home,” she said, turning away from Callum gratefully. She spun to call to Moyna, but the path behind them was empty.

“Where’ve they gone off to?” Callum grumbled behind her. “Necking in the woods, I suppose? No man’ll want her after that.”

“Shut up,” Greer snapped, picking up her skirts and dashing back along the path. As she approached the bend blocked by a few stray saplings, she began to get angry. Moyna knew better than to dally with a stranger. She rounded the bend. “Moy—”

There was nobody there. She stumbled as she began to run.

“Moyna? Moyna!” She tripped over a branch in the path and felt something wet on her knee. She moved it aside and picked up something long, green, and slimy. It looked like…seaweed or some other water plant. Tossing it aside, she scrambled to her feet and ran on.

“Moyna!” Her voice cracked.

The fog over the loch was the only thing that moved.

“MOYNA!”

 

*

 

The search parties went out as soon as Greer could run home and her father could raise the alarm. The boat was found adrift in the loch. Moyna was not. But by morning, thanks to Callum Lewis’s loud mouth, the rumors were all the same: the girl had eloped. So lucky that the Lewis boy was there to witness the stolen glances between Moyna and the strange man, the people said, or her family’d have thought her dead forever. Greer told everyone who would listen that it wasn’t true, that Callum was exaggerating what he saw…but far fewer people would listen to a fourteen-year-old girl than a boy nearly a man.

It didn’t help that her assurances rang hollow. For she’d seen those looks Callum spoke of herself. Even so, she knew they didn’t explain where Moyna had gone. Moyna would never do something so rash. It was Moyna. Fantasies and daydreams were Greer’s forte.

But their father was inconsolable. As far as he was concerned, he’d pushed his dear girl too near the Lewis boy, and that was motive enough for her to run off with the first suitable man who would have her.

They sent men to all the neighboring villages, and even a pair of father’s oldest friends went as far as Ross-shire, since not all Callum’s memories were useless. They searched far and wide, but every party returned with the same news.

No one had seen a plain, wispy girl wandering with a boy in a red sweater.

 

*

 

Fiona and Greer half expected their father to lock his remaining daughters up for the rest of their lives, but it happened that the man was too distraught to think of it. And so Greer continued to look for her sister. Fiona begged her to stay home, but she hadn’t been there. She hadn’t seen the boy, so handsome and kind. It was a betrayal Greer couldn’t stomach. She found one of her father’s old pocketknives and slid it into her boot. There it would stay.

She combed the dale and forest, calling Moyna’s name. It wasn’t much different than her days had been before that fateful day, though the purpose of her wanderings had changed. “She’s always been a layabout,” the people would say. “Only now she’s a mad one.”

It was one day high on the hill overlooking the Stuarts’ that Greer saw him. Moving down below, in a field ringed by birch trees. The boy!

“Hey!” she yelled. Her voice carried on the wind and caught his attention as he stood, hands on hips, looking out over the western dale. He turned, and upon seeing her watching him, began to run.

“Hey! Stop!” Greer yelled, careening down the hill toward him. “Stop! Where’s my sister? Moyna!”

The hill was steep and Greer stumbled, her feet going out from under her. She tumbled head over heels all the way down the hill, reaching the bottom and vaulting to her feet just in time to see the man dash between the line of birches.

“Stop!” she wailed. “Moyna! Moyna, are you near? Can you hear me?”

She ran to the trees and barreled between their trunks, coming out on the other side to a golden field reflecting the bright sun. She halted, her chest heaving, her hand clutching a stitch in her side as she bent to retrieve her knife from her boot. She stood, knife at the ready, and scanned the field.

It was empty.

No, not empty.

There were two old cows. John Stuart’s cows. And a raven-black horse wearing a silver bridle. That must have been John Stuart’s as well.

But no person. Not a single person. Not the stranger. And not Moyna.

 

*

 

Greer told everyone who she saw. The man. The man who’d taken her sister.

“The man who eloped with your sister?” the townspeople asked.

“No!” Greer shouted. “He took her!”

“You’ve no proof of that, wee yin.”

“Fine. If they eloped, where is she? I saw him! She has to be nearby!”

She had the conversation again and again, with every person who lived within a day’s journey of Loch Goraidh. They all said the same thing:

She was always a flighty thing, her head in the clouds. Spent her whole life daydreaming. But her dear sister’s indiscretion has turned her. The daydreams are driving her from sanity now, poor chit.

“Please, Greer,” Fiona would plead from beneath her heavy covers. “Please stop this nonsense.”

And Greer would quiet, for Fiona had grown paler and weaker with each day their sister was gone.

 

*

 

Their seanmhair grew weaker, too, for it is a great shame to have one’s family disrespected so. In fact, the village gossip suggested it would be the death of the girls’ grandmother, and this served only to distress her son and her sickly granddaughter even more.

The fates dealt another blow one afternoon when the farmer came blowing into the little cottage like a storm. As quick as he’d come, he stilled, frozen, in the kitchen.

“What is it?” Fiona asked.

“Ruadh,” he said simply.

Cold coursing through her, Greer climbed out of bed and went to the window, Fi on her heels. There Ruadh lay, in the middle of the field, still breathing, but just barely.

“Bad things happen in threes,” Fi whispered.

Moyna. Now Ruadh. What would be next?

They would be next, it seemed.

For, without a horse, starvation was upon them, snapping at their heels, a beast as menacing as whatever monster took Moyna.

 

*

 

“Let me go alone, Fi,” Greer said earnestly one evening as Fiona fastened a blue ribbon in her hair, as she did every day, sick or no. “You look very tired.” And weak, and pale as death, she added silently, ribbon or no.

“I’m fine,” Fiona said, pursing her lips. But they’d all been eating a little less lately, just in case the village vet couldn’t bring Ruadh back to health. Just in case their food stores needed to last…indefinitely.

“Fi—”

“No!” Fiona snapped, eyes blazing. “You won’t be going to grandmother’s alone. Neither of us will. That’s the end of it, Greer.”

The younger sister finally nodded and checked once again that her knife was safe in her boot.

Outside, the evening had taken a chilly turn. Greer glanced at her sister but didn’t say anything, not until they approached the giant rock on the bank of the loch. The dinghy wasn’t there.

“Who’s gone over?” Greer asked, placing her hand to her eyes to gaze over the water. “I’ll put up smoke.”

“No, we’ll walk it,” Fiona said. She thought it went unnoticed, the way her fingers tightened around the basket’s handle, but Greer saw.

“No, Fi,” she said, “it’s too far.”

“Greer, Seanmhair is very weak already, if she doesn’t get her dinner…”

She didn’t need to finish the sentence. The family had been through enough already.

“Okay,” Greer said. “At least let me take the basket.” It was one wish Fiona was willing to grant.

As they walked, a fine mist began to form over the loch, and Greer shivered, remembering that night. The only thing that gave her courage was the firm press of the knife against her calf. She felt it with every step.

She also heard her sister’s labored breathing.

“Fi, are you okay?” she asked more than once.

“Don’t be a mother hen, Greer,” came the reprimand.

Somewhere around the start of the Stuarts’ path—about halfway—Fiona began to pant in earnest. Greer wanted to suggest she turn back, or the two of them do so together, but she knew Fi wouldn’t hear it. Instead, Greer slowed her pace and hoped that would help her sister.

“What’s that?” Fiona gasped, stopping in the middle of the path.

“I didn’t—”

But Greer didn’t have a chance to finish the sentence, for a great black horse stepped out of the treeline, nostrils steaming.

It was wearing a silver bridle. “I think it’s John Stuart’s,” Greer said, glancing over her shoulder at the family’s worn path. “I saw it the day I…”

That was another sentence she couldn’t finish. For she couldn’t risk upsetting Fiona even further on this trek.

“It scared the wits out of me,” Fi said, resuming the journey. But when they’d gone a few steps past the night-black horse, she paused and turned to look at it. “Do you think…”

“What?” Greer asked, switching the basket to her other arm. It was beginning to grow heavy.

“Well, it just that…” She bit her lip and glanced at her sister. “I am a bit tired. Do you think they’d mind if we rode him down and back?”

Greer grinned at her sister. “I don’t think they’d even notice, Fi. Come on, up you go.” She set the basket down and stepped toward the horse. It didn’t move. Instead, it stepped toward her. “That’s a boy,” she whispered, grabbing the silver bridle when it was within reach. It was ice-cold, but the horse stood so still, Greer didn’t need to hold on. Instead, she dropped the bridle and made a stirrup of her hands, beckoning her sister forward.

Fi hesitated only a moment before grabbing the horse’s mane and slipping her boot into Greer’s hands. “My, his mane’s sopping wet,” she said, sliding onto the horse’s back.

“How strange,” Greer said, touching it herself. “I suppose he’s been out and about for a while. Or maybe in the loch?”

Fiona sighed and slid her hands over the horse’s silky back. “I must admit, it feels wonderful to be off my feet.”

Greer was about to suggest they continue on when she noticed a strange look come over her sister’s face. “What’s the matter?”

“I don’t know,” Fiona said. “It feels…strange.” She stared at her fingers splayed over the horse’s black back. “Greer. Greer! I can’t move my hands!”

“What—”

Rearing up onto its hind legs, the beast snorted and then leaped into a run, disappearing into the trees.

“F-Fi!” Greer’s voice was strangled. “FIONA! FIONA!

There was nothing left to hear her cries but the trees and the fog of the loch.

 

*

 

They combed the loch this time. The girl was sickly and weak. And it was well known the family wasn’t eating well anymore. It was quite possible she’d stumbled and fallen in as the girls walked to their grandmother’s. With her constitution, she could have drowned quickly. It was all very plausible. And much more sensible than the story the girl’s poor, mad sister told.

A murderous horse with skin like glue bore her sister away into the night?

Preposterous. In fact, it was only the girls’ seanmhair who believed her.

She came to stay in the farmer’s cottage, to be with the girl while her father dealt with the barley. It was the first time she heard the child’s story. But her response wasn’t the same as every other adult Greer had told it to.

“I know, lassie, I know.”

Greer’s head rose from her pillow, which she’d been weeping into for some time. “What?”

“I believe you, mo cridhe.”

Greer’s lip trembled, her heart not daring to trust. “Why?”

Seanmhair heaved a sigh and shook her head. “There are stories, of course. A people can’t exist too long without them.”

“What kind of stories?”

“About the kelpie.”

The silence in the little cottage hurt Greer’s head. “What’s a kelpie?”

“A beast of the water,” Seanmhair said, bowing her creased forehead. “It’s said he can take many forms, but it’s said to have the strength of ten horses.”

“A-and Moyna and Fi?” Greer asked hopefully.

But Seanmhair shook her head. “The kelpie has no mercy, mo cridhe. It has to eat like the rest of us.”

Greer’s stomach turned, but it was a truth she already felt in her bones. Her sisters were of this world no longer.

 

*

 

When her father began to drown himself in the strong whiskey from a bottle he’d kept hidden behind his mattress, Greer had to leave. She slipped her knife into her boot and slipped away while her seanmhair tried to comfort the bent, broken-hearted farmer.

“Let it take me fast!” he said. “I doan wan’ to suffer like my poor Fi!”

They were the last words Greer heard before closing the door behind her. She went first to the hill behind the Stuarts’ house, but the birch field was as empty as any other.

That didn’t deter Greer. Not now that the thing, the monster, had a name.

Kelpie.

If she was going to starve, she would find her sisters first. Granny had to be wrong. They were here, somewhere. Nearby. If the kelpie had stayed near, that must mean her sisters were, too. So she palmed her little knife and walked.

And walked.

She wouldn’t go home until she found him—or them. Kelpie or sisters. Kelpie or sisters, she promised the wide-open sky as she walked dale and forest.

The sky showed her the sisters first.

When a fog came over the loch, Greer moved toward it, her heart beating madly.

It was a little sapling down by the loch that finally tore her heart open. Tangled in its branches was a soft blue ribbon. The kind Fi wore in her hair every day. Soaking wet, it was dragged into the water, twisted up in the grass there.

A sob built in Greer’s throat just as movement in the corner of her eye snapped her to attention.

Down the shore, the kelpie was knee-deep in the water, gazing into it as though searching for something.

He hadn’t seen her.

She had only a second to decide on a course of action. But there was no choice. Not really. She would sneak upon him and lay her knife into his heart.

She stepped carefully backward until she was well behind the loch’s grasses. Then she stepped quickly down the shore, her knife blazing hot in her hand. She would have killed her sisters’ murderer in an instant were it not for the brittle brown grass that whispered as her boots moved across it.

The kelpie spun when she was only feet away, but she couldn’t cross the distance in time. The creature launched through the water toward her, his body twisting grotesquely until it was no man soaring through the air toward her head.

It was a massive horse. A pitch-black horse wearing a silver bridle.

But Greer didn’t cower. She stepped aside and threw out her arm as the creature landed on the earth with a clatter. Her knife bounced away, and she knew she couldn’t kill a horse with such a slight weapon, so she grabbed at his mane. Her hand struck ice-cold metal, and she wrapped her fingers around it, determined that wherever the kelpie went—she would go with it. It would not escape her.

As soon as her fingers closed upon its bridle, the kelpie went mad, rearing and bucking and snorting like the wildest stallion Greer had ever seen. And in the melee, there was a snap! The bridle fell away from the kelpie’s head and lay broken in Greer’s fist.

Silence descended upon the loch.

Greer looked up.

The horse was absolutely still. Not even its nostrils moved. It looked as though it couldn’t move. Greer looked up and down its body, from its bedraggled mane twisted with seaweed, to its hooves, which faced backwards.

“What are you, you monster?” she whispered.

The kelpie flicked an ear in reply.

Where are my sisters?” She beat a hand against the creature’s side, but it only turned its head to look into the loch. Another sob rent Greer’s throat, and she vaguely registered that the bridle burned in her hand. Then the kelpie looked back at her, right into her eyes.

Something in Greer twisted. She looked at the bridle, which had gone ice-cold once more. Then back at the kelpie.

“Step over there.” She pointed.

As the bridle flared in her hand, the kelpie took two awkward steps sideways.

“Come back,” she said.

And it did.

Something thrummed to life in Greer’s veins. Revenge. That’s what it was. The taste of revenge.

She would tell the monster to step into the loch and drown itself. Once and for all. To rid the world of such evil.

But her father’s face came, unbidden, into her mind’s eye.

Silence descended upon them, and Greer gripped the bridle tighter. The strength of ten horses.

“Walk,” she said, her voice shaking. “Follow me.” The bridle burned, and the kelpie obeyed. It followed her all the way back to the farm.

 

*

 

The farm prospered as the strong, pitch-black horse worked long and hard for many years—until time and toil took its natural toll. To this day, the farmer’s clan, the children of the children of the children of the children of brave Greer, have in their possession a bridle of pure silver. Ice-cold to the touch, it’s kept hidden away in an old wooden box.

Though, the knowledge of such a trick would do better in the light. For though the Kelpie of Loch Goraidh is long gone from this world, many of his ilk remain.

 

 

Read more stories from Fadó, Fadó: Selkies, Kelpies, and Other Celtic Creatures for just $2.99 on Amazon!

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10.22.2017

So Much CHANGE!

Change. It’s hard. I know.

But this is good change, I promise. Stick with me.

The Hearts Out of Water series is getting a brand new look, but this time, there’s another huge change. They’re also getting … brand new titles! What?! Why, you ask?

Well, everybody knows the cover is one of the most important things a book has to recommend itself to new readers. But as an indie author, it can be terribly difficult to get the cover right. I’ve worked with some great cover artists, but when given the wrong artistic direction, the artist has little to go on.

So, I did a lot of studying and thinking, and revamped the concept of the series’ covers to more properly reflect the current YA market. With a great cover designer, we came up with something that fits the Contemporary Fantasy market while still being beautiful and eye-catching and relevant to Cora & Rory’s story.

You ready to see it?

Okay, Annie, new covers, fine. But why the titles?

Back when I released the first book in the series, I knew nothing about publishing. Absolutely nothing. I threw out a title I thought fit the book without dissecting whether it would fit the market.

Well, that’s just some silly marketing mumbo-jumbo, you may be thinking. And you’re right — it is. But that marketing piece is crucial to a book’s success, which is crucial to the author’s ability to write more.

And so the Hearts Out of Water series books will now be called …

Book One: All the Tales We Tell

Book Two: Lifespan of a Memory

Book Three: The Last Secret

And of course, there’s the companion short story collection, which will still be Fadó, Fadó: Selkies, Kelpies, and Other Celtic Creatures.

All this change takes a lot of work, though, so I have to ask for your patience while I get everything updated across e-retailers and my social media.

And, if you’re ever confused about any of this, please, please contact me!!

Sincerely Annie

 

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10.22.2017

A Creepy Celtic Creature for Halloween

Rún An Fhaolaidh

The Faoladh’s Secret

 

Note: This short story is from my collection Fadó, Fadó: Selkies, Kelpies, and Other Celtic Creatures, which you can get for just $2.99 on Amazon!

There are no wolves in Ireland. Not anymore. They were hunted out of existence many years ago. Yet, every now and again, there are whispers. Sightings. Rumors.

Every seven years to be exact.

It’s a number with great meaning for many in Ireland, but most particularly for a clan named Whelan who lived in Kilkenny.

You see, there were seven Whelans, and seven Whelan cows in their seven-acre field. And the youngest, Cian, was only seven years old when his sister Grainne died—drowned, seven years ago, in the River Nore, along with her beau, Fintan O’Toole.

And it wasn’t just the sevens that made everyone else in town think the Whelans strange. There were other odd things about them, too. Like the fact that they’d boarded up the children’s room when poor Grainne drowned. There’s sentimentality, the neighbors would say, and then there’s the absurdity of squeezing six Whelans into the cottage’s two remaining rooms.

But the neighbors aren’t nosy, no sirree, and if Mr. and Mrs. Whelan wanted to force their grown son to sleep on the floor in his grandparents’ room, then far be it from them to criticize. And though Cian had indeed been sleeping on a hay mattress on his grandparents’ floor for half his life, he didn’t mind. For his brother Enda was on the floor beside their parents’ bed in the main room, and that, in Cian’s opinion, would be far worse.

In fact, Enda and Cian often quite forgot they were strange, that their family was harboring quite a dark secret, and fancied themselves normal.

Until the seventh year after Grainne’s death.

That’s when everything went crooked.

For the Whelans did indeed have a dark secret. And secrets in Kilkenny didn’t last long.

It all started with Dahey Lynch, which is a sentence many a man has uttered to his wife in trying to explain how he’d come to be brawling in the middle of the street in broad daylight. But this time, it wasn’t a tussle Dahey started. It was a panic of a different sort.

He came running into town one day, hollering and whinging. Now, Dahey had been to Tralee to see his family, but was supposed to return nearly three days past, so everyone was quite confused, but quite happy to see him. However, their smiles faded as they realized what exactly he was hollering about.

“I was lost!” he shouted, as a group gathered around him, young Cian Whelan and his grandpa among them. “On me way back from Tralee, I left the road for a wee, and got lost. But a great big wolf stepped out of the brush and showed me the way!”

This made Cian go cold. For there was one more strange thing about the littlest Whelan that he didn’t talk about.

No, he never mentioned it, for the one time he’d told his mam, she’d scolded him fiercely and told him never to speak of it again. But sometimes he thought about it, late at night, as he listened to his grandfather’s snores.

And the it that he thought about was the giant gray wolf he’d seen seven years ago.

Cian had been sitting out back of the house, trying to block out the shouting in the house, which is all his mam and dad had done in the days following Grainne’s death, when a wolf stepped out of the trees. Cian had stared, terrified and transfixed, for he’d only ever seen a wolf in storybooks. Because there weren’t any left in Ireland. As everyone knew.

But there one stood, staring back at him with golden eyes.

It had stared for several more moments, listening to Cian’s family fight, almost as if saddened by the sound, before ducking back into the trees and slinking away. And when Cian ran into the woods after it, as curious boys are wont to do, there was nothing there. So, he raced back to the house at once and told his mam, his father having just stormed from the house himself.

But she didn’t react like Cian had expected. She didn’t run out back and ask him to lead her to where he’d seen the mysterious creature last. No, instead, her eyes filled with tears and she begged him not to mention what he’d seen to anyone else. Not even his father.

“And he—he spoke!” Dahey spluttered, pulling Cian from his memories and putting him right back there on the street in Kilkenny.

“What?” Cian’s grandpa shouted with a laugh.

“The wolf spoke to me!” Dahey yelled. “In Irish! I swear it!”

Cian frowned. Maybe Dahey really was mad after all. The wolf he’d seen all those years ago hadn’t spoken. That was absurd.

“He had a great, deep voice, and he called me by name!” Dahey yelled. “When I’d never even said it!”

“You been drinking, Dahey?” one of the neighbors asked, shaking his head.

“O’ course not!” Dahey snapped. “I knew ye wouldn’t believe me!”

“Then why didn’t you bring ’im back wi’ch’ya?” insisted Nessa Creighton, one of Cian’s best friends. A spunky girl with red plaits, she crossed her arms over her chest, challenging Dahey’s story.

“Because he ran off as soon as he’d shown me back to the road, din’t he?” Dahey snapped at her. He looked right silly arguing with a fourteen-year-old girl, but Cian didn’t have the heart to make a joke. He was still unsettled.

“Pshaw,” a neighbor said as the others began to disperse, convinced there was no actual news to be had here. “There are no wolves in Ireland, Dahey!”

“Yeah! No wolves in Ireland!” people mumbled as they walked away.

Only Cian knew better.

 

*

 

That afternoon, Cian and Nessa discussed Dahey’s unbelievable story while languidly lying on their backs beneath a bush. Well, Nessa discussed it, altogether too near Cian, while his heart hammered in his chest. Nessa had been his friend for most of his life, but it was only in the last few years that her presence had started to make his palms sweat. Sometimes he imagined she looked at Enda an awful lot, but that didn’t change that Cian thought about her and her beautiful hair when she wasn’t around.

Yes, Cian had started to like Nessa in a way he’d never liked anyone before, and it had quickly morphed into something more. He didn’t use the word love—except in his  own head—but  it  was having  an  altogether  strange effect on his being. This thing he felt for Nessa, it made him want to talk to her for hours on end, ask her for every minute detail of her day, and spill all his deepest secrets. And Nessa had always been such a good friend he thought just maybe he could start with one secret in particular.

“It just doesn’t make sense,” she was saying, twisting a twig above her head into the shape of a heart. “There—”

“Are no wolves in Ireland,” Cian interrupted. “I know.” He gulped. “But…”

“But?” Nessa asked, her pretty eyes blinking at him.

“But I saw one once.”

Nessa gasped. “You didn’t!”

“I did.” Cian nodded for emphasis. “A long time ago. Just after Grainne died. Right out here, on the edge of the woods.”

Nessa’s mouth made a little O, and she stared at him for a few long moments. Cian began to scold himself, for surely someone like Enda wouldn’t see things like wolves in the woods. Or, if he did, he wouldn’t tell pretty girls like Nessa about it. Cian was just about to declare it all a great big joke when Nessa breathed, “Did it speak?”

Relieved, Cian laughed. “No. I think that part was made up, at least.”

Nessa didn’t laugh. She looked dead serious as she said, “I want to see a wolf.”

They lay there, beside each other, for many long, silent minutes. Cian didn’t know where Nessa’s mind was, but he was thinking about her face when he’d told her. She hadn’t scolded him to stop telling tales or being silly. She’d believed him. It made him want to tell her all his other secrets, too—or, at the very least, reach out and grab her hand, which was so close to his. But he didn’t do either of those things.

At long last, Nessa grumbled, “These brambles are fierce hard on my plaits, Cian.”

They were hiding in the back of the Whelan house, tucked away in a bush, because Cian’s father was shoeing the new horse with Enda’s help, and if Cian was found lolling about, he’d be forced to help, too. There was little Cian loathed more than shoeing horses—except maybe helping his mother in the house. Which is why he groaned out loud when he heard his mother yell, “Cian, where’ve you gone to? I need ya!”

Nessa poked his side and grinned. “I think yer wanted.”

“Not on my life,” Cian grumbled, sitting up. He wasn’t about to go help his mam, not when Nessa was about, but he couldn’t stay here, sprawled beneath the bush, either. For he had a bit of a reputation for bush-sprawling, and this was the first place his mam would look. And if she didn’t, their dog Jack, forever at her heels, would find him in a heartbeat.

Rolling out from under the foliage, he leapt to his feet, helping Nessa out after him. She climbed to her feet, too, ready to run, a smile on her face. She also wanted to spend more time with him. Not Enda. Him. Cian’s heart beat faster.

There was only one place he’d go if he were alone—a place his mother would never look. But he couldn’t take Nessa there.

Or could he? She’d just accepted one of his biggest secrets with interest. And Fintan O’Toole, Grainne’s beau, had been Nessa’s cousin. She would understand the grief surrounding the young couple’s death. If there was anyone in the world he could share this particular secret with, it was her.

He looked back at her and saw her great, big, expectant eyes, just as his mother called him again—her voice louder, closer this time.

There was nothing for it. He had to trust that Nessa would accept his family’s dark secret. He dashed toward the back window.

“Grainne’s room?” Nessa asked, as he jimmied the window open, a skill honed over years of practice.

It wasn’t always Grainne’s room, of course. It used to be all the Whelan children’s room. But things had changed when she died.

Cian lifted himself inside, landing nimbly on the floor, and then helped Nessa climb up behind him. He shut the window and ducked out of sight as his mam’s voice came from just outside.

“Where’s that boy got to?” she muttered on the other side of the glass, clearly annoyed, before stomping away to the tune of Jack’s playful yaps.

When Cian turned around, triumphant, Nessa stood, stock-still, in the spot where she’d landed on the floor, her hair glowing brilliant in the sun through the window. But the look on her face…

He had to explain, and quickly. “Nessa—”

“What—Cian—what—” A choked sob escaped her throat, cutting off her words.

Cian had been wrong. She wasn’t going to accept this particular secret.

Because the Whelans had a dark secret.

There, on the bed that had been hers in life, Grainne’s body lay, spread out as if sleeping. Her gray fingers were clasped upon the bed cover, and her hair, still as shiny and gold as the day she died, was spread upon the thin pillow that hadn’t moved in seven years. Her eyes were closed, as if they might flutter open and wake from this deep slumber called death at any moment.

“Cian,” Nessa breathed, and he could see her hands were trembling like leaves in the wind. “Cian…what…”

Since he was seven years old, Cian had been taught that he wasn’t to enter this room that had been his once upon a time, nor tell a non-Whelan soul that Grainne’s body was there. Instead, the whole town thought Grainne’s body lay at the end of the River Nore, never to be recovered, with the body of poor Fintan O’Toole.

“My parents…” He shook his head, and his folly unraveled before him. He realized then that he didn’t have an explanation. He couldn’t tell Nessa why his sister’s corpse was kept hidden in their house because he didn’t know why. Lord above, why did everything about the Whelans have to be so strange?

“S-seven years,” Nessa spluttered, stumbling away from the bed. Her back hit the window, and, as if it woke her from her stupor, her gaze darted to Cian. “She’s been dead seven years! What—why?”

“Nessa, I don’t—” He broke off as she pushed the window open. “Nessa, please, I just wanted—”

She was halfway out the window when she screamed, “This is insane! This is deranged! She’s dead, Cian! You keep her corpse in your house? Your family is insane!”

And that, at least, was something Cian couldn’t dispute.

 

*

 

When Cian went to Nessa’s house that evening, her mother told him she wasn’t home. He knew from the sad look in her eyes that it was a lie, but she didn’t look disgusted, so he knew Nessa must not have told her mother why she wouldn’t see him anymore. And if she hadn’t told her mother, she probably hadn’t told anyone else either.

Cian let out a relieved sigh.

And when he realized how relieved he felt, that relief began to morph into something more sinister.

Anger. Cian was angry.

Because he was not the one who’d hidden his sister’s corpse away in a room of the house, only to board up that room and tell the world the girl had drowned, despite no sign of a water mishap on her body. He wasn’t the one who lied to every neighbor about poor Grainne’s body being buried somewhere beneath the rushing water of the River Nore. He wasn’t the one to avoid the O’Toole family any time they met in town.

It was weird, it was disturbing, it was unnatural. And what about Grainne? She deserved a proper burial, to have her soul put to rest for good.

He rubbed a hand over his face, feeling jumpy. When he was younger, he’d sneak into the room to talk to Grainne, because at seven, he’d convinced himself she could still hear him if he whispered quite near her ear. He’d always known it was strange, of course, keeping his dead sister’s body in the house, but that wasn’t even the half of it. One day when he was nine, he climbed in the window, and there was a great gash across Grainne’s leg, bleeding as if fresh. Another day, there’d been a large bruise on her forehead. But at nine, he knew if he asked his mother about it, he’d be in more trouble than he’d ever known for going in there at all.

He shivered, the anger running through his veins. Why had his parents done this to him, saddled him with such disturbing memories from his past—and jeopardizing his future with a sweet, normal girl like Nessa? As if he’d ever had a chance with her. It was clear as day she was smitten with his brother. And that just made him angrier.

Because she would surely never speak to either of them ever again.

When he got home, he didn’t even say hello to his family, gathered around the table for dinner, but instead charged right over to the door to Grainne’s room. Jack was there, nose to the crack beneath the door, as usual. He was always sniffing around the door, a habit as old as Jack himself. Cian shook his head. The whole house was mad. Without a word, he began wrenching at the boards his father had nailed over the doorway long ago. Seven years ago, to be exact. With three big tugs, the first sprang free.

“What are you doing?” his mam demanded, on her feet and across the room in the blink of an eye. Jack whimpered.

Spoons clattered into bowls. “Stop, lad!” his grandfather called.

Cian didn’t stop. He felt his mam’s hands on his arms, but he wrenched them free and removed another board.

“Stop, Cian!” she cried, and he thought he heard real sobs in her throat. He didn’t turn to see if there were tears.

He removed another two boards at once.

“What are you doing?” It was his father’s voice. Calm, steady, always in control.

Cian wheeled around. “It’s unnatural, what you’ve done here!” he screamed at his family. Enda stood, nervous, by the table, and his grandparents looked worried, but it was his mother who looked like she was about to fall to pieces. Then Cian looked at his father. The man never let emotion show on his face, but this time, his features were lined in ice. “She doesn’t deserve this!” Cian yelled at him. “And neither do I!” Whirling around, he wrenched the last two boards from the doorframe and stormed inside.

“Cian, I will tell you only once not to enter that room!” his father thundered.

But he was already inside, so they didn’t see him flinch. His whole life, Cian had been instructed never to enter this room, never to touch his sister’s body, but the look on Nessa’s face when she’d seen it was etched permanently upon his mind. If his best friend couldn’t accept this, then neither would he.

“Stop!” his mother wailed, grasping for his arms, but she was easy to shake off. Jack growled, but he was too small a mutt to instill fear in anyone.

Cian rounded the bed and slid one arm beneath his sister’s ice-cold neck. He was just about to slide the other beneath her knees when he heard a click and glanced up.

Right into the barrel of a gun.

“Do not,” his father breathed, “move.”

Cian froze, every muscle petrified. His father had never so much as raised his voice in this house. When had everyone gone mad? Or had they always been mad, and he’d just never noticed it?

The only sound now was his mam’s sobs in the corner of the room.

“Remove your arm, as slowly and carefully as possible,” his father said, his eyes wide and darting between Cian’s face and the arm he had round Grainne.

Cian did as he was told and stepped carefully away from the bed. The mouth of the rifle followed him.

“Now leave the room,” his father instructed.

As Cian stepped carefully toward the door, his father positioned himself between his son and his daughter’s body. When Cian reached the threshold, he ran to the front door and out into the night. He didn’t come home for a long time. But when he did, Grainne’s room was boarded up again, and in front of it, his father sat in a chair, fast asleep, the rifle across his knees.

Cian hadn’t cried in a very long time, not since his sister died, but he cried himself to sleep that night.

 

*

 

When he opened his eyes again, it was dark outside. And when he heard the hushed whispers, he realized why he’d woken in the first place. Outside, his grandpa was whispering something fierce.

As he stood, he saw his grandmother was missing from the bed, too. He crept to the window, but he could tell from his grandfather’s voice that he was out round the front. So he tiptoed into the main room. Immediately, he saw the chair in front of Grainne’s room was empty. And a glance to the corner showed his parents’ bed was empty, too.

But Enda stood, his ear to the front door. Cian hesitated, for he still felt a painful jealousy for his brother, but that wasn’t Enda’s fault, was it? Sighing, Cian joined his brother at the door.

“What are they talking about?” he asked in a whisper.

“Dunno,” Enda murmured. “Something about Grainne.”

“I told you, din’t I?” their grandfather grumbled, his voice reaching a pitch that could surely be heard by the neighbors.

Their mother reacted instantaneously. “Shhhh!” she hissed.

Their father whispered something, but his restraint wasn’t yet washed away by age. They couldn’t hear him.

Whatever it was, their grandfather replied, “You better tell them boys before you lose all your children.”

“We can’t,” their father said, annoyance making his voice louder.

“They’ll go lookin’,” their mother hissed, “and you know how dangerous that is.”

“Go lookin’ for what?” Enda whispered to his brother.

Their grandfather scoffed. “Sure it’s dangerous, but if you stop treatin’ ’em like children, maybe they’ll stop actin’ like it. What’s the alternative? Ye just goin’ to wait and have ’im drop in the fields one day? Leave ’im out there to rot then? For all the neighbors to see?”

Enda and Cian exchanged a nervous glance.

“Of course not!” their father snapped.

“Then tell him! He needs to be prepared, don’t he? Tell him before I do!”

Then his heavy footsteps sounded on the dirt path. Enda and Cian scrambled back to their respective mats.

 

*

 

It was only seven days later that little Tara Creighton, Nessa’s littlest sister, went missing on her way to the shop.

The whole town turned out to search, and search they did, for seven fruitless hours.

Until Cian himself found her stumbling out of the woods down near the stream.

Nessa was the first to come running at Cian’s call. “Are you hurt?” she demanded, her palm on her sister’s forehead.

She was so preoccupied searching her little sister for injuries that she forgot Cian was there. Surely she’d have sent him away if she’d realized. But others were crowding around them now, pushing and shoving to get a look at the foundling. Was she hurt? Was she okay? What happened?

The questions came hurtling at the poor little thing, but Tara was quite as spirited as her sister and seemed to be basking in the attention. There were leaves and twigs in her plaits, and her day dress was a mess Mrs. Creighton would surely have to burn.

“You’ll never guess what happened to me!” she cried, her eyes alight with excitement. “I got lost!”

“Lost?” somebody repeated. For how did one get lost on the way to a shop one had visited every week of one’s life?

“Well, I saw a hare,” Tara admitted, “and I went chasing after it, and I lost it round about the stream”—here she pointed with her left hand, as if anyone didn’t know where the stream was—“but I decided to keep walking anyway, in case I could find it again. And then when I got tired, I realized I didn’t know how to get home. So I turned around and walked some more, but maybe I didn’t turn quite far enough, because no matter how far I walked, I never reached home.”

“Arah!” someone grumbled. “What a waste of a day!”

“Wait!” Tara cried, afraid of losing her audience. “That’s not the exciting bit!”

“Then get to it, girl!”

“Well, I happened upon a stag, din’t I!” she exclaimed. “And I thought for sure I was a goner, for ’e was squaring up to me, for I must’ve frightened him! But then, out of nowhere, a great big wolf came bounding and scared the stag off!”

There was a collective gasp around the gathered neighbors.

“And I thought it was a boy wolf at first, but she came over to me when the danger was gone and said to hold her fur and she’d show me the way home, and it was a girl’s voice.”

“Here!” someone shouted. “She’s been listening to Dahey’s stories!”

“Have not!” Tara shouted, her tiny fists on her hips. Cian hated to admit it, but he was wont to agree with the naysayer. Tara wasn’t yet six, and she had the imagination of a storyteller.

“Yeah? Prove it, then!”

But Tara was also a Creighton, and they each had the tenacity ten times their peers. The little girl opened her palm, and in her hand was a tuft of gray fur.

Her audience gasped.

It seemed, to the casual observer, quite like the nonexistent wolves of Ireland were becoming restless.

 

*

 

In her joy at having her sister back safe and sound, and her confusion over her sister’s tall tale, Nessa quite forgot to shoo Cian away. So he sat with the family as they received neighbors and celebrated Tara’s health late into the night. Of course, Enda was there, too, but Nessa was far too occupied to give either brother much of her time. Cian was equally disappointed and relieved. When the brothers finally returned home, their father sat at the table, their mam curled on her bed in the corner, her back to the room.

“What’s happened?” Cian asked, glancing at his mother’s back.

“Nothing’s happened,” his father said, gesturing for them to have a seat. “But there’s something I need to tell you lads. Straight away. I wanted to wait as long as possible, but…” He cleared his throat.

Wary, Cian took a chair across from his father.

“I can’t explain what I’m about to tell ye,” their father began. “But I need ye to trust me.”

A strangled wail came from their mother’s bed, and both boys turned to look at her, but their father didn’t flinch. Only Jack sat at her feet, concern clear in his furry little face.

“The Whelans have a curse upon them,” their father went on, his voice shaking. “But we aren’t the only ones. For as long as time itself, the Whelans and the Maguires have had this curse upon them.”

The Maguires? Cian glanced at Enda. His face was just as pale as Cian’s felt. Nessa was a Maguire, and Fintan O’Toole—through their mothers.

Jack’s nails tapped on the floor as he went over to the door to Grainne’s room, only to sniff around and return to Cian’s mother. Then he did it twice more. It sent a chill down Cian’s spine.

“It’s said that a saint was the one to do it, many centuries ago. For reasons lost to time.” Their father took a deep breath. “I don’t want you two to be afraid—”

A scratching on the front door made them all fall silent—even their mother’s sobs. Jack looked at the front door, ears perked, but stayed put, in front of Grainne’s door.

“Heavens,” their father breathed, “not yet.”

But when he launched to his feet, they didn’t move him toward the front door.

Cian leapt to his feet in fright, for his father was halfway to the bolted doorway to where Grainne lay. Jack scurried away, scared, and Cian and Enda were behind him in an instant, the both of them tearing off the boards together, though they didn’t understand the fervor. Their father threw open the door as Cian wrenched the last board from the frame, and they scrambled into the room, Mam and their grandparents close behind.

Grainne lay, as ever, atop the bed, but their father kneeled at the bedside and gazed at her like he never had before. Almost as if he was waiting for her to…do something.

“What—” It was Enda, voicing what was in Cian’s mind, but his voice cut off as he collapsed into a heap on the floor.

“Enda?” Cian wailed. But he seemed to be the only one in his family to notice.

For Grainne sat up in bed, her eyes wide, her hands held in front of her face like she’d never seen them before.

“Mam?” she gasped. “Dad?”

Their mother shrieked, and their father burst into tears, and Grainne disappeared in their collective embrace. Their grandmother stroked Grainne’s feet and murmured, “My pet, you made it, you’re okay, my pet,” over and over again while their grandfather cried nearby and Jack leapt onto the bed to lick Grainne’s face.

Cian just stood there. Frozen to the spot. His sister, who’d disappeared before he could fully form memories of her, was alive and breathing, her lungs rattling like death itself. And there his brother lay, as still as the tomb. “The curse?” Cian whispered.

Had the curse brought Grainne back from the dead? And taken Enda in the same moment? But no one heard him.

Cian’s breath came fast, his chest heaving, and he backed out of the room. His father’s sturdy hands clasped around his arms, holding him up.

“It was his time,” his father said, his calm, steady tone returned. “Just like it will be your time eventually.”

“My-my time?” Cian spluttered.

“Son, we are the faoladh,” he said. “The Whelans and the Maguires, we are the last wolves of Ireland.”

“The what?” Cian breathed.

“Your brother’s time has come, and yours will, too, in seven years.”

Cian shook his head, horrified. Finally, something broke through the haze in his mind. A scratching. The scratching at the front door. It was followed by a howl.

Breathing heavily, Cian started for the door, but his father wrenched him back. “No!” he cried. “Don’t open it.”

“What? Why? What is it?” Cian wailed.

His father turned Cian around to face him and lowered his head so that his wide eyes were all Cian could see. “He will leave in the night and keep to the woods as his human memories fade away. And then you must promise me you won’t go looking for Enda. He’s not himself now. Though the faoladh are kind creatures, they are wolves. Should they be crossed at the wrong time, serious injury can occur. Many a man has met his death at the hands of a hungry faoladh who didn’t know his own heart. I know it will be tempting, with him living so near, but you must not think of him as your brother for these next seven years. You must promise me you will not search him out!”

Cian gaped at him. Enda was out there—right now—and that’s where Grainne had been all these years!

“Cian!” His father shook his shoulders.

“I-I won’t,” Cian whispered.

His father released him, and Cian stumbled. He was only several steps from his brother’s body. Enda looked as pale and lifeless as Grainne had looked for seven years. His eyes were closed, as if he were sleeping, and Cian supposed, in a way, he was. But his limbs were splayed so unnaturally, it made Cian’s chest hurt, even if he knew his brother lived still. He reached out, wanting only to rearrange his brother into a peaceful resting pose like his sister had taken for years.

But his father’s hand clasped his shoulder. “I’m, sorry, lad,” he said. “But we cannot move his body, for if we do, his soul won’t be able to find it again. If he survives these seven years as a wolf, he will return to us. I swear it to you, my son.”

Cian took a stuttering breath and nodded. Grainne was alive. And Enda was gone. For now. And Cian hadn’t been seeing things seven years ago. The wolf on the edge of the woods, that had been his sister. And Dahey and Tara. None of them had been lying.

Grainne was standing now, their mam’s arm wrapped protectively around her middle. Grainne stepped slowly, as frail as their grandmother, who came behind her, her arms outstretched as if Grainne was a toddling babe who might fall at any moment. Grainne’s skin was still wan and her hair limp around her shoulders. Her eyes moved from Enda’s body to Cian, who stood, shaking, near the doorway.

“Don’t worry for him, Cian,” Grainne said, and her voice was as scratchy as gravel. “He isn’t alone. The next in the Whelan line has joined the next Maguire.”

Swallowing the lump in his throat, Cian nodded. And slowly, it dawned on him. His brother was indeed the next Whelan. And Nessa the next Maguire.

As the thought hit him, he realized the scratching had stopped. Cian went to the front window and looked out. He saw the large gray wolf in the garden as it stepped toward the lane. There, a smaller wolf waited, its head hung low. Then, together, they bounded toward the forest.

Read more stories from Fadó, Fadó: Selkies, Kelpies, and Other Celtic Creatures for just $2.99 on Amazon!

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7.4.2017

The Third of July

It’s Monday, July 3rd, but I’m not busy making Fourth of July plans—pool parties, barbecues, family & friends. Instead, the day before Americans turn out en masse to celebrate the country, I spend the morning in a waiting room with new American immigrants.

It’s silent, and the chairs are hard.

We, the American citizens and permanent residents — the other halves — sit out here as one by one our loved ones are called. We’re separated by a glass door. There are teenagers, college students helping their parents fill out forms. Parents escorting their young children. Entire families applying together.

More often than not, the children are the citizens. The parents want to join them here. It’s summer. There are a lot of kids being toted along. “Yes, you can bring the child in with you.” The workers are kind. It’s a relief. We’ve all dealt with the opposite too often on this journey.

I watch one tiny girl go in, grabbing the strap of her mother’s purse for security. We’ve already been through metal detectors. This is a different kind of security. Her eyes round, she looks around, to the side of the room I can’t see for the frosted glass. What’s back there? I wonder. Whatever she sees, her eyes relax, and I feel myself relax.

Today, it’s just fingerprints and photos. One tiny step in the long, expensive process that is applying for permanent residency in the United States of America. Next time we’re in this building will be harder.

“Fingerprints or interviews?” the security guard had asked when he caught us looking at the building map in the lobby. It’s the interview I’m scared of. Speaking so openly of our life with a stranger. I’m not an outgoing person. And I already know the immense strain of handing your fate over to a bored government employee.

Some people are up there, on the third floor, doing just that as I fidget down here, waiting. They’re running fifteen minutes behind, but even that is familiar, comfortable. It doesn’t calm my nerves any, but I know our journey is easy compared to others’.

I’ll probably go to the parties today. Enjoy my family and friends. But my mind still wanders in the quiet moments. I wonder what that little girl is doing for the Fourth. Is her mom nervous about her interview?

This Fourth of July, please remember those Americans sitting in a stuffy waiting room for a loved one to get fingerprinted — and send your good vibes to all those American hopefuls.

Sincerely Annie

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12.27.2016

What it’s like to explore the INSIDE of a glacier

While in Reykjavik recently, we had the incredible opportunity to visit Langjökull, the second-largest of Iceland’s four glaciers.

We’d passed the glacier on several other tours, and that was one of the most surreal experiences. You’re looking out the window at the mountains and the vast sky above, when something twinges in your brain and you realize that white sky you’re looking at isn’t sky at all.

Like an optical illusion, the image twists and it slowly becomes apparent that the snow-white bit behind the mountains is land.

Langjökull glacier Iceland

Looking at Langjökull from afar.

As it was an unbelievably mild December—any Icelander you ask about the weather will point out the obvious: global warming—the chance of seeing a real, nature-made ice cave was small. So we opted instead for the man-made ice cave created by the tour company Into the Glacier.

While it sounded way less cool than a natural ice cave, it turned out that this man-made cave provides an unprecedented look into the life of an ice cap!

Into the Glacier

The journey from Reykjavik was long, but we started to get excited when we reached Húsafell, where we met the staff and they outfitted us with snowsuits and thick shoe coverings. (It felt like wearing two pairs of shoes.)

From there, a bus took us to the monster truck that would transport us to the glacier. It was a James Bond-like experience just to climb onto one of these things.

Langjökull glacier Iceland

The monster truck then transported us up into the mountains, at which point a crow started to follow the truck. The tour guide (who told us to call her “Goody” since we couldn’t pronounce her name) explained that a pair of crows were so used to the trucks that they often followed them.

Langjökull glacier Iceland

One of the crow friends hanging at base camp.

We stopped at base camp for one last bathroom break, and Goody explained how the glacier has its own climate. I didn’t really understand what she meant until we all climbed back on the monster truck and headed on. The ground switched from dark brown to snow-white instantaneously, and within minutes, it was snowing and the monster truck was buffeted by wind.

Langjökull glacier Iceland

Where mountain meets glacier.

It was slow going across the glacier, and when we finally stopped and stepped outside, I felt like we were on National Geographic.

Langjökull glacier Iceland

Langjökull glacier Iceland

What planet is this?!

Visibility was low, and I couldn’t even see the entrance to the cave. When I did see it, I started to get a bit scared.

Langjökull glacier Iceland

What have I gotten myself into?

I was about to descend beneath 20-25 meters of pure ice.

Thankfully, Goody explained that the glacier was really quite safe. For example, during an earthquake, the glacier is the safest place to be, since it actually sits on top of the land and will move with it.

And so we descended.

Langjökull glacier Iceland

Christmas lights guided us down.

The first stop was to outfit our shoes-within-shoes with spikes.

Langjökull glacier Iceland

Because I’m not clumsy enough as is.

Then we were off!

Langjökull glacier Iceland

Since there’s no way I can possibly explain this experience in full, I’ll go with the highlights:

1. The layers. The glacier is made up of layers upon layers of compacted snow and ice. And, like the rings of a tree, the layers are easily discernible from inside. This makes it easy to date the glacier.

Langjökull glacier Iceland

Look at all those snowfalls!

On our trip, we got to see the thick line of dark gray along the cave walls that was made by a layer of ash settling on the glacier when Iceland’s Eyjafjallajökull volcano erupted in 2010. This was especially fun for me, because I was one of the thousands of people stranded in mainland Europe during the eruption in 2010! You can read about my experiences back then here and here.

Want to know the funniest part? While all air traffic of Europe came to a screeching halt, things went largely unchanged for Iceland, because Eyjafjallajökull is at the southern edge of the island, and the wind carried most of the ash to Europe.

2. Drinking from a glacier. Goody advised us to bring a water bottle, and I was one of the few who did. When we reached a small fissure in the glacier, beneath which ran a babbling stream, she took my water bottle and dipped it right in. I got to drink ice-cold water straight from a glacier! Take that, Ice Mountain!

Langjökull glacier Iceland

The freshest water I’ve ever had!

3. The echo. The deeper we got into the glacier, the louder the echo. To demonstrate the effects, Goody sang us an Icelandic lullaby. It felt like a moment straight out of Lord of the Rings.

4. The fissures. Of course, ice breaks. We’ve all seen it crack. And it’s no different for an ice cap. Within the glacier, there are giant fissures—big enough for a truck to drive through. And the ice cave give us the opportunity to walk through them.

Langjökull glacier Iceland

One of the fissures.

Langjökull glacier Iceland

Another fissure

The ice cave has to be constantly maintained, because snow keeps covering the entrance. Workers continually have to dig it out, which means the entrance tunnel is far longer than it originally was.

Langjökull glacier Iceland

The ever-growing entrance tunnel.

Even with maintenance, the guides say the cave will be gone within 10 years.

And the glacier itself? Global warming is taking its toll, and Langjökull is expected to be gone in about 100 years.

It’s a sad state of affairs, as smaller glaciers act as harbingers or early indicators of changes to come. If you’d like to read more about that, check out this site that explains it much better than I can.

Into the Glacier works to offset the carbon footprint of their operations by planting 5,000 trees a year. In fact, the entire country is incredibly sustainable and forward-thinking. It’s inspiring, and I hope the rest of the world will take note.

Langjökull glacier Iceland

Sincerely Annie

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