Mrs. William Winthrop scurried after her husband onto the lot, one hand raised to keep her best pillbox hat from flying off in the wind. The security store, a big wood affair, was painted to look as if a snake was curled around the building. She thought it was, frankly, in poor taste. She wouldn’t be here at all, if she’d had any choice.
But William made all the decisions in the house.
The door opened and a rotund little man approached, running a hand over his slicked-back hair as he did.
“Millicent, straighten your skirt. Don’t embarrass me again.” William murmured.
She tugged discretely at the fabric, easing it down a little more, and then crossed her hands across her stomach, and the slight-but-growing bulge there.
“Welcome to A-1 Security! I’m George Calkins, owner of the best security store in Mt. Walnut.” The round man shook William’s hand vigorously. “What can I do for you today, sir?”
“Name’s Winthrop, George. We spoke on the phone a couple of days ago.”
“Or course! I’m delighted you chose my fine establishment, and I guarantee I can provide you the best in home security. Say, did you catch that baseball game last night? What a corker!”
As the men discussed the game Mrs. Winthrop turned away. Her fingers sought each other out. The sky was overcast, a storm building on the horizon. Her gaze drifted – and then she saw them.
Her heart leapt to her throat.
There were six gorgons, staked out and separated from each other. She had seen gorgons before, of course. Everyone had. But she had never before been allowed this close to one. She’d heard the stories. Women and gorgons didn’t mix, it was said. Something about the gorgons affected women’s minds. Made them wild, and crazy. Made them question things. Act unnaturally. Why, she had heard whispered at the beauty salon, a group of woman up north had bought a gorgon for protection at their community garden and they all turned homosexual. Started wearing slacks, and driving, and demanding that gorgons be freed.
The government passed a law very quickly that only men could own gorgons.
These here ranged in size and color, green to blue to purple to yellow. Large metal collars ringed their necks, and heavy chains secured them to posts pounded into the ground. Thick cloth, secured with straps, covered their eyes. Their heads were wreathed in small serpents that hung limp. Scales covered their bodies, of course, but the upper half was human-like and flowed into snake shape at the waist.
They had short stumps instead of arms.
They were all female.
Two of the larger ones strained against their chains and tried to reach each other. The rest of the gorgons drooped in solitude, heads hanging, bodies coiled tightly in on themselves.
There was a wild smell in the air. Something that reminded her of the farm where she grew up, and the long days of blue-skyed summer where a young girl could run free, treading paths through the deep woods and drinking from the dark creeks.
Mrs. Winthrop moved a little closer.
The gorgons as one turned their heads to her.
The nearest gorgon, the smallest, lifted her blinded eyes to Mrs. Winthrop. The tiny snakes of her hair, a lighter shade of baby’s-breath blue than her body, came to life, minute heads and pinprick eyes looking at Mrs. Winthrop. They wove and twisted around each other, making symbols that Mrs. Winthrop could feel in her bones.
Her breath hitched in her chest.
“Millicent! Come back here!” William shouted.
She thought, suddenly, of how much she preferred Millie. William never called her that. He said it was a childish name. Her parents had called her Millie, their voice ringing out over the wheat and the corn, echoing beneath the dome of the sky.
Her friends called her Millie, back when she had friends, and they would gather at the back of the school library, in secret, and read the heavy books of philosophy and medicine and religion.
She was next to the smallest gorgon. The creature’s head came just to her waist. The little serpents writhed and reached for her.
“Millicent!” A heavy hand fell on her shoulder and William wrenched her around, anger in his eyes. “I don’t want you anywhere near these things!”
“I’m sorry. I wasn’t paying attention.” She heard the words – familiar, soothing – fall out of her mouth. It felt as if someone else was saying them.
“Right you are, Mr. Winthrop.” George interjected as he joined them. “You don’t let your little lady there do anything with the gorgons. We’ve heard of what happens to a woman when they’re around too much,” and he smacked his lips distastefully, “wildness. Not that anything has ever gone wrong with my stock, let me reassure you. When you get your gorgon home, you do all the feeding and setting up, you hear?”
William let go of her shoulder. “I never let my wife do anything that might affect her.” he said. There was an ache building in her shoulder. She carefully looked at nothing.
“Now, take a look at our current stock. Fine specimens all, as you can see.” George said as he pointed at the gorgons.
Her husband moved in for his own inspection. “Tell me more.”
“Our breeding program is one of the best. Each gorgon comes from good stock, carefully managed to avoid interbreeding, and livened with wild-caught specimens every third generation. Arms are clipped. This keeps them more dependent on their owners for food – they can’t grab their prey and their lower halves aren’t strong enough to propel them too quickly. It also prevents them from removing their eye coverings. That’s entirely up to you as to when they can see.”
“Interesting. How do I keep it from turning its vision on me?” William said.
“We’ll bond it to you, Mr. Winthrop. Chemical pheromones. It’ll treat you like a member of the family. Perfectly safe. Now, can I ask, what are you looking for in the way of security?”
From the corner of her eye Mrs. Winthrop watched the blue gorgon. The little snake heads were fixed on her. She slid one small step away from her husband. The bright eyes followed.
“George, I’m sad to say that just a few blocks away from my own house certain undesirables have moved in.” William said.
George gasped in sympathetic horror.
“You know how those kind of people are. Stirring up trouble down south, with the walks and the riots, and now moving up here. I want me – and what belongs to me – protected. My boss has a gorgon, and swears by them.”
“Yes, you can’t be too-“
“Is the blue one a child?” Surprised at the interruption, Mrs. Winthrop looked around for the speaker, and then realized she was the one who had spoken.
William stared at her, his nostrils flaring. She knew they would discuss her behavior later.
George laughed. “Women and their feminine notions!”
“Millicent, you can’t think of these things as human. They don’t talk like us. They don’t think like us. They’re savages. Little more than animals.” William said patiently, in the same tone of voice he used with the dog.
George nodded. “Couldn’t have said it better myself. If the government hadn’t stepped in and started controlling these things, imagine what this country would look like! Imagine if those sympathizers’ efforts to get them protection had worked!”
William smiled, and Mrs. Winthrop tensed. “One of those fools tried to tell me that these beasts have a culture, and a civilization. I sent him packing fast enough, let me tell you.”
George nodded in approval. “Now, this blue is small but that doesn’t affect its power. Got its dam right on site if you want to see the good breeding. It’s young, yes, but that just means you’ll get years of service out of it. For you, sir, I can let this one go at a good price. I’ll even throw in some of the training tools we use. A crack of the whip or the chain gets their mind back on their duty right quick.”
“Millicent, don’t wander off again.” Her husband and the round little man walked away, deep in negotiations. Mrs. Winthrop looked back at the blue gorgon.
She reached out her hand. A tiny snake curled around one finger.
“Millie.” the gorgon said.