Songs from the Deep – Kelly Powell

THERE ARE THREE SIRENS on the beach today. I watch them, rosining my bow slowly as I do. The tide comes in, restless and white-capped, pushing at the shoreline. The cliА grass pricksat the thin cotton of my dressas I stand, keeping my eyes trained on the beach below. They are distantand impassive, marble statues staring out to sea. Movement is rarely what catches their attention. Sound is how they hunt, what they wait for. Any noise is tenfold more interesting to them than a wave of fingers or shuffle of feet. I slide my bow across the violin in an open note. The song becomes slower, softer, as I dip into a lower pitch. When I quicken my pace, the violin’s sound vibrates through the air, and I feel it humming in my chest, in the soles of my feet. The music is sharp against the noonday stillness, the only sound in my ears. It is a cool afternoon at that. My breath mists in front of me, my Йngers holding stiА to the bow’s polished wood. The sirens do not seem to mind the chill.

They are folded between a bramble of large rocks, their backs to me—long stretches of pale white skin, dark tangled hair—and one of them leans over, resting her head upon the shoulder ofanother. I play by the cliff’sedge, allowing music to tumble over rocksand into sea. It’s the closest I dare play to the beach, as the melodies may well turn siren earsand eyes in my direction. Nothing wrong with a bit of danger though, when it polishes the notes. I play best on days like this, with the sirens near, before the unending sea. Perhaps they talk to one another. Yet it’s the songs they sing that lure anyone within earshot and without protection. I’ve seen those rescued taken to the hospital: bloodied from teeth and claws, delirious, all too keen to return to the sea, to the creatures in the depths below. Terrible business for the tourists in the end, and still they come. Every summer.

For the scenery or for the sirens, perhaps hoping this year shall be the year when Twillengyle Council finally lifts the ban on siren hunting. That is the year I dread. I curl my Йngers tighter around the violin to get some life back in them. A few minutes more and I’ll pack up. Feels lonely, playing for only three sirens, when I’ve seen groups of ten or Йfteen together on the sand at one time. The wind picks up, biting at my cheeks until I know they’re rosy with cold, and the sea’s string of whitecaps blacken the rocks with their spray. I skip from one tune to the next in an attempt to find a rhythm. Each note Мies oА on the wind—toward sirens who do not even turn an ear in acknowledgment. I touch bow to stringsa little more firmly. When the music falters, I stop.

A breeze catches the hem of my dress, Мicking it this way and that, while I place my violin into its case. It’s a battered little thing, black leather faded and scuАed. My father gave it to me yearsago, with my initials stamped along the side. M. A. The musicof my heart. Not a very good turn of phrase, as his heart ceased beating only two weeks after. Or not very good music, I think, loosening the hair of my bow before setting it inside. I gather up the violin case and take one last glance down the cliА. The sirens have barely moved.

One has twisted around slightly, so I can see the knife edge of her cheekbone. Not enough to see her eyes properly. Before, I have—at the right angle and with enough light—and their wide, dark eyes seem to mirror the deepest parts of the sea. It was my father who Йrst brought me to them, taught me how to clean salt from violin strings, where to watch sirens without being seen, how to protect myself with cold iron and charms. He showed me an island smeared in blood, and I fell in love with it. On those days, when the sky was still pink with dawn, my father told me the island’s folktales. He brought me to the beach and spoke of the creatures the sea sheltered, of the magic that dwelt on Twillengyle’s shores. And when the moon shone overhead, full and bright as a coin, ghost stories were told—the souls of those killed by sirens said to wander the cliffsevermore. But today is windblown and damp, fog misting around me, clinging to my dress. These are the days for ballads and sorrow, remembrances of widows standing in my place, waiting on the cliАs, not knowing their husbands had already been swept out to sea.

The beach gives way to rocks that rise above the waves like chipped grave markers. It’s scenery the tourists adore: dark-green swaths of moss and redbrown grass, the sheer face of the crag stained salt white. I don’t know whether the sirens watch me as I leave, or if the cliА’s edge holds a pull of its own. Whichever way, my heart feels leaden as I head for home. But I have long realized a piece of it will always belong to the sea. CHAPTER TWO “THE SALT WATER will ruin it.” My mother shuЖesaround our tiny kitchen, making cakes, and still Йnds time to pause to lecture me. Often when she begins to repeat herself, I pay her no mind—but the changing weather puts me in an argumentative spirit. “Evidently not, as it still sings.” She looksat me, disapproving that I’ve spoken out of turn.

The lamplight makes her look more weary than usual. Or rather, my presence has. Her hands are covered in Мour, and whatever storm is brewing outside, the smell of baking suАocates it inside. The air is made sickly sweet by the scent of honey and melted butter left to congeal in one of the bowls on the counter. Opening the stove, my mother scrapes another full pan across the grills, before saying, “Then it would make no diАerence for you to play at the dance hall.” It would make a world of difference. As she well knows. “I like playing by the cliff.” “I would much prefer you didn’t, Moira. It’s dangerous.

Not to mention foolish besides.” She gives a small shake of her head. “Playing music for sirens—even your father wasn’t so senseless.” The cunning retort I was set to oАer sticks in my throat. Playing for the sirens Йlls a dark and hollow yearning, a cavernous desire I’ve no other way to appease. My mother’s eyes Йx on the stove, shining with the knowledge that she has said something insightful. My gaze shifts to the one window in the room. Its lace curtains are drawn back, showing rain clouds heavy on the horizon. The gale will turn the island bleak and wild, the light already failing as darkness settles over us like a nightmare cloak. My mother says, “We’ll need to prepare for the storm tonight.

” I don’t reply. Her words, like needle and thread, have stitched my lips shut. I stand there, feeling as foolish as she called me, as proud as I know myself to be, until an adequate amount of time has passed to leave with my dignity still intact. I walk down the hall to my bedroom, and in the small space, my mother’s words liken to an echo. They scratch themselves into the desk chair, curl against the Мoral wallpaper, slip between the pages of my books. Even your father wasn’t so senseless. The walls seem to press close, almost to the point of suАocation, and I need to get out—if only for a little while. I button my coat, take hold of my violin case. Then I’m unlocking my window latch and climbing over the paintflecked ledge. As soon as I step away from the overhang, the Йrst drops of rain land in my hair.

I start back in the direction of the cliАs, the heels of my boots sinking into the mud as though the island wishes to claim them for itself. My father used to carry me along this path—when I was little and ankle deep in puddles—on his shoulders where I had a clear view of the horizon, sea and sky coming together to form a blurred line in the distance. My mother was softer then as well. I’d wave a clumsy goodbye toward the house with my handkerchief, while she stood by the door, sending kisses into the air as we set off. Admiration of the island, of the dangers it held, wasalways there in my father’s stories. Twillengyle is a place to be embraced with one arm, with a dagger ready in the other hand. To be charmed by its magic is not the same as becoming its fool, Moira. Remember that. As I turn the Йnal corner, the pathway opens up to the great expanse of the moors. To my left is the lighthouse, a blue-and-white tower clinging to the rocks, and the keeper’s cottage attached to it, a modest structure of clapboard siding.

The beacon light above circles in a bright arc out to sea, making the sky appear darker overhead. The wind brings with it the clean, cold tang of salt water. My Йngers become numb around the handle of my violin case, and it’d be rather pointless to take it out now. I can’t even separate the music in my mind from the oncoming gale. It’s not a waste though. I needed the walk more than the music, I think. Fresh air to clear my head. From above, I hear the Йrst rumblings of thunder, and I wonder where the sirens have sheltered, whether they’ll take to the storm-ravaged beach come morning. Dawn will be quiet, pale and colorless, after a night streaked with thunder and lightning. September has turned cruel quickly, leaves already beginning to change color and litter the ground.

As I near the cliА’s edge, I catch movement in the corner of my eye. Coming up the path from the beach is Jude Osric, his shoulders hunched against the wind, eyes cast down. His red-brown curls poke out beneath his cloth cap, windblown and tangled. I look to the lighthouse before returning my attention to him. Jude is its sole keeper, and at nineteen, he is two years my elder. Before I can decide whether to call out or take off into the shadows, he glances in my direction. “Moira,” he says, breathless. I jam my free hand into the pocket of my coat. Wind howls across the moors, and I narrow my eyes against it. “Shouldn’t you be up at the light?” He makes his way toward me.

As he does, I realize Jude looks truly terriЙed. His eyes are shiny and rimmed with red, hisalready pale face drained of color. “You can’t be here,” he says. “Moira, listen, you need to go right now.” This is quite the opposite thing to tell me if he hasany real hope of making me leave. I grab hold of his coat sleeve, and for a moment I see the little boy I used to play with, the one who ran after me on the moors. “Jude.” I swallow hard. “What is it?” He closes his eyes. Bowing his head, he whispers, so quiet it almost gets lost in the wind: “There’s a body.

” He looks up and gestures back toward the path, hand trembling. “Sirens—the sirens must’ve…” I try to recall if anyone I know planned to go down to the beach today. I think of the Йshermen at the harbor, their families… My fingers dig into the sleeve of Jude’s coat. “Who is it?” “I think it’s Connor,” he says. “Connor Sheahan.” I look out at the cliА’s edge. Dread settles deep inside me, clawing its way from the inside out, pulling me into the black. It can’t be Connor—I saw Connor just last week. I was teaching him to play his Йrst reel. He was twelve years old.

“I’m sorry,” Jude continues. “I know—I know you were tutoring him.” I meet his gaze. “Show me.” Jude staresas though I’ve gone mad. “What?” “I want to see the body.” I grab his collar, yanking him close. “Where is he?” “I really don’t think that’s wise, Moira. We need to tell the police. I’ll wire them from the watch room and…” Adrenaline shoots through my veins like quicksilver.

Before Jude can Йnish his sentence, I tear away from him. “Wait—Moira!” Jude makes to stop me, but I’m already racing for the pathway. Below the crag, I pinpoint what I’m looking for fast enough. A smear of red—a color that has no place among the dark waters and wet sand. It’sa thin ribbon I track along the beach, a crimson that mixes with the edge of the sea in wavering bands. Then I see a patch of black hair, a white shirt soaked through, pale skin cut and bleeding. The body lies near the path, half buried in blood-drenched sand. My feet slow as I approach. The smell is almost worse than the sight itself. A harsh, metallic odor burns in my nose, fills my throat until I’m close to gagging.

“Oh God.” It’s Connor. Connor as he never should’ve been—left discarded, a deep slash across his neck. The blood iseverywhere, a pool of red, staining the tide. Nothing makes sense. Behind me, Jude makes a sound quickly covered by a cough. “Moira,” he whispers, and it sounds desperate. “Please, Moira, we oughtn’t be here.” The wordsare a plea, but I can’t move. I’m frozen in place, my eyes Йxed on the boy I once knew, the boy I’d been teaching.

Sickness washes over me, making me light-headed, and I dig my nails into my palm to ground myselfagainst it. I close my eyes. “This was sirens?” A gust of wind comes to rip the words from the air. I repeat myself and turn to Йnd Jude standing beside me. “Yes,” he says. “I believe so.” I shake my head, whether in denial or anger or some combination of the two. “Can’t be.” “We need to tell the police,” Jude saysagain. “Jude, this—this is wrong.

What was he even doing here? How did he…?” I look to the boy at our feet. There are things children are taught on this island so they might survive. Connor knew how to listen, how to be careful, to keep still when it was needed. He’d been a fine student. Sometimes he’d press on the strings too hard, or his posture got lazy—but he was willing to learn and practiced often. He kept track of his mistakes. Now I’ll have his blood on the soles of my boots. “Sirens wouldn’t have left him here,” I mutter. “Why didn’t they take him out to sea? Why is his neck cut like that? I don’t…” A lump forms in my throat, and I stop speaking before the weight of everything crushes me. Jude pinches the bridge of his nose between foreЙnger and thumb.

I wonder if the memory of his own family has managed to slip into his thoughts. “Do you not think itatall strange?” I force the words out, but it isn’t the real question I want answered. What I want is to know why Connor was down here in the Йrst place. My heartbeat is rapid as whatever bravery I had leaches into the sand like the blood at our feet. Jude’s too-pale countenance makes it clear he doesn’t have much bravery left either. “A strangeness,” he says, “I’m sure the police and the Twillengyle Gazette will be most concerned with.” I swallow. “Of course,” I reply, yet I can’t shake oА the sense of wrongness. I’ve seen siren deaths before, read about them in the paper, and this isn’t like any of them. Jude doesn’t look back as we travel up the cliА, but I do exactly that.

I study the crimson stains in the sand, the small and crumpled form of Connor’s body. I’ve no idea what the police will do with him, but I know this is the last time I’ll be able to see him as he was. Only then do I turn away and follow in Jude’s footsteps to the lighthouse. The rain and wind pick up, rendering conversation impossible. My violin case bumps against my leg, a small comfort, as I try not to let my mind wander back to the body we’ve left behind, to the Sheahan family, who’ll soon find out their youngest son was taken from them

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