This is a little flash piece I entered in an Ayr Writers’ Club competition. The title comes from the Orcadian poet Christina M. Costie‘s ‘Salt In The Bluid’.

Afore The Mast

Weary, he returned from the inn and fell into his fireside chair. He smiled at his wife scowling out from her picture frame. It didn’t feel the same to be chastised by a ghost. He sunk into the headrest, enjoying the whisky glow, and warmed his socks by the hot coals.

With closed eyes, he listened to the cottage creak and shudder against the Atlantic wind. It seemed like the whole house was being uprooted towards the sea. He tasted salt on his lips and felt like a skipper afore the mast again. A man with sea legs and purpose; back where he belonged. Not the surly landloper he’d become when his son, that fair-haired stranger, died.

His wife needed him home to hold her thin hands as she wept over the boy who never danced, or laughed, or loved. Soon, she passed; leaving the man to bear the loss alone.

He gripped the armrests as his tears fell. Rogue waves lashed the windows as the memories returned.

They said only a fey child could eat like a whale and still wither, so decisions were made. The man didn’t argue.

Eggshells filled with water, the stories lied. A curious fey child would follow them to the hearth, and with help, into the fire. But, the boy didn’t fly up the chimney, like they foretold. Only a mound of charred ‘fairy flesh’ remained in the grate; no son.

He dreamed himself back afore the mast; murmuring about finally scattering the ashes.


Photograph by Alvimannat


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