The Cretan of Mount Juktas

Her voice is a music that flows through his soul. The perfect sound. The heavens caressing the Earth.

She says, “you have been long alone My love, My creation, My greatest wish come true. You could not have come with Us, but are forever in Our hearts and minds. Remember this. But though you are by Us, you are not one of Us. This was done so you could remain with the mortals forever. It is Our gift to you. We only request you remember it is your place to honor Us so We are not forgotten. The time to honor Us has come again. Will you? Will you honor Us? My beauty. My last servant, the one closest to My heart. Will you fulfill your purpose yet again?”

He feels her hands on the back of his head pulling him to her. Then warm soft lips on his. They part and just the flicker of a tongue registers against his teeth.

He tries to respond but wakes and the dream fades. The familiar smell of cold carved rock, the ever present wet earthiness of his home.

The pulsing want. The unfulfilled desire.

He allows the dream to linger in his mind.

She is an old one, his Goddess. And again calls him to action. It’s a detestable chore he has been asked to perform over and over again in his long never ending life.

His eyes open and he stretches his bulk on the hard stone floor. The inside of the mountain is black and cold. Cold, heat, life, nothing bothers him. He feels the dust of his work falling off his eyelids as he reaches for her memory.

At least he has that.

In his mind, she smiles and his heart aches. She is so beautiful, the Mother Goddess, his Serpent Queen. Her skin shines with the sheen of multi-color scales Her eyes glow a yellow so bright they compete with the sun. The anguish of his reality is She is no longer in it. His love for Her is powerful; it makes him feel the familiar pain of loneliness all the more. He longs to feel something new. But he won’t. He is cursed to the isolation of being more, but not enough.

Even if he surrounded himself with people or worshippers as he has done before, he would be alone.

The touch of a Goddess will do that. Remove any hope for the happiness of belonging.

The memory of Her smell, Her touch, Her love will leave him as it always does when he dreams of her.

This is the worst part, the lingering touch of her, the distant memory, so far away it might as well not exist.

He reaches for his last cigarette. He has kept the box in his pocket for almost a week. He has been saving it while staying busy, adding to his work of digging and carving out his maze. Now is a good time to partake, with the remnants of the dream of Her lingering in his mind. He places the filter between his black lips and shakes free the book of matches. He strikes the last match and it flares to life in the thin air.

He takes a big hit of smoke and holds it in his never-aging lungs.

As he blows the flavorful smoke out, he knows he will have to go to town tonight and get his monthly order after all.

He will need it.

He has been asked to honor Them and he will. He has no choice. He is and will always be Their servant.

 

***

The whine of mopeds from deeper into town disturb the early evening buzz of cicadas and rustle of old growth cypress and oak tree leaves.

The air is thick with wild sage and hot wet humidity, like an expectation unfulfilled.

Von nudges the box packed with a standing order. Two cases of Corfu Ionian Epos, a Barley Wine beer and three cartons of Camels and a large package of matches.

He has it tucked in under the counter waiting to be picked up.

He does this same order once a month.

And every month near the first, just after dark, he comes and gets it.

He is a week late this time.

In the light of the dying day, Von can see the face of the God-King on the mountain. His mouth stretches up as if screaming in disbelief that death claimed him.

Up there in the shadows and crevices that make up his face are ancient temples and altars built in his honor, or for the honor of the Gods that replaced him, or for the God that is being forgotten slowly and more and more every day.

The land is rough with loose rocks and green bladed weeds.

Many empires have laid claim to it.

Much blood has been spilt here in the name of this king or that opinion.

In the end, the Greeks won out and Crete is theirs. Little good it does them. They get to keep the rocky land that was here long before they were and that will be here long after they have gone.

Maybe there is a lesson in that, to claim victory, be the last one standing over something, that does not care either way.

Von sighs. He is just an old man. He knows his time is short, he can feel it in his bones. He aches. He aches in new ways every day. Every day he has new aches on top of old aches. If it weren’t for the new pains, every day would be the same. He has owned this store for over sixty years. He doesn’t care much anymore about what government claims the island of his birth.

His sons argue about politics and he just lets the words float around him as if they were the heat of a still day, or the buzz of flies.

Maybe in his youth, he would have offered an opinion or been interested, back then he thought it mattered.

The young think they can change the state of the world, be a revolution, make utopia. They don’t know life is just singular incremental steps toward eventual doom and that nothing really matters in an oblivion.

Maybe the old ones can make things a bit better for the next generation.

But that’s it, a bit here and a bit there. Pieces for history to pick over.

With that, Von feels the sadness in his heart surge. He will not be leaving his sons better off when he dies. His store will probably be taken by the Greeks and auctioned off. He will leave them nothing to pay the death tax when he goes. He knows they have nothing either, just a smock and the calluses from running the register when it is their turn.

What education could one get out here in the country? One could learn about the Minoans. Five thousand years of history erased by the giant eruption of a volcano two thousand years ago.

The ancestors are too old to make a difference. No one comes anymore for the ruins. The stacks of stone and painted cave walls and shards of pottery are slowly slipping below the surface to be forgotten forever.

Few ever did come for them.

Dead civilizations are for little old men with classes to teach. Modern society moves too fast to stop for the long gone almost vanished past.

They are good, his boys. Maybe not the smartest, but good and maybe in their goodness they will figure something out, but in the end maybe it is best the store closes, maybe the store is an anchor meant to die with Von. Things work that way. Someone always has to be the last.

He looks up when the bell over the door chimes. Night has fallen hard and even the white stone wall separating the store’s yard from the street is barely visible behind the figure dressed in black.

He wears a linen jacket with a hood over his head.

The shadows under the hood perfectly conceal his face.

Kaló apógevma,” he says in the old way with a voice deep and reverberating. His thick accent that always makes Von think of ancient things long dead.

Von wants to ask what’s so good about it, but knows not to. This one is short on words. He has come in every month for sixty years. He should be old and stooped like Von, but he isn’t. He is tall with huge strong muscles that run thick over his back and long arms. He stands straight as if no amount of weight could bend him. He has the aura of youth about him, but a youth that feels ancient and timeless like a temple to an ancient God. Like the Parthenon in Athens or the Aegean Sea taking bites out of Crete since forever and savoring every morsel it can get, knowing time is on its side and eventually it will claim all of it.

Through the shadows under the hood, his eyes seem to glow like blue disks under the fluorescent lights of the store. They glow like wild dog eyes glow in the dark of night. They glow and Von long ago stopped trying to look into them. He has even stopped looking at the man entirely. He packed the box first thing in the morning a week ago and all week long he has hoped the man would come, pay and go on his way. No conversation. Just go. Early on he tried to fight through the fear. He tried to make himself comfortable and chat, but that was a mistake. There was no comfort when this man came to get his order.

A thick hand dressed in a black leather glove flips a coin onto the counter. The coin hits with the thunk of heavy metal. Von reaches his hand out and places it over the coin. He doesn’t have to look. He knows what it is. Gold and from a time long ago.

He has 720 of them in a box on the top shelf of his closet at home. He doesn’t know what to do with them. On one side is a bull. On the other is scribbles in a language he does not recognize. The press is bad and the coins are never the same. They are all brown with age. He would rather the man pay in Euros like everyone else, but fear makes the request impossible.

When he dies, he will leave the collection to his boys. He hopes they are wiser than he in how to deal with them.

Maybe they are worth something. Maybe they are just bunk. He wouldn’t even know how to check.

With the noise of the coin still reverberating in the air, the man in black takes his box of six cases of beer and eight cartons of cigarettes, nods his hooded head, turns and leaves with the bell offering its telltale chime in his wake.

Von sighs in relief and plops down on the stool behind him, his heart racing and sweat pouring from his body.    

 

***

The hooded figure leaves the store behind happy to be done with this singular task. He doesn’t like town. He has never liked people. He hates the way the world just seems to keep building on itself as if never happy.

There is irony here, he knows this, but he digs, he does not build.

But home is home.

Even when home has changed so much over his lifetime.

Can it be called a lifetime when there is no death? It’s an ancient question. One he hasn’t decided on an answer for yet.

Maybe it’s naive, but he holds out hope that one day he will weaken and die. He is jealous of the old humans. The ones who know their time is coming. Every day his time just seems to be further and further away. His task never finished.

Waiting and waiting and waiting.

Long ago, he thought he was waiting for Her to return, but not so much anymore. After four thousand years he doesn’t think She is returning.

He walks the old road. A road that runs parallel to the God-King’s face. A road that has always been here in one form or another. Once it was nothing more than a dirt trail carved out through use. Now it is paved and painted with white lines.

In the beginning, he never had to walk it.  His every desire was brought to him on sheets of silk. He had women and barley wine and meat and fruit and the blood of combat to sate his every need and desire.

He misses those days.

Time ends all things, except his life, it would seem.

He thinks back to the old store owner. He sensed the familiar fear in him. The fear of dying. The fear of doubt. An end fast approaching.

The creature in black is lost in his thoughts when a singular light comes out from behind a steep turn in the mountain road. The light heads straight towards him. He does not move. There is no need. His curse is life.

Forever.

 

***

The moped driver sees the black clad figure too late and swerves. His bike slides out from underneath him and he careens down the steep ravine on the other side of the road.

He lays under the moped. His leg hurts. A thick cloud of exhaust and the smell of burnt rubber settles over him. He finds he is having a hard time drawing air. His skin feels tight. He smells overheated tires and burning plastic. The singular headlight from his moped casts an eerie shadow on the built up rockwall to the mountain road.

Through the tinted visor of his helmet the world seems dark.

Too dark.

He sucks at the air.

None seems to come.

Dark splotches form at the corner of his eyes and grow.

Then cool air and more light and flat eyes, far too large, far too bovine, far too angry and a flat nose and flapping ears and a thick neck and a grimacing muzzle filled with gnashing teeth.

A deep voice.

The moped driver tries to hear what it says, but something about being okay feels wrong, because he feels far from okay, he knows that’s bullshit because he can’t breathe and breathing is important to being okay.

Well and also the deep voice is attached to a creature whose very existence challenges the modern world and that must mean he is already dead.

It does not.

His savior’s very existence is proof the universe hides mysteries the people of the Earth can only guess at.

The moped driver only loses consciousness.

But perhaps an expectation for death is not unwarranted.

 

***

Daedalus does not like mirrors. He does not own one. He has never felt the need to see what he looks like. It is in the memories of the faces of men and women who have ever laid eyes on him in which he has created an idea of his appearance.

He imagines he is monstrous.

He knows he is covered in coarse black fur. He knows that he has the large flat feet and the normal hands of a human if not a big human. He knows that he has horns. He keeps them shorn low to his bulbous bovine skull. He has little need for them anymore. Long ago he would make a show of pinning his opponents between them or impaling them two at a time and shaking their limp bodies into many pieces, splattering blood and viscera over a riving congregation. But this was back when he thought he was impressing Her, the Mother Goddess, the Murderess of the Father whose face makes up the Mountain Juktas. He likes to think that he is their child and not just a creature molded by the Mother from the mud the Father made with his spit.  

His favorite feature is his long tail which ends in a tuft of black hair.

When in need of comfort, he combs the tuft.

It relaxes him.

He does it now as he looks down on the unconscious form of Nikos Spyridon.

Poor naked Nikos. He can only the imagine the terror he will feel when he wakes.

A terror he has made for thousands and thousands of men and women before him.

Daedalus has done his best to patch the man’s wounds. He is bruised and scraped and concussed, but not to any degree that will keep him from his purpose.

With a small grunt, the monster stands and moves to the star-studded night sky just beyond the entrance to his cave. He rests a moment allowing the cool air to brush his body. It feels good. He wishes he could live free of this cave sometimes, but knows his impulse is to dig and he would eventually wind up underground all over again.

One cannot escape their nature.

Sadly he also knows the world would never accept him and in time he would be discovered.

It is bad enough he leaves for the small items he leaves for.

With a deep sad sigh he shoves a huge boulder over the exit to the cave. From the outside it looks like nothing but part of Mount Juktas, but from inside this is a vestibule area in which begins hundreds of miles of labyrinth. Running beneath the mountain.

Thousands of years of effort to make this thing that is part of who he is.

On his way back to the center, he will make Nikos his own personal set of choices by closing off many of the paths.

He moves over to an ancient brass lantern. He lights it. The lantern will burn for seven days. He then picks up his box of beer and cigarettes and moves to the beginning and puts the lantern down. He glances back at the unconscious form. The poor moped operator feel into his path when he was needed most. Such is the way of things. Needs are always met when they are needed to be met never sooner never later.

Poor Nikos, the light is for him to find the center.

Daedalus says his ancient words, “the path in front of you may will have many twists and turns, and no matter your choices all your steps do is get you closer to honor the Mother. May your path be blessed.”

He turns with a snort and faces the pitch-black darkness and walks the familiar path home.

 

***

The lantern sputters. It’s been doing that more and more frequently. The flame has already diminished to a small blue bulb that hardly lights anything at all, but it is all he has. He huddles around it when he just can’t go any further. It gives him the idea of warmth that is purely imagined.

Between fitful sleep, Nikos meanders confused. He does not know where he is or how he got here. He is half convinced he has died and this is a sort of hell.

He is mad with hunger and thirst.

Though the floor is carved smooth, he stumbles.

He has made it back to the point he went left instead of right.

He holds up the lantern. It dims as he searches for the symbol he painted on the cave wall in blood from a wound he made on his palm to begin marking his choices.

Left was a dead end. Right has a smell to it. A musk. A decay. The small hairs on his skin stand on end as he faces the bleakness there.

He has no choice but to go back, or go right.

He knows the only thing back the way he came is the small area he woke up in many twists and turns worth of days from here. If he found himself back in that area again he would go crazy. He needs this to end. He needs to find the way out and back feels wrong.

He turns right.

Twenty paces later the lantern dies.

He plods along feeling the smooth wall of the labyrinth.

Maybe he turns left then right then left again. He hits one dead end and turns around and makes another left.

He wants to scream and run in terror and fear, but days ago he learned it makes no difference, the maze does not bend to his screams or his fright.

Soon he thinks he sees a faint band of orange. If he had the energy, he would run. The glow grows stronger with every step.

He turns right one final time and feels his body clench in total fear.

 

***

The Minotaur is not the child of Gods, but he is created of them. He is a slave to them with a singular purpose.

He does not hunger for food or water. He does not hunger for sex.

He can enjoy these things like he enjoys barley beer and cigarettes.

But his only hunger is for the blood of sport. To hunt. To feel the heart of his prey stop beating in his fist. A fist compelled to dig an endless labyrinth. A fist that has not aged since he was formed seven thousand years ago.

Daedalus whose namesake fathered Icarus who dared challenge the Gods with his wings of wax .

There is irony in that also. Daedalus doesn’t have that choice. He could never challenge the will of the Mother.

And poor Nikos, all the parts that equalled his whole now join with the sixty thousand other victims demanded by the Mother.

Daedalus exhales a long stream of nicotine-stained smoke and plucks the newly lit cigarette from his thin black lips with blood stained fingers.

He closes his eyes.

His work is done for another month or until the Mother comes to him again.

As the taste of malted barley and smoke mingles in his mouth he feels Her tender kiss.

His reward. The one thing that makes it all worth it.

 


justingerardminotaur

Featured art by:

Justin Gerard

http://www.gallerygerard.com/

 

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