I was a Minotaur

Francesca Gibbons is in the second year of her degree in Creative Writing and English.

I live in a perpetual night. The nothingness coats my skin; sticky as treacle on a spoon and no-one knows what I look like. My eyes adjusted long ago, and I don’t go out. The moonlight burns my irises and I have no interest in stars. The cool stone is silence, inviting arms and safety from a clamorous world which is constantly thrown at my door. Minos will insist on using me as some sort of professional executioner and he keeps dumping the filth of Crete in my home. This is effective: I don’t want them around anymore than Minos does. They whine and they plead and protest their innocence of crimes I never knew existed. The words make little sense to me; I have no father, no mother, and no interest. Minos isolated me in the most efficient way possible.

Sometimes, I bellow into the caverns and listen to the echoes; a wordless cry answers me, and I imagine it belongs to another soul, hidden deeper inside the darkness. The illusion fades quickly and then I am alone again. I live like the wild animals in my mountains; more akin to them than the evil men at my door. The doomed souls come in dribs and drabs; some lofty and grand, others shrivelled, cackling ravens. Some moan and fall at my feet, begging for life. I beg for my death, but it is theirs which must always come first: swift and clean. The same kill repeats one thousand times over, merging into a single memory which I try to shut out.

At first, the memory only haunted my dreams, but now the nightmares thread themselves through my conscious mind, assaulting my head whether I sleep or not. There is no escaping a job like this one.

The practicalities of the arrangement are also difficult to ignore. Killer I may be, monster I am not. I am not untidy, and the sight alone of the gored corpses wrenches my stomach towards my throat, but the stench is impossible. I choose a night with a dark moon, take the detestable bundles to the edge of a cliff and push them off. I watch them fall into the place below, and I wonder how far it is to the Underworld.

When there are a few days before a new moon, the smell gets steadily worse. It seeps into the darkest reaches of my tunnels, and I can barely stand it. I think I am going mad with the sickness in my nostrils, and then the dark nights come again, and with it, fresh gulps of sea air.

Minos’s men speculate that I eat human flesh. Thinking of me as a monster makes it easier for them to forget the terrible fate they leave me to, and removes any obligation they might otherwise owe me. As it is, there are few sources of food to choose from. There are rats most days, though they leave a bitter taste. Sometimes a sheep or goat strays inside my home, and then I can feast. There aren’t enough animals close by, and for the most part, I am vegetarian. It amuses me, the difference between their wild imaginings and the basic truths of my life, but I have no-one to share with, so the joke stays in my head. Sometimes it gets too playful, running near my mouth, and a deep chuckle escapes. Then I chastise it, and it flees, scuttling back into a quiet corner.

One day, a young hero comes to slay the terrible creature. I see the shock register in his rough features when he spies me for the first time. Not the unnatural hybrid bull-man they all seem to expect: just a man. Admittedly with a much longer beard and a different outlook on life, but what Theseus really sees is a reflection of his own personality that he doesn't want to see. His pause proves fatal.

As he lies dying, I formulate my plan. Our apparent similarities give me an idea. I take his clothing and trim my hair. It's a little uneven, but good enough. I brave the light for the first time in years, renewed with the strength of my conviction. I could lead another’s life. A quick dip in the river and I am ready to re-enter the world.

I know exactly what I will tell them: ‘The Minotaur is dead. I am Theseus’.