by Särah Nour
No one knew why Medusa was born with snakes on her head. But her Mother and Father loved her very much. When she was a baby, they held her without fear, and they loved the baby snakes with their colorful patterns and beady little eyes. Still, Mother knitted a pink hat for Medusa so no one would see the snakes.
When Medusa turned four, her Mother and Father sent her to preschool and told her never to take off her hat. Medusa obeyed and wore the hat all day.
Then one day on the playground, a girl asked her, “Why do you always wear that hat?”
Medusa said, “I’m not supposed to take it off.”
“It’s pretty. I want it!”
The girl pulled the hat off before Medusa could stop her. The snakes uncoiled and hissed and flicked their forked tongues. The girl yelped and dropped the hat as children ran away screaming in terror. Some started to cry. The teacher got very angry and said, “Medusa, put your hat back on!”
Medusa did as she was told, and the teacher picked up the phone and called Mother and Father to pick her up. Medusa was not allowed at school anymore.
From that day on, Mother and Father taught Medusa at home. When she was five, they taught her the alphabet, the days of the week, and the months of the year. When she turned eight, they taught her how to multiply and divide. When she was ten, she could name all the planets in the solar system. By the time she was twelve, she was very skilled at playing the piano.
As Medusa grew up, so did the snakes. Mother and Father gave her a book of snake species so she could learn what kinds they were. There were two milk snakes, two Western fox snakes, two Eastern hognose snakes, two gopher snakes, and one large spitting cobra.
Every so often they shed their skin, and Medusa kept the skins and made clothes out of them. She started making small things, like belts and mittens. When she got better at it, she saved the skins until she had enough to make shirts and pants.
Mother taught Medusa how to knit, so she knitted little wool sweaters for the snakes on cold days. When they were hungry, she set out mousetraps to catch food for them, or she would go out to the swamp to catch frogs. She spoke to them every day. She gave them names. Naga. Tanith. Cairn. Flint. Midgard. Sesha. Wadjet. Basil. Algol.
One day, when Medusa was fourteen, Father told her that her Grandfather had died. He had lived right in town, but Medusa never met him because he was ashamed of having a granddaughter with snake hair.
Mother and Father took Medusa to the funeral home where they were greeted by the kind old Undertaker. He led them into the casket room and there was Medusa’s Grandfather, lying in a shiny black casket with red trim inside.
Medusa felt very sad that she never knew her Grandfather before he died. She started to cry. Her tears landed on her Grandfather and he instantly turned into stone.
Medusa, Mother, Father, and the Undertaker all jumped back in shock.
“I didn’t mean to do that!” Medusa said as Naga the milk snake and Sesha the hognose snake wiped the tears from her cheeks. “I didn’t even know I could do that.”
“It’s okay,” Father said. “You’ve made a beautiful statue. Now he can live on forever.”
“That’s right,” the Undertaker said. “This statue is lovely. Medusa, how would you like to work for me? I’m sure people would pay good money to have statues made of their loved ones.”
Medusa had never had a job before. She looked at Mother and Father.
“The choice is yours,” Mother said.
“Okay,” Medusa told the Undertaker. “I think I can do it.”
Once Medusa began working at the funeral home, news spread fast all through town. There were ads and billboards everywhere, advertising Medusa’s special talent. People from all over the country started lining up to have their loved ones immortalized in stone. People even traveled from far-off places just to watch her turn dead bodies into statues.
Medusa would cry over the cadavers until her tears fell down and turned them into stone. Grateful family members would thank her and give her hugs. Some took the statues home with them. Others displayed them in the graveyard among the tombstones.
The job made Medusa sad, but she was also happy. No one was afraid of her snake hair anymore. The snakes made it easier, because they would always be there to nuzzle her cheeks and wipe her tears away.
One day a Widower came to the funeral home to arrange services for his wife. He was a curious man and he asked Medusa all sorts of questions about her snakes. He asked their names, their species, and what they ate.
“What’s that big one right there?” he said, pointing to the middle of Medusa’s head.
“Oh, him? That’s Algol. He’s a spitting cobra.”
The Widower took a step back. “Those are dangerous! They’re extremely venomous!”
Medusa patted Algol’s head. “It’s okay. He’d never hurt anyone. Isn’t that right, Algol?”
Algol rubbed against Medusa’s hand like a housecat.
“See?” Medusa said. “He’s sweet.”
The Widower smiled uneasily. “Well, you seem to have him under control.”
The saddest day of Medusa’s job was when a family brought their stillborn baby girl to the funeral home. Medusa held the child and cried, and when she turned to stone, Medusa kept on crying. Basil, a gopher snake, and Midgard, a hognose snake, wiped her cheeks. Cairn the fox snake wiped the tears dripping down her chin.
“Thank you so much,” the mother said.
“You don’t know what this means to us,” the father said. “Now she’ll be with us forever.”
Their son, a Little Boy who had been silent this whole time, looked up at Medusa and said, “I like your hair. Snakes are awesome!”
Medusa sniffled and blew her nose. “Thank you, Little Boy.”
The other fox snake, Flint, playfully flicked his tongue in Medusa’s ear to tickle her. She giggled and felt better.
For years Medusa worked happily with the Undertaker. She made friends, comforted people when they grieved, and was invited to play the piano at funerals. She played Strauss, Schubert, Stravinsky, all while wearing her best snakeskin clothes.
One day at a funeral, a Teenage Girl asked, “Where did you get those clothes?”
“I made them,” Medusa said. “I make all my clothes.”
The Teenage Girl’s eyes widened. “Really? Wow! Have you thought of selling them? I bet people would line up to buy them.”
Medusa spoke to the Undertaker, who agreed to let her sell the clothes at the funeral home. Some customers bought them for themselves; others bought them for their loved ones to wear for open-casket funerals, before they were turned to stone. Some even asked her to dye the clothes black. Medusa did, and soon everyone was showing up to the funerals wearing black snakeskin.
Soon after, the Teenage Girl came to the funeral home wearing a snakeskin skirt and asked Medusa to go to a movie with her.
“I want to introduce you to all my friends,” she said. “They love my skirt and I know they’ll love you. You could make skirts for all of us!”
At a funeral, the Little Boy approached her wearing a black dress shirt she had made. “Mom said I should say thank you for this shirt,” he said. “Thank you!”
“You’re very welcome,” Medusa said.
“I want to wear it to school, but Mom says no.”
Medusa laughed and took her seat at the piano bench.
One day Medusa saw that the door to the funeral home’s basement was open. Curious, she went down the stairs and found wooden shelves holding rows upon rows of urns. The Undertaker was there, replacing a lightbulb on the ceiling.
“What’s all this?” she asked. “Are these ashes?”
The Undertaker looked sad. “Yes. These are all unclaimed. No one came to get them.”
“What?” Medusa was shocked. “Why?”
The Undertaker shrugged. “Maybe their loved ones forgot about them. Maybe the grief is too intense. Some of these have been here for years.”
“That’s not right,” Medusa said. “Everyone deserves a proper burial.”
The next day they loaded the urns into the Undertaker’s car and went for a drive. Every so often Medusa told him to stop the car, so she could get out and scatter some ashes. She scattered them in a field, into a river, at the beach, under a tree, in a church courtyard, and finally they stopped at Medusa’s house, where she scattered some onto Mother’s flower bed.
Over the next few weeks, Medusa and the Undertaker drove far and wide to find resting places for the ashes. Sometimes they scattered them; sometimes they buried them. One windy day they climbed a hill overlooking a sunflower field, where Medusa flung an urn into the air and watched the wind carry the ashes away.
The day they finally finished, the Undertaker drove Medusa home. Before they parted ways, he said, “Thank you, Medusa, for all you do.”
“It’s no problem,” Medusa said. “I just think people should be treated like—well, like they matter. Even if they’re dead.”
Then came the day when Medusa turned eighteen years old. Her homeschooling had run its course and she had money saved in the bank, so she felt it was time to go to college. She told her parents so at dinner one night.
“What would you like to major in?” Father asked.
“Well, I thought of applying to a music school, so I can be a concert pianist. Then I thought I’d like to study snakes, so maybe herpetology. But I think I want to study mortuary science. Everyone here wants statues, but I want to learn about embalming and body restoration and putting makeup on cadavers. And there are green burials now, with biodegradable caskets, and people getting cryogenically frozen, and you can even launch cremated remains into space! And I’d get to study the law and federal regulations and funeral customs from around the world.”
“That sounds perfect,” Mother said. “Have you discussed this with the Undertaker?”
“Yes,” Medusa said. “He said he would support me in whatever I want to do.”
“And so will we,” Father said.
While Medusa was restocking her supply of snakeskin clothes, the Teenage Girl came over and asked if she would go shoe shopping with her after work.
“I’d like to, but I can’t,” Medusa said. “I have some college applications to finish tonight.”
“What?” The Teenage Girl looked baffled. “College? You mean you’re moving away?”
“Well, yes. I was thinking I’d study abroad. I’d love to see the Snake Temple in Malaysia. And I just have to see the Merry Cemetery in Romania. I hear it’s beautiful. The gravestones are big and colorful and have poetry written on them.”
“But… But you can’t! What about my skirts? I buy them all here!”
“I’m sorry, but I want to move on. I’ve worked here for four years.”
Without another word, the Teenage Girl turned around and stormed out of the funeral home.
The next day, Medusa was walking to work when she saw the local billboard advertising her services. It was torn apart, the cardboard ripped right down the middle, and someone had spray-painted all over it. She became scared, but continued walking.
Soon the snakes started hissing, and she realized the townspeople were glaring at her as she made her way down the street.
A lady yelled, “My father’s on his deathbed! How will I ever get a statue of him if you quit?”
A man hollered, “My son was in a terrible car accident. What am I supposed to do if the doctors can’t save him?”
An older woman stopped her on the street and demanded, “Where am I supposed to get snakeskin clothes at affordable prices? Do you know how expensive they are?”
The Little Boy pointed and said, “Mommy, look, there’s the monster!”
“She’s a monster, all right,” his mother said. “So selfish. Only thinks of herself.”
The snakes hissed protectively, so no one came too close to her. Still, Medusa began running. She ran until she reached the funeral home, where she jumped into the arms of the Undertaker.
“Everyone hates me now!” she said. “It’s because I’m quitting and moving away!”
“You’ve done nothing wrong,” the Undertaker said. “You’ve been a great help all these years. It’s time for you to move on.”
Both of them jumped as a brick came flying through the window, shattering glass all over the floor. Someone from outside shouted, “We know she’s in there!”
“We won’t let her quit!” Medusa recognized the voice of the Widower.
“She can’t do this to us!” That came from the Teenage Girl. “We need her!”
The Undertaker said to Medusa, “You stay inside. I can handle this.”
Medusa watched from the window as the Undertaker went outside, stood in front of the funeral home and faced down the angry mob that had gathered there.
“She’s not here,” the Undertaker said. “And whoever threw that brick is going to have to pay for my window!”
Someone threw a small rock, and it hit the Undertaker in the forehead. The mob kept shouting and tried to push him out of the way so they could open the door. The rocks they threw became bigger and bigger. But he stayed on his feet, guarding the door, until suddenly he clutched his chest and started gasping for breath.
The mob pulled away as Medusa rushed outside just in time to catch the Undertaker before he collapsed. She laid him on the ground and tried to revive him, but it was no use. His poor heart had given out.
As the snakes hissed and bared their fangs, Algol the spitting cobra raised himself higher, bared his fangs, and spat out his venom. The venom sprayed the Widower and instantly turned him to stone. Algol spat again and turned the Teenage Girl into stone, along with a girl standing next to her. The rest of the crowd ran away in fright.
Medusa carried the Undertaker to the roof of the funeral home, where she cried over his body and turned him to stone. There she stood his statue up for all to see, so the guilty townspeople would never forget what they did.
What happened to Medusa after that, the townspeople never knew, and her Mother and Father wouldn’t tell.
Some believe she left for college like she planned, and became an undertaker in a different country where no one knew her.
Some believe she went globe-trotting to find others like herself.
Some believe she now lives in a cabin in the swampy wilderness, surrounded by snakes.
But wherever Medusa went after the Undertaker’s death, she was not alone. Her snakes were with her. They were the only real friends she’d ever had, and the only friends she’d ever needed.
Särah Nour is a freelance journalist based in Fargo, North Dakota. Her poetry has been published in Stone Path Review, Red Weather, and The Poetry Rag. Her short stories have been published in Northern Narratives and Mirrors and Thorns: An OWS Ink Dark Fairy Tale Anthology. She has also written for Listverseand HubPages. When not writing, she likes to cook, paint, and walk dogs at her local animal shelter.