The Sirens

by Kelsey Larson

They used to be sirens, but that amusement had worn out. There were only so many sailors they had an appetite for, and anyway fish was the more tender meat.

So, they left their rocky perches and took to the seas; they learned to evolve to a new environment. Their feathers fell out, replaced with hard-scrub scales. Fins emerged from their hips and between their toes, but their teeth stayed the same: a woman’s hard pearls.

They missed their rocky home sometimes, but the sea held many beautiful shipwrecks. They missed the songs of the wheeling birds, but the calls of whales echoing in the deep lulled them to sleep. They missed singing the sailors to death, so some of them moved to Mexico to roll endlessly on the warm waves, snatching a surfer now and then for a snack.

But just as the sirens had changed, so was the sea changing. At first, they watched in glee as luxury resorts sank in the Maldives, curious about this concept they’d only heard of before, a bathtub; interested to try a mimosa, to rest on a feather mattress. Islands sank into brand new tidal flats, new hunting grounds filled with strange, delicious plants and snails. They developed a taste for mangos.

Soon, the waves began to swallow whole cities. The sirens coveted luxury cars with leather interiors, but gasoline runoffs turned the coastal ocean to poison. The sirens enjoyed their evening strolls through sunken stands of cypress, but lush seaweed forests were now barren stands of dried-up kelp. New islands formed every day, made entirely of aluminum cans and abandoned superyachts, but when they visited the rocks they once called home, they found those promontories were now flooded funerary chapels. The cool currents from the north, once so refreshing against the sirens’ skin, began to burn. Their sisters in the Gulf returned, their hair weighed down with red oil.

All the mangos rotted.

But the sirens will evolve. Their skin will develop a shiny coat of acid-resistance. They’ll sharpen their teeth to better devour the once-tender tilapia, now tough, the skin crackling from its body. Their talons will grow dexterous, put to good use untying the nets from around the beaks of seabirds, untangling turtles from great wads of fishing line. They’ll weave plastic bags into their hair like the feathers they lost and bang on oil barrels for drums. The sirens will survive because they always have. And maybe, one day, one of them will be plucked from the water while she sleeps.

“Is it crying?” one sailor will ask the other, as she gasps in the smog, wakes to a fiery orange sky, the edges of it burned black.

“No,” the other will reply. “It’s just saltwater.”

And she will grin with her long teeth, and her voice will crack against the sky like lightning, made electric by fallout currents and acid rain, and sailors will be tempted into their own ruin again and again.

She has always been a siren, and she will always sing.

Kelsey Larson lives in the Seattle area, where she hikes in the summer, skis in the winter, and drinks too much coffee year-round. Her work has most recently been seen in the Vassar Review.
%d bloggers like this: