Medusa in Orlando by David James Poissant

Medusa in Orlando

Medusa in a teacup, whirling. This is 2016. This is the Magic Kingdom. A hurricane is on the way, but she’s a motherfucking Gorgon with snakes for hair, so fuck Hurricane Matthew.

“The park will close in one hour,” a voice calls through loudspeakers. It’s only 4PM. The park is shutting down early for only the fourth time in forty years. The downpour’s torrential. Humans scurry meekly through the wet. But not Medusa.

The teacup line was long, and she’d shouldered and snake-hissed her way to the front of it. Now, she sits astride the steering wheel, spinning, spinning. At the center of the rink, a teapot spins, a drunk mouse rising, teapot lid for a tam. Above her, paper lanterns glow and sway. Somewhere, the Mad Hatter cackles. But Medusa pays no heed. She’s Medusa. Conqueror of men. Pillager of villages. Look her in the eye, and she’ll turn your ass to stone.

She’s got wings. The poets leave that part out, a lot of them. That she can fly, out-flap a little storm. But she is mortal. That much she knows, or, leastways, she’s been warned.

She spins. But she’s not feeling, suddenly, so well. What bothers her isn’t the rotations. It’s not the storm or the fact the park won’t refund the hundred bucks she dropped on a ticket for a single day.

No, what’s bothering Medusa is the boy. Or, not boy, but teenager. The kid at the controls who operates the ride. He’s watching her. With each revolution, the boy sizes her up, seems to take her in. He’s not afraid of the snakes, unworried by the wings.

He’d best be careful. He’ll turn to stone to look at her for long. But he doesn’t meet her gaze. He knows what he’s doing. He’s looking at her without looking at her.

Others look away. Parents cover their children’s eyes and their own. A trail of statues marks her pilgrimage from the park’s front gates to the Mad Tea Party ride.

But this boy, this kid of sixteen, seventeen. He’s not afraid to look. She spins. He watches. His nametag reads: Perseus. Which is when (Fuck! Shit!) she knows.

How many times has the Oracle warned her? How many centuries has she marauded the Florida countryside knowing this day would come? How many men turned to stone hoping one of those men might be him.

But none were him, for, here he stands, a boy with a scabbard in an employee uniform — white shirt, pink stripes, tan boots, black slacks. And though this boy doesn’t look the part, doesn’t seem the type to pull a sword from his scabbard and separate her body from her head, Medusa is afraid.

She doesn’t want her body separated from her head. Yet, thinking this, she can almost feel the blade already, feel the wingbeats of Pegasus, the fists of Chrysaor, the horse’s brother. They will ride a fountain of blood from the wellspring of her neck. Even now, she feels the horse, the boy, colliding to get out, as though to be in Perseus’s presence has sent the pair of them into labored kicks. She does not want them out of her. Does not want the blood fountain. Does not wish to know the sabre’s adamantine kiss.

Plus, who the fuck gave this kid a sword? Aren’t there rules against it? Like, Disney World rules? She isn’t sure, but it seems like No Swords Allowed would be an awfully appropriate policy for any family-friendly place.

Isn’t this Orlando, after all? Isn’t this “The City Beautiful”, “The Happiest Place on Earth”?

Where, if not here, can a Gorgon go for a little vacay and harmless fantasy?

Except, no. Curse her damned, snake-headed luck. It figures the day she picks to get her Alice in Wonderland on would be the day her murderer tracks her down and the day a Cat 5 hurricane bears down on the state.

“I’ve been looking for you,” the boy says, except that he can only get a word in each time her teacup flies past, so it comes off more like: “I’ve…been…looking…for…you.”

Either way, it’s ominous. Either way, she wishes she were Alice, wishes a drink could shrink her so she could escape through a teacup’s crack.

But that ain’t happening. Cause this is it. The calliope music is decrescendoing. The ride is coming to a stop. And, oh, that’s clever, the kid, sword drawn, has put sunglasses on. The better to see her with.

And the teacups cease their spinning. And she’s so dizzy.

And so she stands. And sits. And stands again.

And runs.

She’s screaming, running, people turning, left and right, to stone.

And the boy, he’s gaining on her, gaining in his well-ironed pants and khaki boots. Through the rain, he’s gaining on her. Sword raised, he’s gaining on her.

She tries to fly, but the rain, it’s too much, her wings too wet. And then he has her by a wing, is spinning her, throwing her to the ground.

And, up close, why, he really is just a boy with a boy’s downy skin, a boy’s pocked cheeks, an Adam’s apple not yet fully formed.

There will be a fountain of blood.

But not before she thinks back to Kisthene’s dreadful plain. How she and her sisters — snake-haired just like her — played jacks, jumped rope, fished smooth rocks from the stream. How Stheno could make a stone skip nineteen times across the surface of a lake. How Euryale braided tulips into the coils of their hair. How, when clouds gathered and lightning flashed, they joined hands, the sisters, and bellowed their sadness beyond the shore and over the rising sea. And how, not once, did the sea answer them back.

To be born a girl with snakes for hair.

But that was all so long ago.

And here’s the blade, the blood, the outer bands of Matthew moving in. Soon they’ll be in the eye of it.

And here come the boy, the horse, the children trapped inside her all this time.

And where will Perseus take her now, her head? Is she really to be a wedding present for the king?

Oh, sisters — you are immortal. But this, this is the gift.

To depart.

To leave the land of men.




David James Poissant is the author of The Heaven of Animals: Stories, winner of the GLCA New Writers Award and a Florida Book Award, longlisted for the PEN/Bingham Prize, and a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize. His stories and essays have appeared in The Atlantic, Glimmer Train, The New York Times, Playboy, Ploughshares, The Southern Review, and elsewhere. He teaches in the MFA Program at the University of Central Florida, and he is currently at work on a novel.


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