Look at Me
Medusa’s island did not look like a hellscape, a stygian wasteland where monsters dwelt who killed with a glance. When Korinna and her two servants arrived on the gorgon’s island in their small rowboat, it looked and felt very much like home, a hilly island with abundant olive and lemon trees and grazing sheep, a place where life flourished.
“Here we are,” she said, as her servants steered the boat onto a less rocky part of the shore. “Our search begins for Nikephoros or someone who can tell us his whereabouts.”
“It doesn’t look so bad,” remarked Theron, her servant, unloading their gear from the boat. “You’re right, the stories they tell about this place are probably just made up.”
“What if we can’t find Nikephoros?” asked Syntyche, the other servant.
“I need to know whether or not he arrived here,” Korinna said. “He was always talking about fighting the gorgon, finding gold, becoming a hero, all that nonsense. Maybe he’s here, or maybe he ran off with that fisherman’s daughter he fancied. I need to know. If I find him here, we can carry his corpse to his family so they can give it a proper burial, and then I will be free to marry Demetrius.”
“I just hope we find something that makes this journey worth it,” said Theron.
“We will. I have a feeling. Plus, Demetrius may give you a reward for your service to me, both of you, in helping me end my betrothal to Nikephoros.”
They began their journey inland over the course of the day. They saw plenty of trees and vineyards and animals, and a few cottages, but no people or monsters or statues allegedly petrified by the gorgon’s gaze. They camped out in the woods the first night. Theron hunted some game for dinner while they slept on mats under a cloth canopy. Early the next morning Theron scouted signs of a village over the next hill, and a palace on a higher hill further in the distance. The three of them climbed the ridge and saw it, both the village located in the valley and the large palace complex situated on the hill.
As they walked toward the village, in the distance, they saw a man approaching along the road. He was carrying a spear attached to a long staff and his eyes were bound with a cloth. Though he was a lone man and didn’t appear to be much of a threat, the three travelers tensed and Theron readied his spear, in case the man suddenly charged at them.
“Who are you?” the man called, as they approached one another.
“I am Korinna from Mesonísi,” Korinna began. “I’m here to find my betrothed, Nikephoros from Mesonísi, who we believe came to this island ”
“Go back the way you came. You are not welcome here. Go.” The man said, gesturing with his staff for emphasis.
“I have reason to believe-”
“If you stay here my mistress will deal with you, and you will not return to Mesonísi.”
“Can you relay a message to your mistress from me? We come in peace. I come to ask if your island has been visited by a man called Nikephoros. A man with black hair, olive skin, a curly beard, about a meter and two thirds in height-”
“We don’t know. If he has come to slay our lady, he is dead. We do not know their names. It doesn’t matter.”
“Will your lady at least allow us the courtesy to recover his body so we may perform funeral rites?”
The man paused and considered it. “It’s an unusual request. I do not think it will be granted.”
“We will wait here, to see what she says,” Korinna stated.
The man turned and walked toward the village, while the three travelers halted their trip up the road and waited for the envoy’s return. An hour or two later a dozen of them returned. All were wearing matching plain wool tunics and all wore blindfolds. Each was armed with spears and bows. Korinna knew what the answer would be before they announced to her, “Your request has been denied. You are to leave this island and not return.”
“But what about Nikephoros! I must know if he’s been here. I must know his fate!” Korinna insisted.
“Our lady is giving you a chance to turn back now. You will be given no further chances.”
Korinna eyed the group of them and instinctively felt her group of three would lose against a small troop of blind men. “Very well, we will go.” She said. She and her servants turned and walked down the hill, towards the area of the woods where they had camped out the previous night. When Korinna turned to look, she saw that they were still standing in a line, watching their departure, at attention.
“What now, my lady?” Theron asked.
“They’re hiding something,” said Korinna. “I bet they know where he is.”
“The Gorgon Medusa? Do you think she’s their mistress?”
“I think not. Gorgons aren’t real. It’s nothing but a myth. Probably a rumor spread by the people here to ward off invaders,” Korinna said. “The villagers aren’t any help. If we want to get to the truth of this place, we have to sneak into the palace.”
“I’m not sure that’s a wise course of action,” Theron said.
“We came all this way to find out what happened to Nikephoros. If he was killed, even if he was turned to stone, which I doubt, I want to see a body. This is where he said he intended to go, and this is the best lead we have. I’m still not convinced this isn’t a ruse, a piece of theater to scare off visitors. Who knows if those men have the authority they claim to.” Korinna paused, and then nodded decisively. “We will go at night, taking the path around the village to the palace. If we’re discovered, don’t fight them, just run. If we get split up, meet up back at the camp in the woods, under the juniper tree in the clearing by the stream.”
They agreed. As dusk approached, they began their ascent on the east side of the hill, skirting the village and the road, toward the impressive looking Minoan-style palace that looked far too grand for a rural backwater island such as this, with the large central court and surrounding buildings connected by stone walkways, with gardens and ornamental trees and fruit trees in greenspaces between the buildings. There was even an amphitheater to the north of the palace. There were guards along the walls that enclosed the palace, blindfolded just like the villagers, but they were better dressed and better equipped. The palace was lighting up with lamplight as the night set in. Korinna and her servants hid behind a clump of bushes and discussed the best way to make their approach.
“What’s our goal, then?” asked Theron, sensibly.
Korinna had considered barging in and demanding to meet with the mistress of the palace, one minor noblewoman to another. She reconsidered this option. “First thing to do, know what we’re getting into.”
“Trouble.” Theron stated.
“We need a sense of who lives there, how many there are. What’s going on in there? Is there a tower or cell where they’re keeping prisoners? Theron, can you circle the palace and come back and let me know what you find?”
“Yes, my lady.”
We may not be master spies, but I think we’re capable of sneaking past blind men, Korinna thought. “Syntyche and I will wait here until you get back. If you aren’t back within two hours we’ll be at the meeting point at the juniper tree in the woods.”
“Be careful,” Syntyche whispered to Theron. “Remember what the villager said. They kill people here.”
Korinna and Syntyche remained behind the bushes as Theron snuck off to scout the area.
Theron stayed in the shadows and made little noise as he approached the palace, having honed his skills in stealth as a game hunter. He drew near enough to see the frescos painted on the walls of buildings, topiaries, and a few elegantly posed statues on pedestals here and there. He wondered how many people lived in the palace and what sort of royalty they were. A slimy barbaric snakewoman was clearly out of the question whoever lived here had not only great wealth but aesthetic taste as well.
Theron passed by a garden with frescos painted on the enclosing walls. Though only part of the wall was illuminated by torchlight, he could see a reoccurring motif of a snake-haired woman, recognizable as the Medusa of legends. They were adapting the legend to their own purposes, clearly, Theron thought. The woman appeared with stylized figures men and women of noticeable individuality and variety of expression, pose, nationality, style of hair and dress, but the woman with the snake hair was always depicted the same, in the same gown and same standing pose with the same serene expression.
The gate entrance led to a corridor bordered by tall hedges that led into the garden itself. Taking a risk, Theron quietly opened the gate and let himself inside, walked down the cobbled path enclosed by walls, and turned the corner. The garden was lit by torches and moonlight from a half-moon. Theron at first wasn’t sure what he was seeing. He stayed in the shadows until he was finished scoping out the courtyard to make sure it was empty of people. He saw no people, but he saw shapes of things he didn’t quite grasp in the dim firelight. There were vines, trees, and swings, a central bubbling pool with koi, stone benches encircling raised garden beds. There was also an unusual amount of human sculptures scattered around the garden and the effect was unsettling and gave the place a spooky, haunted atmosphere. It must be all part of the reputation they’re building, Theron thought. Whoever this island’s rulers were, they were obsessed with this legend and were making it their primary theme.
The first sculpture that grabbed his attention was a marble fountain with a lifesize, likelike pair of stone lovers, a man and woman, in the center of it, in a sexual pose, the man sitting and the woman’s legs wrapped around his waist. The water trickled from their fused genitals, like a nonstop orgasm, into the basin below to be cycled back up into the sculpture. Theron circled it, taking in the sculpture from every angle, before looking around the garden again.
On a shadowy patch of green grass, away from the torches, under an olive tree, Theron caught sight of a statue of naked man on all fours on the ground with his head tilted upward. The pose was blatantly sexual and there was almost something desperate about it. Theron gasped in surprise when he noticed a hint of movement on the statue where he expected only stillness. With growing horror he watched something writhing and cylindrical poke out from between the man’s buttocks, wriggle out further, then drop to the earth and scurry away. Theron took a step forward, still staring at the statue, and noticed snakes on the ground, slithering all around its legs and feet, and hands bracing itself on the ground. The man’s ass was in the air and his buttocks were spread, he saw, suggesting he’d been petrified while being fucked from behind. A snake slithered up his inner thigh, between his buttocks and disappeared into his rectum. Theron approached, horrified but curious. When he got close enough, Theron was shocked to recognize his face, even in the moonlight of a half-moon as Nikephoros, Korinna’s fiancé. His face was bent upward and his mouth was open in a frozen moan of ecstasy. As he watched, with horror and shock, a snake emerged out of the gaping mouth and dropped onto the ground in front of him. When Theron bent closer he could hear it, a sound of whispering, rushing movement within the petrified body, rustling of dozens of small snakes slithering through the hollowed-out cavities of a stone husk that they had somehow made into a nest, using their venom to dissolve the solid mineral of petrified internal organs.
Theron backed away, and continued looking around, horrified and fascinated by what he was seeing, his sense of reality shifted, knowing now that most or all of the sculptures in the garden were once living people. One voice in his head told him to run away as fast as he could, but another part of him was spellbound to remain in this weird and grotesque place. Most of the statues were in shadow, though some were illuminated by lamplight, torchlight, or dim moonlight on the cloudless night. There were fireflies flickering and swirling in the air. He saw a naked woman on a stone bench, her knees pulled up to her chest, snakes gliding in and out between her legs. Her eyes were absent and in their place were empty, round sockets, portals for the snakes to slither in and out of her hollowed-out frame. He saw a man standing in an action pose grasping a sword & shield, naked and muscled and perfect, with his cock erect in the heat of combat. Though the back of his head and helmet were intact and complete, his upturned face was completely crumbled away and smoothed into a hollow, concave bowl filled with water that served as a birdbath. Some statues in the garden had had plants growing on them or growing through etched tunnels and fissures within their stone bodies, others served as trellises for flowering vines, and some were employed to hold lamps and torches. It was strange how many of them had smiling or laughing expressions giving the impression that they enjoyed or approved of their own petrifications. Snakes continued to slither around his ankles as he crept along the marble walkway of the garden as quietly as he could. He thought he heard footsteps and that brought him to his senses. He began to plan an escape, to return to his companions and get them out of here. Korinna, at least, would have her answer about Nikephoros.
Theron left out of the side gate and crept around the corner of the building. He froze in his tracks when he thought he heard voices on the other side of the building, then went around the other way. Staying low, he crept along the row of shrubbery that led to the woods, where he hoped to take cover and follow the forest around to the other side of the palace to meet up with Korinna and Syntyche. A palace guard jumped out and Theron nearly ran into him. Several more men appeared as the man tackled Theron to the ground and wrested his hands behind his back. His hands were bound behind him and he was marched to the central court of the palace, to be taken to their queen.
Korinna and Syntyche were still behind the shrubbery behind the palace when they saw the palace guards approaching their hiding place. “Run!” hissed Korinna. They took off to the woods behind them, hoping the guards would not follow them. It was pitch black under the forest canopy. The women stumbled over roots and logs as quickly as they could to evade the guards and, hopefully, not get completely lost. They looked behind them and saw nothing, though their pursuers were both better skilled at moving through the dark and more familiar with the terrain than they were. “Keep going,” Korinna said, hoping they’d come across a trail or a clearing. Eventually they were able to reach a moonlit spot with fewer trees. They sat on a log and caught their breath.
Syntyche then gave a little squeal. “Someone’s here.”
“There, by those two trees.”
What looked like the shadowy form of a human figure stood there on the other side of the clearing, behind a tree. Was it a guard? They watched it for half a minute, but it didn’t approach them or move in any way. “Probably our imaginations,” Korinna said. But then she stood and slowly walked over to where it stood. The closer she approached, the more human it looked. It was a man dressed in a cloak. Its hand was braced against the trunk of a tree and it was hunched over slightly, as though pausing for breath, the head turned to look over its shoulder. She tentatively touched the shoulder, half expecting the man to react, jump back, grab her, do something, but the man didn’t react. He was made of stone.
“It’s true,” she breathed. They’d finally found the proof they needed that this island was cursed, the proof that would justify the presumption that her fiancé was never coming back, but it was happening at the same time that their lives were at risk and their only focus now was escaping.
An owl hooted. At the same time, both girls thought they heard movement behind them. “Let’s go,” Korinna whispered. They continued picking their way through the woods, over roots and fallen branches and over logs and boulders. Then Syntyche fell over something, a boulder buried in tall grass.
“Are you okay?” Korinna asked, kneeling beside her.
“I think so,” Syntyche said. “I tripped over this thing.” As Syntyche put her hands on what she thought was a boulder to help herself up, then drew back her hand with an “Uuggh” touching something slimy on the surface. Through the slivers of moonlight, they caught sight of what looked like a badly weathered stone figure of a man prone on the ground, in a crawling position, but packed earth had filled in the space between his torso and where the ground had originally been, burying the legs to the top of the thighs and arms to the elbows. Its back was covered in thick moss. The head had been dislodged at some point and now rested in front of the body in a pile of leaves and twigs. It had most likely been there for centuries, slowly being absorbed by the forest. Shakily, they rose to their feet and continued on their way.
They made slow progress through the forest for another hour. Korinna’s himation, her outer wool garment she wore over her chiton, snagged on thorns and branches as they went. They didn’t hear anything behind them any longer, but they didn’t know in which direction they were headed, either. A few more times they saw motionless figures in the woods that might have been men turned to stone, or might have been optical illusions. They winced when they noticed a shadowy mass high above in the tree branches that they at first took for an animal predator stalking them from the treetops, about to drop on their heads, but upon further inspection the figure had a human shape and did not move as they passed under it. They followed a makeshift trail that crossed through a stand of alders. Just as they were passing by the still shapes of what they took to be just another two statues, the statues lunged forward and grabbed them. Both women screamed. The men forced their arms behind their back roughly and marched them to a clearing a short distance away where a group of a dozen men stood. They tied their arms behind their back and connected Syntyche and Korinna’s binds together with a rope about a meter long. From there, it was a short march out of the woods and to the road that ran parallel to the forest and led up to the palace.
Theron was taken inside the main court, led down several stairs, and into a spacious torchlit rectangular chamber. Theron was alert for any signs of the queen herself and prepared himself to avert his eyes rather than look at her, just in case that part of the legend was true, that she did petrify people through her gaze and not some other method. Theron was tied to one of the pillars after he was checked for weapons removing one hunting knife - and his outer vestments were removed, leaving him wearing only a wool tunic and sandals. When he was left alone, he looked around the room, noting there were cushioned marble benches lined up against the tapestry-covered walls and a throne on one end. When he heard someone approaching he ducked his head, but it was only a half dozen of the blind servant men. They questioned him, asked him how many were in his party, whom he served, where he was from, what he wanted. Theron told them that they were there to see about a runaway fiancé of a young noblewoman from Mesonísi and that had no ill intentions toward Medusa or any of her servants. He lied about where Korinna and Syntyche were, hoping to throw them off the trail. Even as he provided his explanations, Theron had seen enough to know he wasn’t getting out of the palace alive, not unless Korinna hatched a plan to free him, and he dearly hoped she’d abandoned the plan to investigate the palace and had escaped into the woods by now. The men left him alone again for a short time.
In the corner of his eye, he detected the approach of a tall figure. His eyes snapped shut. It was Her. He heard the soft tread of her sandals as she approached and stop as she stood in front of him. He tensed. “Look at me,” she commanded, and it took immense control for him to not do as she said, such was the power and authority in her voice. He waited, breathing hard. He heard a muffled rustling next to him, as of serpents writhing under cloth.
“I was told there were two others. Where are they?”
“The other side of the mountain. In the woods to the west.”
“Are you lying to me?”
“N-No. They are women. They are innocent. We did not come to ”
“To what? Kill me? As if you could kill me? Speak to me not of the innocence of women. They will be found. Wherever they hide, my men will find them.”
She stopped talking and considered him. Theron waited, his muscles tense. She reached a finger out and traced his eyelids. Theron shuddered and turned his head away. Open your eyes and get it over with, one voice in his head said, but he was determined not to give up easily. Even if he had not seen the evidence of her power personally, he would have no trouble believing that he was in the presence of a monster goddess. Even with his eyes closed, the aura she gave off was super-human. The possibility of turning to stone, which seemed like a vague and unserious story from legend mere hours ago, loomed terrifyingly in his mind he felt he would prefer to have his throat slit and die a natural death as a flesh-and-blood human and have his soul journey to the afterlife, with a chance of reaching Elysium, following the fate of all his ancestors, rather than be transformed from human to an object and risk losing his soul altogether or having his very nature irrevocably altered.
“Please,” he swallowed. “Please let me live and I will serve you.”
“Save your words, I’ve heard them all before. You were foolish enough not only to come to my island, but to trespass into my garden, and you believe I will let you live? Now, open your eyes.” She leaned closer and drew a fingernail down his cheek. “Open them.” Her voice grew softer, teasing. “So much trembling, so afraid. Don’t be frightened. You want this. It’s what you’ve always wanted. Why else would you be here?” She tickled him on his collarbone. Startled, his head jerked, but his eyes stayed shut. He began to sweat. “Oh yes, you will be a statue in no time.” He heard her cross the room, and opened his eyes slightly, keeping them lowered, trying to think of a plan. He heard her come back and snapped his eyes closed again.
She brushed his nose some sort of powder that made his nose itch, sinuses tingle, and his eyes water. She tilted his head back with her firm grasp and held it there and continued to tease his nostrils with the brush. His nostrils twitched, and the sensation of having to sneeze overwhelmed him, though he tried to suppress it. He struggled in his bonds and his breath came in gasps as he prepared to sneeze.
The sensation rose and receded, rose and receded, continuously for a torturous minute. His head was still held forward firmly in place by her grasp. Every facial muscle stretched and contracted and rippled as he tried to rid himself of the itching and sneezing sensation. He blinked away the tears filling his eyes in response to the itching powder, eyes rolling and darting around, and accidentally caught the gorgon’s gaze between bleary blinks, just as he was about to let loose with a sneeze. He froze and she let go at the same time with a satisfied smile. His contorted face with its twisted mouth, scrunched and wrinkled nose with flared nostrils and squinting eyes, became frozen into a permanent stone bust, an instant before releasing a sneeze that now would never come. His tunic-clad body petrified also as struggle and all movement ceased, making the ropes that bound him to the pillar redundant. She gave his nose one last playful dust with the brush and went to put the empty jar away.
When Korinna and Syntyche were led down the stairs into the main audience chamber of the palace, Medusa was already there, though blocked from immediate view by one of the columns.
“Keep your eyes down,” advised Korinna.
Syntyche nodded, but caught a glance at the statue standing with its arms curled behind it around the pillar. “Theron!” she screamed.
Korinna looked over and saw him as well. The shock of seeing someone she knew, her servant, and, to some extent, her friend, turned into a gray stone statue recontextualized the situation. Their peril was immediate and deadly. Korinna saw that Theron’s otherwise handsome face was contorted into an awful parody of itself, almost like he was caught mid-sneeze. Even though it was the least of any of their concerns, she still felt a pang of sadness for him that his face would be stuck like that forever.
Korinna caught movement out of the corner of her eye as Medusa stepped forward. “Close your eyes!” She called out to Syntyche. She didn’t want to even take the risk of lowering her eyes just in case Medusa decided to kneel down into her line of vision. Korinna was led to one column and tied to it and Syntyche was tied to the one next to her. Medusa didn’t speak, but watched the two women as the men removed their cloaks and secured them to their columns.
“Take that one away,” Medusa told her servants, indicating Theron. “Into the storeroom, I’ll decide what to do with him later.” Theron’s statue was lifted onto a cart and taken out of the chamber.
Medusa paced the throne room. “So,” she said. “You’ve decided to be my guests for this evening.”
Korinna wondered if the woman was toying with them or giving them a chance at an out. She suspected the former, but if there was any way to save herself and Syntyche, she would take it.
“Your highness, I want to offer my sincerest apologies for my rude behavior tonight. This was all my doing, my servants Syntyche, Ther- Theron they had nothing to do with this. They were only acting under my orders and I accept full responsi-”
Medusa laughed loudly and coldly.
“...Responsibility for my actions which have breached all rules of etiquette and ”
“Quiet. You expect to talk your way out of this, do you? Who do you think I am, child?” Medusa walked over to where Korinna stood, bound to the pillar, eyes shut for dear life. “Well?”
“You are ... Medusa. One of the gorgon sisters,” Korinna tried to keep her voice calm, though the woman’s presence unnerved her.
“You know that much at least. Why are you on my island?”
“We’re here because I’m here because I was looking for my betrothed Nikephoros. I want to know if he is alive, and if not, I want to recover his body and return it to his family.”
“You were told to leave. You were told you were not welcome. And yet you stayed and sent your man to trespass in my palace, in my garden. My men found you in my woods. What you have done is past forgiveness. Your betrothed will not leave, if he was ever here, and neither will you, and neither will your servant girl.”
Korinna licked her lips, trying to find the right words. “But-”
“But, nothing. Now, let’s end this. Look at me.”
Korinna trembled. Her eyes stayed shut. What will she do, pry my eyes open? She thought. Then she thought of Theron, his contorted face as he was petrified, and went cold. She realized this woman would have untold ways of forcing her victims to look at her.
Medusa took a few steps over and stood directly in front of Syntyche. In an authoritative, no-nonsense voice, as a master speaks to a servant, she instructed, “Look at me.” Syntyche, conditioned from birth to obey the aristocrats she served, automatically opened her eyes, lifted her head, looked Medusa in the face, and turned to stone.
“See, wasn’t that easy?” Medusa smirked.
“Syntyche!” cried out Korinna, hearing no response from her servant. She wanted to look and confirm what she knew had happened but dared not open her eyes and glance over at the woman at the risk of meeting Medusa’s gaze.
“Open your eyes, let’s just get this over with.”
“You’re postponing the inevitable.”
“No I’m not I won’t.” Korinna was stubborn. She kept her eyes squeezed shut.
Medusa gazed at the beautiful young woman, who was wearing a pale green and blue chiton. Her long, dark, curly hair was tied back with a blue scarf. Her eyes were tightly closed and she was breathing rapidly. Medusa approached and stood in front of Korinna. She reached out a hand and tickled the right side of the girl’s neck, hoping to take her by surprise and cause her to open her eyes. Korinna gasped, twitched her shoulders, and giggled in reaction, but didn’t look at Medusa. Her breathing quickened. Through the linen fabric of the chiton, Medusa tickled the girl’s ribs, making her laugh a ticklish laugh and shake all over. She tickled and tickled her ribs and stomach, trying to get the maiden to break, to look at her, but Korinna was resolute, twisted her head from side to side and would not open her eyes.
Medusa stopped the tickling, while Korinna continued to wince in expectation, breathing sharply, her eyes still squeezed shut. After a few moments, Medusa said, “I gave you a chance. I give people so few chances especially the men. Those warriors who hunt my head. But your story softened me, a girl searching for her lover. I gave you permission to leave. And yet you barge into my palace after being told you weren’t welcome. What were you trying to accomplish?”
“I’m not here to kill you. I swear it. Let me go and I won’t tell a soul I was here. I was only here to confirm the death of Nikephoros. If I can confirm he is dead, I am free to marry Demetrius without breaking my honor!”
“Foolish to throw your life away for the chance to be some mortal jackass’s wife.”
“Marrying Demetrius raises the fortunes of my entire family, not just me. We aren’t as rich as we used to be, and Demetrius will provide for my mother and my brothers and sisters.”
“Ha! And when you’re a statue, as you soon will be, what good will you be to your family then?”
Medusa held her face still and put her face right up against Korinna’s, who winced and squeezed her eyes tighter and clamped her mouth shut as the snakes of her hair writhed against Korinna’s cheeks and forehead, their forked tongues licking her skin. One of the snake tongues flickered into the inside of a nostril, which made her shudder and grimace, and made her nose itch terribly, but she refused to open her eyes.
The gorgon cupped Korinna’s face in her hands. “Open....your....eyes.” In answer, Korinna found some saliva in her mouth and spit in the monster woman’s face.
“You can kill me, I am your prisoner, but I will not be your statue,” Korinna told her.
“We’ll see about that,” Medusa replied.
The night wore on and morning broke, while Korinna remained tied to her pillar, eyes firmly shut. Medusa sat on her throne, contemplating the girl. Many of her victims, initially resistant and defiant when they became Medusa’s captives, broke within minutes. It was tickling that usually did it, one well placed tickle on a certain spot, a nipple or armpit, rear end, private parts, arch of a foot, and they lost control and their eyes flew open and looked right at Medusa, and were petrified instantly. They would remain forever with their faces permanently lighted up with laughter, as though they were excited and grateful to be turned to stone. That suited Medusa fine, for it made more attractive and varied decorations than faces frozen in undifferentiated screams and grimaces.
“Nikephoros, there you are. Come in!” Medusa exclaimed once, trying to take Korinna off guard. Korinna jerked slightly, but didn’t open her eyes or turn her head.
The servants brought breakfast in on trays as morning light filtered in through the skylights. “You must be thirsty,” Medusa remarked. “Would you like a drink of water?”
Korinna was thirsty, but reluctant to accept anything from Medusa.
“You’ve petrified my two servants. Would you like me to be your slave, wear a blindfold, just like your other servants? What is it that you want from me?”
“I want you to accept your destiny. I have only one thing to offer the likes of you, and you will accept it, whether you want to now or not. I have time. I have patience. More, I suspect, than you.”
Medusa tried another tack. She called in several of her servants and they untied the girl from the pillar and led her out of the throne room, Medusa following ahead of them, and up the stairs. Medusa gave her a tour of her three-story palace, taking her to each room, her gaze fixed predatorily on Korinna’s face with each step she took. She described the central courtyard, the lounges, the study, her bedchamber, in detail, looking to see if any of her descriptions or the act of being led around would cause Korinna to open her eyes, but they remained firmly shut.
Medusa then took her outside, into the fresh morning air, and gave her a tour of the palace grounds, encouraging her to touch everything she described, the intricately carved ionic columns, the rosebushes, the fountains, the marble statues on the pedestals. Medusa led Korinna to one of her favorites, a statue of a seated naked man on a pedestal, his back leaning against a column. Medusa took Korinna’s hand and guided it to the man’s right knee. Once Korinna felt the marble underneath her fingertips, she drew her hand back, but then hesitated with her hand hovering over the man’s petrified skin. “Go on,” Medusa encouraged. Korinna, eyes closed, let her fingers drift onto the knee, knelt down and stroked his muscled calves downward to his dangling foot, massaged the foot, then ran her hands up again to his thigh, upward to where his right hand rested, near the top by his hip, right next to his crotch, the stone fingers feeling stretched and strained as she traced each one, as though they were reaching for something.
She followed the direction of the fingers and found herself touching the rough texture of the scrotum. She drew back again, shocked, and rubbed her fingers together, as if they’d touched something dirty. Then, tentatively, she returned her fingers to the spot, feeling out its lumpy shape, like a misshapen, underripe peach, tracing underneath it, behind it, then up again, over his smooth inner thigh, then easily felt out and grasped the penis, which was standing at full erection. She ran her hand up and down, getting a general sense of its length and thickness and shape, then turned her attention to the finer details, the crisp, wrinkled folds where the scrotum and penis met, the valley running up and down the bifurcated underside of the cock, the smooth, tight head like a lopsided mushroom cap with a tiny crater at its peak. With interest she traced the veins and wrinkles on the cock that were petrified into miniscule stone ridges, traced her fingers to the base of the cock and the bumpy uneven surface of wispy hair.
After exploring his genitals, Korinna moved to the left leg, where his hand rest on the top of the thigh identically to the right hand. The fingers on the left hand also seemed to be straining toward his cock and balls, like he was trying to touch them but was restrained from doing so...though the manner of restraint was long since removed. She ran her hands down his muscular thighs, caressed the back of his knee, down the calves and shin to the arched left foot, then back up.
Next she turned her attention to his torso, which was leaned back casually against the pillar. She moved her hands up his toned stomach and abs and ran her fingers along the indentation of his navel, up to his chest with nipples the center of each enlarged pectoral that felt like tiny pebbles under her fingertips. She felt the collarbones and shoulders, upper arms bulky with petrified muscle, traced the arms to the hands that rested on the top of the thighs.
Korinna traced the man’s jawline and noted that head was tilted downward his gaze would have likely been focused on his crotch, and likely that’s where Medusa’s head had been when she petrified him. The mouth with its full lips was parted slightly maybe he was moaning, maybe he was in mid-speech, it was hard to tell. His face was smooth and shaven. His cheekbones were prominent and she felt the bump of a raised mole on the side of a cheek. The hair on his head was closely cropped. She then ran her hands along the portion of his mid and lower back that did not rest against the pillar, drawing a finger down the crease in the center.
Korinna was forming a mental picture in her mind of what he must look like, and what was happening to him while he was petrified. The desire to look and confirm her picture was so strong but she refused to take the chance of opening her eyes in Medusa’s company. It was unexpectedly arousing, only being able to touch the man in his petrified form, but not being able to see him. She imagined the frozen man could still feel her fingers on his skin as she blindly caressed him, a thought that both erotic to imagine but also horrifying in its implications that the statues could retain awareness even after their petrification was unfathomable so she banished the thought from her mind.
She wanted to know things that Medusa could tell her and show her she who was ancient, and no doubt wise but she felt apprehensive about attempting to commune with the gorgon because she might learn things she did not want to know, because Medusa would no doubt use the opportunity to manipulate her, and because she was afraid to open up conversation that might make her sympathize with the monster queen or understand how her mind worked, and cause her to lose her own sense of self.
Medusa continued to lead Korinna around to different places on her estate. She led her to the amphitheater and demonstrated the acoustics of the place. They toured the bathhouse with its large tub and its separate chambers for sauna and steam bath, where statues were situated around the rooms, painted gold to match the color scheme, their arms held out to bear supplies or for draping bathrobes and towels, all with smiles or laughter on their faces, showing that they were pleased to be in their queen’s service. She led her around the craftsmen’s workshops and storerooms, where men were busy at work throughout the day, and the library with many rare manuscripts and artifacts. Korinna’s eyes remained resolutely shut for the whole tour, though Medusa could sense the curiosity in the girl’s demeanor. She clearly wanted to look around.
It was early afternoon when they returned to the palace’s throne room. Medusa had Korinna stripped down by her blind servants’ deft and quick and ruthless hands. She had Korinna’s wrists bound together with knotted silk scarves, attached scarves to her ankles, then attached a cord to each of the scarves. The gorgon’s servants then hoisted Korinna up the pillar, stretching her arms above her head by tying the cord higher up the pillar. The servants then lifted Syntyche’s statue from where she’d remained petrified under her pillar for the duration and brought her to the pillar where Korinna was suspended, then lowered Korinna so that her butt was resting on the top of the servant statue’s head for support, while her legs were stretched, splayed on either side, being pulled by the cord attached to the scarves, which were tied to pillars on either side. Korinna’s back leaned against the pillar and a rope was tied under her breasts, securing her tightly to the marble pillar. Medusa, who stood over six feet tall, was now eye level with Korinna. Korinna, terrified, kept her eyes clamped shut.
“Tickle the feet,” she told the servants. They did, grasping Korinna’s bare feet and tickling the soles, holding them as steady as they could as Korinna strained against the ropes and bounced, trying to escape, howling with laughter, not opening her eyes. They were practiced at their tickle torture and performed it with mechanical precision and expertise to maximize the torment. While the men tickled her feet, Medusa stood before her and tickled her naked upper torso with dancing fingers, tickling bare ribs, breasts, armpits. Korinna squirmed and squealed, trying to get away, laughing hysterically. Her bare buttocks begin to chafe against the stone head of the petrified servant girl that now served as her stool as she spasmed and bounced, laughed uncontrollably. With her eyes closed, Korinna could never predict where on her body she would be tickled next, and Medusa kept moving her fingers around unexpected places. When Medusa’s hand moved down and tickled the top of her pubic mound and groin, unexpectedly her bladder let go, spraying piss all over Syntyche’s stone head and face. She and the statue were wiped clean with warm, soapy water and dried off.
Medusa rubbed Korinna’s entire naked body with warm myrrh-scented oil, starting with her long neck, the upper arms and armpits with their patches of black fuzz, massaging the full, plump breasts and nipples, behind her to the hollow of her back and buttocks, around to her navel, the groin, inner thighs, back of the knees, and then moving back up to the genitals, the mound covered by the wiry black pubic bush, labia, clitoris and perineum. Korinna shuddered and clamped her eyes tighter. Medusa’s fingers stroked her vulva with expertise, and despite fearing for her life, Korinna’s libido began responding to the pleasurable sensations. Her clit was caressed in just the right way and she came, with a delicious shudder. “Look at me,” Medusa whispered in her ear, while stroking her pussy. Korinna wanted to, to bend her will to Medusa’s, to give up. It would be so easy, the easiest thing. But her eyes stayed shut. Medusa made her come three more times, eliciting a little mewling cry from Korinna’s throat...then she began tickling Korinna’s post-orgasm pussy. Her entire body was so sensitive and ticklish after coming that the tickling felt more intense and hellish than before. She threw back her head and scream-laughed for hours as the persistent, indefatigable tickling continued. “Open your eyes and this can all be over,” Medusa said, again and again.
They continued tickling her, Medusa and her servants, for hours, using their fingers, feathers, and the snakes from Medusa’s own head, and other snakes as well that were at home in the palace and roamed about at will. They slithered up and down her body, not entirely like thoughtless reptiles, but almost as instruments of Medusa’s own will. Korinna thought she might die of snakebite before she had a chance to get petrified, and wasn’t sure which death would be the worse one. There was a snake gliding up her left arm, and another was teasing her toes with the flickering of its serpentine tongue. One snake oiled its way over her shoulder clamped onto her right nipple, and she cried out, but the snake wasn’t venomous and, somehow, it wasn’t breaking skin, but it was suckling her nipple. A second snake did the same with her left nipple. Both her nipples swelled up and ached, but did not bleed. She pulled at the restraints on her arms to free them, but they held fast. Her pussy throbbed harder. Medusa caressed her swollen, sensitive breasts with the sweetly aching nipples that the serpents pulled and pulled on in their jaws. She thrust and grinded her hips, growing breathless. Her clit seemed to hum and she felt wetter and wetter as her vagina lubricated. As if summoned, she felt a scaly, reptilian, phallic thing slither up her thigh and into her hole and begin to ease its way in. She breathed faster and rocked her hips as she felt it penetrate her, breaking through her maidenhead and pushing itself all the way up, its rough scaly texture bulging inside her, up into her G-spot, while Medusa’s fingers gently caressed her clit, and Korinna, still self-blinded, saw stars as ecstasy exploded within her. Then it retreated and her maiden’s blood oozed out.
Korinna jerked her hips one more time and felt a snap and heard a crack beneath her. The statue’s head had broken off at the neck from the pressure of Korinna’s weight directly on it and fell to the floor with a thump, leaving behind a jagged shard where the neck had been. With nothing to support her, Korinna slipped down slightly and the rope tied beneath her breasts cinched up. She kicked her legs around as best she could to try to rebalance herself. The now-headless statue was moved out of the way and Medusa’s hands firmly supported her backside. Medusa gave the order to untie her legs. She was given a footstool to stand on as first the right leg, then the left leg were unbound. The snakes had released her nipples, which now throbbed in more painful, less pleasurable way. Medusa took a damp cloth and wiped the blood from between her thighs. Her crotch ached with the pain of first intercourse and lingering pleasure.
“Have this one made into paving stones,” Medusa told one of her servants, in reference to Syntyche, and the poor obedient petrified servant and its now-chipped stone head were placed onto a cart and wheeled out of the chamber.
Medusa untied her bonds and allowed Korinna to sit and stretch on the cushioned bench and rest for the time being. Korinna had no idea how much time passed, though she sometimes thought she perceived a different quality to the darkness based on how much daylight was in the room. Servants brought in food grapes, olives, roasted fish, bread and cheese as well as wine. Medusa offered her some, as though she were a guest and they were friends, rather than monster and victim-to-be. “No wine,” said Korinna, thinking of how easy it would be to slip up if she got tipsy. “Water, please.” Medusa sat by her side, handed her a glass of water and watched her drink thirstily.
“You are brave, and strong, so, Korinna of Mesonísi, I will grant you your freedom and allow you to leave the island if you can withstand me until tomorrow at dawn,” Medusa announced.
When she heard that, Korinna’s first impulse was to look Medusa in the eyes to see if she was being sincere, but of course she couldn’t do that. How many natural human instincts had to be nipped in the bud to survive Medusa? Still, it filled her with the first hope she had since she’d been taken prisoner a real possibility of freedom.
Later, Medusa helped Korinna to put on her chiton and told her they were going for a walk. It was a warm evening. Korinna could feel the evening sun on her face as they left the palace and crossed the courtyard. Medusa led her down the marble palace steps to the road that led to the village. When Korinna stumbled over a rock, Medusa was there to steady her. “Careful,” she said. “This path has many rocks and dips. You would know that if you’d open your eyes.”
“If I did, would you walk behind me?” asked Korinna.
“Why would I do that?”
“You care if I break my head on a stone, but you want me to turn into one. That doesn’t make much sense to me.”
“I only kill in one way, my way, if I can help it.”
“Why kill at all?”
“I am what the gods made me. Killing and cruelty is my nature. The serpent feeds on the vermin. Sharks feed on porpoises. I kill with my face. I take the evil and the good, the beautiful and the ugly, the weak and the strong. I’ve come to regret this fact not at all.”
Korinna’s senses were heightened with her eyes closed. She was more aware of the smell of the sea breezes and how they felt on her sweaty skin, the rustling of leaves in the nearby vineyard. She smelled the campfires in the village and heard men singing adult men as well as young boys with high, prepubescent voices adding further texture to the melodies.
“Where are the women?” asked Korinna.
“Only men live here. They serve me as their lady...as their goddess...provide me with what I need, and I let them live as they will. They are all blind men.”
“Where do they come from?”
“A few of them are warriors, very few. They came to my island to cut off my head, but when they were faced with death by petrification they allowed me to take their eyes and become my slaves, instead of my statues. Many of them are orphans, or unwanted bastards, or outcasts...the ones left in the woods as infants to die because of some prophecy, or because they’re deemed too weak, too physically inferior, to be warriors, to be proper men. I claim those. Those blindfolds they wear are affectation. Their eyes are removed once I decide to accept them.”
“What happens to the girls?”
“The girls go somewhere else my sisters see to them. It gets...messy, otherwise.”
They continued to listen to the men singing. It was a strange and beautiful sound, with the polyphonic melodies and shifting chords. It was mostly acapella, but there was some drumming as the men danced. Some of the songs were about the gods and heroes of old, about island life, about death and love and friendship, and some were in praise of Medusa herself, her great power, her wisdom, and yes, her beauty. Once again, Korinna had to stop herself from looking over at her captor’s face to see what her reaction was. Korinna wondered what would happen if she made a run for it right now, in the direction of the beach to the location of where the boat still was. She calculated the odds in her mind and it wasn’t good. She decided to stay where she was and hope that the monster Medusa, self-described killer and sadist, was true to her word about letting her go tomorrow.
“Can any statues be brought back to life?”
“Is that what you came here for, girl?”
“No, I just wondered. It would be nice to know.”
“I petrify living flesh, I don’t restore the dead to life. If your Nikephoros is petrified, you’re better off writing him off as gone instead of wasting your time trying to cure him. Men are a drachma a dozen and most of them have more utility as stone than as living flesh and do far less damage that way.”
“When I leave “ Korinna swallowed. “By the will of the gods, when I leave, can I take the statues of my servants with me?”
“If you wish.”
It was nighttime when Medusa led her back up the paved stone path, to the palace, after the men of the village had finished their dancing, singing, feasting, and carousing, and had turned in for the night. Servants were waiting to open every door and prepare refreshment for their mistress and reports of the day’s business. When important matters had been tended to, Medusa had a bath prepared in the bathhouse and they bathed together in a capacious marble tub in hot, soapy water. Medusa lathered Korinna’s long black hair, massaging her scalp in a pleasant way with her fingers, and then rinsed it. Then they settled back in the tub, Medusa on one side, Korinna on the other.
“I bet you have pretty eyes,” remarked Medusa. “What color are they?”
“They’re brown, and you won’t see them.”
“Brown-eyed Korinna. Maybe I’ll have my minstrels write a song about you.” Medusa leaned forward in the bath and kissed Korinna on the lips. It surprised her and her eyelids fluttered, but did not open. “Korinna hides her eyes. Her walnut brown eyes.” Medusa raised a soapy hand and stroked her cheek and then returned to her side of the tub. When they got out of the tub, Medusa wrapped a towel around her hair and rubbed her down with another towel. She dressed her in a bathrobe and led her back to the bedchamber in the main palace hall and sat on curtained four-poster bed. When Korinna’s hair nearly finished drying, Medusa combed it out. “I used to have hair like this,” she remarked. “Mine was very long, very thick...more auburn than yours, though.”
When it was time for bed, Medusa had Korinna lay beside her. They were both naked. A musician was sitting on the cushion, by the hearth, playing the lyre, plucking the strings with expert fingers. The music that floated up was soft and soothing, a wistful melody.
The gorgon slipped her arms around Korinna. “Make love to me,” she whispered to Korinna, and kissed her lips. Korinna expected to feel horrified, but instead, strangely, desire rose up in her and returned the kiss and reached up to grasp the writhing snakes that sprouted from her head, which curled and coiled around her hand in response to her touch. She climbed under the covers and licked Medusa’s breasts and nipples, opening her eyes for the first time, knowing that Medusa’s face was safely out of sight. The smell of her body was alluring no perfume, no fruit or spice would ever come close to replicating it, and few would ever be able to get close enough to her to know what they were missing. She kissed her way down the navel-less curve of the belly and buried her nose in the woman’s pubic hair, which smelled like a garden of paradise, and licked her clit and labia, licked until she felt Medusa shudder with pleasure, while stroking the curve of her back and buttocks. Then she made her come again, with her fingers, while kissing Medusa’s lips, inhaling the intoxicating breath of her. Then it was over, and her passion subsided. Medusa lay next to her, fondly stroking the underside of her breasts. Medusa folded her into an embrace and the two women lay for a while wrapped in each other’s arms. Medusa whispered, “Look at me,” sounding this time not like a goddess issuing a command, but like a lonely woman whispering a longing, hopeless prayer to be seen. If I look at her now, would I be turned to stone? Korinna wondered. The shape of the head with its corona of snakes in the darkness was all that she would see in that dark room with only firelight in the hearth. Was it enough? “I can’t,” Korinna whispered, feeling regret.
The lyre to continued to be played on the other side of the room, almost lulling Korinna into slumber, but she risk of losing consciousness was too great. I won’t sleep, I won’t sleep, I won’t sleep, Korinna told herself. Every note strummed by the lyre seemed to beckon her to sleep, though. Korinna, her eyes still shut, exhausted, lay in the gorgon’s embrace, her head resting on the feather pillow. She hadn’t slept at all the previous night, and the night before that they’d slept fitfully in the woods. I won’t sleep, she told herself, then unconsciousness swallowed her.
The attention Medusa gave to the sleeping woman was cold, patient, and reptilian. She stared at the girl’s shadowed face, noticing the slowing of her breathing, parting of the lips, her eyeballs darting under the closed eyelids as she began to dream.
Several hours later, the morning sun was beginning to lighten the room and the fire in the hearth was down to cinders. “Time to wake up,” Medusa announced to her sleeping companion, who lay facing her with her head resting on her arm, soft curls spread all around her.
Korinna’s eyes opened and she gazed groggy, blinking, vacant, dreamy, at the speaker next to her, before she could get her bearings. Awareness and memory flooded her mind, and too late she realized what had happened. Her eyes, meeting Medusa’s, widened ever so slightly before their brown hue turned to white marble, along with the rest of her face, her lustrous curly hair, and the entirety of her body, frozen forever in half-awake repose.
Medusa rose and dressed, had breakfast brought in and had her servants move the reclining statue of Korinna off the bed and onto a table in her bedchamber, where she could admire it for years to come. It was nice, at least, to have a nude woman for a decoration, unlike so many of the others clad in clothing or armor that petrified right along with them. Thinking of her soft, supple skin, her ticklish laughter, the self-control, determination and will to live that almost allowed her to survive, her inexperienced but ardent lovemaking, Medusa felt a pang of regret that fate had led Korinna here and condemned her to be marble in the prime of her youth for all time. At the same time, Medusa was enraptured by her loveliness and, now, would always have the chance to feast her eyes on her and run her hands along the sweet lush body captured in marble and the pretty face with its dazed, disoriented expression of sleepy surprise.