This story is by Sage M. Kahn and was part of our 2018 Fall Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
She woke on her bed of bones and ashes to the sound of madness. Blood. Death. The ravaged mutterings of a lost magic tore through her, but it was the small whisper of truth that ultimately pulled Ixtha from her sleep. The smell of salt, a yellow brightness that spoke of the sun, and, finally, delightfully, the sharp tang of iron that could only be the scent of man.
The chain of islands jutted from the sea like broken teeth, beckoning Trevor closer. Finally made it, he thought, tapping on the boat’s rail, but which island to try first… He consulted a hand-drawn map, fingers tracing the cryptic notes before raising his binoculars for a closer look. The largest island looked mysterious enough — a narrow spit of sand pounded relentlessly by waves, with blackened cliffs piercing the sky. He would start there and hope he didn’t have to search each one.
Years of research, months of planning, weeks of travel, all led to this moment, his moment. Mouth cracking in a triumphant grin, he surveyed the island again. A small inlet to the south revealed a strip of black sand where the waves seemed calmer. Turning, he signaled where he wanted to land. The sailor, a Greek youth barely old enough to be called a man, dutifully untied ropes, lowered the sails and started the motor. They angled towards the bay, slowing once the jagged cliffs loomed high above them.
“Eínai óra,” the youth shouted, as he cut the engine. Trevor waited for the next wave to pull them a bit closer then tossed the anchor overboard.
Bones crunched, bitting into her feet; her blood feeding long-dead souls as she climbed. For years Ixtha had wandered in darkness, like a wraith. But the chance of sharing her exile with another soul was too tempting to ignore. Ixtha stepped over the bones of her sisters, their moldering wings wrapped around them like shrouds. She pulled her own wings closer, feathers scraping rough stone, and crept towards the light.
She has to be here, Trevor thought, as he prepared his gear, all the evidence points to this location. He glanced at the sailor. The boy was busy fastening what looked like iron manacles to the mast and clamping them around his wrists.
“What the hell!” Trevor stormed over and yanked at the chains, trying to get the damn things off so the boy could help him get to shore. After a moment he gave up, pulling a pair of earplugs from his pocket and offering them to the boy, who only shook his head and turned back to stare at the island. Nodding once, the boy pulled out a strip of cloth and wrapped it around his head, covering his eyes completely. Trevor sighed, Well, I’m gonna call that confirmation that this is the right place.
He pulled out a metal case and removed two delicate earbuds, carefully fitting one into each ear, their silver gleam hidden beneath his hair. Specially designed glasses were next. Finally, he strapped a knife to his belt, positioning it next to the waterproof pouch containing his other supplies.
“I’m going ashore,” Trevor called to the sailor, his voice sounding oddly modulated through the earbuds. “Don’t leave without me.”
Ixtha lurked in the shadows, watching the boat. Two men, their blood rich and sharp in her nose. One growing closer. He tore himself from the waves and fell onto the shore. No fear on his face, foolish man. Both fear and deepest ecstasy would fill his veins before they emptied into the sea.
Black sand clung to him, sharp and gritty, working its way beneath his clothes. Standing up Trevor readjusted his glasses, glad they’d stayed in place during his struggle through the waves. A sudden chill gripped him, a wrongness filling his veins. The feeling grew — he tried to shake it off, to impose the cold calculation that served him so well. Movement in the shadows caught his eye and a woman stepped forward, her tall form blanketed in a cloak rich with the absence of light. She spread her arms wide, the robe falling away. Only it wasn’t a cloak, but a mass of inky feathers, stretching up and out, her wingspan impossibly wide. His heart soared, watching as years of research and faith coalesced into flesh. Long and lithe, she seemed a goddess made flesh, beautiful and unearthly in her perfection. Hungrily his fingers fumbled for his camera. As he watched, her form shifted. Her hands morphed briefly into hooked talons, teeth grew long and very sharp, spine lengthened, twisting — her guise changed from angel to monster within the space of a breath. Fingers shaking, his camera dropped to the sand and Trevor threw himself backward towards the sea.
Ixtha felt her control waver — the man was about to flee. With a deep breath she opened her mouth. Finding the man’s desire, she fed it back to him in song. Her voice, soft at first, slowly grew louder, until centuries of loneliness became a resonant howl. The boy on the boat writhed. The man before her, her prey, her could-be savior, dropped to his knees and began to crawl forward, body quaking with the longing she fed him.
Trevor listened helplessly, the song rich in his ears. Breathtakingly beautiful again, her eyes burned into him, calling him onward. He needed to touch her, to feel that she was real. She watched him calmly — wasn’t afraid of him at all. And why should she be? She stood there, as beautiful and terrible as the sea, her voice calling the might of the ages down upon him. Trevor wondered briefly how the sailor fared, without earplugs to protect him, though his foresight to bind his hands and eyes might well have saved his life. Inches from the creature’s feet, he reached out, his trembling hand trailing lightly along her calf. Her honeyed skin, smooth and supple beneath his touch, was only flesh, as delicate as his own. He bravely considered the knife by his side, the bag of tools in his pouch. She was perfection, and he had the audacity to think he could subdue her? That he could tame this creature for earthly profit? Trevor wondered what madness made him think he could set foot on this island and survive. He gathered a tendril of resolve, all the while cursing himself for a fool.
Ixtha let her song fade. The silence stretched around them, even the wind seeming to soften. She hungered for blood, her teeth and her bones crying out for sustenance. But her soul demanded more. Slaughtering this man to sate her hunger would leave her empty, alone. She appraised him, his body steady beneath her gaze. He hadn’t gone mad from her siren’s song, could look upon her without crying out in pain. Perhaps he would make a sufficient mate — until he could no longer bear the honor.
“Rise,” she sang, “Rise and be mine.”
Trevor stood slowly; his legs no longer trembled now that the moment was finally upon him. Though she likely couldn’t see through his mirrored glasses, he schooled his gaze into mindless adoration.
“My lady,” he whispered, leaning into her. Arms snaked around him, wings wrapping him in velvety darkness, the touch of her lips setting him aflame. She kissed him desperately, roughly, until blood trickled down his chin. He fed her hunger, twisting one hand into her hair, the other sliding carefully to his pouch.
Ixtha tasted his blood, felt his skin warm and strong, nearly sighing from the release. Alone. She’d been so alone, and now to have this companion, this pet. Something approximating happiness welled up inside her.
Trevor pulled out the hypo and brought his hand up, caressing the length of her spine. He found the soft ridge where feathers bloomed. He pet her wing gently, then jammed the syringe through feathers and skin, deep into her spine. She shuttered, and he pulled his mouth away before her teeth could do more damage. Eyes glazed, she slumped to the sand. Trevor bound her quickly with steel handcuffs and strong rope. He gagged her, triple checking the knots. He nearly removed his earbuds, then thought better of it and left them in place. He shouted to the boy, who tentatively removed his blindfold, then his chains. Shaking his head in disbelief the sailor crossed himself, but dutifully hopped overboard and headed for shore. Trevor waited, the treasure of a lifetime trussed by his side.
Ixtha woke to the sound of madness. Voices murmured outside her room, as they had every morning since her capture. Onlookers filed by, led by her captor, thick layers of dark glass protecting the minds of the curious from her voice and eyes. She watched him, the man she’d hoped to claim. He smiled as their eyes met, his triumph cutting her like a knife. She began to sing softly, sweet sounds of sorrow blanketed by her cage.