skip to Main Content
The world's leading Mystery magazine

Story Excerpt

The Siren: 1999
by Joyce Carol Oates

Art from

Shouts, laughter. A crashing sound of trash cans overturned in the street.

Some sort of dispute that spills into the vestibule of the rooming house at 229 East Union Street, Oriskany, New York. In his room on the second floor overlooking the street he is determined to ignore.

Twenty years old, just slightly older than most other first-year students at the State University at Oriskany, New York. He’s saving money by living not on campus (as he would have liked, would so have liked to seem like any other undergraduate with a stable family, any family at all) but at the seedy end of East Union in a neighborhood of old once-dignified single-family brick houses partitioned into rooms for low-income residents most of whom are foreign graduate students.

His mistake is: ignoring the commotion out on the street.

His mistake is: He’d promised himself a hike that afternoon.

In gusty November weather along the trail at Flint Kill Creek to clear his head after a difficult week at the university, so yearning for the outdoors after the enforced interiors of lecture halls, headache-inducing lights of the university library, claustrophobia of his small cramped room, eyes smarting from too much close reading, note-taking, squinting into the screen of his clunky old Dell laptop, he has trained himself to ignore noises out on the street, raised voices, laughter; often, drunken laughter; crashing sounds of trash cans overturned on the sidewalk he has trained himself to ignore, in a trance of concentration reading and annotating textbooks for his courses (pre-law, political philosophy, Thomas Hobbes: determinism); in his room with a single tall narrow window overlooking East Union Street he pushes little wads of Kleenex into his ears to drown out distractions as he’d learned to do as a boy in a noisy and combative household in Sparta, New York. So intent now upon hurrying outdoors, in hiking clothes (worn corduroy trousers, gunmetal-gray hoodie, water-stained Nikes), heart uplifted, the only certain happiness in his life is hiking along the Flint Kill trail, a seven-mile loop on both sides of the fast-running Flint Kill Creek, desperate to get outside, to breathe, and so what sheerly bad luck (he will see in retrospect) that he is leaving the building at the very moment a new dispute erupts out on the street . . .

Read the exciting conclusion in this month’s issue on sale now!

Copyright © 2023 The Siren: 1999 by Joyce Carol Oates

Back To Top
    Your Cart
    Your cart is emptyReturn to Shop