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A Truly Bad Hair Day
Have you ever had one of those days when nothing goes right? When you start the day with one misfortune and it all goes downhill from there? I've had plenty of those over the past few thousand years, but I'll always remember the worst. Believe it or not, I used to be beautiful. Honestly, I even had a place on "Olympia's Next Top Model," but that was before Aphrodite decided in a fit of jealousy to cancel the show. I mean, the official goddess of love and beauty had a hard time seeing gods crowd around Zeus's 90" flat screen HD TV just to gawk at minor goddesses. Okay, I'll admit, technically, I'm not even a goddess. Yes, I've got the family history, but godlike powers get quite diluted over the generations. I've applied for official god-ship, but you know what that's like (think unemployed Mexican trying to get an American citizenship). But that was all centuries ago. Now I'm stuck here in hiding for the rest of my life, which, by the way, really sucks when you're immortal. Have you guessed who I am yet? Well, if you know your mythology, you'll know me as Medusa.
Yes, I'm the one with snakes for hair and a face that turns mere mortals to stone. Whom, do you ask, do I have to thank for this ridiculous makeover? None other than the heroine of so many young Greek girls; the wise, the powerful, the overachieving control-freak of a goddess, Athena. When I was younger, I idolized her enough that my sisters and I applied for jobs at her temple in Greece. We were excited to get the positions, even though the ignorant tourists forever losing their leather fanny packs can get on a person's nerves after a while. I had been working there faithfully for two summers (I was in college at the time, University of Sparta, majoring in unnatural history) when I first met him...
We had a lot of divine visitors after-hours at the temple, mostly haughty gods and goddesses on their way to one of Athena's elite social gatherings. Very few had ever stopped to talk to my sisters or me. That particular night, I was working overtime to clean up after one of Athena's wider parties, when I felt someone watching me. I turned around to face what I had thought to be an empty hall, and there, leaning casually against the intricately carved door frame, stood a god. Not just some minor god either, judging by the flowing blue silk toga and golden trident. I had a sneaking suspicion that I was facing Poseidon, god of the sea. I simply gaped at him for a moment, then composed myself, looked into the pair of sparkling sea-green eyes, and asked him plainly what he wanted.
"No need to be rude," he said, smiling, revealing stunningly white teeth. "I just wondered what a beautiful girl like yourself would be doing out here all alone at this hour."
"What does it look like?" I sighed. "I wouldn't be out here if you gods didn't make such a mess of the place." I stopped abruptly. I hoped I hadn't offended him or anything. I breathed a sigh of relief as he laughed softly at my response.
"I know, we're all a bunch of divine pigs," he said dramatically. "Here, let me help you." With that, a flash of blinding white light filled the room. As my eyes adjusted, I took in the affect. The room was spotless. No more empty soda flasks or chip crumbs to be found. I was furious.
"You mean to tell me," I said, voice rising with every syllable, "that all this time one of you gods could have just waved your hand and cleaned up after yourselves? I've been doing all this work for NOTHING?" Oops. I'd forgotten who I was talking to.
"Relax, Medusa, it wasn't my idea! Athena set the rule. I guess it makes her feel more powerful or something, having mortals serve her all the time." He tossed his wavy blond hair as he spoke. "But if you promise not to tell, I'll help you out." He paused for a moment, thinking. "Have you ever seen a sea serpent?"
"No," I replied, bluntly, taken by surprise.
"Well then, since you've got the rest of the night off, why don't you come down to the beach with me and meet George."
I hesitated, blushing furiously as he took hold of my hand. "George?" I asked, incredulous.
"Yeah. Oh, come on. Humans have pet dogs, what do you expect the god of the sea to have?"
Well, you can guess how that turned out. Poseidon and I dated for about a month following that night. I would wait for him after work and he would take me sailing on his luxury cruise ship, or swimming with dolphins and George, the massive, oddly cuddly sea serpent. It must have been the happiest time of my life, until the day Athena decided to do some redecorating. I stood in the main hall, studying the paintings on the walls (each one depicting Athena in a different pose), when the narcissistic goddess herself stormed in.
"WHY HAVEN'T YOU STARTED CLEANING YET?!" she yelled, her booming voice echoing around the stone walls and pillars. Without so much as waiting for a reply, she went on. "Do you REALIZE that ARCHIMEDES is supposed to be here to design my new altar in ONE HOUR? Do you have ANY idea how hard that guy is to book? Of course, we can't let the mortals know he's contracting work from the gods, or else we'd have him working full time, and he spent the entire last YEAR on that stupid Parthenon, and..."
I just let her rant. That is, until I caught sight of a familiar shadow in the doorway.
"And WHAT are you doing here, Poseidon?" Athena growled without so much as a glance toward the door, keeping her dark amber eyes trained on me.
Suddenly, something seemed to dawn on her. Athena's perfectly sculpted eyebrows raised almost to the point of disappearing under her silky black hair as she spun on the spot to face Poseidon.
"You..." she started menacingly, in a low tone somehow even more frightening that her shout, "you've been helping this, this... mortal?"
"Well," replied the sea god, with a failed attempt at his normal easygoing grin. "When you put it that way, yes, I have."
Half of me admired him for standing up to her, while the other half wondered if he was completely sane. Even without legal access to Olympus, it was common knowledge that no one contradicts Zeus's favorite daughter. Apart from her own hot temper, her dad was known for being a tad too eager with the lightening bolts.
"Come on, Athena," said Poseidon in a low, soothing tone, "why don't we just let this go? Come with me to meet up with Aries and the guys. We'll go out for ambrosia ice cream or something..."
I went from shocked to furious in the space of about two seconds. My face turned a vivid red as I glared in the god's direction. Was this how he dealt with trouble? Charming his way out of any problem? Didn't he care about me at all? Athena spun on one gold-sandaled heel to face me once again, and I didn't have time to make my face blank again. Comprehension dawned on in her dark eyes as they narrowed threateningly, not at all unlike those of a tiger.
"So, Poseidon," she hissed, "you've actually been DATING this girl. Haven't you?"
"Oh, I don't know if I'd call it that," he replied much too casually. "We hung out after work sometimes, so what? You know me, Athena."
She kept her eyes on me, her jealousy plain.
"No, dear Poseidon, I don't blame you," she said slowly, speaking with her back to him, a slow smile spreading over her face. For some reason, it sent an involuntary shiver down my spine. "Of course," she continued, "the mortal will have to be dealt with. Here in my temple, we don't allow fraternization with guests. You may leave now, Poseidon.
"Actually, I was rather hoping..."
"POSEIDON. YOU. MAY. LEAVE." It was not a request.
I glanced over at him, hoping to catch his eye, silently pleading with him not to leave me alone with Athena. He shrugged, muttered something that sounded vaguely like, "whatever, it's your temple." His bottomless sea-green eyes flashed in my direction for one brief moment, and I saw them filled with something like pity. Then he left, simply turned around and walked out of the hall.
I sat there on the floor, stunned. Then Athena spoke.
"So. You think you're something special, don't you? You think you must be exceptionally beautiful to have caught the eye of a god, especially that one." Her voice was venomous, filled with hate, and I wasn't sure why. But I had a hunch.
"You," I said, half smiling, words spilling out before I could stop them, "you LIKE him, don't you?" I couldn't help it. I giggled. My smile faded instantaneously as I realized I had pushed her over the edge.
"HOW DARE YOU?! As if your own vanity were not enough, you now presume to be better than a goddess?"
Where on earth was she getting this from? I wished then that I had majored in god psychology, though I doubt that would have helped.
Without warning, Athena raised her arms in a violent gesture, and the room filled with light. Unlike Poseidon's flash of pure white, this spell shone a vivid scarlet. The first thing I saw as my eyes finally readjusted was Athena's gloating face grinning at me from above.
Even better than I had hoped," she said calmly, her voice soft and almost friendly. "Quite an improvement, actually."
She silently handed me the large pocket mirror that I suspected she carried with her everywhere. I took one glance, and threw the glass clear across the hall until it shattered on a pillar. I held in a shriek with extreme difficulty. I had to concentrate on breathing to make sure I didn't pass out. When I thought I had myself under control, I reached up gingerly to touch my hair.
It bit me.
"OWWWWWW!" I screamed, more out of shock than pain as a tiny bubble of blood rose on my fingertip from a pair of tiny fang marks. Real, live snakes...
Athena snickered, "Don't worry, they're moderately easy to train. They don't much like French braids though." By the look on her face, she wasn't kidding.
Utterly speechless, I stayed in my trance while Athena transported me to a rocky, deserted island, where she instructed me to stay.
"Because if you don't," she warned far too sweetly, "you run the risk of turning everyone who looks at you into stone." At this, I started inventing creative means of suicide, but once again, Athena seemed to read my thoughts.
"Oh, no you don't! See, that's part of the deal. You're a monster, therefore, you're immortal. That is, unless a hero decides to come and slay you for the greater good." Her smile at this point is pure evil. "If you behave, you can expect a call from Perseus in a few decades. Until then, have fun!" She appraised my monstrous appearance one last time. With a broad grin, she added, "And I wouldn't be expecting any visits from a certain sea god if I were you. You were only his 6,732nd mortal girlfriend."
The first two years were difficult. I admit, I collected a rather nice array of stone garden statues from the foolish hero-wannabes who ventured to my island every so often. Otherwise, I was not vindictive. It didn't take long for Athena to get after my two sisters as well, and while I felt terrible being responsible for their miserable futures, their company was welcome. As you all know, Perseus did come for me. He turned out to be quite a charming fellow actually. I put on my courtesy mask and we had a cup of tea while discussing the latest gossip on Athena's escapades. We resolved to play a trick on her, forming a false picture of my head on a shield to be given to Athena as proof that Perseus, her chosen hero, had killed me. Now, when Athena races off to battle, her opponents merely pretend to freeze at the sight of the shield. Everyone gets a good laugh afterwards, especially when the goddess of wisdom herself started hunting the unknown menace that appeared to be turning her enemies back into living beings.
And myself? My sisters and I left Greece and took the first flight to Russia (via harpy, of course, the gods wouldn't even lend their Boeings to their precious humans for another few centuries). Honestly, where did you think the entrance to the underworld would be? Hades is quite the gentleman, especially compared to a certain brother of is I used to know. He gave us a cozy little apartment right under Moscow, so I can go roam the malls at night if I get bored. It's not so bad here really. My face doesn't affect the already-dead, and I get to meet all the celebrities eventually. I even got the best authors to write this account for me. I was holding out for J.K. Rowling's input, but she just doesn't want to die yet. Well, you can't have everything.
So, there it is; the true story on Medusa. The moral? NEVER trust a god. Remember, history is written by the victorious, so before you take that textbook of Greek mythology for truth, look at the other side. Even so, I wouldn't suggest opposing HER views too loudly. At least not if you care to wear your hair in a French braid.