Song and Salacity

It had begun as a typical night.  There was a light howl in the wind, whispering desires through the air; a flutter to the crisp leaves that hung from the branches above, plotting their descent; a flap of wings, eager to dance to the sirens’ song.

Percie had just completed a tiresome novel by the fire.  The sun had just begun to set and she decided to ease her eyes by letting the night pour in.  She smothered the fire and breathed deeply, allowing the scent of char to wash through her.  In the kitchen, Percie prepared herself a cup of warm milk on the gas stove.  The crickets had begun their annoying symphony, but she knew her songstress’ would put an end to it soon.  Anything that bothered Percie was considered a threat in the eyes of her winged protectors.

As she sipped her milk, Percie gazed at the blackness outside of her back window.  It was not unusual for her to do this; it calmed her to affix her sights on something non-specific.  Otherwise, they grew weary, and she became utterly aware of her aching body.  But tonight, something felt different.  There was an eeriness about the night that seemed to be staring right back at her.  Believing it to mean her subconscious was warning her that she had forgotten to tend to her garden, Percie placed her cup down and reluctantly walked over to the sink.  The crickets had hushed and a low rhythmic humming was in the air now.  Her songstress’ had fed, but only a little.

Outside, she flitted about the garden, swiping her dainty fingertips against petals to check for dampness.  It did seem as though all of her plants had been watered, which all the more confused her.  Something was making her uneasy.  As her heart rate sped up, the humming grew louder.  Her songstress’ could sense her distress and were growing anxious by it.  She was happy to have their protection, but also needed to assure them that, for the moment, everything seemed alright.  If she did not, they may become undisciplined.  Temperamental as they were, she loved them.  She offered a reassuring whistle, lacing it with a familiar cadence that they returned before falling back to their quiet, watchful, humming.

Back inside, Percie let the rest of her milk flow down the drain.  She watched it spiral away, tickled by the image of disappearance, until she was jarred back to reality by a squawk so violently intrusive that she had to bring both hands to her ears.  Losing her balance, she fell over and cried out gently.

It was her songstress’; their worry and tension had suddenly turned to erratic vexation.

Percie scrabbled about until she was on all fours, simultaneously basking in the pain and trying to detach herself from it.  That was the thing about sirens, their pain was inviting. Even Percie, a keeper and beloved friend, was not immune.

The squawking continued to rise.  The pitch seemed impossible, and yet, there it was forcing its way into her.  The songstress’ had found a real threat.  Something terrible was out there.  Against her better instincts, Percie began the tedious task of crawling out to the garden.  For this, she had to rely upon her forearms and fingertips, for, her legs were incapacitated by the invasive song.  Her hair was in her eyes now, and she grunted in a high pitch, almost matching her songstress’ emphatic levels.

When she finally made it to the back door the squawking had begun to lull. Sensation tingled a return up Percie’s legs, making their throb more apparent.  Every muscle in her body screamed.  It was always like this when they fed – always.  Percie staggered through the gardens and around to the back of their tree.  She knew she would find them there, and she did.

As she came upon her protectors she squinted impotently through the dark, but their shadows were immediately apparent.  Three heads bobbed up and down excitedly.  Their song was now reduced to a croon, backed by a ruffle as their wings flapped with appeasement.

Although he made no sound, Percie could see their slender arms pulling and tugging at their victim.  A man who thought he could creep about, unnoticed – watching, lurking.  A man who thought he was a predator when in fact he was merely prey.

One feeder sensed Percie’s presence and rose from the earth, elongating her crouched legs.  Percie caught a glimpse of her bouncing breasts in the moonlight as she turned to face her.  She smiled graciously, knowing the songstress could see her well.  The other two continued to feast, though there could not have been much of the man left. The thrilling obscenity of the picture caused Percie’s heart to pound against her chest.

The standing songstress soon curled herself back to a perched position, guarding the others.  She let her wide bronze wings fold over one another so that only one eye would remain exposed.  Percie could not see this exactly, but knew the posture well enough to imagine it distinctly.  Drained from the ordeal, she let herself drop to the cold ground, and then lied flat against it.  All she felt now was an exhaustive satisfaction.

When the songstress’ had had their fill, they took flight over Percie’s amative body, offering a resuscitating breeze.  It was as welcomed as the bright moon.  Their eyes twinkled until they disappeared again into the treetops, while Percie slept deeply, and fully.

© Shyla Fairfax-Owen

Devoured

“Please don’t make me,” Alice murmured.

Her brother, Eric, shot her a look and pushed the plate of food nearer to her face. The salt-water fumes charged through her nasal cavity and landed in the pit of her empty stomach. It lurched forward, but came to a prompt stop when it realized it had nothing to give.

She hated fish; she hated seaweed; she hated not knowing where she would ever find a decent meal, again. She did not, however, hate Eric’s ambition. Since they’d been on their own he had provided well above her expectations.

“What is it?” she asked hesitantly.

“I’m sure you don’t want to know.”

That was true. Whatever it was it would sustain her, but for how long? How long were they meant to live this way?

Pushing the dreary thought from her mind, she closed her eyes; took a deep breath; and scooped the mystery flesh into her mouth – gills and all.

Four years later, the world was still broken, but Alice was fierce and strong. She and Eric had become quite the team, only occasionally having brief encounters with other survivors. Mostly they’d make some trades and move on. Groups were not their thing. Eric had become quite the fisherman – and Alice quite the fish eater. Something about the meat fueled her. She was sixteen now and despite the elemental exposure, hard labor, and lack of rest, she had grown into a stunning young woman. She was tall; lean yet muscular, with eyes of emerald and caramel skin that seemed to glow in the sunlight. She looked remarkably healthy, and it was not lost on her that the men they would come across could not help but gawk. She was never in danger though, and seemed to wield a certain power.

It was the mermaid meat. She knew that, now. She gobbled it up happily every night. It seemed there was enough to last a lifetime – or several. It would have to. Consuming the mermaid’s flesh had given Alice eternal life, and eternal wealth. In these times, that just meant she would never starve, again.

Alice was pleased with her vigor, but it panged her to see Eric suffering, so. The mermaid could only be consumed by one; could only offer its powers to one. Eric had given it to his weak younger sister that day on the beach, and was paying the price with each passing month.

Often, Alice thought about what capturing the mermaid must have been like. She envisioned her brother, mighty and heroic, slaying the creature. In her fantasies, it was like a fairytale. But she knew in actuality, it would not have been so magical. It would have been violent, bloody, and monstrous.

The first time she saw a mermaid was the day before the war. It had washed up on the shore near their house, and Alice had been the first to spot it. The creature had a fish tail below, and smooth creamy skin up top – her breasts bared shamelessly. Her eyes were red and dug into Alice’s soul as she writhed and hissed. She even had horns, just like Alice was told she would. She was an omen, just as Alice had read about.

And now that she had consumed her (or one of her kind), Alice herself was the Omen. It would only be a matter of time.

Just before her eighteenth birthday, Eric drifted off to the next world. She committed his body to the sea, whispered well-wishes to his soul, and thanked the heavens that he would not suffer through her transformation. She could already sense it beginning, and she was ashamed of how good it felt.

The air became thick and clogged her airwaves, filling Alice with a thirst that even six years of destitution had never brought on so strongly. Naked, she crawled towards the sea, carried by her throbbing desire to splash about in its coolness. She huffed and puffed until she finally got far enough out to sink into its abyss. Below the surface her legs stiffened and coalesced until she had only one. A stinging sensation over came them as scales fought their way out of the skin that was simultaneously greening in color. The mass that had become her lower body grew a fin and flailed about, thrashing her body with it. A school of fish tried to scoot by, but Alice caught their scent. She could feel her jaw rip open, tearing at the hinges until her mouth hung low and wide. Instinctively, her body lunged towards the fish and she scooped them into her maw, devouring every last one. Her teeth, small but sharp, shredding apart the contents of her meal quickly and effectively.

She looked around; her body and mind screaming for more. She swam deeper and deeper, following a new monstrous intuition deep inside of her. The scent was staggering, and made her tingle from nose to fin. At the bottom of the sea she found it – a man, strung down with rope and a rock in his lap. He looked familiar, but mostly; he looked nectarous.

Changeling

Lily’s feet slapped hard against the frosted ground but she did not slow her pace. She tried not to think about how cold it was, how dark it was, or how much it hurt to feel the twigs snapping underfoot. In the distance a low and soothing voice whispered her name; the sound tugged at Lily, but she resisted, and kept running. Her body was extra-cooperative, leaping over rocks and squeezing between tree trunks. Lily had always been a clumsy child, but not tonight, not when her life depended on it. Even her heart matched her pace, slamming rapidly against her chest.

“Liiiilllyyy.”

The voice was getting louder, and more intrusive. But Lily just ran faster. Overwhelmed by her own determination, she burst out of the forest and onto the highway, where a truck had to skid to a stop to avoid hitting her. Lily stared out at the driver, her eyes surely glowing in his headlights. She watched, paralyzed with shock, as he jumped down from his seat and rushed towards her. He was screaming nonsense. When he got close enough to reach out to her it sent her into frenzied hysterics. Lily screamed herself unconscious, her tiny and exasperated body collapsing onto the street.

*****

“Lily? Lily James?”

This time it was a man’s voice. It had a lot more urgency in it and was lacking the seductive nature of the voice she had been running away from. On the silent count of three, Lily sprung her eyes open, hoping her body would have jolted forward at the same time. She hadn’t moved, but she was staring into Mr. Cole’s eyes. They were scared and confused, much like her own. Recognizing the man, Lily allowed relief to sweep through her as she curled up tighter in his arms.

“Okay, okay,” he whispered affectionately. She must have started crying, but couldn’t quite tell. “Let’s get you home.”

Mr. Cole bundled Lily in a blanket and set her down in his passenger seat. She was quiet now, secretly listening for the voice to call her back.

“What were you doing out in the street Lily?” he asked as they moved calmly down the highway. There were hardly any other vehicles; symptom of a small town.

Lily wanted to respond, but she didn’t know how. Honestly, the whole ordeal was starting to blur over in her mind. She had been trying to get away, but was no longer quite sure what from. When she remained silent, Mr. Cole stopped speaking, and they drove the rest of the way listening only to the hum of the engine.

“Here we are,” he finally said.

The drive had felt long, and Lily was pretty sure she had been dozing for most of it. Her muscles ached and her head throbbed, so she put up no fight at all when Mr. Cole scooped her up and carried her to the front door. The only thing more comforting than being held by her elderly kind neighbor was seeing her front stoop. She wasn’t sure how long it had been, but it felt like ages since she had been home. When the front door swung open, she leapt towards her mother and locked her small arms around the woman’s heavy thighs.

The satin pajamas were familiar and warm; but to Lily’s dismay, her mother did not reciprocate. In fact, she seemed to stiffen uncomfortably. Lily was a perceptive child and could sense her mother’s fear. She threw her head up and stared at her, waiting; tears streaming down her cheeks.

“Impossible,” her mother whispered, a stunned expression worn on her face. “My Lily is asleep in her bed.”

Margaret looked down at the child clinging to her thighs. She looked just like Lillian – and yet. She looked to Ed for an explanation, but the old man just looked at her as though she were an alien herself.

“Perhaps not, Marge. I found her in the street; damn near took her down with my truck out there on the highway.”

Margaret looked down at the little girl. Her eyes were watering, her dress was torn, hair unkempt. And wasn’t that – yes, the blue dress she had bought her for her sixth birthday just a few months back. Deciding instantly that she must be in a sleep daze, Margaret dropped to her knees and stared into Lily’s eyes. She wanted to scold her for running away, but first, a gnawing in her gut told her she had to be sure. Margaret snatched Lily’s hand and flew into the house, up the stairs and down the hall to Lily’s room. She could hear Ed close the door behind them and follow. Inside, the room was dark and still. Margaret flipped the light switch and stood face to face with her Lily, snug in bed.

Frozen, Margaret watched as her daughter gently stirred awake. As her eyes fluttered open, Margaret instinctively pulled the other Lily behind her, blocking her from her daughter’s sight.

“Mama?” she asked groggily, rubbing her eyes with the corner of her blanket.

Shyla Fairfax-Owen ©

Friday the Thirteenth: The Last Dinner Party

“In this world nothing is certain but death and taxes,” Arthur remarked smugly, proud of his ability to remember what most might consider Benjamin Franklin’s most memorable quote.

Lina smirked to herself. Arthur, with his graying hair and curled mustache, always struck her as quite a character. She had never carried on a private conversation with him, but rather enjoyed watching him make a pompous fool of himself at large gatherings.

The dinner table was set meticulously, with all twelve of them tucked properly in. Behind Iris, the night’s elegant hostess, there stood a large wooden clock that ticked obnoxiously. According to its reading, dinner should have began twenty minutes ago, but none of the servants had come out of the kitchen yet. There was, however, plenty of red wine being consumed in the meantime. Lina was hungry, and well aware of her light-headedness and how the alcohol was contributing to it. Still, she kept sipping, and smiling sheepishly, following the many disparate conversations without partaking in them.

Twice a year they did this. The faculty would get together at Iris’ for an extravagant dinner, four courses, and chat about the many interesting facts they’ve learned, studied, or made up, since their last gathering.

Lina had been teaching in the English department, alongside Iris, for three years now. She liked it very much. Iris’ husband, Richard, taught in the anthropology department. He and many of his closest colleagues were what Lina would describe as armchair anthropologists. They were enthralled by their own capacity to study from a textbook, but had not the desire to venture outside of the university halls. All the same, Lina tried to be grateful to have been taken in by a group. She had moved to Portland for the job, and had not known a soul in town. Now, she sometimes felt she knew too many.

Outside, a storm was raging. Lina had never seen a sky open up like that. Thunder and lightening cracked through the deep grays, roaring passionately. The heavy rain had come down on her as she made her way from the taxi to the front door, and up the many steep steps that led to it. It was a fabulous house, really. She especially admired the gargoyles that adorned the exterior. But it was a most impractical design. She had rolled her ankle just as she reached the top, and it was still throbbing, although she hadn’t mentioned it to anyone.

“Sorry I’m late.” It was Jim, wet and smiling. “I had the longest route, delayed by a funeral procession that cut me off, if you can believe it.”

Jim’s voice boomed, his announcement taking over any background conversations. He caught Lina’s attention right away. She had seen him in the halls, the new professor in the Art History department, but she hadn’t worked up the nerve to say hello. A chair had to be brought out for him, the thirteenth guest. It was placed directly across from Lina.

“I’m sorry,” Jim continued, this time his words directed only to Lina. “I don’t believe we’ve met. I’m Jim Melville.”

“Catalina Niles. Pleasure,” she nodded politely, intimidated by his dashing blue eyes.

They held each other’s gaze for a moment, but the spell was broken by the arrival of the salads.

It wasn’t until the meal’s third course that the electricity cut out. Iris had been in the middle of blabbing about her new haircut; she had gotten it that afternoon, and Lina supposed she was secretly upset that no one had yet commented. In the stark darkness though, the concern was moot.

Candles were immediately put out in abundance, but still, it was quite dark and some of the guests were visibly uncomfortable. With the music muted, there was only the crashing of the storm, threatening to come in. Voices became hushed; many lowered to a whisper. Dark and silence always seemed to go hand in hand.

Lina wished she could have gotten a good look at Jim and known what expression he was wearing when he asked her what her area of study was and she responded with: “paranormal literature.”

“Ghosts?”

Before she could elaborate, there was a sudden cry from down the hall, and the girly-silliness Lina felt melted away behind the sudden terror. Erica had gone to the washroom; it had to be her screaming out.

The group rushed towards the sound and came upon a sight that nightmares are made of.

Friday, November 13th, 1964; it became a day that would haunt for generations to come.

Erica was sprawled on the bathroom floor, and in the blackness Lina almost missed all the blood. Shards of glass sparkled in the bit of moonlight seeping in through an open window. As she made her way to her colleague, Lina slipped on the hazardous layer of blood and rain that covered the floor. She went down hard, landing in the broken glass which she later discerned had not come from the window, but from the smashed mirror.

Just then lightening struck, momentarily brightening the room so that the grotesque scene became clearer. Face to face with Erica, Lina saw it all. Her eyes were wide, staring lifelessly into Lina’s; her hair was matted and untied as if yanked a number of times; her nose was smashed into her face; her head facing a direction it should not have been able to reach on its own.

Lina swallowed a scream, unsure of how she managed it. Panicked, the group all began to look around at one another. It was obvious to Lina that they were all doing what she was doing – counting.

They had been thirteen at the start, but in the darkness, they hadn’t realized how or when they had become seven. Not that it mattered; none of them would make it out alive that night. No one would live to tell their tale. And forever after, the gruesome details would remain a terrifying mystery.

Shyla Fairfax-Owen ©

Out of the Fog

I stared out at the empty space before me with consternation. It was the first cold day of the year; fall had been slow coming, allowing the remnants of summer to coddle us all. Dusk was still about an hour out, but the chill in the air was a clear indication that the sun had tucked itself in for the night. I stood shivering with my arms interlocked across my chest and the hood of my sweater pulled over my head. Lyle was about a foot ahead of me on the path, staring straight ahead and frozen in excitement.

“This is stupid. I don’t see anything.”

“Shh!” he warned irritably.

I rolled my eyes. This wasn’t the first time I had let him talk me into some ill-advised misadventure. When he got something in his head, it was easier to give in than to argue. Two summers ago we had spent a whole night in a trailer park two towns over looking for what Lyle swore was the dashboard of a crashed UFO he had read about online. I tried to tell him that the story had likely been masterminded by a fourteen year old boy with too much tech, but Lyle was sure. We never found anything. That’s how the story always went; he had the theories, and I had the research. Twins, and counterparts. It was lunacy.

“Are we ghost hunting right now? Because I’m pretty sure you can’t see a ghost in the fog. Or, you know, ever.”

Lyle swung around and cut his eyes at me.

“Sorry,” I whispered, sardonically, in that tone every girl inherits around the age of thirteen (and treasures forever after).

Lyle positioned himself around me so that I was in front, and cupped my shoulders to force my focus straight ahead.

“You can only see it in the fog. And no, it’s not a ghost.”

I sighed, but did not let my focus waver. The last time Lyle had dragged me to a graveyard we were only kids. He had ripped off a Ouija board from the local toy store and truly believed supernatural powers could be harnessed from a piece of plastic worth $11.99. Admittedly, it scared the shit out of me when it started to move, and I had nightmares for weeks thereafter. He swears he never moved it, but I don’t know how else to explain what happened that night. Either way, I’ve mostly crossed the street at the graveyard since then.

“I hate it here,” I whispered back.

“I know. Just wait.”

So we waited. And waited. And then came the peripeteia – it appeared.

At first, it was just a shadow in the fog. Then, slowly, it materialized into the form of a woman. Stunned and silent, I tried to refocus my eyes, convinced they were fabricating images due to the long, cold, interim – but there was no mistaking those eyes. Their white glow pierced through the fog and the darkening sky; my own eyes their target. Her emergence from the fog grew steadier, and her unsettling beauty became more apparent. Her long white hair wrapped itself about her formless body, draped in a white figureless garb. Overtop, a green cloak rested upon her shoulder-less shoulders. She seemed more an apparition than a person – her floating feet did not quite meet the cold ground.

Still processing what was taking shape before me, I let out an almost muted gasp. Lyle’s grip on me tightened reassuringly, and then he stepped out from behind me, and towards her. He moved gently, with the finesse of an apparition himself. But the movement, however slight, was still enough to make the woman evaporate. As she fused into the fog again, she released a sorrowful wail, loud enough to send an otherwise unnoticed flock of perched crows back into the evening sky. The wail echoed, creating a symphony with the flapping wings and distressed squawks of the murder.

Lyle turned back to me, gleeful with his discovery.

“It’s a Banshee. She must be visiting her family.” He nodded towards the tombstones to our left.

Still numb from what I had just experienced, I followed Lyle’s gaze, before correcting him.

“No. Only her family can see her, and hear her cries.” My voice was beginning to quiver with panic. “She warns them of an impending family death.”

Lyle stared at me quizzically.

“Lyle,” I whispered, “she was visiting us.”

Shyla Fairfax-Owen ©