Artwork by Melanie Loperena
This year’s Halloween Short Story Contest winner was a tough decision for our judge, past winner and recent WVHS graduate Nyssa Shaw-Smith Gendelman. “All the contestants did a great job, but the winner really showed a strong narrative voice and thought outside the box” she says. Once again, WVHS junior Lauranne Wolfe has won our short story contest. This year’s theme, chosen by our judge, was “While you were sleeping….” Teens were encouraged to interpret the theme broadly, and they did! Many thanks to our other talented writers.
This year’s Halloween contest was generously co-sponsored by Ye Olde Warwick Book Shoppe. Our winner will receive a $50 gift certificate to spend on books! Special thanks to Tom Roberts, the shop’s proprietor, for his ongoing support of our teen writing events.
So now it’s time hand the blog over to Lauranne and her story, “Night Song.” Please enjoy!
by Lauranne Wolfe
It was a week ago that the man who came to town vanished on a rainy night while everyone was sleeping.
He was an unassuming figure, a stranger passing through. Not memorable, except for the mystery that surrounded his disappearance. The known facts were that he had rented a room for the night, and the next morning it was empty, although his possessions were still there. No one living in the area near the small inn had seen or heard anything. They had all been asleep.
The police found only one hint: his raincoat, washed up on the beach.
Despite the fact that no one knew the man, these events caused a lot of stir, as it was a small town of graying seaside houses, where nothing went on outside of tourist season. It was the beginning of November, which meant the town was devoid of anything interesting to do. Rumors and wild speculations, old town legends and ghost stories, and the odd new report all revolved around the disappearance of the man, as people are often apt to harp on a mystery, even when it won’t get them anywhere.
I was talking to you on the phone two days later, when you mentioned the man who had vanished.
“They say he was a traveling salesman,”
“Who?” I asked, though I already knew.
“The man. Who disappeared. On our beach,” you said. I could tell you were upset about that, Tom. We both loved the beach, and we nearly always met there.
“What do you think happened?” Not a shocking question coming from you. Your brain was always producing questions and thoughts, quotes and ramblings.
I wasn’t really that interested in the subject, so I said, “The owner of the gift shop is telling everyone that the man must have hit his head on something and gotten washed out to sea.”
You snorted, “Not possible. That’s almost more unlikely than the one that old fisherman is telling. He claims the man must have been a criminal trying to hide his tracks by faking his own death. Everyone is forgetting that the police found his raincoat. Which means that he took it off, and who takes off their raincoat in the rain before mysteriously disappearing?”
“Well, I don’t know then,” I said. “What do you want to do tonight?”
I changed the subject because I was afraid to talk about it. There it was, clawing its way to my mouth, and I couldn’t let that thing out. Not now, because it wasn’t safe, the thing I kept inside me.
You understand everyone Tom, or you work until you do. Except for one person: me. You don’t know me at all. You can’t. I think that’s part of why you initially found me so interesting. We met three months ago, on the beach we now consider our own, and the one the stranger disappeared on.
I was wading in the water, up to my knees, watching the ripples the careful steps I took made in the water, a disruption of the normal chopping of the water’s up-and-down, uneven rhythm. I was focusing on the ripples, trying to determine their pattern, but every time I thought I had finally figure them out, the ripples changed. Eventually, I came to the realization that I was not alone.
I raised my head, brushing my long, wet hair from my eyes, and turned to face the beach. I saw you, standing in the sand, watching me through clever green eyes, a tall, slightly stooped figure. Those green eyes caught me, and we both stared at each other.
I wasn’t embarrassed in the least. I simply don’t understand embarrassment. I was there, and I existed, and why should it bother me to be stared at?
However, I wondered why you were watching me, and I asked you.
You gave me that mysterious half-smile, the one you get when you’re deep in thought about something, curious about something new. “I was wondering why you were staring at the water so intently.”
Something about your eyes, so like the sea, made me answer. I explained the ripples and the impossible, ever-changing pattern.
“I wanted to understand it,” I told you, finishing.
“You were looking at the water for ages, just standing there.”
“Well, I was still trying to figure it out.”
A small laugh from you, “That might take awhile.”
“I have time,” I said simply. It was the truth, but then I added, “But I find, the more you look at something, the more complicated it gets. Especially people. I can never figure them out.”
“Well, isn’t that what makes life interesting? Say, what’s your name?”
I lied. I don’t have a name, not in the way you meant, but I gave one anyway, the closest to truth that I could get.
“Oh… do you like to sing?”
“No. I never sing,”
I do sing, but not for people. Not for you, and you don’t want me to, Tom. Trust me.
“Well, Melody- Who-Doesn’t-Sing, would you like to join me in getting the best ice cream in town?”
We went to the ice cream shop and kept talking all the way, I already having decided that you would be my next boyfriend. And you were. We were always together over the next couple of months. People got used to seeing Tom, the high school boy who’d always lived there, with the reclusive girl who’d only recently come here. My one worry over the next couple of months was your mythology books. You were always in them, always telling me old stories that I already knew, about ancient gods and magical creatures and monsters. I was always worried that you’d tell the wrong story, and put the pieces together.
Besides that, it was like in one of those fairy tales; an endless happily ever after. We kissed for the first time on the starlit beach. You smelled of honey, Tom. It made me wonder if I could do this, pretend to be something I wasn’t, ignore the void in me. But the thing inside me was there. I couldn’t escape it because it was part of me. That man disappeared while you were all sleeping. And he wasn’t the only one.
Two days after the conversation we had on the phone, a woman vanished on the same stretch of beach, and you asked if we could stop meeting there. You were worried something would happen to me, to us, you said. You told me it wasn’t safe.
“These disappearances… they aren’t accidents,” you said it with such certainty that I began to wonder again, Tom. Had you noticed something?
I had always dismissed the idea that you might have figured me out, but now I thought that maybe you knew me for what I was after all.
I could feel the thing working its way up to my mouth again. I don’t have feelings, Tom, but I wondered.
My hair was wet and ripping, my eyes were blue, like a stormy sea you had said, I always wanted to be on the beach, and I was tall, and lean, built for swimming.
Did you put the pieces together? You might have.
There is one other thing that you can’t have known, though. Where mortals have feelings, I have a void, a dark and dangerous empty abyss. It has one occupant; the Song, constantly trying to worm its way up, to destroy, to kill. It is always hungry, always curious, like me, to understand these things you humans call emotions, especially the one called love.
Except that I don’t understand. And the Song destroys what it can’t understand. The one thing I do is wonder. So, that’s what I did. I wondered if you had known what I was all along.
I ignored it, “It’s still our beach, right?” I said. I needed the beach. I needed the sea.
“Yes and when everything’s settled, we’ll go back to it,” you said. We agreed on that.
But then the Song was rising, and I knew that it wouldn’t be ours for long, Tom. I knew the way sailors know they are in trouble when they see the gray of storm clouds. The Song was pushing its way to my mouth, to be sung. The voices wanted release. But something blocked them, and I nearly choked as I struggled to breathe. The Song was stuck, and nothing should have been able to do that. I gasped for air; feeling cold as it slunk back down into the void to bide its time.
Something in me had fought the Song.
“Are you alright, Melody?” you asked, concerned hands reaching out to brush my shoulder.
“Fine. Just a little…cold.”
“Is something bothering you?”
“I love you, Melody. You can tell me.”
“Nothing is wrong. There’s nothing.”
Then, Tom, you looked me directly in the eyes, and said, “I know whatever is wrong, whatever is bothering you, and you will do the right thing. You will fix it.”
You kissed me on the cheek, warm, honey-scented skin brushing my own.
Soon after we said our good-byes, and after I hurried down along the beach, ignoring your request because I knew I was in no danger, I paced back and forth on the sand. You did know. I knew it. I thought of you at home, mythology books at your feet, wondering at the world. You thought you had fallen in love with a human girl, but you realized that I was really a Siren. I don’t know what that felt like, Tom, but I was sure it was fairly unprecedented.
The Song was burning in my throat.
I paced back and forth for a while along the shore, into the night, trying to make sense of my mind.
I have lived an eternity, and all my relations with mortal boys ended the same way: under twenty feet of water and with the Song’s voices in the night.
The Song had gotten stuck on you though. Somehow, I found myself slipping in through your open window, into your bedroom. I stood over your sleeping, breathing, human form. Different memories washed over me, as I looked at you lying there, one hand dangling off your bed, the other clutching The Odyssey to your chest.
Your smile. Your endless questions. Your hands waving excitedly as you spoke of the last book you had finished reading.
I love you, Melody.
Melody, a truth and a lie in one. The Siren disguised as a mortal girl. You had given your heart to me, but there was no love returned to you, Tom. Unless… love was the thing that had blocked the Song? Was it possible? I didn’t know, and in any case, it didn’t matter.
I considered unleashing the Song, really contemplated it. But one more glance at your sleeping form made me shake my head. I owed you one, because I finally felt I understood something about mortals. Without feelings, they simply aren’t.
I left you then, Tom. I walked down to the beach under the pearly moon with its translucent light. I slipped beneath the water and swam far out. Only when I was miles away, safe miles away from where you slept did I pull myself out onto a rock. Because now that I was away from where you slept, I would let the Song’s voices out. I would just be myself: a Siren singing her night song to the cold, ancient stars.
Maybe you’ll hear the voices when you’ll awaken Tom. I know you’ll walk along the beach. You’ll try to find me. The only sign of me will be a whisper in the breeze, and you’ll smile. Because you love me, and you know it’s better this way. For both of us.
The voices will awaken you, Tom.
But they will not let you drown.
I will not let you drown. Not you.