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“Effie,” I hear her say, and even though her voice is calm, it carries a telltale vibrato that I register too late. I’m standing across from a siren and there’s a call in her voice. Whatever she says next will have power.
There’s no time after that. Not to think, she wouldn’t dare do this to me, and not to dare her. To tell her that I am through playing nice, that you don’t threaten Eloko, and that she and her snake sister had better start thinking of what comes after Portland because they are never going to live this night down.
There’s no time to run, when what was a wobbling pillar of scales and haunted hair stiffens—and then I do, too.
It hits me in my core. Deep inside my body, something goes hard.
I gasp, but the air doesn’t get in. Not really. It comes into my throat but then stops. I can’t get it into my chest. That’s where my panic starts. Am I going to suffocate? Is being Stoned by a siren and her snake sister actually dying? No one knows. No one’s ever come back from the stone. Which means the sisters don’t know either, and they’re doing it anyway.
I don’t know how long it takes from the outside. They’re watching me turn gray like the other promgoers in this courtyard, and the man in the cemetery, and the kids in Triton Park—but I don’t know if it seems fast or slow. I just know I’m terrified that my lungs will start burning any moment from the air I can’t force into them, that the legs I can’t feel anymore aren’t there, that the stone has broken somehow even though I’ve never seen it happen. What else am I supposed to think when thinking is all I can do? I can’t feel anything, once the hardening starts. It feels like nothing, except that it’s spreading.
I want to look down, to see my body, that it’s still there. I want to look away so that the last thing I see isn’t Tavia Philips.
But there’s no time.
Woke Portland: a Year After the Awakening
Contributor | June 2021
Last month, a year after the Awakening, four children gathered in Triton Park. They had been surrounded by their families and members of the Portland community, the way they often were during their nearly decade-long suspended animation. But Mere, Tabor, Wiley, and Ashleigh—first names only, to protect the families’ privacy—stand out among the crowd. Partly because of the reverent space they’re given, all but close family keeping a considerate distance from the children rarely seen in public. Only a year after being stone themselves, the Triton Park Four still look very much like the sculpture unveiled in the place where their childhoods passed them by.
The anniversary has come and gone, the sculpture christened with colorful wreaths nearly identical to the ones left for the children when they were in stone. The foursome has retreated back into the reclusive cocoon of their families. They probably won’t be seen until the next Awakening Day—assuming this is a tradition that continues, and how could it not?
But there were others freed from the stone. It’s impossible to forget the few days before the Awakening, when other gray statues appeared in quick succession, leading up to the panic at the prom. Their imprisonments were, thankfully, considerably shorter than those of the children of Triton Park. They were pedestrians mostly, unfortunate and hapless victims. And then, of course, there were the promgoers, with only one known Eloko afflicted—and there was also one siren.
Tavia Philips was never a victim of her best friend Effie Freeman’s gorgon spell, but the day she Awakened those who were, she set herself free, too. She won’t say so, not on the record at least, but the facts speak for themselves. One day, no one knew there was a siren living in Portland, and the next, we were grateful to have been wrong.
Tavia’s reluctance to comment comes as a surprise, given the national attention her YouTube channel, Siren Speaks, has garnered. For the past year, she’s gathered quite a following speaking out on the alleged marginalization and systemic oppression she says sirens have faced. Soon, she won’t just be a powerful voice in advocacy and activism. This month will see the streaming debut of an original film made about the teenage siren and the day she saved PDX. While one would expect her to be enjoying the fanfare, Tavia intentionally appears to distance herself ahead of the release.
To be fair, she recently graduated from Beckett High, for anyone who forgot this firebrand is actually still a teenager, though any attempt at “average” would be a stretch. Perhaps she’s focusing on summer freedom, and college plans. Professor Heather Vesper-Holmes, of the University of Portland, however, provides a much more likely explanation for Tavia Philips to eschew the limelight of Awakening Day.
“Except for Tavia’s, the freedom granted by Awakening was from a curse her adoptive sister unleashed,” Professor Vesper-Holmes says. She stares out from behind her wide desk, stacked with books and legal pads covered in layer upon layer of scribblings. The thirtysomething academic is hard not to take seriously. Much of her earlier research has been discredited: years of studying sprites under the hypothesis that they were capable of capturing children in stone. But Professor Vesper-Holmes has the distinction of being the one to discredit her own previous work, briefly turning her academic attention to the gorgon who was actually responsible. Now with Effie Freeman nowhere to be found—or studied—the professor has become the first in her field to launch contemporary research on Portland’s beloved population of Eloko, prompted by one Eloko’s involvement in Tavia Philips’s Awakening.
“Tavia had to undo something her sister did. And while Effie, the gorgon who didn’t know she was a gorgon at a time when—to be fair—few knew gorgons actually exist, has been all but forgiven, she still chose to disappear. I think that’s pretty traumatic for Tavia.”
It’s a reasonable deduction, and Professor Vesper-Holmes may be right. But if it’s trauma, it’s also just the kind of origin story you’d expect from a hero in the making.
Copyright © 2021 by Bethany C. Morrow