Written by Nova
Graphic by Cinnamone Winchester and Hengjia Liu
This piece was originally published in ‘Memento Mori’, Bossy’s 2021 print edition.
I’d heard legends of the snake woman—the ‘whore’. The monster amongst all monsters who slithered aimlessly in the comfort of her lair, serpentine tail coiling around endless slabs of dormant marble; eerie remnants of the soldiers who once dared to disturb her sleep.
I’d heard how each broad pillar marked the wretched grave of a man’s hubris, showcasing their desperate grasps at mortality until their last breath… and how the frozen fear behind their forever unblinking eyes had come to betray them for all eternity.
How hundreds still were sent to return with her severed, bloodied head: a sickening triumph for the beasts who hungered for her death. How scholars—men who swore their allegiances to the book over the blade—journeyed of their own accord, wishing to satisfy their unending thirst for the truth behind the serpent woman’s twisted visage and her ‘savage’ motives, as told by the common folk.
Despite the stark difference between a soldier’s need for slaughter and the relentless research of the sage, they were one and the same in the end: naive wanderers—none of whom would ever know the sun’s warmth again.
If one believed everything they heard, at least. Around me, these tales upon tales were all eagerly dismissed—but still… still, I wondered. Perhaps I am one of many. But I am no man.
An unusual aroma wafted in the air as I drew nearer; the endless quiet conveyed a warning.
Despite the eyeless dark, my vision adjusted to the dimly lit structure of the serpent’s lair, and, in turn, fixed to the disarray of rusted spears and torn cloth that had become ragged with age.
“It isn’t too late to turn back now,” a voice of reason whispered in my head as I continued my trek along the twisted pathway.
Not long after this string of doubts began to form in the back of my mind, I came face to face with the infamous stone warriors whose wide eyes bore holes into my soul.
My footsteps—that had not once faltered upon entering—now wobbled with uncertainty as I stumbled backward into one of the many time-worn statues. Much to my dismay, it fell to the earth with an ear-splitting crash and collapsed into a formless heap, leaving naught but the remainders of human teeth among its debris.
Perhaps then, I thought, would his spirit finally wander free.
Then came an eerie groan that made my blood run cold.
But unlike the savages who sullied the snake woman with spit to the face and a weapon to her neck before growing still for all eternity, I let my sword fall to the ground, sealed my eyes shut, and with a deep, shuddering breath did I speak her name.
A multitude of hisses echoed in reply. “Why are you so willing to lower your defences?” The bitterness in her words held an essence of curiosity.
I paused, knowing full well I had a lone desire that I ached to share.
“Perhaps I’ve come to break bread with the famed ‘monster’ that makes graves out of men whenever they enter.” I began to turn on my heel to meet her face first, eyes remaining shut—and she put a halt to my movements with an abrupt hiss.
“Do not face me, mortal. Have you a death wish?” “And if I did?”
I knew everything now. How life was ever painful to her, more so than the many she had taken with but a simple glance. How she was once a beautiful maiden coveted by women afar and by an unfaithful god, whose lover wished to punish her in his stead.
The Underworld rained down from the heavens above, then, dismantling her will to survive for years onward. Would she simply live to suffer?
After my first encounter with Medusa, I returned for more confirmation of the unknown truths, as well as whatever pitiful lies I’d toss aside afterward. Even if it were my assumptions betraying my rationality, the more I learnt of her sorrows, the more I felt a stir of hope: hope that a simple traveller’s desire to accompany the ‘beast’ would heal a thousand wounds to her century-old heart.
In return, she entrusted me with a pact: a promise to never open my eyes when in her presence. A rewarding promise between the serpent and I, so that I may continue to listen to her countless tales and regale her with my own. I’d lost track of the moonless nights as I continued to visit the woman—who by now, had grown accustomed to my company, as told by the silence upon her snake-coiled scalp.
Indeed, her curiosity in me shifted to an abnormal companionship… and soon after, a kindling fondness, if I were to assume such with the way she’d greet my arrival with a beckoning hum.
A hazy summer bled into fall, and I knew then that I yearned for more; that our promise would soon be broken.
There was but one answer that I would never know, and it haunted even my sleepless nights: what beauty did the famed Medusa have left upon her face?
Would I one day live to know of this beauty that others sought to destroy?
My eyes opened as she slithered close to me, just as she’d done so many times before.
At last… I had my answers now.
My first and final discoveries were her soulless eyes, the unruly heap of snakes that instinctively sprung out at my nose, and I knew the memories we once shared would flee, as would my lifeless body when marble crept from up my legs to my lungs, restricting my breath.
My vision was swallowed by a sea of black—but she, she was ever my focus, despite the pain caving in on me. My limbs grew stiff as I raised a hand to her cheek, and, smiling widely for the woman of woe whom I had come to admire, my journey for knowledge came to a halt until the end of time.
I’d heard of the foolish noble from beyond the boundless plains; their eyes as bright as the sun I once basked in, their skin ice-cold as I held them close to my breast.
I have never wept since I first wore human flesh, nor do I now, even as they stand tall among the shrivelled, pitiful cowards who once thought themselves fit to take my head.
My hatred for man knows no bounds. I shall see it so that none may wander too close to my sanctuary ever again. Still, I suppose they were no man. Theirs is a pleasant smile—it makes for a fine addition to my collection.