"Do you know my name?" I wonder aloud, challenging my guests. "Do you know why I am here in this wasteland?"
I receive no answer to my utterances. The wind outside my ramshackle stone hut shrieks, enraged that I would dare to pose such questions. It howls as if I am the one who must answer its summons. It is tempting to shriek back, gods-damned creature that I am. Tempting, but I refrain. I may be a creature, a beast, a murderess, but I am not an animal. I will not howl my rage uselessly into the wind. I will wait for my fury to cool, to temper, to harden and sharpen like the blade of a knife. My anger will serve me. I will not serve it.
I ignore the wind and continue my tale, "I was a priestess of the great Temple of Hera. I was a healer. I was the very vessel of the goddess herself." Yes, I was all of those things. I was blessed with divine purpose and power.
"I was sought out by women for my skill at wielding Hera's gifts. The gift of children. They came to me, begging, wanting only to conceive and carry their husband's child. The priestesses at Aphrodite's temple offered only pleasure and the satiation of desires. The Temple of Hera offered so much more: immortality through birth, through motherhood. These women gave their trust and themselves to Hera through me. I touched them. I taught their bodies how to bear fruit." I pause and consider my own form, clothed as it is in rough wool. My body will never know that ripening.
"It is difficult to believe, I know, but I was beautiful once." I speak to my captive audience but they do not inundate me with curious questions. They do not scoff or shift. They do not sigh or cough. Once, people had been enchanted by my voice alone, but no longer.
I look down at my hands in the dim, flickering light. I no longer shudder at their unnatural deformity; I am accustomed to them now despite the fact that they are hideous, like the rest of me. Terrible, but unmercifully still serviceable.
To what end?
The question haunts me. Once, when these hands had been youthful and smooth-skinned, pale and soft, they had touched princesses and paupers' wives. They had healed women of politics and ladies of prostitution. I had turned away no one; my hands had served Hera's will. Now, they heal nothing.
"Once, I gave the gift of life," I whisper to the shifting darkness that creeps close to my meager hearth. My guests do not refute me. They do not commiserate with me. They say nothing. Just as the ones who have come before them say nothing.
"I hope you will like my garden. It's very peaceful," I tell the men crouched and huddled near the fire.
Turning, I study what I can see of my garden through the open doorway of my stone hut. Indeed, it is very peaceful, although I find no such reward there, not among the stones that stand where gently swaying trees should be, nor in the burnt remains of fires where gently scented flowers ought to grow. This mountain pass will tolerate no such beauty. At long last, I have decided to respect that, honor that. Harshness can be compelling, seductive, irresistible.
"There is beauty even here," Zeno had told me.
"That is an easy thing for a shepherd to say," I'd accused him. His flock had been slowly scattering across the hillside, cropping relentlessly at the scraggly, undying grass and gnarled weeds. "Sheep will eat anything. As long as their gullets are busy they care for naught else. When their wool grows, you see profit. Many men find that beautiful."
The shepherd had laughed. I'd watched his gray-streaked beard sway in the ever-present mountain breeze. "A reluctant mistress this mountain may be, but she is lovely. Come here again before dawn tomorrow and I will show you."
Zeno had kept his promise. I'd sat beside him in the dark, sharing the stories of the stars. I'd warmed my wind-whipped skin in the first light of dawn. And then I'd stared in awe as Zeno had pointed to one outcrop of rock after another and sculpted with words.
"Do you see that one there? She looks like a nymph, yes? Twisting up toward the sky. And that shadow there, that's her lyre at her feet…"
Stone by stone, Zeno had taught me the beauty of the mountain. Thereafter, she could no longer hide her loveliness from me and this angered her. In retaliation, the mountain stole Zeno away, took his soft voice and raspy breath, leaving me alone once again.
At first, I merely wanted to have his likeness with me so that I might have a form or figure to speak to at dawn. I'd taken out the tools of my father's sculpting trade and set to work, my hands remembering the way of it slowly but surely. With the chisel and hammer, I'd created Zeno's likeness.
But the other shepherds who lead their flocks through this pass had not seen a memorial. They had seen their old friend turned to stone. They'd been busy rumormongers indeed, those ignorant shepherds; the glory-seeking young men had come the very next spring, armed with swords and shields.
When I'd first seen their approach, I'd nearly laughed. What could they possibly have to fear from a mere woman?
But I had not laughed. What indeed did a man have to fear from me?
I remembered the vile speeches of the metropolis' new governor, condemning me and my ways and my temple, ignoring the fact that his own mother, aunts, and sisters had been petitioners to the priestesses of Hera. I remembered the fire that had destroyed my home, my hands, my life. I'd looked at my hands as my self-appointed enemies had drawn closer and I'd realized…
These hands no longer serve Hera. They do not give life.
In that case, perhaps they should take it.
Their own fear had worked against the warriors as a fire-scarred and mangled woman stalked them on the mountain. The first one was felled by a rock. I took his sword and, one by one, his companions perished, burned, and were remade from stone, chisel, and hammer.
Thanks to the talkative shepherds, the rumors grew. My enemy came to me in increasing numbers.
But no, the men who have fallen at my hand were not my true enemy. They were the sons of the men and women who had destroyed Hera's temple and cast me out. If I reserved my wrath for them alone, it would be wasted. But now I have their children, the very children I'd helped them create and nurture. The very children I had given life.
Now, I take it away.
I regard my silhouette on the stone wall. The fire behind me hisses and spits like a nest of serpents. My shadow flickers and my hair writhes. Perhaps they will say I have snakes on my head next. Perhaps they will say I have been cursed by Hera herself. Perhaps they will say I dwell on the road to Hades.
Perhaps they are right.
But let them come, these self-proclaimed heroes who seek my head. Let them set foot within my domain. I am Medusa. My claws are sharp and my bite is poison. My garden is crowded with men of stone and the soot of pyres. Let them come. I have only just begun to do battle.
. . . . .
NOTES: Medusa will hopefully be a full-length novel one day in the future. To keep up on these updates and/or to see the cover art for Medusa, please visit my homepage (the link is available on my Fiction Press profile). Thanks!