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Seiren

Hayden Robinson

Decorative Green Leaf with pink stem

On the night of Christmas Eve, inside a rustic log cabin, an old watchman poured boiling water from the saucepan into his coffee mug. The ground beans turned the water into bitter blackness. He was thankful that the gas stove was working. The electricity had been out for the last half an hour, and he had used his last water bottle for his coffee. The radio announced that the little Welsh town of Anghenfil Mor had been experiencing constant power cuts, and the problems would likely persist until dawn.


     As he stirred milk into his coffee, the watchman peered over to his phone which lay flat on the table. The last time he checked his phone, it was on 10% battery life. Still, he knew he had to make a call to his son, even for just a few seconds, just to check on him. His son was twenty-five, but he was still a vulnerable child in his father’s eyes. Vulnerable just like he was way back when.


     And the watchman would have done just that if he hadn’t heard a strange noise.


     He stopped in the middle of the cabin. The low light of the fireplace flickered the room in sinister orange. The watchman listened again. The noise was weird. One moment, it sounded like humming, a harmonious melody; the next moment, there was low thumping, like someone banging on a door from far away.


     Placing the coffee on the table next to his phone, the watchman ran to the window.


     The moonlight blasted through the falling snow. It illuminated down the frosted hills, bursting across the frozen lake. Splints curved and cracked through the ice. Snowflakes sprinkled over the blackened lake, looking like icing sugar covering over a puddle of tar.


     The watchman placed his hands on the windowpane, feeling the cold wood envelop his palms. He placed his ear just a few inches away from the glass. The strange noise grew louder still. Thumps and hums swirled together like a twisted jazz band.


     As he listened to this haunting melody, the watchman could also hear another noise, something less instrumental and more human. He couldn’t make out what it was at first, but he placed one hand over his ear and put forward his uncovered one. Then he could hear it.


     “…trapped…under…ice…”


     The voice was like a scream muffled by water, pleading for help.


     “…trapped…under…ice…”


     How could he hear the voice from here if it was out there? He considered that he was going mad, although he quickly dismissed it. If he thought he was going mad, surely that meant he wasn’t.


     Looking out at the frozen river, the watchman remembered playing by the river as a young boy. He was sitting on the ice, playing cards or something. His sisters were playing nearby. The watchman remembered that he, at six years old, had fallen into the ice. He would have frozen to death that day if his oldest sister had not dived in after him. She brought him back to the surface, but cold, careless death took her life in exchange for her brother’s.


     Perhaps this was why he took on this position in the first place, to be near a lake just like the one back then. Guilt overwhelmed him so often that it felt like a tribute to his dead sister. Every time he looked in a mirror, at a puddle of water, at anything that showed him his reflection, his sister’s face would peer up at him, as if she was still trapped under ice. He longed for a chance to save her, or to save someone like her from the ice. He could still hear her voice pleading with him, saying over and over again that she was trapped under the ice.


     Whether it was this memory or something else entirely, the old watchman finally came to a decision.


     He put on his coat, pulled on his gloves and placed his hat on top of his head. He took his flashlight from on top of the shoe rack, along with a shovel that he strapped to his back. Then he opened the front door and went out into the windy snowfall.


     He took out the flashlight in his spare hand, switched it on, and held it in front of him. The beam showcased the flurry of snowflakes rushing to the ground. Sharp, cold wind blew into his face, and he had to move his scarf over his mouth and chin to not feel it so much. Despite the trouble, he felt rather useful at this moment. His allocated cabin rarely, if ever, had anyone nearby. No one came to this lake during the winter. However, during the summer, when the lake wasn’t frozen, rebellious teenagers and oversexed adults came by for a warm, cosy midnight swim. The worst the watchman ever did was threaten to call the police.


     He expected the noise to become louder as he walked to the lake. But to his confusion, the melody actually softened, as if it was drifting away. Yet the thick, echoing thump remained as loud as it ever was.


     The watchman came to the edge over the lake. He was fully clothed but it did nothing to help against the frosty air. He did what he could, and sometimes that wasn’t enough. He listened for the thumping again. The melody, the music, the humming, it all had gone away now. He stayed patient, listening for anything else.


     Then the muffled screams came again, more insistent and afraid.


     “…trapped…under…ice…”


     This time, the words were followed by a loud, explosive thwomp!


     The watchman’s heart beat in his chest. He drew in a long breath, trying to keep his cool. Instead, he coughed from the harsh cold air. The hard blasts that came after the words made him quiver each time. It took him a moment to realise that he was making a rapid, raspy breathing noise and clamped his jaw tight to stop it.


     Raising his flashlight to his eyeline, the watchman peered down the beam down at the frozen lake. The ice burst with reflective shards flashing back at the man.

He searched for something, anything.


     And he did find something. Or, actually, he found someone.


     A shadow moved from a spot further up the lake. It swam a few feet down before coming back to the surface. Something long and thin stretches back from the shadow’s body and brings itself up to the thick surface. The thwomp echoes to the watchman once again.


     Fear spiked through him. He leapt onto the ice and began to run to the shadowed spot. But he slipped and flew up into the air before landing with a thud on the thick ice. Pain shot up his back. Something snapped in his ear.


     He cursed himself for being so stupid. The ice could break at any second. He got back to his feet, then he reminded himself of advice he had given his son once when they went ice fishing. The advice: one wrong move would take a fool to the cold, careless depths below.


     The watchman stepped with careful grace. He stretched his leg out, brought his foot down slowly and flattened it. Then he took another step like this, and another, and he continued to do this as he approached the shadow bashing against the ice.


     The flashlight shone brighter than ever in front of him.

Finally, the watchman reached the shadow in the lake. He shone the light down to see who or what it was. At first, nothing was there except the black-blue shine. A webbed hand slapped on the ice. The watchman jumped and gasped.


     The flashlight revealed a pair of eyes that flared like yellow matchstick flames; then came a gaping mouth showing a few short fangs; then the full face of whom it belonged stared up through the glass-like surface, followed by the full view of its body.


     It was a strange figure, like a creature dressed in a woman’s proportions. Scales twinkled in rainbow hue; patches of marble-like skin shone against the light. The scales ran down the centre of the woman’s torso. The feet, like her hands, were webbed. Both mesmerising and monstrous.


     The creature's mouth moved. The pleading words came once more:


     “…trapped…under…ice…”


     What the watchman wondered, however, was three things: how did this woman, or whatever the creature was, get under the ice to begin with? And why didn’t she appear to be as panicked and desperate as anyone would be? And most importantly, why hadn’t she frozen to death?


     He thought of his deceased sister; he thought of his son, whom he warned about falling into the ice; he thought, too, about his wife who was comatose after a boating accident three months before. If they were in this woman’s position, no doubt he would save them now. Looking at it now, the creature resembled the face he always saw in the mirror. It looked so much like his sister trapped under ice.


     The watchman put his flashlight down on the ice. The creature banged their fists against the ice again. He reached around his back and took hold of his shovel. The wooden handle was heavy as a pole, and the metal spade shone dully in the moonlight. He raised it up into the air, let out a long, hard shout of adrenaline and brought the shovel down to the ice.


     It cracked upon impact. Water spewed like blood from a wound. He gave two, three, four more digs like this until there was a large enough hole to pull any human through. Putting his shovel to the side, the watchman went to one knee and held out his hand. All was silent for a moment.

Then something shot up and grabbed the watchman’s hand. It jerked back, intending to bring him down into the dark pit. He tried to kick and pull it off but its firm grip was strong. He fell down into the pit; his screams muffled by freezing water.


     A pool of black surrounded him; ice water spiked his skin like needles. The flashlight above the surface shone down like a summer sun. He panicked and tried to swim away, but a rope made of flesh bound his ankles. It made its way around his body; shimmering tentacles gripped his hands tight. Bone snapped through the wrist. The watchman shrieked in a fit of red bubbles. The tentacles tied around his arms, curled around his neck, pulling itself like a noose, barely strangling him.


     The struggling watchman was turned on the spot. The snarling creature flew forward, and the watchman caught a glimpse of its fangs; they were sharp as steak knives. A gaping mouth threw itself around the watchman’s head. The monster sucked his head into its throat with tremendous force. His screams echoed against tongue and jaw. He wiggled and pushed and pulled, but he was too weak.


     Teeth bit down hard on the watchman’s neck.


     His wide eyes stared at his bloodied neck as it floated away. The jaws snapped together, shutting the decapitated head from the world. A tongue slid over the watchman’s head, then it gulped. He was swallowed down a pulsing throat into the monster’s stomach, listening to satisfied moans as he fell deeper into a volcanic pit. His head landed into bubbling, boiling stomach acids.


     As his flesh burned away, the old watchman learned one final lesson: death could be hot as the belly of a beast or cold as a frozen lake on Christmas Eve, but death is always, and forever, careless.

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