The Siren

End of the Year

By: Jack Rutman, Mar 22, 2022

The Siren

By: J.P. Rutman

For David

Copyright © 2022 J.P. Rutman
All rights reserved.

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3

Part 1

My dad was never the touchy-feely type. “Samuel,” he said in a huff. “Lighten up, you’re on vacation!” He slapped me on the back and took a long swig of his tropical fruit cocktail. “What’s wrong with you? This is Key West! Here you have no worries!” The goliath of a man thumbed over a dew-covered beverage while shoving a fistful of bar peanuts past his bushy black mustache. “C’mon son,” he said through a few labored chews, “you really need to get those exams out of your head! Please! Have a drink with your old man!”

Typical Dad. With each day that passed, he tried harder and harder to cheer me up, and never stopped to think how. After all, I was his son, not one of his patients. Dad was a general practitioner - quite a good one at that. I know he’d like nothing more than to smile, write me the proper prescription, and shove me out the door with a firm pat on the back.

“Now then!” he said, forcing a mango-laced drink into my grip. He crossed his oversized hands and violently gestured for me to take a sip. “Come now! At least one taste won’t bite!” I awkwardly moved the tiny plastic parasol, took a sniff of the fruity aroma, and sipped the sugary mixture with caution.

Even if he didn’t understand me, he was right. I had a bad year – don’t we all? So why mope around in a place like this? We were at a luxury resort, for God’s sake! My parents had paid ridiculous sums just to get us here; the least I could do is pretend to be happy and sneak away later, right?

After choking down the drink, I lifted my faded sunglasses, peered straight through my father, and attempted to enjoy the tranquil beach view in front of us. It could have been a tacky postcard: crystal blue water gently lapping towards the immaculate Florida coast, a raging crimson sun happily beating down on unaware waves below - no, it wouldn’t have looked better on film. Next to the water, dozens of haphazardly placed loungers were littered with children and tanning women, their sheer numbers obscuring the horizon from view. As if by requirement, just beyond the shoreside, lazy pelicans rocked on pulsating water, eagerly awaiting some boozy pier fishermen to throw a bite-sized morsel their way. Something about the scene made me sick.

I quieted my mind and returned to our weathered tiki bar. The seasoned beams of its palm roof somehow fit the resort aesthetic well. The complacent tourists too, all so perfectly dressed in pastel button-down shirts, looked such the part that you could easily miss the rusting stools they sat on.

“You’re right, Dad” I said, guilty at my unexpressed shame. “I haven’t been myself lately. I just…” I paused and stared at my sandals. Dad, however dense he might have been, could tell I was lost for words.

“Look,” interrupted my father, twirling his bushy mustache around his fingers. “I know your classes were tough this year – but it gives you the opportunity to get higher grades next semester! Don’t you know the masters’ programs love a comeback story? You just need a little more time to grow into your potential, son.” He inhaled the rest of his drink and let out an earnest chuckle. “Trust me Sam, if anyone can do it, I know you can!”

I lowered my head. It was just like him: ever the optimist. Even after everything I’d done wrong, he would always be on my side. How could someone so talented believe in me, even when I couldn’t?

“Dad,” I whispered in a trance. “You know I just barely made it through, and…” I swirled my glass and drilled my eyes towards the sand. “I just don’t think I can --“

“Nonsense!” he interjected, gulping down another fistful of peanuts. “None of my sons has ever struggled in his second year! You just haven’t gotten the hang of it yet, Sam. Trust me, when I was your age – blah, blah, blah, blah, blah…“ He launched into one of his usual lectures about how difficult things were in the old days. It was always the same story about spending 80 hours a week in the library and seemed to grow more outlandish with every re-telling.

As he droned on about rigorous study techniques and regimented coffee breaks, my gaze was unnaturally dragged back to the ocean. Each gentle break of the shore tumbled over the sand before crawling its way back to the deep. Something about the water seemed so wild and free: owned by no person or thing. The thought made me instantly uncomfortable, as if such a thing wasn’t possible, and I should take the water bucket by bucket and dump it into a nearby pool.

I watched my father increase his wild gesticulations. Joyously prattling on about medical exams, he hardly noticed a hotel guest settle into a reclined chair just a few feet from the bar. She must have been in her mid-30s and was completely enveloped in the sun’s setting glow. For a family resort, her swimsuit was quite revealing: its gray and white tones blending seamlessly into the lounger. I found myself involuntarily leaning forward just to discern her form from the background. As my eyes traced their way up her bare legs, I caught myself falling off my stool. At the squeak of the unbalanced chair, she turned her head as I jerked mine away. All at once my blood ran warm.

“Dad, you know – !“ I said, interrupting his long-winded speech. “I’ve been thinking about my major recently and I -- !“

“Hold that thought Sam!” he interjected. “Your brother’s coming this way! John!” he bellowed, drunkenly waving his arms in the air. “Over he-ere!” I cringed from his shouting and hid my face in my shirt. My older brother, (or “Mr. Perfect” as I liked to call him) immediately saw us, smiled a toothy grin, and sportingly trotted over to the tiki bar.

“‘Sup bro,” he said, sauntering towards us and leaning on the counter next to Dad. Like always, he perfectly surveyed the situation in one assuming glance. “The old man telling you about the glory days, eh?” With his hands by his waist, he smoothed out his crisp new board shorts and pushed the finely manicured hair off his forehead. “You know you could get Sam to talk about himself without slipping drinks, right Dad?” He couldn’t help but let out a patronizing smile.

“Oh, John!” laughed my father, his cheeks turning scarlet. He took another sip from his nearly empty glass and quickly brushed over the comment. “You know the boy is so shy! I’m just trying to bring him out of his shell! Put some hair on his chest, no? Like I always say, nothing a little gin can’t fix! It always did the charm when I was his age! And for starters --”

“You know,” I said, abruptly starting to my feet and breaking their effortless comradery. “I think I’m going to lie by the beach for a little bit.”

“But Samuel,” replied my stunned father, grin fading. “Dinner is only an hour away…You know it’s New Year’s Day, and…and…your mother wants the whole family to be there!”

“Don’t worry Dad,” said John, interceding and placing a single hand on my shoulder. “I’m sure little Sammy will be at the restaurant before seven, right?” Concluding his sentence, he let out a wink. Even though he meant well, I couldn’t help cringing at the thought of his rescue.

“Uh…right” I said, gritting my teeth. John may not have understood me, but he knew that I’d rather be trapped on a desert Island then sit next to my dad a second longer. “I think…I think I just need a minute to sort some stuff out. I’ll be back before seven, I promise.” With each word I crept farther and farther away from the bar.

“Oh, I see!” said my father, totally unfazed. “Trying to find a nice Florida girl before the trip ends, eh?! Don’t worry! I won’t tell your sisters if you don’t! You know how much they like to talk about their little brother, eh?” I shook my head, turned my back to my family, and quietly trudged away.

Part 2

Have you ever needed to sit in a quiet room with just your thoughts? How ironic I’d crave as much at the busiest resort in all of Florida. Now firmly liberated from my family’s clutches, I had to put as much distance between them as physically possible. Tightening the Velcro strap on my sandals, I jogged past the busy open-air lobby and towards the edge of the hotel complex. Without stopping, I nearly ran over an attendant with a limp in his walk and, after apologizing profusely, awkwardly smiled at the concierge seated by the plaza threshold.

Out past the bustling service corridors and winding, finely manicured brick paths, I made my way towards the inconspicuous edge of the property. There, concealed by an overgrown thrush of sawgrass stood a small, unassuming signpost that read “MANGROVE BEACH.” The poorly constructed wooden marker was faded on all edges while the lettering around the word “MANGROVE” was rotting away. I poked my head down the mysterious path and wondered where such a place might lead. The beach? Back to town? Orlando? The trail clearly led away from the hotel and through a deep jungle thicket far away from prying eyes. I resigned myself to venture down the gloomy corridor of trees: it was simply the cost of seclusion. If I had to pass another tourist or two along the way, so be it.

The entire length of path was overgrown with palms and cypress – so thick that only a few rays of light made their way to the forest floor. As I started down the trail, I couldn’t help but feel the seeds of unease planted in my mind. “Well,” I bargained to myself while strolling through the tunnel. “Even this dreary place must be worth a moment of silence.” I crept further and further away from the rooms and deeper into the grove. Within minutes I lost track of time and could feel the thick swamp air growing heavy in my lungs. Somehow, with each labored step, my senses and desires began to ebb away, as if my every frustration in my life was shed along the path in my forward wake. Even as the coral rocks lining the trail grew more jagged with each yard, and the narrowing strangler fig vines wrapped their way tighter among the trees, my own fears dissipated into the ocean wind.

Making my way for what felt like an hour, I saw a brilliant light ahead of me. The trail abruptly opened into a secret hideaway with only a few lonely beach loungers. “Amazing!” I thought, my face in awe of the stunning panorama. There, an unobscured sun washed the small beach with a faint orange glow. Something about the bowl-shaped cove seemed impossibly fantastic to me. A location so perfect surely belonged in a magazine, not in my sole possession.

I walked to the back of a sun-faded lounger and put my hands on top of its plastic rim. With the slightest hesitation, I looked to my left, then to my right, and -- feeling a minute twinge of doubt, turned behind me. Not a soul to be found.

“Perfect,” I thought, finally at peace as I lowered myself onto the lounger. “I’ll just lie here for a moment and collect my thoughts. No one will notice I’m gone.”

Melting into the back of my chair, I absorbed the cascading sunset above me. The quiet hum of metallic noise from the distant hotel mixed peacefully with the small, rippling wash of the ocean, softly blending the two sounds into one concordant tone. With the gentle sea breeze draping itself across my face, I felt the heavy tug of sleep on my eyelids. The sound of the whispering water seemed to grow ever louder as I closed my eyes and stretched my arms across the chair. Feeling the warm touch of the setting rays on my brow and the grainy coastal salt forming on my fingertips, everything around me ebbed away and at once faded to black.

Part 3

Within hours the hideaway was overflowing with silence. Darkness had swept across the sky as the moon stealthily lodged itself in the sun’s place. With its lonesome glow illuminating the receding tide, the heavens now swirled around in a cosmic dance of envy.

I blinked twice and rubbed my eyes. Even under a full moon, I could barely make out my feet in front of me. “Shit,” I thought, immediately jerking my hands to my pockets. “What time is it?” Still dazed from the nap, I cracked my stiff neck and fumbled for my cell phone. Shoving my hand into an empty back pocket, I realized it must have been in the hotel room. “Damn it,” I thought, straightening my back in the plastic bands of the chair. “Of all the times to miss dinner...”

I sighed and swiveled my head towards the ocean. In spite of myself, the moonlit scene was worth whatever scolding I was about to receive. Silent moonbeams danced across the water with a wistful, hidden grace. Across the cove, the soft whirring hum of cicadas was drowned out by a quiet push and pull of swirling waves, tenderly returning to sea. Something about the water felt alive, almost as if it was bending and twirling in a private performance just for me.

I lowered my eyes to the ground. By now everyone must be wondering what was wrong with me. “Per usual,” I thought, placing my fist on the lounger. I shook my head and dusted the sand off my pants while I twisted my body and legs off the chair. Right as my feet touched the ground, and without any warning or notice, I heard the faintest ripple of water in front of me – after that, dead silence. I paused and craned my neck towards the shore. Unsure and unsteady, I became acutely aware of my lonely surroundings.

“There’s nothing to be afraid of,” I thought, involuntarily holding my breath. “It’s probably just a fish or something…” Just to be sure, and to quiet my racing mind, I waited and listened. After a minute of careful concentration, I heard another splash, this time much larger in scale. It was the only movement I had heard since waking up.

“Hello!” I shouted, fear creeping into my thoughts. “Who’s there?!” I slowly paced my way to the water, afraid of watchful eyes from behind. “You’re hearing things Sam,” I thought, consoling myself with quaint assumptions. With hesitation, I scanned the grove and carefully watched the blackened forest outline for any signs of life. Nothing -- not a falling cypress leaf nor a silent swaying branch. Even so, I couldn’t shake the feeling I was being watched. As my knowing muscles tensed for escape, the toxic anxiety of the unknown drew me closer and closer to the water’s edge and away from the mangrove’s looming shadow.

Right as my feet touched the approaching surf, the strangest sensation appeared in my fingertips. Without warrant, my hands began trembling with heat; much like the uncomfortable feeling one gets when entering a scalding bath on a freezing day. “Ugh, how long was I asleep?” I thought, innocently shaking the feeling from my hands.

Growing increasingly nervous and wondering what unknown catalyst had caused the reaction, I felt a blanket of warmth began to envelop my body. I took a step forward and nervously clutched my arms. The sand beneath my feet had grown cold, almost as if it was trying to escape my stride with every step.

Nervousness turned to fear and fear to terror as, despite my efforts, the building rush of heat continued to march its way across my skin. First, its vibrating energy concentrated itself in my lower back before welling up through the base of my spine. “What the hell?!” I shouted, doubling over in pain across my knees. “What…What the hell is happening to me?!”

I pursed my lips and felt my eyes dilate as the sensation leapt its way up the back of my skull. Nothing about this was natural. Someone must have poisoned me, or worse, drugged me in my sleep. What else could explain the sudden inferno enveloping my body? Losing control of my senses, I raised my arms and watched the hair on my skin twitch maddeningly to an unknown, pulsating rhythm. “What kind of drug, what kind of substance could do that?”

Nothing made any sense. Not in my life, not with my family, and certainly not now. “Who’s there?!” I begged in a quiet rage. “Come out! I know what you did to me! When the cops find us – you’re…you’re…!” I could hardly finish my sentence. Doubled over with my hands grasping the sand, the sensation had now fully overtaken my body. I was no longer myself, I was an empty shell, a vessel for whoever had decided to direct their misfortune upon me. Within only a few aching minutes, the pain had grown so intense I would trade my life, no, my entire soul for a chance at peace. Only then, in the true collapse of my being, did the perpetrator decide to speak.

“Samuel…” it said in a haunting murmur from beyond the beach. “Why Samuel? Why are you fighting me? The voice contained two distinct speakers, each like a separate entity talking in unholy unison. The first was no more than a child: its warbling pitch like that of a schoolgirl, much too sickly to leave its condemned bedroom. The second was distinctly a full-grown woman, each of her flowery syllables seductively wrapping its way around my head before digging its claws into my ears.

An adrenaline-induced terror arrested every inch of my muscles. I cried out in agony as a stranger thought dug its way through my tortured mind. It was so obscene that even the notion of it was laughably averse to the dangerous situation I found myself in. Not only was the alien sensation growing more complex: I was beginning to like it. The foreignness and danger of the warmth turned to aching bliss: fear of the unknown eroded by a masochistic dopamine-like wash of pleasure towards the brain.

I may have been terrified but could no longer resist the dark being’s call. It was so wonderfully grotesque that all of my fears were imprisoned behind lock and key in the most depraved corners of my mind. I was no longer myself: I was no longer in control. Whatever thoughts and anxieties I held about my grades, school, and even my family, all of which had once plagued my existence, were now nothing more than figments of my imagination.

I laughed and giggled by the water’s edge, ankle-deep in the receding tide. Unbridled emotion had overtaken my limbs: my soul aching for her to say more, say anything as I fully abandoned my natural state of repression. Reduced to infantile behavior, I couldn’t resist leaping and splashing across the water in a foolish, child-like exuberance.

The entity was patiently enjoying my thoughts, clearly satisfied with its enraptured audience. “Samuel,” it cooed. “Samuel, it’s so good to see you.” The moonlight flickered across the rolling sea as the roar of waves grew louder and louder in my ears. I couldn’t resist the sweet call of my name: It was so nice to hear someone, anyone calling me: only me.

“W-what do you want?” I begged, small streams of saliva now trickling down my jaw. My whole body had crumpled into a knot as I hunched over the water in full deference to the voice’s song-like grasp. Only then, when I stood sufficiently prostrate to its desires, did it choose to reveal itself.

The creature stood motionless only ten feet ahead of me. Its silhouette betrayed an ethereal woman, quite similar to my own height and build. Her unblemished face was as white as snow and her eyes black as midnight. Across her neck, silken blonde hair wrapped its way seamlessly around her back, each strand moving through their air like a serpent on its own accord. She was completely naked and at the sight of me slowly rested her frail white hands atop her bare breasts. Everything about her was hauntingly beautiful, and even though her skin lacked the lifelike texture of all human flesh, I couldn’t conceive of a singularly more intoxicating being.

“Samuel, I’ve been waiting for you,” she said, cocking her head to the side and staring lifelessly at me with a smile. Every time her mouth moved the words rang out in a delayed echo and continued emanating long after she had finished speaking. “I’m so lonely. Please, won’t you spend some time with me?”

What could I have done? My entire being was shamelessly enraptured by her presence, unable to believe she could be real. With reckless abandon, I waded forward and caught myself only an inch from her face. She laughed at my labored breathing and beckoned me to come closer with a toothy, crooked smile.

Arm shaking, I slowly reached out to touch her. As I grazed her bare shoulder, the silken smooth skin was ice to the touch. “Why are you so cold?” I wondered in a daze, her radiant beauty like an explosive reaction growing ever stronger before me.

“I’ve been alone for so long,” she said, gently stepping backwards. “Please, won’t you join me? We can be together forever…” She retreated a foot, then two. With each stride I felt the mania-inducing ecstasy growing dimmer around me. She knew the precise countervailing effect this would have and relished my whimpering disappointment.

With only greedy impulse, I grasped her hand and halted the escape. My heartbeat slowed to a stop, I edged closer to her body and enveloped my arm around her waist. She delighted at the weak, erratic panting of my breath on her neck as she enclosed her hands around mine.

Content with the nervous shaking of my body, she bent her head and placed both hands below my hips. My eyes widened with such orgasmic pleasure that, without thinking, I summoned an unknown courage and gripped both her buttocks in my hands. Her pale, throbbing lips quivered as she couldn’t help but giggle at my boldness.

“Look at me,” she echoed, coming to angelic composure. She slowly raised her head and looked me dead in the eyes. Beneath her irises I saw a raging tsunami, trapped amongst the twinkling onyx of her brow. Without hesitation I jerked my head to her mouth and felt the warmth of a volcanic movement engulf my entire body. My eyes rolled to the back of my head as I kissed her in pure, unadulterated euphoria.

Lost in the grip of her arms, I hardly noticed her pulling me further and further away from the shore, heedlessly into the deep from where she had come. As her cold tongue pressed against mine, she drew my body under the tide and submerged my shoulders in a quiet departure from my reality. By the time I noticed the cool water clawing its way up my neck, it was too late: I was a slave to her hidden desires.

“Thank you so much…” she murmured, her voice warbling as we sank deeper into the surf. “Thank you for coming to me after all this time…” As her voice trailed away, the façade of otherworldly beauty began to crack around her body. The glowing fire of her form had now faded in a collapse of supernatural grace - only to leave a lecherous replacement behind in its ephemeral place.

In truth she was a terribly ancient being who correctly reasoned that her soft-spoken words would cease to distract me further. Even a blind man may feel a change in the wind. So too I, in my pathetic state of ensnarement, could tell her aura had been altered. Only thanks to a final act of mercy, and the unmistakable feeling of water scouring my chin, did her eerie spell began to disintegrate around me.

Ostensibly alert, I found myself stranded in five feet of ocean, the subsequent fight or flight reaction leaving me violently panicked in the creature’s grip. I dismayed at the salty water, the full brunt of its swells now eclipsing my mouth and nostrils. The torrent left me helplessly sputtering for breath as I twisted and writhed my fatigued body through the raging current. Any attempt at escape was pointless. With the familiar shore fading from view and no possible recourse or escape, I futilely thrashed my feet against the slimy sand bar for any chance of delay.

The creature had grown so content with my tartaric prison that she no longer feigned disguise. Let me emphasize that nothing in my deepest imagination could have prepared me for the horror I now witnessed. Her unashamed, gruesome stature loomed over me with savage, bloodthirsty glee. Below her misshapen, ogre-shaped lips were razor fangs, each one of 20 protruded from seeping red gums above her jaw. Unable to stare for fear of being devoured, my eyes were drawn to her unkempt, feral hair - the sickening kelp-colored skin of her scalp bubbling and boiling as it recomposed itself piece by piece into a ghastly mosaic of horror-inducing evil. Even her arms, which were firmly wrapped around my torso, began to tremble and elongate: her own bones breaking and twisting to constrict mine tighter with each prolonged second.

In that terrible, visceral moment, my complete sanity returned to me. Visions of my short life flashed before my eyes in an instant. While the creature licked its fangs with a salivating, forked tongue, I vividly saw my father and mother, each memory of childhood moments now plagued by years of arguments and fights. I saw my brother and sisters, snapshots of our peaceful existence overwritten by taunting and jeering - taunts for failing to live up to the harsh expectations of our family yet again. Worst of all, I saw myself: crying in the bathroom stall of my dingy college lecture hall. How could I walk out and tell my parents I had failed another exam? How could I tell them I was not the son they wanted me to be?

I watched the siren cackle with mysterious delight and wondered in a fading stupor how my life had shown so little merit. “Is that it?” I wailed to myself. Only failed expectations and unfulfilled realities? Had I never felt the freedoms of youth? The complacent wisdom of enjoying simple desires on my own terms? No. In that moment I realized every day of my existence had been a waste. Only when violent waves had completely encircled my forehead did I desire to live again, to become the man I should have always endeavored to be. My prayers would never see fruition.

With my head fully submerged under the weight of the ocean’s thundering pressure, I let out a gut-wrenching scream. My chest convulsed in searing pain as water poured into my helpless lungs with the unstoppable force of a freight engine. I could distinctly feel the weight of the ocean’s descent, each meter like an iron sledgehammer, the metal head repeatedly pounding me square in the ribcage.

Finally, in the apex of my distress, the siren’s vocal cords throbbed with a murderous din of maniacal pleasure as blood and tears oozed from my diminished face. Stolen to the bottom of the sea, I wondered for the last time what my legacy would be. I determined then that I had only lived in toxic fear of being myself. A fear which was cruelly derived from meeting the expectations of others. I knew my life had meant nothing, created nothing, helped no one. Thus, with no further recourse, I resolutely accepted my fate, allowed the light to leave my eyes, and floated motionless in the current as my executioner dragged me across the ocean floor, never to be heard from again.


About the Author:

J.P. Rutman is a twenty-three-year-old writer, designer, and businessman. The only thing he loves more than writing fiction is relaxing by the beach in his home state of Delaware. He is grateful for any time he spends writing, and even more grateful for his avid readers.