Robert let out a loud humph and a shake of his shaggy, furred head. He thought it must be some sort of ancestral tick; he had seen horses and livestock make the exact same movement, combined with the same sounds as they were harassed by flies.
He looked around the office, he was in early today. It was a mess; old issues of The Gorgon’s Gazette were scattered across the desktops and new articles were stacked into unsorted piles. Half-empty ink bottles, used quills, and—yep someone had left a mouldy bowl of something to gather maggots overnight.
In contrast, he looked down at his own desk and straightened his nameplate “Minotaur Bob, Writer.” His desk was stained with ink in places, but at least it was tidy. He had separated his used quills from the fresh ones, placing each in old clay mugs either side of the nameplate. His articles were stacked neatly in an alphabetically organised pile, and there was a lantern for late-night work tucked into the corner of the desk. Although, there was something wrong with it. He studied it, trying to solve the puzzle.
‘Morning Bob,’ a scratchy voice called from across the room.
‘Morn’en Arry,’ mumbled Robert, still studying the lantern. He didn’t look up at the goblin.
Harry ambled over to his desk, his old leather boots scuffing against the floorboards. He reached up and rotated the lantern a half-turn to the left. ‘Chloe.’
Robert smiled, ‘Chloe should focus on her work, rather than pestering me.’
‘You got that right,’ Harry said. ‘Her last few articles have been subpar and the boss ain’t happy. You know what happens when the boss ain’t happy.’
Robert looked out over the office courtyard, nodding. It had an abundance of lifelike stone statues, an obscene amount for such a small area.
‘What you got for today’s print?’
Robert continued to study the statues. Each face was a timestamp of fear, pleading, or resignation. Were there more than yesterday?
‘Bob?’ asked Harry, giving his massive shoulder a shove.
Robert turned, the chair protesting under his bulk, ‘Sorry.’
He retrieved a page of parchment from the stack on his desk. Harry took it in his comparatively small, clawed, green hand. Robert was fond of him, he worked hard to fight back against the stigma of being a goblin.
‘The new sound of the Satyr, musical prowess, or a symphony to the devil? Controversial, just what the boss is after.’
Robert handed the rest of the article to Harry, ‘It’s done, you can take it for editing.’
Harry nodded, tossing the pages over to the already messy pile on his desk. He narrowly missed the ashtray, which was jammed full of the butts of reaperweed smokes. ‘Workday ain’t started yet. I’m going to the bakery, want something?’
‘No thanks,’ said Robert glancing at the garden of statues once again. ‘Don’t be late.’
‘Yeah, yeah. I’ll only be a minute,’ said Harry waving his hand as he walked out the door.
Where was Harry, thought Robert as he glanced at his pocket watch. Chloe wasn’t here either, maybe she had a personal day?
Tucking the watch back into his breeches he asked, ‘Hey Tina, is Chloe in today?’
Tina looked up from her writing, ‘Not sure hun, although she did have a meeting with the boss yesterday.’
He was about to ask her more but then the door to the office opened. Silence saturated the room as Madam Dakata, the editor-in-chief slithered into view.
As if rehearsed, the room sprang to life.
Tina leapt to her feet, rushing over to list off the morning reports and her assistant Dan rushed off to prepare an order of something. Robert stared intently at an ink spot on his desk as she slid past him and into her office. The quiet mummer slowly began to rise again to its full clamour.
Robert looked over at Harry’s empty desk, it wouldn’t have gone unnoticed. He absently began tracing the length of his horns with a finger. Maybe he should say something, cover for Harry.
Again, the door opened, and Harry ducked inside. He was holding a rag to his face and his vest was torn, tunic dishevelled, and he was covered with dirt. Robert stood, following Harry into the breakroom. Their building was one of the few in Bermarthest that was connected to the aqueducts. Quietly closing the door behind him he found Harry washing crusted blood from his face. His left eye was swollen, and his nose was still bleeding.
‘Arry… What happened?’
Harry spat a globule of blood mixed saliva into the basin, ‘Bloody pricks jumped me, not a lotta love for gobbo’s in Bermarthest.’
Robert snorted, feeling the heat as the haze began to encroach on his vision. The term “seeing red” was quite literal for a minotaur.
‘The boss is in Arry,’ he said through gritted teeth.
Harry’s gaze moved to the door, ‘She don’t know. She woulda said something already, yeah? Hey—hey, calm down big fella.’
Robert breathed out stiffly, as he splashed some cold water on his face.
‘You right? Don’t worry about this,’ he gestured to his face. ‘You gotta be cool-headed and cover for me.’
‘Just distract her for a few, I gotta wash this blood off.’
‘I’ll think of something.’
Robert left, heading towards the boss’s office. Tina was back at her desk, that was a good sign. The boss must be in a merciful mood.
He stopped at his desk and started rifling through parchment. Drawing out the article “Elixir of Love: Is it Ethical” he turned and once more headed towards the boss’s office.
The devastating sound of shattering ceramic immobilised Robert as he was about to knock on the wooden door. No one in the office dared to make a sound, everyone straining to hear what came next.
‘Please, Madam Dakata. I’m so sorry. I’ll have it cleaned up right away,’ Dan pleaded, his voice quivering with each word.
‘My dearest Dan, how long have we worked together?’
Robert could hear the broken pieces being moved around the floor, clinking together as they were being collected.
‘And in that ten months have you ever caused me to doubt your ability before?’
‘Stand up Dan, stop grovelling over what is already broken. I forgive you for this slight, as it was your first.’
Her tone tied knots in Robert’s stomach, something wasn’t right.
‘Thank you. Thank you, Madam. You won’t regret… Madam?’
A violent explosion of fluorescent green light flashed from within the room, casting the door in an eery shadow which forced Robert to shield his eyes.
Dan’s choked screams only lasted a few heartbeats before they were slowly, strangled out of existence.
‘Robert, you may enter.’
With only a moment of hesitation, Robert opened the door.
The inside of Madam Dakata’s office was lavishly decorated, as always. Dan’s petrified remains stood in front of her desk, contorted in a stance that captured his final emotions, a mixture of confusion, surprise, and fear.
He shifted to the left of Dan. Madam Dakata was seated at her desk, her elongated snake-like lower body was coiled around the chair. The lengths of snake tails that her people grew in place of hair, hung loosely at her shoulders. She was musing over the cover for the next issue, chewing the tip of her quill.
Robert glanced slowly from Dan to Madam Dakata.
‘Fetch Harry for me, Robert.’
‘Arry’s at the illustrator,’ he said, as he handed her the parchment he was carrying. ‘For the article.’
‘Your loyalty is admirable Robert, but I know Harry was late this morning. That’s his third strike if I am not mistaken.’
‘I will not abide tardiness.’ She gestured at Dan, ‘You can place this with the others too.’
Robert grunted in acknowledgement as he hefted Dan, dragging him out of the office. He needed time to think, the haze was creeping in.
He found a space in the courtyard and shifted him into position, facing one of the previous assistants wearing a similar expression on their frozen face. They looked like they were playing a game, pulling faces at each other.
Robert turned, coming face to face with the frozen figure of Chloe. Her mouth was locked slightly agape, her eyes wide with raised eyebrows. She is—was beautiful. He gently touched the side of her grey, cold cheek.
‘Chloe…’ whispered Robert, as he curled his hands into white-knuckled rage. He trembled as the haze began to consume him, ‘Enough is enough.’
Harry inhaled a drag from his rolled reaperweed, exhaling a haze of abhorrent smoke.
‘You did a good thing, Bob.’
‘I think I’m gunna leave the city, get out while the goings good,’ he said gesturing around the courtyard. ‘Anyway, better get back to work.’
He stubbed his reaperweed out on Bob’s unfeeling, stony skin before flicking the butt into the courtyard.
‘See ya round Bob.’
Author: David Farr is a third-year creative writing student, stay-at-home dad, and motorcycle enthusiast. He served seven years in the Royal Australian Navy and now regularly DMs games of Dungeons and Dragons. His favourite class is a Paladin.
Artist: SaBelle Pobjoy-Sherriff is a third year visual arts student minoring in film. Her art practice has an in depth focus on ideas of narrative and mythology, and tends to border on the obscure. She utilises illustration and sculpture to create vibrant worlds and creatures. You can find more on her Instagram @SaBelleeee.