Have you ever seen someone so disgusting and ugly it makes you gasp for air? I did. As a kid there was an old woman, living in the next town over that had the more than fitting name ‘The Gorgon’.
I first heard about her from friends living in the same town. Well, she didn’t live in the town per se, she lived in an old run-down cabin at the edge of town. The entire area around her place could’ve been described as a dump or a cesspool. I heard my friends joking it was as disgusting as her.
When I heard all this, I imagined an old ugly woman with a wrinkled face spotting huge warts and no teeth in her mouth. The image was that of a witch I’d seen in a movie on TV.
As so often, I wasn’t prepared for the bleak reality.
Her body was so skinny it looked fragile. Her hands were dirty and discolored. It was a stark contrast to her otherwise white, almost transparent skin. Here and there, it was missing and in its place were festering sores, leaking puss.
The worst was her face. The first time I saw it, I gasped and held my breath till I was out of air.
Huge blisters and the same puss-leaking sores covered it. Her skin was sagging, almost as if it was close to tearing apart. In other places, it looked as if it was melting. Her eyes had retreated deep into her skull and were yellow and bloodshot. There was still hair left on her head, but it sprouted in dark, messy bushes that alternated with bald spots.
To a kid like me, she was repulsiveness personified.
I had asked my friends if she suffered from an illness or a disease, but my friends said they didn’t know. So we asked around town. We got many answers, but they all said the same thing. It was old age, her living conditions, and the general neglect of health. There was one other thing they told us, though, to stay clear of her and don’t associate with her.
What can I say, we were typical kids. The more you tell us something’s forbidden, the more interested in it we get.
When I was twelve years old, I spent a lot of my summer break in this town. So far we’d only driven past The Gorgon occasionally and watched her from afar.
That summer break though, we all got more interested in her.
We spent many of our mornings or afternoons hiding between the trees near her place. From our hiding spot, we’d watch her and make up stories about her.
Even her way of moving and her demeanor were all wrong.
She spent a lot of time outside. At times she’d sort through the trash that had accumulated around her cabin. At others she’d rest in an old camping chair she’d propped up.
There was one peculiar thing about her, though. She always had a tiny box on her. Most of the time she pocketed in the old, stained pants she wore. Sometimes, though, she held it in her hands, staring at it and cradling it like a treasure.
It didn’t look like a treasure, though. Whenever she held it, it appeared no different from the rest of the rubbish around her place.
We never learned what it was since she always kept it at her body, never parting with it even for a moment.
Another interesting fact was that we saw no animals around her place. Some of my friends said it was because she marked her territory. I didn’t know what they meant, so one of them told me she was like a cat. She was pissing at the side of her cabin and the ground all around so animals would stay away. It sounded a little far-fetched, but back then I believed it.
One day a group of teenagers came by her place to make fun of her. They called her names, teased her, and threw things at her. The old woman was furious, jumped from her chair, and yelled at them to leave her alone. This went on for some time before she disappeared inside her cabin.
We thought this was it, but after a while, she returned outside. The cacophony of name-calling started again. Instead of yelling back at them though, the Gorgon walked into their direction and threw something at them. The teenagers screamed in disgust and rushed away. It wasn’t long before a foul stench reached us.
We later learned that she’d filled an old plastic bag with something foul and rotten and hurled it at the troublemakers. Stories of what it was ranged from foul water, rotten trash up to her piss, and fecal matter.
As the days passed, watching her from afar grew old.
Before long we snuck around her cabin to have a look at the things lying around it. We’d hoped to find hints of ritualistic magic, dead animals, or even voodoo puppets. In reality, though, it was nothing but plain, old, boring trash. Most of it consisted of crumbled up newspapers, refuge and torn clothing. None of it was worth anything.
We never actually agitated her though, as many others did. It wasn’t that we were nice kids. No, we were afraid of her. I still remember the day I snuck up to the sole window of the small cabin, trying to peer inside only to see her disgusting face behind the stained glass. I never ran so fast in my life. We all did. Whenever she noticed us we booked it, screaming about the curse of the Gorgon.
It was our version of the mythological story of Medusa. If she’d lay eyes on you for too long, you too would turn out as disgusting as she was.
I honestly believed in it.
It was during our second week that we finally gave in to our curiosity and broke into her cabin.
The building had only one door and a tiny, dirty window. It had been tempting us for a while. We wanted to explore the lair of the Gorgon and see what sort of things she kept inside. We wondered if she was a witch and her home was a place of foul magic, filled with dead animals or worse things.
The plan we prepared was simple. I guess it was the best a bunch of kids could come up with. We divided into two groups, team alpha, and team bravo. While the alpha team would sneak into her place, it was bravo’s objective to distract her from coming inside.
I’d gotten my hands on dad’s new expensive digital camera and brought it along to take pictures. It was either to report our findings or to snap a few quick pictures in case we didn’t get the chance to take a closer look.
We knew that the Gorgon often fell asleep in her chair outside, so we lay in wait for just that moment.
After what seemed like an eternity, she finally dozed off in her chair and we got our chance.
We got moving and hurried over to her cabin. I’d volunteered to be part of the alpha team. We pushed open the door as quietly as possible and prepared ourselves to find a lair of evil and disgust.
What we found instead was a poorly furnished and rather normal room. There were no pentagrams, no blood circles, no dead animals, or pagan altars. Nothing of the sort at all. The place wasn’t even covered in trash or shit. No, it was as normal as an old, run-down cabin could be. Sure it was dirty, the wallpaper was stained and mold was growing in two corners, but that was about it. It was way more normal than any of us had suspected and we were vastly disappointed. We’d hoped to find something crazy, so we’d have a story to tell.
I halfheartedly snapped a few pictures so we could at least prove we’d been inside.
Soon enough we heard noises from outside. Our friends were laughing and yelling and the Gorgon was screaming back at them in her shrill voice.
It was right at this moment that one of my friends tripped and fell against the table in the center of the cabin. An old rusty pot standing on it crashed to the floor. For a second the loud metal clang was the only audible sound in the entire universe. Then the door burst open and we could see her disgusting face, brimming with anger.
“What do you think you’re doing in here, you little shits?!” she shrieked at us, her voice shaky and quivering with anger.
She stormed inside, trying to get us. Her problem was that she was as slow as she was ugly and there were far too many for her. One of my friends easily dodged her and rushed past her, outside. The rest followed him, screaming in terror. I was the last one, and I’d almost made it outside when I felt her grab onto my arm. I was frozen in fear. Time itself seemed to slow down as she pushed her disgusting visage inches in front of mine.
“Where do you think you’re going, you little shit?” she screamed at me and her foul breath made me gag.
In an instant, fear was replaced by panic. I screamed, cried and struggled against her grip. With each moment though, it seemed as if she pressed down harder, almost as if she wanted to pull me back inside. I could feel something wet and sticky and a moment later I saw the disgusting puss from her sores running down my arm. I called out for my friends, begged them to come back, but they’d abandoned me.
“Don’t you ever come back here again, I dare you, or I’ll,” she spat at me. Her face was twisted into a ghastly grin and when our eyes met, all the drowsiness was gone and they seemed alive, burning with energy.
In a moment it was over and she released me. I stumbled outside and ran away as fast as I could.
As I ran, my arm felt strange and itchy and there was a weird smell coming from the area where she’d touched me.
After a few hundred meters, though, I noticed something much, much worse. I wasn’t holding my dad’s camera anymore. It must’ve dropped from my hands when she’d gotten a hold of me.
I stopped in my track and tears started streaming down my face. Dad had paid a lot of money for it and I’d be in serious trouble for losing it.
For what must’ve been minutes, I stood there, without the slightest clue what to do. Then I took the first, shaky step back into the direction of her cabin. I was still crying and had no real idea what I would even do.
As I got closer, I saw that she was outside again and as soon as she saw me, she started screaming at me again. The little box was in her hand again and she grasped onto it as she stared at me.
“You want to try me, aren’t you, you damn brat?”
When she noticed that I was crying, she started to laugh and to ridicule me. It wasn’t long before she tired of the ordeal and seemed to wonder why I didn’t leave. By then the box had already vanished again, inside her pockets.
“What the hell’s your problem? Get lost!”
At first, the words didn’t come out and all I could muster was a low mumbling. As she went on to insult me though, I grew angry.
“It’s because of my dad’s camera,” I rambled. “I lost it and it’s expensive and I need it and my parents will get mad if I don’t return it.”
I expected her to laugh or to scream at me again, but she turned around and vanished inside her cabin. I thought she’d left, and I’d already taken the first steps away when I heard her behind me.
“Where are you going, you dumb brat?”
She was holding something in her hand and when she took a few more steps into my direction, I recognized the camera.
“You just gonna keep staring at it or are you gonna come get it?”
I went over to her and once I’d taken it from her hand, she turned around.
“Get lost already,” she said as she walked away.
“Thank,“ I started, but my voice was too quiet and eventually I ran off.
A quick check revealed that the camera’s light still turned on and it seemed to be working fine.
When I got home, though, trouble was already waiting for me. Mom had noticed that dad’s camera was missing. I handed it back to her, apologizing. She instantly noticed a huge scratch on its side where it must’ve hit the ground. She scolded me and when she tried the camera, it turned on, but that was about all it did.
What was even worse, though, was my arm. I developed a gross, blistering rash where she’d touched me and had to be taken to a doctor. It healed eventually, but left me with a nasty scar that should always remind me of the incident.
When my parents pressed me about what had happened and how I’d gotten the rash on my arm, I told them everything.
They grounded me for months, forbidding me from ever visiting that town again on my own, and told me to never get close to that woman ever again.
For the next two years, I did as they’d told me.
The reason I found myself back in this town wasn’t because of the Gorgon, it was a mere coincidence.
I’d been interested in a girl from school that lived there and had wanted to meet up with her. Unfortunately, she stood me up. On my way back home though, I ran into one of my old friends.
We soon got to talk about the old days and he asked me why I’d never shown my face in town again. He joked that they all thought I’d caught the curse of the Gorgon on that day.
I told him the whole story. How I’d broken dad’s camera, the rash, and how I wasn’t allowed to come back here.
Well, as it turned out, he had a story to tell me as well.
After we’d broken into the Gorgon’s home, they’d soon lost interest in her. It had grown old to tease her and once it was clear, she wasn’t harboring any secrets in her cabin, they moved on. Sure, she was still a local curiosity, but that was about it. Apart from the occasional prank, she drifted off into obscurity.
That was until thirteen-year-old Bob Reimer, or Bobby for short, had moved here with his family a couple of months ago. He was a city kid and a nasty one, a real troublemaker. He’d changed schools frequently because of behavioral problems. I guess his parents thought he might not get in as much trouble in a more rural environment.
Oh, how wrong they’d been. As soon as Bobby learned about the Gorgon, he gave her hell. With Bobby, it wasn’t just name-calling and pranks anymore.
He’d steal or break anything she’d left outside, bombard her with water balloons, or even shot fireworks at her. Not even the inside of her cabin was safe. Countless times he’d snuck inside to create havoc in there. When the old woman would come after him, Bobby didn’t run. No, he waited for her and the moment she tried beating him he’d retaliate with a stick or a bat until she was the one running away.
Sure, he got into trouble, but he didn’t let it go. In time, his antics got worse and worse.
Things escalated a few weeks ago when he snuck into her cabin again and set fire to it. No one knows if it was supposed to be another prank or if he wanted to burn the place down, but that was exactly what happened. In mere moments the old cabin went up in flames.
The Gorgon and Bobby ended up with severe burns. Bobby, however, got the worse of it and ended up dying in the erupting fire.
They admitted the Gorgon to the local hospital after the event. There she remained to that day. It wasn’t only because of the burns, but because of general health concerns and her deteriorated state of mind.
I remembered the time she’d returned my camera to me and had shown me she wasn’t pure evil like we’d all thought. I also remembered that I’d never properly thanked her for it.
To be honest, I don’t know if it was this feeling of guilt or if it was mad curiosity, but I decided to visit her.
When I arrived at the hospital, the receptionist asked me what brought me there and if I wanted to visit someone. I almost blurted out that I was there to see the Gorgon. After some thinking, I told her I was there to visit the old lady who’d gotten herself burned at her cabin. She eyed me suspiciously for a moment, most likely wondering if I was up to some sort of trouble. After a few moments, though, she told me to follow her.
We ended up stopping at a nice little room with an enormous window that allowed you to watch the park outside.
I saw the figure resting in the hospital bed in an instant. Her arms and her face were covered in bandages. As bad as it sounds, I was thankful for it. The only thing that proved that it was the Gorgon was the eyes and the dirty, yellow spots all over the bandages. When the nurse knocked on the door, the old lady looked over at us.
“You got the wrong damn room again,” she yelled at the nurse.
The nurse didn’t react to her harsh words and instead smiled at her.
“No, this time you have a visitor, Miss Lang.”
The old lady looked from the nurse over to me.
“And who are you, brat?” she asked, squinting her eyes.
I shuffled around and after holding her gaze for a moment I averted my eyes.
“The camera boy,” I mumbled while staring at my feet.
“Don’t know, no camera boy.”
“From two years ago,” I started and looked up again. “I dropped my dad’s camera, and you returned it to me after we’d-“
I broke up because the nurse was still around. For a while the old lady said nothing, then she nodded at the nurse, who hurried away down the hall.
“Get yourself a damned chair or leave, brat!”
I hurriedly dragged a chair from a corner over to her bed and sat down.
“Now, why are you really here? Tell me.”
“It is because of the camera. I wanted to thank you, Miss,” I tried to remember the name the nurse had said, but I could only think of her as the Gorgon.
“Well,” I continued after a while. “If you hadn’t returned it to me, I’d have gotten into a lot more trouble with my parents. So, thank you, I hope you-“
“Parents can be the goddamn worst!” she cut me off.
I smiled awkwardly, surprised at her harsh language. I was about to get up and leave when she continued talking.
“They were both scum, you know,” and after a short while, she added, “my parents, that is.”
“Why?” was all I could muster to ask.
“Wanna know the truth, brat? Mommy was a bitch if you ever knew one and daddy was a violent drunk. He was always yelling and screaming and it was always poor little Camilla he yelled at. Why the fuck are you here? Why are you so useless? What the fuck are you doing? Everything was always little Camilla’s fault.”
I realized, as I listened, that her name had to be Camilla.
She went on, rambling by now and I was too nervous and too interested to say anything.
The whole situation was absurd. Here was this old woman, who’d once been nothing but an ugly, disgusting creature to me. Now, though, I realized, she was a person too, like me. She had parents, a name, and must’ve once been a kid just like me. I wondered what must’ve happened that turned her into what she was now.
Her story continued, and I learned that Camilla ran from home when she was barely a teenager. She said she couldn’t stay there anymore, not after what had happened. She never elaborated on what had happened though.
After she ran she met Ramon, if that even was his name. She wasn’t sure anymore, but what was important was that he took her with her.
“I know you don’t want to look at me now brat, even with all that shit covering my face, and I can’t blame you. Back in the day though, your eyes would’ve been glued to little Camilla.”
She reminisced about long, ebony hair and hazel eyes before she laughed.
“Tell you the truth, brat, I don’t even remember what I looked like anymore, but Ramon sure was taken by me.”
I didn’t know what to say to any of that, so I sat there and continued to listen.
“Can’t remember much of anything anymore. What I remember is that Ramon made me truly appreciate my little friend. With daddy, it had been different. Fear, panic, anger. With Ramon, though, there was no struggle, no fear. No, it just… happened.”
I stared at her and it took me a while, but I assumed she was talking about… sex. And as for her little friend…
“That’s why I had to run again eventually, and that’s how I ended up in the streets. That’s where I met other girls, like me, not the good kind, but who gives a shit, right? A girl has to eat. Didn’t have no family no more, didn’t have no Ramon.”
I noticed her suddenly staring at me. “Ain’t gonna ask no questions, you damned brat? Why you even here?”
“I’m sorry, I don’t know,” I mumbled, but she just shook her head.
She soon talked about dangerous guys, other girls, and falling in and out of love. It seemed her story was that of a runaway who’d met the wrong crowd and ended up being a prostitute.
It wasn’t long before she worked at the house, as she called it.
“That’s where little Camilla was introduced to her second-best friend. It makes you forget all the awful things that happened and makes you feel so much more alive. Makes you appreciate certain things much, much more. The heat, the intensity, the… satisfaction.”
Again, I was confused for a bit, but it soon dawned on me that this time, she was talking about drugs.
“Would be a godsend if not for what it did to your body. Didn’t take long to turn a beautiful little girl into a nasty, ugly bitch.”
She broke into laughter once more, but this time it was strained, frustrated even.
“That’s the price you pay. Melts your face, makes your skin blister, and fall off. Rots you from the inside out.”
I must’ve shuddered visibly because she gave me a ghastly grin.
“Didn’t stay at the whorehouse for long. Couldn’t deal with Candy and Strawberry and Peaches. So once more I trusted in my two little friends, and once more I ran. To a different city, a different street, and different men. Lived like that a few more years, met a few more nasty people, got a good beating here and there and that was that. Eventually, little Camilla ended up right here, right at this town, too broken and too ugly to go on anymore.”
“That’s how you came to live in that cabin?” I asked with all the strength I could muster.
“Damn right, brat. You aren’t as dumb as you look. People didn’t want me here. They called me a monster, told their kids to stay away, some even spat at me. Bet they all wished I’d move on or die. Well soon enough they’ll get their wish,” she spat at me in sheer anger.
I knew it had to be the latter she was talking about.
We both sat there in silence, her seemingly too exhausted to continue and me too stunned at the story I’d heard.
“I think I better get going,” I finally mumbled.
I’d barely gotten up when she surprised me by speaking again.
“You want to know more about my little friend? You want to know how he helped me to get away so often? From daddy, from Ramon, from those bitches at the whorehouse and all the men who came afterward?”
“What are you-?” I asked, staring at her as she rummaged below the folds of the bed.
“No, I don’t want to,“ but I broke off when she pulled out the tiny box I’d seen her clutch on to so many times.
As I stared at it, I finally saw what it was, a small box of matches. With a shaking hand, she pulled one of them out and lit it.
“This here, this is it, my little friend!”
I didn’t understand, didn’t know what she was talking about.
“But your little friend, didn’t you mean,” I started in confusion, but she cut me off right away.
“It is fire,” she pressed out with an exhilarated voice.
“Daddy was constantly screaming at me, threatened to send me to one of those vile boarding schools for girls. That same night, once he and mommy had fallen asleep, I burned the house to a crisp. When Ramon broke my heart and wanted to move on with that bitch Sandra, I burned him in that stinking little room of his. Those bitches at the whorehouse who stole my money? Well, one day, I made sure things would get really hot.”
She was cackling now, as she held the little burning match in her hand.
“Oh, there’s nothing better, you damned little brat. Nothing better than to let all your problems go up in flames. To just burn it all away, the pain, the anger, and the ones causing it. Just like that fucking brat a couple of weeks ago.”
I watched for a moment as she lit a second match, staring at the flame with manic satisfaction in her eyes.
When she pushed her hand into the small flame, when she started breathing heavily, as her skin blistered, I ran from the room and from the hospital.
I had thought the way she looked was ugly and disgusting. I had wondered how she’d turned up like that and even felt pity for her. But her story, her revelation, had proven something to me.
It didn’t matter what someone looked like, it didn’t matter how ugly or beautiful they were. For it is a person’s soul that counts and Camilla’s had always been ugly and disgusting, even long before her body resembled it.