A youngish man in an oilskin coat scratched his red beard and leaned on the railing of the lighthouse – his lighthouse, with black ivy crawling up the whitewashed sides. Dark clouds quilted the sky out across the ocean, and the waves chopped and slashed at the air like cleavers. A whistle rose in his throat; a haunting whistle that mixed with the beginnings of the tempest and fell like a stone into the water. The water shot him a smile and a wink, sending lightning down his backbone.
“What...?” He squinted out at the shape of a woman, blue and dark as the sea around her. She flipped up over a wave and landed on it as if it were solid ground, wiggling her fingers in a coy greeting just before the wave smashed into a particularly jagged rock and she disappeared in a puff of green smoke. Gordy spun on his booted heel and yanked the door open, muttering to himself.
As he ran down the spiraling stairs lining the wall of the lighthouse, he gritted his teeth and jammed his pointer finger against the rough mortar. It sparked before leaving a small streak of blood on the wall. Gordy yelped, whistled a few notes to encourage the spell, and forced his finger against the wall again, dragging it sharply. He flicked his wrist, gave a little hoot at the tiny orange flame, whistled it bigger and brighter until it consumed his fist, and raced out into the cozy apartment at the base of the lighthouse. He punched his fistful of fire into a large lantern, knocking over a large pile of books and herbs in his hurry. The green smoke on the rocks would wait for no one, and with this wind, Gordy was fast running out of time.
Gordy slapped the blue door open, careful not the chip the paint he’d hummed “safe home” into and bolted towards the last wisps of smoke on the rocks.
“Hey!” He shouted at the smoke. “Can you still hear me?” The smoke floated up and spun. “Siren, I need your help!” A few of the wisps pushed together to form a big, dark pair of eyes and a smirk. She winked at him again and whirled backwards into the sea.
“Siren!” Gordy’s voice rasped; he snorted in frustration. “Burned my hand to be taunted. Stupid.” He trudged back to his little home, righted the tomes that had been scattered across the floor, and sullenly went to bed, though it was only seven o’clock. Visions of dark green-blue women with draping seaweed dresses flipped and spun in his head, each woman: the hearts sirens rarely used. He rolled over and huffed.
Less than a mile away in the small town next to the port, a woman screamed and was suddenly silenced. Gordy shivered in his sleep.
A Monster turned from his handiwork and began to seek shelter. Amid a town with so many superstitious people, one would think it’d be easier to find a house with a proper safe home spell. He thrust his webby hand into the tangle of magic, feeling for the warmth of a fire and food, and caught onto the wisp of a man named Gordy. The Monster smiled and began to walk.
The market stalls had been open for an hour, but the street was empty except for the fishermen and the one magic-wares merchant that had bothered to stop in Midbay. Gordy beelined for Cobb’s stall and leaned against a post.
“Where is everyone?” he asked. Cobb spun around, fillet knife raised. Seeing it was a friend, he chuckled humorlessly and went back to gutting his catch for the day.
“Ah, did you not hear Mrs. Pratchett go last night?” Cobb said, slicing a mackerel a little too violently.
Cobb raised his thick eyebrows.“Dead, Gordy. Some says she was to be taken, and she put up too much of a fight. I don’t believe that, you and me know she was just about afraid of anything.” He chopped another fish’s head off, and a bucket floated up to catch it excitedly. “No, she was murdered, I believe.”
“Why? Her blood, of course! Everyone here knows she’s a full goblin, even if she don’t look it. That woman made the best soup, and she’s on her third husband! Never ran away from the other two neither, she outlived them right. A magic woman if I ever saw one.” Cobb sighed and looked at Gordy. “Someone needed gob blood, and she sure wouldn’t give it to them willingly.”
“I don’t know many folk that would.” Gordy mumbled. “A crying shame about the lady. She was kind.”
“You best watch yourself, Gordy. You could be next.”
“Me? Cobb, I’m nothing special,” he said slowly.
“You’re the only real wizard we got though. Anyone willing to kill for one ingredient is bound to be on the hunt for more, and they’ll fight for it. You got all kinds of things in that lighthouse.”
Gordy played with his beard and wrinkled his nose. “Not what I need though. I almost talked to a siren about it yesterday. She poofed before I could reach her.”
Cobb frowned. “A siren isn’t something to mess with, Gordy. They’re just about gone, so if you saw one, she’s desperate. She’ll eat you like a meat pie.” Chop. Plunk. Another head in the bucket. “And on top of that, you aren’t exactly…well, strong. In destructive spells, anyway. That little whistle thing won’t cut it in a fight.” Cobb wiped his gutty hands on his apron and folded his arms. “Look, bud. There’s other mediums to magic. Why don’t you try some, I dunno, opera?”
“What, can you imagine me defending myself with an aria?” Gordy laughed. “I’ll be fine! It’s not like there’s anything wrong with a little chat with a siren. Just need something from her is all.” He turned to walk back to the lighthouse, running his hand along the magic he’d woven throughout the town. His fingers found the wisp that led home. His heartbeat quickened. A length of the wisp had turned a sticky red.
“Whatcha looking for?”
“Oh, nothing,” Gordy lied.
Gordy kept the wisp pinched between his fingers the whole walk home. His ears perked at every sound. Someone – or something – was looking for him, and it meant to kill him, probably like it had killed Mrs. Pratchett. He gripped the knife in the pocket of his oilskin. Its heft provided little comfort, but he marched on. As long as whoever it was didn’t know his full name, he was safe. The lighthouse at the top of the hill stood white with its black ivy. His head jerked towards the small splash by the tide pools. On the sharp rocks sat a blue-green woman in a seaweed gown, lounging as if on down pillows.
She was beautiful, there was no denying that. But Gordy was relieved to realize he felt no pull to drown himself in the sea. Probably because she hasn’t sung at me, he thought. The siren blinked her wide black eyes at him and smiled with teeth that were just a little too long and a little too sharp.
“Hiya, kiddo. You called?” Her eyes flicked over him. “You’re not human, are you?”
“Who wants to know?”
The siren squinted at his red beard, ignoring the question. “Selkie? What’s a seal like you doing on land?”
“Oh, everyone with red hair and a coat’s a selkie?” Gordy snapped, one hand still on the wisp of spell. “Look, I need to make a deal with you, but it’s not safe out here.”
“No, no you ARE a selkie.” Is she listening to me at all? Gordy huffed. “All right, kid,” the siren continued. “You’re a little rude. But I’ll forgive that. Its been too long since someone’s tried to barter. What do you want?” Gordy hesitated. How did one ask a woman for something her kind never used, but nevertheless would very much want to keep?
“. . .I suppose I want your heart?” It came out more like a question than he meant it to, and his voice cracked unexpectedly. The large man felt his face flush as the siren laughed.
“Oh? That isn’t something I give for free, Selkie.” She looked at his red face, and he watched as her tongue flicked against her teeth. “I’ll trade it. For the coat.” The color left his face as quickly as it came.
“I can’t give you that,” he said. “I need your heart to make it work again. I miss the sea, it’s the only way for me to go back! Please, I’ll trade you anything else but my oilskin!” The siren shook her black-green locks and stood, stretching her foot out to step on top of a passing wave.
“No deal, then. Goodbye, Selkie.”
“Wait, please! I have stardust in the house!” He shouted after her, but the siren rode away on the water. He sang a few short notes after her, trying to grab ahold of her wisp of magic, anything to pull her back. He caught the tail end of it, but the wisp was only substantial enough for him to get her name before it snapped off and blew away. Levinia. He could have sworn she had yanked it out of his hand.
“A magic woman has been killed here!” he called out to the sea. It gave him no indication of her listening, but he might as well try to warn her. “Be safe, Levinia!” One black eye peered at him from the next wave. It glared at him, as if to say, “Why do YOU care?” then winked and disappeared.
Gordy kicked a rock into the sea in frustration. The safe home spell had gotten redder, and slimier. He hurried into his lighthouse and locked the door behind him. Gordy couldn’t help but cry, just a little. With no siren’s heart, there was no known way for him to return to the sea where he belonged. His discouragement would have to be put on hold for now, though. Gordy allowed himself only a moment’s grief before digging through the stack of tomes. He wiped off a yellow leather book and turned to a dogeared page that was covered in ink. He’d pulled the safe home spell from the bunch and reinforced it with everything he could think of, including the precious stardust.
He’d been struggling to coax a feathered newt out of a jar and onto the spell when a wail split through the air. The sound drilled into his head. Gordy dropped the newt and grabbed a bag of gunpowder. The wail cut off into a gurgle; the Monster had found someone else before Gordy.
Outside, twenty feet away from the tide pools was a ghastly sight. The Monster that had killed poor Mrs. Pratchett held Levinia up by her thin neck, her feet kicking the air. Gordy watched in horror as the Monster’s nails parted the Siren’s skin like water and pulled out a large pearl, the size of a walnut. The blue skin closed up as if it never had been parted.
Gordy hadn’t even felt his legs sprinting him down the hill towards Levinia and the creature, he hadn’t even realized he was singing. His fingertips slid across the surface of the rough rock and burst into flames, and he grabbed the creature’s wrists with his burning hands. Levinia and her heart fell to the ground where she lay wheezing. The creature screamed, wrenching his charred arm free, and Gordy’s blood ran cold.
Cobb’s skin was a sickly, slippery green; his eyes bugged out of his head, but the face was his, the magic wisp was his. The fisherman swung his arm at Gordy and croaked, Levinia’s heart clutched in his webby hand. Gordy ducked. The little bag of gunpowder opened with a hum and emptied its contents into Cobb’s froggy eyes. Cobb screeched and shook his head frantically, dropping the heart. Gordy scooped up Levinia, along with her heart, and sprinted up towards the lighthouse.
The door slammed behind the pair, the deadbolt chunked into place, and the siren and the selkie both gasped for air.
“Will that door hold?” Levinia coughed. “He’s very determined.”
“I think that’s a bit of an understatement,” Gordy laughed in spite of himself. Levinia raised a blue eyebrow. “It’ll do more than hold,” he said hurriedly. “We’re in the safest place on the coast. You can see the ivy if you look over the top. I don’t want to, though.”
A thud on the door made the siren jump. There was a shuffling noise, a strangled croak, and then nothing but the ocean crashing against the rocky shore.
“Here,” Levinia said over her cup of tea. Gordy looked up from the book he’d been reading. Her small, damp hand held out the heart. “You did save me from becoming parts in some merchant’s stock. I’ve never used it before, anyway.”
“. . .Do you really not want it?” he asked.
Levinia blushed. “I’m asking you to have it.” Gordy accepted the pearl and put it in the inner pocket of his oilskin coat, over his own heart. It glowed faintly, and fine hairs sprouted from the sleeves and back until the whole coat was soft and smooth as a seal. Gordy grinned, wrapping Levinia in a hug.
The siren patted the selkie’s back awkwardly. After all, she’d never used her heart before.
A young boy insisted that he’d seen a massive frog heading towards the wizard’s lighthouse. Upon investigation, the town’s police found nothing but a particularly large bundle of black ivy that grew straight into the ground next to the door. Some project of Gordy’s, they agreed, and he’d better run along and quite causing trouble. The young boy kicked at pebbles as he walked away, disappointed. A song from the ocean caught his ear. He looked up. Out in the waves, a large reddish seal darted over the crest, and next to it, a blue woman in a seaweed gown laughed.