by Zenia de Haven

A golden man lived in the dungeon. 

“Lived” might not be the correct term, as his home was patrolled by sneering, halberd-wielding men. The man “lived” here as much as a parasite “lived” in its host. He was fed scraps through the thick, magically reinforced bars of his cell. He ate more like a vulture than a man, tearing the meat from the bones with his square teeth. His gulps of satisfaction echoed throughout the cavernous prison. The squelching sound haunted the guards long after they left their posts. His animalistic grunts followed them from the dungeon and into their uneasy dreams. 

Nobody in the kingdom knew who, or rather what, the golden man was. He was man-shaped, with two legs, two arms, five fingers and five toes, a flat face, and wispy hair, but he was not man-natured. He walked with a stoop as if an invisible force were pressing down on the nape of his neck, forcing him to hunch forward like an ogre. His eyes were deep-set in his angular face and darker than a moonless night. Though his hands were undeniably man-shaped, his nails were thick and brown, with a texture more like wood than cartilage. 

And, of course, his skin was golden. It shined like the hue of a gold coin that had traded too many hands. The man looked as if he were dipped in a bath of molten gold. 

His skin was bubbly like toad flesh. 

He was a prisoner when the king’s father ruled, the king’s grandfather, and his great-grandfather before that, all the way through the line of succession to the very first man who declared himself ruler. The reason for the golden man’s imprisonment was a mystery, but a glance at his crocodile grin was evidence enough to believe that whatever the reason was, it was a good one. 

The sentries rotated every night, with no man remaining in earshot of the golden prisoner for longer than a day. The last time a soldier watched him for two nights, he went mad. The guard descended into the prison to relieve his comrade from his post and found the golden man unguarded. The cell was intact, but the man was missing. 

The golden man licked his fingers as he looked at the panicking soldier. 

“I think your friend got hungry,” he purred. 

They found the missing sentry in the kitchens. He was slathered with honey. He had doused himself with every stash. The amber liquid dripped from his metallic uniform. He dashed around the room, leaping over tables, knocking over pots and dishes and jars, leaving a golden, sticky trail in his wake. All the while, he shouted ancient songs as loud as his vocal cords would allow. These songs were unsung for centuries. There was no way this young man had ever heard them, much less recite them perfectly in the Old Language.  

His fellow soldiers tried to restrain him, but after several failed attempts, the head chef’s impatience boiled over. He slammed a pan over the disturbed man’s head, and he collapsed like a sack of flour. When he came to, he blinked as if awakening from a befuddling dream. He had no recollection of dowsing himself in pounds of honey (though the head chef appeared skeptical by his claim). The guard said he remembered standing before the jail cell and then regaining consciousness in the infirmary.  

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Author Bio

Zenia is a fantasy and young adult writer. They write with the goal to incorporate diverse characters into their fantastical worlds. Their work has been published in the queer magazine FruitSlice. When they’re not writing, they enjoy group exercise classes, drawing, and playing video games. They live in Virginia with their family and two dogs, both of whom love listening to Zenia recite stories aloud to them.