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She awakens half in the surf, craggy rocks digging painfully into her spine. Fluid fills her lungs and she turn to vomit into the water, salt stinging her throat and bleeding through her eyes. She stays that way for a while, fog-eyed and gasping. “Ah, you’re awake,” says a voice, and she turns frantically towards its source. It’s a woman, perched on the rocks, or at least something that vaguely resembles a woman. She is low in a squat, spine curved and elbows resting on her knees. She is naked, and the girl averts her eyes but not before she notices the feathers covering the creature’s body and the curling talons that are her feet. A siren. “Am I dead?” asks the girl, and her voice is scratchy like the rocks against her skin. The siren’s orange eyes light up with amusement, and her laugh is like the waves and the song of a seashell pressed to one’s ear. “No,” she says. “Just a bit drowned. You’ll live.” “Oh,” says the girl, for lack of better words. “Good.” The siren smiles with lips like blood. She’s beautiful, in a strange, monstrous way, stunning in her hideousness and compelling in her inhumanity. The girl finds herself staring and turn back out towards the sea. “Why am I not dead?” she says to the waves. “I thought that’s what your job was. To lure in and kill seafarers who stray too close.” “Ah,” says the siren. “Caught that, did you. Well, tell me. How do we lure you in?” “With your song,” she replies, without hesitation. “You sing into the minds of sailors and fill the imagination with the thing we long for most.” The siren nods, smile still sticking to the corners of her mouth. “And then we twist it at the last moment, and break it upon the rocks. Now tell me, my dear, what is it that you most long for?” The girl frowns into the surf. A fish splashes above the water, silver scales flashing like gems and fins fanning out like wings for just a moment before disappearing once more into the waves. She thinks of a dark, musty hold and wrists rubbed raw. She thinks of jeering laughter and words that cut like knives. “Freedom,” she says. Then she casts her eyes about the spire of rock that she sits on, too small to be an island, and feels her heart sink like the ship had last night. “Then is this—” “An illusion?” says the siren. “Not in the sense you are thinking. But in some ways, yes. You are free now, from that ship and those men. But have you truly gained your freedom?” The girl thinks for a moment. At first glance, yes, she is free; her shackles are gone and her captors dead. She can do whatever she chooses, now, but she has merely departed one prison for another; the island is very small and she is without a boat. She is still caged. “No,” she says, and her voice breaks like seashells beneath heavy boots. “No, I am not free.” The siren’s smile widens. “And so the dream has shattered. That is my goal, yes?” The girl nods. At least she’s not dead. “What do I do?” she wonders aloud. She’s not expecting an answer but she receives one regardless. “Whatever you want,” says the siren, and then departs in a breeze of feathers. The girl pulls her knees tight to her chest and gives herself space to cry. She cries until her eyes are clear of ocean brine and her lungs are empty of cigarette smoke. She cries until her blood runs free of mold. When she is done she takes a deep breath and clambers to her feet. She is unbalanced on the rocks, but she does her best to steady herself. Her clothes are already tattered so she pulls them off and releases them to the sea. Then, bare feet rough against the rocks, she follows the siren to the top of the island. There’s a message to be learned here, she thinks, about how the sirens came to be. At the top of the island the siren is waiting. Her eyes are sparkling like so many stars and her lips are still an upwards crescent. “Have you decided?” she asks. The girl nods, hair lashing at her cheeks and skin prickling in the coolness of the sea wind. There’s a freeness to this, standing naked before the elements, surrounded by blue on all sides. There’s a freeness to this, and isn’t freedom what she’s wanted for so long? “I want you to teach me,” she says to the smiling siren, bare and feathered and old as the rocks below their feet. “I want you to teach me how to sing.”