The Last Verse

Scottish legend tells of the selkie, a creature who is human when on land, a seal when in the water. Joan Baez, among others, has sung a folksong based on this legend, about a human woman who bears a child to a selkie lover. The last verse sings:
     And you shall marry a gunner good,
     And a right fine gunner I'm sure he'll be,
     And the very first shot that ever he shoots
     Will kill both my young son and me.


They had constructed him to learn, so they let him wander anywhere on the island. After all, every foot of it was known, owned, controlled, guarded, patrolled.

And they had built up every layer of him, themselves, out to his shining skin. Their purposes required alertness, intelligence, balance, coordination, strength, fast reflexes - and he fulfilled their expectations.

The result was grace, but it was unintentional.

(Urania, © 1995, Williams, from So they let him explore, and they watched him, and tested him whenever he came back home, to see what new responses had developed.

When he discovered the grotto, where the tendrils of the ocean played multi-octaved echoes from walls carved in intricate art by soft wet fingers over eons, he felt wonder.

She came. She always answered to the call of wonder.

She never tested him or questioned him. They never talked in words. He returned to the grotto every day, where they built together. Every time she worked with a wondering heart it was something new, but this was beyond all others. For his mind was a child's, with the knowledge of a Seer.

And every evening he returned to the laboratories, where they tested him and instructed him and gave him exercises to do. Then they chattered together, measuring his examination results against their plans.

On the final morning, he did everything exactly right. The monumental rocket rose on fire, and he steered for the star that only he could reach, while all the scientists slept safely, cradled in deep wombs, dreaming of future explorations.

In the grotto, intricately patterned crystal shattered, with a high and keening cry. Out on the ocean, with an echo of that cry, the last of the Selkies surrendered into foam.

Previously published in Word Out of Buffalo

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This story was previously published in Total Obscurity Magazine
Monday, 23-Dec-2002 21:55:32 EST