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In the Minotaur's Labyrinth

Will Shadbolt is a proofreader based in the greater New York City area.

Aristedes killed the beast.
He had survived longer than his other sacrificial comrades--the minotaur's meals-- survived long enough to grow used to the labyrinth's darkness. His nose and ears were now his world.
So, when he heard the monster's soft grunts and inhaled its awful smell, he froze and waited for it to come to him.
Aristedes could almost feel it draw near. He sprang.
His hands wrapped around the creature's thin throat as a bovine stink filled his nose--the same scent that haunted him, that had been present each time one of his Athenian comrades was grabbed and devoured alive. He let go only long after he was sure the monster was dead.
His hands next went to the creature's face, and Aristedes discovered he had not actually killed the beast. There were no horns, no bull head. It was just a man.
Had he killed one of the other Athenian youths?
No, he realized, as he felt the length of the man's beard and sniffed at him again. Were the legends false? Was this just the king's bastard son locked away?
He didn't ponder that for too long, however. As he began walking down the corridors, choosing directions at random, he moved to other lines of thinking: were any of the Athenians he had entered with still alive? Which way would bring him out of the labyrinth?
There was water. Not much, but enough to keep a monster alive. Small, man-made streams flowed past many corridors, always ending in slits in the walls, too small for any man or beast to escape through. In roughly a quarter of the corridors Aristedes walked down, he could hear the faint tinkle of water. This place, he realized, was designed to contain the minotaur, not kill it.
His stomach, however, rumbled. He was never filled beyond basic sustenance. There were squeaking mice and rats and little else for food.
Some weeks later--it must have been at least a month, he judged from his beard--Aristedes found the Minotaur. He came upon it by accident, stepping on a femur. The skull felt exactly like myths said it would: a large bull with monstrous horns and razor-sharp teeth. None of decay's stink was left; it must have died years ago.
The man had killed it and taken its place.
He wandered and wandered. He wasn't sure how long he had been trapped. He felt weak, tired.
A moment without hunger seemed as distant as the labyrinth's exit. No matter which way he went, there were never any wind drafts, never any beckoning light in the distance.
Aristedes heard footsteps. He smelled another man. A clean, fresh one, new to the maze. A member of the next sacrifice for the minotaur.
He crept closer. A part of him wanted to yell out to him. Perhaps together, he and this new group could escape.
But another part demanded silence. His hunger burned like it never had before.
It ached.
It commanded.
Theseus heard the approaching footsteps. He readied his sword and swung.
The minotaur fell more easily than the myths had led him to expect. A simple slash and it collapsed, croaking out a few final moans.
He knelt down and felt for the bull head.
"I wonder," he said to himself, "were the legends false? Did the king just keep a bastard son imprisoned down here?"
The End
This story was first published on Thursday, November 8th, 2018

Author Comments

When I was younger, I was obsessed with Greek myths. I tried to learn all I could about the mythology, and these legends served as models for my very first stories. Recently, reading the Iliad inspired me to revisit my childhood influences, and this story was the result.

- Will Shadbolt
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