Blood Melody by Tiffany Michelle Brown
The seas, which chopped and foamed and frothed, mirrored the unrest in Layla’s belly. It had been two weeks since a ship had sailed through her territory, the rough waters inspiring captains to order detour after detour. Layla gazed at the empty horizon and willed the angry line to stop dancing, to smooth out for safe passage.
When she grew tired of staring at that which she couldn’t change, Layla’s gaze dropped to her tail. The sight of it made her close her eyes and wince. Her scales had started to slough, peeling back like weathered, neglected paint. A tuft of her hair — the color of fire — floated in the water nearby. The lack of human sinew and marrow in her blood was making her body break down. And she was hungry — so hungry it made every inch of her insides burn.
Layla draped her body across the rock, hanging upside down so her scalp could skim the top of the cool water. She folded her hands on her stomach and stared up at the gray, fuming sky and concentrated on the feeling of the tide pulling her hair to and fro. Her brain cooled, the rumbling in her stomach lessoned, and she slipped into a dream world of shipwrecks and sirens.
She dreamed of him often — the siren responsible for turning her. She dreamed of skin flawless as chiseled marble and a touch that was smooth yet ruthless — like the winds that whipped the ocean into frenzy at night. His song was like pressing a conch shell to your ear, but sweeter; every spectrum of noise and color opened up and crashed upon you. Layla never could have imagined he’d have teeth that cut like knives.
A gull cawed and Layla awakened, startled. She pulled herself up on the rock and hissed at the bird circling overhead. As the gull flew away, her focus settled again on the dark horizon, but this time it wasn’t empty. A ship floundered on the waves in the distance, its sails billowing, the bow cutting a jagged line through the surf. Layla’s nostrils flared at the prospect of warm blood. She licked her lips, dove into the water, and began to swim.
• • •
Layla floated near the rudder of the ship as distorted echoes of footsteps on deck moved through the water around her. It was a larger crew than usual. Their collective scent made it hard for her to concentrate, but Layla waited in the murky water, fighting the tide, until she was certain that the majority of the crew was tucked away in the hull. Fewer men on deck meant fewer witnesses. They’d blame the weather.
Layla felt the first strains of a song bloom in her stomach like dark ink. When she opened her mouth, the notes poured forth like curly smoke, snaking from the rudders of the ship toward the water’s surface in trails of red, pink, and gold. Though she couldn’t see beyond the glass of the surface, Layla knew what would happen next.
One of the men on deck would hear the strains of her song — a tune that was both beautiful and oddly familiar. He’d started to feel warm and lightheaded and deliriously happy as if he’d had a little too much to drink. He’d stumble toward the railing of the ship. There, the song would wrap around him, loving arms that pulsed with heat and slinked over his skin like silk. The song would tug him gently toward the railing and whisper that the water looked like paradise. And then he would see her floating in the water, lit up like a firecracker, and it would be done.
Layla broke the surface as the song reached a crescendo, its colorful tentacles ensnaring her prey. She gazed up the side of the ship at a young man with a pointed chin, strong shoulders, and eyes the color of coffee beans. His brown hair, pulled back in a ponytail at the nape of his neck, looked as if it were about whip off in the wind. Of course, the man didn’t notice. First, he stared down at the sea, then at Layla. She smiled at him and gestured for him to come to her.
The man nodded drunkenly, and a few moments later, he plunged into the water. Layla wrapped her arms around the man, who hung limp in her arms. She smashed her mouth against his, breathing precious oxygen into his lungs. Though her body was weak, Layla fluttered her tail and swam away from the ship, the taste of her prey hanging precariously on her lips.
• • •
Layla’s shoulders cramped, and she was out of breath. With a final heave, she hoisted the man onto the sand and then lay beside him, gasping. The man’s eyes rolled listlessly back and forth in their sockets. Layla knew he’d remain woozy from the spell for a few more minutes, enough time for her to gain her composure and muster up the strength to dispatch him properly.
She was staring up at the gray sky, nearly recovered from her swim when she felt his eyes burn into her. Layla let her cheek fall to the sand and met the man’s gaze. He studied her, his eyes darting across her face. He opened his mouth, but nothing came out. Layla suspected the man was going into shock. She’d better get on with it. She pushed herself onto her elbows.
“I ... know you.”
Layla froze. Her prey usually didn’t talk to her. If they did, it consisted of screaming and begging — hysterical fits to prove they wanted to live.
Layla looked over her shoulder. The man was trying to get up. She slapped a hand on his chest and forced him back down. Her eyes bored into his and he looked ... terrified. But it was fear laced with knowing.
The man began to sing: “Juliana, Juliana, where do you go? Ah ha, me London Julie ... ”
Layla’s grip softened as she listened to the lyrics.
“Juliana, Juliana, where do you go? Ah ha, me London Julie ... ”
She’d heard the song before — and not just from the decks of ships at sea. She’d heard the tune from this man’s lips before.
“Around Cape Horn ... ice and snow,” the man managed, “but around Cape Horn we’ve got to go ... ”
And then, “Lucy.”
She was wearing her sailing dress, blue and white-striped cotton that flared at her waist. In the wind, she had to hold her skirt down so it wouldn’t fly up. She held his hand.
His name was Jonathan and she loved the way his arms fit around her. They sailed often, daydreaming about visiting foreign lands together, always pointing at the distant horizon and talking about the future.
Jonathan, the son of a captain, would sing the lyrics of old sea shanties to her — “The Bonny Ship the Diamond” and “Spanish Ladies,” but her favorite was “Juliana.” Of course, Jonathan changed the name to “Lucy” anytime he sang it to her.
On this particular trip, they were talking about India. Lucy wanted to learn traditional dance steps. Jonathan wanted to try the curry. They both wanted to run away together.
She said she was chilly, so Jonathan went to get her some tea.
That’s when it happened.
She heard a song, a soft tinkling at first that graduated into a hypnotic melody — something her grandfather had sung to her when she was a little girl. Her chest warmed, and blood rushed to her ankles. She squinted out at the horizon, trying to determine the source of the song. She took a few steps toward the railing better to hear it. She placed her hands on the warm wood, and the wind seemed to caress her. She was perfectly content, the way she was in Jonathan’s arms, the way they would be in India.
She looked down into the water, and there he was — perfect, flawless, beautiful Jonathan. He slurped up some water, spit it out in a high arc, and laughed. She smiled and waved at him. He called to her, told her to jump into the water.
“Lucy,” a voice called from behind her. “Lucy, you’re too close to the railing.”
Lucy’s head rolled on her neck, and she gave Jonathan a lazy smile. Jonathan dropped the cups of tea and rushed to her, but not before Lucy leapt into the depths below — to man who, in fact, did not look like her beloved. Instead, he had marble skin, red eyes, and teeth that cut like knives.
• • •
“Lucy,” Jonathan whispered. “It’s you.”
Memories gripped Layla’s heart, memories she didn’t know were within her, and she found it hard to breathe. She nodded, unable to speak. A glimmer of a smile traced Jonathan’s lips.
A hunger pang ripped through Layla’s belly. She fell back on the sand and clutched her stomach, breathing hard as a wave of cramping washed over her. She saw red and felt the power draining from her body into the sand below her.
Layla closed her eyes and summoned what was left of her strength. She opened her mouth and a new song spilled forth, a lullaby. It crept between the past lovers and blanketed Jonathan with a sweet and misty haze. His eyelids fluttered, and the rise and fall of his chest slowed.
When Layla knew Jonathan was sufficiently drunk on her song, she pulled herself to him, leaned over, and kissed him. He tasted like the sea itself and in that moment, they were standing on the deck of his father’s boat again, charting the stars and their lives together.
Layla pulled away from the kiss and stared down at the face that used to represent her future. Hunger rippled through her spine, and her vision doubled. She shook her head and took a deep breath. The sudden rush of Jonathan’s scent made her feel faint.
She didn’t have willpower to turn him. She was too hungry. When his blood hit her lips, she wouldn’t be able to stop.
Another swim to capture a different member of the crew was out of the question. Her body, built for land and water but dependent upon human blood, would give out in the process. She’d sink to the bottom of the ocean and waste away there.
Layla looked around at her killing ground. It afforded her privacy, but wouldn’t meet the needs of a human struggling to stay alive. It was so far off course no one would ever come to save Jonathan.
Layla’s brain muddied and her body made the final decision for her. Her teeth and talons lengthened. She pulled herself closer to Jonathan’s warm skin and beating heart. The scent of blood became unbearable, and her stomach quivered in anticipation.
Layla didn’t know if you dreamt in the afterlife, but she hoped that if Jonathan did, he would remember her dressed for sailing, smiling and singing sea shanties instead of blood melodies.
Fluttering in the Remains
The Imperfect Patsy
A Suitable Poison
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Tiffany Michelle Brown - Tiffany Brown is a native of Phoenix, Arizona, and received degrees in English and Creative Writing from the University of Arizona. When she isn't writing, Tiffany can be found on a yoga mat, sipping whiskey, or baking cupcakes. Read more of Tiffany's work at tiffanymichellebrown.wordpress.com.