Her work done, the siren no longer sang, but still she hummed. It was a pleasant, buoyant, satisfied hum, and a human would have been tempted to add lyrics of a job well done. Of course, she didn’t know this about them, because her relationship with humans had always been brief and one-sided. She walked along the beach beneath the rosy fingers of Eos, enjoying the sensation of pebbles as they raked beneath her talons, and she admired her work of a few hours before. They were best at this time, the sailors, before they’d begun to stink; the gulls and sand crabs could never work fast enough. Even when the tide brought in the great fish with their many-rowed teeth, they never got all the bits. And they had the most marvelous objects on them; crude by the standards of Olympus, but that made them wonderfully individual. She collected the nicest to decorate her nest; she was certain they’d only be wasted on the fish.
When she was done, Eos had gone and Apollo had begun his ride and was burning off the fog. As she looked up from the last sailor, who’d brought her two beautiful rings of silver — one on his wrist, one in his ear — she looked up and was surprised by something revealed in the lifting fog. A boat — a small one, less than the spread of her wings from bow to stern. And in it sat a figure, still vague through the haze. Who?
She was not afraid. Nothing had ever harmed her. Nothing had ever had reason, except the creatures which had no reason, which only hungered — and none of those would have dared harm the daughter of Achelous, indeed the granddaughter of Titans. Perhaps it was a visitor from Olympus. She smiled at that thought; someone to show her collection to!
“Come nearer,” she sang, though she put no compulsion in it. That would not work on anyone from Olympus, and all the sailors were dead. “It’s been long since I’ve had a guest. Be welcome.”
For a moment, the figure did not move, then seemed to decide, and rowed nearer. As it it did, details became clearer through the fog, and the siren’s smile became puzzlement, though still not alarm. When the figure stepped from the boat and began to drag it up the beach, the sea breeze brought the scent that made the look become something else altogether.
“Why are you dressed as a sailor?” she asked.
“I am a sailor,” the stranger replied.
The siren shook her head. “No,” she said. “I know all about sailors. You’re different.” She inhaled the wet air once more. “You smell different.”
“I am a sailor,” the stranger stubbornly repeated.
The siren too was stubborn, and shook her head once more. “The sailors all die,” she explained.
“You kill them,” the self-proclaimed sailor agreed.
The siren was taken aback. What a strange way to look at it. “No, no. The rocks do that.” She considered, and found she had to fight to consider clearly. “Sometimes the water, I think, if they can’t swim well. And maybe some die in the ship. They’re dead when they get to me.”
“Until now,” the perhaps-sailor finished.
The siren shook her head again, this time to no one in particular. It couldn’t be true. She couldn’t have a sailor just walking around on her island. It wasn’t right. It would be embarrassing. And this.. both reason and senses told her, this could not be a sailor.
“You aren’t,” she insisted. “You’re very different from them. You look different. You…” she inhaled again, even as her head grew light, and repeated, “You smell different”
The unlikely sailor nodded, and said, “I am different,” and, lifting the glinting-edged knife that the siren hadn’t even realized was there, reached up and cut through the binding on her chest. She drew a great, relieved breath as her breasts, red and angry from their confinement, fell free in her vest. “I’d gotten so used to that I didn’t even think to take it off,” she said, also to no one.
“What does this mean?” asked the siren, whose usual cool rationally was under strain. “Why are you standing here, talking to me, if you’re a sailor?”
“Your song didn’t do anything to me,” she said. “The way they talk about your song, it always sounded like it worked on the way men think. It preys on the things they want. But I don’t think much like them, and I don’t want things in the same way.”
A part of the siren began at last to feel alarmed, not at a thought of danger, but at the unexpectedness of it all. The natural order, as she understood it, was falling apart. But she could not look away from the sailor. She could not stop inhaling her smell. “Why did you come here?” she managed.
“I tried to stop them,” the sailor said, defensively, ignoring the question. “When they said they were coming this way, I said that I thought this was where your island lay, but of course they laughed. I told them to do the trick with the wax, but they wouldn’t. Even though they thought I was a man, they still wouldn’t listen. Then when they heard your song, I couldn’t stop them, so I got in the landing boat and dropped into the sea, and waited.”
“What do you want?” the siren asked, slipper deeper into the grip of her strange scent.
“You took my father,” the sailor explained. “When I was a little girl. He was on his way home when half the fleet broke away and set toward this island, and him with it. The rest of the ships saw what was happening, and they told us when they came back. Six of the men from my village, fathers and sons and brothers. I never saw him again.”
“Why?” she asked abruptly. “I came expecting a monster. But you talk. You think. You question. So why? Why do you do it? Why bring them where to die?”
Even if her head were clear, the siren wouldn’t have known how to answer. “That… that doesn’t… make sense,” she stumbled, her gaze lost in the sailor’s eyes. “You should as well ask why the rain falls or the waves tumble. Why the sailors come to my song. This is what I am, this is what I do. This is what our nature is.”
Whether that was when the sailor noticed the quality of the siren’s gaze, she gave no sign, but she took a step nearer. “What do you want?” she whispered.
The siren had never told a lie. She did not know such a thing could be. “I… want you,” she said, helplessly.
The sailor took another step. “If I stayed here,” she asked, “would you stop singing to the sailors?”
The siren’s head swum as the scent engulfed her, and she could barely think, but still could not lie. “N..no,” she said. What did the one thing have to do with the other? She might as well have been asked if she would turn herself inside-out, or melt into seawater.
The sailor stepped closer. So close she could have leaned just the slightest bit and pressed their cheeks together. “You’re not the monster I was hoping for,” she said, looking deep into the siren’s eyes, meeting compassion dawning in the face of passion. “It really isn’t your fault, is it? You are what you were made.”
The siren nodded, barely understanding, but knowing then more than ever what it was to be slave to her nature.
The sailor brushed the siren’s hair from her face, and said, with regret she had never expected to feel, “But I can’t let you take anyone else’s father, or son, or brother.” And she brought up the knife, which she had never released, across the siren’s throat.
The pain cut through the fog enough for the siren to gasp, just before that became impossible. Still she could only stand, lost in the sailor’s nearness, the thing she wanted more than she had known it was possible to want. She stood unmoving as the sailor cut again, and again, until she had overcome the resilience of immortal flesh, and the siren’s head fell free. The sailor then picked up the head and gazed into the eyes as the life in them gradually faded, and the siren’s body too collapsed on the rocks.
The sailor dropped the head, and crouched to wash the blade in the outgoing tide. That hadn’t brought the satisfaction that she’s long hoped for. But at least it had been easy. She stood again with the gleaming-edged knife, and headed along the coast of the island. There were bound to be more.
© Sean Miner 2022