Walking down the street in the gloom of dawn, Alexandros tried to stifle the sound of his yawn. His face felt heavy, weighed down by yesterday’s workday at the wharf. Lifting, dropping, pulling, repeat. He didn’t expect to get into his father’s line of work so soon, but the temptations of the sea tugged quite hard at his father’s heart.
On that day, when his father’s only friend and his captain, Damianos, burst through the door, short of breath, his mother knew. The sea had won -- and she didn’t even look surprised. His mother’s tepid reaction made him furious, though he did have an inkling as to why she wouldn’t care. His parents had fought countless times over his father’s obsession with the “magic of the sea,” as he so grandly put it, and its hidden treasures. His mother grumbled to no end that it would kill his father, and perhaps that’s why Alexandros yelled at his mother the way he did. He went to the wharf with a huge welt on his face the next morning.
Alexandros was nearing the wharf, watching the sun lazily peek over the ocean’s foggy horizon, and somewhere beyond lied his father’s grave. How he landed into death’s arms so openly was something Alexandros could hardly understand, nor could his family afford to. His father’s wages had covered most of their daily expenses, his death shattering whatever stability they had left. His and his mother’s dreams withered alongside his father’s corpse. Alexandros was going to leave for the capital to study and become a mathematician, a dream that his father promised he would help him accomplish. But, his mother would end up in the streets if he ever left.
He reached the port and leaned against the wall, waiting for the boats to arrive. He hummed a song he heard a woman sing while he worked. Even after three months, that song never stopped playing in his head. He remembered that day like the lines on his hands.
He spotted her among the boats, floating at her leisure.He remembered approaching her and pointing to the left, in the direction of the beach.
“You shouldn’t be swimming here, miss, the beach is that way.”
But, she said nothing. Instead, she turned to him and stared at him with large black eyes. He wondered if she was a tourist; her looks were too dark and too exotic to be from the fishing town of Petritis. However, that didn’t make her any less beautiful.
She gave him a bright smile and swam towards him. She dove under and went around one of the boats. He felt his heart pounding as she approached, and then she popped out the sea. The way she looked reminded him of the nymphs his father described from his stories -- dark hair, big eyes, supple breasts, and a remarkable glimmer in their skin. Perhaps the glimmer was because he was crushing on a pretty girl, or they were just drops of water that clung to her skin. Just he was going to get her name, Alexandros heard Damianos call for him. He bellowed a response, then turned to see that she was gone.
The following two months were just the same. He would hear her song and they would exchange glances. As soon as he tried to get her name, she would vanish under the salty depths. He couldn’t really understand why she was so fearful of him.
He noticed the dots of boats come forth. They arrived sooner than he expected. He stood up, readying himself for the crew’s docking. In a couple minutes, the boats grew in size from the horizon, their masts no longer little banners in the sky and their bodies expanded to full fishing galleons. Alexandros never understood his father’s obsession with the sea. He’s always been afraid of the sea, its vastness was overwhelming. His father’s disappearance crushed the last bit of hope he had at exploring what lies beyond.
The crew of fishermen docked at the wharf and began to wrangle the large nets full of fish. Alexandros dropped his bag and ran towards the galleons with two barrels.
A silver-haired man, dark and wrinkled like a grape left out too long in the sun, waved to him. “Hurry up, kid!”
Two men on the galleon pulled the heavy catch to the center as Alexandros led them to the barrel. After they dumped the fish in their respective containers, the men dragged them out of the little sail boats.
“Not so bored now, ey, Alexandros?” Damianos chuckled. Alexandros managed a smile.
“I wasn’t bored,” he admitted. “My mind keeps me busy.”
“Well, get your arms busy and bring me another barrel,” Damianos said. Alexandros followed the captain’s orders. Once the fish was put out, the captain gave him other menial tasks while he went to the market. He swabbed the decks of the boats, inspected and fixed the sails on the galleons, and polish and cleaned every surface until it was sparkling. Working at the wharf wasn’t exciting, but at least it was safe.
“You seem to be much better suited as a maid than a fisherman, no Alexandros?” The familiar low voice startled Alexandros. It came from the captain’s son, Damianos Jr. However, he didn’t look as young as his name claimed to be. His build was much heavier compared to Alexandros’ waifish body. His bearded face glistened a bit, perhaps because he was helping the others with the barrels, or just lugged them all himself.
Alexandros felt his shadow block the heat of the sun on his back, making him involuntarily shrink.
“Going out at sea again?” Alexandros responded curtly without looking behind him.
“Nope. Just came to chat.”
Alexandros kept himself from sucking his teeth and turned back to rubbing varnish to the large boat’s wooden rails.
“I have nothing to talk to you about.” Alexandros spat at him.
“Oi!” Another young burly man with his brown hair wrapped in cloth waved over to Damianos Jr.
“Hey! Iakovos! What’s going on?” said Damianos Jr.
“Damianos, I have someone here that said she remembers you from somewhere.” Alexandros could hear young women giggling behind Iakovos. Damianos Jr. whispered something to Iakovos. Iakovos glanced at Alexandros, but he waved off whatever Damianos Jr. said, as if it didn’t matter.
“I’m going with Iakovos, so don’t go wandering into the ocean looking for ‘mysterious nymphs.’” Damianos Jr. said.
“Really? You know better than I that nymphs are fairytales, Damianos.” Alexandros told him. “Stop trying to mess with me.” Alexandros tried to tell himself that he was just trying to lighten the mood, but he’s been finding his old friend’s presence irksome lately. He spends more time with Iakovos, and after Alexandros’ father died, they rarely spoke about anything except for the song he kept hearing.
Iakovos continued to whisper loudly to Damianos Jr. “Hey, look, he’ll be fine. He’s got a date with, you know… Ms. Thumb and the four daughters.”
Alexandros clenched his jaw, constraining anything he’d later regret, while he heard Iakovos’ laugh and the interjections of pity from the girls.
He continued to polish, feeling the gloom of the darkening sky getting to him. As he glanced over the foaming waves, something caught his eye. He rushed to the bow.
And there she was.
The dark-haired girl was floating far out at sea, only she didn’t seem as chipper. As soon as Alexandros saw the girl’s melancholic visage, she was consumed by the fog. He immediately hopped out onto the dock and raced after Damianos Jr. He ran and shoved others out of his way, until he spotted them from a few yards approaching the entrance of the market.
“Damianos!” Alexandros called out.
The group of them turned around, Iakovos’ face turning sour at the sight of the breathy scrawny boy.
“What happened?” Damianos Jr. asked almost flatly. It seemed if he’s trying to obscure his concerned tone. His brows and the corners of his lips downturned.
Alexandros caught up with them through the crowd.
“Damianos.” Alexandros said panting a little, “the girl, the one that sings, and… she’s too far. I think she’s in danger.”
Damianos’ lips pressed into a hard line, giving Alexandros of a look of pity. Iakovos let a laugh slip out and whispered something possibly funny to the young women. They responded with giggles. Damianos Jr. and Alexandros were silent, Damianos Jr’s face was frozen. Alexandros’ eyes widened in disbelief.
“Some friend...” Alexandros muttered under his breath. He ran back to the wharf, alone. Undoing the knot to one of the small boats tied to the dock, he pushed it into the ocean. He grabbed the oars and rowed with all his strength, venturing deep into the wall of fog.
Soon, he was enveloped by it, but that didn’t matter. What mattered was finding her, safe and sound.
“Hey!” he shouted. He couldn’t call her out by name, but he hoped that she would follow the sound of his voice.
He called for her again and again, yet to no avail. Nothing appeared from the mysterious fog, only the sound of waves passing around bobbing the boat. The clatter from the oars startled him, so he looked down -- his hands were shaking. The adrenaline had blinded him, he realized. He put himself in real danger, and all this for someone he believed he’d seen. What if it was all in my imagination?... What if she was never there to begin with, and now, I’m stranded... here? He began to hear another sound, the sound of his heart beating hard like a drum. His instincts kicked in and he turned the boat to the direction from which he came.
He rowed faster than he ever thought he could, feeling the muscles in his arm become tense. But, the fog didn’t become any clearer. He turned to his left, and went until his arms cramped. But the wall of fog was dense and immobile. The thickness of it began to affect his breathing, and pulled the oars back into the boat for good measure. The drumbeat pulsed in his ears, growing louder every minute. His breathing began to match the tempo of the drum in his chest, and soon after he felt his own soul sink from the desperate rhythms.
Several horrifying scenes sped past his mind’s eyes as he sat still in the boat.
He felt a tug towards a direction and soft hum ringed in his ears. The lilt of the familiar tune was unmistakable.
Is that her? … It has to be. He inhaled deeply, and released his breathe. Now wasn’t the time to be losing his mind. There was someone he needed to find.
In the opaque air, he picked his own north, praying to the gods that it was the right one. He called out to her, coughing from the dense air. He went onward, unaware of the time and place, just the tension in his muscles and the stickiness of his skin.
What seems like hours go by. His voice was getting hoarse from calling out. He took several breaks because his arms and spine were weary. He didn’t seem to be getting any closer to her. He tried not to focus on what could’ve happened, that perhaps she laid somewhere on the ocean floor like his father. He didn’t want to focus on it. However, as time went on, the impossibility felt like a probability.
Soon, he stopped rowing. He felt his hopelessness sink deeper into his chest, and started to believe it was best he succumbed to what was coming for him, too. He sat there in the boat for a while then laid in it, turning to his side and sobbed. He didn’t know what he did wrong to conceive his father’s fate.
He laid there, allowing the boat to be carried by the waves, letting destiny run its course. Just as Alexandros thought he had no will left, he felt himself getting warmer. He wiped the tears from his eyes, and noticed the fog becoming more translucent.
Am I dreaming? What is this?
As the fog thinned, the shadow of a large entity emerged from the fog. The shadow slowly materialized as the dark mouth of a sea cave. The sun gleamed onto the stone in the sea cave. A white sandy beach was a league away. It took him a moment to take in the warmth and light from the sun and the sound of waves crashing against the rocks. Then it struck him that he wasn’t home, nor did he really understand where home was. He looked at the the abyssal fog and quickly concluded that it would not be clearing anytime soon. He had to find someone to tell him where he was. He decided to make his way to the shore until a hand burst out the water and grabbed his wrist.
Alexandros swung the other oar at the assailant, yet the oar hit the water and slipped from his hand. There didn’t seem to be anything in the water nor a person in sight. Completely soaked, now he’s missing an oar all because of his paranoia. He sucked his teeth and began to paddle with his right oar and left hand.
“Wait!” A light female voice called to him. He turned to the sound of the voice with his oar in hand. He looked at her face in disbelief. A dark-haired girl offered him his oar, and he cautiously took it. He found her.
“You spoke...” he whispered.
“And you listened,” she said.
“I thought you were dead,” he said.
“How did you find me, fisherman? The fog is too thick for anyone to see,” she said, laying back in the water.
“I thought I was going to parish, and yet the current drift me to this place… to you,” he said with a grin, and she mirrored him just the same.
“You’re very brave, fisherman.”
“Alexandros. My name is Alexandros,” he blustered.
“I am Calauria.” There was a longing silence between them, but Alexandros couldn’t help but ask his burning question.
“I saw you go into the fog with this look of worry, and I thought you would surely take your own life. How did you make it here? I don’t see anything left of Petritis.” The beaches weren’t the same as Petritis; he’d surely drifted far from home.
Calauria twirled her jet-colored hair in her fingers and breathed a melancholic sigh.
“I’m not sure how I made it to this side either. But,” her face brightened. “I suppose you could say I had an instinct I’d find my way back home.”
“I’m glad,” he said with a sheepish grin. “Though I felt like I was led here.” He felt insane saying it, but he definitely didn’t wish to be in the middle of nowhere.
Calauria pulled the edge of the boat, making Alexandros roll over and grab to keep the edge.
“Woah! Be careful there,” he chuckled.
“Sorry, I got a little excited. I was thinking… since I’m home...would you like to meet my sisters, Alexandros?” she said, her eyes wide with anticipation.
His eyes met hers, but then they began to wander and noticed something strange. Her skin was gleaming, but the inflections of blue and gold in her hands and shoulders couldn’t be from the water. They wandered to her hands, and her fingers were webbed together.
“They would love to meet someone like you,” she purred.
He felt fear spark in his heart and felt his voice tremble when he said “No, they can’t be real...”
Calauria’s smile spread wide across her face, revealing two rows of pointed teeth. Alexandros lifted the oar and struck her neck with it. As she screeched in pain, she released the boat. He rowed with one oar and his hand, traversing away from the ghoulish siren, yet three more of similar likeness to Calauria surrounded the boat.
“Too late, fisherman,” one of them warned.
All three dove into the water, swimming with great alacrity to their prey.
He felt the boat jostle underneath, so he stabbed the water with his oar.
“Leave me be!” he plead.
Alexandros felt the boat shift beneath his feet, slowly going sideways. The boat buoyed on its side with him gripping the edge.
“No, please! Let me go!” he shouted to the dark sea. The faint sound of laughter sounded.
He plunged into chaos, the bubbles and foam forming a wall on his vision. He swam up for air, coughing up the excess water. He still gripped his oar like it was his last life line. A wicked laugh echoed out of… nowhere. Alexandros looked around frantically, without a single siren in sight.
“Silly boy… Silly Alexandros,” Calauria’s voice was thickly coated in malice. He persisted to swim to the sandy shore, yet a dark shadow in the water sped before him. He turned back, swimming towards the other direction, but another shadow flanked him -- he was nowhere else to go. As the two sirens approached him deliberately, he felt something wrap around his feet. Before he could scream, he was pulled under. He thrashed in the water, feeling the oar being ripped out of his hands. Another set of hands grabbed the side of his head.
Alexandros tried to shake off the siren but his limbs began to go numb. The more he clawed her arms, the more he succumbed to her spell. A melody began to play, a siren song so sweet and silvery, it could have made war-hardened men cry.
So this is your song? Your net?...
Needle points of light speckled the darkness behind his eyelids. The siren took him into her chest, and he did not contest. How could he when his body was still. He continued to sink like a chained anchor.
What...is wrong with me? I can’t even see...
“Father….why?” are what escaped his lips before his mind was lulled to silence.