David W Landrum tells a tale of Hollywood actresses, mythical Irish sea creatures and vast sunken treasures on the shores of Lake Michigan.
I had just finished fixing the dock at our family's business, a bed and breakfast which also takes people on tours of the small islands out in the bay that gave our town its name, when a very lovely girl I didn't know walked down the beach and stopped to watch me work.
She had to be a tourist. In a town as small as Island Bay, everyone knows everyone, and I had not seen this girl before. Tall with long hair and a pretty body, she wore a white smock and blue shorts. She was barefoot. I smiled at her.
"Hello," she said. She glanced at the sky and then over at my boat, moored at the dock, and added, "You'd better pull your boat up on shore."
"Storm coming," she said.
The sky looked clear. "I don't see any storm clouds."
"It's coming. It will be a bad one."
"Do I know you?"
"I just moved in. My name is Kleura. I've started working at Ryndall's."
Ryndall's, the fanciest restaurant in town, and a real draw for tourists, hired pretty girls. The place had a classy reputation, and was a large draw for tourists, especially ones from the larger cities like Detroit and Grand Rapids and hip/cool areas like Traverse City and Ann Arbor - and of course, the Chicago crowd, who came here in large numbers during the summer.
"I'm Bailey," I said.
She laughed. "That's a nice name. I'm from Ireland - 'Bailey' is a common name there - though it's usually a last name."
"You sound like you're American."
"I've worked hard on covering up my accent."
"You do it very well - which is maybe too bad. Irish speech is charming."
Actually, I couldn't tell an Irish accent from British, Australian or Scots. Still, I wanted to test her friendliness.
"Well, if you come to Ryndall's, I'll maybe drop the American speech - for you."
"I'd like that."
She looked up at the sky once more. "As I said: storm coming. I'd better get along. Get your boat out of the water. I'll make sure your dock isn't harmed."
And with that, she walked away.
I stood there in the water. I thought I felt a twinge in the air. If you live near a large body of water, and if you spend a lot of time on boats, you develop a feel for weather. I sensed the air pressure dropping at a more than usual rate. Clouds had loomed up over the horizon.
I hitched my trailer up to my truck, backed it down into the water, cranked my boat up on it, and pulled it into the garage. I wondered what she had meant by sparing my dock. By now the sky had darkened. My dad walked out the back door. Out over the lake, a long, oddly-shaped cloud had formed. It was swirled like a jelly-roll, grey, heavy with rain and - well, just sinister.
"You got the boat in?" my dad asked.
"Probably best." He looked at the spiral cloud formation. "This isn't good," he said.
Just as he finished saying that, I felt the first drop hit my shoulder. Twenty seconds later, a torrent came and the wind kicked up, driving the raindrop like bullets.
Dad and I ran into the house. Mom and my two sisters and two little brothers worked frantically to secure windows and door.
In minutes we were engulfed by a full-blown storm. Wind buffeted the house, bent trees and frothed the lake into whitecaps. Tree branches crashed to the ground. Dad, my oldest sister, and I sprinted through the deluge to the bed and breakfast, which is separate from our house, to close the windows there. The downpour soaked us in moments. I noticed wind-driven water had sloshed out of the lake and covered the small parking lot behind the B&B. Leaves flew through the sky. A metal sign that said PRIVATE PARKING pulled off, spun, flipped end-over-end through the air, and broke the windshield on our neighbor's car. Once we secured the B&B, we ran back to our house, changed clothes, and settled down to ride the storm out.
For the next hour the wind scoured the land and churned the lake. Lightning lit the sky and rain came in lashing torrents, slamming against our house as if some angry like god was flinging it at us by the handful.
Power went out. We lit candles and then got our old kerosene lamps out. It made us feel cozy like the safe haven house should be. Looking out at the storm, I breathed a sigh of relief that I had followed Kleura's advice and got my boat out of the water. If I hadn't, it would have been upended by wind, blown out of the lake, and smashed.
The storm turned out to be the worst one of the year. The utility company got power back online in a couple of hours, but our city had been hit hard. Tree branches blocked roads. Boats foundered on shore, shoved out of the water by wind and waves. Homes and business had suffered damage.
Storms hit along the lake all the time, but this one, right on the eve of tourist season, came at exactly the wrong moment. Tourists would arrive up soon. If the town looked like a wreck, they would find other spots to vacation. A lot of people would be out of money.
When our family got outside to survey the damage, we noticed, in contrast to the ones up and down the bay, our dock stood unharmed. We did some minor repairs and I resolved go to Ryndall's, thank Kleura for her warning, and try to find out a little more about her.
Ryndall's has been in operation ten years. The owner and his wife had graduated from the culinary programs, were hard-working and good at what they did, and soon Ryndall's ranked as one of the top eating places in the state. I dated their daughter, Lillian.
Lillian, a hip, quirky girl, worked with her mom and dad in the kitchen, though she resisted her parents' constant suggestion she become a chef. I liked her, though at times her quirkiness act annoyed me.
She dressed hip - kind of Euro-cool; you could imagine her as French or Italian. I asked her if she knew Kleura. Of course, she wanted to know why I was interested in her new co-worker.
"I met her the other day. She seemed to know a lot about weather. She told me I needed to get my boat out of the water because a storm was coming. If I hadn't pulled it and put in the garage, it would have blown up on shore and split in half."
"She's from Ireland - lived on the seacoast all her life, she told me. I like her. She's pretty."
"I'll agree with that." I didn't tell her about the dock.
The place was about half full. Everyone in the room did a double-take when the doors opened and Olivia Millay walked in.
Olivia Millay had starred in three successful films in the last year, netted an Oscar two years ago (Best Supporting Actress), and then signed on for a television show. The critics said she was slumming and that the move to TV would hurt her career, but the show, Tacoma, about the city in Washington, became one of the most popular on television and Olivia Millay's status as a celebrity shone even brighter.
And, of course, she was gorgeous. Blonde, perfect figure, white teeth, she possessed the kind of good looks required for a starlet. A guy accompanied her. He was also blond and looked enough like her that I thought he must be her brother. It turned out my assumption was correct.
Though Lillian did not work as a waitress, she greeted them and escorted them to a booth. The only reason I could think Olivia Millay might be here was that she might have bought a house on Lantern Lake, four miles away - a large body of water, about three miles long and one-half mile across, clear, spring-fed, and pristine. Several celebrities own property there - a place they could get away from New York and LA and find a little peace and quiet.
Lillian seemed beside herself.
"It's really her," she whispered to me as we stood by the bar. "It's Olivia Millay!"
"Who is the guy with her?"
"Her brother. He's a diver who does underwater filming. Olivia just bought a house on Lantern Lake - a gift for her brother, she said, but she plans to stay there a lot. Isn't that cool?"
I'm not into celebrities a lot; nevertheless, Lillian dragged me over to meet Olivia after she brought their drinks. I was embarrassed, but Ms. Millay responded graciously and I sensed a little bit of genuineness in her. Her brother asked me if I knew about the Standale Bullion Ship.
I smiled. "It's supposed to have gone down somewhere around here, but no one knows for certain. I think it would have been found by now if it had sunk in anywhere nearby. People have been combing the area for eighty years and not a gold brick yet."
"I'm diving for it. A friend of mine came across some old notebooks left in the attic of an old house his family owned. It has some coordinates no one has ever checked out."
"I wish you luck."
"Do you give boat rides?"
"I might want to hire you, then. I have a boat, but it got wrecked in the storm yesterday and will have to be repaired."
"My schedule is completely open."
"Your boat is okay?"
"I took it out of the water just before the storm. It's in top condition."
I gave him my card. He said he would call me later tonight. I told Lillian I was going home. "Her brother is a dreamboat," she whispered as I got ready to go. I almost laughed at the phrase. It sounded old-fashioned, like something my mom would have said when she was Lillian's age. Olivia and her brother waved to me as I headed out the door.
Olivia's brother, Bryce, called me that night and said he wanted to be at his diving site by 9:00. I got up early to catch breakfast at Ryndall's. Kleura waited my table.
The uniform for Ryndall's is a white blouse and black skirt (white shirt and black slacks for guys). Kleura's long-sleeved blouse fit tightly and her skirt was pleasantly short, showing off her marvelous legs. She had pinned a gold name tag with KLEURA emblazoned in black on it just above her left breast. She wore her hair loose so it fell over her strong shoulders. Olivia Millay, I thought, had good looks but couldn't hold a candle to Kleura. I noticed Lillian in the corner watching us.
"You were right about the storm," I said when things slowed down and she got a minute to talk. "I pulled my boat up on shore. It would have been swamped or broken if I hadn't. Thanks for the tip."
"Happy to help." I noticed she said this with an Irish brogue. I smiled back to the mischief in her eyes.
"But I am intrigued about the dock."
"I meant you to be."
"I'd like to ask you about it. Are you busy tonight? If you like drama, one of the local colleges is putting on Hamlet. I'm going and would love to have you as my guest."
She seemed astonished. I laughed.
"What's wrong? You were expecting me to ask you out to a double feature of old Clint Eastwood movies?"
"Well, as a matter of fact, I was." Her Irish accent was melting me. "I love Shakespeare."
"So do I. My mom teaches high school English and took me to every Shakespeare play from Traverse City to Stratford, Ontario. What time can I pick you up, and where?"
"I'll meet you here," she said "That would be easiest."
I agreed. A couple of my friends came by and joined me for breakfast. I ate and got back to my house just in time to meet up with Bryce.
He drove up in a black Mercedes SUV. I helped him load his SCUBA gear into the boat and we set off from my dock, cutting through the waves, calm that day, toward the coordinates his friend had provided. When we got there we dropped anchor.
I knew the spot. It was called the Stepman's Funnel, a dead-end channel closed off at one end up sixteen rocky islets. It cut between the shoreline and a large island. In the older days, my dad had told me, the channel was deeper, but it had filled up with sand over the years. Nobody bothered to dredge it because the islets made it so you could not get out at one end and the channel itself was not wide so it was hard to turn a boat of any size around in the space. People stayed off the island (Altar Island - a French Mission Church once stood on it) due to its large skunk population.
I bought the boat to a halt. He strapped on his oxygen tank. I looked at Altar Island, the channel, and the Stepping Stones.
"I don't see how a ship the size of The Maria could have even fit in this channel, let alone sunk here," I said.
"It was deeper back in 1902. I at least want to check the place out."
He climbed over the side of the boat and sank in the water. I saw the bubbles from oxygen tank move toward the place where the channel opened into the lake.
I settled back and prepared to be bored for an hour. At least the trees had shaded the channel. A half hour passed. I was watching pollen, moved by a slight breeze across the surface of the channel float by, when a loud burst of bubbles broke the surface of the water. After a moment, Bryce's head appeared. He tore off his facemask.
"Help me up," he said, extending his hand. I pulled him into the boat. He unstrapped his SCUBA tank and breathing apparatus. I noticed he had turned off the oxygen valve. I stowed the tank in the boat as he settled into his seat.
"What happened?" I asked him.
"Something cut my line." He pointed. The hose that led from the oxygen tank to the breathing mask had been neatly sliced.
"Did it catch on something?"
"No. I distinctly saw something take a drive at it." He looked straight at me. "No seals live in Lake Michigan, do they?"
I stared a moment. "Seals? No."
"Too cold up here for manatees. Nothing like that lives in the lake."
"I swear what I saw sever that line looked like a seal."
"No seals in the lake. It might have been a sturgeon. They're brown. And they can get pretty big. Most of the big ones live in Lake Superior, not here."
"Might have been that," he replied, shaking the water out of his ears. "But it sure as hell looked like a seal to me."
I took him back to my house. On the way, he commented on how good-looking Kleura was. "I stopped by, got a cup of coffee this morning. She waited on me. She said she knew you."
I asked him what it was like to have a celebrity sister.
"It might be bad if it was anybody but Olivia," he answered. "She hasn't let stardom corrupt he yet. I hope the day never comes."
I liked him. He had not let his sister's money or her proximity to all the glitz of Hollywood ruin him. He was pretty upset about his equipment getting wrecked. When I got him back to the dock he said he would call me if he could get the tank repaired to do more diving tomorrow.
I got cleaned up, mowed the lawn, and helped my mom get things ready for supper. After we finished eating, I got ready to take Kleura to see Hamlet.
She looked beautiful in a short yellow dress, sleeveless, and cut so it called attention to her tall, strong body. I could imagine her as an Olympic athlete. She stood straight and with perfect grace. I inadvertently smiled on seeing her. She returned my smile.
"You look nice," I said.
"You have to be an athlete."
"Well, yes and no. I've swam all my life, but I've never been on a team outside of grade school."
As we were driving to the theater I asked her about the dock.
"I could tell it would weather the storm because it was so well-built, that's all."
"You said, 'I won't let anything happen to it.'"
"That too. We'll talk about it after the play." She paused and then said, quoting the familiar line from Hamlet, "There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy."
We found our seats. The actors played their parts well. Afterward she and I went to a bar I knew in another town that stayed open late. She had a shot of Jameson's. I drank a stinger. We talked about the play, the weather, and our pasts. She spoke with her Irish brogue, which once again charmed me. The bar closed. She told me how to get to her place. It was near the channel where Bryce and I had searched for the wrecked bullion ship.
The moon shone brightly in the sky. I was wondering how much of a kiss to give her when she invited me to walk down to the water. As we walked toward the shoreline, she kicked off her shoes. I thought she meant to go wading but then she reached up, put her hands on the shoulders of her yellow dress, pulled it over her head, and tore off her bra. She had not put on underwear.
I suppose most guys at one point or another fantasize about something like this happening, but when it actually happened to me, it was scary. A nymphomaniac? I thought. A psycho girl? Before I could say anything, she threw her arms around me and fastened her lips to mine. It was at that moment my resistance faded.
I had been in sexual relationships, mostly one-night stands at parties, though Lillian and I got it on pretty regularly. But what Kleura did was way too weird. I meant to push her off and run. Then something caught me (the only way I can describe). A sensation like burning started on my face and went like a heat shock down to my feet. At once I responded to her kisses, began to wildly run my hands over her body and press her into me. In a crazy flash of frantic motion I got my clothes off and her on the grass by the lake and we were making love - no stopping, no thought, nothing but desire, necessity, and pleasure pushing us as we thrashed, groaned and, at the end, shouted when we each got our joy.
I might have slept or passed out then woke up, though it was more like I morphed back to the reality in which I normally lived. I realized I was lying in the grass with her by the side of the lake, our faces only inches apart. She looked at me - not exactly smiling but with a look of happiness on her face - not solemn but looking like someone who has done her duty - a girl in ancient times who had agreed to be the virgin sacrifice and smiles at meeting, on the other side of eternity, the goddess for whom she gave up her life.
"Pheromones," she said.
I blinked in confusion
"You're wondering what set you off so much you forgot all your inhibitions and your fear that I was crazy. I released pheromones to excite you, Bailey. You couldn't help but respond. Works for us every time."
"Us?" I echoed, still not completely recovered from my shock and surprise.
We stood. I got my pants on, but she stood there, white in the moonlight, the lines on her body gently muscled and perfectly toned, breasts shimmering with reflections from the lake, legs and lower half beautiful in strength and grace.
She whistled - sort of - it was more like a yelp or a bark, but so high-pitched I could only call it a whistle. After a moment I heard the water churn, stopped looking at Kleura, and turned my eyes to the channel.
In the moonlight I saw several shapes lumber out the water and waddle onto the shore. I could discern snouts and flippers. I stared, knowing what I saw but denying the sight clearly before my eyes. Kleura stepped nearer and took my hand.
"No, you're not seeing things. They're seals."
There are freshwater seals in a few obscure places around the world, but none in Lake Michigan. Yet I saw them: eight of them, large, brown, staring me. I still could not speak.
"Come on," she said. "Let's go to my place. I'll explain all of this to you."
She got dressed while I was staring at the seals. We turned and headed toward what looked like an apartment complex set back from the shoreline. I remembered it had closed a few years ago when the tourist trade lagged and someone had recently bought it. I hurried to keep up with Kleura's stride.
Inside the complex, she went over to a kitchenette and made coffee - as if seeing seals and having passionate and sudden intercourse as strangers was nothing notable. I waited. She turned back to me and walked over.
"We're Selkies," she said.
I must have appeared completely idiotic to her far about the third time this night because I blinked in incomprehension.
"Do you know what Selkies are?" she asked.
"We're people who can transform into seals - or seals who can transform into people. It all depends on how you look at it."
I felt nonplussed but did not want to look stupid once more, so I said, "I've never heard of 'Selkies.'"
"Most Americans haven't. We live in Europe, especially in the north - Scandinavia, Scotland, Ireland. We're from Ireland, as you can tell by my accent, when I'm not disguising it. We came over here to salvage the bullion ship - The Marie. Yes, it is sunk in the channel. We're salvaging the gold."
"Why are you doing that?"
"For our community. It costs money to live in human society. We own property. Taxes get higher and higher. We're retrieving the gold to pay our bills."
"The ship is in the channel? Why hasn't anyone found it? I know people have looked there."
"It's buried in sand. The ship sank. A week of storms altered the currents in the lake and churned up massive quantities of sand. The ship is completely covered. But your friend, Bryce, knows its location. He did see a seal. It slashed his oxygen line. My herd wants to kill him, but I won't let them because the police and park rangers would investigate, and we don't like people snooping around our nest here. The others in the herd were a little frustrated. That's the only reason I gave in to one of their demands."
"What demand is that?"
"They demanded I send a storm. They wanted to wreck all the boats and all the docks in the area so Bryce couldn't get his boat in the water. I warned you because I think there's a better way to handle the situation."
"You'll find out. It will involve you."
I paused, then asked, "How do you know the details of what happened to The Maria?"
She smiled. "If you live in water all your life, you can read the bottom of the sea or of a lake. It's like a book. I could tell you the weather of each successive year since 1600 if I wanted to - and if I had the time, which I don't." She perked up her ears. "I hear the others. Just a warning: they're not careful to put on clothes a lot of the time."
I heard doors open and heard the sound of feet on stairs. In a moment, a group of six women and four men came in. Two of the men had on clothes; only one of the women had dressed, and she wore only a bikini bottom. Kleura smiled indulgently when she saw me staring.
"Our women are very trim and strong because we swim so much - at least in our true forms."
"Are you a seal?"
"Of course I am. All of us can transform, but I shed my skin, so I will live in a human body for the next seven years."
"You shed your skin?"
"My seal skin, yes. When you're in seal form you can transform to human, but you can't stay human for very long - toxins build up if you stay that way for more than a few days. If you shed your skin, though, you can be fully human for seven years."
"This is crazy."
"Like I said - 'More things in heaven and earth.'"
At that moment, two women, wearing nothing at all and behaving without inhibition, as if being nude was the most natural in the world (and for them, it was), walked by. They were chatting in a language I couldn't understand - maybe seal, I thought; more likely, it was Gaelic. They greeted Kleura, one of them touching her affectionately, and walked on. I stared.
"That's why I screwed you," she said. "I didn't want you going around in a state of sexual agitation. Come along, I have something to show you."
I followed her down a narrow hallway. Kleura led me into a room and turned on a light. I adjusted to the sudden brightness and then gaped. Small pyramids of what looked like gold bars filled the room, shining in the light. I started and then turned to her.
"This is worth an astronomical amount of money."
"It will finance us for the next three-hundred years. But we need to salvage all of it. We can't let anyone - like your friend, Bryce - interfere or stop the process. He has the coordinates of where the ship is located. So, as I told you, I used magic to send a storm. I conjured the storm to sink his boat - and all the others in the area."
"We can do magic. I'll show you more about that in a minute."
"But you spared my boat."
"Yes. My people don't spend enough time in the human world to understand how it functions. They thought, Sink his boat and the threat will be eliminated. They don't understand that a man with money can go out and buy a new boat - or a new SCUBA outfit, in no time. I wanted to bring you in. You can help us, Bailey."
"You'll have to tell me how." I paused then asked, "Are you going to kill Bryce?"
"No," she said. "It's not our way to murder - though some of our herd who are leopard seals think differently, and it's getting harder and harder to constrain them. I have a plan and I need your help. It involves Lillian."
Flags went up in my mind.
"I won't endanger Lillian."
"I would never ask you to endanger her. Come along, I'll show you something that will change your mind."
She led me up a flight of stairs and into a dimly lit room with black-painted walls and no furniture except for a table. A shallow pan of water sat on it. As Kleura and I approached, it began to glow.
I saw an image in the water - blurry at first, then focused. It was of Lillian in a passionate embrace with Michael Vandyke, an old friend from school. She was on top, sitting, moving, lost in pleasure, her pretty, white body (Lillian was sensitive to sunlight and hardly ever went to the beach) undulating in a slow rhythm, ecstasy on her face, lost in the rapture of love.
Kleura waved her hand over the basin of water. It went dark.
"I'm sorry I had to be so frank, but I wanted you to know about Lillian's real affections."
"Lillian is a free-spirited woman," I said, defending her even though what I had seen had shocked and disoriented me. "I'm not surprised she's seeing someone else."
"'Seeing' isn't the word I would use. If you're going to help us, Bailey, you need to know this."
"I'm not sure about helping you. This is really weird. What do you want me to do?"
"Would you be willing to give Lillian up?"
I had not dated any other girls for the last eight months. I knew she flirted around a lot, but I had not known she was screwing anybody but me. I had thought about moving in together when we got to college.
"Lillian and I aren't only seeing each other."
"You thought you were," she said flatly. This got me a little riled. I pointed at the bowl of water.
"So you do your own porn movies with - whatever this is?"
"It's magic. I employed magic to bring up the storm the other day but also to spare your dock. I want to know if you'll help us by allowing Lillian to fall in love with Bryce Millay - and if you would help us with the spell."
"What kind of spell?"
"We need to get Bryce off the scent of the ship. The leopard seals want to kill him. I don't want that. I'm our herd's chief sorceress, so have a little clout, but the herd can overrule me and will if Bryce keeps up his search - and he will find the ship because he's looking exactly where the wreck lies. But I could cast a spell on him that would make him forget about his treasure-hunting altogether."
"By falling in love with Lillian?"
"If it's done properly."
"How? And why Lillian? Why not some other girl?"
"For the spell to be effective we need a part of her body - hair, a fingernail pairing - even a wad of saliva - kind of like in voodoo, though I'm not going to hurt her or him. And the more intimate and - let's say, secret - the more useful in making him fall in love to the degree that he will forget about the dive and go after Lillian like Petrarch went after Laura."
"You know literature?"
"Of course I do, and I was living in Florence when all of that happened. I knew Laura and Petrarch."
"You've lived 500 years?"
"I've shed my skin a lot. Every time I do, I get a new life. I've lived a long time. And magic helps out in that regard as well."
"You're pretty sophisticated for a seal."
"I can do more than bark, clap my flippers, and balance a ball on my nose."
"What's in it for me?"
"If you don't agree, the leopard seals will come after you and Bryce - maybe even Lillian."
"They're that violent?"
"Leopard seals are some of the most vicious carnivores on earth. They'll come after you because they don't want anybody to know about us. And they want the money. They're our version of the Mafia; you don't want to get on their bad side."
"What kind of seal are you?"
She smiled. "I'm a mermaid seal. Look it up. There aren't many of us left."
"So you want Bryce to fall in love with Lillian. And you think if he does, he'll abandon his search for the ship."
"If the spell is done right, he will. And you'll get a stack of gold bars - enough to put you through college and set you up for life."
"You saw how she doesn't limit her affection to you."
That stung. I wondered how many other guys Lillian had on her short list.
"I'll see what I can do."
"I'm sorry I had to break the bad news about your girlfriend. But it's better you know."
"I guess it is."
"You'll help us?"
"I'll get something. Maybe a snip of her hair. I'll help you out."
She looked infinitely relieved. "Thank you, Bailey. You can't imagine how much this means to me."
I thought, having been intimate with her, I had a little idea of how much it meant.
My rational mind told me I had been dreaming, hallucinating, or I was going off the deep end, but I knew none of those things were true. I wasn't going nuts.
Wanting to find out more about Lillian, I met up with Carla Close, an old girlfriend, and, after a few inquiries, she gave me a chronicle of Lillian's amorous adventures. I saw and talked with two other girls I had dated in the past and got the same report. One told me Lillian liked to mock me for naivety and boast about how completely she had duped me. By the end of the day I was ready to assist Kleura in her spell; and I knew a good way to make the spell especially effective, though I didn't quite know how to facilitate what I wanted to do.
I invited her to the B&B. I guess she agreed so readily because she wanted to keep up her ruse. We sneaked in to an empty room, stripped, got in bed, and started our usual foreplay. Then she herself provided the idea to make what I had planned feasible.
"I feel sexy," she said, snuggling against me. "I'm going to play porn star tonight."
"Porn star?" I said, seizing on the unexpected opportunity. "Then you need to look the part." I reached down and brushed the wooly tuft between her legs. "Porn stars shave. But I remember you said you're afraid to do that."
Once she told me she'd thought of shaving but, "It's tricky, and you can get ingrown hairs." I was hoping her proud spirit (and her deceptiveness) would come through, and it did.
"You think I'm afraid to shave my pussy?" After a moment's contemplation, she said, "Go for it," got up, her pretty body white and bare, and headed for the bathroom.
"Don't put what you shave off in the sink," I yelled after her. "Throw in the trash can. I'll get rid of it after you leave. Everything you'll need is in the medicine cabinet."
I listened. I heard the snipping of scissors, then the sound of an aerosol can and the faint scraping of her shaving. After about ten minutes, she returned, all of her pubic hair gone.
"Better?" she asked as slid into bed.
"Perfect," I answered. "You look like a real porn diva now."
Lillian showed passion and abandon, as she always did. A few minutes after we were finished, she said she had to go, showered, dressed, and left.
I went to check the plastic trash can under the bathroom sink. She had followed my instructions. I got out the liner, tied it with a twist, and tossed it in the trunk of my car. The next afternoon, I headed for the apartment complex where Kleura lived with her seal herd.
The guards (leopard seals probably) escorted me to her quarters. As they left, I noticed a photograph of a seal on the desk by her bed. It was not a seal like I had ever seen. It had the round head, whiskered snout, and brown fur, but behind the eyes, on either side, two strands of hair hung down. They were maybe a foot long, curly, spiraling out in two thick columns. I studied it and looked up at her. She smiled.
"I've never seen a seal that looks like that."
"We almost became extinct. We were hunted until only a few of us were left, though our population is building back up. The legends about mermaids got started because sailors would see our locks in the water when we swam close to ships. We almost passed off the scene, but we learned to adapt."
"Sorry to hear."
She shrugged and noticed the bag in my hand.
"You got something?"
"I guess, for a love potion, I got the best thing a person could get."
When she saw what was inside, she was ecstatic.
"This is marvelous! He won't know what to do!" she seized me and kissed me. Then she sprayed me with pheromones.
When we were finished she leaned against me.
"Sorry. I know you humans have more elaborate rituals, but when we're happy we make love." She smiled her pretty smile. "Let's wash off. Then we can do the spell."
"Don't you need something from Bryce?"
"He spit before he dove into the water. One of us retrieved the glob."
We showered and I dressed. Kleura didn't. I remembering hearing that sorceresses did their magic "clothed with the wind" so the material of clothing would not interfere with the magic going out of them. She said something in an odd-sounding language and turned to me. I handed her the bag. She emptied what I assumed was Bryce's phlegm into the tray and then dumped Lillian's pubic hair in. Once the elements of the spell were in place, she lifted her arms and spoke an incantation. A flash of light filled the room, blinding me. When my sight returned, I saw Kleura slumped over the table, looking faint. I went to her.
"I'm okay," she said, straightening up - though she did not look okay. "A spell like that one goes through you with quite a bit of velocity." Then she seemed to recover. "But it's all done. It will be fun to see it work."
I put my arms around her. We held each other for a long while.
"Can you stay with me tonight?" she asked.
I got my cell phone out and called my dad, giving him a story about going camping with some friends. Kleura had put on white shorts and a halter top.
I met more of the herd - twenty-seven of them, quite a few more women than men. Trim, strong, lean, they all radiated marvelous good looks. A few of them only spoke Gaelic, though most knew English. They told me they lived on a strip of Irish coastland developers wanted. Just one failure to pay rent would bring about immediate foreclosure because of the high prices the developers had offered the landowners.
Early in the morning, I drove Kleura to Ryndall's, escorted her in, and got a cup of coffee to go. As I stepped back outside, Ryndall caught me and demanded, "What happened with Lilly?"
I blinked. "I don't know. Did something happen?"
He gave me a hard look but then his face softened.
"Lilly ran off last night with some guy."
"Ran off? Where?"
"We don't know."
"The guy -"
We looked around. Olivia Millay stood behind us, arms crossed, eyes stormy with anger. I looked at her, at Ryndall, and then held up my hands.
"I don't know anything about this. We were dating, but I didn't even know she had another boyfriend - let alone one she would run off with." A sprig of angry annoyance began to well up in me. "I'm not responsible for Lillian, damn it. I think you would do better asking her." I glanced at Olivia. "Or you asking your brother."
They both looked abashed.
"Look," I went on, "I haven't even seen Lillian since we talked briefly at breakfast yesterday. Her running off is news to me."
Ryndall and Olivia apologized. I could see they were afraid and frantic. I also saw that Kleura's spell had worked. It had fallen with full effect on Lillian and Bryce. Ryndall said breakfast was on the house; Olivia asked if she could talk with me. I ordered eggs benedict, coffee, and milk. Olivia had a very un-exotic ham and cheese omelet. Blue eyes, blonde hair, lovely body, she possessed everything that was at once so attractive about Hollywood people and also off-putting for its massive artificiality.
"I'm sorry again," she said. "It was just such a shock."
"I can't explain what happened," I lied - well, I sort of lied, since I really have no idea how magic works. "Lillian and I weren't in any sort of committed relationship. We both dated other people." (Another lie - Lillian did, I didn't.) "It does surprise me a little - though she did say Bryce was a 'dreamboat.'"
"He just broke up with an Indian woman he'd dated for a couple of years - a Bollywood actress. That may have something to do with it."
"I suppose so."
"What is Lillian like?"
Like any sister, she was concerned for her brother. I filed away the thought that we think celebrities live in some rarified kingdom where the pains and worries normal people deal with never enter; and that this is not true.
"Quirky," I answered. "She has a lot of angles and is sharp and quick-witted."
"He might like a girl like that. What puzzles me is that Bryce isn't impulsive. He's like me: calculating, level-headed, doesn't do things without consideration - well, up until now he didn't. It's like someone cast a spell on him."
I glanced over at Kleura who stood near the front counter. She raised her eyebrows just slightly.
"Sometimes that happens," I said, turning my eyes back to Olivia.
That afternoon, Kleura called and told me Lillian and Bryce had showed up at Ryndall's. She apologized for running off and Bryce said he shouldn't have acted so outrageously but they were in love and wanted to get married. Ryndall, Kleura said, told them they were not getting married after only knowing each other for two days. Bryce said they could wait. Lillian grumpily agreed. I found out they were staying together at a swanky hotel up in Traverse City.
I talked to Ryndall later that night. He said Lillian, he, Bryce, and Olivia had retired to a private room for a conference. Bryce agreed to wait a year. During that time, they planned to sail around the world. He said he would teach Lillian to dive.
Over the course of the summer the Selkies recovered all the gold. Bryce abandoned his search for the ship. Despite her parents' objections, Lillian and he departed for a round-the-world tour, during which Bryce said he would teach his new-found love to dive.
As summer drew to an end, and after the gold had been shipped to Ireland, the Selkies slipped into the water for the long trip back to their haunts along the Hibernian coast. All of them were excited about what seemed to me an interminable swim. For them, the sea journey would be a lark and an adventure.
"What about you?" I asked Kleura one day when most of the others Selkies were gone.
"I have to finish the summer out. I'm moving into town, though. I don't want to stay in the apartment complex now that it's almost empty. The workmen we hired are coming in a week to close it up and winterize it. Next summer a group of our people will settle here." She smiled sadly. "Lake Michigan will get some freshwater seals after all. At the end of the summer, I'll go back."
Silence fell - and the question neither of us wanted to ask.
"Have you found a place?"
"You could maybe stay at our B&B."
My family had met Kleura and liked her. My mom said she was the prettiest girl she had ever seen. Kleura's natural, unaffected way made her immediate friends with my sister, my dad and my brothers. When I told them she couldn't find an apartment, they made arrangements for her to have a room at discount. She offered to help with cleaning and cooking in gratitude for the good deal my parents gave her on rent. She worked at Ryndall's. I did tours and helped my dad with his fishing trips. Kleura and I continued our relationship. It seemed like it couldn't possibly work. She was a supernatural creature. She had lived hundreds of years and would live hundreds more.
"Shedding your skin makes you live a long time," she told me. "But magic can help that too. Maybe it could work that way for you as well."
I did not know what to say.
"You've thought about Northern Michigan University. Have you thought about Oxford, our Queen's College in Belfast? With the gold you have, money won't be an issue. My children all live in remote places. I hardly ever see them. Only three of us are human for the long-term, and the other two - Martin and Danielle - are married. I get lonely."
"You have children?"
"I've had several litters of pups. Most of them live in the north - in Russia and Greenland, where they won't be noticed. Our species almost went extinct. Now we don't want a crowd of mammalogists swarming over our habitat and putting us in zoos to protect us. So we lay low."
"Don't you change back in seven years?"
She smiled. "I can change back after seven years, but I don't have to. It's hard being a human, but I like it in a lot of ways. I miss the sea and miss being free, swimming all day, eating fish I catch in the wild, living entirely by instinct. But I don't miss being chased by orcas and sharks and almost drowning during storms - or being stalked by polar bears. And I'll miss you very badly."
I put my arms around her. She shook softly. She was crying.
"Do they have a good geology program at Oxford?" I asked.
She looked up and smiled. She told me, Yes, it was one of the best in the world.