The torch flickered, fitful. I was terrified it would go out and plunge me into permanent night. I wrenched the man’s arm out from under his body, and with only a short hesitation I bit into the flesh. The blood, no longer warm, filled my mouth; I gagged and spat. What little I swallowed stoked the embers of my hunger and I forgot my squeamishness. As my strength returned I was filled with horror at what I’d done. Evil despair engulfed me.
Thus began my transformation into a monster.
It wasn’t always like this; once I was an innocent child, playing in the corridors with my sister. Cloaked, hooded, always shadowed by a handful of carefully picked guards, I had freedom of a kind. One night that changed. I was blindfolded and taken into a dark world, the labyrinth that was to become my home. There they left me.
I ran frantically through the darkness, stumbling into walls and tripping over uneven stones, until I collapsed in a sobbing huddle. What had I done to deserve this? Time passed, but the darkness was timeless. Eventually I heard welcome sounds. Their familiar footfalls and the glow of torches drew me close; a moth to a flame. The sharp tang of blood filled my nostrils. As I rounded the last corner I was blinded by the light after hours of unrelenting darkness. I squinted at them, inching closer. They stood silent and still, waiting.
“Food? Water?” My voice was croaky from thirst. The ranking guardsman, Leonidas, shook his head, gesturing to a pile of rags before him. I scrambled over and pulled at the pile, wailing as the corpse’s head rolled towards me. The guards retreated, facing me, as I tore at the corpse’s clothes in search of food. I was hit with a sickening realisation and chased after the light.
“Wait, Leonidas! I am scared of the dark. Please leave me a torch!” I saw him set down a torch, leaning it carefully in a corner. The men departed with haste, the heavy door clanging behind them. That, then, was the boundary of my world.
I snatched up the torch and crept back to the dead man. A search of the body revealed a skin of water. Gulping it down I resumed my scavenging. There was no food.
How do I mark the passage of time in that place? My nails grew longer, my body grew dirtier. I sat beside the rotting man and dreamed strange dreams. The guards returned, with another corpse and another skin of water. Leonidas grimaced when he saw the original corpse, rotting where they’d dumped it. Again they left. The strange dreams grew more bizarre. Hunger wracked my body. Insane, I pawed at the fresh corpse.
And then I ate it.
I soon learned the drill. The guards would bring me a corpse and I would consume it, scavenging the clothes and hair for the little fire I made with the torch I’d been given. At first I wore the clothes, but after almost running out of fuel for my fire I decided it was better to be naked than risk losing my only source of light. The panic I felt as I searched for something to sacrifice to the dying embers was greater than my need for modesty. I grew, and became adept at devouring the dead.
One day, or night—I never could tell in that place—I smelled a familiar scent: my sister. There was an acrid edge to the aroma. Fear. I sat near my fire and waited, sure she would search me out. As I waited, I brooded. Why had it taken her so long to hunt me down? Why was she here? Would she recoil from me in horror? Soon she stood before me, small and lithe, dark and fair. Midnight hair crowned ivory face, and deep dark eyes pierced my soul.
“Happy birthday, little sister.” She tilted her lovely head, gazing at me. “You’ve grown big.” Her eyes narrowed. “Enjoying your meals?”
She lingered, waiting for my answer. I was mute, stricken by her cruelty.
As she turned to leave I jumped up. I tried to speak but the words turned to inarticulate nonsense. She smiled—a scornful twist that shut my mouth and burned me with shame.
I pondered her strange visit until the guards arrived with a man. This one was alive, yet smelled of death. What was this? I frowned at Leonidas and forced myself to speak.
“What for?” I waved at the man.
He prodded the man with his spear and the prisoner stumbled forward. “For you.” The other guards looked at each other as I tried to piece together the puzzle. The prisoner had a wild grin on his face, and Leonidas observed with an expression I could only interpret as pity. My focus narrowed; time seemed to slow.
The rabid man—yes, rabid—giggled and slunk forward, shedding his clothes as he moved. My mind was frozen, unable to comprehend the situation. Naked, the man clutched at me. At the touch of his skin on mine I recoiled, but he slithered against me with a single-minded passion. Bile rose in my throat and I scrabbled at his sweaty arms twined around my waist, his body writhing. A dark shadow crossed my mind, erasing all thought, save the one that mattered. I embraced him, that puny man, and squeezed. He broke in my arms.
I cradled my first victim and cried.
When I calmed, I saw I was alone. Whether the guards had remained to witness I do not know. Weak and shattered, I ate. Ariadne’s visit made more sense. This was to be the new routine.
My father sent me the dregs of society to dispose of; I became a well-trained executioner.
I sat beside my little fire, entranced by the flames. The approach of a solitary stranger startled me out of my reverie. The scent was unfamiliar. Wary, I slipped into the shadows and waited. Soon enough a man emerged from the labyrinth. He possessed an athlete’s body: tall and well-muscled. He also carried a sword. I was shocked, as no one save my guards ever entered my domain armed. I watched, uneasy, as he explored my little home, tripping over my bone pile. What was I to do? I knew only one purpose: to kill.
I advanced and he spun toward me, sword outstretched. Afraid of the sharp steel, I fell back; he sensed his advantage and pressed forward. Shying away I emerged from the shadows into the muted light.
The sword clattered to the ground. The ringing of steel on stone created a barrier between us—we froze. He regained his senses first, scrambling for his sword as I turned to flee.
“Stop!” he called. For some reason, I did. I faced him, and we studied each other. Close up I saw his regal face, with its strong nose and proud eyes. He carried himself like a king. Aware of his scrutiny I hunched a little, trying to cover my nakedness with my hands. His frank gaze stripped away my monstrous shell, so carefully constructed; he saw the freak as something else. I glanced down at my body, all muscles and sweat and shame, and peered back at him, suspicious. This could be a ruse to throw my guard.
He laid his sword on the ground and stepped over it. I thought, as he approached, I should just kill him and be done with it, but I didn’t want to. The way he looked at me—I felt alive. His step was slow and sure, and he made no sudden movements. He stopped within arm’s reach, breathing deep.
“Are you the only monster of the labyrinth?” His voice was calm.
I was caught off guard. I wanted to know why he was here but he repeated his question and waited expectantly. I sat on the cold grey floor and hugged my knees to my chest, speaking the words with great reluctance.
“This is my labyrinth…I am alone.”
He sighed as he sat next to me. “The Princess Ariadne bade me kill you—she fears you.”
Shock and grief warred within me. My sister, the traitor. I thought her love outweighed her revulsion. I thought she saw past my monstrous flaws to the human within. I knew my father loathed me as the evidence of his twisted lusts, but I believed what I wanted to be true where Ariadne was concerned.
“Please kill me,” I began, in agony at my sister’s betrayal and the atrocious reality of my subhuman existence. He let me go no further.
“Hush.” He refused to let me speak. Tears leaked from my eyes. Inside I was screaming, protesting, but coward that I am, I swallowed my anguish at his insistence. He wanted to believe he was all I needed.
Silenced by his stubborn refusal to hear me, I wallowed in my misery, succumbing to the darkness within. He touched me, brushing his hand over my arm. Confused and utterly ignorant, I dared not move. His touch moved down, caressing my belly and tracing up to my breast.
“What are you doing?”
He hushed me once more.
“You are beautiful,” he whispered.
I was mortified. I stared at him, incredulous, but he smiled and touched me in places that had no use on my monstrous body. Heat blazed within, fog hazed my mind. Skin on skin felt beautiful, not revolting. I pushed him to the hard cold stones, blindly seeking my way, and he reached up to guide me. I straddled him and took him then and there; what I lacked in finesse I made up in fervor.
Our limbs were tangled. He caressed my face. The fur didn’t seem to put him off but it brought me sharply back to reality. He told me he was Theseus, son of the Athenian king, before asking me my name. We are both the children of kings, but we’re not the same, he and I.
“They call me the Minotaur.”
“The Bull of Minos?” Theseus snorted. “I suppose if it were known you are female, Minos would lose his rule of fear.”
I stiffened, indignant. Female or not I had killed many men. He was right, though. I sighed.
“At birth I was given the name Hera.”
Theseus nodded. “A cruel jest; her nickname cow-faced.”
He begged me to come with him, then. I couldn’t refuse him—he was offering salvation. He gave me his tunic. I struggled to pull the neck over my horns. It was a strange feeling, being dressed. It marked the crossover into another world.
We fled the labyrinth, my home for so long. He gathered up his sword and a length of thread; we twisted and weaved our way through the corridors. At the boundary of my world he drew forth a key and I stepped through to the other side. As we ascended, I felt light-headed, otherworldly. I floated through the corridors in his wake, as he roused his companions.
We ran for the ship. Dawn approached but their urgency could not penetrate my stupor. Cloaked and hooded I trailed the men who belonged so fully in that world.
Stumbling through the streets of Crete, my eyes aching from the pre-dawn light, I wondered what my father would do. The ship loomed before us, dark and forbidding with its black sails. We scrambled on, the low shouts of the men echoing through the mist of the morning and the haze in my mind. Away we sailed. As the first rays of dawn broke over the horizon we were out of the harbor, making for the island of Naxos.
I stood on the deck, leaning on the wooden rail, hood hiding my inhumanity from the crew. I breathed in the salty air, squinting against the glare. The choppy waves shimmered and I was struck by this beautiful world, forbidden to me all my life. I heard Theseus behind me. My ears flickered as I caught his muttered words, too low for human hearing to perceive.
“I hope my father can forgive me.”
The whisper was a schism between us. Melancholy gripped me as I pondered my future with the Athenians. That night we shared a cabin, but I refused to let him touch me.
In the morning I took up my post again, staring out over the sea. Naxos was a dark smudge at first. It grew slowly on the horizon until I saw a lush land, covered in forest and shrouded in mystery. We made landfall, setting up camp near the shore. As the sky darkened I heard music. Theseus followed me as I was drawn on by the intoxicating sounds.
“And here you are.” The God Dionysos strokes my hand as Theseus dozes beside us.
“I saw the satyrs, and I was spellbound. Half human and half beast, my kin. Your music captivates me but the promise of a life of truth binds me more than even love can.” Tears fall from my eyes. I brush them away.
Dionysos leans over and kisses my snout before gazing into my eyes.
“You are welcome here.”
He leaves us, wreath of vines rustling in his hair, naked body gleaming. I sit a vigil for the night, a lonely warden of the dark once more. The campfire flickers, fitful. In the dying hours it goes out. I am no longer afraid.
When Theseus awakes we wander, hand in hand, to the human camp. It is a frenzy of activity as the men make ready to depart. I lead Theseus further down the beach, the soft sand slipping underfoot. I turn to confront him and his face falls. He knows my heart.
“Please.” He is desolate.
I speak. For once he doesn’t silence me.
“I belong here, Theseus.” I close my eyes, inhaling sharply. “I am not fully a monster, but I am not fully a woman. I am in-between. I would never be accepted by your people or your father.”
He tries to speak but is choked by tears. He drops to the sand before me, and I feel his pain.
“Get up, Theseus, the son of a king should not grovel in the sand.”
“I can stay—“
“No, Theseus! Go back to your people, your father. Your men are waiting.” I remove his hand from mine. “The tide turns.” I step back a pace.
He gazes up at me, eyes pleading. Something shifts, something breaks. Without another word he rises and trudges away. He doesn’t look back. I watch them as they board the ship, and as they drift away. The black sails hold me, transfixed, until they are a speck on the horizon.
“I’m sorry, Theseus.”
The uncaring air carries my whisper on the wind, unheard by living souls. I turn my back on the sea to embrace my new life.