“Her name was Hope.” My words spread puzzlement over her flawless features. “You won’t remember her.” Incomprehension stills her full lips in mid word and then we tumble over the edge together.
This story first appeared in AntipodeanSF Issue 265, Oct. 2020.
“The womenfolk are incidental to you, aren’t they? They are just patterns, to be copied and then drained of the dreams we all keep deep inside; just so you can be the perfect bait. But I remember her: childhood friend, wife, love of my life… until you came.
“You left her on that Langness shore, alone in the dark for carrion while you lit up my heart with irresistible lust. Mermaid, Siren, Gorgon, Sphinx… by how many names have you been known?”
She writhes in anger and defiance.
“Your eyes became my morning sun, your touch, thirst quenching rain, and your breath — your breath like a summer breeze dragged me along to the sea. How long was I adrift on the water? Until you had your fill? No, until I glanced back and saw her lifeless form: ashen, sunken flesh on a rock, her beauty plundered for cloak. And I realised you had none of her soul, that no matter how right it felt, it was wrong. So, you turned me to stone.”
Her coiling tresses hiss and strike. But they cannot hurt me.
“I could not cry. Afraid, petrified, I sank to the depths. With eyes of stone I saw you swim back to your shining lair of metal and glass, satisfied. Years I stared from that sunken graveyard in my Irish Sea, losing count of the number of times you emerged to feed. And then one day, the currents changed. A monstrous storm raged over the sea, and you left. The lair rose: finned shining orb, bristling with underwater lightning, brighter than the bolts above. You left, breaking through the surface into the beyond.”
Her neck cranes toward the faded moonlight far above.
“Did you think I’d crumble? Did you think I’d lay down and die? No, I grew strong. The storm did more than usher you home. It laid bare the treasures of the graveyard to a salvage tug. And they raised me up. Sold as a statue to an Oxford museum, I watched, and I listened to the passage of time; and I mourned with the stories of the ruin of wars. Man hates man. We don’t need your kind to wreak evil into our lives.
“How could a heart that doesn’t beat harbour any hope? Maybe it was her love, reaching from beyond death. Or maybe I just didn’t want to forget. So, every time swaying auburn tresses caught my eye, and tender form came into view, I held my nonexistent breath and prayed to see my darling Hope. It was so that I learned you were not the only one…”
A flash of hope refuels the blaze of anger in her eyes, and then I finish, “But she was not like you.” Incomprehension, again.
“Her beauty was real, not borrowed; and those eyes — sorrowing grey as stormy skies — only held, for the people around her, gentle regard. They met mine in surprise. As she drew near, I was again afraid, petrified. For upon her breastplate, invisible to the human eye, hung the snake-drenched head of your filthy kind. She shook her face and echoed my revulsion. She turned to face the nearby marble fragment on display. ‘Parian chronicle,’ she said, and with her finger she traced a line in Greek whispers and smiled. ‘Deucalion was given the gift by my father, the same I claim by right. Let stone come back to life.’
“Athena wanders through our lands. Why? She didn’t explain. But I walked out of that museum on my own and returned to my beloved Manx. Much had changed over the decades but our beach was still there, and so was the lighthouse. They needed someone to tend to its duties. Where else would I rather be?
“The nights passed as I sat by my window, waiting… but waiting for what? Then came the storm, monstrous as the one before, with lightning tearing apart the skies, and ushering down that shining orb. It sank into the frothing waves of the raging sea, back to its hiding place. And I knew why I was waiting; I was waiting for someone to sing me her song. Except, this time I took my boat into the darkened sea; this time I was the bait.
“It only took you two nights to rise to the surface with that lilting song of love on your lips. I welcomed you on board, let you wrap your arms over my shoulders, all as you expected until I whispered in your ear, So, you’re back from outer space.”
She writhes with unnatural force, trying to break free, but my grip has the strength of stone… and my body, its weight. And we sink together… until the glassy dome of her lair stops our descent. One glance down and she understands. One violent stomp from my foot is enough to shatter its face and set its atmosphere free. Thrashing in desperation, she stares after every fading bubble, finally terrified.
“So, you do need to breathe. I don’t.
“Her name was Hope,” I repeat. “You won’t remember her.”