March 18th 2022
‘The waves are so still,’ Sara says to me one morning. ‘It’s a bad omen.’
I look up from my breakfast. ‘How so?’
‘When the Sea Mither sleeps, the frost seeps,’ she recounts. ‘But it’s too early for winter.’ She walks over to the kitchen window, arms hugged around her chest.
When I first arrived on the island, Sara’s stories were what drew me to her. Her voice soft and lilting like a spring breeze, with the power to transport you to other worlds. But her words today have an edge to them, her voice distant and vague. Is she worried I’ll leave when winter comes? This was only supposed to be a summer fling after all, but summer soon turned to autumn, the seasons changing as quickly as the tides. I go over and wrap my arms around her, kiss her lightly on the cheek. ‘If the snows come,’ I say, ‘we can keep each other warm.’
But she doesn’t reply or look at me – her gaze is still fixed on the view outside the cottage. On the beach, the old standing stones watch the water as silent guardians. They’ve always unnerved me. Beyond them, black waves ebb and flow. Sara’s right. I’ve never heard the sea so quiet.
I wake in the middle of the night and find Sara gone. The front door hangs open sending a whistling breeze through the house. I pull on a waterproof and wander outside to look for her. A light snow drifts across the landscape, the cold night air smelling of seaweed and salt. Snowflakes melt on my cheeks like teardrops. Too early for winter.
As I cross the beach, a shadow emerges between the standing stones. At first, I think it could be a horse. But on its back is the torso of a man with translucent sinewy skin, arms so long they drag across the ground. Its head lolls to one side. A single red eye traps me in its gaze. My breath catches in my throat.
Sara steps out from behind the creature, a taut expression on her face. I want to yell out and warn her, but I can’t seem to speak.
‘I’m sorry,’ she says. ‘I wish we had more time. But winter always demands its sacrifice.’
She steps to the side as the creature comes towards me. It exhales a long rattling breath, and the snow suddenly swirls around me in a whirlwind, blotting out the light. The piercing cold roots me to the ground.
When the snow clears, Sara and the creature are both gone. I try to move, to shout out for her, but it’s like my body has turned to ice. All I can do is watch the water. A crescent moon reflects on the sea in a Cheshire Cat grin. Waves cackle on the pebbled beach.
The Sea Mither is awake again.
Author Bio: Lyndsey Croal is an Edinburgh-based writer of speculative and strange fiction. She is a Scottish Book Trust New Writers Awardee, and her work has been published in several anthologies and magazines, including Mslexia’s Best Women’s Short Fiction 2021. In 2021, her debut audio drama was produced by the Alternative Stories & Fake Realities podcast, and she is currently editing Ghostlore: An Audio Fiction Anthology, with the same podcast. Find her on Twitter as @writerlynds or via www.lyndseycroal.co.uk.
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