Flash Fiction by Emily Deibler
Scylla and the Witch
Scylla is bathing on the beach again when the witch comes to her dressed in the midnight sky.
Sometimes, they do not speak. Scylla finds peace in her humming, litanies with unknown words she understands. The witch collects many specimens on the beach—shells, husks, little skeletons. Putting her gown back on, Scylla doesn’t ask what the witch uses them for. Potions, she supposes. No one really goes to that side of the island, except for Scylla.
Sometimes, the witch will ask Scylla questions, but she doesn’t know how to answer them at length because, as a nymph, she has not often been sought after for such knowledge.
The witch asks in her sultry voice (and Scylla leans in), “What do they say, that I grind men's bones to pepper my soup?”
Scylla pauses as she dusts sand off her hair. “They say you turn sailors into animals.” Do you? Will you do that to me?
When the witch sits on the beach, a calm washes over them both, an unexpected kinship, starlight in their eyes and hair. The only other person Scylla speaks with, besides her fellow nymphs, is Glaucus, but he—like most of the gods— is jealous and possesses her like a child cradles a seashell, makes it crack and fall into itself. Scylla has been told to stay away from witches, for they are conniving and duplicitous, but the gods themselves are cunning and fickle.
One night, as her arms touch the witch’s, Scylla asks, “Are you like the other witches?”
“What do you mean?”
“No natural thing is evil.”
“And is your magic natural?”
“As natural as any godly power.” Thunder in the distance. “What is that on your jaw?”
Scylla ducks her head. She had thought the night would hide her bruises.
Silence. Then, the witch says: “Do you wish you could be free?”
Nymphs are never seen as much more than women unbound yet bound, prizes for the gods to claim; sometimes, Scylla thinks the only escape is death.
“Is it true you hurt men?” Scylla asks.
“Only those who commit crimes against others.”
“And what of gods?”
No answer. The gods never have to answer for anything.
Scylla tilts her head, watching the rolling silver of the water. “What is your name?”
The witch hums, a hymn, a promise to the wind. “Circe.”
It is on their last night together Circe takes Scylla to her home, an amalgamation of marble, wood, stone. The pigs roaming on the grass seem to mutter under their breaths, backs bizarrely luminescent in the moonlight.
In her solar, the bluest room Scylla has seen, Circe gives her a potion. Reverently, Scylla drinks the seawater mixed with something bitter yet sweet, a final kiss before her limbs turn to jelly, her spine snapping backwards.
It is said there is a monstrous creature only brave sailors face, but can never slay. There is a channel with Charybdis on one side, Scylla on the other. Charybdis, the thunderous jaws of the ever-churning sea, and Scylla: four red eyes, dogs’ heads snarling at her waist, twelve tentacles for legs, and, in her mouth, three rows of shark teeth. Untouched, starlight in her eyes, kissed by lips that have tasted moonlight.
A native of North Georgia, Emily Deibler is a published poet and author. Her short story “Deer in December” was published in TL;DR Press’ Halloween 2018 Horror collection, NOPE. She has also published her poems “Turkey Hunting,” “Patty,” “Samantha,” and “Daughters of the Sun.” Her debut novel, Dove Keeper, came out in October 2018. She can be found on Twitter at @emilydeibler. She is a regular contributor to Marías at Sampaguitas.