I always lamented those who escaped. We knew they would die afterward, slayed by Scylla. But I, and my sisters, always regretted having no hand in it, failing, failing to do it ourselves. He, especially, the one they call the glory of the Achaeans—he would have made a welcome addition to our garden.
Our meadows choke with asphodel, and beneath them are the bones. When they go, we bury them beneath the field of flowers. We return them to the dark earth. Men wage selfish wars, and we offer them what all proud warriors crave: death.
Few have passed us unharmed, and even fewer have been allowed to sail past our island unassailed by our voices. We’ve lived here for eons, the four of us, tending to our garden of wildflowers, sunbathing, watching the seas. Once, centuries ago, the waters were constantly speckled with ships, ships with skinny, billowing masts, ships full of men. We watched these ships. Watched the men. And sang.
Yes, very few passed unharmed. Only one, if we are being boastful.
We’d known him before the wind brought him to us, we’d known of him since Chaos, and so we waited, eager to see if he would succumb. That is the only variable hidden from us.
In the waters we waited, our slim legs slowly sprouting shiny scales so we could swish in the shallows, hold hands, and hum. We hummed, and the waves answered us with soft undulations, carrying toward us our prey. We didn’t lift a finger, or a wing—yet. We simply waited, entwined, the four of us: Molpe, Peisonoe, Thelxiope, and I. Aglaopheme. The sirens.
The wind and the waves are both our allies, and both ours to manipulate. Men think they control the seas with their monstrous wooden boats, but they are undone by a soft-skinned creature with flowers in her hair.
On that day so many years ago, the wind and the water both did their parts before ceasing, and my sisters and I dropped hands, prompted by the familiar tangled structure of wood and cloth riding the now-calm seas. Odysseus and his men on board were furling their sails. Stopping by our isle. Our smiles grew.
We know men’s worst fear: that it is not the women who are weak. Susceptible. Temptable. That it is actually they—the ones who put on shining metal and destroy each other for worlds—who are frail at heart. Men are all afraid that they are the weaker sex. So on that day, prompted by the gods and by our duties and by Odysseus’s keening wails and lustful heart, we sang.
Come hither, Odysseus, glory of the Achaeans, we sang. Stop your ship and listen to our voices. For we know all the toils and pains endured in Troy, and all else that passes on this fertile earth. We know it all.
Yes—that part of the songs is true. We know everything, all that has happened since the first light grew from the darkness, and all that will happen until the sun consumes the earth. We know all. But we tell him what he wants to hear.
Never has any man sailed past our isle in his black ship until he has drunk his fill of our voices. That man leaves us wiser. Come to us, Odysseus, glory of the Achaeans…
The song lifted us as we sang, in eerie unison, into the air. On our arms sprouted feathers the way our submerged legs grew scales. Every fiber of our bodies is engineered to ensnare.
Drink your fill of our voices…
I felt the air swirl around my strong wings as we descended onto the ship, surrounding it like a maelstrom, singing all the while. And there—Odysseus—chained to the mast like a rabid beast, struggling against his bonds, shrieking like a spoiled child to be let free.
Let him free, let him free, we amended. Come to me. But the dull-faced men rowed on, fighting the calm waters and the nonexistent wind. And we knew then we had lost. The six men heard us not, and Odysseus could not free himself alone.
I realized then how much I truly loved it, that feeling of utter coercion, the ripples of power that raced through my morphing body when I witnessed the utter degradation of a man who wanted nothing more than to control a woman. I reveled in that sublime expression most men experienced when they spied us, heard our song, and believed our words.
But Odysseus frustrated us all, too clever to be punished.
And then he was gone, sailing into the resisting waters, and then we knew: he would make it back home to his wife. Eventually.
Later, Molpe, sulking in our one defeat, expressed sympathy for Penelope, for now we saw her in her luxurious home, ripping out threads and undoing rows of weaving, clever in her loyalty. “At least she’ll have her husband back,” the kind Molpe said.
Peisonoe, picking feathers out of her hair in the meadow and carefully replacing them with asphodel, scoffed in derision. “We see how well a reunion worked for Helen.”
“Clytemnestra,” Thelxiope added vaguely. “And countless others.”
I remember adding nothing to the discussion. Sirens know nothing of marriage. We are not women, and can never be wives. We are not loved. But we are free.
On this day, the seas are relatively calm. Rarely, if ever, must our foursome raise our voices to tempt boatsful of weak-minded men to our shore, and so we spend the days weaving white lilies into our hair, swimming in the shallows, and soaring over the heavens when we take to the air. We live a simple life, but our eyes are always trained on the horizon, ready to be summoned to action.
Men have sung that none pass the sirens unharmed, but that’s false. There is a way past us, a way without cheating, a way without soft wax and lashing oneself to a mast. But that way won’t be revealed by us. We have our goals, and we have our duty. The rest is up to the men.
The men who make war among themselves not for righteousness but for trade routes and gold and power and then blame a woman, these men know nothing of true justice. But a word—a note—from the sirens, and they will.