Our Fresh Local Lit series serves up poems and prose by Philadelphians twice a week. Today’s author, Andrew Dombalagian, teaches writing at Penn State Brandywine. He presents us with a modern take on the life of Euryale, Medusa’s lesser known sister.
What draws you to the story of Euryale, who in Greek Mythology is Medusa’s lesser known sister? What gave you the idea to modernize her tale?
I first learned about Medusa’s overlooked older sisters while studying mythology in high school, although I did not know much about them. In a Dungeons & Dragons game played with friends about two years ago, after roleplaying a “Medusa” character (trying to portray her as an intelligent, thinking, feeling person instead of a snarling monster), I started thinking about how Euryale and Stheno might have coped with their little sister’s murder. This inspired me to research their family more thoroughly. I learned about how Medusa was cursed by Athena for being raped (an ancient example of “blaming the victim”), which only deepened my fascination with how her sisters would have reacted. While the curse removed Medusa’s immortality, her sisters remained immortal; since Euryale would live forever, I imagined that her grief would live with her forever, too. Furthermore, I discovered that some ancient artistic renderings depicted Medusa as a beautiful woman. This contrast with her monstrous portrayals sparked my idea to characterize Euryale’s obsession with pursuing accurate images of her late sister.
What books are on your bedside table?
Besides Suburban Glamour, a graphic novel by Jamie McKelvie, and an anthology of Harlan Ellison stories, on my nightstand I have a copy of Future Lovecraft. Future Lovecraft is an anthology published by Innsmouth Free Press and Prime Books which collects science fiction stories inspired by the works of H.P. Lovecraft. One of my own prose poems was published in this anthology, and I have been reading through the stories and poems of my fellow contributors (mostly so I can ask myself, “Why can’t I write as well as them?”).
What is your next project/ what are you working on right now?
I am currently working on two primary projects. First, I am finishing up the next short story in my Charlotte Babbage steampunk series. (The first installment, “Charlotte Babbage and the Engine of Liberia,” will be published in the October issue of Innsmouth Magazine). Secondly, I have been throwing myself wholeheartedly into what I hope will be my first finished novel. This story looks at a world where corporations monopolize superheroes as employees (at best) and commodities (at worst).
In the mirror, Euryale saw the armed man burst into her bathroom. She continued brushing her teeth, trying to dislodge a defiant sprig of broccoli. These two unwanted guests were on equal footing in her opinion.
“I have come to slay you, foul Medusa!”
That comment hurt. Euryale spat into the sink and set down the toothbrush. She still did not look at her intruder although her hair turned to confront him.
“Medusa was my little sister,” she said, causing a mix of runny toothpaste and saliva to dribble down her chin. “Whom, I might add, I am still mourning. Even after a few thousand years, it still hasn’t gotten easier.”
“Wait a minute; you’re looking in the mirror. Shouldn’t you turn to stone?”
Euryale’s shoulders slumped and she rolled her indigo eyes. Could he really be so ignorant? He even tried to hide a hand mirror behind his back. His other hand kept the pistol raised – in a rather unprofessional manner, she noted.
“Once again, you are thinking of my younger, departed sister. I suppose that’s my lot in life; the middle child is always overlooked. That petrifying curse would be awfully inconvenient, though. I would never get this junk out from between my teeth.”
Baptiste could not believe this monster’s insolence. He was here to do battle, and instead she was fiddling with her lips and examining her gums. He caught a glimpse of her fangs in the mirror and readjusted his aim.
“I know you can turn people to stone. That’s what you did to my Monique.”
“If I could turn people to stone,” Euryale sighed, “I would be aware of it. Besides, I have never met anyone named Monique.”
“I haven’t seen her in weeks. She doesn’t answer her cell phone when I call. Her friends refuse to tell me anything. I thought she was kidnapped, but then I heard about you.”
“You’ve come barging into a woman’s powder room,” Euryale said while tightening her bathrobe, “brandishing a dangerous weapon. Did you ever consider, just maybe, she decided to move on with her life? You remind me of that surfer punk Poseidon. He raped my little sis, Medusa. Did you know that? That’s why Athena, the stuck-up priss, cursed her to be mortal and gave her the stony eyes. She actually claimed my sister was ‘asking for it.’ Some goddess of wisdom; that’s why I never go to temples.”
Euryale noticed that her unwanted guest had lowered the gun.
“But you are still a monster. You have snakes for hair and fangs. Plus, the legends say you have brass claws for hands.”
“For crying out loud, you go through an embarrassing phase of rings and bracelets and you never live it down. There’s one of the downsides to being immortal: all the youthful decisions you make live forever in your memory. Look, can you go have a seat in the living room and let me get dressed? This is really awkward. You can even hold onto your gun if it makes you feel better.”
Baptiste wasn’t sure why he listened to the monster woman. Then again, it was hard to imagine that he would be eaten by someone with so much wicker furniture. She may be lying, he thought to himself. On his way out of the bathroom, passing through her bedroom, he saw a jewelry box filled with earrings, rings, and bracelets of copper and brass. Maybe she never outgrew that phase.
In the living room, Babtiste claimed a seat on an ochre-colored sofa. He heard a venomous hiss aimed at him. He jerked about, certain that the monster woman was about to twist his head off like a grape. Instead, Baptiste saw an angry Norwegian Forest Cat, with its pied and fluffy fur bristling, lurking atop a curio cabinet. The creature glared at him with baleful yellow eyes.
“So who in all of Tartarus are you, anyhow?”
“My name is Baptiste,” he said as Euryale walked into the room, wearing what appeared to be a Land’s End ensemble. Her snake hair sat uneasily, wary of his presence. One of the snakes coughed up a shampoo bubble.
“I’m Euryale, just so you can remember which of the Gorgon sisters you are dealing with.”
“I didn’t know there were multiple Medusas.”
“No, there was only ever one Medusa. I wish I could have gotten a photo of her. Most of the pottery likenesses of her are way off. She had a cute nose, smooth cheekbones, and freaking dimples.”
Baptiste took a look at a photograph, sitting in a cutesy puppy-dog picture frame on the wicker end table, that depicted Euryale and another monstrous woman who looked just like her. In the picture, they sat in lounge chairs under a parasol on a beach with white sand. Euryale wore brightly tinted sunglasses. The other woman was drinking a cocktail; one of her hair snakes had the little drink umbrella clenched in its maw.
“That’s my older sister, Stheno, and I on our trip to Cancun three years ago. You’re lucky you didn’t barge into her place. She would have knocked your lights out and left you in a dumpster. She’s vicious in her capoeria class and in the boardroom.”
“Yeah, she’s on the board of a Fortune 500 company. Obviously she does most of her work from home. Don’t get any ideas about bothering her, either. Like I said, she will end you.”
A silence, epic in the depths of its awkwardness, dominated the room. Euryale rolled her shoulders, working out a Gordian Knot of tension in her neck.
“What should I do to get Monique back? How can I make her love me?”
Euryale was not the least bit surprised to hear this kind of creepy, false self-pity. Baptiste had stalker written all over him. His temper was on a violent hair trigger, for certain. The men in ancient Athens and Sparta would have loved him. These thoughts made her skin crawl and her hair hiss. She wanted this oddball out of her apartment, but at the same time she did not want him making life miserable for another poor sister who was not an immortal capable of taking care of herself.
“What do I look like, a therapist?” Euryale smiled to reveal her fangs. Her hair perked up as each snake head stood out. “Anyhow, I’d say get rid of that gun, first. I’ve lived through imperialism, two world wars, a whole mess of uncivil wars, and Bernie Goetz. Trust me when I say that no good comes from guns. Second, learn that ‘no’ means ‘Styx no.’ I know you’re the type who probably doesn’t like to hear it, but it’s something you need to accept. Third, look into professional help.”
Euryale retrieved a scarlet, faux-alligator skin wallet from a vinyl hand bag. She flipped through a collection of customer cards and coupons until she found what she wanted. She slid the business card across the table, past a coffee-stained copy of last month’s People.
“You really don’t deserve to know this, but around the time of my Cancun trip, I started feeling really torn up thinking about Medusa. I recommend this doctor, but don’t say I referred you. She really helped me out with my depression, and as you can probably surmise, she’s discrete and all about confidentiality.”
Baptiste accepted the card without shredding it to bits. That much surprised Euryale. Something she said must have affected him because he wordlessly stood up and showed himself to the door. He took his gun with him, stuffed into a coat pocket. Euryale hoped he would not keep it, but she sighed with relief that he did not just leave it on her coffee table. You can’t just toss out firearms with the cat litter.
Once he was gone, Euryale the immortal Gorgon made sure to lock her door. She collapsed into a chaise lounge chair and stared at the ceiling fan. The cat, having descended from his perch, rubbed against Euryale’s leg and massaged her skin with his purring vibrations. She stroked the crown of his head, driving him to arch his spine and tail in delight. He hopped onto her lap and rubbed against her hair snakes.
“Oof, you’re getting heavy, Orion. I guess I’m not getting up any time soon.”
The hefty furball purred in contentment.
Euryale glanced to the far wall. A painting of Medusa hung over the dark marble of the fireplace. Despite all the art classes Euryale attended, she just could not get the likeness right. She feared, neither for the first nor the last time, that the memories of her sister were fading into imperfection before ultimately falling into oblivion.
“It’s still better than those amphorae. They never get her nose right.”
Euryale stroked Orion’s fur once more, and the cat stretched out his paws with a mighty Morphean yawn. The Gorgon fished her cell phone from her handbag. She cycled through the speed dial options, passing Stheno and work, before reaching the number for Dr. Ceto. In the beginning, Euryale thought it would be discomforting to unburden herself to a woman with the same name as her mother. Now, however, she wanted nothing else.
Andrew Dombalagian is a professional writing tutor at Penn State Brandywine and an aspiring author of speculative fiction. His stories have recently appeared in anthologies such as Future Lovecraft, Fortune: Lost and Found, Tough as Nails, and Lucha Gore, all available on Amazon.com. He lives with his fiancee, Ellen, and their ever-hungry kitty brigade.