by Serena W. Sorrell
Halimeda swam under the surface, sunlight and surf skimmed her dorsal fins. She was agitated more than ever before. She told herself it’d been too long since she had sung a storm, too long since she’d eaten up her hate, too long since she’d been among her kind. She would return to their keep, under thick ice sheets, where her blood froze with the hatred she knew so well. With hatred her goal Halimeda swam on. And on. And on. Yet, ever in her mind, hidden deep was a chest. Inside was a memory of the farewell kiss Vandkys had given. Halimeda ignored the chest, locked it with chains. Inside of a siren was room only for hate. Humans knew kindness and mistook it for love. Humans knew more emotions than Halimeda had room for inside of her form.
Quick days passed, swimming for the icy siren’s keep. Halimeda made better speed without a human girl to tow. Swimming with Vandkys she’d had to be ever mindful. Human bodies were fragile, they couldn’t swim fast, they could neither breathe nor speak underwater. Yet, they were so warm. Halimeda only felt warm when the rage inside urged her to sing. She sang storms to beat down on ships. She sang waves to pull men under the sea. She sang whirlpools to drag them down to the floor where they decorated the gardens sirens kept. Garden was too pretty a word for the place the drowned decorated. It was a place to store and harvest their kills. Fishes would sate a siren’s hunger, but only the flesh of a man could sate the pangs of wrath in her soul.
The ocean grew colder. The water clearer. Ice shaped a ceiling to the keep of the sirens. Halimeda was home at last. Vandkys had been a distraction, as the Queen said. Halimeda would leave any others to share in her fate. It was not bad, being a siren, so long as one slaked the unending hate. It had niggled under Halimeda’s scales while she had carried the human to her land. It itched in her barbels every wave of the swim. Now after so long the rage was a pain like no other. She would ask her sisters to join in a hunt. It would be simple to stir them to action, for they all shared the hate, the unquenchable thirst and desire for death.
After a day’s rest, she rallied the others. It was quick work to rouse their lust for murder, as it always was no matter who spoke. Five sisters swam along Halimeda, through calm seas and under clear skies until there they spotted, at last, a ship of considerable size. Six sirens in total to bring down such a large prize. At least a hundred men on board, sure to have harpoons. They would start their songs from afar.
The eldest began first, that was Halimeda’s part. Her voice stirred the air and she sang down the clouds. Two songs joined hers, they stained the clouds yellow and gray. A melody began to create large waves. By the fifth siren’s second refrain the crew on the ship shouted out warnings and readied to fight. When the youngest siren began, her voice a tremoring soprano, the waters churned at the hull. Halimeda sang up an undertow to grab at the stern. They would sink this boat and drown all its men. Her five sisters sang with the same intent in Halimeda’s spiteful heart, but then something happened, more dreadful than the tempest they sang.
The chest in Halimeda’s memory came unbound and her notes faltered. Warmth against her cold lips and a ray of light pricked through the storm. She sang stronger still, remembering hate. Memories of laughter and soft touches surfaced still, calming the waves as Halimeda sang on. Her sisters turned their black eyes to the eldest, wondering and worrying. Something was wrong. Halimeda stopped singing for fear of what would summon should that damned kiss surface in mind. Without Halimeda’s singing her sisters could not compete with the bulk of the ship. The sailors roared in victory and challenged the monsters that lurked.
Ashamed, with more hate for herself, Halimeda sank under the waves. A slash. A scream. A harpoon struck. It ran through the chest of her sister nearby. Indigo blood dyed the water with the small siren’s death. A rope was pulled and the harpoon called back. It jerked their poor sister’s corpse along with it. This though Halimeda would not wait by and watch. Her teeth cut through their rope and she returned the lance. Into the head of their captain who stuck to the mast. Anger quelled by the death of one of their kind; anger quelled by the death of one of her kind. The other circled their sister’s body to say their goodbyes. The currents would carry the corpse to the place sirens slept when killed. The sea knew what to do with its children of sorrow and its children of hate.
A voice boomed inside Halimeda. A summons she could not ignore. The Queen of the Ocean knew, too, what it was sirens were always up to. Her sisters forgot their grief and drew into formation to act as her guide. They swam far from their glaciers, and through warm waters, until they came upon the garden the Queen favored. There, still wrapped round the anchor was her majesty’s length and her eyes still blinding. From the anchor now swayed a fresh batch of their kills. Every day more were brought for their Queen was the oldest and greatest of all. She did not hunt with the sirens, but commanded their wills.
“Halimeda, child,” the Queen of Oceans sang in a boom, “you failed in your hunting, anger has gone out of your song. It caused your kin’s death and the ship sailed away. Why, Halimeda, why is your wrath fading?”
Halimeda never dropped her head, her shame had gone with the dead. She stared straight at the queen, but made no reply, for she didn’t know why. What had gone wrong with her singing, her voice, and her song?
“Ah,” a finger the length of Halimeda stretched out and pointed, “there is the source of this dreadful calamity.”
The locket, shimmering gold, floated round Halimeda’s throat. That such a trinket could cause her song to go off was beyond Halimeda’s fathoming.
“It is not the gold,” the Queen of the Ocean seemed to read her mind, “but the giver of treasure who pulled out your hate. That human you saved, that small human girl, she is the one who has ruined your song.”
Vandkys? But how? Vandkys was in another place, far away, safe on land. Halimeda would never meet those lips again. Then she faltered. The answer was there. Hate was being replaced with something terrible and new.
“You understand, Halimeda. I must fix this at once. I shall heal your heart and remake your hate. The next time that child touches salt and water at once she’ll cease and return the hate you so need.”
Halimeda’s rebuke shocked all. No siren ever said no to the Queen of the Deep.
“Do not end the girl’s life, I beg for her life.” At this the sirens hissed, something was foul, something amiss, “Vandkys never wronged me, nor none of us here. I saved her from drowning on merely a whim, but that is no reason to tempt fate again. Surely, surely, there must be another way to regain my hate.”
“You would endure any method I conjured, no matter the pain, no matter the suffering?”
Halimeda stayed silent, but nodded, so human.
“For a human then you’ll a human become. I will curse you, Halimeda, until hatred consumes your core. Your fins shall wither and your scales drop out. Your tail shall split and your teeth become blunt. And your voice, it shall stay here until you reclaim it with worthy bloodlust. Will you accept this curse, in exchange for a girl? A human girl who you’ll never see. A human girl you’ve already saved once. Every step will be pain, and every breath will be fire, and all of it you must abide in silence.”
Halimeda thought of Vandkys. The kindness she’d shown to a siren who murders men and chews up their bones. Halimeda thought of Vandkys. The laughter they’d shared at every sunset and dinner. Halimeda thought of Vandkys, the girl lost in the world, and thought, if she could save her again then she could endure. Webbed fingers gripped the photo and curl safe inside locket. Wide, black eyes stared back at the siren queen and replied.
“I accept your curse,” Halimeda sang in clear notes, “until my hate returns.”
The pain the queen promised bombarded the siren, from every angle, with every spasm, while every siren watched, and her lungs burned for air.