The crack of the collision was strong enough to rattle the window panes. The deck shivered for a moment before growing still again. In the window the flame of the candle melted into the sill flickered but did not go out.
The Captain strode from his cabin and onto the deck. Shout rang out and the crew all but scaled the sides of the ship looking for damage.
Over the side of the ship, the Captain could see a tiny schooner, just barely large enough to survive the rough seas. The boat had been nearly invisible in the predawn light until it had hit their ship. The sturdy little schooner bounced away but the Captain could see signs of damage along the hull.
The occupant of the little craft rushed from her cabin. A young woman, barely out of her teens, stood on the deck. Her hair was cropped; copper in color but with highlights that spoke of months in the tropical sun. A light sunburn coated her face, skin weather from sea life. Though stiff from salt water her clothes were well kept.
The Captain’s weathered face creased further in concern, the sea was no place for a young woman. “Ahoy.”
Her face tilted up slowly, following invisible lines on his ship to finally stare at him with eyes that matched the color of the sky. “Ahoy”
The single word was a question as much as it was a statement. Her voice had a musical quality, a lilt that made the Captain all the more curious about her.
The impromptu staring ended when the woman’s schooner shifted again, sinking lower into the water. The deck of the little schooner was tilting to an alarming degree, growing steeper by the minute. There was no way this little girl would be able to make it back to the mainland on her own.
“Toss her a line” The Captain barked at his second. The older sailor hesitated just a moment too long, “now.”
The grizzled old sailor moved to fulfill his captain’s order, though his movements were still slower than normal. One of the younger sailor’s, all bright eager eyes, leapt forward to assist. With quick, efficient movements the young sailor pulled the rope and hauled the girl aboard.
The old sailor scowled.
When the Captain spoke, his voice was soft. There was a tenderness out of place in the voice of the stern seaman. “Where are you going, child?”
“The mainland” She said slowly, deliberately. The words appeared heavy and clumsy on her lips. Several of the deckhands closest to her stopped to stare. “To get supplies. I need my ship so I can go.”
The entire crew took a moment to look over the side where the schooner was almost halfway underwater by now. The girl frowned.
“We’ll take you there and home, since we ran into you.” The Captain said firmly.
The old sailor frowned. They had left the mainland three days previous. Going back would add at least a week to their trip. This was leaving aside how long it would take to get the girl to her home.
Before the grizzled older man could open his mouth, the Captain turned to look at him. The Captain’s eyes had taken on a strange shine, the look tugged at the old sailor’s memory.
“We will be taking the young lady home.” The Captain stated firmly before turning away to escort the girl to his cabin.
Around the old sailor, the crew moved as a well oiled machine to get the ship turned around. A few of the older hands looked just as bewildered and disgruntled as the old sailor felt but most seemed perfectly content to change their entire route for a slip of a girl and her ruined boat.
There never seemed to be a chance for the old sailor to speak with his Captain about their passenger and her strange voice. She was always there, asking questions with big eyes. She appeared to be unaware of the growing crowd of young sailors watching her with worshipful eyes or the protective aura of the Captain.
Something tugged at the old sailor’s memory as he watched the girl lead her admirers around the shops of the mainland. At the Captain’s behest her supplies were paid for from the ship's accounts.
Then it was back to the sea.
After four days the girl sidled up to him. He had been banned from navigation two days earlier for daring to ask the girl their destination. For once the Captain or her admirers were nowhere to be seen.
“You do not like me,” her musical voice soft as she spoke. Her words were still slow and heavy, at odds with the lightness of her voice.
Something about her voice chilled him to the bone.
He twitched but otherwise didn’t move. “I do not know you enough to like or dislike you.”
Something in the way she looked at him, side eyed and amused, said she wasn’t fooled by his bluff. “You must understand, I didn’t choose this. I was perfectly happy before.”
Curiosity got the better of him and he opened his mouth to ask what she meant, when a jolt interrupted him. The ship had slammed into something. He scanned the horizon frantically but nothing appeared in his view.
From the corner of his eye he saw the girl step back. She moved with confidence as the ship continued to shake.
“I really didn’t want this” The girl repeated and her voice was changing. Going from slightly musical to something more. Something otherworldly.
The old sailor spun to look at her fully once more. The teenage girl he had distrusted and feared in equal measure was gone. There was something else in her place, something both beautiful and monstrous. Instead of soft skin, iridescent scales shimmered along her body. A mouth full of daggers bulged her lips as she grinned. Somehow the strangest was the gills that curved from her clavicle around her neck to vanish behind her ears.
The old sailor gasped. Old lore snapped into place with horrifying clarity. Stories told late at night, in fearful whispers echoed in his ears.
“I would have been happy to never take a human life. I loved my solitude. But when the prey practically builds its own traps” shimmering shoulders shrugged, “well what choice do I have but to let nature take its course.”
Under his feet he could feel the tilt of the deck, now steadily sinking. He could hear the screams of his ship mates. He closed his eyes. They had likely hit an underwater reef, steered that way by this little slip of creature.
She grinned her shark tooth smile at him. Then she threw back her head and sang a single pure note. From all over the ship some of the screaming faded as her now loyal followers swarmed the deck. About half the ship, including the Captain, surrounded him.
“What am I?” she hummed as the gathered masses pushed him closer to the plank.
“A Siren” he gasped, his last words before he hit the water.