‘The weird sisters, hand in hand,
Posters of the sea and land,
Thus do go about, about:
Thrice to thine, and thrice to mine,
And thrice again, to make up nine’
(William Shakespeare: Macbeth, Act I scene iii)
At the hour when the shade lay least on the wooded shore, the girl walked on the thirsty rocks and felt the sun’s power on her back. An oppressive heat which had lasted for weeks made the mountain heaped high upon the giant’s throat in the distance look like fantasy. On this little stretch of land shaped like a bow, Scylla tried to convince herself it was a place of peace. Not far behind her, the Cyclops’ field still never knew the plough and the narrow strait that led out to sea welcomed ships. The herb-clad hills that marked the way back to the mainland were still bountiful and food for birds and butterflies. But as the sun on her skin reminded her she was mortal, Scylla left the dark shore without a ship in sight. She headed back to the hills without a sprout. In the field of the Cyclops, the ground was still smoking. In her mind, the song was still meaningful.
‘She shined down on the broken land,
Dogs bark at what they don’t understand,
Herbs for healing have gone amiss,
Now magic for the land of Dis,
High above and far below me,
Deities have tried to break free,
But look around the time is lost,
We had our time not worth the cost’
She looked up just before the rocks became roots and the ancient cypress trees surrounded her. A nebulous cloud of sickly white stretched across the sky with patches of it undulating like the underside of cardboard with the first layer torn off. Scylla noticed the ruin as a physician would the plague patient: Doomed within but rather whole without, but the tell-tale marks had left hope behind the moment they appeared. The world lingered on in its fever-sweats and boils, the bell to mark the end nowhere in sight and beyond hearing.
The invasive herbs that baffled twisted along the ground in a tangled unity where clover once grew. Even Scylla’s sneakers seemed useless against the potent powers of the singular plant claiming the ground for its own. Whenever the colors of the day turned to gray, she swore she could see them glowing just before darkness smothered everything. But not everything new in the old world was pernicious and tyrannical. Where she was headed, the water was a revelation, even if it kept its secrets.
Circe’s Perfumes for Transformation
& Other Uses ~ 9 x 9 Ways
Scylla tried to avoid looking at the sign every time she passed through the rusted chain-link fence. Faded graffiti that once covered the massive billboard had faded away like just another ghost amongst the multitudes. The only defacement that was still legible read: ‘—irce defiled the bay w— deforming drugs.’ But nothing vast entered the world without a curse. The dear treasure that flowed within the ruins of the perfume factory was a consolation for Scylla, a little wink from the nameless goddess who handed out pleasure blindly and without reason.
Bronze sculptures of the sun lined the way, a dim reminder of days past when even a heavenly body could be copyrighted and called a corporation. The reclusive ways of Scylla had spared her the choking death of the noxious fumes from the factory that day. But it seemed the whole earth had exhaled its disgust all at once. Within a few months, the eradication of humanity was almost as thorough as it had been for the life-giving herbs. In a land of the obscured, only the nebulous clouds growing dimmer betrayed the time of day. In the distance, where the concrete became rocks again, a pack of feral dogs were barking as a collective.
As Scylla approached the place where the Earth still gave back, she noticed her left sneaker was untied. But just before she reached down to retie it, she saw strands of the baffling weed intertwined with her shoelace. She reminded herself that the little heart-shaped leaves were marks of death. Any signs of hope and sentimentality, heart-shaped or otherwise, had asphyxiated in the noxious cloud that day, too. Scylla left the laces unattended and headed obliquely away from the barking dogs. Where she walked, the baffling weed left its invisible seeds.
A slight breeze from the West blew bits of the factory ruins in Scylla’s direction. The air smelled like a funeral home, false florals as abundant as the false sweetness of words. The aromatics evoked the past and Scylla knew it was impossible to ignore. Even if ghosts were confined to fiction, memory was just as haunting.
(Scylla singing softly)
‘In magic halls of Circe shined,
The false Sun sat his light confined,
Death smelled so nice and what is more,
When they smelled it they closed their door,
But perfume’s more than something sweet,
The breath of that you all will meet,
Now get you gone you poisoned air,
Life lingers on but is not fair,
I’m almost done my—’
Searching for the next rhyming couplet, Scylla took to her heels as the feral dogs flanked her. In the midst of her reverie, the wind not only carried memories, it carried her mortal odor as well. By the time she found her swift-footed rhythm, she ran out of her left shoe. The tempting smell of foot odor in the lost shoe distracted a few of the wiry hounds long enough for Scylla to reach the other side of the factory yard and squeeze through the fence. Four of the dogs barked manically at her escape on the other side of the fence, their wild eyes indicative of yet another species that had given up on humans.
Scylla watched as her sneaker was torn to pieces in the distance. She wondered what she tasted like but shook off the thought when she smelled where she was. The mineral brine of the waters she sought were bubbling as they always did. Evening, with its worn but soft hand, hushed the little world and even the dogs stopped barking. Scylla almost smiled as she turned around. But when she did, surprise mangled the expression into a look of blank confusion.
“You lost something back there,” a woman said, through the mist.
In the dark pool of bubbling water, a woman was half-submerged while the rest of her body was hidden by the congregation of vapors rising upwards. Scylla could see that the woman was naked but something about her skin and limbs looked far more distorted than any kind of tricks the mist could have achieved. Humans were rare but Scylla still knew them by sight and scent. Now Scylla was struggling to confirm if this was a human or a monster from the deep.
“How long has it been since you saw another?” The woman laughed softly.
“It’s been…,” Scylla paused, finding herself singing her words as she had for so long, “Two summers tomorrow.”
“You weren’t expecting me. But I’ve been watching. I always am. The curse of my blood,” the woman said, splashing the water. “You are a quick one. I expected my beasts to catch you. They would have started on you from below, you know. I’ve seen it, over and over again. People and dogs and pigs do it. Haha, what’s the difference? You would have watched them eat you until they reached your throat. You would have cursed the world before they finished you. Barking beasts your whole body round. And if you fled, you would have fetched them along.”
The woman fell into a coughing fit and sprays of blood fell into the dark pool. In the midst of her coughing, the thick vapor dissipated and Scylla saw her unadorned. Her face was twisted but the verity of it was undeniable. Stamps, billboards, commercials, newspaper clippings and gossip columns and the factory itself, all bore her resemblance before the perfume cloud ended things. Now her hands were missing and her chest concave, the greater portion of her skin peeling off in clumps and her bare scalp pockmarked.
“They still worship me, you know. Down there,” the woman said.
“By that same logic, dogs bark at what they don’t understand,” Scylla muttered, taking a step closer.
“Funny. The gods, I hate your beauty. Probably only beautiful because you’re not misshapen like me. Little fish in a big empty pond. Don’t you know who I am?”
“Daughter of the sun, right? Daddy sure is burning less brightly these days.”
“So you can’t even say my name?”
“What’s the point? Do you care what mine is?”
“I should turn you into a—”
“You already did that.”
“In my day, if someone spoke to me like that—”
“How long have you been looking for someone else? Huh?” Scylla frowned, crouching down. “I’ll bet you can’t even turn a man into a pig anymore.”
“Why don’t you come closer and see? I don’t need hands to tell you ‘twice nines and another time, thrice nines again to make up what’s mine!”
As mutterings of broken charms failed to wind up, Scylla fiddled with her remaining shoe. Careful not to touch the heart-shaped leaves along the vine of the baffling herbs in her shoelaces, she pulled one out like an experienced but drunken doctor would a stitch. Charm after charm failed to move anything but the woman’s lips as the vapors of the water began to smell like boiled hotdogs. Through the mist, Scylla found the babbling witch’s yellow eyes and made sure she saw her when she did it.
“Mine plus your nine, will turn out just fucking fine. The rhymes are worn out,” Scylla almost sang, dropping the strand of herbs into the water.
No dogs howled or lightning struck when the water turned. What had been left of Circe dissolved as sugar does in boiling water. There were no words of rebuttal on the witch’s part and an eternal curse did not fall Scylla. The girl watched to make sure every bit of the Daughter of the Sun melted and resolved itself into a dew. Night fell and the crickets failed to play their sharp instruments of darkness.
The journey back to the shore where the reefs once flourished was one of redundancy. This night felt just the same as every other one. Scylla had rehearsed what had just transpired so many times over the course of two years, it felt like seeing and smelling a memory. In the distance, the baffling herbs were glowing softly. For the first time, Scylla called them beautiful without regret. Just as she confined the day to just another one along with all the others, she heard shuffling behind her. She whistled out of instinct and nine dogs trotted up to Scylla. She decided to name them tomorrow. But as she walked with the nine hounds that ringed her in a loyal circle, she smiled for the first time in years.
Hayden Moore was born and raised in Georgia and has lived in New York City for the past twelve years. In the past five months, he has been published seventeen times for his short stories: twice in Corner Bar Magazine, Metonym Literary Journal, Drunk Monkey Literary Journal, Fictional Cafe, Modern Literature, Calliope, Wood Coin Magazine, Wink Magazine, Verdad Magazine, Wilderness House Literary, Blue Moon Literary and Art Review, Deep Overstock Journal, Wild Roof Journal, Oddville Press and La Piccioletta Barca. He lives with his wife and cat on the waters of Jamaica Bay in Queens. https://www.haydenmooreauthor.com