Siren Story Number 8

"Siren Story NUMBER 8" by Laura Morrigan (c)opyright Laura Morrigan 2012

This story is set on the Australian farm where I grew up as a child. We didn't have cows, but we had blueberry trees, and two rivers, and a lot of long grass. The place has a timeless feel to it.

I used to hear her voice, out at the back of the property, down near the river. I would hear her song when I was lying in the grass on summer afternoons, daydreaming. At first I thought it was part of my dreams, but it would carry on, long after I awakened. It was a long time before I realised it was her voice that gave me those dreams.

I met her on a long, lazy summer when I was eight years old. The grass was bone dry, and as high as my waist, in the back paddock, where my daddy never mowed. It was so dry, I wasn't afraid of leeches. I was striding through it, pretending I was an adventurer, in my gumboots and my straw hat.
I saw a flash of red towards the river, and made my way towards it, thinking it might be a robin, or some other bird. Imagine my surprise when I found a girl, a girl, bathing in the river.

She was tall and slender, with long, curly red hair, and freckled skin. Kisses of the sun, my mumma called them. She was also naked. I could see her breasts, and I had to look away. Her lack of shame made me ashamed.

“What are you doing in the river, miss?” I asked her. “Did you lose your clothes?”

She gave a silvery laugh. “Oh, no, just bathing!” her accent was odd, and I could not place it.

“You do know that this is my daddy's land don't you? He'll be angry if he catches you here!”

She laughed again at this. “Your daddy hasn't caught me once, yet! And he won't. Most grown men can't see anything beyond what they understand to be real. Anyway, if he comes too close, I'll sing my other song”, she opened her mouth, and the most horrible sound came out, a sound I will never be able to describe. I felt like my brain was melting, and running out of my ears, and felt nothing but the will to run away. Dark, grim images of war, of corpses dead but still walking, filled my mind. I stumbled away from the river bank.

The girl closed her mouth. In an instant, the terror was gone. It was a summer afternoon again, and I was in the most peaceful place in the world. I would no more think of leaving it than this girl would.

Besides, I was curious now.

“How did you do that?”

The girl smiled. “ I would have thought that was obvious. I'm a siren.”

I looked at her blankly. “Like at the fire house?”

“No, silly, haven't you ever read a book? We used to lure sailors into the sea with our voices, back in the old days. We were famed for our beautiful song. You've heard it yourself, you've dreamed the dreams.”

I thought of the dreams I had, lying in the grass in summertime, that sweet, elusive song, that I thought a part of them. “That was you?”

“It was.” She smiled at me, the sweetest smile possible, and I could not believe that she would ever hurt me. After a while, I stripped down to my underwear, and we played in the water together, splashing each other and laughing, until the sun began to sink below the horizon and I had to leave.
The next few days, we played together in the river, the sun making my skin as freckled as hers. But the days began to get longer and colder, and she talked of swimming back upriver. She would not tell me where she was going. One day, she was simply gone.

I waited for her for years, but she never came back. I started to think I had been dreaming. I didn't want to think about the other possibilities- that she had found a better playmate than me, or that she was dead. I tried to dream about her song, but I could never fix it in my head, never remember quite how it was supposed to go.

Then, eight years later, it happened. The dead started to rise. I know, it seems to you young people like things have always been this way, but when I was young, there were only Living people in this world, and the dead stayed dead. They didn't rise from their graves, and try to eat the living to gain some semblance of a life.

We heard it first as rumours, which we dismissed as bad jokes and superstition. We were out in the middle of nowhere, my mumma, my daddy, my little sister and I, so it wasn't until the refugees made it out our way, that we began to worry that something really was wrong. We took in the first couple of families, fed them with blueberry pie, milk and bread. After a couple of weeks, our trees were stripped of blueberries, and all the cows had gone dry, unable to take the strain of all those extra mouths to feed. More and more travellers kept coming, but we were unable to turn them away. My little sister and I shared my bed, so that some of the refugees could take turns to sleep in her one. My daddy had already made several beds that were pushed up against the walls of the house. We couldn't let any one group stay more than a couple of days before they moved on, there just wasn't enough to go around.

I don't know what day it was, we had lost track of time, but things started to change very fast. One of our cows went mad that day. One of the guests, a girl named Lisa, not more than fifteen or sixteen, was milking her at the time. Or trying to. The cow had been dry for some time, but we had to try. The cow kicked over the bucket and the stool, and then took a chunk out of Lisa's arm. Lisa ran into the house screaming. My daddy took his gun out and shot the cow.

By evening, Lisa was foaming at the mouth, her eyes covered in blue veins. My daddy reckoned it was rabies, but some of the others reckoned it was the disease that was sweeping the cities. A couple said we ought to shoot her, put her out of her misery, and protect the rest of us. My daddy said we weren't killing anyone under his roof.

That night, the girl went mad and attacked us. She bit five people, including my little sister. By morning, they were mad, too. My daddy still refused to see them killed, especially not my sister, who was his baby, and his favourite.

I didn't know what to do. I watched my little sister, curled up in a corner, gnawing on a bone like a dog. Her once blue eyes were a cloudy white, streaked with veins. She didn't recognise me, and snarled when I came near.

I knew I wasn't supposed to go out alone, but I had to get away from it all. I went down to the river, to the place where I had played, all those years ago. Even if I had imagined it all.

Somehow, I wasn't all that surprised to see her there. Her red hair was even longer, and floated on the surface of the water, like pondweed, except that it was so beautiful. She smiled at me.

“Where have you been?” I demanded. “It's been eight years, I thought you might have been...” I broke off. I didn't want to say the word dead. Not after everything that had happened recently.

She frowned at this, furrowing her freckled brow. “Things are bad all over, Michael. I've been hiding out, you see. This... crisis that's going on at the moment...”

“The un-dead you mean?”

“Yes, that's what people are calling them, aren't they? Well, it's been going on longer than you realise. It started across the ocean. My sisters and I... we tried to stop it, and we failed, we couldn't stop it from getting here. I wanted to warn you, but I couldn't get away before now.”

“Stop it? There's a cure?”

She shook her head. “No, I'm sorry, Michael, there's no cure. You've lost someone, haven't you?”

“My sister, it happened last night.”

“I'm sorry Michael. It's spreading. It can't be contained. My sisters are doing their best, but soon, there may be no humans left. Only the un-dead.”

“What can I do about it?”

“Nothing. Leave here, go to somewhere more isolated, hope they don't find you.”

“I can't leave here”, I told her. “I can't leave my parents, my sister.”

“She's not your sister anymore, Michael.”

“I know.”

“But do your parents know that? Do they understand what is going to happen? You need to make them understand, they have to kill her. They have to kill everyone who is infected, or you will all die.”

“My parents could never do that.”

She smiled a sad, knowing smile. “Most humans can't. That is why, in the end, the un-dead will win. They are so selfish, and think only of themselves, of their next meal. You humans have too much compassion.”

I sat by the edge of the river, sobered by her revelations. She held out her arms to me. “Come, play with me as we used to, one last happy memory before it all goes to hell.”

I hesitated. I was sixteen now, nearly a man, playing in the water with a naked woman was very different than when I had been a child. Then I realised, what did it matter? The world was ending, anyhow. I stripped off my clothes, and plunged into the water. It was chilly with the first hint of autumn, but I knew it was more than summer that was ending. It was my whole childhood.

The siren took me in her arms, her long, soft hair floating about me. I floated on my back, feeling the silky skin of her breasts pressing against me. She began to sing, the dream song, the one I remembered from my childhood. It was stranger and more beautiful than I had remembered. I swore to myself I would not forget it this time. In the dreams, she showed me all the places she had been, sandy beaches between pinnacles of rock that pierced the clouds, vast oceans that seemed to stretch into infinity. Dark places, where the magic still lived. The sky was the most beautiful ceiling above our heads, the sunsets filled us with wonder, never once the same. I travelled the world that day, in a few short hours, and never have I experienced anything to equal it.

As dusk fell, I reluctantly left her arms, and swam out to the shore. My clothes stuck to my damp body as I pulled them on.

“Michael”, she called to me from the river. I came to the edge of the water, but she was just out of reach.

“If you are in trouble... if things get worse, come to the river. Promise me that.”

I nodded. We said our goodbyes, and I set out for the house.

As I made my way towards the house, I knew at once that something was wrong. It was too quiet. I began to run. My wet clothes chafed my skin, but the pain meant nothing to me. I pushed open the door and ran in, nearly slipping on the blood that covered the floor.

The bodies of my parents, of our guests, lay strewn on the floor, some more or less whole, others barely more than piles of flesh. Among the bodies, others moved, crawling sideways like crabs. It took me a moment to realise they were eating the bodies. I couldn't stop myself letting out a gasp of horror.

At the sound of my voice, they looked up and saw me. I recognised the guests who had been bitten last night, and my little sister. Their mouths were sticky with gore, and I could tell they did not recognise me. As I stared in horror, one of the bodies on the floor began to twitch. Then another. They were coming back to life. Or un-life.

I was paralysed with horror, watching the un-dead move towards me, eager for fresh meat. I stumbled backwards, tripping over a body, falling to the floor. Blood soaked into my clothing. I knew that I would die there.

Then I heard her words in my head, and I knew what I had to do. Somehow, I managed to pull myself up off that floor, out of the blood of my parents and friends. Somehow, I found the strength to begin running. I ran towards the river, as she had told me to. When I reached the river, the was there in all her splendour, red hair and bare breasts shining in the moonlight. She was singing a song I had never heard before.

I threw myself into the river, swam out towards her. She broke off her song for a moment to tell me to swim to the other side of the river and climb out. I obeyed her, knowing my life depended on it. When the un-dead reached the river, the saw me on the other side. Then the siren began her song again. The un-dead stopped, and began to move towards her. She lead them all into the water, and then out to the deepest part of the river. I watched them slowly sink beneath the water.

I realised then what she and her sisters had been doing all these years. They had been using their song to drown the un-dead, to try and protect us all. She turned and waved at me, as the un-dead began to slowly sink beneath the water. Then her smile turned to a look of terror, something was dragging her down. One of the un-dead had grabbed hold of her. I began to move towards her, but she was gone, pulled underwater, her song cut off abruptly. The water turned red with blood, and I knew that it was hers.

I sat up all night by the river. In the morning, the bloated bodies of the un-dead bobbed to the surface.
I cut them into pieces and burned them to make sure they could not rise again. Her body never reappeared.

I like to think that my siren is still out there, singing her songs, saving others from the un-dead, but I know it is more likely that she died that night, saving me.

I took what provisions were left in the house, and left for the mountains that very day. In time, I met other refugees, and we started this camp. That is how your parents were born, the first generation born after the un-dead rose up.

You grew up knowing about the un-dead, but the rest of us still mourn the lives we had and the people we knew. I still wonder what kind of a woman my sister would have grown up to be. But most of all, I miss her, the one moment of magic in my childhood. I never even knew her name, but I will always remember her as my siren. I can still just remember her song, and the dreams I used to dream, before the world became a place where dreams could not survive. 

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