by William VanDenBerg
A miner enters. Pick in one hand, lantern in the other. The junction between wall and floor, carved from bedrock, is seamless. Exquisite construction. He dreams of gold, the weight of gold. Gold propels him forward. He tries to see the maze from above, tries to make a mental map, but it's too complex. He can't hold it in his mind.
A fly coated in gold buzzes past the miner. He chases after it. “How’d you get gilded?” he asks.
"The Minotaur ate me," the fly replies. "I came out this way. But not gilded—I’m gold all through.”
The fly asks for the miner’s blood. The miner presents a counteroffer: “Show me where the Minotaur lives, and I’ll give you all you need.” The fly dips its wings in assent, leads the miner deeper into the labyrinth.
Axe-blade like a silver platter, the Minotaur attacks. The miner ducks, rolls close, sticks his pick into the creature’s round gut. Blood bursts forth and pools at the center of the chamber. The fly gluts. The Minotaur collapses. The miner gouges out its belly, finds a massive, bulbous gold nugget within. It is the exact height of the miner. He shoves the nugget back to town.
Upon return, the miner has wealth but no cheer—in his mind, the sun is a painting of the sun. Minotaurs crowd out his dreams. Years pass. Now old, the miner returns. Same path or as close as he can remember. Gold flies mob the corpse, a thick, living carpet. No exposed flesh. He knows it’s the beast because of the shape the flies make. Then the open cavity. He holds his hand over it a moment, tests the fluttering air. “Okay, same as before,” he says and crawls inside.
Five cuts, changes, and replacements made in drafts of Mines:
Changed the title from Gold Maze to Maze to Mines.
The opening line, at first, was, "A labyrinth always has a core and owns it."
Removed a drain at the center of the minotaur's chamber.
Increased the size of the gold from "the length of an arm" to "the exact height of the miner."
Removed a red ball of yarn that the miner used to find his way, replaced it with the gold fly.
Big thanks to Brian Evenson for his notes on the piece, as well as matchbook editor R. B. Pillay for his careful editing. Thanks to the city of Providence, Rhode Island, for their beleaguered motto, "What Cheer?" which provided (or provoked) the line, "The miner has wealth but no cheer."
William VanDenBerg is the author of Lake of Earth (Caketrain Press, 2013) and Apostle Islands (Solar Luxuriance, 2013). Recent stories have or will soon appear in Passages North, Okey Panky, and Juked. He lives with his wife in Providence, Rhode Island.