Medusa’s Eye

I tried to write this one a few times over the past year, but each time the idea seemed to stale in my mind, better things would come along, and I’d give up. This week it was still there, sitting in my mind, and I decided it would never go away unless I wrote it, so in the end this was done out of angry spite. Enjoy!

Medusa’s Eye

By Ben Pienaar

 

I reported my father missing after two days, but I was only going through the motions. His final letters made it clear that he didn’t intend to be found, and Elmore Kendrick Sr. tended to get what he wanted.

The day before I made an official report, I arrived at his house to visit him, which I did on the first of every month, as he well knew. I found the place empty, or at least as empty as his house could ever get: my father was a hoarder, but of a very neat and organised kind. His house was full of large rooms but no open spaces, every inch of space filled with something: statues, jewellery, sculptures, paintings, ancient artefacts that should have been in a museum. On my way through the long hallways and curling staircases I passed hundreds of shelves and glass cases and displays of these, all gathering dust.

I reached his study and found it empty as well (save the bookshelves, piles of papers and notebooks, ships in bottles and his beloved ivory skull paperweight). I was about to leave and search the rest of the house when I saw that his Great Black Journal was open, and the entry was signed in large bold letters: TO LIAM. Oh God, I thought, he’s committed suicide. It seemed unlike him, but he was gone and here was a note and he always had been a strange, isolated man.

My heart was sinking fast, but what else was there to do? I sat down and began to read.

 

TO LIAM:

Son, I’m addressing this to you because you will almost certainly be the one who finds it, and because I trust you more than anyone to take the message seriously. My only worry is that your mind is so rooted in what you believe to be real that you won’t believe the things I tell you, even taking into account the proof I have for my tale. All I ask is that you think hard about it, and realise that I’d never lie to you about something so serious as my own death. Anyway, I’d better get on with it, time is short for reasons you’ll see soon enough. It’s taken me nearly half an hour to write this single paragraph.

I’ve always been an adventurer and a collector, travelling to the ends of the earth to acquire this or that thing, knowing it will never satisfy me. You know this, but what you don’t know are the details of my most recent expedition to Greece. A friend of mine living there told me that some archaeologists had started digging on the southwest coast and were turning up some interesting statues, intricately carved, realistic beyond belief. His theory was that the statues were turning up in a pattern that was leading them further south down the coast.

I’m sure you know me well enough to see out what I wanted to do: travel to the far south of Greece and make a few digs of my own before any new artefacts were claimed by the museums.

I was there less than a week later, but as I discovered on my first reconnaissance mission to the coastline, no digging was going to be required. The beaches there turn abruptly into a serious of cliffs, which are absolutely littered with caves. The archaeologists might have been dubious about finding anything of interest in them, but I was not.

It took weeks of searching, of climbing, scratching my hands, slipping on wet rocks and seeing my own life flash in front of my eyes, weeks of swearing and cursing at myself for being an idiot – and no doubt you’d agree. But on the day I found Medusa, Liam, it was all worth it, and even now I wouldn’t take back a thing.

I was barely twenty meters into the cave when I saw the statues. There was a moment when all I could do was stare, and that was my mistake. I remember it perfectly, the salty air in my nose and the wind whistling at my back, staring straight into Medusa’s Eye.

I say eye because her other one was pierced by a long stone arrow. I should mention here that there were two other statues in the chamber, both of them ancient Greek warriors of some kind. The one on the right was holding a bow and the one on the left was holding up a silver platter the size my office window.

Medusa herself was huge, like one of the Amazonian princesses you hear about in old adventure stories, and her face would have been exquisitely beautiful if it weren’t for the utter hate written in her expression. Her teeth were bared and her remaining eye was looking up at the silver platter. And yes, she had that bizarre head of snakes, which is how I knew for sure who she was.

When I got over my shock I investigated the scene up close, and I must tell you that the stonework was of a kind I’d never seen in modern sculpture – let alone that of ancient Greece; if someone had poured a bucket of grey paint over a real women it wouldn’t have looked as realistic. Her skin was so perfect and smooth I could make out the individual lines on her palms. Her teeth were bared and pointed, and the scales on the snakes had been perfectly carved. There were hundreds of them, knotted and hissing and curled around each other.

All I took was her eye. I might have claimed the statues if I wanted and even had them transported back here. I even considered removing her head and just taking that, but in the end I realised it was only her eye that had me so hypnotised, only that which I really wanted. So I took a knife and pried it free from her head. It was as round and large as a cue ball, that eye, dark emerald green all over, with little black pupil. Beautiful.

I arrived home cheerful and victorious, but for the time being something persuaded me to keep my new treasure a secret, and thank god for that. I took it out of its hiding place now and again, just to look at it. It was mesmerising, so smooth and perfect, with hundreds of tiny black seams running around it like veins. I could look at it for hours while my mind wandered.

A month passed, and it passed quickly. I checked my email one day and saw to my shock that it was almost the fifteenth of June, and I’d arrived home from Greece in early May, but in all that time I’d done little other than amble around my property and gaze longingly into the eye. I thought nothing of it at the time, besides cursing myself for being lazy, but when I went into town to go shopping the following week I discovered there was something sinister going on.

I don’t know how to describe the sensation to you, except to say that it’s like living in a movie that is always on fast forward. For a while I stood in the middle of the sidewalk and gaped around like a lunatic. The cars were zooming by suicidally fast – I was certain there would be a crash any second, but somehow there wasn’t. Then I saw how the people around me were moving, rushing by so they were almost running, talking in avalanches of words than ran on to each other faster than I could comprehend.

I took a deep breath and went into the grocery store to buy everything. In line, the cashier tapped a drumroll on the counter and the people behind me muttered insults too quick for me to make out. No sooner did I arrive home that I went and stared at the clock on the kitchen wall.

Impossible, it must be broken. I checked my watch, and then the grandfather clock in the hall, but they were as perfectly synchronised as always. And moving about twice as fast as they should have been. I timed my heartbeat, which by then was hammering wildly in my chest, and found it to be at sixty beats a minute.

You aren’t stupid, Liam, and by now you must realise where this is going, so I’ll be quick. God knows I have to be, anyway. I started this letter at ten o’clock this morning and it is already nightfall.

I’d noticed a few more grey hairs than usual, but when I ran to the mirror and looked again I saw that it had nothing to do with age: my hair wasn’t the only thing becoming grey and brittle. The horrible stiffness I felt every morning had just as little to do with age. My skin had taken on a sickly pallor, and it was dry and scaly to the touch. Now, as I run a hand through my hair, dust comes out.

I tried to destroy the eye, with hammers, saws, fire, nothing worked. I think I know how to hide it so no one will ever find it, but if you do, Liam (and I fear you’ll look for it, no matter what I tell you) please for the love of God don’t look at it. It’s wrapped in a leather cloth, DO NOT unwrap it. If you find it, I beg you, this is my dying wish, then find a way to destroy it, or at the very least, hide it irretrievably.

It’s already Wednesday. God. I must move now. I know it will be hard to believe any of this, but the latest addition to the statue room, if I make it that far, must convince you. Please believe me, Liam, you are my only hope. Destroy the eye, but better yet, don’t look for it. Soon I will see the end of the universe. I wonder what it will be like. I love you, son.

 

And that was it. I let out a long breath and shook my head. I read the letter twice more, trying to get some clue as to the truth, see some reason behind this madness. I didn’t think he’d really gone insane, and nor did I believe a word of his story. If you knew my father you would have understood: he was a born storyteller, and he relished in tall tales like no one I’ve ever known. He rarely lied, but he often exaggerated, so it was unusual for him to make up something so bizarre. Nevertheless, I was sure he had.

It was an escape, I thought: either he’d committed suicide or run away from his life for some reason. The story was a cover, something to make sure he went out with a bang, as a legend, something he no doubt hoped would revive my belief in myths and magic again.

Eventually, I went down to the statue room. He was there, and true to his word, it was a phenomenally well crafted statue. All the other statues in the room were lined along the walls, forming a kind of passage down the center, and he stood at the very end before the lone window. He had one hand in his pocket, the other raised to shield his eyes from the now non-existent sun (it was overcast).

I sighed and shook my head. He was a good, if absent father, but he’d taken the time to get to know me he’d have learned long ago that I am a man of science and reality, a believer in a long, secure and sensible lifestyle. I suppose I appreciated the effort he put in, in his roundabout way, to reach out to me in the end, but I am who I am.

He left everything to me. I auctioned off almost all of it, keeping only the things I judged useful to me. Most of it I sold to museums at prices that would have made my father’s jaw drop in dismay, but I don’t regret it – it was where they belonged and he was selfish to keep them to himself. I got rid of it all, room by room, but I have to admit I left those statues till last, and as I went through every inch of the house, I kept my eye out, so to speak.

But Medusa’s precious eye was nowhere. At last, the great house was completely empty, including the statue room. Only one statue remained, gazing eternally out of the window. One hand up, one in his pocket.

Wait. His pocket.

I looked down, my pulse rising in anticipation. I’d given up hope of finding the thing about five rooms ago, but in an instant I saw what he’d done. What a hiding place it was! Right there in his pocket, in plain sight and yet far from it, literally the last place I thought of. One never thinks of statues having real pockets, after all.

I broke it open with a hammer and chisel. The first thing I noticed was not the heavy green gem as it rolled with a thump onto the hardwood floor, but the stone hand I’d broken through. Whoever had made the statue had actually gone to the effort to carve – expertly at that – my father’s hand inside his pocket. I shook my head, amazed, and then bent down to pick up the eye.

It is one thing to read the words describing its beauty, another to see it. The patterns that seemed to twist and move in the marble even as you watched them, the dark green shades, like a tropical lake rich with life. It was cool in my hand. The pupil bored into me as if it could actually see me, and it seemed to sparkle like a black diamond.

At any rate, I ramble, and my description doesn’t do it justice any better than my father’s did. Needless to say, I could never keep such a treasure for myself. The very same day I found it I contacted a museum of sculptures and offered it to them, along with the brilliant statue of my father, for free. They took it with many thanks.

So, dear readers, that is the official story of how my father, Elmore Kendrick Sr. discovered Medusa’s Eye and disappeared from the face of the earth with the flourish he intended. I have to admit, in the end it turned out to be a very entertaining tale after all. Maybe I have learned a thing or two about adventure, after all.

I may never go on such bold travels as my father has (and probably still is this very moment), but if he is reading this I’d like him to know that I genuinely hope he is enjoying his new life. For myself I’ve also developed quite a few more grey hairs than I’d like, and a quiet life in the country sounds best for me. They say time moves faster with age, and I’m certainly finding that true as well – it seems like only yesterday I started writing this article, but it’s taken me nearly two weeks. A holiday, I think, is long overdue.

 

The infamous eye discovered by Elmore Kendrick is now open for viewing by the public: simply visit the East London Historical Museum, entry fee twenty pounds – opening hours Monday to Friday 8am to 7pm.    

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