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by Joanne Hayden

Hiding in the dunes, the father watched, field-glasses pressed to his eyes. His son was crouching by a rockpool, staring down. He knew what the boy had found; that look – wonder, a touch of wildness – hadn’t been there before. Still time to stop this, show himself, invent an errand, an injured calf, but the beach was the boy’s playground as it had been his own when he was just shy of fourteen. The boy would never stop coming back and it was too late now anyway because the innocent, reckless, wilful young hand plunged into the water and pulled out the pouch – bigger and more iridescent than the one that had nearly ruined him – tendrils curling from the edges, inside the casing a form and – was it? – a glimmer of movement. He pocketed his field-glasses, kicked at a clump of marram grass until the sand was strewn with broken spikes.

The boy eased open the doors of the mahogany wardrobe where his mother’s clothes used to hang. He tried to breathe quietly, breathe less, as he held his torch over the silver pot. Two days and the pouch had swelled; the shape inside twisted and flipped, disturbing the water. He thirsted for salt, tasted the waves in his throat. Instant, the bonewarm when he picked it up, and colours filled his head, a lifting of grief, and whispers he’d longed for soft-swimming into his blood. No choice now but away from the farm’s dark silence and his father’s harrowed face, across the dunes to the sea, with it cupped in his hands, the seams beginning to rip, his own skin splitting into scales and legs returning to tail. They burst free together, tore into the familiar deep. Behind them the pouch’s remnants floated back to shore.