Last of the Monsters

By Emily C. Skaftun

Scaling tarp-covered hurricane fence, I survey the landscape. A guard sleeps below, rhythmic snoring barely audible in the breeze. I drop to the ground, quiet as a myth.

In the moonlight, one stone looks like another. Any ruin, any boulder-strewn field. A desolate spot, but not without its beauty.

Could it really be my sister's grave?

I laughed when the gods died out. One by one, they crawled off like dogs to die alone, and I danced on their unmarked graves. It was difficult for me to control my eyes in those days; the rage and bitterness within me was still fresh, white-hot like a spearhead fresh from the forge.

The only grave I could never find was Athena's, that bright-eyed bitch. But if I understand the news bites and rumors that have found their way to me, a Texas rancher seems to have stumbled upon the goddess's final resting place—and her gorgon-emblazoned shield—and paid a terrible price.

I imagine poor Tex's wife: he goes out onto the land one day, like any day, except that tonight he doesn't come home. She waits, she worries, but he has stayed out late before. In the morning she makes phone calls, friends come in, parties go out to search the hills and fields. But she is the one who finds the statue. The corner of the ranch in which it crouches is remote, but the place is not unknown to Tex and wife. The statue must be new. Some sort of joke, perhaps?

It looks just like him.

It is before me now, a stone figure, bent over like a boulder in the field. A boulder with a cowboy hat. He stretches his hand out as if to brush dirt from something embedded in the earth. The moonlight makes his cold flesh eerie; it glows like marble. The folds of his shirt sparkle with glints of quartz. There are certainly uglier ways to die.

Mythology remembers my sister as a monster. Her sheer ugliness would freeze you where you stood, or so the legend goes. And yes, she turned a few people to stone. But it was rage, not ugliness, that turned my sister's gaze to killing beams. Raped, vilified, and hunted like a beast. Can you blame her for being angry?

Stheno was no monster either, the poor sweet thing. After Medusa's murder, she sheared the writhing mass of hair from her head, plucked out her eyes, and stumbled into town to find and marry a boy she admired. She didn't know that doing so would render her mortal. She didn't know either that he would find her repulsive, bald and blind, and reject her. She never petrified anyone. By the time she wanted to, she'd traded in her power.

I do not know what word best describes me. I have lived and searched for centuries now, and some days I think that that alone makes me monstrous. Yet I blend in now more than ever. The snakes of my hair lie still at my command; they tuck their faces into the ends of the dreads that cocoon them. Thousands, perhaps millions of mortals have looked upon me in my long life, and only a few—mostly deserving—have paid with their lives.

The man in front of me didn't deserve his fate, but then it isn't my sister's fault anymore. Murder was in her eyes when her life was ended, and there it remains. And maybe that's why I hesitate, studying the stone rancher, the moonlight, the oddly lunar landscape roughly bounded with temporary fencing—anything but the patch of dirt where I expect to find Athena's shield, and embedded in it my sister's severed head. Maybe I am afraid.

Stepping around the statue, I crouch to look into his frozen face. His eyes are nothing more than pebbles now, but in them I see the fear, the shock, the sadness. I can almost hear him whispering to me: Go on; what are you waiting for?

I nod, wishing I had a hat to tip. I close my eyes as I turn to follow the cowboy's hand with my own. The stone is softer under my fingers than I expect, as is the dirt. Blindly, I probe the earth, feeling cool sand and rocks—and nothing else. I dig like a dog after a bone, but I find nothing. The shield is gone.

I sit down heavily on the ground, opening my eyes. "Where is it?" I ask aloud, but Tex doesn't answer me.

It's then I hear the crunching of footsteps toward me. A flashlight clicks on, startlingly close. I flinch, frightened, but a monster doesn't run. The light soon finds me. The glare makes it impossible to make out who carries the light (or what, I think, before remembering that I'm the last of the monsters). The guard? The wife?

It doesn't matter who. Someone else has put the pieces together and recovered the deadly treasure I sought. I was foolish to think I'd do it first.

When the light goes out I am struck by the illusion that it's her standing over me. Her snakes look so lifelike, animated by the moonlight. Her eyes look so wild, surprised and hurt and molten with rage.

I cannot bring myself to look away, though I know I should. Bring the rage to my own eyes; dispatch the shield-bearer, whoever it may be; destroy my sister's image so she can never kill again.

I feel a coldness creeping into me. I feel stiff and solid and old, old, old. I know I should look away.

But oh, Sister, it's good to see your face again.


Emily C. Skaftun has lived in Seattle, California, London, Santa Fe, and Chicago, and now lives primarily in her own imagination. A graduate of the Clarion West Writers Workshop, she currently teaches writing at a variety of local colleges. Her fiction has appeared in The MacGuffin, Tertulia Magazine, and FLURB.