The kelpie slips free of the darkness, free from the weeds and the flotsam. Her hindlegs kick, the delicate fins fanning out from her fetlocks, angling to catch the current. She pushes towards brighter waters.
Blurred, indistinct shadows dance across the surface.
Guided by the tide, she drifts closer but keeps her distance.
Muffled noises ripple down, smothered by the water: raised human voices and a child’s cries. Sharp noises. Cruel against her delicate ears. Nothing like the soft, rolling sounds that echo in the deeps.
Worlds above, the taller figures leave. The smaller form – the child, the child, she thinks hungrily – the child ambles closer to the riverbank. It crouches low over the water, moon-pale face coming into view.
The kelpie's dark eyes flash, broad nostrils flaring.
She slides closer. Barely shifting her muscular legs, her fins and momentum do the work. Her body cuts through the waves, leaving barely a ripple in her wake.
Reflections of the water flutter across the child’s face.
There's so little space between them now.
The child dips a... Hand? Yes, that’s the word. The child dips its hand into the waves, tiny fingers dancing like silver sticklebacks.
The current whips through the strands of her mane and ghosts around her flank: a comforting touch and supportive embrace. The kelpie makes a final push forwards, her muzzle just barely caressing the surface.
The child’s eyes widen, its lips falling open into a little circle of surprise. Chubby fingers tentatively reach out and run delicately across her forelock to stroke over the curve of an ear. She presses closer, eliciting a bubble of gleeful laughter. The child turns its head, calling over its shoulder.
Insistent – her moment of opportunity is closing already, she knows – she nudges against the small hand. She pulls away, reclaiming its enraptured attention.
The small hand stretches out, reaching down. Reaching closer.
Fingers wiggle, frustrated and mere inches from the tangled cascade of her hair.
Closer... Just a little closer...
The child shifts on the bank, up onto its knees. That small arm and its questing fingers follow her as far out as they can.
The water horse’s head whips.
Her teeth snap.
And an almighty crash.
The child breaks through the surface.
Blood drifts through the water. The colour – bright and vivid this close to the sunlight – is unlike anything else she sees in the dark spaces of her underwater world.
She kicks harder now, twisting her fins to plunge deeper.
The child struggles, its free arm straining for the safety of the shore. Its lips seal shut, bubbles billowing from a button nose. The eyes flutter closed. The limbs go slack.
There is a final, violent convulsion, and the child becomes motionless. Its already pale skin gradually turns an icy blue.
A spark of light – bright and momentarily blinding – bursts forth, escaping the child’s mouth.
The kelpie twists her head as the spark darts over her shoulder and into the dark. She releases the small body – worthless now – handing it over to the mercy of the current. She turns to follow the spark.
Impossibly, it burns.
The light flickers: shifts, ripples and glows.
The newborn kelpie glows in the gloom. When the glow fades, she sees her son clearly for the first time.
The dappled flank – like algae, in shades of green and brown with flecks of brilliant white – is so very like her own. His seaweed mane waves with the motion of the water, already belonging to his new world completely.
The hungry ache in her belly eases – tense muscles unclenching – all of the worry and fear washed away by the sight of her newborn boy.
The kelpie flicks her tail.
The foal snorts in response.
Together, they dive.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Louise has always been a storyteller, right back to those awkward questions such as, “Who stole the last chocolate chip cookie?” and “Where has Barbie’s head gone?”.
She was born in Glasgow but currently lives in Falkirk, Scotland, enjoying the wealth of coffee shops it has to offer.
Fascinated by folklore, endless questions and what-ifs, Louise loves speculative fiction, particularly fantasy. Her writing often includes LGBTQ+ themes.
In her spare time, she wrangles cats, eats pizza and watches over an extensive stationery collection.
Find more at https://louiseferrell.com/.