Sirena always wore boots, even in the heat of summer. Not winter boots of course. Winters in this desolate place required ugly, heavy footwear and she had to be stylish. What was a Siren without allure? Today, she pulled on a pair of thigh-high snakeskin boots with a stiletto heel and chuckled a little. She wore boots all year round because the skin on her feet and legs was scaly, hideous. But a pair of boots made from the skin of a scaly, hideous reptile? Chic! Daring! Sexy!
It was going to be a scorcher today, almost like her home in Greece. You could feel it in the hot breeze, even this close to the lake, and even from this high perch. She went out on her balcony and leaned over the rail. It didn’t make her dizzy and she wasn’t afraid; she was part bird after all. The height exhilarated her. Queen Street below swarmed with people moving to and fro, but half of them barely registered in her brain because she was trained on males only. The testosterone made them stand out bright and succulent to her eyes. Her breath came sharp in her chest and her hands convulsed on the railing, long mauve nails curved around like talons. She longed to hunt.
Inside again to put the finishing touches on the lure: a dash of bright lipstick, sparkly earrings and a spritz of perfume. She knew desperate men could not resist these things and it made them easy prey. Busking was so ubiquitous and so charming that it never made anyone suspicious in this town. Her act was singing as sweetly as any songbird. Most of the time, her mother, Calliope, let her range as she liked, but occasionally she’d call on her to take care of some business.
They’d had a devil of a time coming to an agreement with the gods of this land. Their leader was a turtle for heaven’s sake, but nonetheless quite insulted by their intrusion in her territory. A turtle. Here they were just so different from the Greek or even the Roman or the Celtic pantheons, but the three found a common ground in their contempt for the cultish upstart who’d wreaked havoc all over the world since they’d shown up, like what? Five minutes ago? Calliope and Sirena had even laughed with Turtle over that. His sacred sites were just buildings here and there. The only thing Sirena and Calliope respected was that Turtle understood about blood. Blood pacts, blood payment, blood sacrifice.
Sirena preferred the waterfront to hunt, singing to lure her prey, and at first she was careful to lead her victims far inland for the kill so as not to sully the waters of the lake. Turtle insisted on this. But then there was that time that the spell of her song was broken too soon, there was a scuffle, and she would have lost her catch if she didn’t kill him right away. She accidently tore an artery before she got him away, but nothing happened. Later, after she’d eaten her fill, she went back to the place it had happened. There was a line of blood, dried by the sun, that went right to the edge of the dock and down the side. The blood had spilled in the water, but still the lake was the same as before. People came and went. Days and weeks passed, and she hunted, more carelessly as time passed. There was no consequence for breaking the treaty. They had overestimated Turtle’s power.
Sirena sat on the rocks on the other side of the railing and stared out over the water as she sang, as though she didn’t care who came to listen, but of course she did care, very much. She left a collection hat on the walkway side of the railing. She didn’t need money, but it made the costume believable, so she just gave the money to the poor on her way home.
People came and went. The men were enticed by her voice and only the ones lucky enough to be held back by their women were able to walk away, though with no little consternation. There’d be fights tonight over her, which was all very amusing, but she was hungry. Finally, as the sun passed its zenith, the crowds thinned, and a man stood alone at the railing. He wept, which was often the effect of her singing. The hat brimmed with money by his feet, but he only had eyes for her.
Still singing, she stood and ascended the rocks to where he stood. His mouth hung open and his eyes were glazed. He asked, “Darla? Is that you?”
She kept singing. If she answered, the spell would break. He offered his hand and she took it as she wiggled through the break in the railing. She wondered who Darla was – wife? Girlfriend? Daughter? But she didn’t really care. The song would make him believe until it was too late.
She threaded her arms through his and stroked his arm as she led him along the path, humming still. He leaned into her, but she was not burdened by his weight, delighted to find him so weak. She could hear the heat of his blood in his veins. There was a delightful moment in which she would see her true self reflected in his eyes before she devoured him, and her own pulse quickened at the thought.
Sirena glanced at the man for only a second and when she looked up, Calliope stood in the path before her. She stopped short. “Mother!” Calliope had never come to her this way before. The man stopped with her, his mouth slightly ajar.
“Leave this one, I have a task for you.”
“Can’t I have both? I’m starving!”
The man stood beside her; his dazed look changed to terror. He could see her true form now that she stopped singing. Sirena’s bird-like vision and instincts told her the moment he was going to bolt, and she reached out and clamped her mauve talons on his arm before he could complete the thought to run. He twisted wildly, but she ignored him while pleading her case with Calliope. “See? He’s seen me now that I’ve stopped singing. I can’t just let him go free.”
Calliope waved a hand and the man was once more bewildered. “I need you hungry. Let him go. You’ll thank me when you’ve seen what I have for you.”
Sirena released the man. He was a bit old. The older ones are easier to ensnare, but they never tasted as good as young, hot blood. They left him standing in the middle of the path and started back toward the Lake. Sirena’s bird eyes sparkled with excitement. “What is it? A poet this time? The novelists are always so tired, mother, even when they aren’t old. It wouldn’t kill you to send a nice painter my way once in a while…”
“It’s better than that,” Calliope smiled sideways at Sirena, but it was a not a happy or pleasant smile.
“Oh mother! A musician? It’s been so long! Whatever has he done?” Calliope favored modern musicians above all the arts because they were the closest thing to the epic poets of her heyday.
“Never mind that. Just do what I made you to do. Go home and make yourself ready. I’ll see that you have directions and the backstage pass in time for tonight.”
Sirena was above mortal attractions. Given her occupation, she knew better than anyone how deceptive beauty really was. But the musician was mesmerizing to her, even before he sang. And she’d met Adonis, back in the day before Persephone and Aphrodite claimed territory over him.
The musician was announced as Whiskey Jack, and she could see he was one of Turtle’s people: brooding dark eyes, dark stubble on his chin, full dark lips to make a virgin weep with desire. He wore his hair long and straight over his shoulders as he strutted across the stage. Sirena knew the name meant something, but she couldn’t think where she’d heard it. His set began and as soon as he started to sing, she ceased to think.
The show was a blur. She had a vague memory of the suggestive movement of hips, a sparkle of white teeth, eyes flashing desire seemingly just for her. When the show was over, she went to the backstage waiting area where there were about twenty others lounging in the hallway, all wearing the same backstage pass she had. Away from the Musician’s song, Sirena’s mind was clearer, but she still couldn’t place his name.
For millennia, Sirena had lured and killed her victims with her song. Calliope made her that way, to do that. But now, having fallen victim herself, she thought it so devious. Who was he? The double doors at the end of the hallway opened and the others began to file down the hall. She had to find her appetite again or Calliope would be rid of her.
Beyond the doors, lights pulsated in time to the throbbing music and the Musician sat in the centre of a curved blue sofa, legs wide, arms spread along the back of it. He certainly looked like a god on a throne. Some of the young women joined him on the couch, but Sirena stayed to the edges of the room, studying him, trying to determine what he was and from whom he came. His music blared, but the mesmerizing effect was lost, just as hers was when recorded. The spell had to be cast anew each time.
It seemed he watched her surreptitiously, but she wasn’t sure if it was just an effect, like when a photo watched you no matter where you went in a room. She helped herself to a glass of champagne from an offered tray, and the next thing she knew, she was seated next to the Musician and he was strumming the guitar. She knew the tricks employed to avoid responding to her siren song – some stoppered the ears, Odysseus had his sailors tie him up – but it was too late, he was opening his mouth to sing. She wanted to hear his song and damn the consequences.
She recalled a bit from a very old tale in which Morpheus, god of sleep played his lyre to drown out the sound of siren song. Since it was all she had, she opened her mouth and sang a wordless melody to his poem. The timing was everything and their voices together wove a tapestry of longing that captured the entire room in its net. As they sang, people found partners and danced or slunk off to the corners of the room or simply lost themselves in one another right where they stood. Sirena sang and sang, afraid if she stopped, the Musician’s song would overpower her. To her delight, he seemed to be suffering right along with her.
Finally, as though by design, they simply both stopped, and the spell was broken. The couples around them were not as she imagined, in the throes of lust, but just standing, talking to one another, the murmur of their voices audible now. The Musician smiled sheepishly at her and though in the past, sheepishness usually made her hungry, she found him endearing. He shifted, and what had before seemed like a throne, was instead only a couch, after all. The movement looked so graceful, birdlike and recognition struck her like a gust of wind. He was like her.
She’d been loyal to Calliope so long, and never had any desire for anything other than to eat the flesh of men in all that time, that her sudden craving for him was astounding. She was accustomed to the admiration of men and never cared for it besides the sweet flesh it brought her, but now, looking at the Musician, she thought she could eat bird seed happily for the rest of her life if she could just remain with him. She wondered how she’d missed it, seeing his head cocked in distinctly avian fashion as he returned her gaze, and admiration.
The Musician stood and held out both hands to help her up. She wasn’t star struck. She simply wanted him. He held her hands and smiled as he backed up, pulling her along. Sirena would follow wherever he led.
Wisakedjak paddled his canoe to the centre of the lake. The day was oppressively hot, and sunlight sparkled on the ripples. A bird of prey circled high above trees along the shoreline, a mere freckle in the blue sky. A breeze tugged at his hair, but it was firmly braided now. He watched over the side of the boat for the turtle, his paddle disturbing the shadows of fish swimming alongside through the water weeds that almost reached the surface, which bent in the current created by his passing.
Turtle surfaced, head straining out of her shell above the water.
Wisakedjak said, “It’s done.”
Turtle’s ancient eyes were, as always, serene. “And Calliope?”
“Went home, I think. She is no longer here. She knew when her pet spilled the blood there’d be consequences. She knows why Sirena had to be stopped.”
Turtle’s clawed feet churned slowly in the water. She was older than Methuselah, older than Calliope, older than any of them. “They never stay away, though. She’ll be back.”
Turtle dove into the murky depths once more. Wisakedjak shouted after her, “You could at least thank me.”
But Turtle was gone. Did she know what he’d done?
The bird of prey now circled above him on the lake. Anyone else would think she was hunting, but Wisakedjak knew she wasn’t. Where once she’d dined on the desperate men of the city, now she ate only birdseed from his hand. His pet.
Theresa Therrien lives in London, Ontario with her family. Story in all its forms is her favourite way to spend time – reading it, writing it, or watching it play out on stage or on the screen. She has written two novels and many short stories.
Other publications: short story at Scarlet Leaf Review: https://www.scarletleafreview.com/short-stories26/category/theresa-therrien
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