Sirens

The prompt was “you hear a siren.” I of course had to be different and go for the variety that you don’t hear in the streets of a city ;) That’s the nice thing about these writing prompts: you can look at them in more than one way.

Helga was in the crow’s nest, nodding and blinking, when she heard the first strains of song. No, not heard, exactly. She felt it, tugging at her bones, making her head sway and her arms twist and swing. By the time any sound reached her ears, she was wide awake.

“Damn it!” she cried, and yanked on the rope of the bell that hung above her head. “Sirens!” she hollered as loud as she could.

Helga swung over the edge of the nest, onto the rigging, and scrambled down. In the dark and her lingering sleepiness she got tangled, and had just about extricated herself when the rigging swung out with the motion of the ship as it banked sharply.

“Riley, no!” Helga shouted, cursing and trying to free herself from the spider web of the rigging. She made it far enough down for a safe jump, and landed on deck with her ankles and knees smarting. She dashed for the wheel; Riley clutched it, staring with glazed eyes out across the water, his mouth slightly agape.

Helga ran to the rail and leaned out over it to get a better look. The creatures perched on the rocks chilled her blood. They had the tails of eels, skeletally-thin bodies, breasts hanging like empty coin purses, hair straggly and plastered to their skulls like kelp on rock. Their eyes were black pits, and their open, singing mouths were lined with teeth like translucent needles, dripping with inky saliva as they anticipated their meal.

No doubt Riley and the others saw differently. Helga knew what the old salts carved into whalebone: beautiful, shapely maidens with shimmering fish tails, hair like silk. The rail was crowded with men now pouring up from below, still rubbing sleep from their eyes, leaning out almost far enough to tumble into the waves.

Helga thrust herself from the rail and spun around, darting back to the wheel. Riley barely reacted as she cracked him sharply across the face with the back of her hand. “Wake up, you sot! Let go of the wheel!” She wrenched at the wheel, then at his hands, trying to break his grip, before hurling herself at him bodily. It was as if he was made of stone. Helga cursed her wiriness. She needed Captain Brigga up here; she had watched Brigga best Riley in a wrestling match only days before, but that was before the captain took a cutlass to the leg almost down to the bone. Now she was in the infirmary, bandaged and fevered, and of no help to Helga.

Penelope, the ship’s doctor, emerged from the hatch and charged toward Riley, brandishing a burlap sack. She shoved something in one of his ears, then the other, before pulling a handful of something from her sack and pushing it into Helga’s hands. Wax plugs. “Put these in the men’s ears,” Penelope directed. Helga nodded and ran back to the rail with her handful. Some of the men tried distractedly to bat her away, but she managed to insert the plugs. They stumbled away from the rail, looking around as confused as if they had woken up from a dream. They looked to Helga, and with her hands she made the sign for siren in the special hand language they used for just this sort of situation, when hearing was impossible. The men blanched.

“Did we know there were sirens in these waters?” Penelope shouted to Helga across the deck.

“If we did, they’d be wearing the plugs already,” Helga said. She looked out at the sirens. They were closer, and the singing was louder. She hoped the plugs were enough. She snapped around to face Riley. “I thought you plugged him first!” she shouted at Penelope.

“I did!” the doctor protested. The sailor still had the dreamy look on his face, his arms still locking the wheel in a suicide course.

Someone grunted behind the women, and they turned to see the captain herself, stumping along the deck with her glare on Riley. Her skin was white and slicked with sweat from the pain, but she was still imposing at six foot five and almost as much muscle as a man.

“Captain, you shouldn’t be up!” Penelope protested.

“My ship’s about to wreck and you’re worried about my leg?” Brigga said. She made it to Riley, who barely had time to glance her way before her fist crunched into his jaw and laid him out. Brigga grabbed the wheel and wrenched it. The ship spun away from the rocks. Helga went into a legs-wide crouch, but many of the still dazed men tumbled on the deck. At least one or two went splashing overboard. Brigga ignored them and shouted orders to the rest, before remembering the ear plugs and launching into a flurry of hand signs. The men scrambled up the rigging, adjusting sails to pull the ship away from its doom. The sirens on the rocks wailed and screeched t heir outrage at being cheated out of their meal.

Brigga looked at Helga and Penelope and smirked. “The funny thing,” she panted, wincing as she laid her hand on her bandaged leg, “is they used to say a woman on a ship was bad luck.”

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~ by Amber on May 31, 2012.

3 Responses to “Sirens”

  1. Your writing is amazing! I can’t wait for you to post something just so that I can escape into the vividly depicted worlds you create. Amazing work…keep it coming! :)

  2. […] Sirens (ambermarshall.wordpress.com) Rate this:Share this:TwitterFacebookMorePinterestDiggStumbleUponTumblrLike this:LikeBe the first to like this post. This entry was posted in Kitchen and tagged Art, Kansas, Music, Online Writing, Poetry, Romance, Siren, Siren Song, Speculative Fiction. Bookmark the permalink. ← To Air Is Human – Not Just for the Gods […]

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