Chapter two of my Wattys2018 longlisted young adult, Celtic-mythology-based, urban fantasy novel ‘The Seagull’

So, ‘The Seagull’ didn’t make the shortlist, but I’m still very excited at having made the longlist.  Here’s chapter two for anyone who isn’t on Wattpad and wants to read it

Chapter 2

Louis looked up as the seagull called sharply from above the wave-ship. The vessel seemed to emit an aquamarine light, like the cleanest of oceans glimmering under a blue sky. The man at its silver prow stood proud and straight, his powerful bare torso rippling and surging in the glow.

“He won’t come without this,” screeched the bird, swooping slightly lower and flapping in an ungainly hover some feet to the side of the ship. “Here, catch.”

Louis inhaled sharply as his father’s watch plummeted towards the water.

“Li Ban,” called the man, pivoting and extending a muscular arm so that his hand was in just the right place to catch the watch. His arm seemed to flow effortlessly, thought Louis, like a wave breaking against a rock then rushing back out to sea. “How is your sister?” the man asked the gull. “I had hoped she would come.”

The seagull cackled disapprovingly. “Be grateful we chose to help you at all, Manannán, after the way you have behaved.” She beat her wings and flew back towards Louis.

Manannán followed her with his eyes, his long, white hair whipping round as he turned, soaking Louis in an icy spray.

Louis gasped.  He was too cold to shiver, he realised, his energy sapped and his muscles inert.

“Lugh seems unaware of his identity,” shouted the gull above him. “He knows nothing. Why you thought he was different this time is beyond us all.”

“He is strong enough this time, I can feel it,” boomed the man, his voice a waterfall – soothing yet indescribably powerful. “And I thank you for bringing him to me, Li Ban. Give my love to Fand. Tell her that Niamh is well.”

“Fand has chosen the name Miranda now, as you well know, and I am Melissa,” clacked the gull angrily. “Oisin keeps us informed of Niamh. Some of us have moved with the times, Manannán.”

“New is not necessarily good, Li Ban,” he growled. “New has brought nothing but death. I cannot believe that you and your sister would embrace that, regardless of what has happened to you. I cannot believe that you welcome Balor’s destruction.”

“No,” cackled the gull. “That is why we have chosen to help you. Now, are you going to deal with this poor boy before he freezes? He is already turning blue.”

The man gazed down at Louis as if he had just remembered his existence. He held Louis’ father’s watch towards him. “Well, Longhand,” he rumbled, slipping the watch into a bag that hung from his belt. “Let us see if you are strong enough.” He lifted a muscular arm and threw a golden rope towards Louis. It arrowed its way through the wave and stopped, still, in mid-air an inch from Louis’ face.

The man grinned down. “If you want to get your father’s watch back and save the world, you’d better come with me.” Then he turned and strolled away towards the ship’s stern. “The other option,” he called over his shoulder, “is to stay there and go back to the Nothingland. The choice is yours.”

Louis shuddered, gripped by an overwhelming dread.

“You might as well go,” the gull, Melissa, shouted down. “You have nothing to lose now, Longhand.”

Louis stood motionless. The cold felt comforting now, as though he’d slipped into a warm bath.

The gull swooped down and hovered in front of his face. “If you stay,” the bird continued, “the humans will find your body in the morning. They will think you drowned yourself because you’re mad. Do you want this incarnation to be remembered that way? As the mad boy who drowned himself because he wasn’t strong enough.”

Louis looked down from the talking bird to the arrow. He must be mad, he thought, or still dreaming. He imagined the freezing water slipping into his lungs; choking him. He didn’t want to die like that, even in his dreams. Slowly, he extended a hand and touched the rope-arrow. It coiled obligingly into his palm.

“You’ll have to hold it, Longhand!” chortled Manannán.

Louis gripped the rope.

“Ready?”

He nodded.

The man hauled on the rope and Louis shot towards the ship, snatching a breath as the wave embraced him.  Water churned and bubbles flew off in every direction. He couldn’t tell which way was up. It felt like his lungs were going to burst – he was going to drown after all! They’d lied to him – the seagull and the man. No, he thought, there was no talking gull. How stupid. He was mad and now he was going to drown.

Louis’ mouth opened involuntarily, and water rushed down his airways. He fought the liquid for a moment, trying to expel it from his lungs, then he gave in and it filled him. He felt…not peace exactly, but resignation. Everything went grey. And he was with his father.

***

They were in a small boat – a dinghy really – rocking on the angry grey sea. A huge oil tanker loomed over them, and on the deck stood a man Louis had never seen before. Yet somehow, he seemed familiar.

He had short lank hair the colour of urine-soaked snow, and his eyes – his eyes were fish eyes. Sea spray soaked the deck of the tanker and almost filled their dinghy. His father wore bright yellow waterproofs to protect him – it was freezing – yet all the fish-eyed man wore was a shirt and a pink tie. The spray seemed to skirt him, as though he had an invisible force field that repelled it. He glared at Louis and the boat pitched. It felt as though a huge hand was shaking the dinghy – tipping it then shaking it – it didn’t feel like waves. Louis shouted to his father, but his dad didn’t seem able to hear him. He launched himself next to Louis as though Louis wasn’t there.

“Dad,” shouted Louis, “Dad?” He reached out a hand to touch his father’s shoulder and felt nothing. Thin air. Louis looked at his hand in disbelief.

Suddenly there was a light…not sunlight, some other light that seemed to come up from the bottom of the sea. The water went still. And then the whole world froze.

His father turned to face Louis, but an image of him stayed where it had been, frozen in time and space somehow. There were two dads!

“This is how it happened,” said Louis’ father. “This is how he tried to kill you, Louis.” He turned his eyes upwards.

The man with fish eyes watched them dispassionately from above. He raised a megaphone to his mouth.  “I see you,” he hissed through it. “I see you Longhand.” And Louis screamed.

***

Louis was screaming silently. Water filled his lungs and this was it, he was going to die. How stupid to have died this way, he thought. Drowning after following a seagull out to sea and getting engulfed by a freak wave. How ridiculous.

Strong hands grasped him, and his feet landed on something solid.

“I can’t see,” he wailed. The world around him flashed and swirled with every colour he’d ever seen and more; it was vertiginous and sickening, as though he was being sucked down a kaleidoscope. He felt his stomach heave.

“You’re okay, Longhand,” soothed a man’s voice next to him, a familiar voice somehow, a reassuring one. “Sit down, you’re okay.”

Louis lowered himself towards the ground.

“You’re between worlds still – dazed I think you call it. Don’t worry the fog will clear soon.”

Louis felt a hand on his shoulder, a kind hand.

“Where am I?” he asked.

“Wavesweeper – my ship,” replied the man’s voice. “Do you remember?”

Louis shook his head. “I was in a dinghy,” he said. “I was with my father and there was a tanker….” He froze and felt around him wildly. The floor that he sat on didn’t feel like the metal of a tanker. “Are you the man from the tanker?” he asked fearfully, remembering the man’s fish eyes.

“No!” said the voice. “What you saw was a vision. A memory in your case. The journey between worlds shows things. Sometimes past things, sometimes future…you saw your past.”

Louis rubbed his eyes. He could see vague shadows now – not shapes yet, but it was better than it had been. He peered in the direction of the voice and saw a rippling aquamarine light.

“Who are you?” he asked.

“Manannán Mac Lir,” replied the voice. “Lord of the sea.”

His light rippled and he held a dark shape towards Louis.

“You are weakened, Longhand. You need rest, I will explain everything when we arrive. Please…drink this.”

Louis reached for the shape and grasped what felt like a small bottle.

“Arrive where? What do you mean you’re Lord of the Sea?”

“Please drink it,” repeated Manannán. “It will give you a dreamless sleep. I promise to explain everything, but now you need to sleep.”

And Louis couldn’t resist. He raised the bottle to his lips and drank.

***

The sound of a waterfall seeped into Louis’ sleep, soothing him back to consciousness. He opened his eyes and sat up with a groan.

He was in a glade, surrounded by blossoming cherry trees and ancient oaks. Everything was bathed in a dawn-like glow. He looked towards the sound of the waterfall – there it was, tumbling down some rocks to his left.

He rose, shakily, dislodging a heavy cloak that had covered him whilst he slept. This must be the afterlife, he supposed, and it looked too nice to be hell. His dad hadn’t believed in heaven and hell, but Louis hoped that this was heaven; that his dad would be here somewhere, waiting, smiling and laughing as always.

He walked to the waterfall groggily and peered over the edge of the rocks into a deep looking pool. It emptied into a gurgling brook which babbled away through the trees. The pool was inviting – more than inviting – it drew him to it.

“Go ahead,” sang a voice behind him.

He whipped around and his jaw dropped – he couldn’t stop it – because if there were angels, she had to be one. She was much older than him – twenty maybe – and her perfect skin seemed to radiate the soft light that covered everything here.

She pushed a strand of golden hair back and smiled, offering him her hand. “Good afternoon, I am Niamh.”

He grasped her slender fingers wordlessly, unable to shut his gaping mouth.

“My father- Manannán – came for you in Wavesweeper, his ship … do not worry if you cannot remember, the confusion will pass.”

Louis stared at her beautiful face; her slender form wrapped in a dark green gown. He looked into her hazel eyes. “Is it the afternoon?” he stammered. “It looks like morning.”

Niamh squeezed his hand kindly and glanced around the glade. “It always looks like dawn here. Never too bright or too dark. I used to like to go up to your world at noon just to feel the warmth of the sun, before …” She stopped mid-sentence.

“Where am I?” asked Louis. “Am I dead? Is my father here?”

Niamh’s smile faltered. “You are not dead, ” she assured him, “this is the land of dawn. Emain ablach.”

Louis shrugged. “Where? What’s the land of dawn? I thought that you only went to places like that when you died.”

“Your father told you nothing?”

“No – he didn’t believe in heaven and hell. Is this heaven? Is he here?”

Niamh shook her head, sadly. It is not as simple as that. There is no heaven and hell … it is more like…our world and theirs.”

“Who are they?” Asked Louis. “I don’t understand. Did that man kill my father…the man from the tanker?”

Niamh stepped forward and embraced him tightly, her slender arms remarkably strong as she clasped him. “Please,” she soothed. “You have had a difficult time and a strange night.”

She spoke oddly, thought Louis, her tone somehow archaic despite her use of some modern words.

“Manannán will explain when he returns,” she continued, gesturing to the pool below them. “The water in there will help you feel better … and also you are covered in seaweed.”

She reached down and pulled a small piece of red weed from his hair, stepping back and dropping it with a grin. “You need a bath.” She paused. “The man in the tanker you mentioned … Manannán said you saw him in a vision, yes?”

Louis nodded.

She raised an eyebrow. “Can you tell me?”

“I saw the man on the tanker shake my father’s boat. Not physically. It was like he did it with his mind from the deck. Neither of them saw me until the end, and then …”

“Yes?”

“And then my father spoke to me. He said, “This is how it happened Louis,” right before the sea saved him.”

“How did the sea save your father?”

“A light from the depths protected him. And that man. The scary man on the tanker, he spoke to me too.”

She grasped his shoulders. “What did he say?”

“He said, ‘I see you Longhand.’ Louis looked into her eyes pleadingly. “If I’m not dead am I mad?”

“No,” Niamh whispered. “Do you trust me?”

He nodded.

“Good,” she said releasing him. “Then have your bath. I will not watch but I will be close enough to hear if you call.”

Louis watched her for a moment, his thoughts a jumble. The water in the pool shimmered invitingly.

“Go,” she encouraged.

He climbed down to it over weed covered rocks, wondering how deep it was, how cold! He perched on a boulder to yank off his trainers then dipped a toe in the water – it was warm.

“You will have to take your clothes off.”

Louis swung round and looked up at Niamh’s amused face. “I thought you said you’d go where you couldn’t see,” he spluttered. “I thought you said I could trust you!”

Niamh laughed. “No … I asked if you trusted me, I did not say you could, and anyway I have seen plenty of naked boys before.”

Louis blushed.

“I came back because I forgot to give you these.” She threw down an old-fashioned looking shirt, some knee-high boots and a pair of leather trousers.

He caught them and looked up at her in disbelief. “I’m not a goth or a new romantic you know, those fashions come from my dad’s era,”

She inspected him with a baffled frown. “Funny trousers that come to your mid-calf are considered attractive these days?”

He glowered at her. “I know they’re too small, but my dad bought them.”

Her face softened. “I understand, Lugh. We will clean them and keep them somewhere safe. But everyone around here wears clothes like those I gave you, not your strange fashion, so…Take your clothes off and bathe yourself.”

“You talk oddly. And I am not taking my clothes off in front of a girl.”

Niamh smiled. “Father warned me that your speech barely resembles our language. Now I see what he meant, Lugh of the Longhand… Enjoy your bath.”

Her beautiful face disappeared over the rocks with a smirk.

“And my name is Louis Langford,” hollered Louis, but the only reply was her tinkling laughter.

Louis removed his clothes self-consciously and unbuckled his father’s watch without thinking.  He lowered himself into the pool.

‘Perfect’ he thought to himself as the water embraced his legs. ‘Everything here is perfect’.

He allowed himself to sink until he was submerged to his shoulders. He couldn’t feel the bottom, but that didn’t seem to matter somehow. Just the thought ‘up to my shoulders’ kept his head above the water without any effort.

He gazed down. The depths shimmered, playful and magnetic. He dived and felt the water flow around him, through him! There was no pressure back. ‘I’m a fish,’ he thought. ‘This is what it’s like to have gills’.

‘Peace,’ soothed the water. ‘Be happy,’ and he was. For the first time since his father had died, Louis felt joyful.

A glint to the left caught his attention. There was something mirror-like over there. But how could there be a mirror floating in the middle of a pool? He wriggled his legs and swam to it effortlessly. He could see his face reflected, his blonde hair floating around his head like the rays of the sun. He reached out a hand. His fingertips fused with that of his image and the mirror rippled.

Suddenly he was gliding through it. The shimmering silver engulfed him and filled him with calm, then it parted like a curtain. He put a foot down and gazed around him. He was standing on a vast crystalline expanse. It stretched off to the horizon, the silver light that he had stepped through reflecting emerald and amber from it to give the sense of a flower-studded plain. In the distance shone the glimmering aquamarine of a calm sea. He looked up – the ceiling was the deep blue of dusk, a few specks of white appearing like the first stars of the night.

The temperature felt balmy like he imagined a tropical island might feel. Even the crystal beneath his feet felt warm, as though someone had turned on underfloor heating at just the right temperature.

A pile of clothes a few metres away reminded Louis that he was naked – he had forgotten.

‘Odd’ he thought as he bent to retrieve them.

They looked just like the ones that Niamh had left by the pool. What the hell were they doing here?  Anything was possible in dreams, he supposed.

He buttoned the shirt gratefully then slipped the snug-looking leather trousers he had scoffed at over his hips. It was as though they had been made for him. A bump on his shoulder made him swing round.

“Aah,” he shouted, coming face to face with a long white furry nose.

“Pppppprrrrrrrr,” snorted the horse mockingly as Louis tripped over his own feet and landed on his backside with a thud.

“Good evening, Longhand,” said a familiar voice.

Louis peered around the horse’s snout to the man on its back. It was Manannán, his long white hair tied back today, revealing more of his incongruously young face than before.

He laughed as Louis scrabbled to his feet.

“Here. Give Enbhar this,” he chortled, reaching into his pocket and throwing Louis a carrot.

Louis held the carrot out gingerly.  “Am I dreaming?” he asked, but Manannán said nothing.

The horse regarded him scathingly then reached his giant head forward, opening his mouth to reveal giant teeth and a humungous slimy tongue.

Louis gasped and jumped back.

“Ppppprrrrr,” snorted Enbhar, stretching his long neck forward and grabbing the carrot from Louis’ hand.

“See,”laughed Mannanaan, “he will not bite … not unless you want him too. Now, let us go for a ride. I am guessing you have not done much riding, so I will sit behind and hold you on until you get the hang of it.” He tapped the saddle in front of him. “Come on, boy, before the next century.”

Louis approached the side of the horse tentatively. “I’m not sure I want to get up there, even in a dream.  Niamh said I wasn’t dead, so am I dreaming?”  he asked again.  “I suppose I might as well come with you if I am.  How do I get up?”

“That’s the spirit,” said Mannanaan, bending forward and grabbing him under the arms. The horse turned its head and shoved its nose under Louis’ bottom, pushing him upwards as Manannán pulled.

“We will work on the grace once you have mastered balance,” chuckled Manannán as Louis swung a leg over the horse’s neck and collapsed into the saddle like a sack of potatoes. “Now pick up the reins and off we go.”

Louis grabbed the green reins on Enbhar’s neck. They seemed to be made of plaited seaweed. He tugged them. “Giddy up”, he ordered.

The horse ignored him.

“How do I make him go?”

“Not like that! That is the command for stop. You have to squeeze him with your legs.

Louis squeezed but nothing happened.

“Enbhar,” growled Manannán, “He is yours to look after whether you like it or not, now go!”

Louis felt a surge of power beneath him as Enbhar set off at a gallop. He shrieked and closed his eyes.

“Open your eyes,” shouted Manannán, “Look!”

He opened his eyes. The horse galloped over the crystalline meadow, its hooves thudding solidly onto the glassy surface as though it were running on grass. Translucent wild-flowers gave off a perfume as the horse trampled them, his ears pricked, flexing every muscle in his sleek beautiful body.

Louis laughed. The sky was the purple of clouds at sunset. Ahead was a beach, a wild sea, with big waves whipped up by the wind. There was something weird about the waves. They seemed to be going out to sea, away from the beach, not towards it.

The horse ran onto the sand. ‘He’ll stop,’ thought Louis. ‘No animal is mad enough to run into waves like that.’ But the horse kept galloping.

“Hold tight, Lugh,” shouted Mannanaan, “grab Enbhar’s mane.”

“But we’ll drown,” hollered Louis. “He can’t swim in that.”

“Who said anything about swimming,” hollered Mannanaan. “Now hold tiiiiiight.”

Louis grabbed a handful of the horse’s thick white mane and wrapped his hands in it as the first wave hit. He gasped, expecting the wave to roll them, the horse’s hooves to knock him unconscious and sink him. He shut his eyes again. A cool breeze enveloped him, but no water choked him and he felt the horse’s muscular body change beneath him. The animal felt fluid. Still powerful, but not solid anymore.

Enbhar snorted excitedly.

“Open your eyes Longhand,” commanded Mannanaan from somewhere next to him. “Look.”

Louis clutched the horse’s mane more tightly. None of this made any sense. He must be dead. Or drugged up in a hospital somewhere….sectioned for trying to drown himself.

He heard a whinny, then another and another. He opened his eyes wide.

Enbhar was galloping over the waves – no – he was a wave! His head the white crest that leaps and surges towards the shore on a stormy day. There were other horses all around him, their wave crest heads rising and sinking next to him, as they dashed across the ocean, free and whinnying their exhilaration.

Louis laughed again.

“Race you,” shouted Mannanaan from beside him.

Louis looked across at the old young man, his white hair now the sea spray and his face the ageless beautiful deep water. Water couldn’t age, after all, thought Louis. “Who are you?” He shouted.

“They used to call me a god,” Manannán replied without speaking, his voice in Louis’ head. “But I don’t understand the title.” He gestured around him, “I am this.”

His telepathic voice was the roar of the stormy ocean crashing onto cliffs.

“I am the sea…now are you ready to race or are you too scared?” And he urged his wave horse forwards, taking the lead and dashing towards the land that had appeared on the horizon.

“Come on Enbhar,” shouted Louis as the distance between them and Mannanaan widened. “You must be the king of horses, don’t let him win.”

“You do not need to shout here you know,” retorted the horse’s voice in his head. “We have always been advanced enough to speak without words, unlike those humans you have become so fond of.”

“What the-”

“Besides you’ will get a lungful of seawater if you do not keep your mouth shut. Was that not what you were so scared about?”

“Okay, Mr Sarcastic,” thought Louis. “Are you going to let him win or what?”

“Hold tight then,” retorted Enbhar telepathically. “I thought that it was impossible to forget how to ride, but you seem to have managed.” He snorted in exasperation then accelerated like the wind before Louis had time to think about the fact that a wave-horse was talking to him telepathically; that he was talking back.  And he didn’t care if he was mad; he didn’t care if he was dreaming, because he’d never felt so alive.

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