If looks could kill
By: David Patten
Perseus had been spending time in Sicily and the Italian mainland. Pasta, wine, caprese. When your father is Zeus it’s a filial duty to oversee operations in the Mediterranean. Not one to usually procrastinate, Perseus was wrestling with this latest assignment, the issue of Medusa. Since he was a boy he’d had an acute phobia of snakes, so that was going to be something of a problem.
Naturally, Medusa’s reputation preceded her, so the inhabitants fled Karpathos for the neighboring islands of Rhodes and Crete once word of her approach had been received. For five years now the small isle in the Southern Aegean had been hers alone. Walks on the beach, exploring coves, collecting shells, and a steady diet of olives, feta, and vegetables from her garden. Despite the seclusion, exile had its benefits.
Blue skies, ocean salt in the air. Medusa finishes threading wire through the holes in the butterflies she’d inadvertently turned to stone that morning. Now it’s a wind chime. In her solitude she’d learned to control her power, but still had lapses. A large shadow passes across Medusa’s face, a bird of prey swooping in and alighting on one of the pine trees in the statue garden. One of Athena’s owls. A trusted companion of Medusa from when she was in service to the goddess. Since the banishment it has come to the island regularly.
Someone is coming for you, it says.
Medusa nods, trailing a hand over the owl’s feathers, damp from spray. A few of the snakes get too curious, the owl pecking at them. Perseus, it adds.
Medusa withdraws her hand. My half-brother Perseus? The owl confirms. His quest is to return with your head. The snakes hiss and snarl. Medusa allows a brief smile. It’ll be good to see him again. The owl hops onto her shoulder and they head out for a stroll along the cliffs.
Clear day, crystals of sunlight on the calm Aegean. Perseus has been rowing since dawn. Now he rests facing the island, the tide pulling him toward the beach. Crags scattered with vegetation rise up from the sand. Above, shielded by pine trees, Medusa watches her assassin. The snakes are restless, quarrelsome, as if they already sense his apprehension.
On the ascent Perseus’ sandals send loose rock and gravel over the edge of the path. Turned to scrub and grass at the clifftop, he steps over a fellow Spartan, entombed by Medusa’s gaze, sword and shield still at the ready. In front of him a small house fronted by a garden of statues, silent companions. A breeze stirs wind chimes. From the roof an owl watches Perseus’ cautious approach.
Perseus! Social visit? At her voice he whirls around slashing at the air with his sword, shield falling to the ground. Paralyzed by his phobia, Perseus stands rigid, eyes closed. Close enough to smell her half-brother’s fear, Medusa traces a finger over his face. I’ve learned to control my power. She speaks softly. So you are not a permanent addition to the garden. Two of the snakes break free of the mass to menace the intruder. As they slither around his neck Perseus faints.
Medusa’s head looks defiant. Mouth and eyes wide open with rage, the snakes twisted and vengeful. Perseus places it in a sack and secures the opening.
You’re taking a risk. What if it fools nobody? Medusa is working on a plate of olives and cheese, holding up occasional pieces for the snakes to squabble over.
It will, says Perseus. It’s his fourth week on the island. His half-sister has cured him of his phobia. In return he has fashioned a reasonable facsimile of her from mud, clay, and pigments. He cannot return empty handed.
The owl will give me word, Medusa says, standing and pulling him into an embrace. Sinewy, the snakes burrow through his hair. They part and Perseus gathers sword, shield, and the sack. On the beach he places them in the boat and looks back up the cliff. Medusa raises a hand in farewell. He does the same.