Once upon a time, there was a mighty Kingdom by the name of Crete to which three brothers laid claim. One brother, Minos, prayed to Poseidon to send him a sign to prove that he alone was worthy of ruling Crete. Poseidon sent him a white bull with the condition that the bull be sacrificed to him once it had served its purpose.
But the white bull was a beautiful creature, far too beautiful to be sacrificed, so Minos thought. So, angry at this betrayal, the Gods placed a curse on Minos’ wife, Pasiphae, so that she began to lust after the magnificent bull. She convinced a great inventor, Daedalus, to build a hollow, wooden bull so that she could trick the white bull. This is how I was born.
The Labyrinth then became my home, my sanctuary. I didn’t know then that I was a prisoner. I didn’t know that I was a monster. At the start I thought I was the only person in the world and the Labyrinth was the entire world. My tiny world. I paced the twisted paths of my world alone, wondering if there was anything more, wondering if I might not be the only one, wondering what the growling in my stomach meant. All of my questions were soon answered.
I heard them first; fast, ragged breaths and high pitched gasps, shuffling footsteps and a desperate scraping. They were scared. I didn’t know who they were, or what fear was, but I understood it and it made me curious. If I was the only person in this world, this Labyrinth, then who or what had entered my sanctuary and how? I had to know. I crept through the twists and turns, following their sounds and terrified by what I might find. Left, left, right, straight ahead, right, they were closer now, I could hear them whispering to each other.
“Where are we? What’s going on?”
“We’re in the Labyrinth…”
“Is that bad?”
“Haven’t you heard the stories? This is where Minos keeps his monster.”
“Not the Minotaur? I thought it was a myth!”
“We’re all going to die! It’s going to eat us!”
I didn’t know what any of it meant, but I didn’t like how it sounded. I crept around the next corner and came face to face with my guests. They looked a lot like me, but their heads were wrong. They had no horns and their ears were tucked against their skulls and they were covered in a strange fur. They were wrong…or maybe, maybe I was wrong. They screamed. I’d never heard a noise like it. It was high-pitched and loud and it made my head hurt. I grabbed at my ears and bolted into the nearest corner, while the ugly demons bolted in the other direction. I was shaking and they were still screaming and the screams made my eyes wet.
The screams stopped.
“It’s just a child.”
“It’s a monster, Otus! It’s going to…”
“Look at it!”
And they did look and stare and burn me with their eyes. The one called Otus moved towards me and I flinched. I thought they might start screaming again, but no one did.
“It’s scared,” Otus said.
He came closer still and reached out to me.
“I’m not going to hurt you,” he said.
He sounded so gentle that I found it hard to be scared anymore so I uncurled myself and took his hand.
“Otus…” someone gasped.
He pulled me to my feet and stared at me intently.
“Are you going to eat me, Minotaur?”
I just looked at him and wiped the wet from my eyes. I had no idea what he had said so I just blew air from my nose, something I did when I was happy.
“Don’t you speak?” Otus asked.
“It’s a beast, what do you expect? You should leave it be and help us find a way out,” said one of the demons. “Just watch. It will kill you first.”
And, blissfully unaware of the conversation, I blew air.
Though none of the other demons, or people, seemed to trust me, Otus became my friend and teacher. He taught me how to speak and what the words meant, but my voice never had the same gentle edge as his. Mine was rough, like a growl and I didn’t like how the other people reacted to it.
“Why don’t they like me?” I asked.
Otus patted my head as he often did, scratching behind my ear and I blew air.
“They are afraid of you.”
And Otus told me everything. He told me about Minos and his broken promise, about the curse put on my mother and the bull that was my father. I was a legend, a myth, a story told to frighten children. But I was real and I was not, as everyone believed, a monster and I would make sure that they knew it.
I sought out the people who had arrived with Otus and found one in the western tunnels. It was dark in these tunnels, dark and oddly quiet. Usually these people made so much noise, whimpering and crying and scuffling and shuffling, but this one was quiet and barely breathing. I coughed to get this one’s attention. She was startled and scrambled back, eyes half-open and full of fear. It didn’t cross my mind that my cough was far more frightening than it should have been.
“Stay away from me,” she hissed.
“I am not a monster,” I said firmly.
I thought that would be enough and she would understand and stop being so mean. But she just laughed.
“Not a monster?” she laughed. “Look at yourself! You are the spawn of Hades! You’re…
She didn’t finish. Everything was a blur of red as I crushed her throat in my hand. I wanted her to shut up and she did and she would never ever speak again. I stared at her, hot air blowing on her face, her head lolling above my fist, limp and lifeless. As I stared I felt the growl in the pit of my stomach and I saw her for what she was, for what she was always meant to be. Meat.
Days passed and one by one they died. Some starved, a few killed each other for food, the rest fell to me. I hated myself. I could barely look at Otus when I came back from a meal, but I was so hungry. I had to eat and it made me sick. And in time, only Otus was left. He was starving death as so many others had, but I had gorged myself on my last meal and had nothing left to give him. He sat, propped up against the wall in the very heart of my world and called me to him.
“I want to tell you about my favourite place,” he said. “My last memory to you.”
“Are you going somewhere?”
“Hades calls me, my friend,” he said. “Now listen closely. Beyond this Labyrinth and this island lies the sea, you remember what I told you about the sea?”
“Well, there is a special place where the land and the sea meet,” he continued. “This is called a beach. It is covered in a soft earth called sand which is always warm beneath your feet. There are creatures here too called crabs. They walk sideways. I think you’d like them. But the best thing about the beach is the sea on a calm day. It creeps up on the sand and then hurries back towards the greater sea, then creeps in again, like a game. And the sea is the most beautiful bronze you’ve ever seen and sometimes it just melts into the sky.”
“Can I go?” I asked.
It sounded wonderful, with its warmth and its games and its colour.
“Perhaps,” Otus rasped. “I’ll be waiting for you when you get there.”
He let out one last, long breath and he breathed no more. I shook him hard but he didn’t move, he just sat there smiling at nothing. My stomach roared and I began to drool.
“I’m sorry,” I sobbed.
I tore at his lifeless flesh, sobbing and whispering ‘sorry’ over and over again. The first one was right. I was a monster, no they wanted me to be a monster and so a monster I would be. I sat in the heart of my labyrinth, thinking on the things I had done, thinking on what Otus had told me of my birth. I paced the twisted corridors and they became me and I became them. My heart was the Labyrinth and the Labyrinth was my heart. I was not the real monster, they were and when the next group of people entered my Labyrinth I made sure they were punished and I feasted without shame.
© Jessica Wiles, 2013