Drawing of a part-bird, part-woman, statue. Caption reads: “That’s going to give me nightmares.”

Siren short story by Iris Carden

I had a new assistant.  His name was Dayvon.  He was American.  He’d been bitten by an adventure bug.  

That’s what brought him to Australia.  He planned to swim with white pointer sharks, wrestle crocodiles, and climb Uluṟu.

I told him he could probably swim with sharks, but definitely not to do the other things. 

He would tell everyone working at the museum about his weekend adventures, skydiving, surf skiing, driving race cars.  I think if he lived in ancient history, he would have sailed with Odysseus, or with Jason looking for the Golden Fleece.

We had a new travelling exhibition arrive. It was called “Beastiary,”  and was comprised of statues of mythical creatures, the type that were part human – part animal. So from Greece, there were things like a faun, a mermaid, a Minotaur, Medusa, the whole crew, and there were tons of ancient Egyptian gods as well. Some of the statues were authentic. Some were reproductions of real things. Each would be labelled as to whether it was the real or reproduction. We weren’t trying to fool anyone.

We were unpacking exhibits when he opened the box with the siren in it.  

He exclaimed: “What the hell is this?” 

It was a woman with bird’s head, wings and feet. “Siren,” I answered.  “Sometimes they had a woman’s head and a bird’s body, sometimes they had a bird’s head and a woman’s body.  It was just odd bits of woman and bird.”

“I thought they were, like, mermaids.  Fish-women.”

“Later they appeared as fish-women, and the siren and mermaid myths were conflated. The earliest images were bird people. So singing made sense.  Fish don’t tend to sing. Whales do, but they’re not fish.”

“Mermaids aren’t fish either, not entirely. That thing’s going to give me nightmares.”

We set up the display. Later, when I was packing up to leave for the day, I saw Dayvon, standing transfixed, staring at the siren statue.

“Pack up time.  Don’t you have a home to go to?” I said.

“It’s funny,” he said.  “I could have sworn I heard it singing.”

“You don’t want to go listening to that,” I said, “it’s the ultimate in living dangerously.”

“Because they made old sailors crash their ships on rocks?  I should be fairly safe on dry land.”

“Because men who heard them were doomed to self-destruction, wherever they were. And let’s face it, with some of the after hours activities you’ve told us about, you’re just the type they attracted.”

Dayvon laughed.  

I didn’t.  I’d been around ancient artefacts enough to know some of them were dangerous. I spent the evening researching what to do if someone were affected by a siren.

To make a long story short, the way to save someone from a siren was to make sure they didn’t hear it in the first place. If that failed, the next thing to do was kill the siren, by stabbing it with a bronze knife dipped in the victim’s blood.

I worked in a museum.  Acquiring an ancient bronze knife was the only part of that which wasn’t hard.  I had no idea how to stab a marble statue, and really wasn’t keen on getting hold of Dayvon’s blood.

The next morning, Dayvon was in early.  I found him staring at the statue again. That wasn’t a good sign.

“You’re early,” I said.  

“I couldn’t sleep.  I came in about four this morning, and just waited outside until security unlocked for the cleaning staff. They let me in when I showed my ID.”

“And what have you been doing since you came in?” I almost didn’t want to ask.


“Listening to what?”

“Can’t you hear it?”

“No I can’t hear anything. What are you hearing?”

“It’s beautiful.  I’ve never heard anything like it.”

“Are you sure you’re not imagining it?” I realised he probably wasn’t imagining it, but I was hopeful.

“Imagining it? How could I imagine anything so wonderful?”

Then he did something I did not expect.  He walked over to a plate glass window, and started hitting his head on it, over and over again.  I had to call security, and an ambulance.

My problem of how to get Dayvon’s blood was solved.  I wiped it up with clean paper towel, and then wiped that over the knife.

Then came the question.  How did one stab a statue?  Just do it, I guessed.  The myth said to stab the siren, not how deep the knife had to go.  I was glad the museum wasn’t open to the public yet.

I stabbed at the statue over and over, knowing I was damaging two priceless artefacts, and hoping I would be able to hide the damage later.

Eventually I stopped.  Either it had worked or it hadn’t. There was nothing more I could do.

I cleaned up the mess of chipped stone.

It was damaged, but there was other damage.  Things don’t last two and a half thousand years without a few knocks. It wasn’t totally obvious.

Two days later, Dayvon called to say he quit.  He was out of hospital, didn’t know what had caused him to harm himself, but the hospital psychiatrist had suggested he look at what made him so interested in reckless behaviours.  He was going home to try to sort himself out.

I wished him well, and hoped things would work out for him.  

A month later, as I packed the exhibition up again, I wondered if I really had killed the siren, or if her hold on Dayvon had just been loosened. I took some comfort in the fact that I’d met very few museum workers or frequent visitors who were the kind of adventurer sirens tended to call.

Museum Stories

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By Iris Carden

Iris Carden is an Australian indie author, mother, grandmother, and chronic illness patient. On good days, she writes. Because of the unpredictability of her health, she writes on an indie basis, not trying to meet deadlines. She lives on a disability support pension now, but her ultimate dream is to earn her own living from her writing.


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