The Siren

By: Kiera Cass

It’s funny what you hold on to, the things you remember when everything ends. I can still picture the paneling on the walls of our stateroom and recall precisely how plush the carpet was. I remember the saltwater smell, permeating the air and sticking to my skin, and the sound of my brothers’ laughter in the other room, like the storm was an exciting adventure instead of a nightmare.

More than any sense of fear or worry, there was an air of irritation hanging in the room. The storm was throwing off our evening’s plans; there would be no dancing on the upper deck tonight, no chance to parade around in my new dress. These were the woes that plagued my life then, so insignificant they’re almost shameful to own up to. But that was my once upon a time, back when my reality felt like a story because it was so good.

“If this rocking doesn’t stop soon, I won’t have time to fix my hair before dinner,” Mama complained. I peeked up at her from where I was lying on the floor, trying desperately not to throw up. Mama’s reflection looked as glamorous as a movie star, and her finger waves seemed perfect to me. But she was never satisfied. “You ought to get off the floor,” she continued, glancing down at me. “What if the help comes in?”

I hobbled over to one of the chaise lounges, doing—as always—what I was told, though I didn’t think this position was necessarily any more ladylike. I closed my eyes, praying that the water would still. I didn’t want to be sick. Our journey up until that final day had been utterly ordinary, just a family trip from point A to point B. I can’t remember now where we were heading. What I do recall is that we were, as per usual, traveling in style. We were one of the few lucky families who had survived the Crash with our wealth intact—and Mama liked to make sure people knew it. So we were situated in a beautiful suite with decent-size windows and personal stewards at our beck and call. I was entertaining the idea of ringing for one and asking for a bucket.

It was then, in that bleary haze of sickness, that I heard something, almost like a far-off lullaby. It made me curious and, somehow, thirsty. I lifted my dizzy head and saw Mama turn her attention to the window as well, searching for the sound. Our eyes met for a moment, both of us needing assurance that what we were hearing was real. When we knew we weren’t alone, we focused on the window again, listening. The music was intoxicatingly beautiful, like a hymn to the devout.

Papa leaned into the room, his neck sporting a fresh bandage where he’d cut himself trying to shave during the storm. “Is that the band?” he asked. His tone was calm, but the desperation in his eyes was haunting.

“Maybe. It sounds like it’s coming from outside, doesn’t it?” Mama was suddenly breathless and eager, one hand on her neck as she swallowed excitedly. “Let’s go see.” She hopped up and grabbed her sweater. I was shocked. She hated being in the rain.

“But Mama, your makeup. You just said—”

“Oh, that,” she said, brushing me off and shrugging her arms into an ivory cardigan. “We’ll only be gone a moment. I’ll have time to fix it when we get back.”

“I think I’ll stay.” I was just as drawn to the music as the rest of them, but the clammy feeling on my face reminded me how close I was to being sick. Leaving our room couldn’t be a good idea in my state, and I curled up a little tighter, resisting the urge to stand up and follow.

Mama turned back and met my eyes. “I’d feel better if you were by my side,” she said with a smile.

Those were my mother’s last words to me.

Even as I opened my mouth to protest, I found myself standing up and crossing the cabin to follow her. It wasn’t just about obeying anymore. I had to get up on deck. I had to be closer to the song. If I had stayed in our room, I probably would have been trapped and gone down with the ship. Then I could have joined my family. In heaven or hell, or in nowhere, if it was all a lie. But no.

We went up the stairs, joined along the way by scores of other passengers. It was then I knew something was wrong. Some of the passengers were rushing, fighting their way through the masses, while others looked like they were sleepwalking.

I stepped into the thrashing rain, pausing just outside the threshold to take in the scene. Pressing my hands over my ears to shut out the crashing thunder and hypnotic music, I tried to get my bearings. Two men shot past me and jumped overboard without even pausing. The storm wasn’t so bad we needed to abandon ship, was it?

I looked to my youngest brother and saw him lapping up the rain, like a wildcat clawing at raw meat. When someone near him tried to do the same, they scrapped with each other, fighting over the drops. I backed away, turning to search for my middle brother. I never found him. He was lost in the crowd surging toward the water, gone before I could make sense of what I was witnessing.

Then I saw my parents, hand in hand, their backs against the railing, casually tipping themselves overboard. They smiled. I screamed.

What was happening? Had the world gone mad?

A note caught my ear, and I dropped my hands, my fear and worries fading away as the song took hold. It did seem like it would be better to be in the water, embraced by the waves instead of pelted by rain. It sounded delicious. I needed to drink it. I needed to fill my stomach, my heart, my lungs with it.

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