Grade: 12th grade
Age: 18

Siren

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I miss the sick-sweet taste of the nectar that flowed freely on the Mountain. The phantom memory of the liquid pours down the back of my throat, leaving me parched and gasping.
My island is little and lonely, secreted away in the middle of the sea. To the north lie rocky cliffs spearheading out of the waves, a whirlpool swirling below like a jellyfish twisting her tendrils. I cannot swim to the cliffs; strange sea-monsters, many-headed and spiny, patrol the waters. I live off of the occasional meat that finds its way to my shores.
It is never enough.
I can feel my skin stretch tight over the knobs of my spine when I sleep fitfully, tossing and turning over the sand in my cove, any clothing I once possessed lost to years of sun and wind. My arms and legs are more bone than flesh, my stomach growling louder than I ever could. At night, the moon goddess’s pale eye watches me slowly starve, indifferent and apathetic.
Ships used to pass by here every summer. They would stray close to my island, and I would be sustained for a while. And then their fragile wooden hulls would break against the northern cliffs, men tossed into the rocky bay like little straw dolls, squeaking like tiny mice. I would watch with despair at all the waste, my heart a stone in my chest at the unfairness that nature enjoyed.
The nights have become colder, as of late, and ships are few and far between. Men have learned of the treachery that awaits them in my little corner of the ocean, spread word between them that my island is a wait-stop on the way to the hell of the cliffs, to turn away at first sight. I miss the ships and sailors, who brought colors and languages and spices I had long forgotten.
Now, I am lucky to see the occasional trireme briefly appear on the distant horizon.
I close my eyes, brittle memories twisting into air. There is no point into holding onto illusions here. I am reduced simply to survival.
When dawn rises, rosy-fingered, I patrol the shallow waters, kicking up glittering ocean with my bare feet, scaring the little fish. They nibble at my shins and I snatch them up, pinching their tiny scales between my nails, tossing them into deeper water. They can’t feed me. My stomach curves outward in a caricature of fullness.
And then. On the horizon, a blur.
At first glance, I breathe out a sigh, knowing it is just a mirage. I retreat to my cove, drawing my dark, knotted hair around me in protection.
By afternoon it is a ship.
I have run out to the surf, knee deep in the water, arms waving. My heart tattoos frantic beats against my ribcage, begging and begging. The ship grows bigger, the size of my palm. I cry and scream for their attention.
Come closer, salvation. Beat out my starvation like a mangy dog.
“Please,” I shout with shaky, gritty voice, a voice far from perfection. It is nowhere near as beautiful as it was when I lived up on the Mountain, lyrical and clear as a bell. Instead, it has grown heavy and uneven, like I breathed in a smokey wood fire for hours. “Come to me! I can gift you with riches, knowledge, pleasure, anything you could ever want!”
The sharp wind carries it to the far away ship. It wavers in the distance, hull turning. Hot tears prick my eyes as I wait in the water, salt drying on my forearms and itching my skin. Despite their unsure course, the ship has grown larger, bigger than my whole forearm. I cannot block it out; it is the only thing for miles around.
The ship leans left. I know, with sinking heart, that the captain has recognized the lethal cliff face and means to flee. But desperation has never seen logic or sense, so I continue to scream at the ocean, voice shaking.
“No! Do not turn away! Come closer! Anything you could ever want, in the palm of your hands — power, glory, heroism! I can give it all to you, just turn your rudder to me, I beg you!”
On the Mountain, they praised the melody of my voice, likening it to an enchanting snake with beautiful, shimmering scales. Then, when the snake struck, I was suddenly a poisonous viper, ugly fangs dripping with venom and lies. But why blame an animal for its instincts?
I keep calling.
The ship is spurred by swift winds, the gods showing favor and mercy. I pant with exertion, arms waving and beckoning, voice strengthened with hope. I can see the little sailors on board, men scurrying around like rats. I know they can hear me. I sweeten my voice as much as I can, vocal chords weak from disuse. The ship is so close it blocks out the sun.
The first splash.
And another. More and more, my teeth too large in my mouth, stretching my dry, cracking lips, my voice loud.
A few sailors have jumped ship, swimming with sloppy, desperate strokes to my tiny beach. I feel each grain of sand beneath my feet and the wind against my flushed cheeks, and can see the whites of the men’s eyes as they stumble through the surf to my singing figure.
One reaches me finally, his chest heaving, dark hair plastered to his forehead. I snap my mouth shut, shutting off all sound. He pauses, awareness flitting over his features before horror sets in.
The warm flesh of his throat parts easily between my teeth, and warm blood spills, tasting of nectar. I can hear panicked screams as other men are beaten by manic waves, the ship losing her course in the pull of the whirlpool. But for now, the sailor in my arms slowly grows weak and limp, the meat of his body sitting warm and filling in my hungry belly.

3 thoughts on “Siren

  1. Wow. This one really got me. I couldn’t put it down. The writing is crisp and clean. Grammar and punctuation are in tact. Well composed imagistic writing with a surprise at the end that horrifies yet makes total sense at the same time. Well done!!

  2. Another really strong 12th grade story. Story builds tension throughout and finishes with a powerful ending.

  3. “Trireme” and “whirlpool” and of course the title are effective clues of the setting and time period. Magnificent turn-around image of siren–rather than beautiful and seductive, she is a cannibal. One feels tremendous pity for this stranded being—until she eats the sailor. That’s how she got “the occasional meat that came” to her shores.

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