World of DarknessSealskinchangeling

Kevin Andrew Murphy

 "Rawwwww! Rawww-aww-aww-aww!" The gulls shrieked in protest and flew up in a cloud, gray and white wings tossing sand into the air. Ric just reached back and pulled on his wetsuit's ribbon, shoulders flexed as the zipper slid up and into place with a crunch of sand.

 Ric stepped back with a shiver and looked away. Another sea lion had beached itself and died, and the gulls had already begun to peck at it.

 "Haw!" A cry like the gulls, and Marc stepped past him, nearly clipping him with his board. "Everyone bites the big one sooner or later. Get used to it, gremmie."

 With a flash of teeth halfway between a sneer and a smile, Marc turned and walked into the surf, the Velcro anklet of his board's tether leaving a trail in the sand which the next wave washed away.

 Ric wished he could be as blasé as his brother, but it always hurt to see something die, especially the otters and sea lions. Or maybe Marc just hid the pain better.

 Ric shrugged and followed. Maybe, when he turned nineteen, he'd see things differently, or at least he'd be able to hide his real feelings and play it cool.

 The water washed around his feet, the numbing cold of the Pacific stopping at the ankles of his Smoothie, one of Marc's old ones from when he'd been younger than Ric. It was still a bit big, but you could always flip back the cuffs of a wetsuit.

 Hand-me-down wetsuit, hand-me-down board, tag-along friends. It sucked being the kid brother to a surf-god.

 But then Ric knew he was better in the waves. The water listened to him, caught in his palms -- big, with just a bit of extra webbing between the fingers, like ran on mom's side of the family -- and his board, hand-me-down though it was, sluiced on through as he paddled past Marc.

 "Hey, wait up, gremmie! Tryin' to make me look bad?" Marc paddled harder and came up even with Ric, tossing his bangs back out of his eyes, salt-blond hair darkened by wetness.

 Ric lay flat on the board and gave it a little more effort. He pushed on ahead and rounded out past Seal Rock, where the sea lions basked in the late afternoon sun. He paused a bit, letting Marc catch up, then moved forward into the Line.

 The surfers bobbed up and down in the waters just off Lighthouse Point, the cliffs off to the left, waves crashing against them and grinding into the sand, sun glinting off the water's surface, and Ric took his place in the queue. It wasn't exactly a line, but there was a certain amount of manners, 'cause if everyone tried to catch the same wave, one surfer could run over another. It didn't matter how good you were. And no matter how thick your wetsuit or tough your hide, the skeg of another surfer's board could mess you up pretty bad.

 Marc had a scar right across his back, from where one of the Valley Sheep had run him over, a long silver line, puckered and raised from where the salt water had never let it heal properly, with just a tiny skip where the zipper had protected his spine.

 Didn't work for surfers not to watch out for each other. There were sharks in the water, mostly come for the sea lions, and the occasional otter or seal. But a bleeding wave-jammer would do, especially if he were out just before morning light, their favorite feeding time, and the time the once-every-five-or-so-year sacrifice was usually taken.

 Ric fished up his leash and pulled on the anklet. The Velcro came apart with a popping sound like a dozen seaweed pods being snapped one after the other, and Ric secured the strap to his left ankle. He was goofy-footed, and that meant his right foot was forward for balance, while his left was behind to steer. His hand-me-down board, still a bit long for him, bobbed up and down with each swell, then a wave came to him as if called, huge and perfect.

 With a glance to Marc and Marc's friend Brad on the other side, making sure they weren't going to take it, Ric paddled out, catching the crest, then got to his knees, then to his feet, jagging down the surface. It wasn't really wild, and he wasn't going to get tubed -- this was Santa Cruz, after all, and you had to go to Hawaii or Australia if you wanted the waves to get really crazy -- but it was good and he slalomed down the length before falling down to his knees and letting the wave crash over him.

 Not a perfect, long ride, but the wildest part of, and taking the last tiny bit made it so you had to paddle all the way back before you caught the next. Better to take a small tumble than to wait all that time.

 The water churned him over and under, coarse sand flying up and grating through his hair this close to the beach, and Ric closed his eyes. Something bumped him, brushing against his knees, and then he surfaced, one arm still on his board.

 Another head came up only a foot from his, and Ric splashed back as the black eyes blinked and the whiskers twitched.

 It looked at him for a moment, then blinked and made a single remark: "Ark!"

 Then it sank beneath the waves as Ric scrambled onto the board.

 A harbor seal. A fucking harbor seal! He'd heard the guys talk about the sea lions occasionally coming out to play or check them out -- hard to tell which -- but harbor seals were hell rare, especially around Santa Cruz, and he'd never heard of them going surfing, or coming so close.

 The board was bumped from the underside, and Ric held on, then realized his bare fingers were in reach of the harbor seal. Not that there was much risk -- seals weren't sharks -- but then animals that were crazy enough to come play with humans were crazy enough to do a lot of things.

 He froze for a moment, then had a choice of sticking his hands in the water or letting a wave swamp him.

 Instinct was faster than reason, and Ric plunged his hands in the ebb flow, letting his palms and the webbing catch the cold Pacific, paddling out of the danger zone, the wave crashing behind him and pushing him forward into the main flow of the next swell.

 The seal surfaced a few yards away, lying on its back, and regarded him like a sea otter, then rolled over and swam off through the waves.

 Ric paused, then stuck his hands back in the water.

 Fucking weird. He'd heard the old surfers tell stories about crazy stuff, but never getting to play tag with a harbor seal.

 Ric smiled then. Lot rarer than seeing a triangle fin, and way the hell nicer.

 And at fourteen it was cool to have a story to tell, besides the big one you nearly caught, or even the big one you did catch.

*     *     *

 "Fuck, you got to play tag with the seal, Ric? That's cool. Tell mom. She'll get a kick out of it."

 Marc walked in front of Ric, bigger and stronger and faster on dry land, at least, than Ric was certain he'd ever be. Ric's brother had his wetsuit unzipped and folded down to the waist, sleeves hanging loose, as he carried his board on top of his head like some African water bearer and sprinted across West Cliff Drive, leaving the stairway and the Cowell Beach behind, along with Ric.

 Ric hugged his own slightly oversize board and dashed across after his brother, a Volvo braking slightly to let him pass.

 He waved a thank-you, then jogged after Marc, his board under one arm.

 "Good you're getting some of your own stories to tell, gremmie. Harbor seals are cool. But then, you ain't got a scar across your back from where a shark ripped you."

 "You didn't get ripped by a shark, Marc. It was Ash McConnell, that stupid Valley Sheep, and his big longboard."

 Marc spun, walking backwards, his board still perfectly balanced. "Ever seen a Valley Sheep with three rows of teeth? Let alone a saw-toothed fin that could slice you right open like a ripe avocado?" Marc laughed. "'Sides, Ash is a friend of mine. Took care of me after the shark ripped me open, and he's cool, even if he's from San Josie."

 Ric laughed. "Okay, it was a shark."

 "Right. And it wasn't a harbor seal. It was a fuckin' mermaid, with big tits and a 'come-hither' smile, and she bumped a heck of a lot more than your board."

 Marc laughed, rounding the corner and going up the block that lead to their house. "Truth's for mom and the insurance company. Everyone else just wants a good story."

 Ric gave a laugh and followed Marc into the back yard, closing the gate behind him, then propping his board up next to Marc's as his brother got the garden hose and started to wash off what sand wasn't caught in the Sex Wax.

 Ric stripped his wetsuit off, letting his brother hose it and him off, then turned it right side out and hung it from the clothes carousel, wrapping the ribbon around one of the outside pegs. Marc squirted both of them off, then Ric took the hose and filled up the inside of his suit with water while Marc stripped off his own suit and hung it up.

 Ric hosed both of them off, then they took an extra minute to wash the worst of the sand out of their hair.

 Ric squeezed the water out of his, slicking it back against his scalp, and followed Marc up the back steps of their mom's old Victorian.

 Marc hit the shower, while Ric just stripped off his Speedo and used the laundry room sink to wash the worst of the sand out of the crotch, slipping back on his underwear and shorts and the T-shirt he'd left there before going out.

 He slipped into the kitchen, mom at the table, finishing her dinner. "Oh good, you're back. I got some of the pesto from Pizza-My-Heart. It's still pretty warm."

 "Thanks." Ric got himself a plate and a few sheets of paper towel -- bachelor napkins, his mother called them -- then took a slice of pizza from the box his mother opened for him.

 "Did you have a nice afternoon?"

 "Great." Ric took a bite, then chewed and swallowed. It was getting a little cold, but the basil and pine nuts were still good. "I saw a seal today."

 "A sea lion?"

 Ric shook his head. "A harbor seal. It came up right next to my board. Bumped it too."

 "Too bad you didn't have a camera. Harbor seals are endangered." She smiled, a little more sadly than Ric would have expected.

 She looked up from her own piece, setting down the crust and dusting her fingers on her own bachelor napkin. "Serious news, Alaric. Please, sit down."

 Ric did. Mom only used his full name when she was angry, or when there was something really important going down.

 The last time was when she and dad had gotten a divorce.

 Mom smiled, then opened the pizza box and pushed it toward him. "Let's wait for Marc."

 Wordlessly, Ric took a slice, chowing down on it even though it was too cold to be good, and not cold enough to be good leftovers.

 Marc came out a minute later, dressed in nothing but towels, and opened the pizza box without saying anything to either of them. "Pesto?" he asked. "Whatever happened to sausage?"

 Mom pursed her lips. "Cows and pigs were murdered, then their intestines were ripped out and salted, then stuffed with their ground and mutilated flesh."

 "You forgot being baked in the ovens like holocaust victims." Marc shrugged and got himself a piece of pesto pizza. "Everything bites it sooner or later."

 "Not in my house, it doesn't," mom said as Marc sat down in one of the director's chairs and began to chew.

 "What about cows being kept in stalls and fitted with strange geni-torture devices to suck out their milk?"

 "They don't kick the dairy hands, so I assume it's consensual. And I can't condemn alternative sexual practices."

 "And tofu-rella sucks rocks."

 Mom smiled. "That too. But I have something important to tell you, Marcus. Something serious."

 Upon hearing his full name, Ric's brother sat up straight, the smile-grin wiped clean from his face. "What is it, mom?"

 She sighed. "Your uncle Laughlin is dead."

 Marc blinked. "The one who sent us presents when we were little?"

 Mom nodded. "The same."

 "God," Marc set down his pizza, "I still have the doubloon he gave me."

 Mom looked a little bit pale. "You have a good bit more than that now, Marcus."

 She didn't say any more, so Ric asked, "Uncle Laughlin?

 The one who sent me postcards and seashells? The one who visited when I was a baby?"

 Marc and Ric's mother nodded. "The same one. He -- He was very strange, Alaric. A very strange man. His solicitor -- that's a lawyer from England -- came to my work today and gave me a package, making certain that I'd read through everything, and entrusted me with items that he left the two of you."

 Mom stood up, saying nothing more, and went to the sink, washing her hands and drying them on a few more squares of paper towel, then going to a large brown box. "Wash your hands please, boys, and Marcus, please get your clothes on. We'll open this in the dining room."

 Ric got up and went to the sink, exchanging a glance with Marc, who just shrugged and washed his hands too. They dried them and Ric followed mom into the dining room, which she reserved for formal occasions and sewing projects. She pushed aside a fabric collage she'd been working on, then waited until Ric had taken one of the chairs opposite her, and then they both waited until Marc came back dressed.

 "What is it, mom?" Marc asked, sitting down next to Ric.

 "Your great-uncle Laughlin was a very strange man, Marcus. I think you know that. He sent me this." She reached into the box and pulled out a necklace, a string of emeralds set in gold, the roughly faceted stones as green as grass.

 She looked at it as if it were something completely alien. "It's from the wreck of the Santa Lucia. The solicitor said it was worth at least a quarter of a million dollars, more if I put it up for auction as a historical artifact."

 She set it down on the table atop a heap of fabric swatches, then reached into the box and took out a gold doubloon, handing it to Marc. "The solicitor said that there's at least ten-thousand like it being held in trust for you, Marcus, in a vault in the Bank of England. He also said for me to tell you that Uncle Laughlin said he was sorry there couldn't be more, but that it was all he could give you."

 Marc took the coin and looked at it without saying a word.

 Mom bit her lip. "I -- I'm sorry, Alaric. This is the only thing your Great Uncle Laughlin left you."

 She turned the box around, folding it open. Inside was nothing but silver-gray fur, spotted in places with black and brown.

 Mom fidgeted with a length of red silk cord, twisting it around her fingers. "The solicitor said for me to tell you that Uncle Laughlin said it might be a bit big for you at first, but that you would grow into it."

 "What is it?" Ric asked.

 Mom bit her lip. "It's a sealskin coat. Uncle Laughlin's coat, the one he always wore. He -- He never let anyone else touch it."

 She pushed the box toward Ric and he touched the fur inside. It was soft. Very soft, and warm to his touch.

 With a glance to both of them, Ric took it of the box, then stood up and unfolded it, turning around, sliding his arms into it and slipping it over his shoulders. It was much too big, the hem dragging the ground, the sleeves hanging on either side of him like flippers.

 Marc slammed the doubloon to the table. "This is fucking wrong. Uncle Laughlin may have been nuts, but he can't just go leaving me a fortune when all he gives Ric is a coat. It ain't right."

 Mom smiled weakly. "I know. I already talked with the lawyer about that, but he said that Alaric would eventually understand." She bit her lip. "And Uncle Laughlin said to apologize again that he couldn't leave you more, Marcus, but that in the end Alaric would understand. And perhaps make it up to you."

 "That's fucking nuts," Marc said.

 Ric stood there, unsure of whether to feel angry or ridiculous, but mostly just feeling strange, the coat hot and soft and warm, and though much too big for him clinging as closely as a second skin.

*     *     *

 Ric lay the coat across his desk chair and glanced back. "Do you remember Uncle Laughlin, Marc?"

 Marc stood in the doorway, one hand on the frame, almost filling it. He shrugged. "I guess. He came to visit for a few days one summer, I think when I was six, 'cause you weren't even one yet. He was real old, but he took me to the beach and the boardwalk and even went on the Dipper. And he gave me a doubloon."

 Marc paused. "He made a big fuss over you and played with you a lot, but then you were the baby, so I guess that sort of goes with it. But he was kinda strange. I went in his room once when he wasn't there and touched his coat, 'cause it was pretty, and fuck, he appeared like magic the moment I laid a finger on it. Got real angry, then calmed down and told me that everybody's got their special things, their things that are important to them. Doesn't matter what they look like, some are pretty and some aren't, but if somebody else messes with them, it can hurt as bad as getting hit. Kinda like I am with my board."

 Marc came into the room, reaching a hand toward the coat, then stopped and pulled it back. He looked to Ric. "Fuck, Ric, this is all messed up. Uncle Laughlin may have really loved it, but he can't just go giving you a coat and me a fortune. It's not right." Ric's brother shook his head. "I've got to go talk it over with mom, 'cause I know she's even more flipped out than either of us. She's probably checking her PETA handbook, 'cause you ain't supposed to wear fur, but it's bad New Age juju to blow off the wishes of the dead, especially guys like old Uncle Laughlin. And anyway it's not hers, and I know she feels just as tweaked as I do about this screwy will."

 "What's going to happen?"

 Marc brushed his bangs back out of his eyes. "Listen, if I've got a fortune, I can spare half. It ain't real. I mean, I've wanted to move out on my own, and quit sponging off mom, but I can't let Uncle Laughlin screw you over." He grinned then. "Actually, Ric, I've got something else for you. I was saving it for your birthday, but shit, I can sure as hell afford to get you something better now. Just a sec'."

 Marc ducked out of the room, then returned a moment later with a bundle of blue neoprene under his arm. He shook it out.

 A wetsuit. A new O'Neill Smoothie, gray and blue.

 "I know how much you hate hand-me-downs, Ric. I never had to put up with that, but you might as well have a suit that fits -- even if you're going to grow out of it." He grinned weakly. "Mom's got you a short shortboard, and you're ready for it. Howabout you and me going and catching the best water before first light tomorrow morning?"

 Ric looked up. "What about school?"

 Marc sneered, looking like his old self. "Fuck school. We're going surfing. Anyway, there's been a death in the family, and they have to let you off the hook. Just you, me, the ocean, and the seals and sea lions, and a little time to get our heads sorted out. Whadya think?"

 Ric nodded. "Sure. Sounds good."

 Marc lay the new wetsuit across Uncle Laughlin's sealskin coat. "Set your alarm for four o'clock and get some sleep. Almanac says the best swells will be up around four forty-five."

 "Will do."

 Marc smiled. "Get your sleep, gremmie. And happy birthday a little early, okay? Love ya."

 He gave Ric a quick hug, and Ric hugged him back. "I love you too, Mark. And thanks."

 "Don't sweat it, gremmie." Marc tousled his hair and left the room.

 Ric tool the sealskin coat and the wetsuit both into his lap and hugged them to himself.

*     *     *

 The alarm beeped, shrill and grating, and Ric slammed the snooze button. He rubbed a hand across his face and rolled out of bed, tugging his pajama top over his head and tossing it back onto the blanket.

 He switched on the lamp, turning the knob down to dim and squeezing his eyes tight against the glare. It was really early.

 Ric opened his eyes and saw a surfboard propped up against the desk, a gray shortboard decorated with wave designs and Celtic knotwork. A couple fresh bars of Mr. Zogg's Sex Wax were set next to it.

 He put a hand on it and spent a long moment just feeling it, then picked it up and hefted it for weight. Perfect.

 Ric set it back down and got out a pair of Speedo trunks, slipping them on, then picked up the wetsuit. It was always hard getting on a wetsuit dry, and doubly so one that actually fit him, smooth as a dolphin, but at last he had it up and zipped into place. Perfect. He wanted to go admire himself in the bathroom mirror, but then saw the sealskin coat laid across the chair.

 Uncle Laughlin's prize, a gift from a man he'd never really known or met.

 On impulse, Ric picked it up and slipped it on over the wetsuit. The seal fur was smooth and soft one way, bristly and sharp when you rubbed it back. He closed his eyes, feeling it, and there was a tingle in his skin.

 The wetsuit. They always got too hot when you wore them on land, and his skin needed to breathe.

 "Hey, lookin' good."

 Ric opened his eyes. Mark stood in the doorway.

 "Coat's somethin' else."

 Ric looked down and felt it. "Little moth-eaten. It looked nicer last night."

 Marc shrugged. "Probably as old as Uncle Laughlin. Everything shows its age sooner or later. Anyway, it'll be a great thing to warm up in after the beach. Everybody else just has old Nazi military coats, but a real sealskin'll be cool."

 Ric nodded and shrugged it off, laying it back over the chair, then grabbed the ribbon of his new wetsuit and pulled open the back a little. His skin still tingled, but it didn't feel so strange anymore.

 Marc smiled. "All right, gremmie. Wax 'er up and let's head on down to the beach. There should be some killer waves coming up."

 Ric broke the wrapper on the new package of Sex Wax and rubbed the cake over the board, getting just the texture and friction he liked. Then he picked up the board and followed Marc, still smiling, out the door and down the stairs and out the back of the house.

 It was great, as if nothing were different than it had been, even if it hadn't been a schoolday.

 But things were different, and they were going to change. Ric knew it.

 For now, though, it didn't matter. There were just the ocean and the surf they both loved.

 "All right, gremmie," Marc said as they reached the shoreline. "You've got a new suit and a new board. No excuses. Let's see you rip it up."

 Ric tugged the ribbon of his wetsuit, sliding the zipper up all the way to the top of his neck. His skin tingled, and tingled even more as he entered the water and a tiny amount of water crept past the cuffs and neck of the wetsuit.

 He pulled the neck of his wetsuit open with one finger and let the water flow in and down, cold and then warming to the temperature of blood, the neoprene sucking close like a sea anemone. Ric's skin tingled again, but pleasantly, the water welcome.

 Marc had gotten a distance ahead, but Ric threw himself on top of his board and paddled after him. His hands caught the water, the slight webbing between his fingers holding it and propelling him along, and then he passed Marc and the other two surfers who were already in the line, or what there was of it.

 The ocean responded as if he'd called to it, a perfect swell rising up, cresting into a wave, and Ric caught it and rode it.

 He jagged and zigged across the surface until he suddenly felt a bump on the bottom of his board. Ric jigged and caught his balance, but then the bump came again, harder, and he lost it, going down, the wave crashing over him.

 The ocean tumbled him around, sand stinging his eyes, cold water flowing around him, and then Ric felt the cuff of the board's tether slip free, and he swam down.

 The water sparkled around him, clearer than an aquarium, the kelp swaying with the tide, silver-gray fish darting between the fronds. And the seal was there, gray and black-spotted.

 It looked at him, black eyes laughing, then spun once in the water and then was a girl in a gray stole -- and nothing else -- floating in the water before him. "Welcome back to the Undersea, cousin. You have been missed." Her voice was soft and musical, with a fainly Irish lilt.

 She spun around, and then he saw the seal again. "What . . . ?" Ric heard his voice and suddenly realized he could talk underwater.

 The seal laughed a girl's laugh and swam around him. "A wetsuit? I didn't think you'd pass the Glamour on to a new garment so soon, but it's a delightful Seeming for your skin to take. The Grumps and the Seelie old-guard will be absolutely scandalized."

 Ric tried to swim away, then suddenly realized he had flippers. Flippers, like a seal, and he swam back, then on second blink saw his hands and the sleeves of his wetsuit.

 Then he looked overhead to the sparkling half-light of the surface of the water, seen from below. "Ric . . . !" The call came distant, his brother's voice. "Gremmie . . . ! Where are you . . . ?"

 The seal-girl in front of him laughed, then Ric swam for the surface, desperate for air.

 His head broke the surface, ocean water streaming from his eyes, and he saw Marc ahead of him, holding Ric's new board by the tether. "Ric! Gremmie!"

 "Marc!" Ric called. "Marc! I'm here!" but mixed with his voice Ric heard a seal's bark: "Arc! Arc! Ar-ear!"

 Ric's brother looked to him, but there was no sign of recognition on his face, and Ric knew that Marc couldn't hear anything but the seal's voice.

 Marc scanned the shoreline, then looked back to the two other surfers bobbing in the water. "Shit! Ric must be caught in the kelp!"

 He reached down and Ric heard the echo through the water as Marc ripped the Velcro strap from his ankle, then the splash as he dove down.

 The seal surfaced next to Ric and smiled, then took a breath and went back under the water. Ric did as well, coming up along beside her and his brother as Marc dove down, blind and clumsy in the Undersea.

 "You'd best reveal yourself," the seal said, again appearing as the girl in the gray stole. "One's mundane kin are often useful, even if they seldom understand us of the Fair Folk. And your brother has a love of the sea, so it would be a pity to lose him, even if he doesn't have much of its enchantment running through his veins. After all, he would have been Laughie's heir if it weren't for yourself being born, and he may still be your heir, unless you find another of your line more fit to receive the legacy." The girl pulled her stole close, smiling enigmatically and hiding her breasts as they swayed in the current. "You'd best show your brother that you still live, Ric, whether or not you choose to reveal to him the full nature of your inheritance."

 Ric hovered in mid-ocean, feeling the cool Pacific flow over his flippers and claws at the same time as he felt it catch on his palms and webbing and fingernails. "How . . . ?"

 She was the seal again. "Just loose the corner of your skin and go into the Overwater. After that's done, only those with an eye for the Glamour can see your true form as a Selkie. That is what you are, Ric. A skin-changer, one of the seal-folk of the Undersea," she added, smiling, and returning to her appearance of the girl in the sealskin stole and nothing else. "Don't you worry. Laughie was a clever one, and you're his heir. You've already been wic enough to pass along the Glamour of Laughie's greatcoat to a skin of your own choosing. You'll remember the rest of the faerie tricks soon enough."

 Ric did remember, and on instinct twisted his head back around and bit himself on the neck, feeling sealskin between his teeth and tasting blood. But on another level, he felt the ribbon of his wetsuit and tasted only saltwater as he tugged the zipper down a couple notches.

 The need for air was immediate and he swam for the blurred surface of the water, breaking it and gasping in deep, ragged breaths.

 Ric saw Marc surface a bit away, the back of his head to him, his shoulderblades pressing out against his own wetsuit as he took a deep breath, ready to go under again. "Marc!" Ric called, and was glad to hear only his mundane voice and not a seal's bark.

 "Gremmie?" Marc splashed around, gasping and exhaling, then his face lit up. "Where were you? You had me scared as shit!"

 "New leash came loose," Ric said. "Tide pulled me out behind Seal Rock. I just swam back."

 Marc's face spoke of all the relief and love Ric could ever want, then changed to one of ordinary concern. "Shit -- our boards! We better get 'em before they go to Tahiti."

 Marc grinned and then took off at a fast Aussie Crawl toward his board, while Ric swam toward his.

 He got on it a minute later, feeling the welcome foam and fiberglass beneath him, while in the distance, he could see the Pier and the Boardwalk, closed now, but sparkling in the morning light with a fey beauty he'd never noticed before.

 The seal then surfaced just a few feet away from him, and over her face Ric saw superimposed the face of the girl from the Undersea. "Hope to see you back soon, Ric," she said, her voice melded with the seal's barks. "And I'll need to see you, since there's a few things I should teach you about Kithrain life if you're going to live in this Mundane world. But first off, just a small suggestion -- if you want to keep surfing, I'd use a different wetsuit if I were you or keep your skin unzipped just a wee bit."

 She laughed then and disappeared under the water, and Ric reached back and felt the flap at the neck of his new suit. When he rubbed it one way, he felt fresh neoprene rubber. But when he rubbed it the other way, all he could feel was the smooth fur of sealskin.

The Splendour Falls
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