By Molly Shilling
The Origin is a retelling of the story of Medusa.
A crisp crack comes from the hearth as one of the logs splinters and falls into the ashes. The heat from the fire sweeps through the room, bringing with it an aroma of wood, pines, and dust. Medusa sits on the edge of a large marble fireplace. Resting with her ankles crossed, she breaths in the comforting scents of Athena’s temple.
Although nicknamed ‘guardian’ or ‘protectress’ by her sisters; Medusa has no part in Athena’s war besides watching over the temple. Each day she teaches students about the temple and shows them around the library’s archives. In her average day, she also keeps the temple clean and deals with the occasional man attempting to court a priestess.
“Fine day,” the one of the men say to Medusa, with an intonation of neither a question nor a statement.
Medusa’s responds with: “Of course.” And, she continues to clean the temple. A virgin priestess has little knowledge about the goings on of romance, except that it is forbidden.
The suitor would then edge his way closer; the toe of his sandals nearly touching the priestess. “They say the women of the temple are the most beautiful in all of Hellas…”
Turning to face the man, Medusa says, “And while that may be the truth,” her lips tighten into a false smile, “the temple is for those of us who wish to spend our lives studying the words of the gods.” The priestess would gently toss her light curls over her shoulder and resume her work. However, Medusa can’t help but smile at the fact that the women of the temple are blessed with incredible beauty.
When she ran the suitor away this time, lightning seemed to burst open the sky in beautiful yet terrifying strokes. The ground shook and the priestesses hid in the temple for comfort. In the sea of white garb, Medusa finds her fellow priestesses.
“The battles continue?” Medusa asks.
In a voice like the bells of the temple, one sister replys, “It is the Poseidon who is at war.”
Another adds quietly: “He has vowed to humiliate our goddess, Athena.”
“But how?” asks Medusa.
“Surely if we knew we would not be here hiding!” Another priestess shouts.
“Sisters,” the low velvet voice of Athena echoes across the walls of the temple, “Stand together. Stand firm. Remember your vows.” A second more of reverb and the voice is gone.
Medusa speaks up, her voice shaking, “Let us follow our goddess’s advice.” Within seconds, the priestesses are back to work.
The next few days came and went with little incident. One of the priestesses cried out when a crab had made its way under her skirt. Another swore she felt someone touch her and gasped when nothing stood behind her. But, Athena promised the priestesses that they were harmless tricks. When another of the men found Medusa alone in the archives; she knew it was but another ruse.
Medusa lets herself smile confidently at the man. “Quite.”
The scent of the man’s dark hair is that of salt, the ocean, and home. Medusa could feel the heels of her feet inch closer without her consent. The man did the same. An unusual feeling begins in the pit of her stomach. Her breathing accelerates and he smiles down at her. His sea-green eyes staring at her. His hands, rough with labor, grasp hers. Medusa feels a sense of calmness, completeness, but deep within her is that same seedling of unease. The suitor’s arm wraps around her in an embrace. He holds her too firmly. His fingernails dig into her arm as if injecting a poison into her veins. With a slight gasp, Medusa collapses at the stranger’s feet.
Somewhere in the deep innards of her mind, Medusa can hear her goddess cry for her to stop. To not let the stranger defeat her. But what is a mortal to do against a god?
Medusa exits the archives alone. Her dress hangs in tatters. She kneels at the steps of the altar of Athena; exposed and embarrassed.
“Poseidon has tricked me. Manipulated me. Raped me.” Medusa takes a shaky breath but does not cry. “He broke my vow,” she says, her voice gaining strength, “not I!” And though Medusa sits with her head held high, she can feel a weight suddenly pushing it down. She gasps as her nose grazes the step.
The low, velvet voice returns, this time erupting the room into an explosion of sound, “YOU broke your vow. YOU allowed him to defile you. YOU betrayed me. And it is because of you that we have just lost the battle.” As if in victory, the storm raging outside increases in volume. The ground seems to shake.
Medusa, grits her teeth and fights against the unbearable weight keeping her down.
“HE only tricked you because YOU wanted to be TRICKED,” cried Athena.
The fury Medusa was keeping at bay burst through, “Nobody could have repelled him!” The weight returned tenfold. Medusa’s head pushes into the stone at her knees. “He could have gotten to any of us.” She spits at the ground.
Medusa turns her head toward the other priestesses watching in horror. Their mouths open. Some weeping. Some fuming. Most of their faces appear blank, made of stone.
Medusa’s eyes sweep to her sisters. They stare. Heat springs to her cheeks as she watches the feet of her eldest sibling turn black. Then her legs. Her chest. Her mother’s smile. Her father’s eyes. Medusa feels the block of stone crushing her lift, as she runs to lay at her sister’s feet.
Through her sobs, Medusa cries, “What have you done to me?” She covers her eyes with her hands and listens to where her fellow priestesses stand. “Run sisters! Run before I can turn you into a monster like I have Stheno!” Medusa hears the padding of sandals against the stone. When she opens her eyes, the fire in the hearth is extinguished. Medusa feels cold. On the ground are locks of the most beautiful hair in Hellas. Her hands uselessly rake her scalp for any piece of her left. She collapses back onto the floor of Athena’s temple.
“My lady.” She wipes her nose. She stops her tears. “What more of me do you ask?”
She could feel the Goddess musing to herself, “Pain, banishment, solitude, exile, shame,” she paused, “Is that enough?”
Medusa gets to her feet at the hearth. “And what of Poseidon?” She stands with her arms hanging loosely at her sides. “What of my attacker?”
A pause. “Poseidon was just doing what he must do to win the war. It is in his nature.”
“And for that, I must lose everything!” Medusa spins on her heels, trying to find the source of the voice echoing across the room.
“Think of this as a gift,” the voice seems to whisper from behind her, “now you’ll never have anyone else to betray.” A swift wind enters the chamber whipping Medusa across the face. She falls back onto her knees in front of the cold logs of the fire. She tries to rise on shaking legs and stands, a monster.