2021
SHORT STORY CONTEST
Honorable Mention
$25 Award

CAPTIVATED:
A SIREN’S TALE

by Chloe Benjamin-Brown

There’s prey on the horizon, a single ship rocking to and fro with every wave that crashes against its hull. Its large sails carve out squares of the sky, billowing in the wind and dragging the vessel ever closer to me.

I can almost smell them: their soft, succulent flesh, the mixture of pheromones their bodies exude. My stomach aches hollow with desire. It has been a long time since I last fed, almost too long; my strength is waning, teeth yellowing, scales losing their beautiful, glorious shine. Yet, as they always do, another ship comes bound toward me across the horizon, full of the weak, pitiful, soft-skinned creatures that I will call my supper.

As they approach, I sharpen my claws, shine my teeth. I cannot wait to break their skin, suck on their metallic blood, feast on their flesh. My stomach growls in response.

They will reach me at the brink of sundown. My scales will be shimmering in the late glow of the sun for all to see, but before they can marvel at the sight of me, I will entrance them with my song. Layers upon layers of their deepest desires and greatest fears, woven together with the ebb and flow of my voice, and the gentle shushing of waves, will lull them into a trance. I will render them paralyzed, unseeing, and unhearing, lost to the here and now. Then I will slide off my rock, drop into the sea below, and swim my way over to their ship.

The sun slips down the sky, clouds tear and meld, and steadily, painfully slowly but steadily, the ship skims over the sea toward me.

At last, just as their incoherent nattering reaches my ears, I begin to feel them. Their wants, their worries, their needs, their pressures, the very things that make humans oh so fragile. They entangle with my blood, set my veins on fire, my nerves prickling. The need to sing burns in the pit of my lungs.

The sun has just grazed the horizon as the ship pulls into range. I lift my chin and part my lips, voice ready to spill past my tongue, but at the last moment, it halts, caught in my throat.

Among the din of the ship, a voice reaches me. It is just a single voice, no louder than the rest, but it is crystal clear and rhythmic, carrying like no other. It’s singing.

The singing is not melodic like the Metacosts of the Red Sea or soothing like the Tyroids of the southernmost beach, or rich with desires and fears of prey like ours, but it is full, full and deep and heavy with sorrow. The pain that bleeds through her words catches me, paralyzes me, and I still on my rock as the ship sails closer, only wavelengths away.

How could this be? It is as if she holds our power, but, yet it is not my pain that she sings of but her own. Somehow, it has me frozen, aching, full of a sorrow that I cannot make sense of.

The ship pulls closer, forcing a wave over my rock. It jolts me into motion, and I slip into the depths of the water, lucky to have gone unnoticed.

The boat passes me overhead, its ruckus distorted by the water. I feel my blood begin to heat. I should already be feeding, drinking in their very lifeforce, savoring that soft flesh. Instead, I am stuck, held beneath them, stomach aching.

I should let them pass, wait for the next ship, but I feel my lungs burning again, my voice screaming to be used by their mere presence.

How could I let a plain human voice get in the way of my singing? It must be a testament to my growing weakness; my hunger must be distracting me. Humans have never held any such power.

No matter how weak a siren is, no matter how hungry they are, their voice will always captivate a human, render them paralyzed. That is our gift, and our gift only.

I surface the water close to the bow of the ship and open my mouth, ready to start singing, but only a single note drifts out before her voice reaches me and captivates me.

I have never had this problem before, always remained unfazed by who I was singing to or what I was singing about, but then I have never heard such pain before, such loss, such despair; it sucks me in, holds me suspended.

This cannot be possible. How can she possess such power? She is only a mere human, and yet the pain in her voice, the sorrow, the heartache, it holds me, stirs me, twists me to my very core.

In the distance of my mind, I hear a commotion on the ship; shouting, screaming, whistling, and fretting, but I am too far gone to make sense of it, lost between the notes of her voice. My hunger dissipates, and for a moment, it is only me and her, the lilt of her every word and the grief buried beneath them. For that moment, I feel it all, every ounce of her pain, every tear she has ever shed, every loss she has ever felt, and then it is over, broken.

As I’m yanked back to reality, something sharp and thick slices through me, tearing past my scales and burying into my flesh. When I look down, jutting out of my ribcage sticks a large silver spear.

Above, hundreds of pairs of eyes greet mine from the deck—men, ready and waiting to hurl another.

I immediately sink into the sea and wrench the spear free, but there’s so much blood, too much blood, my blood. My lifeforce is draining away beneath my fingertips, and I can’t stop it. I can heal, force a wound to close, to stitch itself together, but right now, I am starving, famished. I do not have enough energy to save myself. I will die.

My heart pounds. I place pressure on the wound, try to hold back the blood, but it’s coming out too thick, too fast; this can’t be it; this can’t be my end. How can I stop it?

Then somehow, through the water, her voice catches me again. This time her song is different, soothing. I feel my mind ebbing, my consciousness drifting, and once again, I am at that place where it’s just her and me. The air bubbles from my lungs, blood seeps out of my wound, but I let myself sink into the depths of the ocean.

I almost feel as if I could laugh. I am dying to my prey, to the weak, pitiful, feeble-minded humans that have nourished me for so long.

No, that’s wrong. They drove the spear home, but I’m dying to her, her voice, her song. For wherever she sings from the deck above, for whatever her power, it was she who captivated me.

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Chloe Benjamin-Brown, a London born writer of both fiction and code, can never be found too far from a laptop. However, upon the rare occasion she is, she is sure to have her eyes peeled for fresh inspiration to further current writing projects or inspire new ones. It is her joy to write and only brings her more joy when people find pleasure through her writing too. She hopes one day her fiction can help others, just as fiction has always helped her.