Selkies are mythological creatures found in Scottish, Irish and Icelandic folklore. Selkies are said to live as seals in the sea but shed their skin to become human on land. Selkies in their human form as beautiful women or handsome men are very alluring to humans.
As far as I know folklore doesn't mention them having siren like powers to lure men to their deaths with their songs, but for the purposes of this story they do. So apologies to anyone who takes offense for the liberties I've taken with Selkie myths.
Peeta hauled himself up the steps gripping the rope as he staggered on deck. He half fell across the slippery decking with the harsh wind whipping in his face. He strained to see the horizon, cupping his hand to his brow in a futile attempt to keep the sea spray out of his eyes.
He could just make out the sight of the lighthouse against the dark shapes that he knew to be the cliffs of home, but instead of heeding their warning the boat seemed to be turned in the direction of the rocks. Only a mad man would set a course for them. They had been the ruin of hundreds of ships and the death of more men than anyone wanted to remember before the lighthouse had been built. His uncle was no fool, he'd made this journey twice a month, every month since he took over running the ferryboat and before that had accompanied his father on the journey from the time he was old enough to let go of his mother's apron strings. His uncle knew the dangers and would never consciously set such a course. It was clear that something was very wrong. They were going to die.
Frozen in fear Peeta became aware of something else. Over the cry of the wind, the battering of the water against the hull and the crash of the waves as they breached the side and hit the deck, another noise was clearly audible. Everything about its nature should have made hearing it an impossibility. Yet above the deafening fury of the storm, a delicate beautiful song could clearly be heard. It was the most entrancing voice, soft and ethereal carrying across the water. Although the shanty was of a foreign tongue Peeta instantly understood that it offered an unquestionable promise of relief and safety from the harm of the raging sea around him. The fear was washed away and he felt a calming surge of comfort flow through him.
He was finally broken from the trance as the ferry pitched and he was thrown into the freezing water.
The waves pounded him from every direction, the black of the sky and the sea became one as he was dragged and tossed, lungs full of water, rolling in blindness. He cried out for help, to his uncle, to God, to anyone who would save him but his screams were swallowed into the waves. As the sea took him under one last time and he felt a strange peace in the quiet that the depths offered compared to the violence of the surface, he felt a sudden regret that he would miss his birthday next week. His father had promised to make him a fishing rod, not a hand me down from his brothers but an actual new one made only for him. An irrational and ironic thought he realised as he was now sinking to the depths in the very waters he would have been fishing in.
And just as he reconciled himself with this being his last thought he became aware of a rising feeling as if being pushed to the surface. He wondered if this was what it felt like for your spirit to depart the body and rise to the sky. But before he could consider this point further he felt the cold spray hit his face and he took a rattling spitting breath, coughing and burning as the air entered his body. Something smooth was beneath his arm propelling him forward. Someone was rescuing him. He linked his arms around them, holding on tight. He saw the white peaks crashing against the dark outlines and realised that whoever it was was towing him towards the rocks. He feared that they would be dashed into them and smashed to pieces but instead they skillfully navigated the surf to reach a smooth rock. He was nudged forward and pushed upwards. He had just enough time to register that it was not a person working him out of the water at all but a seal. Coughing and gasping he rolled onto his side curling into a ball, his eyes began to close when he heard the song again. On opening his eyes he found he was looking into the face of the loveliest woman he had ever seen. Her long dark hair framed her face and she gazed down at him kindly with the deep dark eyes. She wore a sad smile as she brushed his hair away from his face and rolled him over. She shushed him, in a sweet calming melodic fashion and he felt the same wave of security he'd experienced on the boat return. He had no doubt that she was the one responsible for the earlier music.
"How old are you boy?" her voice sang soft and clear above the clamour of the ocean.
"Too young to be a man."
"I'm no child," he said with childish indignation.
"Shush, you should be in no rush to see childhood end.
"My son was only 10" she continued sadly. She was silent for some time whilst she gently stroked his cheek with her surprisingly warm fingers, deep in thought, until she finally whispered "Too young to die." Peeta was unsure if she still spoke of her son or whether she was referring to him and a shiver ran through his body.
"What are you?" he asked.
She laughed and it was an unearthly sound, although it was too bitter to be truly beautiful it was still one of the most enticing sounds he had every encountered.
"Have they forgotten us so soon?" She mused, her smile disappearing.
"Come" she said breaking from her reverie "I must return you 'fore you catch your death of cold or I have a change of heart" and with that she slipped them both back into the cold water, the blackness of the ocean and the sky once again engulfed them. Whilst Peeta tightened his grip around what had been her shoulders he knew instantly that it was not the skin of a woman that he felt beneath his hands. Once again he was being towed by the strong body of the animal.
He was pulled effortlessly through the waves until they reached the beach, where only this morning his uncle's boat had put out to sea and he felt the solid mass of pebbles beneath him.
"Here" said the woman dragging him across the smooth stones until he was clear of the waterline. "When they ask how it is you live. Tell them you owe your life to Selkie. And they would do well to remember us."
And with that she was gone.