Contest #83 shortlist ⭐️

The Lorelei

Submitted into Contest #83 in response to: Write a fantasy story about water gods or spirits.... view prompt

59 comments

Historical Fiction Contemporary Funny

“From her steep castle of sorrow and slate

Lorelei reigns over men and their fate

The river below, its faithless embrace

Rests her grave, and unquiet birthplace.”


“What’s that from?” asks the skinny girl. 


“It’s a legend, the legend of Lorelei,” says Captain Plauz, keeping his keen eyes peeled on the perilous currents of the River Rhein as he pilots the paddleboat. “Just ahead is the watery grave of many sailors, littered with the flotsam and jetsom of ships that crashed against the jagged rocks.”


“Why’d they crash?”


“Well, that’s a longer story,” Plauz says, scratching his white beard.


“Will you tell it to me?”


“Yes,” he says, pointing to a large coil of thick, white rope. “Take a seat there. What’s your name?”


“Melinoe,” the girls says as she sips cola through a plastic straw. "But you can call me Mel."


“Okay Mel, I’ll begin with Lorelei, when she was beseeching her husband, Heinrich, to be careful. ‘The sea is dangerous mistress,’ she said, ‘and shall not claim you as her own.’


Her husband reassured her, ‘Do not fear, my love. I set sail tomorrow, and will return in five.’ His rough hands, callused from the ropes and nets of his livelihood, caressed her blonde hair. ‘You are my one true love, Lorelei, and none shall take your place.’


The days dragged by in slow, dull torture for Lorelei. Alone in the sitting room of her humble home in Rüdesheim am Rhein, she played the lyre and sang sad songs for three days to pass the interminable minutes until her husband’s return. Men, captivated by her voice, stopped still in their tracks as they neared, pressing their ears to the window, heedless of the horses and carts that rumbled along the cobbled road. 


On the fourth day of longing, a string pinged free from Lorelei's Lyre. She grabbed her basket, woven from the small branches of saplings, and made her way along the cobblestone streets to the market. Passing by a shadowed doorway, she saw the butcher’s bonny daughter embracing a man wrapped in her husband's cloak."


“Why was the man wearing her husband’s cloak?” Mel asks.


“I’m getting to that.”


“Was this in olden days?”


“It was centuries ago, yes.”


“Oh,” Mel says, slurping on the straw.


The captain continues. “Lorelei recognised her husband at once. She cried out, ‘Heinrich!’ But he turned away and led the butcher’s daughter further into the house, shutting the door behind him. Lorelei dropped her basket on the muddy road and screamed and cried. Then she ran and ran and until she reached the banks of the Rhein. And she climbed and climbed the steepest cliff she could find. She paused at the top, gazing down the sharp precipice, and then leapt to her demise.”


“That’s stupid.”


“I, wha…How old are you anyway?”


“I’m eleven,” Mel says. “This sounds like a fairy tale. My mother says fairy tales have a lot to answer for, the way they give girls unrealistic expectations of marriage and relationships.”


“Well, I don’t know about any of that. Do you want to hear the story or not?”


Mel nods.


“Persephone, a Greek goddess, took pity on Lorelei’s lifeless body and turned her into a beautiful nymph. She gave her a golden lyre, so that Lorelei could play and sing to the captains on the ships as they navigated the Rhein. And she gave her a golden comb, so that Lorelei could brush her golden locks,” the Captain says, as he steers the paddleboat toward the middle of the river.


“Plucking a lock from the golden cascade

She fashions a lyre, a lyrical braid

Her voice, pure and heart-breaking

Cleaves stones, shattered from aching


Seafarers in their small ships hear

Whispers of promised love in their ear

Beauty beckons, a tempestuous kiss

Caressing echoes from the precipice


'Captains and sailors, bring me your ships

Nearer to hear the song on my lips

Forget your wives, forget all others

Before you lies your eternal lover.' ”


“So, she’s like a siren?” Mel asks.


“Ah...yes, like a siren.”


 “She’s killing, like, loads of innocent people ‘cause her husband was an ass.”


“Young lady, that’s no kind of language—”


“Ass, like a mule, I mean. A jackass.” Mel says quickly, swirling the straw in the bottle. “If I were a boy, would you care if I said ‘ass’?”


“Well, I uh…” the Captain trails off, his eyes drawn to the woman gliding toward them, her sandals padding softly on the deck. “Lovely” he whispers under his breath.


As she approaches, she removes her sunglasses and shakes her blonde hair, which falls in golden waves, partially covering her bare shoulders. The wind whips the skirt of her pale green dress, billowing gracefully around her sculpted legs. Her smile is sly and bright, her lips red and full.


“Madam,” the Captain says, “Please allow me to introduce myself. I am Captain Plauz.”


“Nice to meet you Captain. I see you’ve been entertaining my daughter.” 


“Your…daughter? Oh yes, I see the resemblance,” he says doubtfully.


Mel rolls her eyes and takes her mother’s hand. “He was telling me a fairy tale.”


“Oh? What about?”


“About a siren who lures men to their deaths, because she’s mad at her husband because he cheated on her. And now she’s getting revenge on men, because I guess she’s a man-hater, of course,” Mel says, drawing out the ‘or’ in ‘course' for effect. “But you’ll never guess what she’s called.”


“Hmm, I may have heard this story before,” her mother says, smiling.


“We’re approaching her now, if you look on your left, you’ll see a steep cliff, more than one-hundred and thirty meters tall, made of slate. That’s the Lorelei. The siren. She was a great beauty, but not as beautiful as you, Miss…?”


Melinoe’s mother holds out a cool, slender hand. “Ms Göttin,” she says, shaking the Captain’s clammy hand. “Lorelei Göttin.”


The Captain’s mouth drops open before he snaps it quickly shut.


“And Captain,” Lorelei says, “you better watch where you’re going. These are treacherous waters.”

February 27, 2021 19:57

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59 comments

H L Mc Quaid
20:00 Feb 27, 2021

This story is inspired by Heinrich Heine's poem of the same name, "Die Lorelei." (pronounced 'dee Lor-a-lye', as it's a German poem.) I had a go at writing my take on it, which doesn't deserve to be mentioned in the same breath as Heine's, but my poem has the advantage of being in English and not breaking any copyright rules. Plus the Vogons would really dig it. :)

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Beth Connor
20:02 Mar 03, 2021

You should be safe (German or not!) with any quotes- His poem is considered public domain. And may I be presumptuous (in being able to decide what the Vorgons actually like) in saying that it would be way to good for Vorgons.

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H L Mc Quaid
13:47 Mar 04, 2021

Thanks, Beth! Not sure my poetry would appeal to the Vogons (who tortured prisoners by reading bad poetry), but who knows? :) And yes, Heine's work is in the public domain. I must have been thinking about the rules of entry for other contests, when you're not meant to repeat loads of lyrics or verses from other artists.

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Frances Reine
13:31 Mar 02, 2021

Couldn't ask for a better ending. The stanzas are breathtaking, chilling, as golden as Lorelei's tresses. Things I'll never forget: -She fashions a lyre, a lyrical braid -castle of sorrow and slate -basket, woven from the small branches of saplings -watery grave - “She’s killing, like, loads of innocent people ‘cause her husband was an ass.” (lol) Honestly, this story works together so well, I can't point out anything that needs critique. The dialogue made me laugh at times and Mel is definitely my favourite. Way to go! Another wonderf...

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H L Mc Quaid
14:21 Mar 02, 2021

Frances, thanks so much! I was quite pleased with the "she fashions a lyre, a lyrical braid' line. Probably the only line I was pleased with, ahah. So I'm glad you liked it, and Mel. She makes me laugh, too. What a firecracker! I saw that you posted something this week. I'm saving reading it for later (when I'm not in 'work mode') so that I can savour it fully. :)

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Frances Reine
14:40 Mar 02, 2021

Aw, that's so sweet of you :) Thank you.

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Frances Reine
15:06 Mar 12, 2021

Oh my gosh--you got shortlisted!! CONGRATS!

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H L Mc Quaid
15:35 Mar 12, 2021

Quite a surprise! Thanks. 😊

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Ash Jarvis
03:46 Mar 01, 2021

Yay, more badass ladies of legend! For me, Melinoe stole the show. I would read a book—a whole series of books!—about the Greek goddess of nightmares and ghosts reborn as a soda slurping tween girl. Definitely some good possibilities there. And while I did feel pulled along in the story by Mel and her banter with the sea captain, I think it might add a little tension if her mother were more threatening. Just a tiny bit—I did enjoy the subtlety of her identity. Oh, those darn Vogons. Don’t worry, yours is way better ;)

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H L Mc Quaid
11:13 Mar 01, 2021

Hi Ash! Thanks for reading and commenting. Yeah, I agree, there's not much tension in this story and the reveal at the end is a bit 'meh.' I may return to it again before the editing period ends, if I feel inspired (I"m currently planning a longer piece). And you got me thinking, with the Greek Gods, we don't hear about their childhoods. Are they born as adults? If not, do they have their powers straight away, or do they gradually get more powerful as they grow? So yeah, a series on tween Gods (with a feminist twist) would be interestin...

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Ash Jarvis
16:54 Mar 12, 2021

Congrats on being shortlisted! Now you’ll HAVE to write a book about tween Melinoe;)

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H L Mc Quaid
16:55 Mar 12, 2021

Thanks, Ash! I mean, Melinoe deserves at least a novella. ;)

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Holly Fister
16:17 Mar 06, 2021

This was fabulous! I loved Mel’s candid reactions to the story, they cracked me up. I looked up Die Lorelei because I had never heard of it, and your take on it was very original. I love how you expanded on the legend and made it come to life with the story and your beautiful, lyrical poetry. Well done!!!

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H L Mc Quaid
20:27 Mar 06, 2021

Hi Holly! Thanks so much for reading and commenting. I'm so excited that you were inspired to read Die Lorelei. The english translation doesn't do it justice, but at least you'll understand the story of Lorelei. And yes, I added stuff from other tales of Lorelei (the unfaithful husband) and made some stuff up (like Persephone showing up). Anyway, I'm so glad you liked it. :)

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Rayney Day
15:33 May 12, 2021

oooOOOOooh this storyyyyyyy. makes me so happy how you did this. (I'm just reading back to find more about Mel) I love love love love the plot twist you wove in there. This story is amazing oml

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Michael Boquet
16:06 Mar 12, 2021

I really like how you structured this story. Someone telling a tale, in the tradition of spoken legend, was a very smart choice. I like the use of verse as well. I found the ending a bit confusing when the captain points to a cliff and says 'that's the Lorelai', but having the siren be the girl's mother was admittedly clever. Congrats on getting shortlisted.

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H L Mc Quaid
16:16 Mar 12, 2021

Hi Michael, many thanks for reading and commenting. I could see why there'd be confusion about the ending, particularly for folks who don't know what the Lorelei is (it's a steep cliff on the Rhein, that has the reputation for causing shipwrecks, and so it was associated with a siren named Lorelei). I'd add more context, but the editing period is over (gah). Anyway, glad you liked it despite the confusion. :)

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Michael Boquet
16:47 Mar 12, 2021

Oh, okay. That makes a lot of sense. Thanks for clarifying.

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K. Antonio
14:45 Mar 12, 2021

Heather, congrats on getting shortlisted!! Can't tell you how much I'm happy for you, and grateful that you are part of my circle on here!

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H L Mc Quaid
14:55 Mar 12, 2021

Thanks, K! A bit of surprise, but a nice one, on a cold Friday in London. And ditto, about our cozy circle. Wouldn't trade it for the world. 🤗

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Cathryn V
23:35 Mar 05, 2021

This is great! I really and I mean really, enjoyed this story. It's light and has a few jabs at chauvinism. I don't have any critique ideas. I love it. Thanks for writing this sweet tale.

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H L Mc Quaid
08:46 Mar 06, 2021

Thanks, Cathryn. So happy that you enjoyed it. 😊

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Janey Finch
21:09 Mar 05, 2021

Wow! The poetry was so beautiful and perfectly entwined, it didn't seem a bit much at all! I loved the way the story was told! And the ending was quite hilarious! The plot of it all was very interesting and it was really fun to read! Also, if you could leave me some feedback on my last story I would really appreciate that as you always give the best feedback! :)

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H L Mc Quaid
08:30 Mar 06, 2021

Hi Janey! Nice to hear from you. Thanks for comments, I'm glad you liked it. I'll take a look at your story later today. :)

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Howard H
10:26 Mar 05, 2021

Hi Heather, I loved your new story (or poem), it was quite a radical departure from the “ladder police” tale. I enjoyed the way you developed the relationship between Mel and the Captain. She was an entertaining foil to his concerned delivery. I should have anticipated the ending but as I got drawn into his narrative I ignored the warning signs and went with the flow. Fortunately, I avoided a virtual collision with the cliffs myself and escaped unscathed, despite the imminent threat of the siren’s whispers subtly emanating from your cauti...

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H L Mc Quaid
10:44 Mar 05, 2021

Hi Howard! Thanks for reading and commenting. I'm glad you were pulled along by the narrative's wily currents, and escaped unscathed. :) Yeah, this piece is veeerrry different from the ladder police one. It's hard for me to judge whether my stories feel like they come from the same brain or not. I've been experimenting with different genres, and POVs, and even throwing in some poetry, so I'd be surprised if there were some style "DNA" that uniquely identified me. I'd like to think there's an splash of humour and a dash of absurdity that ru...

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Claire Lewis
03:28 Mar 04, 2021

Heather this is amazing! I love the context (Heine has some incredible stuff), Mel’s frankness, the setting on the Rhein. The poem is so intense and beautifully written, it adds a lot of tension and frames the story nicely. Really well done! Also a side note: There’s a rather dramatic art song setting of the Lorelei poem by Clara Schumann, if you’re into classical vocal music at all 😊

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H L Mc Quaid
09:41 Mar 04, 2021

Hi Claire, Wow, thanks for your kind comments. Writing a poem was a big stretch for me, so I'm glad that it turned out okay. I'm not familiar with classical vocal music, but I like trying new things, so will see if I can find that. :)

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Claire Lewis
04:19 Mar 06, 2021

Hope you enjoy the music haha! Also, I just posted a story for these prompts. Cutting it close this week but I’d love some feedback if you get the opportunity 😊

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H L Mc Quaid
08:32 Mar 06, 2021

I found a video of her singing on YouTube...it sounded like a siren would, if the siren was an opera singer. And I'd be delighted o read your story, I'll do that later today. :)

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Claire Lewis
18:21 Mar 13, 2021

Congrats on the shortlist, Heather!! Definitely well-deserved! 😊

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H L Mc Quaid
19:57 Mar 13, 2021

Thank you! :)

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Beth Connor
19:54 Mar 03, 2021

Heather, this is one of my favorites! I was so captivated. You entwined present, past, history, and myth together magically. I have to agree with other commentators that Mel stole the show!

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H L Mc Quaid
09:38 Mar 04, 2021

Thanks, Beth! Maybe Mel should become a regular character. 😂

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Beth Connor
04:01 Mar 15, 2021

I just saw this was shortlisted-that is so exciting, congrats!

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H L Mc Quaid
11:56 Mar 15, 2021

Thanks! :)

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Rachel Smith
10:57 Mar 03, 2021

What a cool story. Loved the little girl, she's got personality! Enjoyed the beautiful lyrics and the ending was great. Fitted perfectly.

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H L Mc Quaid
17:53 Mar 03, 2021

Thanks for reading and commenting, Rachel. Yeah, Mel turned into a scene-stealer, ha! Glad you liked it. :)

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Rachel Smith
12:48 Mar 13, 2021

Ahhhh congratulations on getting shortlisted!

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H L Mc Quaid
13:00 Mar 13, 2021

Thank you! :)

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13:22 Aug 30, 2021

Nice one! I like how this story is humorous and enchanting at the same time. I like Mel's spunky character the most, and the Captain's shocked responses at Mel are funny. Thank you for the nice story..

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H L Mc Quaid
14:27 Sep 01, 2021

Thanks, Keiko. Glad you liked it. :)

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Julie Ward
20:06 Mar 17, 2021

I took a Reedsy break for lunch today and saw that you liked one of my stories...so I decided to stop by. I'm so glad I did. What great re imagining of the old tale. I love sassy Mel and her cool-as-ice mom, the poetry is amazing, and the ending was perfectly satisfying. A well-deserved short list!

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H L Mc Quaid
08:53 Mar 18, 2021

Hi Julie! Thanks for dropping by and letting me know what you thought about the story. Glad you liked it. :)

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Courtney C
18:35 Mar 13, 2021

Great story! I really loved Mel and how nonchalant she was about pointing out sexism and unfair gender roles. Overall, an entertaining, enchanting story. Congrats on being shortlisted!

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H L Mc Quaid
19:46 Mar 14, 2021

Thank you, Courtney! Congrats to you as well. I guess this makes us Shortlist Siblings?

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Courtney C
19:48 Mar 14, 2021

Lol I guess so. Could even stretch that to Siren Shortlist Siblings, so I guess great minds think alike.

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Pamela Griner
01:51 Mar 13, 2021

Fantastic heroines! Loved it. Tight and snappy and clever. Well done.

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H L Mc Quaid
19:57 Mar 13, 2021

Thanks, Pamela. :)

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Alice Claude
16:41 Mar 12, 2021

I loved this story! I especially loved Mel's honest reactions- they contrasted with the beautiful stanzas and made me laugh. A perfect ending as well that I didn't expect. Congratulations on the shortlist!

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H L Mc Quaid
16:54 Mar 12, 2021

Thank you, Julia. And I just read one of yours. Very nice.

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David Gottfried
16:18 Mar 12, 2021

Congrats, Heather! Well deserved!

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H L Mc Quaid
16:30 Mar 12, 2021

Thanks. This one was fun to write. And I guess some folks liked it. :)

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Cathryn V
15:30 Mar 12, 2021

Congratulations Heather! Well deserved win!

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H L Mc Quaid
15:38 Mar 12, 2021

Thank you, thank you. 😁

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