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FICTION on the WEB short stories by Charlie Fish

Daughter Of Phorcys
by David Goldstein

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The air in the room was dusty, as one of the three women sleeping there lifted her eyelids, hunched her shoulders, and tried to forget the life she'd woken up to. There was no noise, except the usual ambient hissing, and the drone of snoring from one of her sisters. It was like the growling of a guard dog, warning away the horror of her waking existence. They could do with a real guard dog. Three-headed it should be; one head for company, two for security.

When she'd finished looking at her sisters, the woman - a young woman - got up, raising herself to a kneeling position. Her back ached, her neck felt tense, and her legs were a little numb. It was a warm afternoon, she determined. Not that that helped. She sighed, stood up, and shuffled off barefoot to find something to drink.

There was a jug of tepid water, half-empty; she lifted it in slender hands and took a few mouthfuls. She noticed some milk nearby, but nothing to eat. Back when they lived by the sea, the family took food for granted. The girls lived like princesses, and felt beautiful. But now they were far away, exiled from feasts and kisses. After 'it' had happened her father told her, as tactfully as he could, that she had to leave, for her own good. But he couldn't even look at the girl who, despite her careless crimes, still wanted to be his caring daughter.

What do you do when there is no bright side, no good news? She looked back at her sisters, still curled up, no doubt dreaming of how much they hated her. None of this was their fault, it was nasty how they'd been dragged into this - but she was almost past feeling guilty, it was all about coping now. She stood in the corner, working out how long it was until she could reasonably go back to sleep. Her scalp was itching like anything, but she couldn't scratch it. She was powerless against the nagging, scolding itch.

And that was what had changed for her, in essence: power. Back then, she'd had power. The men chased after her like the tides, but she was always able to look at them one at a time, smile (or smirk), and say no at any moment. She watched her sisters become quietly jealous, and enjoyed that too. She wasn't arrogant, just very pretty and very self-assured. But perhaps that was too much of an insult for the Powers That Be.

Because then, he approached her. He was tall and broad-shouldered. He was married. He had a beard. A white beard. But he was not the kind of man who accepted a no. She let him hold her hand, as they walked along his beach, in a firm grip. He was charming, but powerful, not so much the tide as the whole Ocean. Without knowing it, she was swimming too far out to get back.

After a short, intense courtship, she gave in to his lust. And then, inevitably, it was over for him, and he disappeared off to his next conquest. But they had offended his niece, a fiery woman with an intense, short temper and her own lust for a victim. Suddenly, the girl was covered in scars, monstrous to anyone who had loved her or wanted to, her sisters too; and dangerous, ashamed and endangered, they fled to a refuge far from the past. Powerless over their own lives.

She trembled slightly, trying not to weep. She couldn't escape her memories; with nothing to do, she decided to try facing them.

While several objects lay in pieces across the floor, the mirror had not yet been smashed. Having found it, she placed her fingers around the edge and lifted it. It was an exercise in avoiding self-pity. Her eyes still glistened, her ears and nose hadn't changed, but her pallid skin hung languidly around her cheekbones and jaw, and had become pockmarked. She might still have been judged pleasing overall, were it not for the top of her head. It still itched; she stared at it for a while, letting herself become transfixed. Then, she felt like speaking aloud.

"My hair's a mess," she muttered, dryly. It was darkly funny, and she almost smiled, but it didn't seem allowed. She imagined an audience chuckling good-naturedly at her remark, sporadically applauding. But all she got, all she heard, was hissing.

She felt sorry for her reflection, even more trapped than she was, repulsed by its origin. Working with this looking-glass colleague, she'd made no blazing new discoveries about her life, and her nostalgia was fruitless; but she was on a bizarre path of uncertain length snaking away from certain hedonism, bound to look back at times even though it hurt to turn her head. She dismissed her reflection by angling the mirror towards the ceiling, and proceeded to check it for new damp patches.

Two sharp screams rushed across the room, bludgeoning her ears and jarring her spine. She tilted the quivering mirror, and caught the reflection of her sisters, torn, red, lying very still. Sick with shock, she flashed the mirror about, trying to locate the uninvited guest so she could turn around and face him, petrify him, but somehow he was concealed. This she couldn't understand; but what she could grasp, in the final pulse of her frayed mind, was that this was the end. There was a blade...

The mirror hit the floor, followed by Medusa's head, then by her body. Her face, the face that had once gazed so confidently at the sea-god Poseidon, now held anger and fear. It would be some type before the snakes, put there by war-goddess Athene's curse, stopped rasping and twitching.

Still wearing the helmet that made him invisible, Perseus grabbed the head - taking care not to look at its virid, viral eyes - and slid it into a sack. In his thumping heart, he was now more confident of rescuing his mother from a loveless marriage. After a quick glance at his sickle with its sweaty handle, he squelched past the bodies in winged sandals, got outside where the air was less dusty and flew away.

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