(Toggle Theme) (Size Up) (Size Down)
The Stuff of Legends
Things have never been great for us.
I mean, sure, I suppose you could say things are different now.
"Different," but not better.
I was luckier than some; I was actually cared for by my parents for a short while. I seem to remember they were so glad to have a daughter to call their own.
...Until my hair starting growing, that is.
They had all these doctors check on me. The doctors tried to remain optimistic - or at least tried to keep my parents optimistic, since most of them probably knew what it really was.
The last doctor to check on me didn't do that. She just took one look, sighed, and told my parents what they had been thinking.
"She's a Medusa."
And just like that, when I woke up the next day, there was no one home.
For as clearly as I can remember that... I don't really remember most of what came after. I suppose I must have survived somehow
. And if my biological parents had left me any sooner, I might not have.
More importantly, I certainly wouldn't have survived had Harmony and Irma not showed up.
Harmony was... well, mythologically speaking, she was a "harpy." Irma was a mermaid.
And I was Melissa, a... well.
Before I even get into that, let's start with "Melissa." I'm fairly sure that wasn't the name my biological parents gave me; the similarity to "Medusa" would be pretty uncanny if it was.
But what Harmony and Irma told me was that my first word to them - maybe my first ever - was "Medusa."
Irma's heart broke on the spot, because that told her the whole story. But Har's hearing wasn't the greatest, so she thought I was telling them my name was "Melissa," and wouldn't be convinced otherwise.
...Sometimes I got the feeling that Har had more "selective" hearing than anything. But anyway, the name stuck.
They'd found me while on a trip to the beach... and that was basically all they ever told me. I don't even know if they were even interested in raising a child before I came along.
At any rate, things were pretty peaceful once I was in their care. And at least at the time, my childhood seemed pretty ordinary.
The truth was, we were living in an isolated house up on the mountains - Harmony's choice, obviously, but Irma was glad to go anywhere with her. So the two of them were all I knew; but frankly, I didn't feel much need for anyone else.
Eventually, we had the hair talk.
I looked in the mirror and loudly asked "Mom?", as I did when I just wanted either one of them.
Harmony came swooping into my door frame only a second or two later. "What's up, sweetie?"
I actually wanted to take a good look at her before asking my question. Her hair was long and curly, but...
Well, it clearly wasn't live snakes.
I looked back to the mirror again, and that seemed to tip Har off before I even said anything.
"Irma?", she called. "Think you're needed here."
Irma wheeled herself in, and I suddenly felt very awkward now that they were both looking at me expectantly.
"Um... I've been wondering, but why is my hair different from yours?", I asked.
Har nodded knowingly, while Irma straightened up in surprise. Har glanced down and patted her back with a wing.
Looking back on it, I'm not entirely sure why I asked about my hair
. Maybe because that was the only sort of similarity that Irma and Harmony shared that I didn't.
"Don't you like it?", Har asked first.
I stared at her briefly, then again at the mirror. I hadn't really thought whether I liked
my hair or not.
Of course, while I don't think I quite realized it then, I knew deep down it was the reason why I was with Har and Irma now. Which wasn't a bad thing, but...
"I don't know," I ultimately said. I couldn't make up my mind on such short notice.
Irma rolled her wheelchair over to me, still looking a bit concerned. "Well, why wouldn't you like it, honey?" She ran her fingers through it. "I think it looks wonderful on you, perso -"
She recoiled when one of the snakes bit her finger, but stifled a yelp. She did nearly whip me with her tail, though.
Later, I would find out that I was able to control the snakes... which probably meant that I'd subconsciously made one bite Irma to show her exactly why I might not care for it.
"Well, Melissa," Harmony interrupted, "nothing wrong with being different. Besides, you've got friends back in history."
Irma looked back at her in disbelief. "Har!"
"Gotta show her the top-shelf books sometime," Har shrugged. Irma didn't have anything to say to that.
"Come on," Har beckoned, "it's time to read some myths."
Our house had a study with lots of books. I was an adept reader and probably read through nearly all of them.
But until then, some books had been kept out of my reach on the top shelf. Harmony being part-bird, it was a very, very
She had decided - with Irma's eventual approval - that today would be the day I'd be allowed to read them.
She took off like a rocket, and once at the very top bookshelf, pulled out a book and went gracefully hurtling back down. Irma prepared to applaud her, except the book slipped out of Har's wing, and with her desperately trying to grab it back, the landing was less than elegant.
Irma clapped anyway.
I went over to the fallen book and inspected the page it had flipped open to.
"There she is," Har sarcastically remarked.
Irma frantically leapt out of her chair to take the book when she realized what I was reading. But I had already gotten the gist of it.
Medusa was a woman from ancient Greece, with hair like mine, who had become legendary... as a monster.
While Irma tried to think of what to tell me, Har already knew what she wanted to say. "Melissa, you know not to believe everything you read, right?"
"So take these stories with a grain of salt. They're called myths for a reason. Frankly, I think the only real
info you can get out of that Medusa shtick is..."
"...t-that it isn't anything new," Irma continued, beginning to catch on. "That people like us have always been around, and... w-well, I mean, they haven't always been treated very..."
I looked at Irma questioningly, and asked after she trailed off: "What do you mean "people like us"?"
"Melissa," Harmony said, putting her wings on my shoulders and turning me toward her. "Did you ever notice how none of the stories you read ever had people with wings or scaly tails? ...Or living hair?"
I shrugged. "Sorta."
"Yeah," she sighed. "That's what... most people in the world are like, to be honest. Statistically speaking, we're "different.""
There was silence. Naturally, I had a lot to think about.
While I had vague memories of living among "most people," Irma and Harmony were the two people I really knew. It was hard to believe that they - and I - were "different" in the world's eyes.
That, and Irma's allusion to "our" treatment throughout history, led me to another thought: Surely those books on the top shelf couldn't all
be about Medusa.
Finally, I spoke.
"And different is..."
"Not bad," Irma finished, hugging my legs.
As I began to read more from the top shelf, my suspicions were confirmed.
I found mention of "harpies" in Greek mythology as well, and I instantly recognized them. They were just as disparaged as Medusa, if not moreso, with stories depicting them as evil women who led others astray.
As such, Harmony insisted she'd rather not be called one. It had even entered the language as an insult, she told me.
Mermaid, on the other hand, was a term Irma was perfectly fine with. I had to admit, mermaids appeared to have a slightly better reputation; stories were told of them all over the world, in which they were often regarded as beautiful.
Irma seemed a bit put off when I mentioned how many legends about mermaids there were, but both she and Harmony were hesitant to say why.
There were many more variants of people which I didn't recognize. Most were some hybrid of a typical human and another animal (or several), and nearly all were described as monsters by these books.
I eventually discovered that being me called a Medusa wasn't even mythologically correct. Medusa was just one of three sisters with snakes for hair, collectively known as Gorgons.
But more importantly, I read about how the Gorgons were said to turn those who looked at them to stone.
"You don't see me dropping like a rock, do you?", Harmony laughed.
Irma frowned at her, then turned back to me. "We can't say for sure if you'll ever... start doing that," she sighed. "But if it hasn't happened yet, I think it's unlikely."
I must have looked dissatisfied with that reply. "You're not sure?", I repeated.
"Nobody knows how people like us come about, honestly," Irma said, shaking her head. "But we know they always have. You'd think after all this time, they'd..."
Har held her wing around Irma, who was starting to tear up.
I wanted to believe they were right; that I wasn't a monster, and that I certainly wouldn't be turning people to stone.
And that was about when I decided I wanted to prove it to others.
"You don't think you're getting a good enough education from us?", Harmony questioned. "Irma studied to be a teacher, y'know."
"It's not that," I told her.
Irma nervously played with her hands. "Melissa, dear, I don't know many schools that would have you that aren't, erm... underwater."
"It's not that either. I just want to go to a... you know, a regular school. For... non-hybrids."
"Okay, look, you're my daughter and I respect your wishes. But why
?", Har sighed. "They're not gonna teach you anything good."
"That seems kind of presumptuous," I replied, shyly looking away. "And even if you're right, I still just want to..."
"...make some friends, I can understand that," Irma said. "But it surely won't be easy with them."
"...I don't want to give up until I try," I mumbled, then looked up. "I mean... maybe I can teach them
a thing or two."
A grin slowly formed on Har's face, and she got down and wrapped her wings around me.
"Alright, Melissa," she whispered, "you can give it a shot."
She let go and pointed at my hair. "And if it doesn't work, give 'em hell."
My first day at school was nerve-wracking, to say the least. For one thing, it started off with Harmony literally dropping me off.
Everyone who saw the scene stared, then as if all noticing my hair at exactly the same time, they all looked away.
I tried to quickly explain as I went inside that I'd never turned anyone to stone... yet, but they acted as if my voice was deadly too.
Things were no less awkward in class. After the teacher introduced me, he whispered, "So... are you a Medusa?"
"Well you see, that's a very strange thing to call me, as Medusa was just the name of one of the Gorgons in ancient Greece. Of course, strictly speaking, I also may not qualify as a -"
The teacher, still refusing to face me, raised his hand as a gesture to stop and pointed to an empty seat in the very back corner. I nodded and trudged over to it.
Once I was back there, all the students breathed a sigh of relief and could face the front of the room again. During the class, a few peeked back at me, then quickly swiveled back to the front if they saw me looking their way.
I sighed and just tried to focus on the teacher. But as if I didn't feel out of place enough as it was, all the material was things I'd learned years ago, and it was hard to focus on such a boring lecture.
Suddenly, I heard crunching nearby. I looked around and noticed the boy next to me had an open package of crackers on his desk.
"Wow, I guess they really are snakes...", the boy said in awe.
"...You're feeding my snakes?", I asked.
He looked nervous; whether that was because I talked to him or something else, I wasn't sure. "A-Am I not supposed to?"
I shrugged. I never did, and they seemed to get on fine without food.
So the boy continued feeding my snakes crackers throughout the class, and the rest of the class continued to ignore me.
After school, as I headed to the place where Harmony was to pick me up, the boy caught up to me.
He flinched when I turned to him, then gave a sigh of relief. "Whew, guess I appeased the snakes."
I shook my head. "No, I just don't turn people to stone. At all. You should tell everyone else that, too. I'm really not a Gorgon."
The boy adjusted his glasses. "Oh? Then what are
you, with snakes growing out of your head?"
"I don't know, what are you
?", I responded.
He was taken aback by the question. "H... Human?"
"Human, then," I answered, holding out my hand. He nervously shook it.
It didn't take too long for him to start believing that I wasn't going to petrify him after all, after which his attitude changed significantly.
"I'm really sorry for the way everyone's been treating you," he apologized. "You just don't see a student like you every day."
"...I can understand that." Really, I could, if the legends of Medusa were all they'd ever seen of someone like me.
This time, he held out his hand. "I'm Ricky. What's your name?"
I shook it. "Melissa."
"Not Medusa." I walked away while Ricky stood in thought.
I was thinking, too.
Harmony and Irma didn't really ask any questions about my time at school. They knew that if something worth mentioning happened, I'd come to them with it.
And for the time being, I didn't see much worth mentioning to them, good or bad.
The next day, I noticed quite a few students absent. I could only assume I'd scared them off yesterday.
However, a number of those who did attend actually dared to look at and talk to me now. Either Ricky or the lack of petrified students yesterday must have told them I wasn't dangerous.
Thanks to that, I was able to make four more friends that day. But Ricky remained the one sitting in the back corner with me, and he seemed pretty interested in knowing more.
"Do you cut your hair?" "No, but I think it grows back."
"Do you wash it?" "Just with water. Shampoo's not made for scales."
"Can you use mirrors?" "I told you, I don't turn anyone to stone, especially not myself. And I'm not a vampire."
"Can your mom turn people to stone?" "No, she... I mean, they have normal hair."
That one gave him pause, though he only seemed to pick up on one part of my reply. "Wait. Your mom's not a Medusa? ...I mean, Gorgon? Or, uh..."
I figured the answer he wanted was with my biological parents. "I was born to... um, normal parents," I said, reluctantly choosing a word Ricky would understand. I decided to omit what happened after that.
"Oh. That's kinda boring."
I looked at Ricky, confused. Kinda boring? Was it "kinda boring" how they abandoned me because of who I was born as? Was it "kinda boring" that I had been completely shunned on my first day of school for something completely beyond my control?
I didn't say that. I could only say "How is that boring?"
"Well, I mean, because they're not cool snake monsters. But hey, they must feel lucky to have you!"
If I ever were capable of turning a person to stone, the glare I gave Ricky would have done it. Unfortunately, no dice.
I stood up and headed for the door. Ricky shouted after me, "Where are you going?!"
"Hey, don't be like that!", he said, standing up. "I was just trying to be nice!"
That attempt had clearly failed, because I was already gone.
"Well, you were right, and you were wrong," I told my moms.
They looked at each other. Harmony asked, "Do you mean I was right and she was wrong, or..."
I didn't want them to get the wrong idea, so I started positive. "After clearing up some misunderstandings, some of the kids were really friendly. On the other hand..." I groaned just thinking about it.
"Hey, I told you to give 'em hell, Melissa."
"I'd recommend that even less if she wants to keep those friends," Irma sighed. "Just what happened, dear?"
I hesitated, not sure what to say. "There's this guy I just don't get. He seemed friendly enough at first, but..." I lowered my head. "I feel like he only cared because
I was, you know, different. Because I was this... snake freak."
"You are not
a snake freak
," Irma growled, the anger in her voice quickly rising. "I know, mom, I know, it was... you know, his point of view," I hastily insisted. "...Please calm down."
"Forget him," Har advised. "That's the way most of 'em are. They have no intention of treating you like the person you are."
Irma turned her head aside. "Yes... It's really the legends that are to blame for that, isn't it."
I wasn't sure what she meant. "How so?"
"It doesn't even matter whether legends say good things or bad things about us," Har explained. "'Cause when people see us, most are gonna go straight to assuming we'll be just like the ones in the myths they read."
"Which is seriously limiting no matter what the myths say," continued Irma. "Perhaps the public perception of mermaids isn't too bad, relatively speaking. But we're still expected to fit into their view of us, and... well, I don't see any legends about mermaids like me."
Irma sighed, a weak smile on her lips. "Yes, it would figure they'd like to make us the stuff of legends. That way it's easy to ignore that we really do exist."
What they said seemed all too true, even from only two days around other people. But even so...
"Well..." I gulped. "Could I show him you exist?"
"What are we waiting for?", Ricky asked.
"Mom. Er, bird mom. ...Look, you can just call her Harmony like I do."
Har came down and snatched up the both of us fast enough that Ricky didn't even see her coming. He screamed and held on tight.
Eventually - very similar to the way he'd grown accustomed to me, actually - he calmed down and said "Well, uh, hello, miss!"
"Oh yeah, he's a keeper," Har remarked to me. Sigh, mom...
Once we landed at home, Ricky got a better look at Harmony. "...Harpy?", he asked.
"Call me anything but that, please."
"And you're her..."
"Mother." Noticing his confusion, she repeated: "Adoptive mother."
"You don't say...", Ricky muttered, looking back and forth between us. Har made a motion of knocking him backwards off the cliff, but I shook my head.
Then Irma came out with a tray of cookies in her lap - how I convinced Ricky to come along, essentially. He looked her over with wide eyes. "A mermaid? ...In a wheelchair?"
She smirked. "How else do you expect me to get around, flopping?"
He just looked down and thought. He was clearly expecting something quite different.
"Do you get it, Ricky?", I asked. "They're not a spectacle. They're just my moms."
He slowly nodded. "Y'know, it's... not what I see when I come home, that's for sure. But... yeah, I can see it. It's not even weird. I could see anybody coming home to a family like this, not just a... a..."
He stared at me. "Well, what should
I call you?"
"A Melissa, of course."