As suggested by the title right there *points up* and right there *points down”, this is an alternate opening for Cat McDonald’s Sirens story, “Notefisher” 🙂
Notefisher Alt Opening
Terra wiggled back into the rain-wet couch as the smells of wood smoke and palo santo incense whirled around her. When she felt her fingers penetrate her cup of cocoa like tree roots, winding through it and dragging its sweetness into her, she figured the C-Sharp she’d taken was kicking in, so she settled in to enjoy it.
Their timing was good. A chillstep act had taken the main stage while she and Jordan had been up getting cocoa, so she could just relax into the sound, wait for her guide, and find out where the bass intended to take her.
Jordan turned around to look up at her from his spot on the ground. He seemed to like sitting right against the earth; he settled in the grass every chance he got, like a preschooler or a true festival kid. He wasn’t, of course; he didn’t seem to know anyone, always looked a little confused when he heard a new music take the stage, and had worn a plain red t-shirt. It was obviously his first festival, so he needed a guide, and Terra’s campmate had abandoned her to pursue a DJ anyway, so they’d become friends.
Right now, all she knew about him was that he was new to this, that he liked drum and bass more than house, and that he couldn’t keep himself from staring at dancers.
“How are you doing?”
He stared at her for a moment or two, black-brown eyes shining in the reflected firelight, seeming to change shape as she struggled to keep a handle on her perceptions. The stage went red as a more traditional dubstep took the stage from her ambient chillstep.
“I’m fine,” she thought she heard him say as he turned back to face the fire, entranced by something only he could see. Terra followed his gaze as a ribbon of wood smoke wriggled between the stage’s lasers toward her.
The scent of incense reached out to caress her face, and when she glanced down she saw a transparent gray-blue hand cradling her. Red and orange stage lights flickered inside the hand and arm like lightning strikes, contained in the body of the muse she’d grown to love.
A pleasant humming in her ear skirted just under the music, in awkward, unpracticed harmony with the deep, booming music, and a smoky breeze tickled at her left ear. Terra turned to see a familiar smile rippling through the air, wavering but brilliant like treasure at the bottom of a clear pond. The embers of the fire glittered in the muse’s eyes, and when she opened her mouth to speak, Terra felt her ears tingle.
Behind the head and torso of a stately, dignified older woman, the body of a great rainbow-colored serpent glittered in twisted ribbons that bumped and writhed along the waveforms of the music like a fast-moving river. Every time Terra got a fix on one of her colors, the peerless aquamarine just behind her shoulder, it changed and the entire body had moved away on the wind to be discovered anew. Now, the journey could begin.
Rather than staring straight at Terra, her sparkling eyes stared down at the ground in front of the couch, where Jordan stared out into the distance after his own muse.
A high-pitched squeal in her ear pulled Terra’s focus back to the muse’s face, to the way her brows knit together, to the deep darkness that had settled in behind the sparks in her eyes. She brought her transparent hands together in front of her and cupped them in the air as if cradling something very delicate.
Terra reached out to take those hands, and felt nothing even though she saw them return her grasp.
“I understand. I’ll look out for him,” Terra said, and although the darkness never left the muse’s eyes, she smiled.
Then, as always, the world started to ripple around them as the muse pulled Terra forward into her dark, uncertain, watery world.
“I trust you,” Terra heard herself say out loud before falling forward to find out where the trip led next.
Cat McDonald lives in an eighth-floor apartment in Edmonton with a baby tortoise and at least a dozen tarot decks. She’s studying Investigations at Macewan and Tarot at Northern Star college, and makes better choices now than she did five years ago. Eli is two years old and loves strawberries.