My sister the Siren – Part V (finale!)

There was light fluttering in my gut which told me we were nearing the sea long before the grassy river banks turned to mud and the air became saturated with the salty smell of the ocean.

The estuary was wide and flat; shallow, marshy waters clogged with reeds and moss, mud banks with shanty-like fishing huts and scrawny birds using long, thin beaks to peck between the shrubs, looking for slimy prey.

We walked around the waters past the huts, some clearly abandoned years earlier, some deadbolted, others now occupied by druggies and bored youths looking for trouble.

Mud turned to sand as we got nearer the sea and we followed the curve of the land to the coastline proper: a pebble-and-sand beach backed by sandy dunes. It must have been late afternoon: the sun was low in the sky and we cast long shadows as we strolled onto the beach.

The tide was on its way out and Faith, still barefoot, almost skipped into the gently lapping waves. She didn’t bother rolling up her trousers as she waded deeper and rubbed the caked-on mud and sand from her feet.

“Get in!” she called, beckoning me with a wave and a child-like grin.

I hastily pulled off my shoes and jacket and rolled up my skinny jeans as much as I could, which wasn’t far. I didn’t care, though.

My inhibitions had floated away, like paper ships on the low, rolling waves. Cast away by the crazy, joyful girl now paddling in them.

If this was all a dream, or a crazy adventure with a total stranger – well, I was here now. What did I have to lose except an incredible story?

The water was cold and small pebbles dug into the soles of my feet. I hopped and hissed through my teeth when a particularly pointy one stabbed me. Faith laughed and grabbed my arms to steady me.

“Are you ready?” she breathed. I smiled and nodded.

It felt like being pulled through a tub of Vaseline: greasy and slippery, sliding over my skin. The sky behind Faith blurred so much it looked like a watercolour painting but her face remained crystal clear. Her eyes were closed, brow furrowed in concentration.

Then we were out: it felt like being pulled out of a giant rubber glove. The world refocused. It looked the same yet… different. The colours were brighter, the sounds were clearer, the smells were sharper. It was like the world had been thrown into HD.

And Faith… she looked like a warrior queen. Her odd, nineties-disco attire had gone, replaced by light, scale-like armour adorned with copper discs that jangled quietly when she moved. Seaweed was banded around her wrists and ankles and an orange-pink coral crown nestled in her golden-copper hair.

I looked down, expecting to see myself in similar attire but I was still in my jeans and an old t-shirt.

“We’ll get you a proper outfit, don’t worry,” Faith winked.

I didn’t know what to say so I said nothing.

She took my hand and led me further out into the ocean until we were both up to our necks.

“I’m going to try the shell one last time,” she said.

But before she could pull it out her head was whipped violently under the water.

“Faith!” I screamed, suddenly alone. My heart pounded, my breaths short. Was she grabbed by something? Caught in a riptide? How had I been so stupid. I was vulnerable out here… Should I swim back to shore? Go after her?

I bit back my instinct to flee and ducked my head under the water. I opened my eyes and found that the salt didn’t sting. In fact, my vision was razor sharp, as if my eyes were made to see underwater. And there –

“Faith!” I screamed again, surprised to hear a clear voice erupt and not a horrible gargling sound.

She was suspended under the water gripped by thick, blue-black tentacles. They coiled around her body, keeping her legs locked together and her arms firmly planted by her sides. One clamped her mouth shut.

She widened her eyes, pleading at me to help.

I don’t know what came over me but I started to swim towards her and whatever Hell-squid had her in its clutches.

She made a muffled scream, thrashing against the binding tentacles and shaking her head.

Don’t come near.

I was panicking, blood pounding in my ears. We’d both drown! And what would my parents get? A runaway daughter who disappeared in the dead of night just to go to the beach with her friend and get herself killed.

They might not even find my body, I thought morbidly.

A muffled screech escaped Faith. The tentacles were squeezing her harder. She clawed at them where they bound her hands to her hips, blue light flickering at her fingertips.

She couldn’t summon anything, she was going to die. And I’d have to stand and watch, unable to do anything to help.

The tentacle over her mouth flinched back and Faith spat out a hunk of bitten-off flesh. Before the creature could slap its limb back over her mouth she managed to yell: “Use your voice!”

An image flashed through my head. Me, sat by the river with Faith, watching the sunrise.

The most powerful weapon we have.

I hesitated. How do you use your voice as a weapon? Faith made an agonised choking sound that felt like a knife in my gut.

“Stop it,” I said to the creature, “stop it, put her down.”

It did no such thing. My chest tightened. More images flashed before my eyes.

‘Why are you so quiet?’ the school bullies taunted.

“Stop it!” I pleaded with the tentacles. I couldn’t even see the creature they belonged to.

Speak up! My teachers frustrated with me as I made a presentation in my little mouse voice.

“Please,” I whimpered. Faith’s movements were growing weaker, her struggling less violent.

You’re nothing, my own voice told me. Useless. Worthless.

My eyes met Faith’s. I couldn’t even bring myself to say sorry. She stared at me, her eyes gleaming with fury, sadness and… fury and sadness, just like…

You will never say those things about yourself ever again.

I remembered her words and that connection – that tether – I’d felt to her. I conjured up strength from deeper within me than I thought possible and I forced myself to believe it all.

Believe that I had seen a woman conjure water and light from thin air.

Believe that we had passed through to an alternate dimension.

Believe that somehow we were breathing underwater.

Believe that I was a Siren.

“Put. Her. Down.”

The voice that came from me was not human. The words were not any language I’d ever heard. They were ancient and powerful, crackling with electricity, and the tentacled creature flinched away from them, dropping Faith to the seafloor.

She slumped to her knees, panting. The creature retreated and slithered away as fast as it had appeared. I rushed to Faith’s side and put my arms around her shoulders. We were both shaking.

She pulled away and looked up at me.

“You did it,” her smile was warm, her eyes filled with pride.

“What was that thing?” I asked.

“Something that shouldn’t be here… and that has obviously been waiting for us,” she answered darkly. “I think I might know why my shell wasn’t working.”

“It was a trap?”

She nodded gravely. “We’re at war, Serenity. It’s why we needed you so urgently. It’s why I had to rip you from your family in the dead of night. I’m truly sorry for that.”

I squeezed her fingers and offered my hand to help her stand. She didn’t let go.

“If you’re ready, let’s go introduce you to your new family.”

I nodded. The shell dangled from a cord at her waist. She held it to her ear. That now-familiar mischievous smirk lit up her face.

“Look what’s working again. Dad wants to know if we need a ride home?”

I bit my lip. My last chance to reject it all, my last chance to hold myself back…

“Tell him we do,” I smiled.

 


I’m so glad this is finally out in the world! It definitely feels like my baby, I’ve tried to write more, turn it into something longer but it doesn’t feel right and I think I should let it be.

Thank you for coming on this journey with me and with Faith and Serenity. I hope you enjoyed the ride.

If you liked this, why not check out my other serial The Captain’s Daughter or browse my stand-alone shorts here: Stories

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But I don’t FEEL like a writer

Writing inspiration can come from the strangest of places. Or perhaps I’m just now getting used to the writer’s eye.

I often feel like an impostor and wonder if I’m kidding myself by thinking I’m a writer. Am I good enough? Am I delusional? Is this all some childish dream?

Earlier this month though, something happened that made me truly feel like a writer.

A couple of weeks ago I was on holiday in Italy, staying in the small, coastal town of Trieste, nestled in the north-eastern sliver of land that curves around the Adriatic and brushes up against Slovenia and Croatia.

It was a relaxing get-away for my boyfriend and I, and a chance to escape the stresses of work and everyday life. We were flying from a London airport so we had a long train journey on top of our actual flight and time to waste in airport lounges.

Naturally, I took a notebook and pen (and a spare, and then about 10 spare spares in case somehow they all ran out), thinking to use those hours to work on a project I’ve been thinking about for a while, but haven’t found much time to focus on.

I got some work done though, as usual, not as much as I wanted. That much I expected.

What I didn’t expect was to find myself looking at places as settings. Almost subconsciously I found myself trying to record every detail of a place – how it looked, smelled and felt and how it made me feel – then filing away little snippets of sentences as I tried to put those details into words in my head.

It made me feel like a writer.

More so than pulling out my notebook and scribbling away on the train, more so than posting short stories on my blog and even more so than outlining story boards for Real Actual Novels™.

It was the mindset that did it. Seeing the world from a certain perspective. And it felt very special.

One place it was particularly strong was when we visited Grotta Gigante. The name literally translates to Giant Cave and it really was… a giant cave. But really going down there was something entirely different to seeing photos or imagining being in a cave.

You could feel the cold and the humidity on your skin as you descended and the world transformed. I was awed as the cavernous space opened up in front of me.

Shadows danced around the thousands of stalactites and stalagmites and I could imagine eyes hiding in those shadows, watching as a lone figure descended into chamber.

As I looked around shapes seemed to form in the rocks; gaping jaws of long, sharp teeth, animals crouched, ready to pounce and monsters prowling, long-forgotten in the depths.

I suddenly knew one of my characters would come here and then I was not descending a touristy cave, but into the lair of my story’s villains: a mysterious and deadly race of supernatural creatures.

I tried to soak up every detail, every feeling I had walking down into that cave and couldn’t wait to describe it from the eyes of that character.

It was an intense and wonderful feeling, and I can’t wait to find my next unexpected inspiration.

(These pictures really don’t do this place justice but believe me, in person it was breathtaking!)

My Sister the Siren – Part IV

I still wasn’t ready to believe Faith when she said this wasn’t all a dream but, real or not, I wasn’t ready to go home.

We napped for a couple of hours by the stream. When I woke up, Faith was already swishing her fingers in the water, seashell abandoned in the dirt beside her. She looked pensive and worried, but quickly painted a smile on her face when she saw me sit down next to her.

“I still can’t make contact but it’s okay, we can follow the river.”

“Are you sure it’ll lead us to the ocean?” I asked.

“I can feel it,” she smiled at her fingers, dancing under the water.

My stomach twisted, still unconvinced that I could trust this strange woman. I put my fingers in the water next to hers and I felt something. It was a slight tingling, as if tiny particles were bumping against my hand, nudging it, trying to tell me something. I knew with sudden certainty that the river flowed towards the sea, and that it was less than a day’s walk to reach it.

We stood and brushed the dirt from our trousers, then walked side by side along the river bank. Faith left her high heels behind, insisting that she wouldn’t need them. She seemed happier barefoot so I didn’t argue. And besides, it was hardly the strangest thing she’d done since I met her.

Most of the way was grassy banks and fallow fields, though occasionally we passed a dirt track or a road bridge. I guessed it was about midday when we came across a small town, nestled either side of an ancient stone bridge.

“Are you hungry?” Faith asked.

I hadn’t even thought about food, I was so consumed with wondering how any of this could be happening to me. But at the mere mention of something to eat my stomach growled like a sleeping lion catching the scent of fresh meat.

“I’m starving,” I replied.

Neither of us felt like venturing far into the town so we stopped at a tiny café on the riverbank. It was quiet, as I imagined the rest of the rural village was too, and we sat outside to enjoy the sunshine. Faith received a quirked eyebrow from the waitress when she saw her bare feet. I could tell she was contemplating requesting we leave but then Faith ordered what seemed to be half the menu.

“What do you want?” she asked me, when she was done.

I stammered, “just a Coke and a cheese and ham toastie. Please.”

The waitress nodded, “want any chips with it?”

“Yes,” Faith answered for me, handing back the menus. “She’ll have a Cornish pasty too, thanks.” The waitress scowled at her but didn’t dare turn away such a large order. She disappeared into the café to fetch our drinks.

“Are you really going to eat all that?” I asked her. “Soup, sandwiches, pasties, chips, crisps – is there anything you didn’t order?”

“Yes,” she said, “dessert. I’ll order that when I’ve finished the boring stuff.”

“You’re not serious?”

“I have an appetite,” she shrugged, smirking. “You’re eating all of yours too, we’ve got a long journey ahead of us.”

A mountain of carbs and two milkshakes later, I practically had to waddle out of the café as we resumed our walk along the river. Faith was unfazed by the ungodly amount of food she’d scoffed and strolled along beside me, slurping an ice-cream cone that she’d taken to go.

“I think vanilla is underrated,” she said between licks, “it has this terrible reputation as boring but it’s a classic really. Hard to beat when you get it right.”

“I like strawberry,” I shrugged.

“Mm, also an excellent choice,” she nodded, wagging a finger at me. “Cookie dough and whatever maple-bacon-kale crap they’ve come up with recently, it’s all a fad. It always comes back to the classics. They’re universal.”

“How do you know so much about human culture?” I squinted at her in the bright, early afternoon sun.

“I live in the sea, not under a rock,” she rolled her eyes.

“Yeah, I think for the purposes of my question, those are the same.”

Faith sighed again. She seemed troubled whenever I asked her to explain something. It made me uncomfortable, like she was trying to keep things from me.

“We have to keep in touch with this world, as well as our own,” she explained. “The land affects the sea, and vice-versa. The sky too. As much as the Guardians would like it if they weren’t, humans are a part of that. We need to understand them if we hope to protect the sea from them.”

“Who are the Guardians?” I asked.

“We are. Sirens are the Guardians of the sea and we have counterparts – dryads and sprites – who watch over the land and the skies.”

“How do we not know about you?”

She tutted at me. “You need to stop saying we meaning humans, Serenity. You’re not one of them.”

I lowered my eyes and bit my lip.

“I’m sorry,” Faith said, realising she’d snapped at me. “I know it’s hard. I was a changeling too.”

My eyes widened in surprise, “really?”

She nodded, “my transition was gentler. With you, we’re in a bit of a rush. I’m sorry we had to do it this way.”

“It’s okay,” I swallowed.

“To answer your question, we technically reside on another plane of being. That’s why humans don’t know about us.”

I stopped. Faith turned as she realised I wasn’t in step beside her anymore.

“You almost had me. Another plane of being?” I laughed and threw my hands in the air. “What the hell is that supposed to mean?!”

“It’s not that big a deal,” she waved an arm in dismissal, “come on, keep walking.” Reluctantly, I obeyed. “It’s more like we slip into a dimension just beyond human perception.”

“You know that’s even crazier?”

“Look, you just have to believe me until I can show you. Normally the shell is how I let our father know I need to come back. He can reach further than the rest of us and he pulls us back to wherever he is.”

“Oh so pretty much your bog-standard teleportation then?”

“Yes,” she said, enthusiastically, not catching the sarcastic edge to my voice. “The problem is the shell isn’t working and I don’t know why. It hasn’t ever happened before and I’m worried.”

She trailed off, an un-Faithlike seriousness settling over her delicate features like a veil. I squeezed her hand, “I’m sure it’s okay.”

She smiled sadly, “I hope so.” The veil of sadness seemed to dissipate, replaced by a determined glint in her turquoise eyes. “For now, let’s get to the ocean. From there I can shift us into the Otherworld. We’ll have farther to swim but at least we’ll be on our way. I just hope this thing starts working again on the way.”

My Sister the Siren – Part III

She was surprisingly fast in the high heels and I caught up with her at the end of the street.

“There’s a river through the town centre,” I said. “Or the sea’s not far. We could get a train out there if you wait til morning. Should I request an Uber to the station?”

“What’s an Uber?” Faith asked. But I didn’t answer. I was desperately rummaging in my pockets.

“If you’re looking for your phone I stole it,” she said over her shoulder. “I threw it away.”

Why?” I asked.

“You won’t need it when we get home, and besides haven’t you ever heard of adventure? What’s the fun in getting an Uber when you can explore?”

“I thought you didn’t know what Uber was,” I grumbled falling into step with her.

We walked for what seemed like hours: out of the suburban huddle of houses where I lived and into wide, open fields, interspersed with country lanes. I had long since lost track of where we were and simply followed Faith as she seemed to follow her instincts. Eventually though, I had to ask.

“How do you know which way to go?”

“I’m drawn to water,” she answered, “I can sense which direction it’s in, feel its flow towards the sea.”

Her words sparked a memory of a family photo album. Dozens of pictures of me in my swimming costume, with armbands and rubber rings and all sorts of other inflatables. Me splashing in the pool, in the sea, in a stream, looking for critters in rock pools… ‘You always were a water baby,’ I heard my mother’s voice in my head, ‘a real natural.’

I gulped and turned to Faith, finding her already looking at me with a warm smile on her face. “We’re all drawn to it. Try it, tell me where the river is.”

I paused and was about to ask how but then I felt it. It was like a gentle breeze against my conscience, soothing, quietly beckoning. I raised a hand and pointed in the direction it told me. Faith beamed.

She kicked off her heels and scooped them up in her arms. She was a few inches shorter than me without them. “Race you!” she shouted, bounding off across the field in the direction I’d pointed. I laughed and shook my head, then struck by a sudden, urgent need to be near to water, I ran after her.

I was panting by the time I found her, paddling her bare feet in the shallow river’s edge, staring out at the beginnings of the sunrise.

“Let’s take a break here,” Faith said, sitting down on the river bank, feet still in the water. “We can rest and I can try and contact someone.”

I nodded and began taking off my shoes and socks. I dumped them on the grass, along with my jacket, and sat next to her, splashing my own feet in the stream.

Faith took out the seashell again and filled it with water from the river. She put it to her ear again but shook her head sadly.

“I don’t understand,” she said. “I’ve never been cut off from everyone before.”

“Who’s everyone?” I asked.

“Our sisters, our father. Every creature of the sea… Keep up.”

“What are you?” I asked quietly. She looked at me expectantly. “Fine, what are we?”

Faith sighed. “I suppose I have time to explain now, don’t I?”

I watched the sun paint the sky pink and gold as it dawned over the lush green countryside and listened to my would-be sister.

“We’re Sirens. Not mermaids, I don’t want anyone thinking I’m one of those fishtailed freaks. We’re water guardians. It’s our duty to keep the sea safe.”

“I feel like the sea can take care of itself, I mean, it’s pretty big.”

“It’s not the sea so much as the things in it. We protect them from predators, pollution… and man.”

“Man?”

Her face suddenly turned solemn. “Human ships don’t belong in the sea. They’re too big and they’re full of oil which pollutes and hurts our creatures.” Then she smiled and chuckled a little. “It’s why we have a reputation for luring sailors to their doom.”

“What are your powers then?” I asked her. “If you protect the whole sea, how do you do it?”

“Well, like I showed you we can manipulate water, summon light – basic arcane stuff. But mostly we use our voices. Up here, in the air, there’s not much we can do with them. But down there, under the water, they’re the most powerful weapon we have.”

She looked wistful for a moment, smiling and gazing out at the lightening sky. She was even more beautiful now, bathed in the golden light of sunrise – truly otherworldly.

And apparently we were related.

I shook my head. I was delusional: it was impossible.

“I’m sorry,” I gulped. She cocked her head at me. “I’m sorry, I just – I can’t believe all this. You’ve got the wrong person.”

She gently put a hand on my arm, staring at me with those turquoise eyes full of concern. “Why would you say that?”

I felt shame moisten my eyes and tighten my throat. “How can I be related to you? You’re so beautiful and I’m so… not. And how could I be a Siren? I’m quiet and I’m shy, I’m the furthest thing possible from a Siren! I’m… I’m nobody, I’m nothing. I’m not important enough for some crazy destiny like this.”

Faith didn’t reply straight away. Her face turned dark, her eyes simmered with anger and her mouth tightened, as if she were holding something back.

Quietly, almost menacingly, she said: “is that what they’ve made you believe?”

She swung her legs around to sit cross-legged on the ground, splashing us both as her feet breached the water’s surface, and faced me fully. Gripping both my shoulders she stared long and hard into my eyes. Fury danced in them. Fury… and sadness.

“You will never say those things about yourself ever again,” she growled. “Don’t you ever think you’re anything less than perfect.”

Tears were trickling down my cheeks by now. Tears for all the times the bullies had called me weird. Tears for all the times I’d doubted myself. Tears for all the times I’d held myself back from life, because I didn’t think I was good enough.

“I don’t want to wake up from this dream.” My voice cracked. For I could not remember ever feeling as right as I did in that moment. The flow of the river soothed my mind, while the presence of this beautiful, golden woman soothed my soul. I felt a connection to her. I felt it. I could almost see it, like a hot, burning rope of light binding us together at the waist.

“It’s not a dream,” Faith whispered, pressing her forehead against mine. Tears fell from her eyes now too, hot and wet on my arms. “You’re coming home, Serenity, you’re coming home. And nobody will ever make you feel worthless again. If they do, they’ll have me to deal with.”

My Sister the Siren – Part II

Part I here.

I had plaited my wet hair in a long braid down my back and pulled on my usual uniform of skinny jeans, Converse and my worn leather jacket. The woman who had broken into my bedroom had told me her name was Faith and then turned her nose up at my outfit.

“We’re going to need to go shopping.”

“You’re wearing leather trousers and a silver halter top, you look like a 90s prostitute,” I had bitten back. She had huffed at that and told me she would wait outside as she stalked out of my room.

I found her sat on the squat brick wall in front of our mid-sized semi-detached and something tugged at my sleep-deprived mind.

“I need to say goodbye to my parents.” I made to turn back but Faith grabbed my arm. Silver bangles and shell bracelets jangled as she moved.

“You can’t,” she said. Her face dropped and some of the glow seemed to fade from her. I didn’t know if I’d ever seen someone look so sad. “They’re under a sleeping charm until the morning; it would be too dangerous to wake them and…” She looked at her feet, the silver glitter heels she wore and sniffed. “They won’t remember you when they wake up.”

“What?!” I roared, snatching my arms back from her grip.

“Shhhh, will you please shush! I mean it, if you wake them you could seriously hurt them.”

I stared at her, mouth hanging open in disbelief. What was I doing going along with this?

“So you’ve already tried to tell me I’m not human, those are not my parents, I have a secret sister who has come to smuggle me away in the dead of night for God knows what reason and now, now, you’re trying to tell me that you’ve cast some wacky memory altering spell on my parents?”

“Actually you have three secret sisters, but I’m the best one. Aren’t you glad I was the one who wanted to come and get you? You’re welcome, by the way.”

“I can’t believe you’re still expecting me to be okay with all this!” My throat tightened just thinking about it. They’d forget about me. They’d be left childless, alone…

“Hey,” she stamped her feet indignantly. “A few minutes ago you’d decided this was all a dream, remember? So you have nothing to lose? You’re more fun when you stop whining.”

I shook my head, “at least tell me where we’re going?”

Faith didn’t answer and was instead rooting around in her sequined shoulder bag. She pulled out a seashell and smiled at me.

“Why tell you when I can show you?” She put her hand over the shell and summoned water to fill it then she… put her ear to it.

Like it was a phone.

I took a few steps back towards the house, deciding that this wasn’t a dream and there was in fact a crazy person who had broken into my bedroom and was now trying to lure me away using a seashell as a telephone. I briefly wondered what the 999 responder would make of it.

But then her eyebrows furrowed in concern. “This is wrong, it’s not working. It’s not working!”

“Well duh, it’s a seashell.” Faith scowled at me, a flash of anger in those turquoise eyes.

“I know it’s a seashell, dumbass. For God’s sake you just saw me summon water from thin air, at least believe that I don’t need a freaking signal to use this thing.”

She shook it and put her ear to it again before frowning again and throwing it to the ground. “Ugh, this wasn’t meant to happen! Why can’t I get through to them?”

“Again I’m going to go with it’s a seashell.

“Shut up! This is serious.” Faith picked up the seashell and shook it at me. “Without this I’m not getting us home. Understand? We’re going to have to walk, like bloody peasants!”

I snorted. “So you’re a princess or something?”

“Yeah or something…” she muttered staring at the seashell and gently running her fingers over it. “Something has severed the connection. I can’t tell what but it can’t be good news. If we can get to a river – not some poxy stream, I need a connection to the sea – then I might be able to make contact with someone and find out what’s going on.”

She tottered away, heels clacking on the pavement. “Come on then!”

I sighed. “Nothing to lose,” I told myself under my breath as I followed her.