Fish hook earrings glimmer, catching the meagre light. Maera’s long hair hangs heavy, reaching her navel. Slick as an eel, she glides and weaves in the water to evade her pursuer. She moves more out of instinct than forethought, just quick enough to stay ahead. Excitement sings in her veins, the high of the chase taking control of her actions. Pinwheeling in the water, she turns and holds out her arms to catch her sister. They sink to the bottom, sending silt upwards as they roll and tumble playfully.
With difficulty, she pins Echo to the ocean floor. Her eyes flash gold, roiling and tempestuous as the sea. She cannot smile, but she bares her teeth in triumph. The expression wipes away all traces of humanity, leaving only savage cruelty. Echo mirrors the leer, and with a swift flip of her tail twists out of Maera’s grasp.
Finished with their game, they swam back to the village. Occasionally, they'd stop to pick the odd piece of seaweed, looping them into bracelets.
Time has adopted a familiar and unwavering rhythm for them. Like magpies, they collected trash daily. Bottle tabs woven into necklaces, stray beer bottles crafted into knives. One man's trash is a siren's treasure. Nearly everything in the village is handmade from plastic scavenged from thoughtless humans. Often, Maera marvels at the excess they produce. There was not a day she didn’t come across that durable flotsam and jetsam, like picking fruit from a never-ending tree.
On other days to break up the monotony, the entire village joins into chorus, unearthly and beautiful voices melding into one chilling choir. The hum from their song causes fish to freeze in place, as if they are holding their breath to listen.
Today is different though.
Ligei had given birth to a girl, who was healthy enough. Her eyes were white and milky, but soon they would darken. The infant’s fretful hunger cries filled the village. A baby was usually born to the village every century or two, but times had been lean and hungry. The last child to have been born to the village had been Echo, and she was several centuries old. To celebrate the birth, there would be weeks of feasting and prayers to the gods, old and new.
Maera and Echo joined their other sisters, who were already plaiting and braiding their hair. Maera preferred to leave hers unbound, flowing freely. Whistling sharply, she motioned upwards for them to follow her. Dark water lightened as they travelled, and the pack began to hum. The very air pressure seemed charged and electric, Echo’s mouth curving into a hooked grimace. They swam for miles, searching for a boat.
It couldn’t be just any boat though. They’d have to choose carefully. A cruise ship would be too risky, a skiff not worth the effort. What they needed to find was a small sailboat, preferably loaded with overweight, drunken men.
The kind who liked to wolf whistle at women.
The kind who made jokes about their "ball and chain" at home.
The kind who spit out cruel one-liners like shards of broken beer bottles.
When they came across a starboard bow with ‘Water U Looking At’, Maera knew they had found their mark. Only a simpleton would name their boat something so preposterously asinine.
Breaching the water’s surface, Echo hoisted herself up the side of the boat, hanging off the side. Her dark hair fell in voluptuous waves, her beauty intoxicating to mortal men.
Echo opened her mouth to sing. The song was haunting and sonorous, and although Maera couldn’t see them, she knew that every man on the boat would be slack-jawed and rapt. Echo beckoned seductively, and from her place Maera saw a man approach. His eyes were blank and glassy, and his outstretched hands were inches from Echo’s face. The man’s gasping mouth reminded Maera of a fish: dumb and guileless.
His fingers skimmed Echo’s cheek, and with that touch Echo went silent. A sudden and horrible clarity came over his face, and Echo's expression became bestial and dark.
Grabbing him, Echo pulled him overboard, the water’s surface surging and heaving from his thrashing and her tail. She dragged him downward, too deep for him to resurface. He still tried, paddling upwards with shocked and terrified vigour. Echo let him, like a cat playing with a mouse, before hauling him backwards with a jaybird laugh.
While she was occupied with her toy, Maera and the others lay in wait. Within seconds, more men appeared at the gunwales, scanning the water desperately for their fallen friend. Quick as a whip, Maera and the others erupted out of the water and dragged them down screaming. Saltwater filled their victim’s lungs, screams bubbling out helplessly.
They dragged the men down to the depths, singing once more. The siren song reverberated coldly in the water. Altogether, they’d managed to snare four men. Not quite as many as last time, but it was plenty for their purposes.
Nothing would go to waste.
Their bones would be whittled into hair pins and combs, and the skulls would make excellent bowls. Playing with her earrings, Maera thought to herself happily that she could make new ones with the finger bones. They were so much prettier than the ones made of cut fishing line. Most important though were their hearts. The baby would need to feed on them to grow strong and healthy.
Calling into the depths, they signalled to the others that the hunt had been successful. Soon, otherworldly shapes appeared in the gloom, helping tow the bodies downward. An excited chatter ensued from the older sirens, happy to have such a flush haul. The whole village set to task on preparing the feasts.
The women butchered skillfully, blood filling the underwater cave. It filtered into every part of the room, suffusing the water in a red glow. It felt like being inside a heart. An atrium for Echo to twirl and cartwheel through. She chanted all the while to keep away pesky sharks.
The water glowed with the force of the power and the incantations, and Ligei brought her child to bathe in the bloody water.
The chanting grew in strength, until the baby began to exude a faint glow. Her tiny tail kicked back and forth happily, and Maera plucked one of the hearts out of the bowl. Cradling it in her hands, she swam to Ligei’s side and held it out. The baby sniffed tentatively at the air, then latched on to the heart and began to chew. Everyone smiled and cooed happily, tightening their circle to be closer to this new life. Affectionately, they watched the newborn baby gnaw on the heart muscle.
A rosy glow flushed in her cheeks, and her eyes slowly began to shift from pale cream to a darker hue. Her bloodied mouth yawned as she finished her meal, and Ligei rocked her gently.
Without having to speak, they broke into song together, singing to the child.
This time, it was a lullaby.