Open Competition - Runner Up

Rosy Adams

Runner Up
Siren of the Lido
Open Competition


Rosy Adams lives in West Wales with an assortment of family, both human and animal. She was part of the 2022/23 cohort of writers on the Representing Wales programme run by Literature Wales and she is working on finishing the novel she started during that time. An earlier version of this story was shortlisted in the WM Antihero competition, proving that it's always worth rewriting and resubmitting!



Siren of the Lido By Rosy Adams

I sit behind you as you ride the bus to work. You turn your head to look out the window and the movement wafts the warm vanilla smell of your skin toward me. I wonder, is it perfume, or just the scent of you? I want to press my nose into the soft place below your ear and breathe you in. I would only have to lean forward a little…
It’s your stop. You stand up, one hand on the back of your seat, close enough that I could kiss your fingers. You sway with the movement of the bus as it slows and the length of your hair echoes the wave of your body. You wear a weave in a Senegalese twist, matching your natural black at the roots, the ends fading to blonde at the small of your back. I saw you at the hairdresser last week when you were having them put in. You were reading a magazine while she tweaked and pulled and braided. I was looking through the window but you didn’t see me. No-one sees me. Not until I want them to.
The bus stops, the doors hiss open and you walk away. I don’t need to follow you because I know where you’re going.

When you leave your house in the mornings it’s still dark. At this time of year the sun seems to only be in the sky for a scant few hours so it’s also dark when you return.
Yesterday, I was in your bedroom. I stood in front of the mirror where you look at yourself every day before going to work.
I closed my eyes, imagining your reflection in front of me, leaning in and touching my lips to yours. The shape of our ghost kiss lingered on the glass for a while.
On Thursday evenings you go swimming at the lido. You wear a purple swim cap to protect your hair, and a matching costume that curves in at the waist. When you enter the water your outline wavers between the shape of an hourglass and a Greek column.
I first saw you at the lido. When you looked down at the water, ready to dive, I was looking up at you. You saw only your reflection, but I saw a reflection of myself, before I fell.
This pool wasn’t always my home. I came in on a spring tide, riding a storm surge through the harbour and up the river. I found a new home here, a place where I watched, and listened, and learned.
Tonight, you are going to a house party. You don’t go out much in the evenings, but it’s your friend’s birthday and you promised you’d be there.
When you get there I am already waiting in the shadow of a doorway across the street. I trail in behind some party-goers.
It’s warm inside. As I walk down the hall and into a living room the air becomes humid, and all the glass in the house hazes over with condensation. You are sitting on a sofa but you stand and walk towards me, and for a wonderful terrifying moment I think that you see me, but then I realise you’re just heading for the door.
The room is crowded, and as you pass me your bare arm brushes the back of my hand. I feel the tingle of a million extra nerve endings that I didn’t know I had until you touched me. You wipe the slick of moisture from your skin and look around to try and find the source, but you don’t see me.

You go upstairs. I don’t need to follow you to know where you are. I can feel your nearness to the water in the pipes, and in the radiators, as you make your way to a bathroom.
You come back down the stairs, but before you can return to your place on the sofa someone stops you. He puts a hand on your arm. He smiles and leans in close to whisper something to you that makes you laugh. You nod and go to sit down while he goes to the kitchen. He passes close enough to me that I could reach out and entangle his legs and arms, pour myself down his throat, drown him from the inside out.
He takes two cups from the stack on the dining table and fills them with cola and cheap colourless alcohol. He angles his body so that it blocks the cups from view and pulls a small bottle out of his pocket which he empties into one of the drinks. He doesn’t know I am right next to him, although his skin puckers with goose pimples and he hunches his shoulders as he feels the sudden chill. I carry the cold Atlantic currents with me. It’s where I was reborn, something rich and strange, a saltwater blood-salt metamorphosis.

He takes the drinks to you, handing the cup that reeks of contamination to me, but that you do not seem to be able to sense. I’m unused to taking action these days, and my hesitation means you have drunk before I can do anything.
After about ten minutes you lean your head back and close your eyes. The cup falls from your hand, spilling its contents over the arm of the sofa. You giggle and try to lift your head but it’s obvious that you’re struggling. He takes your hand and helps you to stand up. As far as everyone else in the room is concerned you’ve had far too much to drink. He’s supporting you around the waist and your arm is draped over his shoulders.
He guides you to the stairs. No-one notices. No-one interferes. Up to the first floor where a few people are hanging around waiting to use the bathroom. Around a corner and up a second set of stairs. It’s much quieter here. I hear you mumble, ‘where’re we going?’
‘You just need a little lie down’ he answers.
I think you say ‘I want to go home’ but it’s hard to tell. You’re slurring quite badly and he’s almost carrying you.
He opens the door to a bedroom with his free hand, manoeuvring you through and pulling the door closed behind him.
I don’t know what to do. I have become an observer, lately. It’s been many years since I interfered with human lives. I’ve grown to love watching you live your mundane and peaceful life, a life I never could have had in my time. I don’t want you to see the monsters, because once you do you’ll never be the same again. But there’s already a monster in the room with you. That’s the thought that takes me through the door.
I see you lying on your back on a double bed with your legs hanging over the side. Your body is limp, and you are making quiet noises like someone trying to scream while sleeping. He is standing between your knees, leaning over you to undo your jeans.
The pipes begin to rattle as I draw the water to me. The floors creak and the ceilings shake as the pressure builds, growing higher than the house’s plumbing was ever meant to cope with.
He stops groping at your clothes and turns to look at me, visible for the first time in decades as I gather my strength. His eyes widen until I can see the whites all around the iris, and I can hear his breath rasping and gasping as the panic rises. Despite that, he can’t help but come closer. This is how the siren call works. It’s not the irresistible madness of desire. He doesn’t want to approach me but he has no choice; I command water, even the water in his body.
I can hear screams and shouts from the floors below as water shoots out of drains and turns toilets into fountains, bursts radiator valves and breaks bath taps. It all flows to me, defying gravity, splitting floorboards, finding all the holes and cracks and ways to reach me, becoming an extension of my fingers, sliding into his ears, his nose, his mouth, and expanding, rupturing all those delicate tissues within his body to merge with the water within him. This is what water wants. To be one.
It’s over very quickly.
I let the water go and it flows away in a flood of red, leaving a mangled mess of bone and hair and gristle.
I look at you and see that you’re sleeping. I’m glad that you didn’t see his final moments, although you’re spattered with some of his remnants.
I carry you down the stairs, through the wreckage of the house, where water still flows from broken pipes, albeit without its previous urgency.
It’s deserted. The ground floor has fared worst. Broken furniture, sodden upholstery, and a dirty river flowing from the stairs and the kitchen out the front door and down the steps. It’s still tinged pink.
There are no bodies, and I’m glad that I didn’t drown anyone without meaning to, not that I would waste time on regret. After all, none of them acted to protect you.
Outside, the partygoers huddle, white-faced, mouthing meaningless words of shock and speculation. I can hear the sound of emergency vehicles whooping and crackling in the distance.
I take you home.
It’s peaceful here at night. The lights on the bottom of the pool illuminate the water. The surface is smooth as glass and we slide under without making a single ripple. Your hair lifts and waves like a miniature kelp forest, and your skin is beaded with tiny pearlescent bubbles. I wish I could keep you like this, but I have no control over time, and time will ravage you, one way or another. At least I can make sure you get to choose how.
I lift you onto the poolside, and I watch from the water until the early morning swimmers arrive. As they scurry around you, checking your pulse and your breathing and calling for help, I wonder if you will ever come back here.


Judges Comments

From stalker to saviour; from everyday to extraordinary, from realism to lyricism – all of this shapeshifting and more occurs within the brief confines of Rosy Adams' extraordinary story 'The Siren of the Lido', which was the runner up in WM's Open Short Story Competition.

At the beginning we're presented with a first-person narrator whose uncomfortably precise observations suggest obsession with the person they're talking about. But this is a story where things are far from what they seem, and although the initial 'gaze' might appear threatening, it morphs into something no less powerful but entirely benign - a supernatural benefactor.

Chosing a creature from mythology with supernatural powers as narrator is a wildly interesting creative decision that works really well. Rosy 'humanises' her strange narrator to the extent that we can empathise with them, yet never tones down their presence. Instead, as the story progresses, the sense of immanance develops, so that by the end of the story when the person who has been preyed on is placed under the siren's powerful protection, the reader feels a sense of awe.

Rosy's note that she has reworked this story is also interesting, and shows that good basic material can be honed and shaped into really great work. Good writing requires inspiration and originality, which this story has in buckets, but it also needs craft: the painstaking, meticulous work of editing, refining and polishing. It needs belief and self-awareness too: the belief in your story, and the awareness that it needs work to make it into the best creation it can be. In the case of 'The Siren of the Lido', all these elements came together, and the end result is fabulous.