Alex S. Johnson

The Minotaur Factory2

“You guys must be upper management,” Ralph joked.
It was funny, he thought, because they didn’t look like management. They looked like the heavies that escorted the management. But they weren’t laughing.
Instead, the bull-headed men stood silent and impassive, their hands loosely held in front. In contrast to Ralph’s stained overalls, they wore grey business suits, white shirts with dark blue ties, had the massive build of security, gave out a sense of densely coiled strength. Something about that imperturbable front made Ralph want to test it. But then what would he do if they responded? What were they trained to do? How far were they prepared to go? At a signal, they might even punch a button in the green-tiled, gold-rimmed wall he couldn’t see, and summon more—with gargantuan necks, biceps like trees, wearing—rhino heads? Worse? So he held the handles of the cart and stayed quiet.
After all, he wasn’t there to be a comedian, a loadsoflaffs guy. His job was to deliver the package.
The elevator rose. After a few minutes it stopped. Ralph waited for the guards—or whatever they were—to exit. When they didn’t, he rolled the cart out onto the floor of an enormous warehouse. Boxes were stacked to the ceiling, or being lifted by metallic claws that rolled high above him on belts.
He looked behind him. The elevator doors closed, taking the men to another floor, one that wasn’t even listed. Shrugging his shoulders, he began pushing the cart down the center of the aisle. With a shrieking noise, a claw suddenly plummeted towards him. He barely escaped it socking him in the jaw.
“Shit—sorry about that!” said one of the workers, who was using a rising platform to relocate and/or allocate boxes according to some kind of intricate plan perhaps indicated on a schematic he was studying. The worker pressed a button on the console in front of him and the claw stopped. “Could you just sign here?” he said, indicating a place on an electronic form.
“Uh, sure…I don’t know what I’m signing, but ok,” said Ralph. The man had a bald dome and overalls similar to those Ralph wore. He looked embarrassed. “It’s a standard waiver, yeah. Claws or clawhorns are only supposed to be deployed if they have something to lift, but maybe one of the new guys…Sanchez!” he roared.
Across the aisle a dark-haired, heavily tattooed worker on another platform raised his head. “This your handiwork?” he lifted the claw. “No, man.”
The bald guy shrugged. “I know it was Sanchez, I just can’t prove it. Dammit.” For a second, Ralph thought he spotted horns growing from baldy’s forehead.
He nodded at Ralph’s cart. “What ya got there?”
“Package for Logan Laboratories?”
“Right, so Logan Laboratories, it’s a little bit tricky, because…have you been here before?”
“I’ve made deliveries to this building, just not this floor.”
“Okay, because if you don’t have someone helping you, it’s easy to get lost.”
As the bald man said this, the platform he stood on began to rise. “Well, back to work. Good luck.”
Ralph thanked him, squeezing his eyes shut on the hint of a sprig of a tail emerging from the man’s backside. He needed the luck. The delivery company had employees on a time system, so as soon as they undertook a job, the meter started clocking them. For every minute over the company docked their pay, so it was important to always hit the time mark. Mostly this was a simple matter of hauling ass, but in a few cases, Ralph’s job took on overtones of a nightmare. This was one of those cases.
He would have to get some help. “Hey,” he told his headset, “I need a linkup for the Logan Laboratories delivery? Floor plan, something?”
A beeping sound, then silence. He wasn’t surprised at the hitch. Right after the holidays, thousands of packages flowed the final steps of their journeys. The dispatchers were overwhelmed with calls for assistance.
“Yes, ASAP Deliveries, Sitap speaking.”
“Sitap, hi, it’s Ralph Smears…”
“Thank you for contacting ASAP Deliveries…”
Ralph sighed. Of course Sitap couldn’t waste time acknowledging his colleague at a human level. “Right, so I’ve go this package for Logan Laboratories, some kind of…they weren’t specific on the order notice, and I’m on the third floor. I think. Fuck.”
Ralph looked up and around to get his bearings. Far above him, the bald man was shaking his fist across the aisle at the man he called Sanchez, and Sanchez had one of the metal claws in a tight grip. Ralph couldn’t wait to drop off the package and get on to the next job. This place was nuts.
“Yeah,” he said, noting a stretch of construction tape on the ground marked LEVEL 3A. “It’s, uh, level 3A, and the guy I just talked to said it was tricky to find Logan Laboratories without help, but then he didn’t offer. I know right, he just wished me luck. Luck! All I need is clear directions.” Ralph was babbling, talking to himself—Sitap hadn’t said a word. But anything was better than the rising sense of panic bubbling up his spine.
“Heads up!” shouted Sanchez. “What the fuck,” mumbled Ralph, dodging the claw for the second time. Had the worker deliberately aimed at him? What was his damage? Sitap was back online. “Mr. Smears, what you want to do is find the false level GNOSIS 3B and turn immediately right, it should be what you’re looking for.”
“I’m sorry, the...what? False level?” The insanity level had grown even higher. “Did I hear you right?”
“Yes sir.” Sitap’s conciliatory tone, his high-pitched voice, irritated Ralph. He had halfway begun to suspect the dispatcher was in on a prank. But Ralph wasn’t close enough to any of his coworkers to be the target of a gag like that. Yet when he’d ducked the claw a banner alluding to LEVEL 3B flashed into view. He looked up again. It was still there.
“Is there a true level and a false level 3B?” he said. “Or, Gnosis?” The workers above ignored him. He raised his voice. “I SAID, IS THERE…”
“We heard you, man,” said Sanchez. Ralph flinched involuntarily.
“And?”
Sanchez was chuckling. “Just go right through.” He and the bald man were exchanging glances and Ralph caught the sudden superimposed image of the bald one’s face on Sanchez’s, a café au lait blend through which a bull’s horns and flaring nostrils burned in negative space. He realized suddenly there were other workers doing things behind him that he hadn’t seen before, placing individual sets of horns on an assembly line, partial torsos of men and bulls, bulky, hirsute shoulders and so forth. Dark, orgiastic tableaus unfolded further on along other assembly lines in which bulls stood, tugging the oiled genitals of men on their hands and knees, men who groaned and howled in rut, squeezed and spat blood, semen and jelly and ransacked the pierced, deformed bodies they could grasp, a hellish mechanical-organic sequence observed by impassive clerks in white shirts, black ties and trousers and plastic caps. One clerk would pull a lever and the line ground to a halt; he patted a serrated scalp, fondled the oozing lozenge of an intestinal length, plug it back into the wound and pull another lever that allowed the line to go forward. All the overtones of a factory with the functional rules of an experimental lab. Unless you were manufacturing pieces of pure chaos.
Ralph was about to ask what in the holy fuck it all meant when it seemed as though the path he needed to take had sliced itself into the ground before him. Without clear markers or indicators, he suddenly felt certain nevertheless that Logan Laboratories had to be about ten feet before him on the right, beside the freight elevator, and so he began trundling the cart forewords. Sure enough, a hall revealed itself to the right which he hadn’t seen before because of a wall of boxes. He pushed the cart across a threshold lined with silver gaffer tape and down a corridor. There, finally, lay his destination, in raised silver letters on the wall: LOGAN LABORATORIES, HOME OF THE MINOTAUR.

***
The man behind the desk with the high forehead, wire-rim spectacles and fiercely green eyes waved expansively and drew upon his pipe. “Of course, there is never just one minotaur, only pieces assembled unceasingly until that single, perfect match, Beauty, truth; truth, beauty. Pure mathematics. The whorls and curlicues of certain vegetables, rock formations, steam, clouds, and, of course the delicate loins of the manbull. Am I correct? You can actually feel it, deep in your bones, the rightness of it…”
“Never really gave it much thought,” said Ralph. He didn’t want or need to learn anything more about this operation, just drop off the package and hope he could remember how to get back to the parking lot.
“Do you know what’s in the package you have so deftly and professionally brought to us?” said the man, whose name was printed on a stack of business cards on his desk: Larry Logan.
“I don’t mean to be rude,” said Ralph, “but we are charged with a fixed delivery time, and”—he checked his watch—“crap, I’m going to be docked 15 minutes anyway. I have to pick up the next job…”
“It’s the heart,” said Logan in a tone that suggested laughter somewhere near. “The dark, jelly heart of the beast.”
“I’m really, really happy for you,” said Ralph. He handed Logan the pad. “Could you just write your signature at the bottom?” Logan made a few strokes with the electronic pen. “Ok, great,” said Ralph, adding his own signature below Logan’s. “You’ll get a cc by email. Well, again, I don’t mean to be rude, but I’ve really got to go.”
“Thank you for your vital contribution! We’re now ready for the final phase.”
“Awesome,” said Ralph.

            Later, when he dreamt, ranks of bull-headed men and human-headed bulls rushed down endless corridors, while he followed with the heart, and hoped the final minotaur might prove to be the correct one after all.

Copyright © Alex S. Johnson 2018