Ada took a deep breath and blew her wish out to sea. Her mother had once told her that the sea could grant a wish – though it would come with a sacrifice. That part had always scared her, but now was a time of dire need. Whatever sacrifice she must make, she was ready – for the sake of her home and family. Her wish was to bring the sun and warmth back to the island, so that the crops would grow again, and the sea would settle. She knew it was a lot to ask.
Every morning following, Ada stood on the shore, feet sinking into sand, cold ebbing into her frail bones, waiting for winter to end and for her wish to be granted. As solstice approached, the waves grew more violent than usual, and Ada was about to give up and return home. But then a sliver of sunlight broke through the clouds and lit up a patch of sea as if it was on fire. Striding forward in the light, the form of a creature was unmistakable. A mane as thick as cotton wool but moving like silk in the wind, trailing seaweed behind like broken and rusted chains.
The creature stepped forwards. Ada’s heart raced. Something stirred in her mind, a story from long ago that said that Kelpies come and go with the tides, taking offerings to the waves. Was this the sea’s way of granting her wish?
‘I have nothing to offer except my gratitude,’ she told the Kelpie, but her words were swallowed by the growing wind.
The Kelpie trod forwards, her hooves barely making an imprint in the soft sand. She whinnied and tossed her head back, revealing a bridle of polished silver. Water drip-dripped from her mane, darkening the sand in her wake. Closer and closer she came, until Ada could smell her breath – sweet like juniper berries, but smoky like peat. The Kelpie bowed her head, knelt with one leg forwards, and looked at Ada with sad, sea-glass eyes. Then Ada understood.
Ada glanced back at her island home. So much of it was different from how it had been in her youth – no longer did the flowers blossom, no longer did seabirds cry overhead, no longer could boats leave the harbour no matter the season. Maybe now it could return to the way it had been, for her children and grandchildren. She closed her eyes and sucked in salty air through her teeth, feeling the sting in her cheeks for one last time.
‘Will it hurt?’ she asked.
The Kelpie brayed, her breath forming a mist between them, spindly wisps reaching out. Ada found her fingers intertwining with the mane, and she pulled herself up, settling in the withers. The Kelpie took one final look at Ada’s island and strode into the sea, until together they melted into the froth and foam of passing waves.
As the sea stilled, the clouds parted. Blue broke grey. Light shone on glittering sand. When the first islander woke up, a piercing cry from a skua rang overhead. In spindly wild grasses, a dandelion bloomed.
Lyndsey is an Edinburgh-based SFF writer. Her short fiction and essays have been published in various anthologies and magazines, including Imagine a Country (Canongate) and Quaranzine (Malefaction Mag). She has also had stories appear in a Liars’ League event and with Cymera Fest. She is currently working on her debut novel and is represented by Robbie Guillory at Kate Nash Literary Agency. Follow her on Twitter at @writerlynds.