An excerpt from Spindrift
"Give him his skin," another rumbled. "We don't do it like that. If you can't get one fair and square, you don't deserve one."
"I got one fair and square," William snapped. "I got one the old way, and you old men are so keen on the old ways, aren't you?" He whirled round to point at me. "Not my fault if the skin I got is one only this faggot would want!"
"Your fault, boy," Jock said. "Your fault if they'll have nothing to do with us now."
Two of them grabbed hold of William, but he shook them off and stalked a few feet away. He turned around and said to the stranger, "You know the price for your skin. It's safe enough, but you'll not get it back except in exchange for another." He stared around at the others. "And don't think of searching my cottage. I'll burn it if I have to."
"Try me." He smiled nastily, and mimicked my upper-middle-class accent. "I'm sure the dear sweet boy will find someone to take him in if he can't go back to the sea. The incomer faggot will take him, even if no- one else will." He spun around and ran off.
Some of the men made to follow but Dougal said, "No point. Bastard had it well hidden before this one knew it was gone. He might burn it just to spite us."
"Burn what?" I asked.
"Never you mind," one said, as another said, "The lad's clothes."
Skin, they'd said. Yes, it could be slang, or refer to a wetsuit, but I didn't think it was.
"He took my skin," the stranger said, his voice desolate.
I looked properly at the young man for the first time. He'd sounded not just Scottish but one of those who spoke Gaelic as their first language. I'd assumed he was a stray late tourist being bullied by William, but there was more to it than that. Not just someone who'd been swimming or sunbathing in the last of the mild weather and come back to the beach to find his clothes stolen. The young man was completely naked.
I tried not to stare. There was enough gossip already. "Who is he, Jock?"
"Fisherman from up the coast," Jock said.
There were things stirring in my memory. Unbelievable things, old tales that had no place in this day and age.
"A fisherman from off the coast, who's lost his skin to a thief, a thief who wanted the skin of his sister in exchange." I looked hard at old Jock. "Is this a leg pull?"
"I said up the coast."
"I know what you said."
"He knows the old tales," Adam said behind me.
"Aye, he would. He's a writer," another said.
"Not one of us, though."
"Never pretended to be."
"Tried to fit in, he has. He lives here, doesn't just come in for the weekend, killing our shops with his car filled with things from the big city supermarket."
"Lives with us, shops with us, drinks with us."
"Listens to us, doesn't look down on us."
"And asks us first if he can use our stories."
I let the discussion swirl around me, knowing better than to try to sway them. I looked at the young man as they decided whether to tell me, knowing already what they would say if they said it, and not knowing whether to believe them.
"If there really was such a thing as silkies, if they weren't just myth but a reality that had fled our world," I eventually said, "then if there were any humans on earth who knew about them, it would be the fishermen. The fishermen in remote areas where the seals still are, where there aren't many people to see. To steal skins and women from the seal people."
"Please tell me my writer's imagination has run away with me."
"William was right about one thing," Jock said, "the lad would be better off with him."
"But he's... well..." another said.
"Not inclined to bother those who don't have his inclinations," Jock said. "As you well know. Who else is to take this one in? Spare bedroom, spare cash, knows how to keep his mouth shut when he's asked."
"Jock's got the right of it," Adam said. "Can't put him on the social, there'd be questions. Be questions enough if we're not careful. Who's to look after him if we can't make William see sense?"
The young man shuddered, and wailed, "My skin!"