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She Makes Monsters

Rosalyn Gardner

My story starts on fire….

Ever since I was a little girl, my mother had taught me to break the rules. “Because how could you have any chance when the cards are stacked against you, specifically for you to fall short,” she would say.

I remember my mother taught me all kinds of things: how to read, how to write, how to identify plants, how to fight, how to run. Everything that a girl wasn’t supposed to know. The whole town knew of my education, because my mother wasn’t worried about keeping it a secret. She spoke her mind as if there was no tomorrow. As if she had no choice. People thought she had lost her mind, but my mother taught me to outshine the stars.

In time she was known as the “witch” and I was the “witch’s daughter.” All of my friends stopped talking to me, people turned away from us on the streets, and even children would cower in their mothers’ skirts at the sight of us. The only friend we had left was my late father’s closest friend and mentor, Richard. He was a voyager who decided to live on our island due to a promise he made a long time ago. Eventually, lacking the support of our community, we moved out of town to a little house by the sea. We grew gardens to supply us and took frequent trips to the stream in the little forest nearby. I won’t say it wasn’t lonely at times, but eventually the sea became my most reliable friend. Mother and I continued our lessons on the beach and spent our breaks running in the sand, letting the ocean waves wash up and lick our toes. We spent countless hours taking in the salty breeze and watching the sun fall along the never-ending horizon. That was always our time. When the words of others couldn’t reach us.

Until the fire, that is.

Mother and I were drawing patterns of seashells in the sand when we first saw the smoke. It rose quickly and infected the air in minutes. Mother threw down her stick and got to her feet. I could see how red her cheeks were turning and she had a certain glint in her eye that I’d never seen before.

“Where is that coming from?” I had asked her, trying to ease the tension building in the air.

Mother never took her eyes off the smoke. “It’s coming from our home.”

She was furious, and rightfully so. Immediately she ran off in the direction of the fire. I had no choice but to follow her. Sure enough, our house was enveloped in flames. People we used to call our friends were throwing rocks through our windows, and torches in the grass. The longer it went on, the clearer it became to me that they didn’t know we weren’t inside. Mother turned to me and gripped my shoulders tight.

“Listen to me, my love, I need you to run. Run and don’t look back no matter what you hear,” she said.

“You want me to go, without you?” My eyes stung with tears as the reality of the situation hit me.

“Not for long, just a few minutes. Go to the docks, find Richard and get on his boat.” 

By now my voice was faltering. “But what about you?”

Mother hesitated for a moment before taking one of her rings off and giving it to me. It was a thick, dark-blue band, as if a direct reflection of the ocean’s deepest waters. “I’ll always be with you.”

“I’ll wait for you on the boat,” I promised her, and slipped the ring onto my finger with ease. She nodded and kissed my forehead. “Okay. Go, go now.”

It was hard, but I did as she said. Without looking back I ran in the opposite direction. I knew she was right but I’d never gone anywhere alone before. It was always us against the world. Shouts from behind motivated me onward as they got closer. I knew I had been seen. Pushing past my hurricane of emotions, I centered myself and followed the map in my mind to the docks. As Mother had told me, Richard was there, unwinding the rope that traveled from his boat to the dock. I wondered if he had already known I was coming.

“Richard!” I cried, sprinting down the dock. I knew the people who had burned my house had seen me running and were hot on my heels.

“Serena? Is something wrong? Where are you going?” Richard spun around to face me in surprise.

“We have to go—they burned the house and are coming for us next.” 

“Who’s coming? Where’s your mother?”

“She’ll be here, but we have to be ready. Please! We have to hurry.” I was barely able to speak, between the tension in the air and lack of oxygen in my lungs. My words came out harshly and Richard seemed to understand the urgency.

He nodded. “Okay, come on.”

Richard and I prepared the boat swiftly. Before we moved out of town, I would often come visit Richard and his boat. Sometimes, during nicer days, he taught me how I would sail the boat if it were really out at sea. I could tell he wanted to go back out there, but his loyalty to my father kept him here with us. Making sure we were well equipped with extra fish, and a quick getaway should we need one. Now we floated anxiously just a few feet from the dock, waiting for my mother to appear. It was taking so long. Too long. I convinced myself that she was still coming, and no other reality could be true. My fingers spun the ring she had given me earlier.

“We are always together,” I whispered into the air.

At that moment I could hear shouting again, and out of the woods burst the same group with the same flaming torches. Mother was nowhere to be found.

“There she is!” one of them yelled, pointing at me. Richard immediately sprung into action, prepared to set sail at once.

“Wait!” I said, stopping him in his tracks, “What about my mother?”

Richard looked back with solemn eyes. “I don’t see her, Serena.”

“She’s coming. I know she’s coming.”

By now, our pursuers were already on their own boats, preparing them for the chase. “I know she’s coming,” I repeated quietly.

Richard sighed, looking out on the water. “I’m sorry, but I made a promise to your father.” And with that, we were off.

Richard had one of the best boats ever made, because it was made by him. My father always said he had a gift unlike any other when it came to woodwork. He was a craftsman who loved traveling. My father also loved to travel, and usually I did as well. But not then. In that moment nothing felt worse than being in that boat. I didn’t have any tears left to shed, so instead I sat on the deck, completely numb to where I was, whom I was with, and who was after me. All the shouting and wild movements that flung me around were lost. I couldn’t process a single moment. Not when Richard pulled me to my feet. Not when he told me to take cover. Not even when a plethora of cannons burst the vessel into a thousand pieces.

I woke up changed in many ways. It was hard to accept at first, but at least I wasn’t alone. The memory of my mother still clings to my skin, and Richard’s bravery drives my heart. I do this for them. Me and the rest of them. Every siren has a story. We’ve all had somebody, we’ve all lost something. And now, we’re a collective.

The ocean is our sister, a sister of depth and dark beauty. She is the awakening of the animal in our veins that grasps each of us fondly by the neck. We may be physically changed but we don’t waste a second on remorse. All we can do is prey on the masters of this game; those who think they rule the world from above. But what they don’t know is that my sister makes monsters. And what they don’t know could kill them. Now, I can only be what I am.

I am the spark and the flame.

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