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Medusa's Revenge

Brian Trent's science fiction and fantasy work appears in a wide range of publications, including ANALOG, Fantasy & Science Fiction, Galaxy's Edge, Apex, COSMOS, Crossed Genres, Nature, AE, Escape Pod, Pseudopod, and The Mammoth Book of Dieselpunk, and his pieces appear in numerous Year's Best anthologies. His stories "Sparg" and "Wedding Day" are featured by Daily Science Fiction. Trent lives in New England where he is a full-time writer and occasional screenwriter. The first installment of his historical fantasy series "Rahotep" is now available through Amazon Kindle. Trent's blog and website can be found at briantrent.com.

"She's planning something terrible," the old woman said for the fifth time since entering his office.
Sergeant Percy smiled pleasantly at his visitor. His office was crammed with a dozen other items requiring his attention--a boxful of photos to be reviewed, paperwork from last week's drug-bust to be filed, and meetings he needed to schedule with a murder suspect's gods-damned lawyers. Yet here he was, playing host to a senile and obviously drunk old woman, all because his captain insisted it was a matter of respect.
"I see dead bodies on a foamy beach!" the old woman added helpfully. "I see a red-bellied fish!"
Percy forced himself to nod thoughtfully. "Interesting."
"I see howling stones as far as the eye can see!"
"Well, we'll certainly look into this."
The Sybil's wrinkled face contorted in anguish. "You must, detective! The fate of the world depends on you taking action!"
Sergeant Percy rounded his desk and gently escorted the Sybil to his office door. "Thank you so much for coming to the station today, ma'am. We appreciate it. Honest."
He watched her go, shaking his head.
Percy turned to find Detective Cassie Apollonius standing by his doorway, sharing in the view of the departing Bronx prophetess. "Was that really the Sybil? Lucky you." She wrinkled her nose.
"What's that smell? Whiskey?"
"Grappa. I had to spend all morning placating the drunk old soothsayer."
Cassie laughed gorgeously. "The captain still considers her a valid tipster, huh?"
"He insists that because she helped us solve some big cases years back, we need to make time whenever she decides to drop by the station."
Cassie's eyes sparkled. "And what exciting tip did she have for us today?"
"She said the prisoner on Mill Rock Island is planning to wreak terrible vengeance on the world."
The detective seemed to consider this. Outside the station, the Sirens were howling; there'd been a car accident a half-block away, and Percy inserted two fingers into the Venetian blinds to look at the commotion.
"So she's drunk, lonely, and senile," Cassie said at last. "That doesn't mean she didn't really have a vision, does it?"
"It doesn't," Percy grudgingly admitted. "But of all the things to worry about."
"I know."
It was ridiculous, he knew. Prisoner X was confined to a tiny island, patrolled by police boats and choppers day and night. Not that swimming the icy river was very damned likely. He knew Prisoner X was dangerous, that she had wiped out entire neighborhoods in Astoria back in the day. But that was ancient history, the killer had no prayer of escaping her island--
--and he had better things to do with his morning.
"It is kind of a random warning," Cassie continued. "I mean... we've got a gang of harpies plaguing local air-traffic. Something in the subway tunnels killing homeless people. Complaints of a swan in Central Park getting freaky with female joggers. You'd think that the Sybil's visions would be... I don't know... more current."
Percy nodded. The smell of coffee from a nearby office reached him, mingling with the residual aroma of grappa, and he was concerned by the realization that he was thirsting for one very much over the other. It was barely 9 a.m., for Zeus' sake!
He grabbed his coat. "Let's go hit the docks. No stone unturned, right?"
He regretted it instantly.
The river was like a wind tunnel, blasting him full in the face. The surf was sickeningly choppy, too, and the police boat rocked as it cut towards Mill Rock. Another few minutes of this, and Percy was sure he'd be retching over the side. And in front of Cassie. Not good.
"You okay?" the detective asked, standing at the bow beside him.
Percy grumbled noncommittally. He looked ahead to the island. To the gray swells that burst against its rocky shore. A cup of coffee would have warmed him up.
So would grappa, he thought grimly.
Suddenly, Cassie pointed. "There's a boat there! Crashed on the rocks!"
Percy frowned, squinting until his eyes burned.
The boat was upended, showing its red belly to the sky.
I see a red-bellied fish!
The detective leaned into the sea-spray. "There are people on the beach! Probably some gods-damned college kids."
But Percy was fumbling for his radio. "They aren't people. Not anymore."
She stiffened. "You mean--"
"Look at them, Cass. They've all been turned to stone."
There were four statues, frozen in cowering or fleeing postures. Backpacks were slung from their stony shoulders, faces petrified into eternal howls of terror.
"How did they get to the island without being nabbed?" the detective cried.
"Less boats out there now thanks to budget cuts. Austerity, right? So unwitting kids looking for trouble can slip through unseen."
"But why?"
Percy shrugged. "Drunken dare. Chest-thumping antics. Maybe they didn't know. Kids, right?" He spoke into the radio. "This is Percy. We've got a perimeter breach and possible 10-98 in Zone Hades. Boat is called," he squinted. "The Foam Rider, over."
Cassie looked pale. "If Prisoner X stole a boat, she could reach the mainland!"
The radio crackled. "This is dispatch. River Guard confirms that a boat registered as the Foam Rider was rented by some kids last night. Was supposed to be back by midnight, over."
Percy stared at the statues, the panic obvious in their frozen limbs even from a distance. "I need confirmation that no other boats are unaccounted for. Over."
There was a painful stretch of silence.
Then, at last, the report came in. Only one rental was missing from the marinas inside the river checkpoints.
Percy lowered the radio and breathed a deep sigh of relief. "Looks like we're good."
"Are we?" Cassie muttered. "I mean... are we sure?"
In her island cave, the snake-haired exile lowered the iPhone she'd recovered from the beach. Her scaly fingers pressed the touchscreen, making deliberate selections.
"That ought to do it," she whispered to herself.
Then she posted her selfie online.
The End
This story was first published on Monday, June 13th, 2016

Author Comments

World-building is a major hobby of mine. Regardless of a story's length, I enjoy fully developing the universe behind each tale, and the ways in which a given world influence culture and character. In "Medusa's Revenge," the transposition of Greek mythology to a hard-bitten Manhattan precinct proved to be an odd daydream as I walked along Union Square; I imagined how monsters and magic would become the new mundane. We live in a world of technological magic as it is; how appropriate, then, for the latest mirrors of Narcissus to become the conduit for a Gorgon's gaze?

- Brian Trent
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