A Minotaur-So After High Noon
by Thomas Lee Joseph Smith
Part 1 appeared in issue 95.
The bull glared at the sheriff. Baxter started ejecting spent shells and started reaching onto his belt for more. The bull didn’t wait that long. It tore him down like he was an old flyer from a circus that nobody could even remember anymore. Just tore him to shreds. One of the shopkeepers let fly with a shotgun; firing from an upstairs window. The bull crossed over to that shop and damn near did the building a death too. When he came out there was blood on his horns to match the blood on his hooves.
Everyone else just kinda crept back to their hiding, melting back behind curtains or closing doors. The bull spoke again with a shorter list of demands this time. Some of the scared people got up the nerve to set out buckets of water and also some grain; maybe hoping to ingratiate themselves or at least mollify the big, black-nosed petitioner.
It worked. The thing fed and drank and soiled and bellowed, and then drifted off to graze or wander outside the town. It was dark before he returned. When he came back he entered the tavern. That was his first time in a tavern. When the Minotaur stepped on a cowpoke’s foot by accident there was almost a confrontation. But Dutch calmed things down. When a bar stool sailed out of a dark corner and struck the bull in the back of the head there was another tense moment. When the bull made a lewd remark at Millie everything came to a standstill.
The bull said something in Greek to Millie, and from the tone we knew it wasn’t a compliment.
Slim Tickets, the man who ran the livery, said real loud so the bull would be sure to hear, “Did you say your mom’s name was, ‘Pass-some pee?” (Pasiphae)
The bull snorted.
“Say, is it true you were once lost in your own room for ten years?”
The bull snorted again.
Another bar stool flew out of a corner and this one impaled itself on one of the bull’s horns. It was there through most of the fight that followed. At one point ten men were hanging from the bull, and the next second, ten men were flying like stones dropped onto a wildly spinning, potter’s wheel. Three minutes later it was over. The bull was standing, but wary. The room was exhausted. The bull puffed up and yelled, “I am Tor of Minos! I walk where I will ! I do as I please ! I am Tor !”
“You are Tor...” one of the cowboys said, “I am Tor up!”
“And I am Minos four teef!” somebody moaned.
“Where’s doc tonight?”
“No doc.” The bull said, without looking at anyone. “No doc. No iatros. No more. He teach English too speed.” he said. And he left the tavern without giving any more explanation.
And that was a few nights after sheriff Baxter’s death and a few nights before now. Now the bull is back. The bull is wearing his new guns and eating his dinner off the bar.
Dutch whispers, “Now, Sarah.”
She stands and heads over to gargantuan grain-eating gourmet.
“New in town?” She asks.
Dutch slaps himself on the forehead.
Sarah looks at Dutch and shrugs, and then turns back to her new friend.
“Got any weaknesses?” she asks, running her hand along the creatures flank.
The bull shakes its head, “Like what?” It asks.
Sarah opens her gown. The bull just keeps eating hay. She closes her gown. She pulls a deck of cards from her pocket. “Do you like to gamble?”
“Gambol?” it asks.
“Gam... bill,” she says. Showing it the cards.
“No,” he says.
“How do you feel about beer?”
After nine pails of beer it starts feeling the effects. It has its arm around her, with one of its paws brushing the front of her gown. “And that’s what he said,” it says, “Poseidon said... only the loud horn of another beast could ever slay his friend — and that’s me, his friend — Po... si... deon’s... bestest... friend.”
So tonight we sing a lot of songs. A bunch of western songs. Some campfire songs too. Tor buys some of the drinks, using money from Doc’s wallet. The sun is peeking in the windows as Tor stands. “I got to be goin’,” he says. “At least we’re all gettin’ along better,” he says. He puts money down in front of Sarah. “Thasshh juts a down pay-nent,” he says. He points at his groin. “Wheel’d be back.” he says.
As he walks outside, he sees a tall handsome Mexican is standing in the street. He’s wearing a matador outfit. He has a red cape. He has a sword. “Eha. Eppe. Eha, Toro. Come, toro toro.” The man waves the cape and stands ready. He is in the middle of the street. The bull pulls his gun and fires. The matador’s shirt sprouts bright red patches as the gun continues to disturb the quiet morning.
“Ole.” the bull says as it walks away.
While everyone else crawls off to find places to recover — recover from a night of singing and drink, tension and violence — Sarah changes into traveling clothes and takes Sheriff Baxter’s horse and heads for the miners’ camp. She’s wearing a green dress and white gloves and a big hat. She looks like a lady, as she rides side-saddle up the long path that leads to the encampment. From the mountain she looks down and studies her little town. There must be more to life than stiff cowboys, she tells herself. After this I’m going somewhere else, she says.
At the miner’s camp she looks for a tent with the deer tails hanging off of it. She dismounts and calls out a name.
“Sarah? That you?” he calls.
“It is,” she says.
They talk. She knows him. She knows his history. She knows his mettle.
“Will you?” she asks, after telling him the situation.
“I’ll try,” He says.
It was a long trip from town to the mountain. It is a long trip back. From above the old man studies the town. He points down with his finger. “If’n he comes outa the post office, I could be settin’ in the bath house and bushwhack him from there,” he says.
“That could work,” she answers.
“And if’n he’s in the feed store, I could plug him from the back window of the sheriff’s office,” he says.
“Maybe so,” she answers.
“Course, I hate to be ridin’ through that town lookin’ for him. I’m most lost in towns anyway; that’s why I live in the mountain, now.”
“Maybe you could drag a rope off your saddle horn or off the tail of your horse. Then you could look down at the dirt and see what streets you’ve already covered.”
But her good idea isn’t needed. As they approach the town they are met with a horrible sight. Outside of town, with the sun now past its zenith, and headed for decline, the old man and the rough woman see dozens of people standing out in the open. The town has been emptied. Almost emptied. Outside of the town there is wild sage. Purple sage growing. Off in the distance there are buttes, and cactus branches, and some mules, prairie dogs, wild horses, turkeys, snakes, coyotes, maybe dung beetles (maybe not), scorpions, spiders, garden insects, mountains, valleys, hillocks and gullies. And overhead some buzzards are flying in circles.
The bull is standing near a fire. In his hand is a long rod of iron and a platform of letters. A branding iron. The iron says:
Property of the Taurus of Minos, he being the son of Pasiphae
and now in possession of this valley and all who live here.
The brand looks as big as a barn door. The blacksmith took all day to make it, after he first obtained a promise that his family would be spared. But they also — they also — are standing in the long line of frightened people. The metal is almost ready, almost red. The sparks jump up when the beast pokes the fire. He’s never looked more ferocious. He’s never look larger. Standing on his big legs his chest rising and falling, taking in air like a steam locomotive, the sound of his snorts filling the valley. He’s holding the iron with his cloven hoof. A rag is wrapped around the handle end of the branding iron.
The men are lined up. Twenty men with their pants down waiting to see if they live through having an entire furnace pressed against their white skin. They all look like rough men, with bronze faces and sun squint eyes and muscled arms, but they are not myths. They are not descendants of gods. They are not immortal. They are just men with bare white butts waiting for third-degree burns.
The old man from the miner’s camp and the woman from the bar approach. He is carrying an old rifle. A rifle that’s killed a dozen men. A rifle that’s been to the top of Pike’s Peak and to the desert depression called Death Valley. It’s a big-bore rifle and its owner likes to tell stories about knocking deer right out of their skins and splitting wood and pushing the moon away when it seems so big it might just be starting to fall.
Only a horn can kill me. That’s what the beast said.
The beast sees Sarah. It sees Thaddeus Fornthistle and his big rifle. It leaves the fire and drops the iron and starts to run at them.
There’s time. Time enough to load the rifle. Even being old and shaken, hard of hearing, with eyesight like a carp with cataracts. If he does this right, there will be enough time.
Thaddeus Fornthistle reaches for something laced to his belt. Laced there with a leather thong. He finds what he’s looking for and uncorks it and places it at the mouth of the big weapon. He’s pouring in a large amount of powder. A huge amount of powder. With each tap of the aged receptacle, cold black salvation pours out from the silver-studded powder horn.
Copyright © 2004 by Thomas Lee Joseph Smith