The Voyage of the Siren and Mermaid

Submitted into Contest #240 in response to: Set your story on a sailboat, large or small, and entirely at the mercy of the winds.... view prompt


Fantasy Friendship

I fastened the final rope to the sail of our glorious boat.  “See, Maia, I told you I could figure out how the human vessels work!”

I gazed at my creation.  From the bones of an abandoned vessel, I constructed a new boat with a tall sail, a net to the side for Maia to sit in, and the prettiest rocks I found decorating the hull.  

A proud squawk burst from my lips.  “It’s perfect!”

“It’s garbage.”  Maia’s tail swished through the waves.  “Petra, you did your best, but this thing won’t survive the first wave, never mind any storms.  Look, I understand you want to leave, but we just have to accept—”

“No, we don’t!”  I flapped my wings and hopped toward her, brushing a lock of red hair behind my ear.  “Maia, I can’t keep living like this!  If I have to sit on this rock one more second, I’m going to drown myself!”

“Sirens can’t drown.”

“I’ll find a way!”

She sighed, her body sinking in the water till only her green eyes, black hair, and shark fins stuck up above the surface.  She blew bubbles and clacked her throat in that indecipherable mermaid language.  I was sure she used it to mock me secretly since she was supposed to be the “mature adult.”

“Bubble all you want; I’m getting us out of here.”  I hopped to the top of the rock, passing the treasures Maia and I gathered over the years. 

The portraits of humans smiled at me, their funny, featherless arms and odd legs painted elegantly as they danced or sat or just talked to one another at tables.

Rummaging through my belongings, I found the final piece of our grand boat: the golden compass.  It glistened in the sun, its surface pristine despite decades at the bottom of the ocean.

It took a lot to convince Maia to help me get the shiny thing out from under a rotten ship.  I didn’t know exactly what it was until I found something even more curious: a book that didn’t bleed.  Most of the books we’d found from human ships bled ink into the waters, their papers lodged in bricks of gunk that floated away at the slightest disturbance.   

Somehow, this one survived.  When I opened it, I was thrilled to understand its words.  It used the common language from before the Great Banishment, the one language I knew.  I poured over its words, glee obscuring any deeper study that first night.  It even had pretty pages of swirls!

The book talked about our realm, this ocean of nothing where all sea folk were banished.  More interestingly, it mentioned a way to cross between it and the mortal world.  And the fate of a sea folk who should pass.

We could become humans!

The golden compass was no ordinary navigational device.  The man who banished us here all those centuries ago enchanted it.  It was of many similar devices used to send humans here to be charmed by our songs and ended with our talons.  Other humans must not have liked them.  

I never much cared for that.  After all, no one liked me either, so why should I punish them for a similar crime?

No ships had traveled here for many decades.  The proud sirens of my flock scoffed at the fish I gathered, waiting on more “suitable” meals.  They all died.  

Thankfully, I wasn’t left all alone.  I found Maia — or, rather, she found me floating in the water — who also didn’t mind fish all that much.

She never said if the other mermaids were still around, but I wasn’t sure she would even know if she was the last one.  Where sirens thrived in large flocks, mermaids were solitary beings that preferred exploring the oceans alone, only pairing up to start small families.  Maia once said she never saw any appeal to “pairing up” with anyone, for children or survival, but she seemed to tolerate me.  I was helpful, and I guess she saw me as the closest thing to a child she’d ever have, so we’ve been together since!

“We don’t even know if the compass really works for us,” Maia said.  She hoisted herself further up the rock.  “For all we know, we’re going to get to the barrier and turn to foam.”

I hopped onto the boat and fastened the compass to the wheel.  “Then let me become foam as a free woman!”

“You’re not a woman, you’re a siren.”

I fixed her with a glare.  “Just get your scaly tail in the net so we can finally get off this rock.”

“I don’t have scales.”

“You know what I meant!”

“Okay, but—”


She bubbled beneath the tides again.  “If we die, I’m haunting you.”

“We don’t have souls.”

“I’ll find a way.”


I chirped giddily and clutched the steering wheel, following the red tip of the compass toward our freedom. Salt sprayed my face, the splash far more refreshing than any from that rock I sat on for who knows how long.  

I grinned up to the sail, the beautiful bit of cloth holding the winds and pulling us along the way.  It was hard learning to use the winds — especially since I never learned to do so through flying — but after only a day of drifting in circles I’d finally figured out how to change course.  Then, it only took a day going the wrong way to figure out how to follow the compass!  

I sighed and held out my arms, red feathers brushed by the winds behind us.  “See, Maia, we’re doing great!”

Bubbles were the only response.  She laid across the deck, her tail resting in the net and her head submerged in a bucket she brought along for our trip.

She raised her head from the bucket to take a bite out of a fish.  “I’ll admit, you’ve taken to this sailing thing better than I expected.  Only one near crash.”

“That island came out of nowhere.”

She smirked, but thankfully didn’t retort.  She took a few final chomps of fish before throwing the bones into the waves.  

Her hair bristled into a cloud.  My own feathers rose, the tingling along my spine the trill of an approaching storm.

Maia flopped fully into the boat, clutching the mast.  “Which direction?”

I turned my head each way, following the crackle of energy along every fiber of my plumage.  “East… no, maybe Southeast… no, South…”

“Focus, Petra!”

I shook my head.  My teeth chattered.  

Distant thunder boomed.  “West!  Definitely West!”

I spun the wheel to avoid the storm, to find a point where it didn’t scream through my nerves, but I stopped.  The compass pointed West.  Dead West.  Dead toward the storm.  Dead towards death.

“Petra!” Maia wailed with wide eyes.

“We have to go though it!”

The sky darkened.  

Maia looked to me, pleading.  I shook my head, turning our boat Westward again.  She opened her mouth, but shut it, turning her head away from me.

With a final, fearful glance, she vanished into the water.

“Maia, come ba—” my voice was lost in a chorus of thunder.

Icy rain pelted down.  It pattered against the boat in an almost pleasant rhythm, a melody I would have sung to if lightning wasn’t barreling straight for me.

I screamed, covering my face.  The lightning struck an island to my left, the energy raising every hair and plume across my body.  It rattled through my bones to my talons now digging into the steering wheel.  

“West,” I said, my voice a shaking whisper.  “West will get me out of here.”  

The waves rolled higher and higher.  They tossed my poor boat like a clamshell in the hands of a chicklette siren.

Screamed words morphed to screeching, which morphed to a soar throat and a wide-open mouth with nothing but air escaping it.  My singing voice may have been permanently damaged if not for a break in the storm.

I huffed over the wheel, talons embedded in the wood.  Rain softened to a gentle patter across the boat.  The thunder grumbled behind me like a whale passing through.  

I finally shut my mouth, sinking to the floor.  The wind kissed my face, lost feathers fluttering with it over the ocean.  I closed my eyes, letting the calm rain drip down my face.

It wasn’t until I looked at the empty net and vacant ocean that I realized Maia was gone.


Four days of floating carried me nowhere.  The wind died from a roar to a whimper in the wake of the storm.  I didn’t mind the pace though.  Part of me hoped it was slow enough for Maia to finally catch up.

And part of me knew that, if she wanted to, she would’ve been here three days ago.

Every now and then, I got my hopes up from a passing shadow under the waters, but whenever I dove in, it wasn’t Maia.  And every time, I had to remind myself that this was what mermaids did: they swam off on their own.  Even if that meant abandoning their only friend.

“Who needs Maia anyways?” I asked the gull perched on Maia’s bucket.  I ripped into a fish, crunching through tiny bones Maia always had to remind me to pluck.

I tossed a bit of fish to the gull.  “You and I are much better friends, birds of a feather and all that.  Even if I got kicked out of my last flock for a lack of flight.”

The gull hopped closer. 

I bent down toward to the bird.  “You need a name.  How about… Kevin!  You’ll come with me to the human world, won’t you?”

Kevin cawed, tilting his head.  I reached out to pet him.

Kevin snatched the remains of my fish in his beak and flew across the waters, resting on waves far out of my reach where he gulped down the rest of my food.

Salty water dripped into my gaping mouth.  As another fat drop hit the deck, I realized these were tears.  More fell freely from my eyes, rolling into the other puddles of water stuck in this garbage boat. 

Maia was gone, and I was alone, and Kevin stole my food, and for all I knew I was doomed to drift across that ocean for all of eternity.  

“Enough,” I squawked, sniffling once more.  Slowly, I put my wings down, drying my eyes.  “Come on, Petra, you’ve got to keep going.”

The wind picked up its pace and ruffled my hair.  It pushed the sail harder, and the boat moved faster.  I looked up to the sky, the soft expanse of blue I was born for.  

I wasn’t made for sailing.  And yet, I survived the storm.  My boat, that beautiful mess of scraps and rope and shells survived.  I still had the compass.  I could still reach the barrier.

The ache of hope stirred in my chest, pushing me from the floor to grab the wheel again.

A soft song sprouted from my lips.  Hope, despair, joy, tragedy, they each dance through the notes I sent to the wind, my song pouring out over the waves.  With each note, each breath, each vibration through my throat, my voice grew stronger.  I was the last siren, and I refused to accept defeat.  

The sea returned the song with a wave three-times the size of my boat.  

My voice lodged in my throat as the mass of water tilted my world, and I plunged into the ocean.

Splintering cracks echoed through the waves.  The ocean can’t kill me, I thought, not really.  The same couldn’t be said for my boat.

I surfaced, gasping for more air.  Something shiny caught my eye below.

The compass!  It spun downward, deep into the black waters below.  

I took another gulp of air and dove, kicking my legs with as much force as possible.  Pressure popped my ears. 

I’d never dove this deep, where the waters were ice and tightened my chest.  

The world crushed in on me from every angle, my head pounding and heart thumping through my compressed ribs.  I didn’t stop.  I couldn’t stop.  That compass was my one chance at a new life.

Bubbles burst from my mouth.  A burning sensation flared through my chest.  I forced a hand over my mouth to keep any more air from escaping, but tiny, shimmering bubbles escaped through my fingers and jiggled toward the surface.  A trickle of air became a wall of bubbles that blinded me to the rest of the ocean.

My body wouldn’t move.  My eyes closed, and I let my body succumb to the harsh darkness of the deep.


My eyelids fluttered open to a bright sunrise.  A dull throb pulsed through my entire body.

“You know sirens can’t go that deep.”  The familiar chiding snapped me wide awake.  I sat up, staring at Maia.  “That was foolish.”

Some warbled squawk came from my throat, stuck behind a lump.  I laid in the sand, shutting my eyes and crying like a chicklette.

Maia scooted toward me, her tail dragging on the sand.  She put a hand on my shoulder.  “It’s okay, you’re okay.”

“You’re here,” I finally choked out.  

She looked to the water.  “I never left.”

“Yes, you did!  You swam off at that storm!”

“And I’ve been with you since.  You just didn’t see me.”

I sat up, wincing through the motion.  “Maia, I was so lonely.  I wanted you there.  I… seagulls are awful friends!”

Bawling, I crashed into her, holding her tightly.  

She patted my back.  “I should’ve told you I was there.  I was… I was scared of what would happen when we reached the barrier.”

I sniffled.  “What do you mean?”

She pulled away from me and reached for a bag at her side, retrieving the book.  “You didn’t read all of this.  You know those squiggles in the back?”

I nodded.

She pursed her lips.  “It was Merlian, our written language.  There’s more to the story.  The compass may work for us.”

My pain faded to nothing, joy fluffing each of my feathers.  “I knew it!  Now, we just need to get another boat and…”

I stopped, staring at her creased eyebrows.  

“If you pass, you do become human.  You gain a soul and you lose any appetite for humans.  You could walk amongst them, laughing and loving, everything you wanted.  But…” she turned back to the water.  “But only if you have the spark.  You have to… you have to have some force driving you through the barrier for it to let you pass.”

She smiled and put a hand on my shoulder.  “I have no doubt you could make it.”

“Me,” I said, understanding her words but positive she had to be wrong.  “But we’re both going through there.”

She shook her head.  “Petra, I don’t have what you do.  The way you head through that storm, the way you sang through your sorrows, I… I’m too scared for that.  I just wanted to make sure you made it.  You deserve to be free.”

Maia pulled one more thing from her bag: the compass.  She pushed it toward me.

Her words crushed my chest with the weight of an ocean.  No, you have to come too!  We had a chance at a new life, and I refused to let her leave it behind.

My talons dug into the wet sand.  “I won’t go without you.”


“I had no one before you found me.”  I turned to her, pleading.  “It’s because you were there that I have whatever spark you think we need to get through this.  I won’t go without you.”

“You’ll find new friends,” she insisted.  “Maybe there’ll even be a nice male you fancy.  I’ve seen the way you stare at the paintings.  You won’t get that chance here.  This realm is dead, but that doesn’t mean you have to die with it.”

“And why should you?” I barked the words through a tight throat.  “Maia, why are you giving up?  Is our friendship not enough?  Am not enough?”

“You don’t understand.”  Her lip quivered.  “What if… what if I can’t change, and my doubts spread to you, and then you don’t make it?  At least one of us should be free.”

I put a hand over hers and smiled.  “We’ll either both make it through, or we’ll dissipate into mushes of sea foam together.  Whatever happens, I want to take that step with you.  You’re my flock.  We’ll find a way.”

She let a tear fall, then squeezed my hand.


Months later, Maia and I sailed on a new, sturdier boat.  

I held the wheel strong, feathers fluffed at the sight of a jagged line of magic, bright lights of purple and blue striking the ocean like lightning.  The barrier.

Maia clutched the boat.  “Any final words for the realm?”

“Kevin, I hope you get eaten by a shark.”

Maia laughed.  “Well then, full speed ahead.”

I hesitated, wishing the wind wasn’t pushing us forward.  Wishing I could drop anchor to wait until my chest stopped fluttering and doubt stopped eating at my bones.  “Maia, what if—”

“We won’t.”  She faced the barrier, closing her eyes.

Feathers I had dropped fluttered past me.  They fizzled and fried in the light of the barrier.  

I imagined a life like one of the portraits.  A tiny house with a garden where Maia relaxed in the sun.  Parties with pretty, fluffy dresses where I spoke to real humans.  Stages for my songs, songs that may not lead men to the sea but could still captivate a room.  Dashing, good men who may wish to take me on a midnight stroll.  

And Maia, by my side through it all.

I took a deep breath and closed my eyes.

March 07, 2024 18:53

You must sign up or log in to submit a comment.


Bring your short stories to life

Fuse character, story, and conflict with tools in the Reedsy Book Editor. 100% free.