Title: IN HER OWN SKIN
Entry Nickname: This Selkie Can’t Swim
Word count: 70K
Genre: YA Contemporary Fantasy
At sixteen, Emily is an extraordinarily fast varsity swimmer, until one day the chlorine burns like acid and she nearly drowns. Unable to swim in the pool again and hearing voices calling her into the ocean, a long-submerged memory floats to the surface. Her dad says her mother died in a car crash, but as a child she watched her mother walk into the sea, never to return. Certain there’s more to the story, she uncovers a bundle of her mother’s old letters, from friends and family she never knew existed, all with the same return address: an island in Nova Scotia. When her dad refuses to answer her questions, Emily sneaks away to Canada over winter break—alone.
But when Emily arrives, she finds no welcome among her supposed family; they won’t talk to her and threaten to send her packing. Her only help comes from Fiona, a local whose friendship provides the intimacy Emily has always lacked. Fiona reveals the island’s secret: they’re daughters of selkies, a species of Scottish seal shape-shifters. To protect themselves from fur hunters, selkies always leave behind any half-human children, expecting never to see them again. With time running out before she has to go back to school, and her romantic feelings for Fiona getting stronger, Emily has to fight for her right to her selkie heritage, and the truth about whether her mother is really dead, or if she willingly abandoned her.
When Emily’s pursuit of the truth puts her the island’s inhabitants in danger from tourists and pelt hunters, she must choose between an ordinary human life cut off from Fiona, or a solution that will save the selkies and trap her as a seal forever.
If Coach Gina says one more good word about me, I may scream. Coach thinks reading our meet times every week is motivating. I just want to crawl into a hole. I don’t deserve praise for something that comes so easily.
Every time she says my name, I expect this to be the time the team glares at me with jealousy.
“Emily Mulligan, 1:42.02.”
Instead, the girls whoop and clap for me, because my points are their points. They don’t care where the numbers come from. Cheers bounce around the pool and I catch David grinning at me from the other side, not paying attention as the boys’ coach also reads. When his name is called the guys thump him on the back and chant, “Ecklestein! Ecklestein!”
We’re a pair of winners, a matched set, the perfect couple.
So why don’t I enjoy any of it?
Smile for the other girls, Emily.
I jump in for warm-ups, the water swallowing me. I rush downward, the bottom twelve feet below. When I slow, I open my eyes and gaze up through the jelly-like water to the lights above.
It starts as a prickle on my arms. Then I want to rub my eyes. They’re gritty, like I haven’t slept. Just as I’m thinking how weird that is, the pain kicks in. I gasp water.
I cough convulsively but there’s burning water in my airways. I can’t breathe! Needles drive through my skin, setting my nerves alight.
I’m the best swimmer in the state and I’m drowning.