Sorry I didn’t update yesterday, there wasn’t any service and we were in a rush to get away from the coast. Also, it was a weird case. Like… I mean I don’t know I feel weird about it.
Here’s what happened.
I was lying in the back gasping for air and then realized like oh shit that guy’s gonna drown if we don’t do something literally right this second. Which like, considering the urgency it was actually pretty late on the draw for me to be figuring that out.
Luckily, the Hawthornes were more on it.
They had ear plugs in the glove compartment and were shoving them in their ears. They were also loading guns.
“Will guns kill it?” I asked.
“What do you mean will guns kill it, of course guns will kill it,” Neal snapped. “Put enough holes in anything and you’re pretty much gonna kill it. We’re hoping we won’t get to that point. Stay in the car.”
But literally as he said it, Julian was throwing earplugs at me. I beamed at him, Julian made and oops face, and Neal got out of the car.
We all ran to the edge of the cliff. Neal lead the way down the rocks, scattering pebbles, Julian close on his heels. I couldn’t quite bring myself to follow them immediately on account of being recently mind controlled by this thing’s singing voice and that SHAKES YOU UP okay?????
I paused at the top of the cliff. The jogger was chest deep in the ocean, making his way out towards a rock sticking out of the water. And lying there, half on the rock, was a — woman? A creature?
At which point my limbs kinda locked up.
LOOK, I’ve maybe seen some shit. Last week I walked into a serial killer’s house. The week before that I partied with vampires. But faced with approaching this mystery creature from the depths for some reason my joints stopped working.
Just when I was reexamining all the choices I’d made to lead me to standing on a beach facing down a damn mermaid, Neal made it down to the waterline, cupped his hands over his mouth and shouted something I couldn’t hear through my ear plugs.
The creature on the rock whipped around, and then flipped into the ocean. A lot more of the rock turned out to be siren than I originally noticed. What I thought was seaweed floating around the rock turned out to actually be attached to her tail, which was, if you can imagine, upsetting.
When the singing stopped, the jogger started screaming, probably on account of his broken leg.
At first I thought she was swimming away, but then, to my deep, skin-crawling horror, she turned and swam back towards us. Only the top of her head appeared out of the water. If I hadn’t known better I’d have mistaken her for a seal or an otter or something.
Seeing her approaching the shore something kicked into gear and I scrambled down the rocks to join them. A mermaid was swimming towards us. I guess I wanted to miss it less than I was scared shitless.
When I made it to the shore Neal was taking out his earplugs.
“Do you speak English?” he called over the surf. I watched the siren’s fins flicker under the water as she pushed her head and shoulders out of the water.
“Yes,” she said. Or she sort of creaked I guess, her voice was gravelly.
Take a minute to let that sink in. The mermaid speaks English. Sure, okay, that tracks.
Okay Mermaid doesn’t really seem like the right term for her. This is not a creature who spends her life practicing self care under a waterfall. Her hair has never seen the tooth end of a comb, and she’s got these huge, dark, double-lidded seal eyes. Her nostrils flex open and closed to keep the water out, and her tail isn’t scaled it’s slick like a dolphin. Her belly is lighter than her back, and she’s freckled.
Also, and I can’t stress this enough, she speaks English. In like a gravelly halting croak, but still it’s English.
“Do you know how many people you’ve killed?” Neal asked.
She peered up at us from the water, tilting her head to get an ear above air. “None,” she said.
“Ten!” Neal cried. “Ten and a dog! Almost eleven!” He gestured at the guy with the broken leg, who Julian had moved to help back up the hill. He was definitely gonna have to carry the guy, his leg was FUCKED up.
The siren waved her hand, dismissive of Neal’s accusation, and Neal, to my surprise, made a sign with his hand back to her, something looping and intentional. The siren was clearly surprised. She beamed at him and signed something else. Neal cracked a slight smile then and the signed back and forth for several minutes in silence.
“What are they saying?” I asked Julian.
“What is that thing?” the jogger moaned. We both ignored him.
“My Sirenic isn’t as good as Neal’s,” Julian replied, squinting down at them. “But from what I can tell she’s arguing that she hasn’t killed anyone.”
“But she’s been singing people to their deaths!” I said.
“Yes, that’s what Neal is arguing but according to her singing isn’t a crime.”
“I mean,” I said. “It isn’t unless your singing is causing people to walk into the ocean until they die.”
Julian took a second to watch them sign. “She’s asking if we will kill her for singing,” he said. “Shit, this is going to be a rough one.”
“But people are drowning themselves to get nearer your voice!” Neal finally exploded aloud. “Look at this guy! Look at his leg!”
“I am here singing and this bumbling idiot falls down a cliff and it is my fault? It is a beautiful morning and I cannot sing?” the siren shouted back.
“Alright,” Julian said, moving to intervene.
“Please don’t ask me to stop singing,” the siren said. She signed it at the same time and I watched her webbed fingers flicker and fan.
Neal turned to look at us. “Shit,” he said. “I need some breakfast.” He turned back to the siren. “Don’t sing until we get back. We’ll figure this out.”
So we all climbed, stumbling back up the rocks, hauling the jogger with us.
“How do we know she won’t sing while we’re gone?” I asked.
“She won’t,” Neal said. “It’s past dawn.”
Half an hour later we’d dropped the jogger off at the emergency room and were sitting in a Diner called Flo’s. Neal was stress eating an enormous plate of hash browns. “Flo?” he said to the waitress, who was not wearing a name tag. “I can call you Flo, right?” He didn’t wait for her to answer. “Excellent. Flo, just keep potatoes coming.”
Then he explained the situation to us. “She’s lost,” he said. “She lost her pod a couple weeks ago and she’s waiting for them to come back and find her.”
“So… can we just ask her not to sing?” I asked.
“No, she can’t help it. It’s like asking birds not to sing, they just have to. Dawn and dusk.”
“Can she move up or down the coast?”
“We can ask her, but where is it safe for her to go really? Siren song has a way of traveling. If the wind’s right you can hear it for miles. Why do you think so many people have come jogging along that particular cliff at dawn?”
“I mean… can’t she just watch?” I said. “Surely she can just watch who’s on the cliff and stop singing when people get too close.”
“She has been,” Neal sighed. “That’s why there have only been ten deaths. Ten deaths is when she’s careful.”
“Well… can she just sing in shallower water?” I suggested. “Then no one would drown.”
Neal and Julian exchanged a glance. Neal began wolfing down his hash browns again.
“Earlier, when you heard her singing,” Julian began. “What would you have done when you reached the source of that music?”
“I don’t know —” I began but Julian interrupted.
And yeah I totally did know. I was a scary mindless zombie who would have clawed the siren to pieces and worn her face like a mask to get closer to that song. Yikes.
“Okay,” I said. “Okay, so the drowning people actually sort of works out in her best interest.”
There was a long pause, punctuated only with Neal’s fork stabbing his plate.
“She’s killed ten people,” Julian said quietly.
Neal slammed down his fork. “We’re not going to kill her.”
But Julian was interrupted by the waitress Flo putting a fresh plate of hash browns in front of Neal.
“Thank you,” Neal said to her, grinning that horrible angelic grin. The poor waitress was probably twenty and she hesitated by our table, looking a bit dazed, which like hey girl I feel it, but Neal didn’t even notice she was still standing there. Instead, he said with gumption: “We’re not going to kill her!”
The waitress’ face fell.
“Our dog’s sick,” I told her.
“…okay,” she said and left in a hurry.
“I just don’t see what choice we have,” Julian said. “We have no way of contacting her pod, we have no way of relocating her somewhere safe, she’d never make it to a refuge, not by herself in open water, the nearest one is… I mean it’s how many thousands of miles from here?”
“We’re not going to murder a girl for singing,” Neal snapped back.
Julian scrubbed his eyes with his hands. “I know, it’s definitely not my favorite idea —”
“She can’t help it! She can’t stop herself!”
“Neither can the people she’s luring out to their deaths,” Julian said.
Neal went back to his hash browns.
“Isn’t there… someone else we can call?” I asked.
“Like who?” Neal snapped.
I winced, though I knew his tone wasn’t really directed at me. “Like… I don’t know someone with authority. Someone who can do something.”
Neal rolled his eyes and redoubled his hash brown eating efforts.
“There isn’t a higher authority,” Julian said. “We’re it.”
Neal pushed his hash browns towards us to make room for his forehead on the table. “Shit,” he said to the floor. “She’s just lost. She just wants to find her people. It isn’t her fault our dumb asses find her irresistible.”
I was starting to feel sick. “So… so what are we going to do?”
“You’re not going to do anything,” Julian said gently. “You’re going to stay in the car.”
I realized with mounting horror that the siren’s fate was sealed.
Neal emerged from the table with a long breath, fingers over his eyes. He said, “Okay,” and scrubbed his face and hair with his hands. Then he went back to his hash browns.
We waited the long miserable hours until dusk, then we drove back to the coast.
“Stay in the car,” Julian said to me when they got out, ear plugs in, tucking guns in their waistbands under the back of their t-shirts.
And I tried to stay in the car. I really really did.
Then I put in ear plugs and ran to the top of the rocks.
Julian was standing up to his knees in the water, gun raised to the siren’s forehead. I got the impression he was saying something, explaining her sentence maybe. But the siren wasn’t looking at Julian or his gun, she was watching Neal who was signing at her. She signed back quickly. I saw her nod.
Then Julian cocked his gun and I wished I’d stayed in the car, heart hammering, waiting for the gunshots, for the siren to splash back into the water.
Instead Neal reached and pushed Julian’s wrist a few degrees to the right. Julian fired three times into the water. The siren signed something to them both and Neal signed back. Then she turned and swam a way. The last I saw of her was fins flipping out into deeper water.
I ran back to the car before they saw I was watching.
Julian changed his jeans in the road behind the car while Neal got into the drivers seat.
No one spoke. Neal headed for open highway immediately. Julian wanted a nap, so I climbed into the passenger. I was hungry but didn’t say anything.
Neal waited until Julian had fallen asleep before saying, “did you watch?”
“No,” I lied.
Neal laughed. Well, he exhaled sharply through his nose, which was close enough. “Liar,” he said.
Then, after a minute, “It was the wrong call,” he said. “Anyone she kills now — and she probably will kill again — that’s our fault. Any hunter worth their salt would have our heads on spikes if they knew what we just did.”
“What did she sign to you?” I asked.
“She promised to be more careful, to resist singing near shore, to keep a closer watch. But we already know how well it’ll work out. Sending her out into open water like this might as well be a death sentence anyways. We should have just shot her and been done with it.”
“I think you made the right call,” I said, though I wasn’t sure I did.
He leaned his elbow on his door and chewed his thumb nail. “Liar,” he said again.
I thought of the pull of that song and felt a horrible current of panic, so I reached and turned up the music.