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Apocalyptic Love Songs 13

Dean held his own sword, which felt warm in his hands, and waited for the beast to come into view. The sword didn’t give him the same feeling of love and comfort that the cup did, but he did feel like, if nothing else, he’d give the critter one hell of a fight.

He heard enormous hooves climbing the cathedral steps, and the ground trembled hard enough for the trees in the park to sway. A great beast hove into view, and Dean’s mouth fell open at the sight of it. It was a bull, but not a bull — it climbed the steps on all fours, but once it was on the level of the courtyard it stood upright on its back legs. It had the head of a bull, and it was covered with fine, dark, bristly hair from head to about midway down its chest, but its chest and torso were clearly human. Its arms were human but it had no hands, only hooves, and its legs were thick and bowed like a bull’s. Its tail twitched and it snorted. There was a heavy rope around its neck, and from the rope there hung a large amulet with the carving of a bare-breasted woman holding a snake in each hand.

Lilith clapped her hands with delight. “Hello,” she cooed, “hello, my precious. You followed the boys so well, my lovely, and now you get to eat him! Aren’t you glad?”

The creature lowered its head and snorted again.

“What is that thing?” Dean breathed.

“That’s the Minotaur. He’s ever so old and ever so stubborn, but I made him mine and he obeys me now. He’s a little smarter than a hell hound.” She beamed at Dean. “I bet you’re delicious. I bet you crunch just right.”

“Bitch,” Dean said and the Minotaur charged at him.

Two swings in, Dean realized he didn’t know a damn thing about sword-fighting even though he’d seen a zillion movies about it over his life. He realized, too, that his arm was being guided — that the sword knew what to do and was telling his arms how to block and when to slice. The rest he figured out on his own, following the arcs and swings of the sword.

The Minotaur swung his horns at Dean again and again, charged at him and tried to gore him, snorted great breaths of air, glared at him with exhausted, red eyes. Dean swung the sword, bearing down on the Minotaur, beating it down to its knees.

Dean grabbed a horn and drew back the sword, ready to plunge it into the Minotaur’s throat, when something happened — he was never able to exactly figure out what. But quite simply and clearly, he could see the Minotaur’s life — despised and hidden for centuries in a labyrinth, wandering the earth from one dark cave to the next, never finding another of its kind.

It was ancient, Dean realized. It was lonely. And like the Green Knight had said in the Hanging Man, it had been kidnapped, made a prisoner, and forced to obey a creature it despised.

I could kill it, Dean thought, and that would be one less monster in the world.

Or he could let it go. Let it get back to its life — which was, for all its torments, still a life.

Dean sliced through the rope and the amulet fell from the Minotaur’s neck. Lilith screamed, “No! No! You can’t let it go, I want it!”

For a moment the Minotaur hunched low to the ground, then shook its head as if just waking up. It raised its head and took in the dark, wet courtyard in a slow, piercing stare. Dean panted for breath, and said, “You’re free,” hoping this wouldn’t come back to bite him in the ass.

“That’s mine!” Lilith was screaming. “You can’t have him!”

The Minotaur looked at Dean. Dean tightened his hand around the handle but let the sword hang at his side. The Minotaur got slowly to its feet and clumped across the courtyard to Lilith, and the little girl held out her arms to him as if expecting to be picked up.

The Minotaur bent and snatched Lilith up in his jaws. Lilith screamed, and kept on screaming as the Minotaur loped down the steps to the street and out of sight.

***

They say there were at least a dozen calls that night to the San Francisco police, reporting an escaped bull from the zoo carrying a little girl. However, the zoo did not report an escaped bull, and no one reported a missing child. These calls were written off as pranks.

They say in certain parts of the world, in twisty, deep, dark caves, sometimes spelunkers hear the sound of great hooves and a little girl screaming. Investigations reveal nothing, and most people believe them to be simply a form of tommyknockers.

***

They say Jerome and Grady, two brothers who’d always lived a life of crime, turned a new leaf after the Murphy job. Grady changed his name and joined the Peace Corps, Jerome a monastery. Neither of them will say why.

***

“Sammy,” Dean said and dropped the sword unceremoniously onto the ground. He went to Sam, stumbling a little from exhaustion, and wrapped his arms around his brother. Sam stood stiffly, not only as if he didn’t know Dean but as if he weren’t being touched at all. Dean whispered, “Oh, Sammy.” and felt along Sam’s chest — as he’d suspected, there was an amulet hanging from a leather cord. He lifted it from Sam’s neck and tossed it away. “Sammy?” He held Sam’s face and looked into his eyes. “Sam, it’s me. Wake up, kid. C’mon.” Sam blinked a few times, and then leaned his head against Dean’s shoulder. “That’s it,” Dean whispered and stroked his back. “Big brother’s got you.”

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