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A Garden of Snakes and Stone

You can find K. on Twitter @k_shefferd

The men who tried to kill her were content to see her as a trophy, yet objected to their materialization under her stony gaze. History was carved by those permitted the tools, and so the stories painted a heinous monster. Lost was the truth that her gaze didn't turn all to stone, only those that wanted her, lusted for her, for gods were lusty creatures and men in their image.
The stories didn't tell how she laughed with the weaver and her daughter, spun thread with them; broke bread with the shepherd and gave him and his goats shelter when storms smashed against the land. That she was happy with a life without lust, and that love could spring from other wells.
She hoped that change would come, that the kind men would outnumber the cruel, but the years wore heavy on her, so she made up her mind to wait them out. She placed her back to a great stone and closed her eyes. The snakes went first, slithering into the rock, and she followed after.
Years passed, seasons ripening and falling, continents shifting, cultures rising and collapsing, stories flying and sinking from the mouths of those who told them. The face of the stone eroded under wind and sand and sun, but still it stood.
Then, she awoke. The snakes came first, shivering forth from the stone, then she followed, stepping from the rock as if rising from submersion. After the weight of the wait, she felt frayed and worn thin, but her snakes were steadfast and patient.
Covering her snakes with a shawl, she walked the land once more. The cruel and the kind and the ignorant she encountered, each chasing their own trophies of life. The years hadn't birthed the changes she'd hoped for, but the thought of another wait dragged her down like quicksand, snakes stirring with agitation.
Standing meek and standing aside had done her no favors, so she decided to stand strong instead. She burnt the shawl from her head and made a new home for herself.
More men came a-killing, and women too. If they persisted, they petrified. But she gave them the choice she herself had never been given, so their statues never weighed down her heart.
She built a garden for those like her, the persecuted and the unwanted, and took in those that sought refuge, women and men alike. All she asked for, in return, were small kindnesses, and for the grass snakes to be unharmed.
She had no illusions that the changes she wanted were around the corner, that kindness would always usurp cruelty. But from a handful of seeds can a garden grow, and this garden would be her battle cry.
They'd find new ways to tear her down, and she'd find new ways to grow back. Stone endured, and so did she.
The End
This story was first published on Monday, July 19th, 2021

Author Comments

The seed for this story was planted after reading a chapter about Medusa by Mary Beard, and how her "comeuppance" is still used to belittle women in power today. In the face of that came a Medusa who tired of waiting for change, but could still choose kindness over cruelty. Some have suggested that Medusa's snakes are a phallic symbol, so I wanted to challenge that idea of a seductress, and show a woman leading the story without sex or romance.

- K. Shefferd
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