Friday, May 20, 2011

Medusa

The challenge was here. I watched Tangled last weekend, and thought, someone should do a mashup, since both were about magic hair and eyes, but so different. If I'd done another draft, I would have made Medusa angrier. She doesn't come off enraged enough yet. But for now I'll just call it done.

She had been born bald. When it grew in, her hair started blonde and curly at the back, dark and straight at the front. The curls worked their way forward, and the darkness worked towards the back, and by the time she was of age, Medusa had a magnificent head of hair.

That had been a problem. Her beautiful long coils of hair had hung to the middle of her back, setting off her stunning eyes, high cheekbones and ripe, red mouth.

Because of those looks, she thought she could get away with anything. Anything in this case was stealing lettuce. The punishment was that her hair was turned to snakes, anyone who looked in her eyes was turned to stone, and living on a desert island. The Temple of Athena had a zero tolerance policy on dine-and-dashing.

Perseus was just a Greek prince fated to kill his father. He'd been invited to a theme wedding -- horses as gifts. He didn't have any, so he'd offered to get anything else. The groom had asked for Medusa's head. It had seemed a high price for a banquet hall dinner and a night of dancing, but whatever.

It had been a trick. Medusa wasn't even in Greece.

Poseidon had grown tired of the island’s erratic growth from all the people she'd turned to stone falling in the water, messing with the shipping lanes.

The old woman (one of the Hesperides, accustomed to working blind, since they shared one eye between the three of them) had come and offered her more salad. Medusa, tired of fish and seaweed, had taken the old woman’s salad and tried to stare her down, but it hadn’t worked so well due to the glaucoma. When Medusa sat down to eat, the old woman had caught her wrist in a manacle and dragged her to a boat.

They had blindfolded Medusa and brought her to shore, and trotted her through Greece and the Balkans to this German tower.

Every morning, the old woman would come after the sun was up and the bread was baked. She would shout up, “Medusa, Medusa, let down your hair, that I might climb your snakey stair.”
She would cackle, as if the rhyme was something clever, and add, “And make sure it isn’t one of the biting ones, if you want to keep eating.” You’d think she’d try to keep the poetry flowing. But no.

Medusa's hair was all kinds of snakes – cobras, cottonmouths, coral snakes. She'd tried cutting the python off, but it had been a mistake. Now the wretched thing was like a freaky 70-foot dreadlock. It would slide straight down the wall, loop its body into handholds and footholds, and let the old woman climb up like a marine.

She would feel around, touching everything, looking for a flat place to put down the day’s bread.

“Can you hear them hissing?” she would ask as if she had a familiar. She didn’t. Or, if she did, it was a ghost or a flea. “Coming closer. They always want to see how close they can get. Want to bite me, or wrap their coils around my neck.”

"You crazy old bat, do you think I would let them kill you?" Medusa asked.

"You couldn't stop them if they wanted to," said the old woman.

"Let me out of this fucking tower," Medusa would say, sweetness having never gotten her anywhere. "I preferred my island."

"Not the right place for you," the old woman would say, and snap her hand out and catch a cockroach. She'd offer the meat up to a random snake, regardless of the threat of poison.

Naturally Medusa wanted out of the tower. It wasn’t a particularly well-built place, drafty, cold in the winter, cold and humid in the summer, cold and damp in the spring and fall. The window didn’t close properly. The fireplace was full of rats.

But the snakes would not cooperate. It was only a three-story tower, and the snakes wouldn’t help her down. She’d tried tying bed sheets together, but the snakes had clung to the window sills. The old woman had confiscated the bed sheets. Now she just had a scratchy, moth-filled wool blanket.

So, Perseus. The Hesperides, the old women, three, blind, with one eye between them, would have told him where to look. This tower gig couldn't have been any great shakes for them. Greece had a way better climate for old, mostly blind women. They would have told him to polish his shield to a high gloss, and not to go for the snakes.

After the old woman left, Perseus shouted up from below, "Medusa, Medusa, let down your hair, that I might climb your snakey stair.” He didn’t say anything about the biters. He didn't use his fancy magical footwear, because that would give him away.

Medusa sighed and let the python drag her over to the window. It was the one that answered the call, not her. Probably the old women had trained it, feeding it cats and puppies. It slithered down, and weaved its head and stuck out its tongue. Perseus took a deep breath and pulled out a Bulgarian bagpipe. It was entrancing enough that the snake fell asleep.

The music made Medusa's even more foul-tempered than usual. There are few things more annoying than a bagpipe played up close. The snakes didn’t seem to mind it, though. They fell asleep.

Perseus stopped playing and did a round-off back handspring to avoid the python’s head, and hung onto its neck while it bucked and weaved and finally went back up to its mistress’s window.

“Interesting music,” Medusa said, as Perseus rolled on to the floor as the snake went totally limp. “Self-taught?”

Perseus groaned. His polished shield and sword rattled around, the cacophony waking everybody up. He rolled over away from her and whipped his sword and shield off his back, looking in the shield. He’d practiced this.

Medusa hadn’t practiced defending herself. She hadn’t needed to until now. She’d practiced raging. “Look at me!” she yelled. The snakes hissed and writhed.

Perseus leapt in, but he swung wild. He spun, his eyes passing hers faster than they could lock.
The sword flat brushed away what might have been a rattler. The shield pushed at the python's face and held it far enough away it couldn't get a loop to wrap around him.

“What are you waiting for, muscle boy?” She snarled. But he was expending all his effort trying to stun the snakes, not lop them off. "Here to show me your one-eyed snake?" She was trying to make him lose his head.

“Don’t engage,” he told himself.

“Look in my eyes,” she shouted. She stepped closer, and he could see green eye liner to match the green snakes reflected in the smooth silver of his shield. “Look at them!” She raised her arms to grab him by the ears and drag his eyes up to hers. She jumped, and got her legs around him, and her hands went for his eyes.

He stumbled back, squeezing his eyes shut because he couldn't see the shield.

She tried to pry his eyes open.

With a desperate sweep, he bashed, flat side of the blade, at one of the vipers, and then swung the blade across her arms, sharp side on. Then down again the other way, the sword went across her neck, more by luck than by skill, and because he'd been dragged down by its weight.

"Oh, very nice," Medusa's head said. The python was dragging it, bumping it along the rough floor, towards the window.

After he wiped his sword off on her old wool blanket, he put the head in a knapsack, still using the shield to see.

He tossed all that out the window first, and then started down the side of the building.

The field stones were smooth and tough to get a hand or a toe hold on. Perseus fell out of the tower and blinded himself on the thorns that grew around the base of the tower.

But he picked himself up and grabbed his shield, sword, and the backpack, and gamely started off again.

"Come on, bitch, we're going to a wedding."

He had to pull Medusa's head out of the magic backpack and let her lead the way as they flew back on Hermes' magic sandals towards Greece.

And they got there, and he set the head on the gift table.

"Fuck you all!" Medusa shouted. "Marriage is legalized prostitution, sex by contract!" That got everybody's attention, and they all turned towards her.

And got turned to stone.

"I'm not sure they wanted to hear that," Perseus said. Now that he was blind, he could see she had a point. But maybe she could have been more subtle about it.

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