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A Name for a Monster

“Medusa!” he yells. “Gorgon medusa!” Frightful ruler! Greek words, easy on his tongue. All these heroes are Greek.

An illustration of a crying Medusa reaching out towards a falling warrior who's just turned to stone

I think the most terrifying sound in this world must be the crunch of rubble under a hero’s foot. It’s as if the whole universe quietens for such an occasion: strange birds holding their breath in the scrub, wind pausing in its howling around the palace ruins in the second before a wave crashes on the beach. I imagine even the rain would forget to fall in such a moment, if rain were to bother gracing this cursed place at all. 

Crunch. Crunch. Crunch. Crunch. Each step a cruel promise. 

Some days, too, I hear the scrape of bronze—a breastplate fitted to a broad chest, or a sword held in hands slick with sweat—and if I’m foolish enough to hope for a friendly visitor that day, well, then I won’t be so foolish any longer. I don’t think Athena means such warnings as a mercy. She probably enjoys watching me choose between my death or each hero’s, every time. 

But today even the gods need not have alerted me to my newest hunter. He’s brash, this one; traipsing up the palace’s hill from the beach, banging sword against shield. 

“Medusa!” he yells. “Gorgon medusa!” Frightful ruler! Greek words, easy on his tongue. All these heroes are Greek. 

I’ve already crawled between two collapsed palace walls, sand-stung eyes shut tight and head held between trembling, scratched knees. If it weren’t for his blustering, this hero’s arrival would be the same as all the others: filled with a terror so great that they’ve all crushed together into one ragged-breath memory in my head. But his words have left me confused, and in a welcome moment of distraction I think, What? That’s not my name, and even if the world’s chosen to call me by it… “frightful” I can understand, but what does anyone believe I rule? Even this body isn’t my own, not really. 

“Medusa!” 

I flinch at his voice’s closeness. A few more steps in the right direction and he’ll find me. But if he doesn’t know where to look, if he isn’t alerted by— 

Hissssssssssssssss. 

So close to my ears, the snakes that circle my head are deafening; throats tight as their smooth-scaled bodies brush my skin. Remember how I said that sometimes I’m foolish enough to hope for someone friendly? Well, I’m always foolish enough to hope that my serpent companions won’t betray me. Don’t know why, considering even the gods haven’t extended me that courtesy. I suppose it’s because I don’t have much else to hope for. 

“Ah!” the hero roars. “You can’t hide from me!” I can hear the smile in his voice. 

“No, please, listen!” I yell. “I don’t want to hurt you! I’ve been cursed with this form, maybe you could help me—” 

He laughs, much closer now. “That may have worked on the others, but not me. It’s time for you to die, monstress!” 

No matter what words I use, no matter where I hide or how long I try to evade them, the heroes never listen. 

Crunch. Crunch. Crunch. I’ve a cruel choice to make. 

Death, like any momentous occasion, is something better faced head-on, I think. If you’re the one dealing it, it shows that you accept the consequences of your choice. If you’re the one receiving it, at least you can say you were brave at the end. 

I stand, broken fingernails scrabbling across rough sandstone, and face the hero’s oncoming footsteps. It isn’t the first time I’ve done this, and it won’t be the last: when I choose to open my eyes and look into his, all the pain, the terror, the sheer unfairness of it all disappears to numbness. I feel nothing but the fire that gathers beneath my skin, unleashing my curse. It’s him, or me. 

I can’t tell you how it feels to be killed by yours truly, but I can tell you what it looks like. One moment of eye contact is all it takes. You become transfixed, frozen in place. And then some part of you, unhinged, just… lets go. You breathe out, one long exhale, and between blinks your skin hardens into grey stone. 

I always lunge forward to catch the heroes before they fall and shatter. If I don’t, the sound of it is like… I… No. I don’t want to remember. 

I catch them. Close my eyes. Lower them to the ground. Walk away. Never opening my eyes again, until it’s time to make another cruel choice. 

I don’t know where their spirits go. I don’t know if they’ll ever rest. All I know is that I can’t bury them, because I have no tools. Trust me, I’ve tried; all I’ve managed to dig are grooves in the palms of my hands. So I just leave them there, and feel nothing, and nothing’s almost worse than grief. 

Medusa, that hero called me. 

That wasn’t my name, back when others used it, but I’m not the person I was. 

Gorgon medusa. 

I don’t want to remember who I was. 

So… what if it doesn’t make sense? Nothing else in this gods-damned world does. What happened that night… 

I don’t want to remember. 

So, fine. If the hero who slays me must proclaim the deed, if the poets must spread the story of my death, then let them call me Gorgon Medusa. Frightful ruler. 

After all, a monster needs a name, doesn’t it?

 
Farrago's magazine cover - Edition Five 2022

2022 EDITION FIVE 'VOULEZ-VOUS' AVAILABLE NOW!

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