Charybdis Moves to Pōneke
Charybdis is bored. Three times a day she drinks the sea water above her, three times a day she belches it back out. Sometimes she sees Scylla through the waves, darting her heads down at those pesky sailors. Sometimes she swallows a ship along with all that alt water. She finds the oars tickle her throat.
She’s lost count of how many times she’s partaken in this routine, how many years she’s been stuck to this spot, luring sailors to their demise. She wants a holiday, at least a new location. The taste of the Mediterranean Sea stopped appealing to her several hundred years ago.
“Zeus,” she calls, knowing her paternal uncle will hear her regardless of where he is. “I have a query of you.”
He appears with a clap of thunder and spark of lightning, wearing a pristine white toga. He stands at the edge of the beach near her, careful to not get too close to his niece’s whirl.
“Yes, Charybdis?” His voice is all bass.
“I am bored, Uncle. I am so bored. Please can I move somewhere else, at least for a few years?” she pleads. The sea lazes above her.
He looks confused. “Well, why don’t you?” he asks incredulously.
She scoffs, annoyed at his forgetting. “You trapped me here, Uncle. All those long years ago, as punishment for swallowing the land.”
“I did? Hmm. I must have been cross with your father at that time,” he says.
Not for the first time she silently curses her father Poseidon, a god of temper and power. “Well, may I have a change of scenery? Can you reverse this lock on my location?”
“I suppose, if you grant me a boon,” he offers. “Otherwise, no.”
“What do you wish of me, uncle?” she asks, freedom niggling at her desire.
“Tell me a secret of your father’s, may it help me best him in conflict,” he demands of her.
For a time she thinks, the sea water lapping between them like one thousand comforts. She wonders if it will feel different elsewhere in the world. But then she has the answer.
“His domain covers the seven seas and beyond, but rarely does he leave the seven,” she tells her uncle in a whisper, afraid the currents will carry her words to her father. “I know there are many more seas and oceans beyond the seven we hold, and his power is weaker there. If this information is useful to you I will depart for one of those untainted by his detriment.”
Zeus is evidently impatient, eager to finish the conversation. “Very well,” he booms. “I will grant you this wish.”
There is a crack of thunder, and then she is free, blessed by his prior engagement. Her uncle has disappeared from the beach, most likely returned to the twink in his bed. Poor Hera, she thinks, but then she’s swimming—actually swimming—for the first time in aeons.
She flies under Scylla like a sailfish, calling out a “Woohoo!” in farewell. One of her companion’s heads follows her, eyes tinged with jealousy.
The water churns around her as she swims, drawn by the force of her travel. Three times a day she stops to swallow down the water and whatever else gets caught in her pull. Three times a day she belches it all out. She swims out into the great expanse, losing sight of all shorelines. There are whales bigger than triremes, and curious sharks that flow in the water behind her. As soon as she starts to swallow the ocean around her, they disperse into the depths.
Oh, how she’s missed swimming. She is a javelin thrown through the water. Nothing is in her way. She twirls with joy as she propels herself forward.
She travels through the different climates, finding herself enjoying the crisp chill of the southern oceans after aeons spent stationary in the warmth of the Strait of Messina. She probes the endless waters, hunting for a similar strait or bay she can call home. For a while her search finds no land, just a rolling mass of waves throwing her about like a piece of kelp. There are waves taller than the gates of her father’s hold, so powerful they could swallow them whole. She enjoys the danger, so different from her solitary years.
Eventually she finds calmer waters, travelling through an expanse of islands. She floats idyllically through their clear waters enjoying the company of sea turtles, fascinated by their hard shells and powerful fins. She likes the pristine sunlight shining through on her skin, but the water still doesn’t taste quite right. The further south she swims the more an undercurrent of a distinct chill is present, so different from the seas she knows well. It pulls her in, so tantalising, and she finds herself swimming towards its origins without thinking.
How long she swims she could not say, but she does not tire until she arrives in the densest smattering of the taste that draws her. She breaks the surface of the water and finds herself in a bay, populated with a harbour and a city of buildings taller than she’s ever seen.
Greenery flits between and around these buildings in a beautiful co-habitation. Light reflects off the menagerie of windows, dazzling her. The whole city bustles; even the waterfront is busy with the passings of humans. There’s a peace that cusps the city, one she is eager to consume.
The water is crisp, even with the passings of giant ferries and ships. She swims excitedly around their expanse, causing a flurry of sea spray. Her mouth is salivating as she begins to swallow her first deluge of this crisp water. It’s a shame she takes a couple of ships down too, the tastes of metal and human flesh permeating her enjoyment. But it’s always fun to belch them free.
Scylla is alone. She peers down the cliff face of her home with one of her six heads at the churning waves and collected rocks jutting from the water. What else is there to do but look? There is no one and no thing to mark a difference across the landscape, just the deep wide blue of the ocean. It has been months since a ship has passed her by, loaded with tasty morsels for her to snap up in her jaws.
Hunger is her lone companion. Her heads snap at each other in the weaker moments, scarring her sinewy necks. The smallest head gets the worst of it, bearing a necklace of delicate scars. It knows to stay behind the others now, waiting. For what else is there to do but wait?
Occasionally, a sea creature will swim below the cliff, diving too deep under the water for her snarling heads to reach. She knows they’re teasing her, stories of her having been passed through their generations. It has been years since one has been bold enough to risk swimming at the water’s surface. It was delicious.
Day turns to night as Selene drives the moon into the sky. The goddess quickly darts away to revel in the moonlight like a shoot star across the blanketed sky. Scylla snarls with envy. How she longs to be a naiad again, frolicking under the moon’s glow.
Before her the goddess’s descent alters, turning towards the strait of Messina where Scylla resides. Scylla’s snarls choke in her throats and she cowers into the depths of her cave, but it is no use; the goddess has nearly reached her.
Selene floats before the cliff face, glowing like the moon she tows to and fro. Her hair is silver, cascading down past the soles of her bare feet. A toga clings to her body, rustling in the breeze as she peers into the cave.
“Creature, why do you snarl at me so? I bear you no ill will.” Her voice is as shiny as her skin.
“It is no personal grievance,” Scylla says. Her voice is husky with misuse, but it echoes through all her throats. “I envy your freedom. I wish I could dance like you.”
“What stops you?” the goddess asks.
“I haven’t the form,” Scylla replies. “Not anymore.”
“Let me see you,” the goddess commands. Her face is kind and round. “Come into my light.”
“I shan’t,” Scylla cries bashfully. “I am ghastly to look upon. You are too radiant to be burdened with my presence.”
“What nonsense! No harm will come upon you, creature. Come forth and tell me your name.”
“My name is Scylla,” she responds.
“Ah, I have heard of you Scylla. Seamen long to best you, and their wives fear you. I will look upon you, my dear.”
And so, Scylla creeps forward from the depths of her cave, all six heads blinking away the excess light. Selene’s smile only widens as Scylla emerges from the shadows. She feels ugly in the light and has to resist the urge to scour her skin with the teeth of her jaws.
“See, now that wasn’t so hard,” the goddess croons. “Welcome into my light. It is an honour to meet you Scylla, one so fabled and famed.”
“How can it be an honour to meet one so beastly?” Scylla questions sincerely. “My faces are all marred with ugliness.”
Selene’s lone face crumbles before her, heartbroken at hearing words spoken with such conviction. A glowing hand reaches up to cup the cheek of the nearest head. Scylla finds herself nestling into it, the other five heads swaying with the motion. Her hand is warm against her cheek, and soft against the roughness of her skin. How long has it been since someone touched her so lovingly, or at all?
“It hurts to hear you say such things, my friend,” Selene says softly. As she speaks she looks each head in the eyes in turn. “You may not hold the beauty you once did, but that does not make you ugly. There is a rugged handsomeness in your features, all six of them. And your necks look powerful and strong with muscle. In better circumstances your appearance could be considered regal.”
Six warmths spread across Scylla’s twelve cheeks. It’s a blush she’ll store for later, in the quiet lonely moments. “Thank you for your words, o goddess. You are too kind to a beast such as I.”
“All creatures deserve kindness,” Selene reassures her softly. “Your transformation was not your fault. You deserve still the life of a naiad, not this cruel existence. Were it in my power I would return you to your true form.”
“Alas, I can barely remember how I was,” Scylla mourns gruffly. “For so long I have been this monster, darting heads down from this cave to eat the passings of mankind. Alone.”
“You are alone no longer,” Selene says, her thumb rubbing comforting circles on Scylla’s cheek. “Each night as I tow the moon across the sky you will know you have a friend in me. When I can I will return to your cave here to engage in our new friendship.”
“I would enjoy that very much,” Scylla purrs. “I forgot how kindness felt. Thank you.”
“I will always remind you,” Selene says with a smile. “But now I must go. I will see you soon, my friend. Farewell!”
“Farewell,” Scylla calls as the goddess darts away, returning to her usual refrain. A lone tear runs down one of her twelve cheeks, but she’s the happiest she’s felt in years.
Each night as the goddess tows the moon into the sky she gives Scylla a wave and a smile, before darting away through the sky. Scylla is alone no more.