This story was crafted around words sent by newsletter subscribers. See below the story for the full list of words and their synonyms.
CONTENT WARNING: SEXUAL ASSAULT
“I mean you no harm.”
Medusa freezes at the sound of the man’s mellifluous voice bouncing off her stone walls. Heretofore, the insufferable slayers have been assiduous with their surreptitious attacks. They might be stronger, but she has become a monstrosity of resilience; she lives to kill; every invading man she must turn to stone.
“You were the quintessential virgin priestess of Athena. What happened?”
His voice confuses her. Unlike the others, it is kind, effervescent even. Nevertheless, her feisty serpentine hair hisses and sways; they despise the voices of men.
She silences them. With lissome feet, she slinks silently, stealthily through the darkness. After so many years, she knows every labyrinthine hall by heart. As she nears, the luminescence of his firelight battles with darkness against her walls. Men’s fires infuriate her. This is her temple, her sacred space; they have no right to invade her home.
“You were beautiful,” he continues, voice faltering. “Now they say you are a monster.”
She covers her ears. His heartfelt sorrow is painful tintinnabulation in her ears after years of male ferocity. What tactic is he playing? Trying to slay her with words instead of sword? Sweetness or no, she’ll destroy him.
But alas, she turns the corner and sees this man is Perseus, his back turned.
He is a ghost of a time gone by, a time when she was pretty and men were assiduous not with sword, but chivalry. None more so than he. Perseus would share his pomegranates with her when he’d visited her at Athena’s temple. The other men wanted Medusa’s virginity; he was content with her company.
Her eyes water. Something in her is reawakening. She hadn’t realized she’s been suffering years of loneliness and ennui. The attempts on her life by men have been so constant that she has forgotten what it is to feel anything at all… until now. Now something in her is stirring. It is her dearest one’s incandescence that has been flickering on her walls. Nevertheless, Perseus has a sword and shield. His grip on them may be desultory, but why carry them if he does not intend to use them?
Maybe this is serendipity. Maybe it is better to be slain by a beloved’s blade.
No. Let him try. To stone, he’ll turn! And with him, so will her heart!
“I know you’re there,” he says. “I always had this strange — no, exquisite — no, sublime feeling when you gazed at me.”
Her mind flashes through all those idyllic times they spent together, their chaste secret rendezvous of unstoppable laughter and warmth. Back then, they were both beautiful; he still is.
“King Polydectes of Seriphus has sent me to slay you. I used him and his wherewithal so I could see you.”
She prepares to let him do just that; love or not, he is a man and thus should be turned to stone!
But Perseus drops his sword and shield to the ground. The statuesque man slides down the stone wall with such sad equanimity that she doesn’t have the heart to strike.
“Things have changed, Perseus.” Her words are extemporaneous. She covers her mouth, slipping into the darkness.
But he doesn’t turn to see. He doesn’t blink as the tears fill his eyes. “Things have changed, it’s true, but your voice is still the same.” He smiles, briefly, then his hand absentmindedly touches the hilt of his sword. “Medusa, tell me what happened…”
Medusa says nothing. Her hands wring her tunic as she thinks of Poseidon, Athena’s uncle, dragging her out of Athena’s temple and having his way with her in public view against his obelisk. How instead of comforting her raped priestess, Athena transformed her into the ultimate monster.
It takes everything for Medusa to keep her serpentine hair from wailing.
“You know what happened,” she says with perspicacious coldness.
“So it’s true, you disgraced virgin Athena.”
“She disgraced usss,” hisses her hair.
“Poseidon forced himself on me,” she says over their seething.
“Then why didn’t you—”
“We did!” they snap.
“But who would believe a lowly priestess over a powerful god?” Medusa adds.
He nods. “Come out. Let me see you.”
“Yesss, let’sss come out,” they whisper. “Turn thisss one like the othersss to sssstone.”
She ignores their spittled words. “Perseus, I’m not just a monster, I turn men to—”
“Clearly,” he interrupts as he looks around at the stone men. “Is that all I am to you? A man?”
“Athena’s curse makes no exception. Why should I?”
“Medusa, I vowed to see you. Help me do that. Please. One last time.”
It was Medusa’s idea for him to use his bronze shield. She hoped he would see her reflection and flee. They both gazed into his shield, but they saw different things. She saw the monster; all he saw was love — at least that’s what he said. She did not believe him. Not the first day, nor the second, nor the third. Perseus was a clever man using trickery, because who could love this monster? Eventually, like the others, he’d try to cut off her head.
It wasn’t until the thirtieth day that she began to believe. And the strangest thing occurred as she did; her image in the shield changed. Eventually her serpentine skin shed, revealing someone new.
She’d never be her old self again, but what of it? Now she had wings! She named herself Pegasus and became Perseus’ lifelong companion. Together, they soared the skies.
Most stories discombobulate with time — over centuries. But Medusa’s happy ending was cursed almost immediately. Perseus wrote their love into epic poems that men intentionally mis-heard, mis-remembered, mis-wrote into inaccurate mondegreens. It’s true that Perseus slayed the monster, but nobody could kill the girl.
But what does she care about the twisted tales of mankind? She is Pegasus; beyond mere stories, she flies.
Words Sent and Their Synonyms
- extemporaneous/(spoken without preparation)
- heretofore/(before now)
- mondegreens/(misinterpreted lyrics).
- nevertheless/(even so)
- obelisk/(four-sided stone monument)
- rendezvous/(agreed upon meetings)
- serendipity/(accidental luck)