Chthonic Monsters — Theseus Meets the Minotaur

This is from a novel-in-progress, in which the characters tell one another many different stories, but I thought I would share here it here the blog. Alas, it it too long to put up in one post, so I’ll put up the last part tomorrow. The first part, Theseus Goes to Crete, is here.

The Labyrinth

Once they were married, Ariadne wanted Theseus to come with her and visit her brother, the Minotaur.

“You visit him?” Theseus said. “How is that possible?”

“It is simple. When I enter the Labyrinth tie one end of a ball of yarn to the door handle, and then I search through the maze until I find my brother. When it is time for me to leave, I use the string to find the way out.”

“But why hasn’t the Minotaur attacked you?”

“Because he is my brother, and a kindly person. He only hates Minos, and those who come down to the Labyrinth to kill him. You didn’t know that did you? The Oracle said that Minos could not have my brother killed, but he makes no secret of the fact that he would like him dead. Every once in a while some fool who considers himself a great hero tries to kill him. Most of them die when they face him, because my brother is stronger than any man alive. And those who do not find him die, forever lost in the maze.

“It is dark down there, and the darkness has a way of playing with your mind. You forget things. You forget yourself. And that is when my brother finds you, usually. Nobody stands a chance down there.”

“But you survive.”

“Because I bring him food, usually enough to get him through to my next visit. And he knows, in his fashion, that I am his sister. He loves me, I am sure of it.”

“I would like to come with you to meet him,” Theseus said, for as Ariadne told this story, he had an idea for how he could achieve Athenian vengeance on Minos.

“I don’t know,” Ariadne said.

“Please. Let us do this together. I want to know everything about your life here, if I am to rule after your father is gone.”

“Okay, but you must promise not to hurt him.”

“I will take no weapons,” Theseus promised, “if you can assure me he will not attack me when I appear.”

“No, he will listen to me.”

They went down to the Labyrinth the next day. There was only one entrance, and it was deep below the palace grounds. Daedelus had dug deep on the acropolis of Knossos, which was the capital of Crete. And then when he knew it was deep enough, he constructed the maze; a tangle of hallways and chambers so convoluted and cunning, that even he would be unable to find his way through it. To make it thoroughly impenetrable, he then reconstructed the magnificent palace of Knossos overtop the Labyrinth itself.

When the door opened, it creaked, and a puff of stale, rank air met them. Theseus thought how horrible it would be to spend your life in such a place, forever in darkness, lost. It would make anyone murderous.

Perhaps sensing his thoughts, Ariadne made sure that Theseus had no weapons, and asked him to hold the torch while she tied the end of her yarn to the handle of the portal. She unwound it as they walked, their steps echoing in the deepness of the Labyrinth. The sound was hollow, and bereft of hope. It seemed as though they were walking for hours, winding through short hallways, long passages, weaving passages, blind alleys, and the occasional open room. It was completely disorienting, and Theseus began to worry. The narrow bit of yarn could easily break anywhere along way, and they would be trapped there forever. But then they heard the beast approach.

Theseus had noted that Minos and Ariadne never named it “Minotaur”, the former calling it a “beast” or “creature”, while the latter always called it her “brother”, even though it was her half-brother at best. They were both wrong to do so. The Minotaur was not something to be denied, minimized, or rendered powerless by giving it lesser names. Despite its years of captivity in the dark hopelessness of its prison, it did not seem cowed or broken.

The Minotaur stepped into the pool of light given off by the torch. The beast was at least seven feet tall, more muscular and powerful than any man Theseus had ever seen, and that included Hercules. Its head was overly large for a human being, with thick, sharp, forward-pointing horns and a flat face that almost looked bovine. Instead of a nose, it had large nostrils in the middle of its face, and its eyes glistened blackly in the firelight.

“Sister,” it rumbled.

“Brother,” Ariadne said. “I have brought my new husband to meet you.”

“I have no wedding gift to give you, sister, except my forbearance. If it is your wish this puny man should live, I will not kill him.”

“Thank you, that is a wonderful gift,” Ariadne breathed, obviously relieved. Theseus realized that she had promised his safety, even though she could not guarantee it. “I do bring gifts. Some new clothes, and food. More food and drink than I usually can bring, because Theseus is with me.”

“That is good. Let us eat and toast your wedding.”

So they had an impromptu picnic in the inky depths of the Labyrinth, and Theseus was surprised by the intelligence of the Minotaur.

“You know I can sometimes hear people singing and playing music up above,” the Minotaur said as they drank wine and ate olives. “I imagine that was your wedding I heard not long ago.”

“It was,” Ariadne said. “I wish you could have been there.”

The Minotaur did not say anything, but arched an eyebrow. “Then why did you not come and fetch me?”

“You know that I cannot do that, silly.”

The Minotaur’s nostrils flared, and he snorted. Theseus knew this was dangerous territory, but this was precisely why he came.

“Why couldn’t we help him escape, my love?”

“Because he would surely kill my father.”

“I would,” the Minotaur said. “I would destroy all who had a hand in keeping me here these long years.”

“How have you stayed sane?” Theseus asked.

“I dream of my revenge,” the Minotaur said, stretching its enormous arms out, as if to show how wide its imagination ranged when it came to revenge. “I search the tunnels, hoping to find the way out of this nightmare. I think of Ariadne and my mother. I hunt rats and other vermin, so that I can eat and stay strong enough to have my revenge when I get my chance.”

“How do you know you’ll get a chance?” Theseus said.

The Minotaur looked at Theseus, as if to say, “who are we kidding?” It snorted, it’s hot breath washing over the newlyweds like a gust of wind in the Underworld. “I can’t think that way. That way lays madness. I’ve thought like that. I tried to imagine a world without this thing, this revenge. I tried to imagine a world in which I was a normal person, not trapped in this darkness, but it did not help me. I’m not normal. I’m trapped in this darkness. To state the facts does not weaken me. It does not make it true. The truth exists, even if I think otherwise. I know, I’ve tried. And that is madness. My choice is simple. I can live with the hope of revenge, or end the misery myself, somehow.”

Ariadne was quiet during this conversation, chewing on a curl of her hair. Theseus had noticed her doing it before, and he realized now that it was not because she was thinking, but because she was thinking that she did not like what she was hearing.

“Well, we have to get going, my dear brother. I’ll return again soon, and bring you more food. I thought I was coming often enough that you didn’t need anything else. I am sorry you’ve had to eat, uh . . .”

“Vermin.”

“Yes.” Ariadne leaned up and kissed the Minotaur on the cheek of its massive bull’s head. It was a tender gesture, and Theseus couldn’t be sure, but it looked like tears were forming in the black eyes of the beast. Underlying the sadness, though, was a baser emotion that Theseus knew well.

Ariadne turned to go, her hand cupped around yarn, as Theseus still held what was left of the ball of it.
Theseus held it up in front of the Minotaur’s face, and said, “you understand?”

“So that’s how she’s been doing it.”

“Yes,” Theseus whispered. “And when she left, she probably took the ball with her, wrapping the yarn as she went. But you’ve upset her, and she’s forgotten. And I will too, of course, because I’ve never done this before.”
Theseus held out the ball of yarn, and the Minotaur took it from him, his massive hands overlapping Theseus’s own. This close, Theseus realized that even if he had a spear and a shield, and the Minotaur was unarmed, he would have a hard time killing the beast. “I’ll make sure it remains tied to the door.”

And so Theseus caught up to Ariadne, who was quietly sobbing as she wound her way back to the surface of the maze, her right hand cupped around the lifegiving string. Theseus was content to follow behind her, holding the torch aloft. At the doorway to the Labyrinth, he made sure the sting was securely tied, and left it ajar.

He took Ariadne back to their chambers, where he comforted her, and made love to her, and then listened to the sounds of the night.

Continue reading…> Chthonic Monsters — Theseus Becomes King

Chthonic Monsters — Theseus Goes to Crete

This is from a novel-in-progress, in which the characters tell one another many different stories, but I thought I would share one of those stories here the blog. Alas, it it too long to put up in one post, so I’ll put up the other two parts over the next couple days.

The Mother of the Minotaur

Now, Theseus was already a great hero in Athens when this story begins, but still, a very young man. He was beloved by his father, King Aegeus, who founded the city. At this time Athens was not the powerful city you might imagine it to be — they had yet to invent democracy, or build the Acropolis. Before Theseus had even been born, Athens had been defeated by the Kingdom of Crete, and was forced to pay tribute to it every seventh year, in penance for starting the war.

Each seventh year, Athens had to send a seventh of the wealth the city had accrued. Even worse, it had to send its seven bravest young men and seven most beautiful young women to Crete. Twice this had happened, and none of the young men or women had ever been heard from again. There was a rumour amongst the people of Athens that these beautiful and brave youngsters were sacrifices to a beast kept by King Minos of Crete, a horrible creature that was half-man, half-bull.

Now, on the streets of Athens there was talk of the people finding another King to rule them, for if Aegeus could not protect them from King Minos and his terrible beast, then perhaps another could. Theseus knew of these rumours, and he told his father that he would go to Crete as one of the seven brave young men, and slay this beast. He promised that if he was successful, he would use a white sail on his ship. If the ship used a black sail, then Aegeus would know that Theseus was dead.

Aegeus did not want Theseus to go, but he let him, knowing that a man must make his own fate. And so, Theseus sailed with the others to Crete. When they arrived, Theseus was surprised that they were met with kindness and cordiality by the King of Crete himself. Minos was, at this time, an old man. There was no sign that he was cruel enough to sacrifice the young men and women of Athens to a monster. He was especially courteous when he learned that Theseus was the son of Aegeus himself.

“I’m surprised. I wouldn’t think your father would let you come here,” the King said. “He will miss you, but you shall have a place of honour in my house. I have heard the story of how you captured the Marathonian Bull, and how your father saved you from Medea. It is wonderful to have a hero in my house. Have you met my eldest daughter, Ariadne?”

She was the most beautiful woman Theseus had ever seen, and he was uncharacteristically speechless. Ariadne was older than Theseus, but still a maiden, and Minos watched them speculatively.

In Theseus’s mind, Ariadne was a prize greater than a kingdom, and he decided right then and there that he must have her. Ariadne was no meek thing though, and she had her own plans.

“Do you find me beautiful?” she asked Theseus.

“More beautiful than the sky at dawn,” Theseus replied. “You are as lovely as Aphrodite herself.”

“You must not say such things,” Ariadne said. “The gods are jealous and vengeful. That is why my brother is imprisoned in the Labyrinth.”

“Your brother?” Theseus had never heard of Minos having any sons.

“Yes. My half-brother, rather. They call him a horrible beast, and say that he eats human flesh, but it is not true. He is just misunderstood. My father angered the God of the Sea. Posideon sent my father the White Cretan Bull, a glorious gift, so that it would be known Minos he was favoured by the gods, and so, he won the throne. But Posideon expected Minos to sacrifice the bull to him in return. My father didn’t want to — it was so beautiful, and the people loved it, and surely another bull would do? I know, some are so foolish when it comes to the gods. So Posideon made my mother fall in love with the Cretan Bull, and she mated with it, and thus the Minotaur was born.

“My father wanted to kill the beast, but the Oracle said my father’s reign would end if he killed the child. Instead he had it imprisoned in the Labyrinth, built by Daedelus, never to escape or see the blue of sea or sky. He lives like an animal in the dark, forever trapped in the depths of the impenetrable maze below the palace.”

“That’s terrible,” Theseus said. “How could your father be so cruel? He does not seem like such a hard man.”

“Oh, he is a clever one,” Ariadne said. “He never seems to be what he is — a tyrant. He is the real monster.”

Theseus did not know what to think. He was taken with Ariadne, and he wanted to believe her, but he could see no evidence that Minos was the fiend she said. At that moment, Minos introduced the other Athenians who had been sent seven and fourteen years before — all 28 of them!

It certainly wasn’t what he expected. He spent most of the evening with Ariadne, but at one point, Minos asked Theseus to attend him on the palace balcony. No others came with them, but there were guards in attendance, and Minos waved them off, as they looked out at the dark skies of Crete. The palace faced north, towards the sea that spread between the two kingdoms like a deep, black mystery. The moon reflected over the water, which was calm and flat on the warm summer evening.

“I am not getting any younger,” the King of Crete said to Theseus, “and it is time for me to think of my successor. Would you be willing to marry my daughter, Ariadne, and rule with her when I am gone?”

Theseus did not know what to say. There was nothing he wanted more than to have Ariadne.

“I have only one condition,” Minos said, “you must promise to keep the beast that lives beneath this palace in its Labyrinth. Ariadne is a dutiful daughter, but I know she thinks I am cruel to keep her half-brother locked up in that maze. But if we don’t then the disaster will befall.”

“What disaster?” Theseus asked.

“When the creature was born — I’m sure Ariadne told you the story of its birth — I sent to the Oracle to know what I should do. In my heart of hearts, I wanted to simply slay the abomination, and have done with it. It was a reminder of my faithlessness to the gods. But my wife loved the thing, and I loved her so I promised to hear what the Oracle had to say before I did anything,” Minos explained.

“When my emissary returned from Delphi, he told me the Oracle said that if I had the beast killed, or let free to roam, Crete would be destroyed. So I had Daedalus build the Labyrinth. It was still unfinished when your father and his Athenians attempted an invasion. As you know, we won, and Athens has paid tribute ever since. But I grow nervous of its presence below the palace. Daedalus escaped, and I always worry that the creature will someday too.”

“But the Labyrinth is impossible to navigate,” Theseus objected. “Even Daedelus only escaped because he created wings and flew away.”

“You heard about that, did you? I’ve spent years searching for that damned inventor. But at least he has told no one about how the navigate the Labyrinth, and I suspect you are correct Theseus, it is impenetrable. I should stop worrying about the beast, and concentrate on the future. If you promise not to kill or release the beast, then I shall give you my daughter Ariadne, and our two great civilizations will be merged into one.”

Theseus was surprised. He did not think to find an ally here in Crete, let alone a wife and father-in-law. But at the same time, he shared the hatred all Athenians had for Minos and Crete. They had humiliated the people of Athens for 21 years, and Theseus would have retribution.

Ariadne said that she would marry him, on the condition that Theseus would one day take her far from Crete, where there were none to appreciate her beauty.

“Of course I’ll take you away from here,” Theseus promised. “You are too beautiful to stay locked away in this Palace.”

So later that month, he and Ariadne were wed.

Keep reading with part two …> Chthonic Monsters — Theseus Meets the Minotaur

Pozo and Mr. Savage

Pozo and Mr. Savage, waiting for a train with Ivanka

They lived on the margins of society as a travelling entertainment act. A classic clown-and-baboon show, in the old Czech style.

They had terrorized a generation of Eastern European children.

Pozo the Clown (once known to his family and a series of bemused teachers, as Jirka Zdenec) found his lifelong companion and colleague at the German customs house, in Dresden. (Some years before it was firebombed.) It turned out that the young baboon, of the Red-Assed Dorling family, had been abandoned by a teenage Canadian singing sensation just weeks before. Pozo fell in love with the manic little primate immediately, and agreed to adopt him, and to pay for all the medical bills of the customs agents who had been caring for him.

Their career became the stuff of legend. Their stock-in-trade was children’s parties, but they’d also perform at conventions, trade shows, and if they were unable to book a gig when they rolled into town, they’d do a little bit of busking too. Mr. Savage was an accomplished pick-pocket, so when they ran into hard times – as they often did – they could still pay for Pozo’s heroin habit and Mr. Savage’s expensive tastes in raw flesh. (He preferred macaque heart whenever he could get it.)

Most days, they were just one step ahead of the law.

Today was no different, though they found themselves at a train station, practically deserted between the morning rush hours and the 13:04 express from Praha to Brno.

The train that Ivanka had fallen asleep waiting for – a nap that one day, she would tell her therapist, changed her life.

The End

The FridgularityEnjoy this? Now check out some of my longer fiction. Available in all formats in all the usual places online :

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Alltop doesn’t have coulrophobia, but monkeys do freak it out a bit. Amazing photo Daughter of the Circus by Michael Garlington. Get his book here.

Selected Media Fads Through the Ages

Von Willendorf venus statue, circa 24,000 bce

24,000-22,000 BC: chunky fertility goddess statues (pictured at right: notice the prominent and large brains.)

10,000 BC: cave painting

4,000 BC: ziggurat construction

3,000-1,250 BC: pyramid raising (later revived by Mesoamericans and I.M. Pei)

1480-1700: Witch burning

1500s: homoerotic sonnet writing

1600s: pirate singing

1700s: pamphleteering

1760-1762: spreading syphilis

1790s: opera

1800s: novel-writing

1900-1914: being optimistic about the future

1919-1922: cutting up pieces of paper and pulling them out of a hat, also, painting

1925: jazz music

1927: soap-based radio

1933: burning books (mostly in Germany)

1951: find-the-commie (kind of like peek-a-boo, but with Senators)

1964: screaming (usually Beatle-related)

1966: TV

1976: disco

1977: DIY pet rocks

1982-1988: taking odds on Reagan-related nuclear holocaust

1987-1997: making answering machine messages (see below)

1998: web sites about your cat

1999: cappuccino drinking (related to dot-com bubble)

2000: looking forward to the future (this didn’t last as long as the previous fad in this genre)

2003: Friendster

2004-2005: blogging

2006: MySpace

2007: Facebook

April 2008: Twitter

2009 (Jan.-Aug): talking/writing/broadcasting about Twitter in MSM.

2009, Sep. 15: Blogging (again, briefly, but only about Dan Brown’s latest “masterstroke of storytelling”

2010 (Jan.-Feb.):getting really excited about the release of the iPad.

2010 (Mar.): trying to remember what all the fuss about the iPad was all about.

2010: “winning

2011: pretending the British Royal family is important

2012: posting pictures of every frickin’ meal on Instagram

2013: twerking

2014: “binge-watching” TV

And yes, Answering machine messages was the most important creative outlet of the nineties!

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Video here if it doesn’t beep.

Alltop and enjoys their Bebo. From my collection, Pirate Therapy and Other Cures. Originally published in 2010, and updated!