I have thirty-one days left to live. No, I’m not ill or anything, and I’m not planning to kill myself or anybody either. It’s just a fact that there are thirty-one days left. Here, look—it says so on my watch, see? “31d”. This? It’s a family heirloom. Weird, I know, but what isn’t weird in this world? Human beings are the only lifeforms on Earth that kill each other for reasons other than survival, isn’t that weird? We want what we don’t or can’t have but never appreciate what we do have enough to be satisfied, isn’t that weird? We have high ambitions and call them dreams but are too lazy to do anything to get closer to achieving them, isn’t that weird?
See, a lot of things are weird in this world. This watch is nothing special.
On the topic of this watch, though: it’s not a watch that tells me what time it is, as most watches do. Instead, it tells me exactly how much time I have left till I die. Funny thing is, I only inherited it today when my father died, so…technically, I don’t know if I’m actually terminally ill. I may have lied about that. At least on the surface, though, I’m as healthy as a twenty-year-old man should be. For the most part, I’m a couch potato and shut-in. I don’t work out much, I occasionally drink, and sometimes I pull an all-nighter doing nothing meaningful by the definition of any corporate big shot.
Or that of my old man, now that I think about it. In his last thirty or so days, he grew very anxious. He checked his death watch every other hour, told me and everyone else what he wanted to be done with his property…all that. How did he die, you ask? He drowned.
But me? I seem perfectly fine in every way. Not outstanding in any way, but perfectly fine. Mediocre is fine enough to live longer than a month, right?
…yeah, I should do a check-up, just in case.
Greetings, ladies and gentlemen…it is I, your perfectly healthy protagonist about to die—Gary Ivarsson! I see that I’m a little late today, but…yeah, I did that check-up, and just as I thought, I’m perfectly fine.
And no, I haven’t changed my mind about not killing anyone either. My lifestyle hasn’t changed, I went to the library just yesterday to pick up the first book that catches my attention. At this point, I think I’ll let fate take me wherever it wants me to go. Now, I have with me a book on mythology. Colored and with images, not exactly a comprehensive study—but hey, at least it’s fun, right?
I watch the news but there is nothing new. It seems to be a paradox to say that, I’m well aware, but I also imagine that you—whoever you are—understand exactly what I mean. There is a hurricane somewhere west from here, an earthquake somewhere to the east, a bomb not so far away, a shooting right down the street. Oh, but I consider myself lucky today; there was a paranormal sighting at a beach nobody ever goes to because it’s so small and we have a bigger and cleaner beach not far from that one.
You know what? I doubt twenty days will make much of a difference in my mostly pointless life anyway. I’ll go check.
You will not believe what happened that day…night, rather. It was night by the time I went to the smaller beach.
I’ve read about them in books, I’ve seen them portrayed on popular media, but I’ve never seen one in real life—nor have I ever expected to, mere mortal as I am. An unimportant, fragile mortal that a bolt of lightning can easily kill. Or a truck. Or an epidemic. Or a careless mistake made by myself. Like this one. Probably.
I swear they said it was an ancient mermaid that was spotted. If I remember correctly—and I always do—it was supposed to be a really skinny but really long fish with claws for hands and a couple layers of killer teeth. Horrifying, horrifyingly dangerous, horrifyingly hideous. There was no picture, but it was what they described.
That was not what I saw.
She does have a very long fish tail, that much is true. She also has really dark hair, mixed with a little red—but I could be wrong about that; it was nighttime after all. Her eyes are bright green, and her skin a little…okay, to be honest, I couldn’t tell, but it looked just a tad grayish. Fair, but a little gray. Just a little.
But she doesn’t have claws. Those are just hands. Regular, womanly hands.
When I stood there, all by myself, armed with nothing but my phone’s flashlight, she flapped her tail as if to tell me that yes, I was looking at the mermaid that the news briefly mentioned. She had her chin on her hand, her elbow on a rock, and she had to be looking at me because there was no one else around.
Then, she smiled at me.
Yes, she smiled at me. A smile that was undoubtedly menacing and solemnly ill-meaning, but it was an enchanting smile nonetheless.
Next thing I knew, I was already back home.
I don’t remember if I said anything. I don’t remember if I did anything. I only remember running home.
Next thing I know, it’s been seven days. I must have been living on autopilot this past week because I’m still perfectly healthy and functioning. The watch tells me that seven days have passed, but I have, as always, done nothing meaningful. In fact, going out that night might be the most significant thing I’ve done all my life.
I’m going again tonight—this time, I’ll dress a little better.
That night, she swam a little closer to the shore. The first thing she did when she saw me was to smile again—outright evil, I realized when I saw it a second time—and then tilt her head. I kept my distance for only a minute, I think, before I decided to get closer to her as well. No, it’s not very smart, but I was curious. Anyone in my position would be curious about a being like that.
This time, she spoke to me. Her voice is surprisingly normal; it almost sounds human. She asked for my name, and she told me hers: Marisole. She is in fact a siren, not a mermaid; the people who first spotted her were wrong. I asked her, if she was the same creature those people saw, why then was their description different from what I see?
“You see what you want to see. Gary, what do you see?”
That was her reply.
“An exquisite atrocity begging to be heard.”
“Do you want to hear me, Gary?”
“I’m fine either way, but if you do sing for me, I’ll hear it.”
“Bold, aren’t you? Never in my life have I heard a mere mortal speak to me like you do.”
“They are cowards.”
“Then, not-coward, come back again. Next time, I shall sing for you.”
Sometime after that, the creature that calls herself Marisole—I really doubt that’s her real name—took notice of my watch. She asked me what that was, so I told her. I usually don’t tell people about it; that would only cause me unnecessary trouble. But I told Marisole, because…why not? That watch is nothing special next to her.
Ah, but then she took it from me—she took it off, saying that human lives are short enough not to need a miserable countdown like that. Just out of curiosity, she put it on her own wrist.
Long story short, I have less than two weeks to live and I don’t have my death watch to keep count for me.
At least I know why a perfectly fine young man like myself would die so soon—or, I think I do. God forbid if a siren doesn’t kill men. But hey, at least my death won’t be so dull.
Ladies and gentlemen…
Previously, he’d only heard about creatures like her. He didn’t know those creatures actually existed.
Then, he saw her with his own eyes. He didn’t know what she was; he only knew that she was not one of his dull, hypocritical neighbors. He realized with glee, at that moment, that in spite of his short life, he would have discovered something worthwhile by the time he drew his last breath.
When she told him what she was, his heart leaped. It pounded harder than he thought it was capable of. It wasn’t love; it wasn’t even bewitchment. She cast no spell on him; that excitement was his own. What she said confirmed what he’d surmised, and he thought, ah, I’m alive, what a novel revelation.
He knew what she meant by “singing”. At the very least, he knew what it meant for him. Yet, he could not resist. Nay, he did not try to resist. He saw no meaning in resisting such an opportunity—to die by a cause beyond anybody’s imagination.
Two nights after she made the offer, he put on his best clothes; he combed his hair. Satisfied with his appearance, he headed to the beach.
“Good evening, Marisole,” said Gary Ivarsson, a perfectly ordinary man.
“Why, you look quite fine,” said Marisole, smiling with no intent to hide her intent as usual.
“I know I do, but thanks; and you look lovely as always.”
And then she hummed him a tune—one that a human being could only hear once in an entire lifetime. It was the song of death. It was pleasant to the ears, but it stopped the functioning of his heart.
The siren spoke the truth when she told him people saw what they wanted to see. The man thought right when he guessed that Marisole was not her true name.
In the end, neither truth mattered, because there was nobody to tell it.
She did have claws—the very same that she used to carefully take off his coat and leave on the beach for anybody to find the next day. Then, she took his body and dived deep into the sea.
She did have two layers of killer teeth—the same that she used to tear his flesh apart once she was alone.
She hadn’t eaten in a month.
And then she took out the watch that she’d mended: a waterproof watch set to a random number to count down from, and then reset to another random number once the previous countdown was finished. She left it at a random shore, waiting for the next brave soul to discover.
~ fin ~
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