This short story is about an actual place near Kiama where I live in the Illawarra. The story was a semi finalist in the Aussiecon 4 Make Ready fantasy/scfi competition 2010. It’s now part of my short story collection: A Matter of Perception
“Hurry up,” Con shouted.
His voice sliced through Ellen’s morning fog. She groaned and rolled over, pulling the quilt over her head.
Con poked his head into the bedroom. “Are you coming or what?”
“I’m coming,” Ellen grumbled. She struggled out of bed and grabbed last night’s clothes off the floor. “I wanna see this place as much as you do, I’d just rather do it later, that’s all.”
“I’m not going later.”
“I know,” she growled. Why else would she be getting up before sunrise.
Half an hour later, they stood in lung-searing cold staring at blocks of jagged rock silhouetted against a predawn sky. Waves crashed, splashing treachery. A briny breeze whined around the basalt forms and Ellen shivered. The rocky monoliths reminded her of the shimmering ghost-like gravestones in the cemetery they’d driven past.
Cold grey light bled from the horizon into the sky, and shadowy half-formed images flickered across Ellen’s mind; faces contorted in pain; lungs screaming water; limbs thrashing; bones smashing against rocks. Was that why they called it the Boneyard?
“This place is seriously creepy,” Ellen said, raising her voice over the relentless waves.
Con slipped his arm around her in an attempt at reassurance. “It’ll feel better once the sun’s up.”
The back of Ellen’s neck prickled and she glanced behind her. “I know it sounds crazy, but there’s something more dangerous here than those waves.”
Con rolled his eyes and shook his head the way he always did when Ellen felt something he didn’t. She scanned the rocks and gasped. Ragged ethereal bodies floated towards her, staring with the sightless eyes of long dead sailors. “Ghosts!” she rasped, grabbing Con’s arm. “Con, there’s ghosts. We have to get out of here.”
He looked around, unmoved. “Jesus, Ellen,” he said when his gaze returned to her. “You’re imagining things.”
“Con, will you listen to me for once. Just because you can’t see them, doesn’t mean they aren’t here. We honestly have to get out of here!”
“You never said you had a girl,” a voice croaked from the shadows.
Ellen and Con spun around. An old woman stepped into the growing light. Her pale eyes glittered keenly and her skin had a strange greyish sheen.
Ellen shot a glance at Con. He frowned.
“It’s the woman that told me about this place,” he whispered. “I didn’t know it was a rendezvous.”
“Get ready, now.” The old woman stared at Con with chilling intensity, then turned towards the now glowing horizon. “The sun heralds the winter equinox.”
Con looked at Ellen and shrugged. “It’s what we came for.”
The woman chuckled quietly and Ellen had a strong urge to grab Con and run away, but the ghosts stopped moving and gold suddenly streaked the horizon. A giant fiery orb rose into the sky, splashing light across the land. It gilded the rocks, bringing their jagged forms into stark relief. It kissed their faces with the promise of warmth and illuminated something rising to the surface of the ocean. Ellen peered into the brine. Beautiful white-faced women stared back at her, their long hair flowing on the waves behind them.
An eerie, enchanting song danced on the rising breeze. Con took a step forward. Ellen grabbed his arm.
“No,” she hissed, “don’t move. They’re Sirens”
Con didn’t appear to hear her. His eyes glazed over and his lips curled into a blissful smile. The song grew in intensity and complexity. The exquisite harmony wrapped around them like a loving embrace. Con brushed off her hand and walked towards the ocean.
Ellen ran in front of him. “No! Stop!”
He pushed her aside, his eyes fixed on the women in the ocean. Ellen grabbed his legs. He kicked her off, then ran and dived into the ocean. The sirens laughed in delight.
Ellen ran to the edge of the rocks and watched Con sink beneath the heavy swell. Her limbs felt numb, her mind vacant. She had tried and he hadn’t listened. He never listened, and this time, it was the death of him.
She swung around to face the old woman. “Get him back! Now!” she screeched.
“You cannot be allowed to witness this and live.” The woman moved closer, flanked by three ghosts.
Ellen’s mouth dropped. “I won’t tell anyone. They wouldn’t believe me anyway.” Craggy rocks rose high around her. The sea was at her back, the woman and her ghosts in front. Trapped.
“Single men, travellers that no one will miss, this is who should be here on this day. Not a woman.”
Ellen swallowed and wondered what happened if you tried to run through a ghost.
The woman continued, her voice as cold as her eyes. “You have a choice, however, a good choice; death or eternal life.”
“We can push you over the edge to die in the brine, or you can join the Sirens.”
“What’s the difference?”
“If we push you over, you would have no ghostly form to continue in. All life would end. But joining the Sirens is a transformation we can accomplish this day.”
Ellen stared, open mouthed, then shook her head. “This is insane.”
“If you do not choose, we will do it for you,” the woman said, stepping closer. “As a Siren you will see your lover again. As a corpse, you will see nothing.”
Ellen nodded almost imperceptibly. The woman had a point; a corpse saw nothing. But what about her soul. What would it see? She bet the Siren’s didn’t have one. They’d have to trade something for immortality. What would she be giving up in giving up death? “Let me move away from the edge,” she said, “it’s freaking me out.”
The old woman nodded and stepped back. Ellen took another step forward, then another. The woman watched her with suspicious eyes. Ellen ran, darting to the side, but the ghosts moved quicker. She closed her eyes, sprinted straight for them and slammed into what felt like an icy inflatable. The old woman grabbed her wrists from behind.
“How would life be without him?” she hissed. “Alone in a foreign land.”
Ellen ceased her struggle against the woman’s iron grip. She loved Con. She didn’t want to be without him and she didn’t want to be grieving alone so far from home.
One of the ghosts stepped forward until he was nearly touching her. Although dead for a hundred years and physically cold, something in his presence was reassuring.
She heard his voice in her mind, saw the intention in his eyes. “I will look after you.”
Ellen bit her lip. “Will I be with Con?”
“Of course, all the ghosts will serve you, as they do all Sirens.”
Did she even have a soul to lose? She wondered. Was there anything after death? No one knew for sure. She didn’t want to risk choosing annihilation and there was only one way she’d see Con again. “Fine. Whatever.”
“Do it,” the old woman croaked.
The ghost’s cold soft hands held Ellen gently and his eyes were full of desire. He kissed her full on the mouth and his breath permeated her body with a deep chill.
“Three kisses, three men of the deep,” the old woman said, then chuckled.
The ghost stepped back. Ellen lifted her hand and looked at her fading form in disbelief. The next ghost stepped forward and repeated the procedure. This time, his breath suffused her with bliss. Her breathing lightened and quickened. On the third kiss, her heart stopped beating, the remains of her physical form faded into tiny dots of multicoloured light and Ellen burst into song.
Without words, she sang of eternity, of the dance of the oceans and the stars, of the love of the ghosts of men lost at sea and of the freedom of existence without corporeal form.
The old woman smiled. “I have one more day on land in this form, then I must return to the ocean and the form of the Sirens. If you wish, you too may wander the world of men for this time, then we will meet here and descend beneath the waves.”
She swung towards the ocean and the sound of Con’s voice.
“Ellen! Where are you? Give us a hand for God’s sake.”
The ghosts, the old woman and the young Siren stared in horror at the sight of Con, still very much alive and physical, fighting against the dragging waves as he struggled over the edge of the rocks.
“Where is she? What have you done to her, you old witch?” he shouted, fixing his eyes on the old woman.
Ellen shook her non-corporeal head in distress as her lover looked right through her. She wished she could cry.