This story is by Paige Pennebaker and was part of our 2018 Fall Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
The bar, smoky as usual, is lit by various cigarettes and pipes around the room. A group of men sit together, their conversation found in their drinks rather than each other. They’re always like that. Other red-faced patrons are scattered about, some already lost in the booze, others not quite there.
The Magic Cap, a small bar on the sands of Wilmington, is occupied by men in their late twenties-to-early forties. Sometimes there are women, our eyes connecting in acknowledgment of our presence. The bar isn’t particularly good by many standards, so it’s weird that they’re always here.
I make my way past the pool table to sit in my spot at the counter. It’s the perfect spot in the whole place. I can see the stage without any obstruction, have easy access to more drinks, and the bartender is a perk.
I swear to you, Serena Lynch is a girl after my own heart. She’s one of three sisters that work at The Magic Cap. Their family owns the place, Irish immigrants wanting to find new opportunities. I love when Serena talks to me, her accent a pleasure to listen to. It caresses me the way I wish her pale, slender fingers would caress my cheek. The same fingers that graze mine when she hands me my glass.
And she was clever. Fitting into the stereotype of an Irish woman, Serena’s hair is as fiery as her temper. Patrons would ask, as drunks would, if the carpets match the drapes. She’d smile – lordy, how I love her smile – and tell them that no man shall ever know. The first few times that I witnessed it happen she would turn and wink at me. I admire her ability to so calmly handle these people.
I haven’t seen Serena since I sat down at the counter. Her eldest sister, Cordelia, is setting up the stage. The sisters, Cordelia and Shannon, sing every evening. I don’t know how it started or why, but they’ve been singing for a while from what the other patrons say.
The first time I came here, I walked into the bar looking for a bathroom. Cordelia was doing her set. She was a sight. Perched on a stool, her toned legs crossed at the knees, her skirt riding up to show a desirable amount of skin. The lights gave her a golden aura, making her stand out in the dark. Cordelia’s voice was as angelic as her appearance. She sang of love and happiness and the kinds of things that last forever. Her eyes blue as ice swept over the room and landed on me. I was frozen.
I don’t remember sitting down. I stayed for hours, listening to Cordelia and then Shannon. Their voices were lovely. Just the right amount of huskiness to them, lilting pleasantly yet sultry. I thought I had been in love before but this…this was an awakening. Serena tapped me out of the trance I was in and I immediately fell in love all over again. She looked just like her sisters but, somehow, more beautiful. I stammered out my order and she flashed a smile that made my gut clench. I kept coming back, not just to listen to her sisters sing, but to see Serena.
I still haven’t seen Serena. I look around the room and behind the counter to see if maybe I just missed her. She’s not anywhere. Frowning, I turn my attention to my second favorite sister and allow myself to relax.
“He wasn’t the one, mom. I’m sorry,” Serena hisses behind me as she comes through the kitchen doors an hour into Cordelia’s set. Her mother follows closely, stopping when she notices I’ve turned around to watch them. They share a heated look before her mother retreats to the kitchen once more. Serena sighs. Her jaw clenches as she pours drinks for the few people at the counter.
“Hey, are you alright?” She avoids my eyes when she gets to me.
“Yeah, just a bloke thing. Mom isn’t happy that it didn’t work out….” Serena sighs again, lips pursed in thought. “What can I get for you tonight, Amari?”
“Just whatever’s on tap’s fine,” I study her as she pours the amber liquid into a mug. She brings it over and I catch her hand before she leaves. “I’m not sure what happened, but I know that anyone would be lucky to call you theirs,” I offer her a small smile then turn back to the stage. Lord knows what possessed me to say that but I feel good that I did. Serena deserves to know how great she is.
Shannon finishes her song and slinks off stage. I don’t recall Cordelia finishing her set and Shannon coming on. I swivel to rest my elbows on the countertop, watching Serena’s back as she cleans the glasses and replaces them on the rack.
“Do you wanta go down to the beach with me, Amari?”
It dawns suddenly that she’s talking to me. “Right now?”
“No, yesterday,” She glances over her shoulder to smirk at me. “Yes, now. I don’t wanta be going home when we close and you don’t seem to be in a hurry.” Serena faces me, her arms crossing over her chest. “So, do you wanta go down to the beach with me right now?”
I’m lying naked on the sand next to Serena after a round of sex. She’s sitting, her knees tucked close to her chin. We’ve been coming to the beach after her shift at The Magic Cap for a few months now.
“Why don’t you sing?”
“I’m not good at it,” She replies simply.
“What do you mean, not good at it? You said your whole family can sing, what makes you different?” I prop myself up on my elbow to look at her. She smiles then shifts her gaze to the water, rocking with the waves.
“I’m really not good at it. I sound so horrible. Cor always makes fun of me, saying no man will ever love a voice like a dying cow.”
“Good thing I’m not a man then, huh,” I grin. “Sing for me, babe.”
“No!” Serena laughs and shakes her head. “I’m telling you, Amari, I sound horrible.”
“Please, I promise I won’t laugh too much. Just a couple of words! I’ll never ask again.”
She studies me for a moment. “Just a coupla words, and nothing more!” I nod encouragingly. Serena takes a deep breath and sings.
I realize two things, the first being Serena definitely isn’t a liar. She is bad in every musical sense. The second thing I realize is I love her inability to sing.
Serena stops. I’m at a loss for words. She stands, the sand spraying me in the face as she storms off.
I scramble after her. “Come back! It wasn’t that bad. I loved it!” I catch her arm. She spins to face me.
“Say it again.”
“I love your singing. I love everything about you.” I inhale sharply. “I love you.”
She kisses me. Her mouth on mine, moving with a passion I’ve never encountered. Suddenly we’re in the sand, the grains getting into every space we weren’t already occupying.
“Let’s wash the sand off,” Serena murmurs against my chest.
I let her pull me off the ground and lead me to the water. She dives in as soon as she can, her naked form slipping under with ease. I take my time, the water creeping over my skin. Serena’s head surfaces several feet in front of me.
“Have you ever heard how sirens get their powers?”
“Nope. Enlighten me.”
“Sirens are just mermaids without their voice. That’s how they all start out.” She swims closer. “They earn their voices by winning a heart of man. The love of the mortal must be won with her natural gifts. Once she has that, she eats their heart.”
Serena is close now, and I feel something slimy brush against my legs. I jump away but she pulls me back. My stomach twists as I feel the slimy thing again, connecting the dots.
“Don’t be scared, Amari. You won’t hurt long,” She smiles coldly at me, her teeth jagged and sharp. “Thanks for loving me.” Serena’s grip on me tightens. Diving under with me in tow, she takes us deep into the sea. My lungs scream as I fight against her.
Serena surfaces but there’s no land in sight. My vision is dark around the edges. She traces her fingertips over my cheek down to my chest, right above my heart. Her talons pierce my flesh. Blood runs hot over my skin as she digs deeper. One jab gets her where she wants. My heart is torn from my chest.
I’m losing myself rapidly, the coldness of death sinking in. I watch as Serena devours my heart, the sickening squelch filling my ears.
And then I’m at peace, a sweet melody leading me to oblivion.