Consciousness returned with the sound of dripping, the cool of water, and the stench of rotting seaweed. He lifted his head and opened his eyes—and flinched with a splash.
Something had tied him in a cage by his waist, holding him just head-and-shoulders above the surface of the water. His hands were bound at the wrist, extended in front of him. The cove itself was small and dark, illuminated only by the sunlight streaming through an opening in the rock somewhere he couldn't see.
He let his head sag as his mind spun. He had been on a voyage, normal by all accounts, until it ran into an unforeseen storm. That was certainly a matter to contend with, but then he had ducked down to the galley for a snack and found a young woman hiding among the provisions. In his honesty, he thought to mention it to one of the deckhands, who passed word onto the captain.
He pressed his lips at the memory; the captain had gotten himself stinking drunk, which turned him into a raving, raging, vengeful idiot, it seemed. He immediately demanded that the crew adhere to the practice of casting women overboard. The poor soul didn't stand a chance, what with all the men only too eager to get their hands on her. Nothing he said could dissuade them—not that he could say much, being stricken with violent seasickness. They chained the woman and tossed her into the sea, and then—
He ceased his recollection as something brushed his leg. He wondered vaguely what sort of captor would tie him up to his shoulders in water, while making sure he could not swim away, nor would he sink and drown. Why would someone choose this particular method?
He was still staring at the water, trying to ascertain a possible depth for the small cove, when he began to realize that a pair of eyes stared back at him.
A burble and a splash caused him to flinch, as a small barrel bobbed to the surface. Tiny waves shoved the barrel toward him, and with his bound hands he scrabbled at a loose edge serving as a lidded opening.
Inside he saw a whole stack of "tack," the round, tough bread sailors subsisted on most of the time. The seal of the barrel had done it's job and kept the tack dry, even underwater. Carefully he slid a biscuit out and began munching on it, doing his almighty best to keep it from getting too moist.
All the while, the bulging eyes stared at him. There was something about the face, and the way his captor hovered up to her chin in the water—not to mention the color of her face, a deep blue-grey that was much different than it should have been. Something...
Small slits in the middle of her face flexed; the creature had no nose. He jerked, sending the barrel bobbing away to the other side of the narrow cage.
"What are you?" He demanded.
She stared for a minute longer, and disappeared under the water. He waited for her return, but in vain. A while later, something round surfaced with a splash, but it was only a narrow-necked jug of fresh water.
Time passed slowly. Sometimes the creature would visit, sometimes she would send barrels or jugs of food and water into the cage. Some of it, he even recognized as cargo pulled from the wreckage of the very ship he had been riding. It baffled him; why would she care about his survival, when she didn't even care enough to interact with him?
The next time she stayed to stare at him, he again asked, "What are you?"
She dove immediately, causing him to wonder if he had offended her somehow.
Suddenly, he felt her body sliding up along his as she surfaced directly in front of him. Her long tail pushed against his feet. The bulbous eyes and undulating gills were just inches from his face as she flourished a wicked-looking bone knife. Bringing the blade down toward the space between them, she made a quick lunge and he instinctively brought his hands up in a protective gesture. His wrists came apart and his arms relaxed. She had cut his bonds. He looked up again, but she swam away without making eye contact again.
He began to notice a pattern in her visits: when she brought food, she would stay to watch him eat until he had finished. He found he could delay her departure if he ate slower. After several meals, he stopped in the midst of a bowl of berries and watched her in much the same way she had been watching him.
She noticed him staring, and turned to swim further away.
"No, wait!" He cried.
She stopped and turned to face him again.
He pointed to himself. "Kellan," he said. "My name is Kellan—if you wanted to know."
She glided forward, but not too close. Her mouth opened slightly.
Kellan glanced around as the cavern reverberated with a beautiful sound, a haunting melody that sparked his memory. He listened as the song conjured the image of him climbing the rigging and trimming the sails, like a sailor. The creature stopped singing and regarded him once more.
Understanding washed over him like a cool wave. This creature before him was a siren! He watched her stare at him with more expectation in her gaze. Perhaps she was trying to communicate through song. She sang again, and he immediately pictured himself in the garb of a deckhand. Was she asking whether he was a sailor?
Kellan shook his head. "No," he said. "Not a sailor; I was only a passenger on the ship. My father owns it." He wondered if she could actually understand him.
The siren swam back and forth as if she could comprehend the information. She sang another song, and Kellan recalled the way he dove after Hans, the deckhand who had taken it upon himself to ensure the safety of his employer's son, when the "storm" had seemed intent on knocking everyone off the deck. He recalled the moment the siren sang of, when, just as Kellan was beginning to thank the fates that he had been spared a deadly demise, Hans suddenly turned to the water and dove over the side of the dinghy.
"Oh, that?" Kellan wagged his head as the siren watched him. "To be honest, I dove in to save him because part of me wanted to convince myself that I was to blame. Perhaps it was my fault for insisting on accompanying the cargo ship, rather than booking passage on a separate passenger ship."
She seemed to accept this answer, so Kellan, after a few moments of hesitation, dared to venture a query of his own. He pointed to the cage and the ropes to keep him from dropping into the water. "Why am I bound? Surely by now I have proven that I am no threat to you."
The siren bobbed her head and sang another song, this one more ominous and vicious than the others. Kellan experienced another "memory," but this one seemed more like a vision, since the experiences belonged to her, not him. He saw under the water, varied shapes, too human to be fish, too fish-like to be considered. They sang, he saw, and bodies fell from the surface. But merely drowning was not enough; he saw sirens lunging for the struggling humans, wrapping their long tails around them and pulling on their limbs till the men died.
"I see," he said soberly. "So the fact that you closed me in this cage was more for my safety, to prevent my discovery, than for your protection."
The siren seemed satisfied that he understood.
Kellan, however, had just one more question.
"If you're just going to keep me alive in this cage till doomsday," he wondered. "Then why save me at all?"
The siren twisted in a tight, angry loop, and disappeared altogether before Kellan could call after her.
TO BE CONTINUED....
-"The Glow" (A 3-Part Story)