Minotaur at the Door

Minotaur at the Door cover

Today’s excerpt comes from The Minotaur at the Door, a novella about what could be a minotaur knocking on the door of the house where Pablo, Miles, and Harry are renting.

Pablo’s journey alternates chapters with the events of Daedalus and his son Icarus, centuries before Pablo. These chapters breathe life and detail into the myth of Asterion, the first minotaur, and Daedalus and Icarus’s imprisonment in the labyrinth. How father and son deal with being stuck in the maze and how they craft a plan to escape.

So here’s part of the first chapter. The book is available at Amazon as an ebook and paperback.

*****

The house’s three occupants were busy watching television shows in separate bedrooms, and none of the men was excited to answer the knocking at the front door.

Harry pressed the pause button on the remote control, since his show was in the slow scene of a tea ceremony. Sometimes the friends of one occupant came over to hang out, but Harry wasn’t expecting anyone tonight. He opened his bedroom door, called out down the hallway, “You guys expecting friends?”

“No,” Miles said from behind his closed door, amid the dramatic music from his TV.

“No,” Pablo said from behind his closed door, amid the sounds of dialogue from his TV. “Can you see who it is?”

“Fine,” Harry groaned. “But it’s someone else’s turn next time.”

Going downstairs, Harry thought about how the yakuza thumped on the doors of people who owed them money or favors. Harry was quite taken with the action-packed television show, now in its third season. Most of the people visited by the yakuza paid the owed money, or they stutteringly promised to return a favor required by the Japanese crime syndicate guys.

When a debtor tried to escape, the plan didn’t end well for them. A chase ensued through night-time Tokyo (it was always night-time in the chase scenes), then the yakuza used harsh methods to persuade the debtors to pay up. Only one character had been able to elude the yakuza: Kaito Takagi, who could disappear, ghost-like, into the crowded city. Harry would’ve liked to have that ability.

Perhaps because of the show’s suspense, Harry peeped through the peephole instead of opening the door. What he saw standing on the front step shocked him and made him glad for checking. The thing standing on the front step couldn’t be there. A second look into the peephole confirmed the truth.

Harry bounded back up the stairs and shouted, “There’s a minotaur at the door!”

Dramatic music and dialogue stopped as pause buttons were pushed. Two bedroom doors swung open, and the roommates stepped into the hall that lacked decoration on the walls—merely a corridor to more important places.

“Is this some kind of joke?” Pablo said.

“If it’s a joke, it’s a weird one,” Miles said.

“It’s not a joke. It’s serious.” Harry’s eyes and voice communicated sincerity.

“But the minotaur wasn’t real,” Pablo said. “It’s just a myth.”

“Myth or not, there’s a minotaur out there,” Harry said.

As a fresh round of knocking came from the front door, the three men remained in the hallway.

“Is it Halloween?” Miles asked.

“That’s not till next month,” Pablo said.

“Oh, right,” Miles said. “The days tend to run together for me. Maybe this is somebody’s idea of a prank. I need to see for myself.”

He led the trio down the steps, to the foyer, and he leaned forward to peer through the peephole. The other two stood a few steps to the side, in the living room, and watched.

Astonishment was on Miles’s face as he went to join his comrades. “Holy crap, you weren’t kidding about that thing!”

“But is it really real?” Pablo said. “Or is it just a costume, and you were right about somebody pranking us?”

“Looked kinda real to me,” Miles replied.

“I’ll see about this.”

Pablo became the third to check through the door’s tiny, circular window—and he was the third to be baffled by the sight. Even while the creature wore a hoodie, it had a bull’s face. The image defied the reality of this suburb of Columbus. A creature couldn’t have the head of a bull and the body of a person. Pablo retreated to the group.

“What’re we gonna do?” asked Harry.

“How should I know?” Miles asked back. “I’ve never met a minotaur before.”

“Let’s pretend we’re not here,” said Harry. “It’ll think nobody’s home and it’ll go away.”

“But the lights are on.” Pablo pointed to the lamp next to the couch.

“And the TVs are on.” Miles looked at the ceiling, as if his eyes had X-ray power to see into the bedrooms and the television sets, each with a stilled image. He said, “The beast could’ve seen the flickering lights of our TVs through the upstairs windows when it was walking toward our house.”

“Yeah, it could’ve,” Harry said. “You guys think it can hear us talking?” He didn’t bother to lower his voice.

Presumably in answer, a grunt came from the other side of the door. Followed by louder, insistent knocking. The house seemed to shake, although that might’ve been in the three occupants’ imagination. They gaped at each other, a triangle of worry.

“Let’s go to the kitchen!” Miles stage-whispered.

Their rushed voices turned into rushed legs; they skittered through the living room and dining room, into the kitchen. It was the farthest the occupants could’ve stood from the front door without opening the back door and transforming into non-occupants.

“What if the beast is hungry?” Harry said. “What if it’s banging on our door because its belly is rumbling, and once we open the door—if we open the door, that is—it will eat us up? That’ll be all she wrote. No more us. Gone in a frantic crunch of flesh and bone, because we won’t be able to get away.”

Pablo had listened thoughtfully to his roommate and tried to keep as level a head as possible. “I don’t know what minotaurs eat. It would be easier if a centaur was outside. That way, there’d be a man on the top half, so it’d be obvious what they eat. They like to eat what all other men eat.”

“But don’t you think centaurs might have horse-eating tendencies?” Miles asked. “At least some of the time?”

Lifting an instructive forefinger, Pablo said, “Maybe for Sunday brunch, they add a bit of hay.”

“Brunch is such a great idea,” Miles said. “Wonderful how it combines breakfast and lunch. And you could be right about centaurs. Maybe they have some hay, and an apple for dessert.”

Pablo’s finger remained raised. “Or a tasty carrot.”

“Would you two stop?” Harry demanded. “That kind of talk isn’t helping our predicament. Not one bit! A centaur isn’t out there. What do we know about minotaurs?”

“I only know they live in Spain,” Pablo said.

“Those are regular bulls,” Miles said. “In Spain, they fight bulls, and they do that running-with-the-bulls thing. Which is pretty nutty, if you ask me.”

None of the men had a desire to run with the bulls in Pamplona, although the subject had come up when, at various times, they had discussed life bucket lists with other friends, and a handful of those other friends had expressed interest in bull running. Seeing the Grand Canyon and the Great Wall of China were on the three men’s lists, which had a much lower risk of horns piercing their back sides.

“Isn’t the minotaur the god of war?” Harry asked.

“That’s Mars,” Miles said.

“That’s a planet,” Pablo said. “The red, angry one.”

“It was named after the Greek god of war,” Miles said.

“Mars is the Roman equivalent,” Pablo said. “Ares is the Greek god of war. They’re different, but somehow they’re the same.”

Harry threw up his hands. “It’s all so confusing!”

Nothing was confusing about the new bout of hammering on the door. The glasses in the cupboard jittered and clinked together. The occupants also jittered as they gazed, wide-eyed, toward the front of the house.

“We have to learn more about this creature,” Miles said. “Do we appeal to his bullish side or his mannish side? Quick! Get Bulfinch’s Mythology from the bookshelf!”

“What?” Pablo snapped. “You don’t know the Roman god of war, but you remember that Bulfinch wrote a book about myths?”

“If you think about it, it makes sense,” Miles said. “Gray had anatomy, Jane had fighting ships and assorted weaponry, and Bulfinch had mythology.”

“Keenly said,” replied Harry. “Was Bulfinch a minotaur?”

“Of course not,” snorted Miles. “Bulfinch is spelled with only one ‘l.’”

Harry looked a little wounded and sounded a little defensive. “It sounds like an odd combination of a bull and bird. Specifically, a finch. They’re yellow, right?”

“I think they can be,” Miles said. “But I don’t think all finches are yellow. It’s not a prerequisite.”

“That’s got nothing to do with our situation,” said Pablo. “I agree that we need to learn more about the creature. Go get the book, since you know so much about it.”

Miles scratched his stubbled chin. “I only know it’s under ‘b’ on the shelf. Since fiction and non-fiction are mixed together, and they’re alphabetical by title.”

“But if the categories were separated, the book would be in the fiction section,” Harry said. “Myths are just made-up stories.”

“That beast isn’t a made-up story!” Miles exclaimed.

Pablo groaned in exasperation. “Are we sure it’s a minotaur? It’s awfully dark out there.” True, it was night-time. He turned to Harry and said, “Maybe it’s your Uncle Frank, thinking it’s Thanksgiving. Frank’s a big guy.”

Harry frowned at his roommate. “We already proved that it’s not Halloween, so it can’t be Thanksgiving. Even if it was, our family always goes to Grandma’s house for Thanksgiving. Uncle Frank knows that fully well.”

“But he makes mistakes,” Miles said.

“Everyone does,” Harry said.

“We’re getting nowhere!” Pablo cried. “I’ll get the book.”

As he hurried back to the living room, more house-trembling knocks came, like from the epicenter of an earthquake. The two occupants in the kitchen were silent until their friend returned with Bulfinch’s Mythology.

Pablo searched the book’s index, thumbed through the pages until finding the appropriate page. He said, “Says here the minotaur was in a maze in Crete. Everybody knows that. But here’s something I forgot. And it’s bad news. Very bad news. He ate people. Seven men and seven women were sacrificed to him every nine years.”

The other two men made grossed-out faces.

Miles said, “So he has a taste for human flesh. Great, just fucking great.”

“But there’s also good news,” Pablo said. “Theseus killed the minotaur.”

“Did he write the thesaurus?” Harry asked.

This time, Pablo snorted. “Who cares? He killed the monster!”

“But the monster on our front step is very much alive!” Miles said.

“Maybe he’s a relative of the one in the maze,” Harry said. “Like Uncle Frank is my relative.”

Pablo thumped the book shut, like jaws clamping down, but the book’s jaws snatched only air. “Enough with this bullshit. I’m going to see what he wants.”

“Don’t you dare open the door,” Miles said. “It’s our only protection against the beast!”

“I’ll talk to him through the door,” Pablo said. “And don’t forget, the walls are also protection.”

“Thank goodness we have brick walls,” Miles said. “They’re not made of straw, like in the story about the big, bad wolf.”

Pablo hefted a sigh and looked tired from the weight. “But it’s not a wolf, so you don’t have to worry about it blowing the house down.”

Harry perked up, excited to make an insightful remark. “If a centaur was out there, maybe it would eat our house. If our house was made of straw.”

Pablo stomped off, followed on his heels by his two roommates, and Pablo stopped just behind the front door. The stranger’s loud huffing could be heard, reminiscent of a wolf.

###

Other Lives of the Boothbys

Other Lives of the Boothbys cover

Time for another excerpt from one of my books — this time my novella, Other Lives of the Boothbys. In this story, Bradley Boothby feels déjà vu when walking by the office building for Rayburn-Turley Publishing, that he is somehow connected to one of the publishing company’s books.

Following is the first chapter. If you like it, please consider buying the book to find out what happens next. Available on Amazon as ebook and paperback.

*****

At first, Bradley Boothby dismissed the odd sensation when he passed the Randolph-Turley building on his commutes to and from work. The feeling was nonsensical and didn’t deserve deeper attention than tossing it off the curb, where it would roll into a storm drain then eventually make its way to the Hudson.

Bradley had other things to consider, including his research on the spending habits of twenty-somethings versus middle-aged people. It was more important to focus on doing a good job at his job.

Yet the odd sensation persisted in visiting Bradley during his commutes. As if the idea had survived the journey through underground pipes, swam to the surface of the river, and flew to Randolph-Turley’s roof. Perching there until Bradley arrived on the sidewalk, when it dive-bombed onto his head. Into his head.

The idea was akin to those mythological creatures that combined different animals. A griffin or centaur or mermaid or some such. Bradley asked himself, Was there a mythical creature capable of swimming and flying? Well, flying fish already existed. And some birds could swim.

Bradley didn’t harbor dreams of being included in a book—or in a movie or TV series. No delusions of grandeur of becoming a celebrity recognized (even admired) by crowds of strangers. He was fine with his low level of fame only among his friends.

On one of Bradley’s journeys home during March, he remembered a movie he and Danielle had seen several years ago: Stranger Than Fiction. The movie had provided pleasant entertainment for the evening. Did the movie’s memory cause the odd sensation? Did part of Bradley’s subconscious want to create a diversion from his regular schedule, entertainment for his commute?

But significant differences divided him and the movie’s main character (Bradley forgot the guy’s name). Bradley’s life wasn’t as finely regimented as the character’s. Bradley was married. Bradley didn’t hear a female, English-accented voice narrating his every move. The only voice in his head was his own—and the assorted memories of what people had said to him in various conversations, along with snippets he had overheard in the subway and other public places.

Thankfully, no narrator lived in his brain. Getting through the day would’ve been very challenging with a narrator’s voice accompanying his thoughts. And an English accent might’ve sounded authoritative and pompous. More comfortable would’ve been a narrator with a New Yawker tongue: “So Bradley goes to the office kitchen for another cup of cawffee and mutters to himself, ‘How many years till retirement?’”

Whatever the origin of the strangeness in passing the Randolph-Turley building, the feeling kept arriving with regularity. Bradley had to tell someone about it. His wife would’ve been more understanding than his friends and close co-workers, who would’ve likely teased Bradley about going nutty and in need of a vacation.

Besides, Danielle had frequently asked him during the past couple weeks if something was wrong. Bradley had answered it was nothing major. Just stuff at work. He couldn’t cover up his agitation with a straight face (why he never played poker). Danielle could see right through him, a skill improved in their five years of marriage.

In their Brooklyn apartment one evening, Bradley tried paying attention to Danielle relay the latest complaint of an irritating woman—Tanya—in her office. Something about offensively amateurish graffiti in subway stations. It wasn’t clear which bothered the office woman more: the offensive language or amateurish style.

Which inspired the tangential wondering that if graffitied curse words were done artistically, would they be less offensive? Fuck Off could be prettied up by writing it with curlicues and flourishes, but the message remained the same.

Bradley wasn’t offended by curse words on walls. Clever sayings in graffiti could amuse him for days. The dark humor of Just Say No To Cannibalism on a wall had tickled his funny bone on an evening when he had been in the mood to enjoy it. As had pennies from heaven don’t help me afford really good drugs.

Bradley supposed, if he was a father, he might’ve wanted to shield his children’s eyes from foul language. Except the kids would’ve learned curse words some day. If not from graffiti, then hearing them yelled in school or snarled in a movie or grumbled by an intoxicated uncle at a holiday gathering.

Danielle sighed. “You must be tired of hearing about this. I get annoyed by Tanya then I annoy you by talking about her so much. I’m sorry. I shouldn’t keep the cycle going.”

“It doesn’t annoy me.” Bradley placed a bowl of leftover turkey chili into the microwave and tapped the time buttons. “Go ahead and vent. I know it makes you feel better.”

“So does this.” Danielle sipped from a glass of red wine. “I’m done venting. How about you? You’ve got that look again. Is work still stressing you out?”

“That’s not really what’s been going on,” he said. “The other day, something happened when I saw the sign for Randolph-Turley on their building. I’ve seen that sign thousands of times, but something clicked that day.”

Since Bradley paused, his wife prodded him: “What clicked?”

“The feeling that I’m connected with the place,” he replied. “As if I’m a character in a book.”

A speechless moment in which Danielle’s frown spoke volumes.

Bradley said, “It sounds weird, I get that. But I can’t shake the thought that somebody in the publishing company has written about me. I don’t know why. It’s not like my life is interesting enough to be in a book.”

The microwave beeped, startling them. Bradley removed the heated bowl, gave it to Danielle, and he slid the second bowl of chili into the microwave. She put her bowl on the kitchen counter, uninterested in food because of the conversation.

“Yeah, that’s weird,” she said. “Have you ever read a book from that company?”

“I have no idea,” Bradley said. “Who pays attention to the publisher when they read a book?”

“Okay, silly question. I’m just trying to get a handle on what you’re telling me.”

As the microwave beeped again, Bradley retrieved the second bowl. He didn’t like the look on Danielle’s face—it made him feel batshit crazy for opening up about his fixation.

He said, “I know we’re not characters in a novel. I know we’re real people. As real as this.” Bradley knocked on the kitchen counter, as if announcing his presence to a tiny family living in the cabinets, whom he wanted to visit.

“At least you know that.”

“Then why can’t I shake the idea that somebody wrote about me?” he asked.

“Maybe the same way a song gets stuck in your head,” Danielle said. “Even when you hate the song, it can loop and loop in your head all day.”

“Could be it.”

“What about seeing someone about it? Talking to someone other than me?”

“You mean a shrink?”

“Therapist,” she said. “Cindy goes to one and she says it helps her. The therapist is a good listener and he asks questions about things that Cindy hasn’t thought about. Patterns that Cindy didn’t realize.”

Cindy was Danielle’s best friend. Bradley wasn’t surprised to hear that Cindy went to a therapist. Cindy had been divorced twice and was one of those people with a tendency to act impulsively. She kidded Danielle by calling her tame. But Cindy also valued Danielle’s quieter demeanor and patient ear as a wine-drinking, restaurant-going companion. Friendship therapy.

“I’m not gonna see a therapist,” Bradley said, deciding not to add his opinion that therapists were for other people, not him.

One side of Danielle’s mouth tugged back in a disproving expression. “It could help you.”

“Doubt it,” he said. “A therapist won’t give me any real answers. Probably would just ask about my childhood and tell me I’ve got unresolved issues.”

“You definitely have unresolved issues. You can’t remember your turn to scrub the bathroom. I’m sure that started in childhood.”
With a groan, Bradley said, “A therapist can’t fix that.”

“Would be nice if they could,” Danielle said. “What about looking up your name on Google? See if it’s a character?”

“Already did that.” He was embarrassed for the admission, as it rang to him as narcissistic. Searching for yourself on the Internet to find out your popularity—or just your name’s popularity. He said, “Nothing came up.”

“What about talking to someone at the company?” she asked. “They could tell you if you’re in one of their books.”

His face twisted. “I can’t do that. They’d think I’m crazy and throw me out. I debated whether to tell you. Figuring you’d think I’m dumb. But they’d be much less forgiving.”

“Or they might humor you and tell you one way or the other,” Danielle said. “If you’re in a book or not. They might’ve gotten stranger requests.”

“I don’t see what could be stranger than this,” he said. “I’ll save myself the embarrassment and skip going there. Maybe this talk has solved it. Maybe the feeling will stop bugging me.”

“I hope so. Want to talk about it some more?”

“Nah, I’m done. Let’s eat.”

The couple ate dinner while watching a television show about two families in 1880s Chicago. The first season had included the great drama of the 1871 fire and rebuilding was in full swing by the second season, of which the Boothbys were in the midst.

Before Bradley gave his attention over to the show, he took in the familiar surroundings. The couch where he ate many meals with Danielle and lounged with a book or newspaper, his feet propped on the coffee table. Much of the furnishings had been bought at a street market, pushed into a taxi or a ride service’s SUV, and driven here. This was home. He was glad for Danielle sitting next to him. She didn’t have to calm him down often, but she was effective when the need arose: his worries about the health of his grandparents and an often-stressful marketing job. Compared to those, tonight’s frustration felt trivial.

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