Down the Wrong Pipe
by Don Bagley
Many cubits under the streets of Rome, Linius and Flavio reckoned they’d walked a hundred or more paces beyond the point where they should have found the tributary pipe from the Coliseum. A thin, putrid film of runoff from orgies and seasonal festivals slicked the tiles underfoot.
“We’ve got another half hour, maybe, from this torch,” said Flavio, holding up the resin-soaked rod in his fat fist.
Linius looked again at his parchment, which purported to map the sewer pipes. “It may be that Rome was built by engineers,” he said. “But these men are no cartographers.”
“We’re lost, aren’t we?” said Flavio. “Great, and these tiled passages stink like the bowels of Vesuvius.”
Linius shrugged. “I think we’re down the wrong pipe, my friend.” He tuned around and pointed back to a three way intersection behind them. “Let’s go back there to the left.”
Flavio led the way, stepping gingerly on the shallow stream of waste. He’d worn his good sandals, and he knew his wife would roast his mutton for that mistake.
“Look,” said Linius, pointing to an inscription carved into the wall.
“Augustus was here,” said Flavio.
“Not that,” said Linius. “The other one.”
“I can’t read that,” said Flavio. “Could be Greek for all I know.”
“It is Greek,” said Linius. “It’s a warning signed by Theseus.”
“Not the famous Theseus?” said Flavio. “The one who…”
There was a grunting noise and the sound of heavy footsteps nearing the pipe’s intersection.
“Tell me that’s not the Minotaur,” said Flavio.
“Where in the underworld are we, anyway?” Linius wondered.
The smell of sewage was overwhelmed by the stench of a large animal. Flavio held out the torch and saw the figure of a man with a bull’s head approaching.
Linius sighed in despair. “Go and try sewer maintenance, they told me. It’s a good way to break into civil service.”
The creature strode up to Linius and Flavio, stopping to tug upward at its head with two hairy arms. The bull’s head popped off, revealing a bearded and unkempt man’s head.
“Do you know which pipe leads to the Coliseum?” the man asked.
Flavio grinned. “Thank the gods you’re not the Minotaur.”
“But I am the Minotaur,” said the man. “I’m supposed to appear during a Christian sacrifice. It’s a multi-cultural presentation.”
“So we’re all lost,” said Flavio.
“But how to explain this warning from Theseus?” Linius wondered.
“Where?” the Minotaur asked.
"On the wall there,” said Linius. “It says this way lies death.”
“That’s the way out,” said the Minotaur.
“Toward death?” Flavio asked.
“Not ours,” said the Minotaur. “The Christians. They’re the ones who die.”
“Multi-culturalists,” said Linius with a sigh. He followed Flavio and the Minotaur, stepping lightly in the waste stream, and pondering the future of Rome as he sniffed at its effluvia.
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Don Bagley writes from his home in north California. His work has appeared in Anotherealm, Alien Skin, Micro Horror, Flashshot and Everyday Weirdness as well as Weirdyear.
Labels: Don Bagley