Number eleven in the series of Flash Fiction challenges.
K is for Kelpie
Kelpies have a long tradition in Scottish and other Celtic myths, although their origins are often rather confused. In the nineteenth century there was a surge in the practice of transcribing folk tales which has codified most of the legends we know today. Unfortunately differing methods of spelling, not to mention varied levels of professionalism, may well have confused a number of different creatures under the same origin.
The majority of stories describe them as shape-shifting water spirits, though they disagree on whether they prefer rivers, lochs or streams. There are (as always) echoes of the same beasts in folklore around the world, but I’m choosing the most typical of the Scottish variety.
A powerful, black horse that lives in deep pools of water, the kelpie will drag an unwary person, usually a child, into the water to drown and often devour them. It can transform into the shape of a man, and try and trick a young woman into marriage. The benefits of such a story to warn children away from dangerous water, and women away from dangerous men is something which no doubt encouraged the story to spread far and wide.
I’ve been inspired by a story from Barra, in the Outer Hebrides, where a woman is too wily to be taken in.
K is for Kelpie
Kirsty was washing the horse blankets when he strode across the fields toward her. Tall, dark, and handsome might be a cliche ripped from the pages of her favourite romance novels, but there was no other way to describe him. His eyes sparkled in the afternoon light; his hair, long and lustrous, shone like polished ebony; his jawline could split wood, though his muscular arms would do it faster.
He smiled at her, perfect white teeth shone between full lips, and she paused in her scrubbing to smile back.
He was too good to be true.
Kirsty looked again, more carefully this time. That smile didn’t quite reach his eyes, which darted about warily. Those ears, when the wind tossed his mane of hair back to reveal them, were slightly too large and twitched strangely. The hands dangled oddly at his sides, as if he didn’t know what to do with them.
She knew what he was, and what he would do if she gave him half a chance. She stood, wiped her hands dry on her apron, and invited him for tea.
They talked for hours. He shared her interests, agreed with her ideals, sympathised with her fears. On paper, he was perfect. In person, he fidgeted awkwardly, unfamiliar with sitting. Still, she couldn’t argue that he looked amazing in the light of the late sunset.
He had a long way to travel, he said, and needed shelter. She knew his game, but offered him the spare room anyway. He agreed, reluctant on the surface, but she saw the fire in his eyes when she suggested a nightcap.
The whisky was strong, strong enough to mask the taste of her little addition. By the time he realised she was removing his silver necklace, he was all but asleep. In vain he tried to stand, to grab her, to fight… his arms and legs flailing and growing spindly as his shape reverted to its true form. It was over in seconds.
Kirsty looked at the slumbering horse he had become — had always been, she reminded herself. Tall, over 18 hands she estimated. Dark, lustrous mane. And the most handsome horse she’d ever put to work in the fields.
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