This story is by Arlo Sharp and was part of our 2021 Spring Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
DANCING WITH MEDUSA
Every fall Brad Goodman looked forward to the annual Tri-State Singles Halloween party. For the occasion the group rented the nineteenth century Corcoran mansion, the only place in town large enough to accommodate the crowds. And old lady Liz Corcoran loved to emcee the events. Every year, she promised a surprise visitor at the witching hour, which she would reveal earlier in the evening. One year she’d promised a werewolf. When her huge antique clock chimed midnight, a servant released a big, black Labrador retriever into the grand ballroom. Of course, the dog was friendly and loved people.
Another time Liz promised a midnight visit from Count Dracula himself, straight from the Carpathian Mountains of Transylvania. At the witching hour, the handsomest guy there removed his mask and revealed long, red-stained canine teeth, plastic of course, but his dance partner had squealed all the same.
Last year Freddy Krueger had attended the party. Upon unmasking, he slashed his partner across the torso with his razor-tipped glove. She screamed as blood spurted. All fake, of course. The lady had been in on the trick, the razors made of plastic and the blood the substance used in gory movies.
Brad wondered what it would be this time.
All party-goers wore costumes and masks. At the entrance, an attendant gave each person a dance card with names already filled in. Thus, every guy danced at least once with every girl, and vice versa. The last dance ended at the stroke of midnight. Whereupon everyone unmasked and found out with whom they were dancing. The couples then sat and became acquainted, which sometimes led to rewarding relationships.
Brad hoped his midnight partner wouldn’t resemble the one he had last year. With her looks the poor girl could’ve haunted houses for a living.
After a while, the band took their first break. Dressed as a witch, her usual costume, Widow Corcoran stepped onto the stage to announce this year’s surprise.
“Ladies and gentlemen, I’m sure you’re wondering about tonight’s midnight visitor. Well, she is none other than Medusa herself, one of the Gorgons, here on holiday from ancient Greece. As you know, this famous lady is well-known for her hairdo. When she unmasks, don’t look too hard or you’ll be turned to stone!”
Many of the ladies gasped, and most of the men looked intrigued. One guy, already well into his cups, declared, “Part of me is hard already!”
Laughter rose from the group, but some of it sounded nervous. Friendly dogs and plastic vampire teeth and razors were one thing, but snakes were another. Brad shivered. He hated snakes, and he wondered how Mrs. C. would accomplish the trick. According to rumor, the elderly lady might be developing Alzheimer’s Disease, and she had started wearing her black witch’s garb year-round. What if she brought in a bunch of real serpents and turned them loose?
The evening wore on. At last, it came time for the last dance, a nice slow one to a dreamy old love song. Brad searched his pockets for his dance card. He couldn’t locate it. Hearing footsteps, he looked up and beheld an attractive lady approaching him. She was dressed as Marie Antoinette, the French queen who lost her head to Madame Guillotine during the 1700’s. She glanced at her card.
“Looks like we’re partners for this one,” she said with a smile, “if your name is Brad Goodman.”
He smiled back and took her in his arms. “Yes, that’s me.”
“And are you?”
“Am I what?”
She chuckled. “A good man.”
“I try to be, but you know what they say—a good man is hard to find. I’ve misplaced my card. What’s your name, lovely lady?”
“Another old saying—flattery will get you everywhere!” she replied. “My name is Madonna Duesenberry.”
For a second he thought he’d turned to stone. She laughed. “Now Goodman, put your eyeballs back in your head. You thought I was going to say Medusa, didn’t you?”
He managed a laugh. “You gave me a start, I must admit.”
Her gaze bored into his. “And think, soon as the song is over and the clock strikes midnight, you’ll find out if I really am Medusa. But by then it’ll be too late.”
For a moment Brad considered heading for the exit. She must’ve read his thoughts, because she clutched him tighter. Finally, the song ended. The two stepped back from each other and clapped. The clock began to strike midnight. On the twelfth note Brad removed his Jason Vorhees hockey mask and wig, of Friday the Thirteenth fame. Madonna pulled her Marie Antoinette mask over her head and off, revealing silky blonde hair and a face far prettier than that of the French queen. He hadn’t realized he’d been holding his breath. They exchanged smiles again.
“Shall we find a table and break the ice?” he asked.
“Okay,” she said.
Then he heard the screams. He glanced around. Everyone had unmasked.
On the stage, Mrs. Corcoran announced, “Something I didn’t tell you kiddies. The whole Gorgon clan came along, too!”
Writhing nests of hissing snakes adorned the heads of every woman there except Madonna. Their dance partners began to harden into stone. Dust and bits of rock crumbled off their stiffening bodies.
Mrs. Corcoran cackled with laughter. Brad didn’t take time to wonder how or why the old bat had accomplished the nightmare scenario. Maybe she’d suckered everyone in with all the harmless pranks and really was a witch.
He grabbed Madonna’s hand. “Let’s get the hell out of here.”
They ran for the exit. Hands clutched at them, and snakes struck at their faces, barely missing. They got out the door. Heard footsteps as the monstrous horde pursued them. Brad shoved a bench in front of the door. It started to slide backward as the creatures tried to push their way out. He wedged the upper part under the elaborate doorknocker. Backed it up with a chair. Heard squeals and oaths as the monsters beat on the door in frustration.
Brad turned to Madonna. “This is unbelievable. We need to get away from here and call the cops. And maybe a priest to do an exorcism.”
She didn’t say anything. She reached up to her throat. Peeled away another mask. Pulled it over her head. Tossed it aside. He wondered if she also had snakes for hair. She didn’t. She had the face and head of a huge, hissing serpent. Miniature people grew out of her scalp like hair. They squirmed and waved their hands and opened and closed their mouths as if screaming. He tried to move but couldn’t. Maybe he was turning to stone. He closed his eyes to try and break the spell. It didn’t matter. The monstrous snake opened its maw impossibly wide and swallowed him whole.
He kicked and struggled as he slid down its slimy throat. He lost consciousness.
Awareness returned. Brad looked around. The tiny men and women surrounded him. They wriggled and flapped their arms and shrieked, but they made no sound.
And he was one of them.