Felola and I used to be close. Really, really close. To say we were lovers is an understatement. We were more than lovers. We were inseparable. We were best friends.
So this whole thing is my fault, really. I got tipsy—not drunk, since that’s pretty much impossible with my constitution—and thought it was a good idea to look through her Facebook photos, trawling for info on her humdrum, white-picket-fence life. My finger may have slipped on a Like… or two… or three…
Why, I ask myself later, are we even friends on Facebook?
By the time I come to my senses the next morning, I can’t remember the footprints I left in the metaphorical sand. And even if I un-Liked them all, she’s already noticed my inelegant dance across her life.
Sometimes, curiosity kills more than just the cat.
Later that morning, when the phone in my office rings and her phone number displays, I snatch up the handset embarrassingly fast. I take a breath, put a lilt into my soprano, and say, “Rylea, Make a Splash Web Designs, how many I help you?”
“Ry, hey, this is Fel.”
“Oh, it’s you! Long time, no talk.” I cringe. Did I sound too nonchalant? Like I was trying to sound nonchalant?
“How are things? Found anyone to settle down with yet?”
Two seconds in, and she’s starting on me. What a surprise. I wish I remembered last night that this is why we haven’t spoken in so long. She’s a square now, living the dream with a husband and two adopted children, and her tone of voice makes it clear she thinks I should be, too.
With a hint of aloof malice—or, at least, that’s what I’m going for—I say, “No, no settling down.” I laugh. It definitely sounds forced. “Still recovering from a bender.”
“Yeah, I kinda figured. Hey, so I saw you on Have a Great Morning last week.”
She did? Dare I hope this phone call has nothing to do with my parade of shame? Have a Great Morning is the only local morning show anyone in Toronto (1.2% of viewers now!) watches. “So what?” My voice pitches higher and I clear my throat.
Her children are making a racket in the background about ice cream or something. Ew. “You really need to give up the…” she lowers her voice, “…old ways. You’re a business woman, on there talking about the single life. It’s embarrassing.”
“It’s not embarrassing. You’re embarrassing.” I know, great comeback, but it’s still true. “Did you call to talk about my new celeb status or what? Got some work for me?” I’m in my tiny, rented office at the end of the day. The view is great—thirty-fourth story and all, overlooking Lake Ontario—but otherwise, it’s a broom closet.
Rustling comes through the phone and the children’s voices go muffled. She speaks full volume. Maybe now she’s hiding in one of her broom closets. “The girls and I were talking. We’d like to get together for old times’ sake. Want to come out with us tonight?”
I’ve not heard from the old gang in forever. But why now? “Wait a minute. Is this going to be some kind of intervention?”
“No.” She laughs a stuttering, nervous laugh.
“Ugh, I can’t believe you. No, I’m not going out with you guys just to listen to a lecture.”
“You can’t keep this up.”
“I most certainly can.” I huff. “Is that saggy-boobed glamour making you go senile? You’re a siren, Fel, centuries old, and no amount of faux wrinkles is going to change that.”
“Of course I haven’t forgotten.” Now her tone has three-inch, pointy hooks. That’s the Fel I loved. “But you can’t go around eating humans anymore. It’s not done.”
“It is done. I’ll do it tonight.”
I slam down the phone and turn back to my email. I need to get a proposal off to my potential webpage client as soon as possible. He’s a big fish, a meal ticket, and I can’t afford to lose him. What I didn’t tell Fel is that the television appearance was my last-ditch effort at not losing my apartment and my business. I’ve been juggling credit card debt and business loans, keeping the collectors at bay, but next month, if I don’t net some income, I’ll lose it all.
And the appearance—a week ago now—only brought in one potential client. I have to hook him. I’m desperate.
The younger me would be embarrassed at how I’m living as a human, scraping together money from odd jobs, but one thing I don’t miss is the ocean. My hair has never looked so good now that I’m away from seawater.
The phone rings again. Fel. I ignore it. She can take a long walk off a short pier for all I care. I rarely eat men anymore, but I don’t see the harm in a little indulgence once in a while. She and our sisters can hunt deer all they want, choking down the raw flesh and pretending it’s better that way. I, however, will dine on whomever I please.
Despite what she might think, I don’t go around chowing down every night. Human food sustains me for a long while. Besides, if I were to off people with any frequency, there’d be a frenzy. I can see the headlines now. “Cannibal Serial Killer on the Loose.” I’m not human, so I’m not a cannibal—that’s ludicrous—but nobody believes in sirens anymore. Even though a waifish blond such as myself would be the last person suspected of overpowering and eating men, I’m not stupid. It couldn’t go on forever, and I don’t need that kind of headache.
She pushed too hard. Even though I’m stuffed from that auburn-haired hunk I ate last week—I’ve barely gotten the blood out from under my manicure—I’ll go hunting tonight. I’ll show her—and distance myself from the uncouth display from last night.
Besides, it’ll help relax me while I wait for the response that will decide my future.
I put the final touches on my proposal, cross my fingers and toes, and hit send. If I believed in a deity, I’d offer up a supplication to Her, but it’s hard to believe in one when you’ve seen the terror in a man’s eyes as you devour him alive. If any kind of Goddess was watching over the world, my sisters and I wouldn’t exist.
Existential crisis over, I push from my desk, gather my purse, slip my feet into my four-inch heels, and head out. I decide to go to my favorite spot, a bar only three blocks from where I live. It’s why I chose the apartment. The rent’s astronomical—part of the reason I was so far in debt—but it’s in a super posh neighborhood, plus a girl needs a nice pair of Jimmy Choos and a Fendi handbag every once in a while. Even if mine are getting a bit worn since they stopped taking my credit card at the Yorkdale Mall.
I spend the evening lounging around the apartment, listening to some fifties jazz—the only time humans got music right, in my opinion—and get ready. I’m perpetually twenty-five with knockers cinched high, midriff showing, tight pants, and dramatic makeup. Oh, yes, I’m sending all the right signals, and I’ve not even used my power yet.
When I get to the bar, I waltz around the line, give the bouncer a wave, and saunter inside. Some overmakeupped harlots in line bitch noisily, but I ignore them. I’ve been frequenting this place far longer than any of these newborns, and I’ve got connections. Lines are beneath me.
The place is packed, the music is loud and thumping, and sex pheromones cloy the air. I breathe in and smile. Sometimes when I think I’m hungry, the smell alone is enough to tide me over for a few weeks. I scout the place out, elbowing my way past trashily dressed girls and men who’ve loosened their ties and unbuttoned the top button. Most of the suit jackets have already been discarded—good luck finding those again, boys.
What am I in the mood for? Lately it’s been investment bankers, self-proclaimed playboys who think they’re here to dupe a girl into a one-night stand, oblivious to how females actually work. Several are already on the dance floor, with more along the side, sipping their drinks. Salty sweat wars with the pheromones, churning up a humid brine that reminds me of my ocean days.
I spot the one I want.
It’s dark except for the strobe light bouncing in time to the music, but I can tell his eyes are liquid brown with thick eyelashes the envy of every girl here. He’s got a second-day beard thing going on, which I’m sure isn’t an accident. It’s part of his bad boy exterior.
I move closer.
He’s grinding against some girl with an already-fading tramp stamp. I sidle up behind them, swaying in time for the music, and lean in to sing in his ear. In a moment, he’ll cock his head to the side, turn around, and start dancing with me, previous slut forgotten. Within an hour, we’ll be back at my place, screwing. And then, dinner.
I open my mouth, but before any sound has a chance to escape, a voice cuts through the pounding bass.
The only creature able to perform such a feat is another siren. I whirl around, barely keeping my second set of razor teeth from popping out in frustration.
Three dancing people away is Felola, dressed in an ill-fitting shirt that barely reveals her cleavage, the soccer mom’s equivalent of club wear. Behind her are a half dozen sisters, hands on hips, frowns on faces. They’re all wearing glamours that make them appear fifteen years my senior. It’s disgusting.
The girl grinding on my guy gives me an ugly look and dances him away. He’s oblivious to what transpired.
I roll my eyes, making sure every single one of them can see the childish gesture—I’m going for a poetic symmetry there, since they’re the ones being childish. Stalking through the crowd, I shove aside a couple dancers. One falls, but I don’t care.
“What the hell are you guys doing here? Isn’t it past your bedtimes?”
Fel smirks. “You’re so predictable. Everyone knows this is your favorite spot.”
Ugh. She’s right. She completely manipulated me into coming here. But now that I’ve seen my choice of meat, I’m not leaving. Whatever else happens tonight, I’m having him, if only just to prove I can. “Go away. I’m hunting.”
My sisters jut their heads and re-cross their arms. “Yeah, we’re not letting you do that,” says Fel.
Our screeching is mostly beyond human hearing, but one or two are giving us odd looks. I gesture to the bathroom, and we make our way through the crowd.
Inside, the blaring music is muffled. I glare at them as they file in.
“You can just pack up your little tails, throw your droopy boobs over your shoulders, and leave,” I say. “I have a craving for overpaid banker, and I’m not leaving here without one.”
“Oh, shove off, Ry,” says Fel. “That is so passe. When’re you going to settle down like the rest of us?”
She steps forward, and the others rally behind her, scuttling across the bathroom tile like crabs. “You’re putting the rest of us in danger, you know.”
“What?” The angry look melts from my face, and I renew it with vigor. I don’t want her knowing she surprised me.
“You’ve been wearing that face for, what, seventy years now? Then you go on television, flaunting your—” Fel does air quotes, “—‘youthful good looks.’ Someone’s going to notice, if they haven’t already.”
My face heats. “So what? This has nothing to do with you.”
“This isn’t the Dark Ages anymore. There are records. I’ve been trying to get our names erased from the register of that university we went to, but I can’t. I don’t have the connections.”
That was back in the ‘60s, and we haven’t changed our looks or names—except for their old lady glamours, which are still too young for the age those transcripts would show. As much as I hate to admit it, she has a point.
Fel’s expression is now concerned. But then one of the others speaks up. I don’t really know her; we’ve never hit it off. Perhaps that’s why she thinks she needs to contribute. With a condescending tone. Since that’s definitely useful. “The time of loose morals is past. If you control your cravings, you’ll find peace. I’ve been attending a church near—”
My face heats. “You want me to find Jesus? That’s absurd. I refuse to believe none of you are jonesing for your next hit of human flesh.”
Fel gives a sidelong glance at the woman who interrupted. “We’ve all been there, and we all know what human flesh tastes like…” A toilet flushes. It’s one of those automatic ones. The girl inside whimpers but doesn’t come out. Fel doesn’t react, just keeps going. “… and we can all tell you that finding a companion and settling down is much more satisfying than continuing this lifestyle.”
And now the lecturing tone is back. This isn’t about our safety. It’s about Fel getting her way again. Like always. “I don’t want to find a companion.” I spit the words out like a stray bit of seaweed caught in my mouth. “I want to eat men, not make love to them.”
“Then find yourself a woman,” says church-girl, who just won’t shut up. “We’ve been watching you for a while now, and—”
Fel shuts her up with a glare. “What did I say about speaking?”
“You’ve been watching me?” I say.
“It was only prudent,” says Fel. “You’ve become a liability. Forty-eight notifications last night at 2 a.m. is just the kind of indiscreet nonsense that could get us all in trouble.” So much for hoping she hadn’t noticed my drunken—tipsy—nostalgia. “You need to understand how important this is. To all of us. We can’t let you continue.”
“Oh you can’t, can you?” They’re all missing the point, and the idea that I might lose eyelash boy is making me cranky. Why did I even agree to this little meet-and-greet? I’m done being polite.
Before they realize what I’m doing, I center myself. I reach deep inside. At the same time that my mouth opens, the sound is already coming out. I sing a song for them all, but Fel especially.
Surprise registers first, then rage, then starry, moonstruck love. I sing something mournful, appropriate to the waste they’ve made of their lives. The door swings open, and a human female comes in, reaching into her bra for a lipstick tube that stops midair. Rather than focusing on the seven of my sisters—too much work—I spread a wide net, casting it in front of me. So the human smiles, everyone sways in time with the dirge, and I finish my song.
“Go home,” I tell my sisters, though the human female will also comply. “Make love to your husbands and forget about me.”
The last won’t stick. They’ll be halfway there when they realize what happened. The girl who heard me will never remember this night, but the sirens, well, soon they’ll be pissed.
I leave them behind and go find the juicy man candy that’s got his tongue stuck down the throat of the girl he’s been dancing with. I don’t hold back, and within seconds, he’s in my arms, helpless under my spell.
But his kisses are bitter, and I don’t enjoy the sex like I usually do. I keep thinking of Fel—and not remembering our previous romps to keep going like I have before. When I put on my siren face, it’s half-hearted. Even the surge of energy that comes from the boy’s terror is muffled. My razor-sharp teeth come out, and I bite into him half-heartedly, wishing for the good old days.
A half century with the same twenty-year-old face isn’t going to matter if I can’t pay for a place to live. But even without money problems, I like being a siren. Always have. Always will.
Everything before the fifteenth century is hazy—don’t ask me about my childhood because I don’t even know what continent I was born near—but my memories of luring seafarers to their doom in the eighteenth century with Fel is as bright as a newly minted penny.
Those were the days, back when men knew we existed. Back when we were feared. Back when we lazed about in the sun all day in human form and swam around the ocean all night in mermaid form. My most vivid memories are waking to Fel standing over me, bronze and glistening in the morning light, holding the hands of a sailor she’d seduced. Hands have always been my favorite. Not only are they succulent, but they tell the former owner’s story. We’d share them, guessing at who that person was.
We threw some wild parties back then, too. Men nowadays would give their left arm to see what we sirens did to one another when the booze got flowing. And if we’d just dined on a ship of juicy humans? Yeah, we could have had our own Vegas show as contortionists.
Fel and the girls went soft well before that pop culture book introduced the concept of “good” vampires that eat livestock and fall in love with teenage girls. Maybe a century before that, give or take. Time starts to lose meaning when you’re as old as we.
Some of us have died since then, but it’s mostly suicides from boredom with the new world. In fact, I’m the only one left who craves the old days. The rest of them either killed themselves or, as they claim, “integrated” into human society. The ridiculous thing is that pretty much the only way for us to die is to either be swallowed by a gigantic whale and slowly digested until there’s nothing left, or, yes, of course, be killed by one of our own.
Anyway, living out in the middle of the ocean got boring, especially now that our heyday is over. The problem was that we went through a phase in the late nineteenth century when a bunch of us lived in communes and swore off seducing humans. When the hunger came, we’d hunt purely for meat rather than sex, but it wasn’t with the excess of the previous century. I never meant it to be permanent since I enjoy the seduction, but some—okay, most—of my sisters disagree.
I’m losing myself in self-pity, and it’s pathetic. Again I wish for a deity to implore to curse my boring, self-righteous sisters. Alas, I have none, and I finish my meal silently, bitterly. Disposing of the body is more chore than usual, the hands taste like feet, and I sleep fitfully.
I expect my phone to ring off the hook, first Fel, then whomever she decides to sic on me from the old gang, but all weekend is disturbingly quiet. The smell of blood hangs in the air as I slither from living room to bedroom, digesting, but it doesn’t satisfy me like usual. Instead, it turns my stomach and makes me wish again that I hadn’t gone to the bar last night.
None of them understand. This is our birthright. Just because humans think and feel doesn’t mean they’re any less prey. Would they stop eating cows if they knew the cows could write poetry? Well, maybe some of them they would, but some of them wouldn’t, and that doesn’t make them bad. It makes them realistic.
Monday morning is dreary, an unexpected cold day in the middle of June, but that’s the nature of the weather here. I like it because being next to a Great Lake reminds me of the storms that used to blow in unannounced on the island we inhabited. But today, the cold is too much for my delicate siren skin, and I shiver underneath a sweater in my office.
When the phone finally rings, I nearly jump out of my chair. It’s my big client.
“Hi, Ry,” he says. “Let me get right to it.”
I’m not going to like this.
“I sent your proposal to the execs. They looked at it over the weekend, but they’re concerned about your company. You’re a one-man operation. We’ve decided to go with someone else.”
Frustrated, I throw down my pen. “I understand. If I may ask, what company is it?”
“I’m not supposed to say.”
I contemplate attempting a siren song over the phone, but in my experience, those are less than successful. Something to do with notes too high for human ears, which the receiver either doesn’t pick up or the speaker doesn’t put out.
“All right, you twisted my arm.” He laughs, though I hadn’t said anything. John and I have a repartee going on; I should have expected that he would tell me. “It’s Ophelia Unlimited.”
I blink. “Wait, they’re doing web design now?”
“They just branched into it. We’re their first client, but they’ve been so successful with their mobile apps that my boss wants to take this chance. There’s some bigwig over there that’s promised to hold our hands through the entire project.”
“What’s the bigwig’s name?” I know, but I have to ask.
“Uh, Felicia Smith? No, something strange, like Felocia? Fel… something…”
Felola. Felola Smith, Vice President, Client Management, of Ophelia, Unlimited.
I say, “I’m sorry to cut you off like this, but I need to go.”
“Okay, but I owe you lunch. I’m sorry I couldn’t push this through for you.”
“Sure, let’s meet next Thursday.” He’s sweet, and I don’t want to alienate him, although it will be a long time before their company is looking for a new web design company. Long enough that I’ll be in a box under a railroad bridge well before then. Unless, of course, I can sabotage Fel’s plan, which isn’t likely. Their apps are ironclad, with gorgeous lines and beautiful artwork. The only company that could do better in this city, is, well, mine—though no one wants to take a chance on a single woman business owner. Thus the mire I find myself in.
“Sounds good. Talk to you later.”
“Bye.” I push the receiver button, let it go, and dial Fel’s work number.
“Ophelia Unlimited. This is Felola Smith speaking.”
“How dare you?” I hiss—a literal hiss. Sometimes my aqueous background comes through.
“Who is this?” she lilts.
“Don’t give me that turtle shit, Fel, you know very well who this is. What do you think you’re doing?”
“Oh, Ry, good to talk to you. It was lovely to see you the other day. We’ll have to do it again sometime.”
I’m out of anything useful, so I start getting nasty. “You’re worthless piece of sun-soaked seaweed sometimes, you know that, Fel? What did you do, wave some free Leafs tickets under their noses?”
I gasp. “You dirty whale lover.”
“What did you expect me to do? You’re not listening. I told you that we couldn’t let you continue like this.”
“By sabotaging my livelihood, so now I can’t put food on the table? Brilliant plan.” The song is welling up inside me. I want to start singing, but I’m so upset that if I do, I’ll probably shatter the glass window beside my door. That’s not a way to stay under the radar. “You know this makes me more likely to go hunting, not less.”
She clucks her tongue like the mother hen she’s become, and I want to leap through my thirty-fourth story window and fly the four blocks between us. But, alas, I am the aquatic, not avian siren, so I’d flop down to earth like a fish out of water. She says, “Consider this a warning shot across your bow.” The phone goes dead.
Oh. No. She. Didn’t.
This is more than wearing our names and glamours too long in modern society. This is about me. Remember I said we go way back? My first clear memory is her telling me what to do. She spent most of our lives together ordering me around. Now that I’m not jumping when she says, “Jump,” she’s got her coconut bra in a twist. I’m the last holdout, and she’s pissed that she can’t control me anymore.
So I do what any sane and rational sentient being would do. I grab a half dozen bottles of water, hop on the Lakeshore East train, and, while gazing at the lake on my way out to her suburb, down all six of them. A cab takes me from the train stop to her house. I spend ten minutes turning completely aqueous, ooze under the back door, and head to the bathtub. A long soak gives me plenty of time to absorb the remaining water I need for the transformation.
When the garage door opens, I plop my ass on the sofa, transform to mermaid, and spread my arms across the back cushions. When she walks in, I’m tapping my tail in time to a song I just wrote called “Fel’s Gonna Hate This.”
“What the Green Mother are you doing here?” she shrieks.
I smile up at her and squelch against the hardwood floor where I’ve dripped several puddles. “I just wanted to see how the other half lives. So suburban out here. I much prefer downtown.”
She looks over her shoulder like her husband is going to come waltzing in any minute, which was exactly what I was hoping for. “This isn’t funny.”
“It kind of is. I mean, here you are, pretending to be all human and whatnot—with fake crow’s feet and I’ve been meaning to ask about that mole, gross—and you’re actually a man-eating monster. I personally think that’s something a guy should know about his wife.”
She’s standing there, keys in hand, one side of the collar of her cheap jacket popped up behind her. She opens her mouth, but I’m prepared.
Our songs burst forth at the same time. Mine’s something old, the first one she ever taught me. It’s not as sad as the one from last night, but it’s about a girl that falls in love with a manatee that drifts out to sea never to be seen again. Sad enough.
Hers, though, is stupid. She’s amalgamated the latest pop hit with a drinking song we chanted back during the time we were partying. The words are modern but the tune is timeless, and the force of nostalgia hits me hard enough to almost make me stop singing.
But I don’t. I keep going, crescendoing into the chorus.
We’re both losing it, though. The spells we’re weaving are distracting, and I don’t know if I can hold out long enough. I’d chosen the most complex lyrics—I could drop them to just belt out the melody, but it wouldn’t be as effective. She’d chosen the most difficult mash-up—remembering the words against the backdrop of another song.
I’m starting to feel good-natured affection toward her. Sure, we’d fought, but does that mean we have to be enemies? We’ve been friends forever, and her smiling face is the first clear thing I remember. What had we been arguing about anyway? Something ridiculous.
Her voice is softening, too. She’s looking contemplative as she sings.
And then her cell phone rings, a Bach melody that breaks our songs.
I’m lucky; I hit a high note and sustaining it carries me through the beginning of the ringtone. Fel scrabbles at her jacket, attempting to continue while turning the offending machine off. It’s too late, though, and she falters. As my song winds on, hers stops abruptly. All my hatred comes crashing back and I remember why I’m there.
Her face is awe-struck, wide-eyed and holding hints of the beautiful siren she used to be before she chose the old-person glamour. She’s staring into my face with love. “Oh, Ry, I’m sorry we fought. Can you ever forgive me?”
And I have her. I don’t have to sing another note.
Several options lay before me. I could let her go. I could order her to convince the execs at that company to give me their business. I could demand she walk away, in hopes that when the enchantment wears off, she’ll decide this little spat isn’t worth it.
That’s what a human would do.
But I’m not human.
Instead, I shift from mermaid form into human form, naked and dripping wet in the middle of her living room. I consider what it means to be a siren, what it means to have left the ocean behind. Here, we scrape out a meager living, trying to become something that we aren’t. Her home surrounds her with human memorabilia, from the signed baseball bat over the couch to the television set mounted on the wall to the human food stinking up the fridge.
She said she was sad for me—but it’s me who is sad for her.
She’s forgotten what it means to be sirens. They’ve all forgotten what it means to be sirens.
We’re the monsters beneath the waves, the carnivores that eat the wayward traveler. Something to be feared, something to be remembered. And we’ve lost that. We’ve all lost that.
I have to do something to make them all remember.
As she reaches out to me, I put on my siren face and bare my second teeth. Fear crosses that star-struck countenance, then terror, then outright horror.
As I bite into her neck, she screams, shattering every glass in her house.
But I don’t stop. No, I keep going, until I’ve devoured every bit of her and can barely move. Then I lick up the blood on the floor.
I take a picture with her phone, capturing the smile on my face ringed with monstrous teeth, the blood on my nose, and my horribly distended torso. I send it out to all the sisters in her phone book—no message, just the picture. They’ll know what it means.
I slither out the door, licking the taste of my once and former friend from my lips. To disguise how bloated I am, I force a glamour over myself until I’m at the lake. It’s been a while since I’ve been this full. I like this feeling. Maybe I’ll get a taste for man again tomorrow, but today, I enjoy the remnants of siren blood.
Tomorrow, I’ll deal with changing my name, my face, everything about me. But that’s a human concern, and I’m not thinking like a human now. I’m thinking like a siren, a killer, a monster from the deeps, feared by all.
I slide into the lake water and swim until the full moon rises, splashing in mermaid form, breathing in the humidity, digesting Felola, and remembering what it means to be a siren.
Problem solved. Maybe nostalgic curiosity isn’t so bad after all.
L. Saboviec’s fiction has appeared in AE, Grievous Angel, and now EGM Speculate!, and her debut novel received an honorable mention in the 23rd Annual Writer’s Digest Self-Published Book Awards. She grew up in small-town Iowa but emigrated for her Canadian husband. They live in a Toronto suburb with their two-year-old daughter. You can find out more about her work at http://www.saboviec.com/