|Written by J.G. Formato / Artwork by Lee Kuruganti
Ocean stings me, frigid waves salting the wounds that line my body. My bloody palms glint in the moonlight, shards
of window embedded in the skin. I pull the slivers from my hand and give them to Ocean. They’ll be sea glass
The blue silk cloth is still in place, laced between my teeth and knotted tightly behind my head. My jaw tightens
beneath the gag as a hum rises in my throat. I run my dry tongue along the fabric, tracing the outline of each and
every tooth. I have to stop the song I know is coming.
I don’t know why I keep coming back here.
“Helia!” Nik’s here, pummeling the dunes beneath his feet as he runs. My lips stretch in an awkward, embarrassed
smile around my silencer. He grabs me by the wrists and pulls me from Ocean.
“You’re cut.” Gently he runs his fingers over my palms, checking for glass. “Your window’s broken. Smashed from
I nod, my eyes drawn to the light in the distance. The beautiful castle with the princess’s tower.
“Did you mean to do it?” He knows I didn’t. I want to roll my eyes, but I don’t really have the right after all the
destruction I’ve caused.
I shake my head.
“Do you feel like singing?” His voice is low, tender. There’s a little wobble, and I’m not sure if he’s hiding fear or
worry. Either way it’s sweet.
I shake my head again. Not now, anyway. He gently unties the gag and kisses me, and I feel sane again.
“I think Ocean was singing to me, though,” I tell him.
He puts his arms around me, just below my wings and pulls my head to my shoulder. “It’s was just a bad dream,
Helia. I’m here now. Come on home.”
I don’t think I was dreaming, but I follow him home. I can see him scanning the sand for my footprints, but I know
there aren’t going to be any. I’m pretty sure I flew to Ocean, just as fast as my wings could carry me.
I'm going to have to do something about this, or someone's going to get hurt.
~ * ~
“I think you’re going to have to clip them.” Nik tells me, pushing his eggs around his plate. He doesn’t look up.
I wonder what normal couples talk about over breakfast.
“You really think so?”
“You just…keep getting out. Something bad is going to happen.”
I bite my lip. My wings flutter, agitated, sending a shuddering breeze across the room. It catches a lock of his hair
and blows it into his eyes. He smooths it back behind his ear. “To you, I mean. You hurt yourself last night. It could
have been a lot worse.”
“Ocean—” I want to explain, but I see that look of fearful hurt in his eyes, so I let it go. I’ve put him through
enough, and it’s not fair to keep dragging him down there.
“I think you’re right.” I climb into his lap and run my bandaged hand along his cheek. It’s a little awkward, trying to
not bump him in the face with the offensive wings.
“Sure, I’ll do it. There’s nothing I want to fly away from here anyway.” I kiss him on the tip of his pointed nose. “I’ll
“I can help you,” he offers.
“I said I’ll do it.” The words are tiny daggers, cutting through gritted teeth.
And, of course, he recoils. I slide out of his lap and turn to face him. “I’ll do it,” I repeat, sweetly this time. “I’ll even
save some feathers for you. You know, like when girls give their hero a lock of hair. It’ll be romantic.”
He looks appeased by this, smiling again. That’s nice to see. “I love you, Helia. No matter what.”
“I love you, too. And I promise I’ll never hurt you again”
~ * ~
Clipping my wings is harder than I thought it would be. It doesn’t hurt really, it’s just a matter of trimming back the
right feathers. But something inside me falls to the floor with them. It only takes a minute, yet the click of the
shears ring in my ears for hours.
I make a little bouquet of my amputated flight feathers, sharp sprigs of blue and gold tied up in a hair ribbon. I
present it to him when he comes up to collect me for our walk. I’m not sure how I was hoping he’d react, but I’m a
little let down when he shoves it in his jacket pocket. I would have at least expected him to put it in his buttonhole,
or get a vase, or something. They’re going to get all crumpled and sweaty in there.
We walk in the forest. The trees grow close overheard, branches intertwining like lover’s fingers. They block out the
sun and the sky, deep green curtains throwing eternal shade. The ground echoes the dimness: mossy, damp, and
unmoving. So unmoving. These walks in the forest are becoming tedious. It doesn’t change, it will be the same all
day long. We could sit here for an hour and nothing would change. That pinecone in the grass will still be a pine
cone in the grass. That boulder will always be a boulder. We could come back a hundred years from now, and that
boulder will still be sitting there.
Ocean’s never the same. Not even for a second.
“Do the servants think I’m your prisoner?” I’ve been wondering.
“What? Why would you say that?”
“Because I hear them talking. And it sounds like they think I’m your prisoner.”
“You’re not my prisoner. I love you.”
“Well, I know that. I was asking what they thought.”
“You’re not my prisoner.”
Which we both know doesn’t really answer my question. I follow him back up monotonously winding path until we
reach the castle.
The climb to the top of the tower is a silent one, and he’s fidgeting the whole way up. Smoothing back his hair,
biting his lip, blinking way too much.
And, then I find out why. My windows are barred. He’s had the broken glass replaced with thick metal bars. I clench
my teeth so tightly my jaw hurts.
“If you broke the glass now, you’d die. You’d fall to your death and die. I don’t want to lose you,” he explains. He
holds my hands in his and speaks in his sweet, earnest-man voice, dripping love and concern everywhere.
I open my mouth and he tenderly ties the gag. I have a bad habit of singing in my sleep, and I don’t want to hurt
~ * ~
Even after he’s gone, I still can’t fall asleep. The cloth is chafing more than usual, and I’m starting to feel like a
muzzled dog. I run my finger between the silk and my cheek, tugging it away from my skin. I don’t take it off,
though. The last time was disastrous, and I really am serious about the no more hurting people thing.
It was a little funny, though. I remember singing the loveliest song as I leaned out of the window. An ocean breeze
had kicked up, throwing my hair in all directions like salt spray. My wings were thrumming in time to the music, and
my heart beat wildly on the cage of my ribs.
They were trying to scale the tower. The fat little cook, the tragically refined butler, the stable boys—even Nik’s silly
brother-in-law were all scrambling up the wall. The ridiculous boys kept bumping into each other and sliding back
down the wall, fingers shredded against the hard stone. It didn’t deter them, though, they just kept coming.
Even in the dim starlight, I could see the crazed looked in their eyes. Crazed with the desire to please me, to give
me their lives. They’d do anything just to be near me, including mount a 50-foot tower. Or at least try to.
But then Nik came rushing into the room, cotton fluff sticking out of his ears like old man hairs. He clapped his
hand over my mouth, screaming my name. My first impulse was to bite him, but I didn’t. I really do love my little ex-
prisoner, so I just stopped singing.
I leaned out the window and watched my suitors return to themselves. They scrabbled at the wall frantically, trying
to find some way to keep their grip on the rocks. They only managed to dislodge a few pebbles before they all
tumbled into a confused pile of male in the grass.
It was really funny, but I’m glad Nik mistook my inappropriate laughter for hysterics. I don’t want him thinking I’m a
monster or anything.
So, for now I’ll sleep with a gag.
~ * ~
The doorknob actually turns. I’m surprised, I really expected it to be locked. I get a little warm fuzzy feeling in my
heart for Nik, and I forgive him for the bars. I guess he really was worried I’d plummet to my death.
I didn’t sleep last night, and I’m feeling twisty again, so I make my way towards Ocean. She’s humming gently, I
can hear her waves massaging the sand. New lines and patterns being created every second beneath the awakening
sky. Coral is swirling in the blackness above, dawn’s coming.
I lay in the sand, sliding my feet beneath the soft and gritty blanket. The water laps around my ears, singing
whispered songs. Songs that become a part of me, songs I know I’ll sing someday.
Ocean throws something at my head. Hard. It bounces of my temple and spins away. I roll to my side and reach for
it, curious as to what she’s brought me today.
Splintered wood. I turn it over in my hands and read the bright red lettering. The Calypso. Nik’s ship. Or what’s left
of it, anyway.
It’s a low blow, and I’m not sure if she’s scolding me or tempting me.
It was a beautiful ship, with doubled white sails like gull’s wings. The rowers were in perfect unison, young and
strong, chanting vigorously to keep time. And he stood at the bow, leaning forward over the railing, as if his body
itself was guiding the ship. Everything seemed to follow him, the wind, the men, the currents. In that moment, he
seemed to command even Ocean herself. My world froze, his kept pushing forward.
And I wanted him.
So, I sang. I sang a song I had never sung before, a song not even Ocean knew, but one that came from only me.
He resisted at first, shouting at his men to turn back. They ignored him, of course. They weren’t his men anymore,
they were mine.
It took him a longer to succumb. He ran from man to man, shaking them, calling them cowards and weaklings. They
paid him no mind, but just rowed faster to reach me.
I sang louder, sending my voice higher along the breeze. My song enveloped him with the wind, and he climbed all
the way up into the crow’s nest to find me. And then he started singing with me.
I loved him then.
The boat hit the rocks of my island. The wood ripped like fabric, planks screaming with the force of the wreck. At
the impact, he was thrown from his perch, sprawling gracefully on the sand. I let the others sink. I wanted to be
alone with him.
He was terrified of me at first. I attributed most of it to being disoriented from hitting his head, and just the shock
of the crash. But I cooked for him and sang to him and I bandaged his wounds. We spent our nights talking by
fire, his head in my lap as I caressed his hair. And he came to love me, to depend on me.
But then, he got so sad. He missed his family, his home, his woods. He never could love Ocean like I did, he was
scared of her.
So here we are.
~ * ~
“Helia, we need you.” His eyes are pleading. “Please, do this for us. Our whole village is depending on it. My people
are in danger.”
“I thought you didn’t want me singing anymore. Remember, we don’t want anyone to get hurt?” Somehow we’ve
switched roles, and now I’m the one trying to stem the bloodthirsty tide.
“But this is different, Helia. They have been feuding with my family for centuries. They want our land, and I have
very good reason to believe that they are planning an attack. We have to strike first.” His fist slams down on the
table, leaving a small crack in the wood. I’ve never seen him like this, so angry. So…red and huffy.
“What can I do?” I ask.
“I’ve thought it all out. I’ll take you down to the beach, the one just outside of their village. Wade out into the
water as far you can and sing. Sing your strongest song. That’ll draw all the men out, then we’ll take care of
“Drown them.” He looks away, and I can’t see his eyes. “I know it sounds horrible, but I just can’t let them hurt our
people. You have the chance to use your gift for good. You can save us.”
“And what’s to stop your men from being taken by me as well?”
“We’ll have to plug our ears. I think it’ll work. And we need to do it as soon as possible- tomorrow night.”
“You won’t be scared? Going out into Ocean like that?” His cheeks flush an even deeper crimson, and I can
practically hear his brain sizzling. Definitely not the right thing to say.
“I’m not afraid of the ocean, Helia,” he spits out.
“Alright, Nik. In that case, I’ll do it.” I try to hide my excitement. I understand these are desperate times and
difficult decisions and all that, but I am dying to sing again.
I can’t wait.
~ * ~
Ocean’s agitated and won’t let me sleep. She’s all murmurs and sighs and whimpers and groans. I have to go see
what she’s so upset about. She wants me.
The door’s locked tonight, which only adds to my disturbance. It doesn’t slow me down, of course, I just rip the
knob off the door. Silly boy, I’m a little bit stronger than your human girls. But thanks for trying to save me from
There’s a light in the stables. Nik and his tower climbing brother-in-law are lounging on hay bales, smoking. And
whispering. Whispering always gets my attention, so I flatten myself against the wall to listen.
“You’re sure this will work?”
“Of course it will work,” Nik says confidently. “She took down every last man on my ship. She almost took you out,
remember? She’ll take down every last man in their village, and the women will be forced to surrender. The land’s as
good as ours.”
“I still think this could backfire.”
“Look.” Nik rolls his eyes impatiently. “She loves me. She won’t do anything to hurt me.”
“You’d think you had this all planned out all along.”
“Hell, no. Definitely didn’t plan on getting shipwrecked. But if the Gods see fit to give me a Siren, you can bet I’m
going to use her.” I think he chuckles, but I can’t quite hear over Ocean’s furious roar. He didn’t have to use me, to
lie. I’d have helped him just the same.
I slip away and run to her crashing waves, because, of course, I can’t even fly now. She breaks around me,
pounding watery fists against the sand. The spray catches my face and drips like tears back into the surf. I wade
out as far as I can, and rip my sleeping gag from my mouth.
I lick the salt on my lips and sing. I sing the songs Ocean whispered to me at dawn that day. The song she knew I
would need. Louder and louder I sing, my voice a beautiful scream. I’m soul and salt, I’m all myself.
They come over the dunes. Every last man from the village, with Nik in the lead. Struggling to find himself, he
stares up at me, one final plea. Or maybe it’s an accusation, I don’t care which.
I hold his gaze, singing slowly and deliberately. I give him a moment before I take him completely, I want him to
know I mean to do it. I want him to know this is for him. His sweet little boy eyes widen, and then droop into a
They wade out to me, boots sloshing through Ocean’s fingers. Waist deep, they stand before me. Eager to please.
Waiting for instruction.
“Drown yourselves,” I whisper.
I throw myself back into the tide, I don’t need to see it to know it’s done.
Ocean lifts me up and carries me home in her warm, watery arms. She sings a sweet, low lullaby as I’m washed
ashore, then nudges me to my feet. Wringing the water from my hair and wings, I climb to my perch at top of the
island. The cliff where I have full view of Ocean and her visitors.
I’ll need some servants while my feathers grow back in, and a boat’s bound to pass by any day now.
J.G. Formato is a writer and elementary school teacher from North
Florida. She lives in a little house by the woods with her amazing
husband and their four wonderful children. You can find her work in
Giants & Ogres: Fairy Tale Villains Reimagined, freeze frame fiction,
and Youth Imagination Magazine.