A Minotaur-So After High Noon
by Thomas Lee Joseph Smith
When he heard the tromping sounds coming down the wood walkway, Old Dutch, he just stopped playing his piano. Then we were all focused on the outside of the building, listening to the noises outside the building. At first all we heard was just the horses whinnying. The horses tied up at the hitching posts, whinnying. Then a cat hissed. Then we heard a sharp, “mmrreowww” and the cat wasn’t hissin’ no more.
Now we could hear clearly the loud clumping sounds coming down the plank sidewalk. Coming closer. We saw a great big shadow pass by the tiny black bar room window. Then it stood there in the doorway for a full minute. Its head was hidden by the top of the doorway, because it stands almost eight feet tall. And then the swinging doors parted, and it ducked its head under the door frame and walked right in.
Now, I once’t seen a dog up in Shelbyville, and that dog was an inside straight, a three of a kind, a full house, and more. It could roll over and play dead. You could balance a biscuit on its nose and it wouldn’t move till you said “biscuit.” Sam Trevor was oh so smart, always teasing the dog and saying things like “teacup” and “blister” and “casket,” but the dog only lunged at the food it dropped off its own nose when the word “biscuit” was used.
And then too you could put a beer and a whiskey on a table and ask the dog to point out the beer. And he could do it! And you could ask him to point out a whiskey, and he could do that too! His owner would put him up to it, and then the owner of that dog, he’d win the beer and drink it in front of the dog, and the dog didn’t get nothin’ but a pat on the head, which I didn’t think was too fair.
But the neatest trick this dog ever did, it could walk on its hind legs. Walk forward and backward too! On its hind legs! It could stand up and just walk. First one leg and then the other moving forward. And then the first leg again. Till it was walkin’ better then Turkey Wilson, what’s got them bad legs from the polio he got as a child in a big swimming lake he used up by his house down near South Carolina close to North Carolina.
But that was just a little dog, doing a little trick. It was a good trick, but it didn’t near take your breath away, not like seeing a full-up, black nosed, split-hoofed, natural-weight, 2,000-pound, mostly all-black all over bull come hind-leg stomping into the town’s tavern on a hot Saturday night! A bull was walkin’ in through the swinging doors. That’s something that’ll make a man drop a full glass of good bourbon, and not stop to curse his clumsy.
As this wasn’t the first visit, we all knew what was expected of us, when the bull walked in. Right off we smiled like fiends and most everyone said “yassou,” which is Greek for “hello.” And the bull said “yassou” right back, and then it said, “gi-a,” and then it turned to face Dutch and said, “salata parakalo,” which is bull talk for “get me some salad,” Dutch jumped away from the piano and went to the back room quick and came back carrying his arms full of hay. Dutch piled it neat on the bar, and most everybody just natural stepped back a few feet, as the beast lowered his head and started munching.
What we noticed, right off was this time the bull was wearing a rig. Not that he needed guns. We’d already been given proof of that. But he was wearing a two-gun rig with a big leather belt, with the pearl handles facing forward. And the guns, with their huge handles facing forward, were almost as strange as the creature who wore them. The front parts were the same as all the other guns we’d ever seen, but the back halves, the halves that hung out of the holsters, the back halves, which was the trigger guards and triggers, they was a mite different than most. The triggers looked like they were made from horseshoes with the curve melted out. The trigger guards looked like they came from barrel hoops. We all looked to the back of the bar. We all looked at Jake Miller, the blacksmith. And he shrugged and then hid his face behind a beer; which told us it was his work we were looking at. Also telling us too, he had no choice in the matter, which we understood. Still we weren’t happy with the new development. The big black bull in the bar had already earned the right to mark notches on its gun butts, and it earned those without even owning some guns! We were all afraid to think what would be coming next, now that the damn thing was armed.
While the big beast ate, we all thought back to the day it first entered town. It came in on the railway. On a Friday afternoon. Came hidden in a big block of hollow stone. That was more than a week ago. When it arrived it took a dozen men to move the block onto the horse-drawn wagon.
Doc Fanos bought it from some place. Doc Fanos Kococolos had it shipped to our town. And doc wasn’t there at the time of the transfer, ‘cause he was cutting a leg of’n a fallen miner ten miles up the rock slope, up towards the mining camp near New Athens. When doc got back he wasn’t entire happy with where they threw the block down, but he couldn’t complain, as he hadn’t left clear instructions on the matter. So it was in the middle of his barn instead of on the outside wall like he had planned. That’s how the monster came to be in our town.
Town in this case is; Jumble, South Dakota. Jumble deserves its name. Jumble is a jumble. A jumble of two-story buildings and one-story houses all mixed into a good confusion down under the shadow of some mighty tall grey-haired old mountains. For ten years there’s been talk of forming some kind of planning commission; they could propose a main street, like every other town has. But, so far, there hasn’t been one map drawn, nor one building lined up with any other. For that matter, many of the buildings are set so bad, that upon leaving the wide front doors of one place of business, you are most sure and almost likely to be face to face, with the plank-flat back wall of a feed store or right up against the split rails of a big corral.
Early that evening, after the block appeared, but before he messed with it, Doc Fanos entered the Blue Horse tavern for a drink. Doc was dressed in a good dark suit and a clean white shirt. He had on silver spurs and a string tie. He wore a small pistol; but that was hid under his coat, like always. It was dark inside the tavern and it smelled a little dirty; the lanterns always in need of a good cleaning. Two women were sitting on the stairs, which led up to the private rooms upstairs. Crazy Millie Millford and Small Sarah Sinful — that’s what she calls herself, Small Sarah — they were sitting on the stairs, wearing very little and holding onto each other like they were lost sisters, which in a way they are. Dutch was playing “Clementine” on the piano and Doc Fanos just sat down and waited for him to finish the song. Long before the end of the song, the men at the bar grew restless. Some of the men were holding onto Doc’s money, and they were more eager to spend it than maybe Dutch was to collect it.
At the end of the tune, Dutch served whiskey to the crowd, and then brought Doc some of the good bourbon.
Putting the glass on the table Dutch said, “Saw the big rock you bought. Don’tcha think Dakota’s got enough huge rocks?”
Doc sipped some, “It’s special,” Doc said, “From antiquity. It’s supposed to be ancient too, and many years old. I’m told it came all the way from the Mediterranean.”
“I know you’re rich, Doc, but that must have cost.”
“It did,” He said.
“All them little statues and things — that stuff you collect — why do you want that?”
“Men of science, like myself, we admire antiquity,” Doc said, “we believe history has a certain charm missing in today’s world.”
Down at the far end of the bar somebody kicked a cowhand in the groin and then hit him with a gun butt.
“Doc. Hey doc!” somebody yelled.
“Just ice him up,” the doc called, “I’m closed for today.”
“Sensible,” the bartender said. “He can always stop by in the morning if his head’s too broken. Where were we?”
“I was telling you about the Greek ossuary, the polyandrium, the great hollow stone I bought. It was found at the water’s edge, near a wine-dark sea. From the weight it must be hollow. It’s covered all over with strange carved symbols.”
“I was there when they moved it, and I didn’t see anything,” Dutch said.
“I had them covered with plaster. To protect the writing. To keep people from thinking it’s some kind of devil’s box.”
“How does a man in South Dakota even find something like that?”
“I write to a man in Kansas City, who writes to a man in Vienna, who knows an agent that knows a man who lives in Rome.”
“Oh,” Dutch said, “of course.”
“Funny thing is,” Doc said, there’s a line all around the top. Like it’s got a lid that’s been fastened on.”
“Might be full of gold,” Dutch said.
“Don’t we hear enough lose talk about gold around here already?” Doc said.
And Doc left later that evening. Maybe he got home and pried it open that night, we don’t know.
What we do know is there was a bunch of cattle bust loose from Ox’s ranch. And we found a lot of them being severely dead. A lot of them cattle looked stomped and throttled, mauled, mangled, and molested.
Then on an otherwise non-remarkable lazy afternoon, a few days later, the big black bull just walked into town. People were staring out their windows and gawking and there was some nervous laughter. Sheriff Baxter came out in the street and stood not fifty feet from the thing and stared.
I almost fell backwards when the tall animal announced in a loud booming voice, “I am the son of Pasiphae, herself wed to king Minos. I am the disaster brought upon her by the god Poseidon. I was thought to be dead. I am alive. Now I demand food, fodder, grain, m’byra, clean water, and some clean hay to foul. And I demand fealty. And I require complicated stone walls around me. The sacrifice of your young men will begin...”
Baxter drew and fired. As clean as a gang of nailers he hit that bull with five shots. Shots that hit hard and commenced while the bull was saying the word, ‘will’, and ending almost before the adjacent word, ‘begin’ made its most brazen appearance.
To be continued...
Copyright © 2004 by Thomas Lee Joseph Smith