[Image description: A rocky path surrounded by cliffs.] Image originally by Petura.
Ronda and Tonya are young women locked away so their noisome hallucinations don’t “bother” society. Ronda is determined to summon a selkie from the sea and become immortal; all so she and Tonya can live somewhere where no one will bother them.
But fairy gifts always require a sacrifice.
Chapter One | Warning: This chapter contains fat and ableist slurs
Inevitably books were the comfort of the lonely and marginalized. In time Ronda made friends with Tonya, a girl a year younger with auditory delusions that manifested in two ways. When she was stable they could be tiny instruments playing soft music around her person. When she was stressed, that small orchestra became critical mouths. They would comment on her dark skin color, her curly hair and weight. When she was in a very bad way they became a cacophony of shrieking.
The two girls shared their books between them. They enjoyed the escapism of fantasy and science fiction especially. Though there was little in the way of representation of themselves. In time Ronda set aside conjured fairy tales and fables for the thread of truth within the lore. She had never forgotten what she had seen in the waves on the day of her arrival.
“We can escape.” She decided three years after her imprisonment.
“What?” Tonya frowned over the rim of a thick tome. She was sitting with her back against Ronda’s bed with Ronda atop it. The door was closed as tightly as it was when they locked Ronda in every night.
“I was never asked if I wanted to be here, were you?”
Tonya slowly shook her head. She glanced towards Ronda’s door, as if they were prisoners planning a mutiny. And to Ronda that was the exact problem.
“I just put my pills beneath my tongue, you know, after they just made me zonked and the alters didn’t go away.” Ronda snorted.
“Ronnie!” Tonya hissed. Ronda shrugged at her.
Ronda didn’t feel as if the alters were an impairment of her life. Sure sometimes people felt out of control and they needed pills to help them, like that schizophrenic girl in her class, but that wasn’t her right now. And why couldn’t she be the one to make that decision?
“Like they do you any good.” Ronda huffed. Tonya scowled but she couldn’t counter the pills had educed, but not eliminated the voices.
Ronda bounced on her knees on her bed as she watched the wheels turn in Tonya’s head.
The alter next to her never stirred. Tonya had been as frightened of them as anyone else at first, and though sometimes she still seemed uneased by their unearthliness. Tonya absent-mindedly waved away a small violin and trumpet that had appeared at her ear.
“But…do you really think I could live outside?” Tonya asked incredulously. “I would be too much of a distraction.”
It was why even the functional had been placed here. Their neuroses and broadcasts were simply too annoying. No one wanted to be caught in a bus with someone who had shrieking, abusive voices assailing everyone in hearing distance. Certainly, no one wanted a six foot shadow man looming over them in the office! This they had been told again and again by Mrs. Brown, the octogenarian in charge of their therapies. If medication and therapy couldn’t be used to correct such conditions, the afflicted person had no choice but to live separately from society.
Ronda beamed, she lived to encourage her friend.
“Yes.” It was as simple as that. Ronda could see by Tonya’s furrowed brow she wasn’t convinced. The older girl swung her legs over the side of the bed. “Think about it, if we could just find a place where no one would bother us we get along great. I mean we don’t bother each other. So, why couldn’t we?”
“Bother us?” It was a new concept to Tonya. To Ronda however it was the truth. She didn’t bother other people, they bothered her with their intolerance and demands.
“And they’ll hunt us down. Take us back.” Tonya snorted and looked back down at her book as the instruments on her shoulder had faded. She looked up again at Ronda with an obvious thought. “How would we have escaped anyway?”
“Ever heard of a selkie?” Ronda asked. Tonya blinked at her.
“The seal woman from Irish lore?”
“Uh huh. You can summon one by crying seven tears into the ocean.” Ronda nodded sagely. “I read about it in this book.”
Ronda retrieved it from under her bed, her orange hair flooding over her neck and onto the floor. Tonya gave a brusque sigh. Ronda pushed the heavy book towards the other girl, the pages were already opened to the section with selkies. Tonya picked it up and placed it in her lap.
“And if you managed to get one to come to you, what would you have done?” She asked.
“I’d offer my body in exchange for passage to Tir Na Nog. Selkies have a thing for humans.” Ronda raised her chin. Just like the heroines did in all those old romance novels. “It’s the Kingdom under the Sea, where no one ever grows old.”
Tonya could no longer hold in her amusement. She laughed, “You want to be fifteen forever?”
“Well”, Ronda realized she had never thought of it that way. She shrugged, “I make the sacrifice if it meant we get to live forever somewhere where no one would ever bother us.”
“You don’t think fairies would?” Tonya raised an eyebrow. Ronda looked away.
“As I said I let the selkie have me, and it be okay after that.”
“You’re so cavalier.”
“Thanks.” Though Ronda was not quite sure what that meant. She looked back at her friend. “Will you go down to the shore with me?”
“How?” Tonya prompted again with a sigh.
“Easy. You know how I’ve been assigned kitchen duty? Mrs. Brown has trusted me enough to let me lock up at night.”
“‘Goodness! Ronda! You’ve made such progress!’” She imitated the former nurse’s faux British accent. She grinned as she resumed her own voice. “I’ll just ‘forget’ to lock the back door.”
Tonya was quiet for a long time. She licked her lips and at last said “You know if we’re caught they’ll probably lock us in our rooms for a week.”
“That’s okay. If they do I’ll knock on the walls like this.” Ronda leaned against the wall at her headboard and knocked it with her knuckles in a rendition of “A Shave and a Haircut”. “And you’ll know then I’m thinking of you, whatever the voices say.”
Tonya dropped her head and gave a small laugh. She raised her head however and her body followed. She enclosed Ronda in a tight hug.
“Okay, then. I’ll follow you anywhere.”
They ran down to the shore with hands held. It was dark and cold. The water below sent drafts of cold air screaming up the cliff face. Once they were away from the lights of the institution they had moonlight alone. Flashlights would too easily alert the staff some of the patients had fled. Ronda purposely choose the night the moon was at its zenith. She also waited until she was menstruating. She would always remember her the blood between her legs had been blamed for her disassociation.
They found the small path that led about halfway down the cliff. After that they had to climb down. It was along that precipice however the voices Tonya could not keep inside manifested.
“Fat, stupid bitch!” The lolling mouth screeched into the night. The insult bounced against the cliff as sharply as any projectile. Tonya flinched but swallowed and squared her shoulders. She met Ronda’s gaze, she was going to complete this with her. Ronda gently squeezed her hand and led her further down.
“You’ll never do anything; you’re worthless!”
“Hey, Tonya, you just won the fuck-up of the month award!”
Tonya’s face twisted as she tried to shut out the voices. Ronda knew however she had no more control over them than she did the alters. She could only guide her friend down towards the soft sand where the alters were already waiting for them.
The sight of them gave Ronda pause, she had never seen them actively wait. It was an acknowledgement something was happening in her sphere. Were these entities beginning to evolve?
She ignored them as she helped Tonya down from the cliff face. Their hands were raw and their knees scraped even with jeans on. It had been a perilous descent, and there was no way they could ascend the grating surface. Tonya collapsed with gasping breaths, partially from her exertion but more from the abuse of her voices. She held her head high however even as the voices continued to scream at her. They only abated as she led Ronda by the hand down to the shore, down to the waiting shadows that had become beyond opaque in the moonlight.
“So…seven tears, right?” Tonya glanced up towards the cliff however, wondering as Ronda was if they would notice earlier than the two am check that they were gone.
“Yeah, but, I’m not sure if that means saline tears.” Tonya raised an eyebrow and Ronda shrugged. “I’m on my period and it may have meant…that.”
“Oh, gross!” Tonya shook her head.
“Okay, listen, when the alters first showed up everyone said it was because of my period.” Ronda explained.
Scientists had postulated they were inter-dimensional beings. Entitles that existed in the fourth dimension that were somehow crossing over into our dimension. Doctors had pronounced they were departed dead, reaching out for help. Priests had decried them as demons from hell.
Everyone had blamed Ronda however.
Her parents had been told her budding sexuality had torn a rift in space-time as only a female could by scientists. The doctors had blamed the alters on the schizophrenia of adolescence. The priest had theorized she must have recently lost her virginity and was tempting demons to her side.
So she would do just as they had told her she could.
“They said that demons can smell blood or whatever. So why not fairies?”
“You guys went to a messed up church.” Tonya frowned. Ronda shrugged, well it had certainly gotten her here.
“I’m gonna take off my pants and underwear and go into the ocean. You can cry into it.” Ronda announced.
“You’re gonna get a cold!”
“Worth it.” Ronda laughed as she slipped off her jeans and underwear and carefully folded them. She placed them atop the two small, and waterproof, bags Tonya and she had packed. On a second thought she removed her shirt as well.
Five minutes later and Ronda wished she was not so foolhardy. She also hoped this would not be when Mrs. Brown appeared with her “oh my!” and “goodness!” in the most annoying tenor possible in the Queen’s English. There was no way that arthritic eighty year old was going to be able to scale that cliff however. She wrapped her arms around herself as she now only wore a bra in the frigid sea.
Tonya didn’t need much prompting to play her part. The voices were still echoing in her soul. She collected her tears in her hand and released them into the froth. Ronda stood rigid and hoped she was actively bleeding. Her jaw was tight to prevent it from chattering. Slowly however her body was beginning to adjust in some small way to the frigid water. Tonya glanced at her.
“Do we say something?”
“I don’t know.” Ronda admitted as her teeth rattled in her shivering mouth. She licked her lips and raised her voice. “Hey selkie! We want to talk to you!”
“You need to get your fool ass out of the ocean before you freeze to death,” Tonya murmured. Ronda turned to face her with some oblique statement of hope. She then felt cold hands land on her shoulders. A voice as fine as ocean spray licked over her ear.
Ronda turned on her heels and lost her footing. She fell beneath the surface of the water where she could see the shadow of legs. She quickly pushed herself back up. Her hair was now matted over her face. She quickly pushed it back to see a woman standing in the moonlight.
The woman was shaped much like a seal. She was fat with pendulous breasts and a slouching belly. She was heavier than Tonya at her180lbs though about as tall as Ronda and Tonya both at about five foot and a half. She had a dark complexion with freckles crowning her nose and cheeks.
She was the most beautiful woman Ronda had ever seen.
She had sloe eyes that were large and bright. Her lips were full and inviting. Her hair was silver and sleek, clotted on her neck and shoulders in the ocean spray. Upon her shoulders was tied a grey seal pelt, just like that of the harbor seals that crowded the shore of this very cove.
“Ha….are you, um, a selkie?” Ronda’s heart began to fill with glee. She had done it! Or, Tonya had. Either way they had done it! As Ronda rejoiced an alter was suddenly near. The fairy gave it a nonplussed look.
“I am Maeve, a Daughter of the Ocean.” She confirmed. She raised a shapely eyebrow. “You two are the sort of humans who broadcast your inner workings.”
“Ah, yes. Don’t worry about them,” Ronda waved a hand at the alter. “They do no harm. None of our stuff does.”
Ronda glanced over her shoulder at Tonya. The other girl was crouching on the shore like prey in the sight of a predator. Before Ronda could begin to fathom her reaction Maeve spoke again.
“Don’t underestimate yourself. Having separate selves is a very useful trait.” The selkie narrowed her eyes. She raised her chin, “what do you want Pilgrim?”
“Um, my name is Ronda, Vogelsang. Ronda Vogelsang.” The selkie didn’t acknowledge the correction. Ronda’s shoulders dropped. “And she’s Tonya Redside.”
Tonya said nothing after her introduction. The air grew tense with a sublimated hostility that was as much carried in the selkie’s beautiful eyes as Tonya’s silence.
“Okay, so I have a deal for you.” Ronda became poignantly aware of her nudity. She drew her arms up over her soaked bra. “If you take us to Tir Na Nog, I’ll let you sleep with me.”
“Don’t do it!” Tonya suddenly cried out. Ronda turned towards her. Tonya pushed herself up. Her tear soaked cheeks shined in the moonlight.
“Ron, we can find our own way. I don’t trust her!”
“But–!” Maeve interrupted Ronda with a low growl. It raised the hair on Ronda’s neck. She was beginning to see the origin of Tonya’s fear.
“Don’t waste my time Pilgrim. I will take you to Tir Na Nog.” A shadow fell over Ronda as the selkie raised her hand, it was far colder than the churning sea around her. In a second Tonya vanished. Ronda screamed and turned on the selkie.
“What did you do?!”
“I just made sure you wouldn’t steal my pelt.” Upon the selkie’s palm appeared an amethyst of a color unseen by any human before. It was embedded into her very skin. “Your kind are liars and cheats. You lay with me to enslave me. I will no longer allow it. If you take my pelt I will shatter this gem and kill your friend.”
“No! No!” Tears filled Ronda’s eyes. “This isn’t what I wanted! I have no want to enslave someone! I have been a prisoner myself! How can you be so cruel! I just wanted somewhere for Tonya and me to live!”
The selkie was silent. Her sloe eyes were as inert as those of the alters. Ronda beat her chest in agony.
“How do you think people like me are treated?! Something inconvenient to be shut away! I have been locked away for three years! You call me ‘Pilgrim’ that’s something bad too, isn’t it?!”
“A pilgrim is someone who can walk many paths.” The fairy narrowed her eyes. She bowed her head. “And your words have moved me. I cannot trust you, but I will give you a boon human. I will take you to the entrance of Tir Na Nog. You will find however the path that leads to it is not easy to walk. You are mortal, to become immortal, to live as a fay, a sacrifice is required.”
“When will you give me Tonya? How will she become immortal?”
“She too must walk the path and sacrifice. I would give her to you after we make love.”
“No.” Ronda narrowed her eyes. “If I complete the journey, I’ll be fay, right? You could trust me then, couldn’t you?”
The selkie looked at her a long time. She at last nodded. “But how can I know you’ll survive?”
“For Tonya, I will.”
“Then,” the selkie offered her hand where Tonya was contained. Ronda shied away and dressed on the shore. She could no longer stand such vulnerability. When she was fay would she be as free as the selkie to stand in defiance of all mortal propriety? Nothing chained that creature!
She gathered their two bags, nothing more than a few changes of clothes and some especially loved books. Ronda returned to her guide and offered her hand. She enclosed Tonya with the livid pulse in her palm.