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Science Fiction & Fantasy
Flash Fiction & Poetry

Siren Call


For a long time, I didn’t know what my mother sounded like. Now I do, because the creature upstairs emulates her exactly. 

Shuncho, it says, the vowels rising and falling on each echo. Shuncho, food is ready

My father is plastered against the wall of the cellar – dirty, rained in, unlivable. His eyes are hollow and he is looking up, straining against the bear trap his leg is caught in. His ankle will take a week to heal again and he’ll be back here – but I’m not too worried. A week is long enough to set the traps up again. 

Shuncho, croons the lying shade and my father strains. His ankle is a wreck, old scars rubbing against new wounds. His face is the very picture of despair at the sound of the old endearment, a silly word wives use for absent-minded husbands. Are you listening to me?

The problem is, my father is always listening. That’s why he was among the first to succumb when the creatures began to call. I found him halfway across the city, treading dirty sewage water as he desperately tried to make his way across to a broken down house – our house – from where my ‘mother’ called. 

My mother died before I was born, so I only ever knew her in my father’s tones. Soft, waspish, drifting into his ‘come home soon’s and ‘if your mother was alive’s. Relatives commented on how my father changed after my mother died, but only my grandmother said that it was like he ate her. A morbid thought, but said with affection. Because my grandmother could hear her; tucked away under my father’s tongue, ready to emerge as a sarcastic remark or well-hidden worry. 

So what I really mean is that I knew my mother, but only as my father loved/hated her. That’s why, when the creatures called and I saw my father’s face – firm, stoic – turn inwards with horror, despair, love and pain as he retched where he sat… I, bewildered, heard nothing. 

The first few times, I followed him every time she called. Of course, I was not the only one. Across countries, desperate sons, mothers, fathers, wives, husbands, siblings were being drawn to the call of long-dead parents, children, lovers and more. Of them, the vast majority were taken by the creatures before their absence was discovered. And now, those of us who remain, we tread the old water of our cities – unmanned, rotted, decaying – and try to stop our remaining loves from disappearing. 

I learned about using traps from another like me – his daughter had been following the desperate cries of her twin. This man – an old, no-nonsense Army major – took to barricading their doors, moving houses, even building a moat. Nothing worked, until he began to set up traps. While on my father’s trail, I had found the girl once, her leg trapped and bleeding. After a short while the grim-faced major showed up and without batting an eyelid, removed her leg gently from the trap. He then hoisted her up in his arms (ignoring her cries) and walked away. I watched him go.  

It had all seemed so cruel and senseless then but now, sitting in this cellar and watching my father twist against the restraints, I can understand. After a point, there is little that gets through. Not pain, not suffering. Not even my desperate cries have penetrated the thick fog of hope that surrounds my father as he strains and stretches towards my dead mother’s voice. 

And sometimes when I sit like this, I listen to the voice above and try to find the cadences my father had picked up. Here is the lilt of his ‘Good mornings’ and there is the edge of his ‘Abar late?’. My mother’s voice is a drumbeat and I can hear how my father must have tried – and failed – to match her beat for beat. I hear a sharp-witted acerbic woman, rolling her love in food and gentle insults and I understand why my father couldn’t gather himself together when she left. 

We will sit here, until it is dawn and the creature stops singing. They too, I suppose, have to rest their voices. Then my father will stop, hollow-eyed and tear stained, and look at me. I’ll help him out of the trap and we’ll limp home, just the two of us. Mostly we don’t talk but the walk is long, and to break the silence, I sometimes ask him:

What did you hear this time?

My father simply looks lost and says:

I wish I knew.

Copyright © 2023 by Saswati Chatterjee

  • Saswati Chatterjee

    Saswati Chatterjee currently resides in New Delhi, India. A lifelong fan of horror, video games, and dragons, she’s also got a bit of a soft corner for the occasional artificial intelligence. She can usually be found at her Twitter, yelling bad opinions about TV shows. Her work has appeared in Anathema Magazine, Fantasy Magazine, Three-Lobed Burning Eye, Weird Horror Magazine by Undertow Publications, among others.