Friday, May 20, 2016

Flash Fiction Friday: "Heartsong", Part 1 of 6

"And as they sink to the bottom, they change slowly
till they can breathe...they can use their tied-up legs to swim...
And they drown sailors in revenge..."-
Original Prompt

"A woman!"

The cry rang out over the noise of the storm that tossed the pirate ship back and forth. The pirate dragged the stowaway into the open and cast her down as the ship pitched on the wild sea. She couldn't look up as the air rang with the men's curses. The surface of the wood was swollen with waves and rain, but the bloodstains of its former merchant crew ran deep.

"A stinking she-devil!"
"Aye, there's the reason for this maddening storm!"
"Let's get this female blood off our ship! Ain't no luck with a woman about!"

She raised her head. "No! Please!" She begged, pushing her way out of the canvas bag so she could at least raise as high as her knees on the rolling ship. "My name is Adelaide Terrebonne, and I am on this ship because I booked passage with the merchant to the mainland! Please, just put me off at the next port, and I will see that you are compensated for the price I would have paid the merchants!" She saw the cold gleam in their eyes, how they inched forward and leaned back, eager to get her off of their ship, but loath to touch her. "Please!" She said again.

The pirate captain leered at her. "You think that for the lure of money, we would risk granting passage to a woman?" He guffawed. "No good has ever come to any ship as done that! Yer probably the cause of this here storm, and the sooner we send you to Davy, the sooner it will cease!"
All the Pirates cheered at this. The captain pointed his pistol at her. "Chain her up, lads!"

"No!" Adelaide shrieked, but the burly men descended on her, wrapping her in lengths of strong, thick, rough iron chains.
Someone stuffed a disgusting rag into her mouth, while everything from her elbows to her feet pulled together tightly. Her ankles ground against each other, and she could feel the strain pulling on her shoulders.
A pirate hooked the end of the chain to a squat, boxy anchor, and with very little ceremony, three of them tossed the anchor over the railing.

With a bone-twisting jerk, Adelaide felt her body hurtle into the air just before a wave intercepted her, and she twisted and tumbled painfully until her body had sunk low enough that she fell beyond the turbulence.

She could feel the salt water trickling in, through the gag, but it's size made it impossible for her to close her mouth against the incoming flow. She flailed against the chain, but it was no use. The anchor settled at the bottom with enough force to break a few of her toes over it's surface, and what was more, she could only watch in horror as blood seeped from her nose and into the water. Any moment now, the predators would arrive to enjoy their captive meal. Finally, the pressure in her mouth slacked as the cloth absorbed water and became soft and limp. Eagerly, she thrashed her head and used her tongue to push the offending thing out of her mouth. She grimaced as she watched the thing float away like a large, inorganic jelly fish. She stayed there, firmly held by her chains and looking like a tall stalk of seaweed.
Now the water rushed in earnest, stinging her eyes and filling her lungs. She could not close her mouth, she could not breathe... Her vision faded... Death came slow...

A strange keening broke the silence and brought her out of the black. It was somewhere between a human wail and birdsong. She sighed deeply and opened her eyes.

She was still underwater. A dozen strange creatures circled her, with scaly bodies, translucent skin, and long, straggled hair streaming behind them. They stared at her with wide, bulbous eyes, their undulating bodies swathed in some kind of material that vacillated between gauzy silk of varying colors, and a skin-like membrane covered in scales.
The horrible circumstance of her drowning returned to her memory in a rush. She did not doubt that though she could not feel the chains, they still tethered her to the bottom of the sea, at the mercy of these creatures.
The song reached into her mind, pulling out the memories of sinking in the water, of the gag floating away, of her eyes raising to the surface as she lost the ability to breathe—
She snapped her lips closed. Had she been breathing this whole time? How could this be? She raised her hands to her mouth; the blue dress she wore hung in stringy tatters from her elbows.
Sure enough, the sensation of her fingers was not skin-on-skin as she expected. Instead, her fingertips brushed some kind of rubbery substance. What was on her face?
One of the creatures broke from the others, swimming toward her with long strokes of her tail.
She flinched, flinging her body backward—and sped several yards through the water with minimal effort. A broad, filmy tail swished past her—until she noticed that the tail was attached to her own body. Her feet had fused together into a single, long appendage; the dress she had worn evaporated into webbing over her body, over her arms, and between the fingers on her hands.

She gazed over her new body.
"What is wrong with me?" She stammered—but even her voice had changed. The words came out of her mouth in a stream of resonant tones, ones that expressed her longing for what she had been before, and her fear of what she had become.

One of the creatures swam close to her again, but this time, her mouth was open in a warm, inviting song.
"Welcome," she sang, extending a webbed hand toward the frightened creature. "You are among your kind. All of us were like you, innocent women cast off ships because of unwarranted blame. We have become sirens, daughters of the sea. What is your name?"
Her name... It took several minutes for her to realize that she didn't quite remember it. Part of her reasoned that her new body needed a new name.
"Adel—" she stopped to listen to the music that came out of her mouth when she spoke the name. Memories of her life on the surface of the land, of the loved ones she would never see again.
"Adeliyah," she declared in firm, unyielding tones.
The other sirens gathered around her, raising their hands and lifting their voices in a chorus of belonging.
"Welcome, Adeliyah," said a siren with thick grey hair and a white tint to her membrane. "I am Kyrran, and the leader of our band." She bent and twisted so her tail wrapped around Adeliyah's. "You think it is a cruel twist of fate that has left you separated forever from the life you once knew," she acknowledged kindly, "but I am here to tell you that Fate looks kindly upon us, and gives us a gift far beyond human knowledge."
Adeliyah shook her head, watching her long brown tresses floating in the water around her. "What gift could there possibly be?"

A siren with red fins darted in a series of complicated maneuvers. "We are faster than most creatures," she said, "and possess much of our human intellect, which gives us an advantage over them," she gestured to a school of fish swimming by.
Her voice was nearly overwhelmed by a chorus of songs coming from the school.
"What is that noise?" Adeliyah asked, reaching up to cover her ears—until she discovered she didn't have ears anymore.
Kyrran smiled and nodded. "That is our gift; we use song to communicate, and every creature has a heartsong, the tones meant for them... But we are the only ones who can hear the heartsong of another creature."
Adeliyah made her body an inquisitive spiral. "What sort of gift is that?"
A violet-skinned siren with thick, black hair swam forward. "I will show you."
She looked above them at the noisy school of fish. She began singing, and Adeliyah realized that she had picked one melody out of dozens. Suddenly, a clutch of fish with the same heartsong abruptly broke away from the group and began swimming toward the siren. She kept on singing, until the small detachment of fish hovered in front of her. Adeliyah watched as a few others brought out an empty net, holding it between them. The siren’s song changed slightly, and the fish responded by turning to the side and swimming straight into the net. The sirens closed the mouth of the net, and carried it away.
The violet siren smiled at her. “My name is Aylssha, and that is what the heartsong can do: it drives the creature’s desires, so if we sing along, it creates the connection; then we can change the heartsong to form our own desires, thus influencing the creature to do what we want. Those fish,” she flicked her tail in the direction of the net, “are now perfectly willing to be our dinner.”
Adeliyah swam with the group, pleased with how easy swimming had become now. “So… motivating fish? That is what you use the heartsong for?”
Aylssha sang in a happy, vicious tone. “Fish aren’t the only things with heartsongs,” she said. Her eyes tilted upward, and Adeliyah followed her gaze.

The wide keel of a ship spread above them. Kyrran began to sing, and the sirens obediently fell into formation, surrounding the ship as they joined with her. Adeliyah let her voice rise with the others, and as she watched, she could sense faint notes of a different song coming from above the water. She saw moving shapes all over the massive frame, and knew them to be the sailors. She noticed one in particular, as his progress up the rigging put him in full view of her and revealed his heartsong clearly to her senses. Adeliyah followed the demonstration of Aylssha, adjusting her song to fit the heartsong she heard. She saw the sailor stop and turn, and even at that distance, she believed she could see his eyes as he looked straight at her. She faltered at this, even as she heard the songs of her fellow sirens change to fit the heartsongs of the sailors they saw.
A splash broke her concentration. She stopped and looked away from the sailor as a body entered the water between Kyrran and another siren. The two of them were singing together, and they quickly swarmed over the man as more bodies dropped into the water. They didn’t stop looking at the ship, even as they used the heartsongs to convince the men to cease struggling to the surface, to remain in the water… to drown. More bodies fell, and Adeliyah looked in horror at the growing crowd at the bottom of the sea.
Aylssha’s song reached her. “Don’t look back! Keep singing until there are no songs left!”
Adeliyah returned her gaze to the ship above. The sailor she had been singing to still stood above her, though upon the deck, scanning the water as if looking for her. Their gazes met, and Adeliyah began singing again, coaxing him, inviting him--until at last he pitched forward head-first into the water.
He dropped so close to her that Adeliyah instinctively drew back, even as two sirens wrapped their tails around him and held him under the water. He thrashed and kicked and pulled, but Adeliyah kept singing, making him calm down, relax, and accept his fate. He died with a dull smile on his face.
Adeliyah returned her gaze to the survivors still on the ship, singing along with each heartsong until every last sailor had abandoned ship. The other sirens set about scuttling the boat, eagerly singing about the treasures they would find on board, while Adeliyah surveyed the cost of their spoils: a mound of dead bodies littering the floor.
Kyrran swam over to her.
“Well done,” she congratulated Adeliyah. “It is a rare siren who can empty a boat that fast. Join us, as we take revenge on the sailors who thought that getting rid of us would save them from certain doom!” She led the sirens into the scuppered hull of the sunken vessel.
Adeliyah followed, embracing her new life as a siren of the sea.


Further Reading:
-"The Glow" (A 3-Part Story)