Every part of the world hides its monsters, in fables and stories, under guises and warnings. Tales tell of fire-breathing dragons that swarm the skies with scales of ruby red, and old wives’ warnings forbid children from going out at night in fear of the wolves gobbling them up for dinner. When certain creature stories lose their popularity, or are told of less often, the knowledge about such a monster grows secret. More popular beasts like unicorns and fae live on, leaving the lesser as cryptids that haunt scarce ghost stories.
Hence could be why a Kelpie isn’t as well-known, hunting human prey near lochs and ponds among the lands of Scotland and sometimes even Ireland. Victims could be taken at will without much as a why to their disappearance, and every gift horse is overlooked. It was only by my father that I knew what a Kelpie was, as he was one of the few who remembered the cryptid’s legend;
By innocence to innocent it comes with a neigh astray,
Under glamour it comes your way looking for prey,
When touched, its hide is smooth yet cold, enough to halt your breath,
And its adhesive pelt will trap you as it takes you to your death,
It will run to the waters to eat all but the liver,
Enough blood will spill to make a red river,
The magic bridle is its only weakness along with holy salt,
So remember ther warning or you are the one at fault.
Tales of the Boogeyman frightened children, but I had the Kelpie. I was warned to stay away from ponds, from lochs, from rivers, and I was warned never to approach a fair horse that didn’t have a rider. Our family was composed of fine fishermen, so I was warned never to stay out late and to never go fish out in stormy weather. I heeded the caution, I checked the fish traps and went home before dark or before the formation of storm clouds.
It wasn’t until the day that I was persuaded by a fellow of mine that I dared disobey the warning for only a short while. It was an early foggy morning, the clouds gray with promise of light rain. Amethyst, my dear friend who lived in the old house next to us, suggested we go out and catch some crayfish that for a while now proved to be a non-native species in the river Ayr. Although illegal to catch without a permit, for fear of if the species would be spread further and ruin native animal populations by hooligans, we were determined to see what the fuss was about. Besides, we were always intrigued with what crayfish taste like.
Amethyst promised we’d be back before my father would wake, and promised it’d be like we had never gone to the water at all. I foolishly agreed.
We headed down to the river, wearing boots and light fur coats. Amethyst had a bucket to put the crayfish in. The fog was a bit more thick the closer we got to the Ayr waters, and the further we approached the river, I noticed a strong and pungent smell lingering in the air. It was seaweed, intermixed with a rotten corpse stench and the salty sea musk stinging my nostrils all at once.
“Agh, ya smell that?” Amethyst asked. She had smelled it too.
“Aye,” I replied. “Must be the crayfish.”
… It wasn’t.
When we reached the shore of the river, we sat down on our knees and tried peering into the water for any sign of life, crayfish or not. The river was cold, the water swirling as it flowed, and when I dipped my hand in to try stirring the pebbles about, I felt like something was watching me.
Something was watching me, and it was hungry.
“Don’t see much,” Amethyst commented. “Maybe up the river.”
We agreed to head a bit upriver, where the stench of rotting flesh and salty seaweed grew stronger. The fog was still heavy in number, clouding part of our vision. Small droplets of rain began to fall, and the smell of newly arrived petrichor did little to help save our poor noses from a more horrible musk.
Then, I saw something move among the wisps of fog, like a snake slithering among dew-stained grass. Smoothly, yet quickly.
“Amethyst! Did you-?”
“Look! Crayfish, Pearl!” Amethyst was far more excited in what awaited us upriver to notice the surroundings. And, I couldn’t blame her. When I caught up to her, I couldn't help but feel my heart do a somersault too when I saw the huge glimmering red cloud of gathered crayfish among the pebbles of the river’s shore. There was so much, it looked like… a river of puddled blood.
“Hurry! Pop’s gonna be bustlin’,” Amethyst encouraged as she knelt down to begin gathering the crayfish into the small bucket that she had brought along.
The smell of expired flesh grew stronger. Rain began to enlarge from light drops to heavy stones.
Then I heard it, the cry of a horse, echoing among the storm of morning precipitation.
Amethyst perked her head up, her brows tightly furrowed as she sat dumbfounded, her bucket half-full of crayfish. I reached out to try and begin helping her catch some more, when a shadow approached us. The closer it got, the more I began to see the handsome silhouette of a dappled grey stallion trotting our way.
“Holy… What a beaut…” Amethyst gasped under her breath, the horse slowing to a stop. Its coat shone brilliantly, its mane as dark as night. A bridle decorated in shells and water weeds sat perfectly on its head, strapped to its mouth. Its eyes were black as death, and among its locks of hair, I could see traces of what seemed like moss and aquatic plants. Its hide looked sticky, pelt dripping with water.
The stallion tossed back its head, and gave a whinny. It stared at us, almost expectedly, waiting for us to do something.
“Does it have a rider?” I asked.
Amethyst shook her head. “Real pretty though,” she commented, one arm extending out to the horse, who exhaled through its nostrils onto her knuckle. “And friendly.”
She pet the stallion’s snout, a smile spreading across her lips. The horse nickered, beckoning for her to come closer. Welcoming her, to her fate.
“Amethyst, that’s not our horse, we should leave it-”
But, my words were futile. I could only watch as Amethyst moved a bit more towards the horse’s side, looking up at its back. “Boost me up, Pearl!”
I was still for a second. My choice was going to lead to demise, but the fact was unknown to me at the time.
So, I complied.
I stepped forth to aid in boosting my friend up onto the horse, letting Amethyst use my back as a temporary stool so that he may gain access to the horse’s back. I took the bucket of crayfish as well. The stallion was still and quiet throughout the process, being more patient than any other animal. Once Amethyst had clambered onboard, she made herself comfortable on the stallion’s back and then waved at me. her hands loosely gripped a lock of the horse’s hair.
For a second, I swore that I had seen one of the strands of water weeds in the horse’s mane grab my friend’s hand. But, as soon as my eyes had opened after a millisecond of a blink, all I saw was the beautiful horse and her.
Amethyst squeezed the horse’s sides with her heels, making the equine began to walk along the shore of the river. I kept close, following to the side of the horse as it trotted along, its hooves clattering against river rocks and pebbles.
“Pearl, join me!” Amethyst encouraged with a snort. I was wary. “C’mon! We don’t get to always ride horses, be an opportunity!”
Suddenly, the horse jerked its head up. It started galloping. Fast. I had to begin running in order to keep up, trying to avoid side stitch by watching my breathing. I could see that Amethyst was holding onto the horse’s hair.
“Amethyst! Let go! Jump off!” I suggested loudly.
“I- I can’t!” She called back. She let go of the horse’s hair, and my eyes went wide when I realized that she was still on strong. It was like she had been glued on to the back of the stallion, unable to be freed. “Pearl-!”
The horse turned sharply, beginning to wade out into the waters of the moving river. Its head shifted to look at me, dark pupils enveloping the rest of its sclera. It was too far into the river by the time I tried to race after it, Amethyst starting to scream and panic.
Thinking of nothing else, I forced myself to continue on by joining the horse in the water. It was cold, and the rain was doing no good. I threw the bucket of crayfish aside, more focused on saving Amethyst. The horse swam through the water like a swan, its hide seeming to melt away as raindrops splattered it. Amethyst was too far away, but I kept trudging through the dangerous torrent of water.
The horse gave an echoing cry, its hide continuing to melt away and reveal an all black-colored pelt. Amethyst was still stuck on its back, the pelt of the horse seeming to have entrapped her within its own skin. At that moment, a thought struck through my head;
This was no ordinary horse we had encountered.
It was a Kelpie.
The horse kept going deeper and deeper, farther out into the raging waters. Once it was satisfied, it dove underneath the waves, taking Amethyst with it.
I stopped. But the nightmare was not yet over.
Something slimy and wet had brushed against my leg. Like a frog’s tongue did it have my leg stick to it, and before I knew it, I was being dragged into the waters as well.
All I could see was blue, the movement of water, the vortex of dark depths.
I saw the beast eye to eye.
It had the head of a horse’s skull, furred with dark brown fuzz. Nostrils sat on top of its muzzle, like a crocodile. Its eyes were unfocused, completely white with no emotion. Its hair was as green as seaweed, its front legs like flat oars of webbing. A lashing mermaid-like tail danced through the water behind it, my leg stuck to the top of it. The beast was watching me, waiting for death to take a toll so it could claim a prize. There was probably two of them from what I could see, one who had taken Amethyst and now the one who had taken me.
If I didn’t do something soon, I’d be a snack.
Thinking fast, I reached into my pocket, and pulled out my emergency switchblade. I knew I was going to be in pain, and in deep regret, but if I didn’t do what I was thinking, I would be dead quick.
I dug the blade into my leg after I had unsheathed it, my teeth biting down harshly onto my bottom lip and making an indent as pain surged over me all at once. With lungs low on air, I thought I was doomed. Blood seeped into the water, turning it crimson in swirls of madness. I felt my time running out, the internal clock spilling away, claiming my soul for a Kelpie. The blade ran deeper into my skin, cutting past bone and tissue.
Finally, I felt my body begin to rise to the surface of the water, floating to freedom and away from doom.
I felt weak, my eyes heavy. My lungs were screaming, my entire lower body felt like it was on fire.
Before I knew it, I had lost memory of what happened next. I had awoken in a soft bed, gasping for air as if I were still drowning. My mother was over me, bandaging one of my legs, now a stump.
Amethyst was gone. I never saw her again. And neither did I ever go to that river, never again.
To disobey a warning, was to fool with nature and take a toll.
Thanks to the Kelpie, I learned a costly lesson.