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The Siren's Purse

Ice, Light, Scales

By EJ FergusonPublished 4 months ago Updated 4 months ago 10 min read
Top Story - June 2023
The Siren's Purse
Photo by Jan Kopřiva on Unsplash

It was dumb luck that nobody was killed, though to hear the rivermen bragging over their spirits, it was testament to their rare skill. The siren had been wandering the silver gloom of the icebound estuary, weakened and alone. Had they met her in the seething wilderness of the open sea in the company of her sisters, their survival would have been a fireside tale wondrous enough to last them the rest of their lives.

It still took a score of them to land her. Nine men carried that eldritch creature up from the docks. The sight set the whole town fizzling like a struck match. Through the market square, they carried her, wrapped in fish netting like a greenbottle cocooned in spider’s silk. The rumor was that she was a gift from the gods; a lustrous omen of changing fortunes, for winter had gone on far too long already.

Sera sank her teeth into charred flesh, not caring what it all meant. What truly mattered was that the traders were awestruck and distracted. She had swiped two fresh perch from a stall on the wharf. They were all spine and sinew, but it was the best she had eaten in weeks. She had even dared to creep close to a drumfire to cook them. It was asking for a beating, but today, nobody paid her any mind.

At the warehouses, a crowd had gathered. The fishermen were taking bribes. Coins changed hands and viridian scales were pressed into grasping palms, blood like crude oil blotting calloused fingers. The wailing of the siren was unearthly; a discordant, hollow music like the wind singing with a glassy throat.

With a thorny droning, something small and heavy landed on Sera. It clutched tightly with prickly feet. A satin carapace, black as nightshade berries, was cool against the nape of her neck.

They will pull her apart, Reeve said. He hung heavy in her hair like poisoned fruit.

Sera tucked her chin to whisper to the demon. “She is worth more dead than alive. They will make armour from her scales, amulets from her teeth and gloves from her skin.”

Reeve wormed his way to her ear and pinched its rim in his pincer-like grip, antenna tickling. The real treasure is her purse. The queen will pay a fortune for it.


One drop of ichor for a child, an heir as hale and hearty as the sea. A wild and stormy son who will be a king, and a king’s ransom in exchange. Reeve rustled his sunset wings. You should steal it from under them. Take the reward for yourself.


Set the siren free.

Sera could have laughed. So simple a thing? She would not be let near the creature. She was a ragged street rat, a witch who communed with the bodiless voices of demons. She was not welcome anywhere. Sera wanted to shake Reeve off but didn’t dare. His sting bit deeper than any blade.

A youth ran from the warehouse, whooping in triumph with his skinny arm held high. Rivulets of inky blood dripped from his elbow. A glossy tentacle wrapped his wrist like a bracelet. It still writhed.

“Get, witch!” A townsman, come to warm himself at the drumfire, lashed out with a knotted fist. It caught hot and heavy across Sera’s ear. She bent like grass in the wind. A kick skimmed close, but she was already gone.

The shadows were stretching and fading blue at the edges. Over the icebound river, the sky blazed violet and the rising moon was a disc of old bone. Sera slunk to a sheltered spot in a narrow alleyway between the clusters of wooden houses, with Reeve thrumming his curses into her ear.

You see? They punch, they kick, they bite and spit and grab and pinch. They would burn you like firewood to warm themselves. They would starve you for spite, and torment you for pleasure. Their greed is killing her. Do you not hear her aria?

Sera did hear it. The siren’s cries were otherworldly, as wraithlike as the dusk; her song a lament of suffering and despair. It was ghastly, and beautiful beyond compare.

"What can I do?" she asked, and Reeve shivered.

Leave that to me.

It would have been wise to dread those words. Reeve was cruel and chaotic by nature. Sera had not been born that way, but her ear throbbed and the fish bones were sticking in her belly. The chilblains on her fingers itched. As she bedded down in her pile of rimy rags, Sera felt the glacial touch of another callous night approaching. It promised to be longer than she could bear.

Set her free and she will owe you a debt. A king's ransom for the taking. This is your chance to leave this beggar's life behind.

Perhaps it could be different. Perhaps it ought to be.

“All right.” The feeble words tumbled from numb lips and were almost lost to the whine of the wind whipping over the rooftops.

Reeve swarmed from Sera’s ear and took flight with a thick whirring of his bladed wings.


The townsman was warming himself at the drumfire. He did not notice the wasp, as long as his palm and with jewel-bright wings, landing on his trouser leg. Had he noticed it, he might have mistaken it for a fairy and a sign of good fortune, but his mistake had been earlier, when he had thrown a fist at Sera's head.

Reeve clutched a long twig in his mandibles. By stretching out the full length of his segmented body, he was able to hold it close enough to the drumfire to set the tip alight. Then he stabbed his stinger into the pulpy flesh beneath the townsman’s trousers. The man went down with a howl of agony that drowned out even the siren’s song.

Reeve was already in the air again.

It had been too long without rain, without snow, without weather of any kind but ashen skies and frost. Even a tiny flame held to the wooden roof of the warehouse took off roaring. Sparks flung themselves high in jubilation. The wind swept them up above the town, only to scatter them back down like falling stars. They jittered like firebugs from roof to roof. Reeve basked in their liberation, the unfettered joy of it.

His work done, he flew away to find his witch.


Sera scrunched into a pool of darker shadows behind the warehouse. Half the town was flickering a ravenous orange. She watched the leaping of the flames, the way ash and soot seeped through the wood and clay, popping and crackling. It horrified her, mostly. Yet an unfathomable, unnatural part of her was screaming in elation.


Reeve's thought, or hers? The siren's song was drowned by chaos, the crowd had scattered at the sight of smoke. A bell tolled an alarm. The fishermen tried to drag the siren out of the warehouse, but too few remained to bear her weight. Their homes were alight, their families screaming. They did not linger long.

Covetous tongues of flame licked the wooden walls of the warehouse. Sera kicked a panel through in a shower of glowing ash and slipped inside.

The siren lay on a bed of straw and blood. Her mottled skin was gluey with stale mucus, raw with livid slashes from fish net and knife. She had no hair, but instead, a long, coiling mass of tentacles hung limp and twitching from her head. Some of the tendrils were no more than bloody stumps. Flies crawled on her wounds and her skin. The reek of old kelp and brine lay beneath the acrid stink of smoke. The fishnet still bound her, and though she was still, her eyes were bright and liquid.

The fishermen had left behind a knife; bloody fingerprints coated the handle. Sera seized it. She sliced away the tight twine of the net, strand by strand.

The siren’s limbs twitched. Her flayed tail lashed, the barbed fins flexing. A particularly tight rope snapped. It was all Sera could do to stagger back, coughing, as the siren gave an almighty serpentine shiver and the net fell away in loosened folds.

She rose from her prison in a tangled wave, like ink spreading through water. Spilling, writhing, with opalescent skin of spectral, shimmering green. She loomed over Sera, staring at the girl through the glossy, abyssal eyes of a shark.

They regarded one another, wreathed by a torrent of red-gold flames and smoke. The siren pulsated, cold-blooded and deadly. Reeve whirred into the air between them and the siren followed him with those moonless, starless eyes.

She lurched forward and Sera couldn’t help but flinch; but the creature was moving past her, toward the hole in the wall Sera had made. Fluid as the smoke, she pressed herself through it and made for the water. She moved with amphibious guile. The heave and drag of her many cephalopodic limbs, and the sinuous weaving of her tail propelled her over the ground with surprising ease. She slithered down the hill from the town to the river’s edge, winding from tree to moonlit tree with barely a sound but the soft sucking of mud and grubby snow.

Sera followed. The river was frozen over, but Reeve skittered through the night air to a stone bridge that spanned it. He landed on a stone. Sera tested her weight against it. It wobbled. She scrabbled at the edges, splintering her fingernails to find purchase, and rocked it back and forth like a loose tooth.

With a dry rasping, it gave way. The huge block fell in silence, but for the crack like breaking bone where it struck the ice. The siren swarmed to the hole it had made, shrugging ice shards aside. She folded herself bonelessly though the ice, slipping into the solace of the alpine green deep.

Sera scrambled down to the river. She stepped onto the frozen surface and a silky, amorphous shadow bloomed beneath her feet. Soft phosphorescence flushed from the darkness, blue-green and luminous.

Sera pressed her dirty hand to it. It stilled her; gave her pause. It was soft; strangely at odds with the heat of the town burning on the hill above, of the sparks still glittering in the air and the ash drifting on the wind; the taste of smoke on her tongue. It was the call of deeper, wilder things.

Was this gratitude?

The light whirled away, back to the fissure in the ice. A hand, webbed and clawed, was thrust out into the night air. It held something that looked like a human heart, only it was amber and translucent. Sera inched closer. It was moving. Throbbing, in fact, just like a heart. A nebulous silhouette shifted within it.

Reeve’s familiar weight settled at her ear. The purse. Take it!

“What’s inside?” But Sera already knew, as she watched the little shadow moving in its depths. “A life for a life,” she murmured, bathed in echoing light.

Reeve was agitated, fidgeting. His wings buzzed. Take it! It’s yours! The payment of her debt!

It was madness not to listen, Sera knew. What other resource did she have, to be able to refuse? And yet...

Sera knelt and closed her own chapped, bloodied fingers over the siren’s frigid hand. She guided it, gently, back under the water. “Keep it. It’s yours.”

The light beneath Sera glowed ever brighter, pulsing, like a silent heartbeat. It flickered, and went out.

Reeve and Sera were alone again, with the chill of the ice and the bitter gull-cries of the wind.

Reeve whirred his wings. Stupid, he said, into the silence between them.

Sera sighed. “Right.”

Over the town, the smoke billowed.

The moon gleamed gold.


About the Creator

EJ Ferguson

Hobbyist writer, passionate reader, occasional poet.

Thanks for coming. The world is busy and full of words. I've strung some together, hope you find them worthwhile.

Reader insights


Excellent work. Looking forward to reading more!

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  1. Heartfelt and relatable

    The story invoked strong personal emotions

  2. Compelling and original writing

    Creative use of language & vocab

  3. Excellent storytelling

    Original narrative & well developed characters

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Comments (24)

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  • Bozhan Bozhkov4 months ago

    Wonderful story! I haven't read such a cool fantasy from a long time.

  • Amjad Ateih Dib4 months ago

    it is really nice one go on

  • I've always had a deep fascination for sirens! I was so immersed in your story start beginning to the end! Congratulations on your Top Story! I've subscribed to you!

  • Babs Iverson4 months ago

    Splendidly written!!! Congratulations on T S too!!!💖💖💕

  • Emma C4 months ago

    I hope you're working on a novel because you have a gift! Such beautiful prose and similes/metaphors! I particularly loved "like the wind singing with a glassy throat" and "rising moon was a disc of old bone" all of them were so evocative and really helped visualize the setting. Tremendous job!

  • Ukwokori Peace4 months ago


  • Fortune Chinax4 months ago

    I got taken away from the start, it was thrilling

  • ADU DORA4 months ago

    What card can you use to be paid

  • ADU DORA4 months ago

    Very interesting story

  • Alyssa Nicole4 months ago

    Such an amazing story!

  • Mackenzie Davis4 months ago

    I was enthralled from the start. Talk about traditionally unlikeable characters becoming beloved in a short span of time! Outstanding work. I look forward to more from you. 💜

  • Amjad Ateih Dib4 months ago

    wow what a Beautiful nice one

  • Sonia Heidi Unruh4 months ago

    Spectacular storytelling. A fresh world that seems all too familiar in its vices. Delighted to subscribe!

  • Marypeace Michael4 months ago

    congratulations. this is an amzing story

  • Dariusz 4 months ago

    Congratulations on your Top Story

  • Cathy holmes4 months ago

    Congrats on the TS. Very well deserved.

  • sleepy drafts4 months ago

    Just, wow. This was some incredible story-telling. Your descriptions and meticulously chosen language brought this piece completely to life. Gorgeous work. 💓

  • Suze Kay4 months ago

    Wow! There aren’t many fantasy short stories that I’ve read and enthusiastically enjoyed - world building AND a strong plot is hard to do in so few words, and this story is a true testament to your skill. Great job!!

  • Gerald Holmes4 months ago

    This was such great story-telling. I was captivated from beginning to end. You have a way with words that I find mesmerizing. Well done.

  • Matthew Daniels4 months ago

    Sirens rarely get much attention, and I love how you rendered it as such a distinct being. Half briny, seemingly monstrous creature, half hauntingly beautiful example of the ocean's potential. If you wanted to follow them in a series like this, I'd be here for it. The wasp familiar was also an intriguing touch. Have you read His Dark Materials?

  • Madoka Mori4 months ago

    Wonderful writing, as always!

  • Antoinette L Brey4 months ago

    sounded like it was written by a passionate reader, very well written

  • Cathy holmes4 months ago

    Wow. What an amazing fantasy. Girl, you haven't lost your touch. Bravo. 👏👏

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