Knox sighed, drumming his fingers on the steering wheel as he watched the trees flicker past the highway in the gloom of the early morning. The hum of his elderly car and the rush of air from its lowered windows were his only companion, with no other cars traveling the Tennessee backroads and his phone safely stored away in his bag. Knox sighed, wishing he was able to listen to music or at least get the AC working on the Big Shit Machine, and thought,” This had better be one of your better hunches, old man.”
As the son of an oracle and a witch, both from fairly decent lineages of their respective craft, Knox knew his father’s hunches and sudden flights of fancy were more reliable than most, with a certification from the U.S. Department of Mythical and Paranatural Affairs to prove it. That being said, no oracle was perfect, and his father had a tellingly shoddy relationship with hunches that didn’t predict disaster. That being said, when Knox’s father called him with a solution to his current unemployment that did not involve Wal-Mart, he felt just desperate enough to try.
“There’s talk of an old institution in our world opening back up,” said his father, over an unreasonably early phone call by Knox’s standards and an early afternoon phone call by his father’s. “A hotel, secluded in the distant desert, beyond time and space. At least, that’s what the Facebook groups are saying. I thought it sounded like bullshit, but apparently a place like that did exist! It served as a haven of the lost, regardless of reason, and a place for mythical beings to go without fear of persecution. It was supposedly near self-sufficient, and even hired most people who wanted to work there. Hell, it even served as something of a queer cultural hub, from what some sources I found say. It sounded pretty damn perfect, until people stopped writing about it shortly after World War II. Anyways, I have an idea of how to find it, and I think you’ve got a solid shot at it. Supposedly, there’s two ways to find it: either get told about it from someone who’s been there themself, or get lost enough that it appears to you. I think, from what I’ve read about it, and some dreams I’ve been having, this sounds like something that’s right up your alley.”
"He wasn’t wrong," thought Knox with a certain degree of good-natured gloom. Job prospects weren’t exactly booming for Bachelors in Psychology or any aspiring musician in Tennessee who didn’t sing like Tim McGraw or Taylor Swift before the pandemic, let alone on its 3rd year. His last relationship ended gracefully but conclusively when he realized long distance lost its appeal after 4 years of it, and he left his last job at the pizza place after the manager made him close the store alone 11 days in a row so she could save money on labor and spend time with her boyfriend (a win-win situation!). In short, at least on the inside, Knox felt pretty damn lost. But after driving around the tiny college town where he and his aunt lived, he had to conclude that feeling lost in the emotional sense wasn’t enough, at least not in the quantities he could muster.
Therefore, Knox had decided on one more try before he gave up on finding a magical hotel and applied to work at an Applebee’s or something. It was currently 2:32 in the morning, dark enough that any signs that may have told him where he was weren’t visible even with the aid of his headlights, being that they were stuck to a car which was old enough to vote. His phone was off, preventing him from using its GPS to learn where he was. The radio was off too, preventing him from inadvertently using the breaks between songs to get a clue where the stations were broadcasting from. He had even set out on a night with thick clouds in the sky, preventing him from using the stars to get any handle on where he was. He was, with all hope, as well and truly lost as he could get without wandering into the woods. (Which he would not do, regardless of what mythical employment opportunities or handsome, available men, mythical or not, may lay within. Wandering off into the woods with no preparation or skill in the outdoors sounded like a great way to meet an inconvenient fate, be it mythical or mundane. Plus, the woods tended to have an abundance of insects, and a woeful lack of amenities, neither of which suited Knox.)
This led to Knox’s current situation. Driving around the backroads of eastern Tennessee, with nothing to occupy his mind except the sounds from his car and the recurring, nagging thought that this was a monumental waste of his time. He sighed, breathing in the mountain air, gagging when he got a whiff of manure from (what he hoped was) some sort of farm nearby. “This is a goddamn waste of my time. If I wanted to waste gas to just get myself worked up over nothing, I’d try to patch things up with Corey.” With that thought, he pulled over, and fumbled for his phone to try and figure out where the hell he was. His fingers brushed against his phone when he felt a sort of *click*, and a sensation like missing a step on the stair that you were sure didn’t exist.
“Absolutely fucking not.” Knox screwed his eyes shut, already feeling the beginning of a headache creep up his temples. “There is no fucking way that it’s that easy. There is no way giving up on finding this damn place will make it easier to-“
His reverie was interrupted when he opened his eyes, with bright sunlight, endless-seeming dunes and waves of golden sand, and a looming building in the distance.
“Well. Fuck me sideways. It *does* work like that.”
And with a giggle that bordered on the hysterical, he took off towards the hotel.
For a magical hotel in a timeless desert, it felt rather mundane from the outside. There was a parking lot, about half full, with a politely worded sign encouraging guests to take their valuables with them. There was a rack of luggage carts, each one gleaming in the desert sun. There even appeared to be a set of sliding glass doors, with the glass reflecting the parking lot (and the still mildly dumbfounded Knox) like a mirror. There was also a sign hanging above the doors, which was too worn to make out, as well as a smaller, much more colorful sign sitting by the door, made of what appeared to be posterboard and popsicle sticks (?). “Minotaur Hotel”, the sign proclaimed in its cheap, but heartfelt glory. Knox assumed that someone with more enthusiasm than taste (perhaps a child staying here) had made the sign in a sweet, albeit quixotic attempt to help, and took a deep breath before walking through the doors.
Immediately, air conditioning hit Knox like a comforting, wonderful bus. The heat of a Tennessee summer was already bad enough as a hairy, somewhat chubby man in a car with no air conditioning. But once the initial glee of being transported to a desert had faded, Knox had discovered the unfortunate fact that deserts were hot on a deeply personal level that he never had had to confront before. As such, the cool, crisp air of the hotel’s interior felt like a benediction, and Knox began to look around the lobby.
Large, smooth stone arches, each brick appearing identical, buttressed a ceiling that looked to have been hand-carved from rough, brown stone with considerable effort. Electric wall sconces that resembled torches provided enough light for the room to feel well-lit, but still intimate. A beautifully woven carpet that appeared to have been crafted by hand with painstaking effort, yet was soft enough to feel beneath Knox’s sneakers provided a comforting touch to the lobby. As Knox approached the reception desk, more conflicting details revealed themselves. Intricate, hand-carved flourishes on the old wooden desk, with outlets and enough spaces for modern amenities. An old-timey mail sorting system behind the desk, with an honest to god, shiny chrome bell sitting atop the desk for guests to get the attention of employees?
“OK, this place was definitely designed around World War II,” Knox thought to himself. “It wants to look old-timey and majestic, and modern and sleek at the same time. Definitely designed by some old mage with bad aesthetic opinions.” With a small, private smirk, Knox rang the bell, before composing himself to present a good image to (presumably) a future coworker.
The man who rounded the corner greeted Knox with a smile full of gleaming, perfect teeth that lit up the room, thighs thick enough to crush a watermelon, and short blond hair that hovered over a pair of glittering brown eyes. “Hiya! Welcome to Minotaur Hotel! What can I do for you today?”
Knox swallowed, feeling a faint flush creep up his neck. “Oh god. He’s hot,” supplied a small part of his brain, as he blinked and shook his head slightly to clear it of any further unhelpful thoughts. “Ah, hello! My name is Knox Cooke, and I was hoping to apply for a position at this establishment. Could I speak with your supervisor, Mister..”
“Oh! You can call me Eric, and I actually run this place!” Eric touched a lead band around his bicep, almost subconsciously, and added,” Well, my business partner and I run it together! Let me get his attention real quick.” The muscular blond shouted a name Knox couldn’t quite make out into the doorway he appeared from, and with another radiant smile, assured Knox that his partner would be out in just a moment.
After only a few seconds, heavy, steady footsteps heralded the arrival of the owner’s partner. Knox’s eyes widened as he took in the sight of a minotaur with gorgeous eyes, milk-white fur, and the snazziest pair of suspenders he had ever seen.
“Welcome. My name is Asterion,” said the minotaur in a soft, rumbling voice that made another blush make an appearance on Knox’s face. “How long do you wish to stay for?”
At that, Knox shook his head slightly, clearing away the reverie he had fallen into. “Actually, I’m here to apply for a job.” He reached for his bag as he continued, “I don’t have a resume on me, but I’m not sure what qualifications you’re looking for here.”
Asterion spoke up. “At the moment, we aren’t really hiring in a formal sense. Some of our guests have decided to stay at the hotel as employees, but we haven’t really worked out a formal hiring process.” He shrugged. “We would love another staff member, of course. I suppose we can sit down and discuss this further.” Asterion motioned for Knox to follow him, and soon the three men were in a handsomely appointed office in the back of the hotel.
Once the three of them were seated, Asterion fixed Knox with a curious gaze as he began to speak. “How did you hear about this place?”
Knox nodded and spoke, “My father comes from a line of oracles. Apparently, a lot of fortunetellers have been receiving messages that this place opened its doors once again, and I was curious about it.”
Eric tilted his head quizzically. “Oracles? Is that another kind of mythical?” At Knox’s confused look, he winced and continued,” Sorry if that was rude or anything, I’m still to this whole magic thing. Until I got the deed to this place, I was just a normal dude, y’know?”
At this, Knox nodded. “Oh, no worries. Yes, some people have some extrasensory ability. The most common type is increased accuracy with fortunetelling tools like Tarot cards, but some people can scry or even see visions if they focus. Dad is a registered oracle, whose power is largely focused on seeing negative things. He sometimes gets other visions, but they aren’t as reliable as the ones that are bad somehow.”
Asterion nodded, and wrote something down before asking, ”Do you also possess this ability? There haven’t been records of a seer at the hotel in centuries!”
Knox wilted a bit at this. “Well, not really. I take more after my mother’s side of the family, and *am* a certified mage with a focus on rituals and sealwork, but the best I can do is get accurate hunches with my Tarot deck on occasion.”
Knox noticed a light come on in Eric’s head, metaphorically speaking, and decided to pre-empt the question headed his way. “Yes, magic is real too. It’s passed down in some families, like my mother’s, but there are some forms that can be taught to just about anyone. Would you like a demonstration?”
Eric nodded vigorously, a boyish smile crossing his face. “Yes please! I don’t doubt you or anything, but if you have anything quick you can do, I’m really curious.”
Knox nodded, and turned to Asterion. “I have something in mind, if you’re not opposed. Could I borrow a piece of paper and some scissors?”
Asterion nodded. “Yes, that will be fine. It has been quite a long time since we had any human mages here as well.”
Knox mentally filed that tidbit away for later, and cut the offered paper into a rough humanoid shape. He then pulled a thin metal rod with a pointed end from his bun, and with a deep breath, stuck the pointed end of the tool into his left thumb, causing Eric to wince. With the newly bloodied tool, Knox began to draw a rough symbol onto the chest of the paper figure with a painstaking amount of precision. Once the small rune was done, he wiped the end of the tool clean on one sleeve, placed it back into his bun, and planted a kiss on the head of the paper doll. Then, before the three men’s eyes, the paper figure arose from the table and began to dance. Smiling softly, Knox met the eyes of the hotel owners from across the table.
“This is a minor rune of animation I learned a while ago,” Knox explained while the paper toy silently danced. “It’s a fairly quick one that lets an object perform one simple command. It’s pretty cheap to cast, but it runs out of juice in about 5 minutes. Since runes are my focus, I know a lot more than this, but this is the easiest one to demonstrate what I can do with them.”
As Eric watched the dancing poppet, transfixed, Asterion gazed upon his partner with soft, warm eyes before snapping back to alertness upon remembering the other person in the room. He cleared his throat and spoke. “I assume that you can perform other magics, yes?” Knox nodded, and Asterion continued,” Most of your duties here would be things other than magic, but your magic would be greatly appreciated. That being said, as long as you work for the hotel, you may use its amenities free of charge, and as for a salary;” and the minotaur proceeded to offer a salary that nearly made Knox’s jaw drop. “Ancestors,” thought Knox, faintly rattled. “He’s offering triple what I would make anywhere else! There has to be a catch of some sort.” Upon looking at the still fascinated Eric, however, Knox knew his decision was already made. “Well. If they are scamming me, I’ll at least be able to appeal to the himbo. What the hell.” He turned, and giving his most charming smile to Asterion, said, “If y’all have a place for me, then I would love to work here.”
Asterion beamed, reaching over the table to ruffle Knox’s hair. “Splendid! Then all that is left to do is to formally take you into the hotel’s service.” Eric looked over to Asterion, and straightened up as the minotaur spoke. “The hotel’s mission is to take in those who are lost. Are you ready and willing to uphold the hotel’s mission, and bow to the owner’s authority?”
Knox thought for a moment. “This contract sounds like it’ll be magically binding. I had better slide in a term of my own to see how they take it.” He looked the minotaur in the eyes, and spoke clearly. “So long as I have the final say in what magic I perform on the hotel’s behalf, I accept. I shall do my best to aid those who work and shelter here.”
Asterion smiled. “I would expect nothing less. And with my assent, all we need is Master Eric’s approval.”
Eric smiled, and extended one hand to Knox. “Knox, hereby you are taken as staff of this hotel to fulfill its mission and work as an employee.”
Knox smiled, and took Eric’s hand with a wink. At this, a shiver passed through the air as the lights flickered, and Knox felt the contract bind him to the hotel. He nodded, and directed a question towards Asterion. “So. What do I do now?”
Asterion nodded. “We’ll handle the orientation and introductions tomorrow, but for now, I suggest you get some rest.” He guided Knox out of the office, leading him to a room just off the main lobby of the hotel. Asterion then fished in the pockets of his pants, and pulled out a keycard. “This will be your room, as long as you are with us. I hope you enjoy your stay, and orientation will be tomorrow at 10 A.M.” With that, Knox expressed his thanks, and left the room, returning to his car to grab his suitcase. Once he made it into his room, a wave of exhaustion hit, leading him to barely make it to his bed before collapsing into a deep slumber.