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Author: Andrea Colt
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Synopsis: A young-adult paranormal novel about selkies, tasers, kissing and secrets.
To Cassandra Kelleher, trust is a dirty word.
A teenage selkie who grew up on land, all she wants is to free her family from the man who stole their sealskins long ago. With her twin brother Brennan losing hope and her window of opportunity disappearing like the beach at high tide, she’ll try anything.
Before long, however, Cassandra can’t tell whether her biggest threat is the man holding her family captive, a classmate who’s discovered her secret, or her own paranoia. Battling broken friendships and alarming romantic entanglements, Cassandra finds that trust could be the key to winning her family’s freedom … or losing her own.
Selkies belonged at sea. I knew that. And it wasn’t that I didn’t want to bid Granite Harbor, Maine, a thoroughly un-fond farewell. Frankly, staying on land blew chunks. Big, slimy ones. It meant rules and bargains and danger, and being forced not to spit in faces that desperately deserved it.
But selkies couldn’t become their true selves without their sealskins, and my parents and older brother were trapped apart from theirs, forced to stay ashore in human form. Until two-and-a-half years ago Brennan and I had been trapped too; we hadn’t even known of our true natures then, so we’d grown up like normal kids, or near enough.
Now that we knew the truth, and had our sealskins—a gift with a price I hated to think about—we should be at sea. It was unnatural for selkies to stay on land. But though Brennan and I were free, the rest of our family wasn’t. I couldn’t leave them behind, not without a fight, and despite his possibly-unintentional comment, I knew Brennan wouldn’t either. If I looked back, he’d be following.
He’d better be following.
When I reached the stretch of bank where we’d left our clothes I finally turned to check, but no torpedo-shaped shadow darkened the water.
Brennan? I called mentally, but there was no response. My heart seized. Brennan? For an agonized second I thought he’d left us behind after all, but then there came a faint snap, as if of teeth.
Just let me eat this catfish, will you?
At my brother’s happy distracted tone, relief surged in like the tide. Brennan was my twin, and my best friend. My only friend, if you wanted to split hairs; we couldn’t trust any of our classmates with the truth about ourselves. Brennan still went to parties, but I found it next to impossible to socialize with classmates when my paranoid side branded the word THREAT invisibly on their foreheads. If any of them found out what we really were … Disaster. So if Brennan ever did leave, I’d be alone in my fight.
But he was still here, and I exhaled a bit, bubbles trickling from my nose up to the surface. I let Brennan enjoy his fish; I’d make sure the shore was safe.
Edging toward the bank, I raised my head from the water and scanned the woods carefully. This was always the most dangerous part of our nighttime swims. What if someone had come across our haul-out spot while we were downstream? What if they’d found our clothes? What if they were waiting for Brennan and me to emerge and change back into human form so they could snatch our sealskins?
It wasn’t so far-fetched a notion: after all, that’s what happened to our parents.
I inhaled deeply, my nose sorting scents: tangy pine needles, rotting fall leaves, a faint trace of fox scat. Nothing human besides our own belongings. I counted silently to thirty, but heard nothing beyond the normal rustling of small birds. As far as I could tell, we were alone. Time to trudge back to my landlubber life.
Bracing myself, I started the change.
Bone-deep hurt stabbed everywhere, stretching and cracking and reshaping my limbs and flesh. When I was ten I’d broken an arm, and it felt like that—except all my bones at once, while sandpaper raked my skin. I kept going, and after an agonizing eleven seconds—Brennan and I had timed each other once—my form solidified into one with legs and arms and breasts and hair.
And, thank God, thumbs. I used my lovely thumbs and fingers to grasp my sealskin, now floating like a cape beside me. Still underwater, I wrapped it around my torso before kicking my legs to take me to shore. The shallows here were little more than a two-foot-wide submerged ledge between the deeper part of the river and the earthen bank. I pulled myself up onto the ledge and crouched on the slick rock, water lapping at my shoulders. Steadying myself with one hand on an adjacent boulder, I stood.
Heavy. That first moment out of the water always felt like being saddled with a backpack of granite. Though the thigh-deep water would turn a normal human’s toes blue in twenty seconds—it was October, after all, and winter showed up early on Maine’s doorstep—I stayed stock still. My gaze raked the shadowed underbrush for dangers I might have missed from the water, and my ears strained for the sound of a footstep. My muscles tensed, ready to hurl me back into the river, but the night remained quiet. All clear.
Bending over, I found two smooth river stones and rapped them four times against each other underwater—the signal to let Brennan know it was safe. Our mind-speech only worked in seal form. As I clambered onto the dirt bank, Brennan surfaced mid-river, whiskers gleaming white. Waving, I slipped behind a thick, squat fir tree and found my backpack, nestled among the branches close to the trunk. I pulled out my clothes, then reluctantly unwrapped myself.
Once I was dressed, my fingers lingered on my damp sealskin, this strange key to my secret self. Growing up, my sealskin—and I—had been another’s possession, but it was mine now. I was mine now.
I’d never give that up again, not for anything.
About the Author: Andrea Colt grew up reading and squabbling with her identical twin. She lives in Alexandria, Virginia with her husband, a fridge full of cheese, and two feline muses.