SEE MY WEEK WRITING AS CHALRES DICKENS AT
Franklin and Sarah MacDonald, neé Sarah Schumer, once had a daughter filled with life and love and adventure. A tall girl with soft, rounded edges that longed for adventure beyond her little town on the edge of the sea. Sarah spent hours brushing the soft, dark curls of her little girl even once she was no longer little, and their sea-captain man of the house indulged the strong-willed, oceanside child far more than was good for her. Allowed on ships and boats, allowed to ride and learn about sailing, allowed to think she had a right to be there.
Now they have nothing, and I have only the sea.
“Batten down the hatches!”
“Storm’s atop us lads!”
All around her, sailors shoved past one another, racing with boisterous intent from task to task as though their rush would somehow stop the storm from hitting. But despite knowing no amount of hurry would stop Mother Nature, Mary too hurried from task to task, moreso to keep the ship afloat and keep the men around her appeased. She was only here by virtue of her father, and the respect he commanded as a captain and the friendship he had with Jacapo, the captain of this here voyage. No sense giving any of the sailors or especially Jacapo any reason to think her undeserving of the MacDonald reputation.
The storm cared not for the sailors’ attempts to defy it, and slammed the masts with rain and hail, sent massive waves crashing against the hull of the boat and threatening to overturn it more and more as the minutes passed. The ship defiantly stayed upright, challenging the storm and Mother Nature herself, and after what seemed like days but was only half one at most, the storm lifted.
“We’ve reached the eye, boys.” The announcement came from the leader of their half-drowned crew, a man with deep wrinkles folded into his weather-beaten skin, tanned from so many years out of doors. But neither his deep-toned skin nor his wrinkles could hide the strength in his almost colorless grey eyes. He was perhaps too old to be a captain still, had seen one too many storms, one too many dead sailors and rebellious crews. He was here, though, and like her father only the sea would decide when he’d had his last day on the water. No man would make that decision for him. “Prepare the old girl for the second round.” He instructed, and she smiled up at the sea-man standing tall and proud by the wheel of his ship- wary yes, but fearing no storm, no trouble.
His crew however was not so at ease. They set to following his orders, but what started as quiet mutterings quickly grew discontented, her name mumbled with no small amount of venom.
Their captain was unamused. Gossip and mumblings happened aboard every ship, he knew; it was to be expected of any group in close quarters for an extended period of time. But as captain he was duty bound to keep a modicum of control over even the pettiness on the ship, on his ship. He was why she’d been so careful to curb her own gossiping instincts, knowing that as a woman, she’d be afforded far less leeway than the men she sailed with if she dared show an ounce of pettiness.
“Somethin’ t’ say, boys?” If she didn’t know better, she’d think that deep, booming voice was one of the gods themselves.
Silence, save the slapping of the waves against the boat, and she was starting to suspect the annoyance in Jacapo’s tone had been enough to curb their tongues. Then the first voice rose, hesitant but convicted, and others quickly followed.
“That storm came out of nowhere.” That first man, Henry, wasn’t looking at her as he spoke, but the guilt in his expression and the more bold statements that followed let her know he should have been.
“Done this route a dozen times and never nothin’ like this ‘til we let that woman on board.”
“They say a woman on board is bad luck.”
“This proves it, don’t it? Never should have let her step foot on deck.”
Her body felt cold even under her thick jacket, not from the chill in the sea air but rather from the chill of her crew. But she swallowed back the creeping worry and set her expression defiant. “I been just as useful as any of you lot, more than some of you layabouts.” She challenged, hands on her hips, daring them to contradict her.
“See? Thinks she’s better than us.”
She looked up to Jacapo, surely the man wasn’t believing this… but the old, strong man was frowning, taking in his crew, and her heart sunk lower. This couldn’t be her last trip out to sea- she needed to be out on the water, and without a crew to take her on, that would never happen, not for her. Her father still traded on his ships, he had none to spare for her, and wouldn’t anyway if she had no crew to man it. “Fine.” That heavy, godly voice decreed. “Mary, I’m sorry child but you’ll be docking at port and staying there.”
“Sir, you can’t-” His face may be old and wind-torn, but his sharp eyes were still fierce enough to stop her mid-sentence when he turned them on her.
“I can. I just did.”
The look in his eyes invited no questions, and she turned her glare to the crew who, it seemed, wasn’t done with her yet.
“And what ‘til then?”
“If we even make it to port!”
“We need to get rid of the bad luck!”
She turned on the last speaker, a thin-lipped, sharp-nosed man named Theodore from Bristol. “And how will you do that, sailor? You planning to kill me?” She scoffed, “I challenge you to try, boy.”
He didn’t even bother looking at her until he’d scanned the rest of the crew, making sure they were in agreement with him. “Toss her overboard.” He announced to another murmur, this time of agreement. The rain was starting again and it felt like tears on her cheeks as he finally turned to look her in the eyes. “It’s what the wench deserves for bringing this curse onto our ship.”
It was a crazy suggestion; they couldn’t just toss her overboard, she’d done nothing wrong. It was just superstition, even if it was a superstition that even made her wonder if she’d brought this on them.
“No one’s going overboard.” Jacopo denied their superstitious mumblings with a roll of his eyes. “We need hands on deck more than we need to believe old fisherman’s tales.”
He made a good point; the rain was already worsening and they did risk losing a hand or two just to the rocking of the ship in the storm. They couldn’t be throwing their own people off preemptively. They’d just have to hope the sea took her.
The hail returned and with it the wind that seemed determined to overturn their massive ship, and soon thoughts of her crew’s betrayal were far from her mind as she struggled to keep her lines tied and tight.
But lines and securing seemed not to be on the mens’ mind. She thought her braid had caught on something when she felt the first tug, but then a second yanked her away from the side of the ship and to the ground, and she realized with a shock that it had been a hand that caught her.
She glared at the men from the wood deck, but her ferocious glare turned frightened when she saw a cannonball from below deck, the net around it tied with a rope, the loose end of which was clutched in Theodore’s hands. They were tossing her overboard anyway.
“Captain!” A shriek ripped from her throat as she scrambled to her feet, only to be caught by each arm and forced back to the ground. “Cap-!” Another one shoved a rag in her mouth, muffling her cries for help as Theodore knotted the loose end of the rope around her ankles.
They may have outnumbered her, they may be stronger, but hell if she’d go down without a fight. She couldn’t free her arms but she did manage to yank a foot away and land a solid kick to Theodore’s strong jawline. He yelped and pulled away from her, and she twisted and bowed her body every which way to try to lash out at the others. Where she’d go once free she didn’t know- the captain couldn’t babysit her until they reached the docks, but she’d figure that out later. Right now all she could be bothered to think about was getting away with her life.
The odds were against her, though, and a lone girl, even one raised at sea, wasn’t a match for four grown men driven by fear and superstition. Her feet were tied to the weight and it and she were thrown to the angry waves rocking the ship, a human sacrifice for the sea.
Their cheers were the last thing she perceived before sinking beneath the surface of the water when everything went quiet. Even the storm seemed muffled from down here as she desperately clawed at the ropes securing her to the weight dragging her down Each second brought her rapidly farther from the surface and closer to the bottom of the sea, and she panicked the further she went, wondering if she’d even be able to swim back to the top if she did get free.
That thought, and all others, started drifting from her as her fingers slowed, and the last few air bubbles slipped from her lips.
She gasped, gulping in the air so quickly she choked on the water still lingering in her lungs, coughing and gasping until she realized she wasn’t alone. A figure stood before her and she scurried back, the moment making her realize there was sand between her fingers, wet sand that was almost the consistency of mud. She looked around, the figure that had startled her- a woman, calmly watching the girl on the ground take in her surroundings- suddenly mattering less.
“Am I- is this the bottom of the ocean?” She didn’t ask if she was dead- that answer seemed obvious. But she was curious why heaven or hell looked like a bubble at the bottom of the sea. She and this woman stood on the sand, in a small, air-filled clearing, surrounded by water like the biblical Moses and his Red Sea.
She watched a school of fish swim by as the woman chuckled. “Not the bottom of the entire sea, no, but the floor under where you were thrown.”
So she was dead, she thought to herself as she reached out toward the passing school of fish, stopping just short of touching the wall of water, irrationally worried that touching it would break whatever magic was holding it up.
Though if she was already dead, what did it really matter?
“You’re not dead, little one.” Her head snapped back to the woman, wondering if she’d read her thoughts. “Though by all means, you should be.”
Mary was quiet, eyes narrowed as she took in the woman- sea witch? goddess? -before her, her flowing dress and shimmering hair, the former dark like the gray storm that had ravaged Jacopo’s ship, her undulating locks almost white like the light that reflected off the water on sunny days. “Who are you?” Her tone was too aggressive, even she could tell, but there was no taking it back now.
“I am Cato, a daughter of the sea and mother to the monsters in it.”
Cato… she vaguely recognized the name. “You’re Greek.” Because that, of course, was the strangest part of this meeting.
“And you were drowned in Greek waters.”
Mary smirked. “You said I wasn’t dead.” The goddess’ eyes narrowed and returned only a single word to let mary know to watch her step.
“Yet.” Mary ducked her head respectively and Ceto’s voice grew kinder once more, appeased by the show of contrition. “Too many daughters are sacrificed to the sea by men. For nothing more than being daughters. And I have seen too many die. I am tired.” That was all nice, but Mary wasn’t seeing the goddess’ point. So was she to be set back on land, alive and well and given a second chance at life? What would life even be worth without the sea?
“Do you want to die, Mary MacDonald?”
“No.” The answer was instantaneous.
“Do you want vengeance on those who have wronged you?”
“Yes.” Another immediate answer.
“I can give you new life and the ability for vengeance. But you will no longer be Mary MacDonald, child of land. You will be one of my children, born to the sea and only of the sea.” Ceto’s eyes, as stormy as the surface above them, studied the mortal girl, searching for doubt or weakness. “Do you accept this gift?”
Mary- Mary for this last time only- set her jaw and nodded. “I do.”
She wondered sometimes if she’d have accepted Ceto’s gift if she’d truly understood that she’d be the first and only of her kind. A test run, so to speak, while she and Ceto figured out what worked and what didn’t.
Ceto had at first given her gills, like a fish, proving that even goddess weren’t all-percieving when they realized that the siren-once-named-mary couldn’t go above water to lure the sailors she wanted her revenge against.
That had led to an adjustment- now the siren was more amphibian than fish, able to breathe on both land and sea, though her tail kept her mostly to the water. She learned to find her way above the water though, an ungraceful process to be sure, clawing and crawling her way onto rock faces, slicking back her drenched, curly hair as it tried to stick to her face and dry into frizzy, haphazard curls. She didn’t see her own reflection after her change for months; she saw only her beautiful scaled tail where legs had once been, glittering like it itself was made of water sparkling in the sun. She couldn’t have named a color for her tail- it was iridescent, shimming between all the colors of the rainbow depending on where the light hit. It had taken time as well to learn to move with that beautiful but heavy tail- she spent many an hour those first few days swimming clumsily along the ocean floor, struggling to go higher, lower, faster, to turn in this direction and that. Eventually she caught on ( she had no choice, it was learn or starve ) and started to move almost smoothly, almost gracefully, after a few moons.
Eating was the hardest, though. She wasn’t fast enough to catch fish, she wasn’t practiced enough to be a predator even if the smallest of fish couldn’t outswim her… which they could and did often. Even aside from all those shortcomings, she wasn’t accustomed to eating raw flesh- her first hunt only happened because she was hungry enough to overlook the disgust of the thought of sinking her teeth into raw fish meat. Ceto checked in on her, but time moved differently for the gods- the siren could go weeks, even months, without seeing her creator, and had no way of calling to her if she did have need of her.
She’d never been a vegetarian before- in her old life she’d eaten what was given to her ( fish mostly, as was the life of a sailor’s daughter ) and she knew how to make do with what was around her. And so the land-born girl learned to stomach the taste of seaweed. Lots and lots of seaweed. By the time Ceto arrived again, her siren was desperate.
Give me sharp teeth, she begged, Give me eyesight that works underwater, give me something to hunt with. Hands clasped together, she’d be on her knees if she still had them. I’m too human down here.
Ceto obliged. Teeth as sharp and jagged as sharks’ teeth grew in, forcibly pushing her dull human teeth from her gums. Her pupils grew in the dark of the water, an underwater version of night vision that still allowed her to breach the surface of the water in the height of day without going blind. And finally her nails, which grew longer and sharper, birdlike talons for the sea’s newest predator.
With her newest gifts, the siren was content. She learned to move with her fin until she was as smooth and quick as a shark, she learned to hunt with her claws and got used to sinking fangs into fresh catches. But still one thing wasn’t working; she could lure no one. She skulked the ships that passed through her water, she’d tried breaking holes in the hulls and stealing their fish by cutting their nets, she tried luring the men on board to come play in the water with her, but they screamed and shot and fled upon seeing her.
Anger, frustration, resentment- these became her norm, the siren’s days consumed by thoughts of vengeance, each ship that escaped undamaged, each sailor who’s eyes went wide and who’s voice rose in panic made her want to drown them and their boats more and more. She’d began this new life wanting to take the lives that had ended hers-
Now she wanted them all.
It wasn’t fair that they were able to float on her ocean, hunt her fish and her sea life, got to have the sea as though it was a man’s right. It was her right, she was born of the ocean, they were merely self-important, entitled visitors. And she hated them for that.
She couldn’t understand why though, they ran at the sight of her. She wasn’t vain ( or hadn’t thought she was ) but she wasn’t hideous. She had had offers of courtship before her rebirth into the sea. So why then, did these men run as fast as they could away from her?
She got her answer once she finally sunk her first ship. A small thing, already beaten down by a storm, she hadn’t had to do much and admittedly it wasn’t as satisfying as she’d thought it would be.
In that small ship, though were some glass windows around the captain’s quarters and these windows, now sitting at the bottom of the ocean, finally let her see her new self.
She could only imagine it was worse with her hair wet and flat against her scalp, but even with her hair floating around her head like a dark, beautiful cloud, the reflection that greeted her was ghastly.
Her skin was pale and wan from too much time underwater, her eyes wide and unnaturally dark, with matching dark circles under them. But it was her mouth that drew her attention- chapped, bitten lips that had a faint red tint to them even now.
She wondered if that glint of leftover blood was more or less obvious above the water.
Even that though wasn’t where the unease ended. That sickly colored skin, stretched over a too-thin body, skinny arms that ended in curled claws and ribs showing as sharply as her collarbone. Gone were her beautiful curves- she’d been eating well since getting her teeth, since learning to hunt in this unfamiliar body, but her months of seaweed and near starvation had obviously already taken its toll on her once-lovely body.
Months later, Ceto found her siren hiding in a cave, surrounded by the bones of her meals that were the only reason she left the dark hole anymore, her only belonging the same reflective windows in which she’d first seen her haunting appearance, shattered and cracked in some spots.
The goddess had little patience for the siren’s pity party, and seemed to think little of the connection between her appearance and sinking ships.
“Women still die at sea, my child, and you’re sad because you’re no longer the same human you once were?”
“I’m sad because I’m a monster!” The siren wailed, hiding her face in her hands as she sunk to the floor of her cave. “No man will ever come to the water for me- men are attracted to beauty and I-” She lifted her face to look back at her reflection, letting out another sob. “I am hideous.”
Ceto lifted her by her shoulders, forcing her upright- so to speak- and studied her.
“You are beautiful.” She declared. “You have the lean hunger of a ferocious beast. You have the sharp gaze and sharper talons of a predator that gets what she wants and lets nothing best her. You have teeth that rip the flesh of your enemies and jaws that can crack bone. You are a wonderful and terrifying creature the likes of which the ocean has no equal.”
The siren felt her spine straightening, her shoulders rolling back as the goddess spoke. Felt pride creeping back into her soul as Ceto described her in such a way that made her fearsome self sound beautiful and deadly. More a shark than a dolphin, yes. But sharks too were beautiful in their own dangerous way. Perhaps she was, too.
“But I see your point. Men are too simple to see that beauty for what it is. They need a softer picture. So we shall give them one.” Ceto leaned in to kiss the siren’s forehead. “I shall return quickly this time, my daughter.”
And true to her word, it was barely a week before she next came to find her siren no longer secluded in a cave. She wasn’t near the surface of the water, but she was out and swimming again. It was something.
“My daughter, my beautiful ferocious monster of the sea, I bring a song, a voice for you with which to lure sailors to you. So long as your victims are under the spell of your song, they will only see what they desire most. Once the spell is broken, however, they will see your true form.”
Ceto held out her hand, gesturing the siren closer, and when they were close enough, the goddess reached to lay her hand against the siren’s throat. The siren gasped and tried to pull back from the touch that suddenly burned, from the fire slipping down her throat like the worst of drinks, but she was immobile, trapped with Ceto’s hand on her neck as her throat burned. The sensation lasted only a minute, though the sea creature would swear it had lasted half the hour at least. But then it subsided and Ceto stepped away, letting the siren gasp a few extra breaths until she was sure the pain had passed. “What-?”
Ceto was smirking at the sea girl’s dramatics. “Did you think a magical song would taste lovely to the one who needed to swallow it?”
“I didn’t think it would hurt.” The siren muttered.
“Rebirths always hurt my dear one. And every new gift I give you is a type of rebirth.” Ceto leaned in to kiss her siren’s forehead once more. “Farewell for now, my child.”
The voice, the Siren Song as Ceto started calling it, was just as enchanting as promised. The siren was hesitant to use it the first time, remembering the burn of receiving it and wondering somewhat naively if it would burn again when she used it. But it gave no pain when she finally sang, it gave her only exactly the lure Ceto had said it would.
She no longer even had to go to the boats; they came to her, veering off course at the first sound of her song and crashing into rocks without even seeming to have realized they were in danger. They saw only her, wanted only her.
Years had passed since last she’d seen her patron goddess, since Ceto had arrived to see her siren curvy and happy once more, swimming playfully through the wreckage of ships lining the ocean floor with the sharks she’d made her companions. Pleased that they had finally succeeded, Ceto had left her sea girl to her own adventures.
Dozens of ships had fallen prey to her song and her underwater death’s kiss. Scores of men crashed, fell and drowned at her whims, and while she occasionally longed for sentient company, for the most part she was happy.
Then Ceto returned with another offer.
“Are you lonely my daughter?” The siren had to consider this; she was, in a way, but it had been so long just her that she wasn’t sure she’d know what to do with another person around. The sea creatures were easy- fish and ells, dolphins and sharks, they had no interest in the inner workings of your mind, no desire to hear your thoughts or to respond to them in the event you confided in them anyway. Another person would. Another sentient being would want to talk and bond or worse, become a rival. And there would be no taking the decision em back if she agreed to allow another into this life.
“Such heavy thoughts for such a finite thing.” Ceto laughed softly, causing the siren to join her with a more abashed laugh.
“I suppose I am lonely, sometimes. Are you creating others?”
The goddess nodded. “I have been considering it. You have mastered this new form, you are everything we wanted you to be, but women still die at the hands of men. Women are still thrown from the sterns of ships just as you once had been. I would give them what I gave to you- a second chance.”
She still wasn’t sure she wanted company, but when put like that she knew what her answer was. “I want to save them, too.”
Ceto smiled. “I shall bring them to you as I find them.”
It didn’t take long to find the first. Ceto hadn’t been exaggerating- women were still thrown to the sea for their supposed bad luck, the bad luck of being a woman on a ship during a bad sailing day. And it was a small, fierce-eyed creature with hair the color of spun gold and her jagged teeth already bared in a snarl that Ceto presented to her siren one day.
There were two of them now, and the first siren realized she had never taken a new name. There had been no reason to- Ceto simply called her ‘daughter’ and the other creatures of the sea hardly cared if she had a name. But now there were two sirens and she needed a name.
“I’m Sofia.” The blonde greeted in a kinder voice than her snarl would suggest she was capable of. She wasn’t sure if Sofia had kept her former name or chosen one on the spot. Either way, it was now her turn to introduce herself. She had simply referred to herself as ‘siren’ for so long in her own head, it was the only name she could think of.
“Sirena.” Ceto smiled and the siren knew the goddess approved of her first daughter’s chosen name.
Sofia seemed to be struggling to stay afloat, and Sirena smiled in what she hoped was a kind way. “It gets easier, navigating the tail.”
“Thank the gods.” Sofia groaned, making Sirena and Ceto both laugh. It had been so long since hearing a new voice that wasn’t a screaming man, she was surprised how easy it was to interact, to laugh and listen and understand the jocular relief in the other woman’s tone. Perhaps having someone with her would be good after all, perhaps she hadn’t completely lost her social skills, and wouldn’t now.
Ceto left the two to their own devices, and Sirena taught Sofia the ways of the sea- where to hunt, where to play, where to hide, and most importantly what to hide from. They were hardly the bottom of the food chain, but they still had to be careful. Not everything was friendly in the ocean, and most of it was dangerous when it wanted to be.
Sofia was a fast learner, and eager to help take down man’s ships, to broaden their underwater graveyard of ships. She never volunteered what had happened to put her in Ceto’s path, and Sirena never asked. It was as though they had no pasts, were born only of the sea, fully formed as Athena the Grecian goddess of wisdom and strategy that Sofia liked to reference.
They saw Ceto even less, more sirens joined them, not all as quick as Sofia had been, some far less bloodthirsty. Most stayed with the original two, some left for other waters, some came back with stories of other sirens, sired by other goddesses across the seas.
Playful northern mermaids who become a sight from a nightmare when it came to protecting their ice and their snow-born animal brethren from the whims of humans, Asian sirens with honor as deeply ingrained as the Samurai heroes they grew up hearing about who saved ships rather than sank them, sirens along the coasts of slavers’ bays who learned to attack just the crew carrying their unwilling cargo and freeing the people trapped in chains. Pacific mermaids who lounged in the surf and helped easy-going surfers stay afloat and children afraid of the ocean learn to love it. And the mysterious Deep Sea sirens you saw only once a blue moon, quiet and shy and deadlier than their topside counterparts, who wanted nothing more than a quiet place to live out their extended lifespan with equally quiet, dangerous creatures and forget entirely that they were once human.
But these others mattered little to Sirena, as she was sure she mattered little to their leaders; she was only concerned with her corner of the seas. She taught her sirens and made sure they knew enough to protect themselves and each other from dangers of the ocean, to become the hunters of men rather than the victims. And she was content.
The sirens, even just the East Atlantic pod, were too numerous to stay in the caves Sirena had spent her depressed days in. The caves were simply too small, and so the pod had moved to the new, main shipyard, sleeping and spending their nighttime hours in the carnage of the ships they sunk.
Their daytime hours, their recreational ones, were spent in their favorite channel. Encased in a lovely fjord, not nearly as majestic as some adventurous sirens had said resided in the north, but enough for the mermaids, with a small hanging valley where a small pond and waterfall resided for sunbathing, and nice flat rocks right outside the widest opening of the fjord. Two towering cliffs ran on either side of the water, and toward the far side of the channel the cliffs grew closer, the water more like rapids than a calm wave. It was their trap, their home, and it had helped the sisters take down many a ship.
Some of the sisters had taken up swordplay, the weapons plucked from bodies that would no longer need them, practicing and swinging their weapons as though they had any idea what they were doing. Occasionally some would ask to keep a sailor or two alive, to teach them, but Sirena refused to let anyone leave their fjord alive, and a desperate, living sailor was a dangerous thing to have to babysit.
They could go further out to sea, and many of them did, sometimes alone, sometimes in groups; but there was always a majority it seemed comfortably at home in the fjord and their broken ship sleeping quarters that lay in the depths below. The cliffs offered vantage points for spotting incoming ships a distance away, and the flat rocks they used for sunning were a perfect spot to poise themselves to be seen by sailors. They had it down to a science, this art of ship-sinking. A lookout atop the cliffs would signal an incoming boat, that signal calling any siren that wanted to play to the opening of the channel. A few would swim out to meet the ship at sea and with their song, lure the boat off course and toward the fjord the sailors would otherwise strive to avoid entirely. They would lure the boat just far enough off path to be within eyesight of the sirens posed and ready on the rocks, their inhumanly beautiful voices too sweet to resist, pulling the ship further and faster off course and toward the deadly channel.
Had there been a woman on board, the crew may have stood a chance, that was the wonderful irony of the Siren Song; it would never affect another woman, that wasn’t what it was designed for. But woman aboard ships were bad luck- it was why the sisters existed at all, and almost no ship that passed the fjord had a woman on deck to break the spell of the seemingly beautiful women calling to the ship and it’s crew.
While the dulcet tones of the sirens twisted their minds and clouded their eyesight, the men were no wiser to the danger they sailed toward, not until they had hit their first rock within the cliffs, by which time it was too late to turn back, too late to do anything but watch their demise come for them.
But that was only on the days few of the sisters wanted to play with the sailors. On days the majority of their pod joined, even death itself couldn’t break the spell. The men would crash into rock after rock, bounce off the cliffs and pitch into the raging waters still reaching for their siren loves. Those were the easy days.
Not all the sisters wanted to kill the sailors. Few wanted to save them from their inevitable fates, but simply lacked the stomach for death, so they stayed below, in the shipyard where the world was quiet and serene, unbothered by the violence above the surface. Those were often the sirens that eventually were lost to the Deep Sea pods.
In all these years, though, only Elyse had ever wanted to stop her sisters, spare the sailors their lives. She wanted to spare them all, as equally as her sisters wanted to kill them all. She begged and pleaded with the others, but she found no pity in the pod of her creation and was advised to stay below if she found it distasteful.
The call went up, falling from the cliffs in Marina’s gleeful tone and catching the attention of her sisters above the water’s surface. Delphine and Mary ( a siren who’s formerly familiar name was so far in Sirena’s past that the original siren hadn’t so much as blinked when she introduced herself ) threw aside their swords and dove into the water. Doria glanced at the horizon for a moment before diving below to tell anyone down at the shipyard the news.
The waters rippled excitedly as the dozen-odd sirens came to the surface, poising themselves on the rocks in sight of the ship. Marina- an eager thing with a bloodlust to match Sirena’s and a gratitude that her human half ended at her waist that hinted the reason behind her hatred of men- was long gone, halfway to the ship after her sleek, graceful body had dove from her lookout perch, cutting through the air with a whistle before hitting the water with barely a splash. She was already propelling toward the ship, always eager to be the first the men saw.
The ship came into view and their songs rose up, mismatched at first but melodic even in the few seconds it took them to find the same melodies between them all. The waves along the ship’s hull betrayed how quickly it was going- Marina’s supernaturally lovely voice lifted in a laugh even as she sang, the raven-haired Storm having caught up and the two sirens letting the momentum of the ship’s waves bring them and their prey back to their sisters.
The members of the pod positioned at the entrance of the fjord were waving, smiling and giggling and singing to the sailors who didn’t see their wet-slicked hair or wan skin, didn’t see their chapped and bitten lips or the jaggedness of their smiles. The men saw only perfectly dry, bouncy hair that shone in the sun, saw soft lips opened in a welcoming smile, small pale hands and exposed collarbones luring them closer.
A few climbed overboard to join the sirens in the water before they’d even fully passed the entrance to the fjord, and the pod made quick work of them.
Most of the sailors though, were still simply reaching, and the captain- a handsome man with a strong jaw and hair a color to rival Sofia’s, was only still at the wheel so he could better follow the sirens further into the unseen danger. The ship had just entered the channel, too far to turn back but still clear of the worst of the raging waters that would carry the ship to the rocks, when an inhuman shriek interrupted the sweet songs of the others, causing the pod to yelp and cover their ears, breaking the spell quickly and effectively.
The men shook off the spell, and it was the sapphire-eyed captain who first realized the danger they’d sailed themselves in. “Stations men!” He shouted over the rush of the water.
Sirena was frozen in shock, unable to process what had just happened. They had never broken the spell this early. A skilled crew could navigate out of the fjord in their right minds… they may escape this day.
“Sirena, what do we do?” The others were confused, confused but not scared, not yet.
She ignored the question, her eyes having fallen on Elyse as a shot cracked through the air.
A heartbroken cry filled the air just after the shot had sounded, accompanied by the sound of a man’s triumphant cry. “Annabel!”
Sirena was shaking, the water around her rippling with rage. Two more shots, another cry from her sisters, and though Elyse winced, the other sea girl held her chin high. “I am tired of the carnage.”
The fury-caused shaking intensified. “Those are your sisters dying, yours just as much as mine. Dying because of you!”
“Sirena!” The voices calling to her were frightened now, panicked as they watched their sisters die and unsure what to do. This was new, they didn’t know how to react. “What do we do?!”
Sirena ripped her eyes from the traitor and looked back to the ship. Only a handful of her sisters were still topside, avoiding the red-stained patches of water where their sisters had once floated. The rest of the pod had fled, either to escape death themselves or to comfort each other in grief. Sirena’s eyes raged with a fury worthy of the worst sea storm when she looked back to Elyse. “What happens next is because of you.” She turned back to her remaining sisters, her command practically ripping through the air between her and the ship.
The remaining sirens didn’t need a second invitation- they had stayed because they were brave, but also in the hopes of avenging their fallen sisters. Fangs bared, they disappeared under the water, coming up on the sides of the ship and slamming their bodies against the hull, waiting for the first crack in the wood that they could exploit. Once they had that first break, they could focus their rage on ripping open the hull with talons too long and too sharp to be called mere nails, and let the ocean into the ship. Marina sunk her claws into the wood of the ship and pulled herself out of the water, clawing her way up the side of the ship toward the deck, her tail swinging behind her.
Sirena vanished further down the fjord, toward the rapids and the rock cliffs that overlooked the most narrow part of the fjord. Much like Marina had, she used her talons to scale up the cliffside, ignoring the discomfort of the dry rocks and drier air as she climbed higher. The ship was making its way down the fjord, and once they reached the rapids she knew they’d be on her in moments, carried away by the speed of the water.
Marina reached the railing of the ship, and though there were two men at the anchor, a quick hiss and lunge from her sent them running to find weapons. She leapt to the middle of the anchor wheel, using the bow of the ship to help her spin it, her tail wedged between two of the posts for leverage. She finally got the wheel loose and let go of the bow as the wheel started spinning faster, the weight of the anchor dropping it faster on its own volition. She dove from the spinning wheel back into the water, following the anchor down back into the water to return to destroy the hull with her sisters.
The anchor dragged and caught on the rocks and the base of the cliffs below the water as the captain tried valiantly to keep the ship on a course the wouldn’t end in the death of his crew.
Sirena reached the ledge she wanted, not at the top of the cliffs but high enough to put her level with the masts and waited for the ship to close in. It moved jerkily, swaying from side to side as the anchor fought the captain’s attempts to keep a straight course and the pod continued to rip apart the bottom of the ship piece by piece.
The ship passed Sirena, and she launched herself at the mast, talons reached out for the tied sails. She caught herself on the bottom of one and clawed through the ropes securing it, letting it fall open to catch the wind and yank the ship further off course. She fell with it, grasping at a rope to slow her fall and landed, tail and all, on the deck of the ship with her fangs bared and a hiss in her throat.
The men seemed too shocked by the sudden drop of the sail, the harsh tilt of the ship as it caught the wind, and her unexpected drop onto their deck to shoot her right away. She didn’t waste a moment, using their dumbfoundedness to her advantage and with her hands, crawled to the side of the ship and over it, lashing her tail out behind her.
The unfurled sail having caught the wind, the anchor struggling to find a hold on the ocean floor- no amount of skill behind the wheel could have stopped the ship from veering into the cliff wall, could have stopped that anchor from finally catching a rock that refused to budge and pulling at the ship with such a harsh catch that most of the crew pitched forward to the deck, some falling over the railings only to be caught by the vengeful sirens and leaving pools of their own blood sinking into the water. Only the captain stayed upright, abandoning the wheel in a vain attempt to uproot the anchor base.
But the damage was done. The ship was sinking, cracking in half from the crash, the opposite momentum of the anchor’s pull, and the siren’s destructive holes in the hull. The sirens were now climbing up the sides of the ship, avoiding the stray gunshots and sinking teeth and talons into their victims. No clean, simple drowning kisses this day, these men died in pieces, staining the wood and water red, the echos of their screams lingering in the air long after the sirens had finished their massacre.
Once no one was left moving, the pod slipped back into the water, leaving the half-sunken ship to its slow demise, and the sirens followed Sirena back to the mouth of the fjord where Elyse was nowhere to be found.
“Find Elyse.” She snarled, licking blood from her lips. “Bring her to me.”
It didn’t take long. With so many sisters searching the sea for the betrayer, driven by revenge and fueled by adrenaline and grief, Elyse was found before nightfall and dragged back to the fjord, back to the wreckage of the ship that was still littered with the bodies that hadn’t yet slid into the water. Eventually, the sirens would leave the bodies in the nearest shark feeding ground, but Sirena wanted Elyse to see them first, including the three bodies of their sisters that had died in the fray. Four more had sustained injuries, and were glaring at the delicate traitor as Sirena spoke. “You did this. You know what happens to ships in our waters. If you don’t like it, you should have left.”
“I tried, you brought me back.” The girl protested.
“It is too late for leaving. You have taken three lives today. Have you anything to say for yourself?”
“You aren’t counting the lives of the sailors you stole?” The arch reply made Sirena bare her teeth, made a low hiss spread across the other sirens.
“Those lives mean nothing to me. I care only for my sisters.” Elyse opened her mouth to speak, but Sirena cut her off. “We have heard all we need to hear.” Without another moment wasted on the girl, Sirena lunged for her, uneven, jagged teeth- so perfectly suited for tearing open flesh, though never meant to be used on her own kind- sinking into her former sister’s throat, ripping it open and letting the body float motionless on the surface of the water, her wide, unblinking eyes staring at the sky as yet another blood trail joined the others on the water’s surface.
She and the strongest-stomached of her sisters had taken the bodies of their sisters and the sailors to the feeding grounds- it was macabre perhaps but waste not want not was the motto of the sea. But once that was done, the sirens were quiet, even the most dramatic of them swimming back to the shipyard to be with each other or disappearing into the depths of the surrounding ocean to have time to themselves. All was quiet in the fjord as the sun started to set, and Sirena was alone as she idly swam the half of the ship from today that had started sinking. There was still a good chunk of the ship above water, but she wanted to explore it regardless.
She felt morose, a failure. She was supposed to protect her sisters, she was the oldest, the most experienced, she was supposed to know what to do in these situations, she wasn’t supposed to let her sisters die.
She should have seen the danger in Elyse’s soft heart sooner. She should have kicked the girl out sooner. If she had, this never would have happened. She was quick to blame Elyse, but really, this was her fault. She had failed her sisters.
She has crawled onto the top deck, letting the diminishing heat of the sun dry out her skin as she watched the sky change colors above her, breathing in the scent of blood and biting her lips against the tears of her failure, tasting blood as her too-sharp teeth pierced her lips with a familiar sting.
A small sound below decks made her sit up and cock her head to listen more closely. Another small sound had her sliding off the deck, ignoring the few splinters that caught her waist and her hands, slicing through the water with barely any movement, trying to stay quiet, keep her ripples to a minimum as she tried to see who was also exploring the wreck, expecting a sister, maybe a stray shark having followed the blood trails.
But it was neither of those options- the face that she found was familiar, but not because they were family, but because he had helped kill her family.
The blue eyes that had stood behind the wheel of the ship were still bright, even as they were filled with pain, the legs of the blonde man trapped beneath a fallen piece of the ship, pinning him to the dangerously tilted, below-deck floor as the water crept toward his upper half. Perhaps if he had waited long enough, the water would creep high enough to make the chunk of wood easier to move, but he’d be hungry, weak and half-drowned by then. He should be drowned by now, but the ship’s position wedged against the clifftop kept the ship from sinking as quickly as it should; perhaps it would never truly sink, unless a new ship knocked it off balance and into the ocean.
She lifted out of the water only barely, her hair slick against her scalp and only her eyes and nose above the water as she took him in. Even pinned to the ground, she could tell he was the type of man that had spent his life at sea, breathing in brisk sea air and gaining muscle as he kept ships afloat despite the efforts of the ocean. Jewel-toned eyes took her in with a tired weariness she could actually appreciate, and he was younger than she’d expected, a curiosity. She lifted slightly further out of the water, letting him see the cuts in her lips, the blood staining her lips, the unnatural tint to her skin, and floated closer to him. “You are young for a captain.” She rasped.
He watched her, wary but not afraid. Interesting. Most men screamed upon seeing her, and this one she knew was aware of the gun barely within reach that she was tracking in the corner of her eye. But he didn’t reach for it, didn’t scream, simply watched her as one predator would watch another. “Our captain died at sea. The men chose me.”
“They liked me, I suppose.” He chuckled, the sound bleeding into a weak cough.
“You are good at sea.” It wasn’t a question, but still he nodded.
“Not so much as you I’m sure.”
She smiled at the attempt at a compliment and lowered back down, watching him even as she let the rocking of the water carry her closer, until she was at the deck and able to rest her body against the tilted floor some feet away from him. Her arms folded against the wood, resting there, but her face she kept mostly hidden lest she was speaking. “You aren’t scared.”
“Not of you.” He agreed.
“Of death, then?”
“Of a slow death.” Her heart clenched, remembering the feeling of drowning, remembering a time when she was unable to breathe in the ocean she loved and the feeling of suffocating. She eyed the wood piece pinning him down.
“Why did you return down here? Were you hoping to escape?” He didn’t answer, his breathing growing labored, and instead glanced to the back of the below deck area. She glanced back where he was looking, and saw another body they had missed, mostly hidden under his own wooden pillar, unmoving and clearly lost already. “Someone important to you?”
“My sister’s husband.” He cleared his throat, trying to keep from sounding as weak as he was clearly feeling.
“You like him.”
“Not really.” He admitted with another chuckle. “He’s insufferable. But not to my sister.” He tried to adjust and sit up a little, but with a groan abandoned that attempt. “She wouldn’t have forgiven me if I didn’t at least try to save him.”
“You are a good brother.”
“You going to hide in the water ‘til I die, or are you going to actually come talk to me until I go?”
She lifted out of the water, surprise etched across her features. “You want me to stay?”
“I wouldn’t be opposed to having company before I die.”
She warily crawled up the deck, half an eye on the gun to the side just in case this was a trick. But he didn’t so much as look at the gun as she crawled to his side, laying next to him with the bottom half of her tail still in the water. “You are a brave man.” For suffering her true appearance, she meant.
“Nah, I just prefer the sordid truth to a beautiful lie. And I suspect there’s a backstory to your life that led you to this sordid truth, m’lady.” She liked that he was in such good spirits even as the water crept slowly up his body to his mouth and his lungs. She cocked her head, reaching out to run wet fingers through his hair, liking the way his eyes drifted shut and his head tilted back with her hand. He lay back against the wood grain and linked his hands behind his head. “What do you usually talk about?”
Her eyebrows met over her eyes, unsure what to make of him, this man that didn’t run at the sight of her, that hadn’t tried to shoot her, that didn’t even seem resentful that she’d killed his crew. He was willing to overlook her appearance, her violence, her attack, was willing even to excuse it, all so that he wouldn’t have to die alone. She wished she had known such a person in her life, someone so capable of rolling with life as the ocean’s waves. Perhaps she’d have learned it too, and never would have found this life of vengeance and violence. “The sea.”
“Not the sea I’m used to, I take it?” She shook her head, and he opened his eyes, offering her a weak smile. “Tell me about the sea.”
And so she did. She told him of the way the water moved beneath the surface, about the sea life and which creatures were kind and which were surprisingly nasty. She told him about her sisters, even the ones that were lost, and let him tell her about his own sister, Margaret who hated her full name and went simply by Maggie, and even of his crew and the friends he’d lost this day. Time passed, and she found herself mourning the lives she’d helped take today with him, this man who looked at her and saw someone not evil and monstrous, but hurt and lashing out.
“I’m sorry for whatever happened to you and your sisters.” he’d said softly, not because he was fading, though he surely was, but because he was truly sorry, and that pain made his voice gentle. “I can’t imagine what I’d do if it were Maggie.”
“There would be nothing you could do. There is no stopping superstition or a fear to live.” He nodded, pain still in his eyes, though whether for her or imagining his sister in her place she didn’t know. “What is your name, captain?”
“Travis. Travis Sawyer.”
“I was once Mary.” He smiled. “I am glad to have met you, Travis Sawyer. And I am sorry for what happened today.”
“You and I both.” She leaned in, and his eyes closed, though again she couldn’t tell why, whether he was hiding from her face or because that was typical of kissing- it had been decades since she’d kissed anyone, and her memories were foggy, locked up tight from her former life- but she didn’t let it stop her from touching her textured, copper-tasting lips to his softer ones, pressing against him until his gasp broke them apart, the claws of her hand pressed against his chest now embedded in his skin, breaking it and the barrier protecting his heart, and before he’d even realized what had happened, before the kiss had even broken, he was gone.
She slipped back into the water to return to the top deck. She’d take him to the feeding grounds by herself, later that night when her sisters were sleeping, but until then she would continue her self-reflection as the moon rose over the sea.