Sins Against the Sea

By: Nina Mason


Off the west coast of Scotland

Ten years ago

When Brian Parker saw the face in the water, his blood turned as cold as the brisk ocean wind stinging his cheeks. Gripping the rail, he leaned over the side, straining for a better look. He tightened his hold when, under his shaking landlubber legs, the deck bucked like an unbroken mustang.

Good God.

There it was again. A man’s face, only not.

The complexion was an otherworldly bluish gray and the eyes were slightly too large and set far apart, lending the small features a childlike appearance. It was not, however, a child. Or even human.

Brian stared in wonder, struggling to make sense of what he saw. The icy water might explain the cyanotic complexion. Perhaps the man had fallen overboard and had been drifting for a while. The hair, which looked to be swimming on the current, might be an illusion caused by clinging seaweed, especially since the Minch boasted some of the deepest kelp forests in the whole United Kingdom.

A dead body might easily become entangled as it drifted.

Straightening his posture, Brian looked around. He was alone on the deck, his co-workers and the crew all being in the galley, playing poker and drinking good Highland single-malt. The room had grown thick with smoke and tension, so he’d popped out for some peace and fresh air.

Should he go back inside and tell them? If he did, what the devil would he say? That he’d seen a blue man with seaweed hair off the port side of the stern? That would be rich. He suddenly felt like William Shatner’s character in that episode of Twilight Zone—the one where the airplane passenger saw a goblin on the wing tampering with the engines. Everybody thought the man had lost his mind until the plane went down.

Pinching the bridge of his nose, Brian let out a sigh. There was little point in telling the others. If the man was dead already, there wasn’t much they could do for him beyond alerting the coastguard when they landed at Stornoway. It wasn’t as if a bunch of oil company scientists were going to fish a body out of the ocean.

Unless the man wasn’t dead. Filling his lungs with freezing sea air, he peered over the rail again, seeing only black water. He blinked hard and looked again, still seeing nothing.

Perhaps it had only been a dolphin with a bit of seaweed caught around its beak. He let out his breath in a cloud of white vapor. Yes, of course. That was the only logical explanation. A pod of them had been swimming alongside the yacht all day. They must still be out there, invisible in the darkness, though still following.

Hearing a splash, he looked down. Something silver flashed just below the water’s inky surface. Yes, that was it. He’d seen a dolphin. Nothing more than a stupid dolphin.

He rubbed his eyes and inflated his lungs with damp, salty air. He was tired. Bone tired. Was his mind playing tricks on him? Believing he’d seen a face had probably been nothing but a momentary hallucination, fueled by the tales of the locals, who called this stretch of water Sruth nam Fear Gorm.

Stream of the Blue Men.

Even as he threw off his concerns, Brian could hear the fisherman’s salty warning playing inside his memory like an old phonograph record. “Pray the Blue Men sleep when ye pass through the Minch, for, if roused, they’ll summon storms to wreck yer vessel and drown all aboard—unless, of course, you’re clever enough to answer them in rhyme.”

They’d met the old fisherman—Jimmy Bell was his name—at the Polly, the only pub on Eriskay, the tiny island they’d set sail from just before sunset.

According to Bell, these blue-gray storm kelpies were demi-gods who dwelled in an otherworldly land known as Tír fo Thuinn, which translated as “Land Under Waves.” The entrance was hidden deep inside a sea cave beneath the Shiant Islands, the small cluster of privately owned outcrops now slumbering on the northern horizon like great black beasts.

Bell’s description—of phosphorescent coral castles, golden sand littered with pearls, and tables overflowing with salmon, lobster, crab, cockles, and scallops—reminded Brian of his late wife’s stories of Finfolkaheem, the home of the Finfolk of Orkney.

He’d met Aerwyna there while working on the design for an offshore drilling platform. He’d come across her sitting alone on a pile of rocks, gazing out to sea as she combed her long red hair. For one crazy moment, he thought he’d come upon a mermaid, but what looked like a tail turned out to be nothing more than a shimmering skirt spread out behind her.

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