“You can’t,” said the hag.
She wore a dirty green robe with a hood that obscured her forehead and eyes. Her hooked nose with its bulbous tip overhung her cavernous mouth, shivering ever so slightly when she spoke.
“I can,” replied the young woman who unlike the hag wore nothing. Her skin glistened reflecting the golden rays of the evening sun. Her hair that shimmered with a light of its own, shed an ethereal glow upon her face, lighting up her sea green eyes and making the tint of her soft lush lips look richer. Her body was cast in alabaster and molded to perfection, but it moved with the fluidity of music, of water, of air…
The hag laughed. Her laughter was uneven and rough quite like her warty skin, but it didn’t matter for nobody was listening. They were alone here. The two of them. Never seen, never heard, until they wanted to be seen or heard.
“Let us try,” said the old woman, her few remaining teeth shining a bright yellow against the dark hollow of her mouth.
The beautiful siren smiled at her ugly companion. The wrinkly bag of bones didn’t know what a siren’s beauty could achieve. She would learn about it today.
She then began to sing. The breeze that blew soft and light, carried her song to the sailors on the ships that were dots on the horizon. She knew that she could enchant them all, but she only wanted one of them to hear it. James McCormick. She had wanted him ever since she had laid eyes upon him. She had lost her heart to him during the last siren-siege, when the sirens of the island had sung together and made them all fall asleep.
She had to only close her eyes to see his face. The sirens were not supposed to fall in love themselves. They were created to evoke desire in men – they could steal the dreams of men and change them into the women they desired, they could hypnotize them into giving away their life’s savings; the sirens could sing so beautifully, so hypnotically, that men forgot themselves.
The sirens however weren’t supposed to fall in love. They were cursed. They couldn’t keep a man as theirs.
But she had, and whatever the stinking bag of bones might say, she knew that she could entrance him sufficiently to make him stay.
So she sang the sweetest song she knew, and when its notes reached James, he forgot everything, and jumped into the ocean. His ship had just left the dock, and he wasn’t very far from the shore. Enthralled by the siren’s song, he swam to the shore, without another thought in his head. He knew that she was calling him, and there was nothing in the world that he wanted more than to reach her.
The old woman watched as he pulled himself out of the water and sloshed toward them, his breaches, his shirt, and his hair wet and dripping. The old woman laughed again, but he neither saw nor heard her. He saw only the beautiful woman who sat upon a rock, her naked body silhouetted against the loveliness of the western horizon. He dropped into her open arms and rested his head upon her soft bosom. She ran her fingers through his hair, and smiled at her wizened companion.
“I can keep him,” she whispered.
The old woman stopped laughing. A shadow crossed her face and settled upon her brow to make her frown.
“No, you can’t,” she rasped and then broke into a wail so terrible that it brought tears to the eyes of everyone who heard it, and they heard it miles away.
James struggled out of the siren’s embrace and stood up. He looked lost.
“What is it?” asked the siren, but James didn’t hear her. Instead he turned and began running toward the shore. The siren’s last glimpse of his handsome face told her that he had been crying.
Anger shot through her. It was the crone’s doing. Her terrible keening…it could drive a man mad.
“Why? Why did you have to wail?” she asked, shaking the old woman’s shoulders, making her stop.
The old woman pushed her hood back and stared into the siren’s eyes. “Because three hundred miles away, after giving birth to his son, his wife has just breathed her last. A siren’s song may harness a man’s desire and bring him to her, his heart and soul belongs to those he loves.”
“I could have kept him, had you not meddled. I would have made him forget everything…” she said, “if only you hadn’t wailed.”
“I am a banshee,” the old woman replied. “A siren might sing a hundred songs, but when a banshee wails, the concert ends.”
1. The Banshee by W.H. Brooke [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
2. The Siren by Edward Armitage [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons