Excerpt: Even in the Grave

Moving to a small house on the beach was the best decision Jared Grayson had ever made for so many reasons, but so far his favourite is being able to open his window and smell the ocean.

It’s early when he goes into his music room the first Monday after moving into his new home. He’d chosen a room with big windows, and put his piano facing them so he could see the sand and surf while he practiced. There are still boxes around the room, and he should unpack and start organising, but instead he opens the window to let in the crisp dawn scent and goes to sit at his piano. He’s been composing a new piece since he arrived that he thinks will start off his next album perfectly.

Jared makes his living as a musician. He plays several classical instruments, and his music has been used in advertisements, TV shows and movies. He plays concerts to paying audiences, and he loves that, but he loves this in a different way.

He’s sitting at the piano, barefoot and in a pair of striped pyjama pants, matching top and a large, cream-colored knit cardigan. The air is crisp and chilly in a way it only gets on a clear morning. He loves it and is so happy he lives here now.

The notes come naturally to his fingers, and he starts slowly playing a new piece he’s been working on. He’s almost lost in the music when something makes him look up. He’s not sure what, but that’s when he sees someone, or maybe something, standing at his window. This part of the beach is fenced off, but Jared isn’t sure what he’s looking at is human.

The figure is small, short, with a bluish green tint to his skin. He has windswept, wet blue hair and slashes on his neck that look like gills, but he seems to have no problem breathing on land. Jared’s hands are still on the piano as he stares in shock.

“Don’t stop, please. I didn’t mean to frighten you,” the man says in oddly accented English. He’s wearing a pair of roughly handmade shorts, and nothing else.

“Who are you?” Jared asks. He can’t see any weapons, but the man-like creature looks like it has very sharp nails on its delicate, webbed hands. Some might ask what it was first, and Jared doesn’t know why he doesn’t. He just finds he wants to know his name.

“I’m Silver. Who are you?” Silver moves, and Jared’s a little scared until he sees that Silver’s just coming to sit on the window ledge, his legs inside, showing more of that strange skin, and webbed toes with sharp toenails. He seems pleased that Jared asked his name.

“Jared.” Part of him is wondering if he’s seeing things. He hasn’t drunk any alcohol, and he doesn’t take any drugs beyond an inhaler for asthma and one pill med for migraines. He doesn’t think either of those would start causing hallucinations.

He can think of three options: one, he’s been drugged without his knowledge; two, he’s having some kind of mental break with reality; or three, Silver is real.

“Humans have strange names, though I suppose you find ours strange, too,” Silver says, and his voice sounds like music. It has Jared itching to start playing.

“You know I’m a human. What are you?” Jared asks, hoping the question doesn’t anger Silver.

“I’m a siren. Humans have written stories about us, most unflattering, saying we causes ships to crash and draw men to their death. We don’t do that,” Silver says firmly.

“I’m sorry people judge you like that,” Jared says.

“Don’t worry. We all get judged unfairly at times. I hear things about humans that are not nice at all. You hurt your own kind. You kill for fun. I will never understand that.” Silver looks at Jared sadly, and he has large, jade-green eyes, the iris thicker than a human’s.

“People are complicated. Do sirens not fight?” Jared asks.

“Disputes go to the council to be fixed. Fighting is prohibited, and any siren who kills another will be banished from the sea,” Silver says softly.

“That’s certainly more efficient,” Jared says, wondering where a siren could be banished to if it looked anything like Silver. “Do you live in the sea?”

“Most of the time. But we can visit the land and like to sunbathe on the rocks. It’s nice to be warm. The sea can get cold, even for us.” Silver smiles, revealing teeth that are straight but slightly sharp looking. Silver stands up. “Are you afraid of me?”

“Should I be?” Jared asks, because he’s not afraid really, more nervous. He’s never faced a siren before. He didn’t even know they were a real thing.

“No, we don’t harm humans. We try to warn you about the rocks in the sea, but men never listen. It makes me sad. We try to save those we can. The music you were making, does it have a name?” Silver comes slowly forward as he talks, until he’s at the other side of the low piano.

“No, not yet. I’m still composing and refining it,” Jared replies.

“I heard it from the ocean. It called to me,” Silver says softly.

Jared smiles. “You like it?”

“Yes, it’s beautiful. I meant only to listen, not be seen, but I came too close.” Silver sighs.

“I understand the pull of music. I’d follow it anywhere, too.”

“Will you play more for me?” Silver asks, looking shy, like maybe he’s not used to getting what he wants.

“The same tune?” Jared is happy to play for most people, and it’s not every day he gets a chance to play for a siren from the sea.

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