Chloe stood on the store of a distant, unknown island, the waves lapping at the dark shore. High above her cliffs reached boldly towards the sky blocking the sun from view. She wore a ripped, green gown that hung precariously from her shoulders and pooled on the sand at her bare feet.
One the ground, at her feet was a damp, black bird. It looked like it had been washed ashore and was just coming to. It gave a weak squawk then flapped its wings spraying droplets of water as it hopped on its taloned feet.
Chloe reached down and picked up the damp bird. She smiled, “You have only yourself to blame for this.” She gently raised the bird to her shoulder and walked up the shore following a path towards a cave higher up in the cliffs, the train of her gown dragging sand along with it.
* * *
Earlier that day
Chloe sat in her parents’ kitchen running her finger along the shell in her hand.
“Are you sure you don’t need any help?” she asked Sandy, her mom, who was busy bustling about the kitchen preparing lunch.
“No offense dear, but if I need help in the kitchen I’ll ask your sister.” She paused. “Or your father.”
“I’m not that bad of cook,” Chloe muttered.
Sandy raised an eyebrow, but didn’t respond.
The shell in Chloe’s hand grew warm under her touch. Although the middle looked much like a normal clam shell, white with ridges running the length of it, the edges faded to what looked like green glass that was sharp and jagged. Since finding it earlier that morning on the beach, she had sliced her hand drawing blood twice.
“Look who I found in the driveway!” John, her father, said, beaming widely as he nearly dragged her sister Sara inside. She in turn had her arms wrapped around Clayton. Chloe stood when she saw him. Why did Sara have her arms around Clayton? Why was he here?
She instinctively stood, ready to bolt, but her feet stay rooted to floor, too confused to move.
“And she has big news!” John grinned at her Sandy.
Sandy set down the knife she was using to chop vegetables and wiped her hands on the towel hanging over her shoulder as she moved around the island to embrace her daughter.
“And you’re here too!” she said to Clayton, Chloe’s Clayton. Sandy grasped his forearms in her hands before going in for a hug. “We’ve missed you.”
Chloe’s mouth went dry. She hadn’t seen Clayton in two months, not since her high school sweetheart of five years had out of the blue told her he didn’t want to be with her anymore. She felt her brain going cloudy as he released her mom from a too-long hug, then pulled her sister back into his arms.
Sara shot her hand out in front of her, a giant ring and band on her finger. “We got married.”
A long piercing note rang through in Chloe’s brain and the air turned hot and humid, too thick to breathe. As her family celebrated, she stumbled out onto the patio for some fresh air, but once she was outside she realized the warmth had followed her. The shell still in her hand was red hot and seemed to be pulsing.
She stared it for a moment and cold clarity returned. Then she looked back at her family through the windows, unaware of her absence. She had the power to change this. The wind whipped her hair up and around her face, her long green sundress fluttering like a captive bird. Dark rain storm clouds crept in from the horizon as the ringing in her ears became a song that filled her chest and soon she was the one singing. Too late, her sister looked up and saw her. Too late she realized what Chloe was doing and dawning horror filled her eyes.
* * *
Earlier that morning
Legend has it that the Sirens lived on the islands of Sirenum scopuli where they lured sailors to their deaths. However, if they were able to bypass the Sirens without coming to harm, the Sirens would thrown themselves to their deaths. Their song however, lived on and would become locked in a shell until someone came along to release it.
One of these shells found their way to Chloe as she walked along the beach. After scrapping her foot on the top of the shell she stooped down and began to brush the sand away. As she held the shell up to the light, the sun flickered through the translucent green edges. Rather than looking like a shell, the edges looked more like the outline of an island on a map.
Her mom had told her about Siren Songs when her and Sara were kids. They used to spend hours scouring the beach looking for one. This was the first one she’d ever found one. The legend held that the holder could enact revenge against anyone they choose by locking them in a prison in the form of the body of a bird. But, it was not a free exchange. The one with the shell would be forced to release the Siren’s Song and would then become a Siren herself, condemned to the islands of Sirenum scopuli.
As kids, both Chloe and Sara had agreed you’d have to be crazy to do that. But kids rarely understand the depths adults will go to for revenge.
This story was inspired by a writing prompt I found in Complete the Story:
“It looked like a shell, half buried, but as she dug through the sand around its edges, she found it was something completely different, something she’d never seen before and thought only existed in stories. She had to be imagining—it simply couldn’t be a ____________.”