A Maze in Me

My father was a connoisseur of Greek myths. He told me countless times, with his silver tongue, the tale of the Labyrinth and the Minotaur. As a young girl, I fashioned myself as Ariadne, unwinding a ball of red yarn while prancing down the hallways of old country home. I dreamed of a gallant Theseus to sweep me off my feet. That is until, I learned him to be an abandoner.

I even became an architect. Blueprints clutter the floor of my current apartment in the city. I take inspiration from classical architecture; when I see Corinthian and Ionic columns, I swoon. I wake up excited to start each new day on the job. I love watching an empty stretch of land turn into an empire of diverse structures.

I embraced the myth—my father’s favorite myth. It molded me.

But I’m deathly afraid of mazes. Never have I desired to enter an extensive labyrinth or build one of my own regulations.

– – – – –

It happened when I was thirteen. There was a carnival in a neighboring town that I attended with my friends. The main attraction was the corn maze. The farmer claimed it was his best one yet. Everyone was intrigued—including me.

In the comfort of bright daylight, my friends and I entered the maze. I figured it would be a simple one. Just stick to the left. That’s what my father taught me. And he was right. In no time, we made it to the exit that was marked with a purple flag. There was nothing special or scary about it.

It was disappointing to me, but my friends simply moved on to the candy apples, the games, the zoo animals, etc., etc. I followed them around until it was just too painful. I knew it was probably all in my head but I felt the maze trying to lure me back in.

There was a voice coming from inside. Loud. Imperative.

Come.

The sky dimmed once I stepped back inside the maze.

My father’s voice entered my head again: Stick to the left.

This time, I ignored his advice. I wanted to explore this time.

Instead, I got lost. The moon was too faint of a lantern to guide me. I wasn’t afraid of the dark. But fears come to life in such an ominous place.

I wandered around aimlessly through the erratic paths. I kept telling myself I was Ariadne.

Ariadne without any red yarn.

With my eyesight down, my ears were on high alert. The wind howled. The corn stalks conversed with each other. There whispers came out as a chant, constantly growing, echoing. They were chanting in a language I couldn’t understand.

But I did understand.

Sac-ri-fice Sac-ri-ficeeee Sac-ri-fice.

I knew my father’s favorite myth too well to not understand.

I gave up on trying to be brave. I stuck to the left. Step after step. Minute after minute. Hour after hour. Yet I saw no opening. I saw no purple flag. Had the maze changed? Did the walls of corn stalks shift?

Crying out didn’t help either. I could see the faint lights of the carnival festivities from afar but I couldn’t hear anything of the people there. All I could hear was the chant.

Sac-ri-fice Sac-ri-ficeeee Sac-ri-fice.

Stick to the left. Stick to the left. Stick to the left!

Nothing could block out the chant.

I fell to the ground and clenched my ears.

When I was brave enough to let go, I was blessed with silence. Such an insubstantial blessing.

I shivered. The cold nipped at my nose, my ears, my feet. My hands felt around for something on the ground. Anything. Red yarn.

Instead, I grasped a thin stick.

I wrote a message in the dirt. A message that couldn’t be heard but could maybe be read later.

H E L P.

stuck in a maze.

help

I kept going, even as tears rolled down my cheeks.

A maze.                                   Amaze.                                    A maze.

Amaze me.                 

A                      maze                           me

A                      maze               in                     me

A maze is inside of me.

Get it.                                                               Out.

Let me.                                                            Out.                                                     

Rescue me.

A low growl struck me out of my crazed, cold stupor.

The chant started up again.

Sac-ri-fice Sac-ri-ficeeee Sac-ri-fice.

Another faint growl.

Against all the reason, the sound lured me in. Was it a beast in the guise of a Siren?

I crawled down the path. Left or right, I have no idea. The growl sounded in shorter intervals. Louder and louder. Even louder than the chant of the corn stalks.

I knew it was the Minotaur. It had to be.

And I knew I was the sacrifice, but I kept crawling. I just had to see…

I turned the next corner—

There was a body.

– – – – –

I woke up and they told me it was just a scarecrow. I couldn’t believe them. But I had to.

I was broken for a while, but I suffered for less than the reasonable length of time. Or that’s at least what the doctors told my father.

I got back up on my feet and continued on with life. I stayed clear of mazes. Of tight spaces. Of getting lost anywhere. Of going anywhere alone in the dark. But I still became an architect. I still listened to my father recount the tale of the Labyrinth and the Minotaur.

I also met my Dionysus. My rescuer. He helps me cope with the nightmares and never disparages it to just a ‘child’s fear’ as many have done before.

After all this, I still fear the Minotaur.

But I know he’s not invincible.

– – ♥

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Gerald’s Garden

The sun shone brightly down on Gerald’s garden that morning.  As soon as the boy walked through the entrance gates his senses were overwhelmed. His sight soared from flower to shrubbery unsure as to which magnificent piece of life deserved his attention most. When he would close his eyes he would take a deep breath and it was as if the purest air was filling his lungs. When he exhaled it was as if passion and life itself moved through him. Then he gazed upon the mother of this garden. Nestled in the center of the garden exuding vitality and surrounded by her children was a breathtaking oak tree. She stood high above the garden fences and her powerful branches stretched to the heavens beckoning them to gaze upon her.

The boy tried in vain to capture, in a single photograph, the true essence of this garden, but its beauty escaped his camera. After a few more failed attempts trying to find a perfect vantage point the photographer found himself at the foot of the giant tree and let himself fall at her feet and rest in the shadow of her foliage. It was here that Gerald found him.

“What are you doing in here?” asked Gerald.

The photographer looked at the man who had created this gift onto earth with an immediate fear. Gerald was nearing 80 years old but the voracity of youth still lingered in his eyes. He was a tall and slender man and towered over the boy.

“I’m sorry sir; I’ve been driving for days just exploring the country side and I saw your magnificent tree towering over the fences and was just dying to see what was in here. I’m sorry if I disturbed you.”

“My private garden is not a tourist destination boy,” Gerald stated staring down at him, “but I suppose I can hardly blame you for being enchanted by it. Captivating isn’t it?”

“It’s the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen.”

“How old are you son?”

“22.”

A smile crawled across Gerald’s face as he bowed to the boy. “It’s a pleasure to see such a young man already enamored with the beauty of nature. I myself did not discover it until much later in life.”

“You’d have to be a fool not to appreciate this paradise,” he said looking around him.

“I thank you for your kind words; I’m sorry what was your name?” Gerald asked.

“Jonathan.”

“Well, Jonathan my name is Gerald and I must say I have been working on my garden all morning and am absolutely exhausted. I imagine you are as well since I found you near sleeping in my garden. Would you care to join me inside for a cup of tea? I very rarely get to enjoy the company of another human being out here.”

Jonathan was exhausted from his trip and tea sounded fantastic so he accepted the kind invitation without hesitation.

“Do you live alone sir?” Jonathan asked.

“Please call me Gerald,” he started as they approached his front door, “and I live with my dear wife Emilia.”

Gerald opened the door and Jonathan walked in. Immediately he felt the life of the garden sucked out of him. The world he had entered could not possibly be attended to by the same creature who nurtured that magnificent garden outside.  All around him Jonathan could see nothing but gray and black. Dust covered all surfaces, and the corners of the home had been selected as the adopted home of several spiders. Dark heavy curtains hung over each window allowing nearly no light to enter the house. When Gerald closed the door behind him the room got surprisingly darker.

“The living room is right this way,” Gerald said as he passed Jonathan and led the way forward, “I do apologize for the mess.”

Jonathan slowly moved forward following Gerald and passed a grand piano that looked like it hadn’t played a tune in years.

They entered a large room where two large black chairs surrounded a coffee table.  A chandelier covered in web hung above them and a large grandfather clock in the corner of the room incorrectly told all attendants, if there ever were any in this home, the wrong time.

“Please have a seat,” Gerald offered Jonathan the cleaner chair and Jonathan thanked him.

“I’ll be right back with the tea.”

Jonathan stood in silence after Gerald departed. This poor old man and his wife probably didn’t have the strength to do anything much less clean the house.  He was sure they hired help for the garden and they probably couldn’t afford to hire a housekeeper. Jonathan walked over to a fireplace filled with rotted, dead wood and saw several frames standing on the mantelpiece. He saw a picture of a much younger looking Gerald and a woman Jonathan assumed must be the wife. They stood outside this same house but no garden had been erected yet it seemed. In this picture Gerald hardly looked like the man he does now. He looked young and vibrant, and actually bore a striking resemblance to Jonathan himself. Next to their photo he saw a large framed diploma; a PhD in Biology for Gerald.

“Ah, I see you’ve found the old memory shelf,” Gerald said as he came back into the room carrying a tray with tea cups. He set it down on the table and once again offered Jonathan a seat.

“Sorry, I didn’t mean to pry,” Jonathan said as he sat down.

“No worries Jonathan, I’ve already noticed what a curious mind you have. Sugar?” Gerald asked. Jonathan shook his head.

Jonathan picked up his cup and took a sip of his tea. He closed his eyes as he felt the sweet nectar activate his taste buds. Gerald noticed the smile on his face.

“It’s good isn’t it? Made from the tea leaves in the garden.”

“It’s divine,” Jonathan said, “that Garden truly is a piece of art.”

“Oh it’s more than art, Jonathan, it’s my child truly. I have raised that garden outside for the last 50 years of my life. I watched that tree grow from a tiny seed into the majestic overseer that it is today.”

“Well, you have a lot to be proud of in your child sir.”

“Gerald, please.”

“Sorry.”

“Yes I suppose it is quite noteworthy. Everyone who’s ever seen it has been quick to tell me so.”

“It’s a shame you’re so far out in the country, I’m sure a lot more people would love to come and visit the garden. You could probably make a lot of money with visitors.”

Gerald scoffed at the idea

“Oh Jonathan, money is a young man’s game I have no interest in money. Nor do I particularly want many people in my garden, I’m very protective of it.”

Jonathan felt the cold air of the house getting to him and took another drink from his cup. The warmth sent a wave of euphoria through him.

“What made you want to make the garden?” Jonathan asked.

“Pardon?”

“The garden, I saw in the picture with your wife that there wasn’t always one outside, what made you start growing it.”

“Ah, well it’s a bit of a sad story I’m afraid,” Gerald started. Jonathan sat comfortable in his seat and gave no sign that he wanted Gerald to stop. “Back when Emilia and I got married we wanted to start a family. Fill this house with the sound of children laughing and little footsteps running down the stairs.”

Jonathan drank more tea as he listened to the story.

“Emilia’s sisters had all already had children; I think her oldest sister had four. For a few years we tried but fate never seemed to want to stop on our doorstep.”

“I’m so sorry,” Jonathan said, “ she wasn’t able to get pregnant?”

“Oh no, she was. Poor Emilia, she carried…I don’t know how many children before we gave up. They just never seemed to…Sometimes…Well, let’s just say that sometimes things don’t go as planned. I studied medicine in school but I couldn’t figure out what was wrong and we went to the best doctors in the state but a baby just wasn’t for us.”

Jonathan felt tears welling up in his eyes as he finished his drink. He sank further into his chair as he searched for a response to Gerald’s story.

“Poor Emilia, after the seventh baby we lost she just couldn’t take it anymore,” Gerald took a sip from his cup; “I walked in on her in the bathtub one day and found her wrists pouring blood into the water.”

Jonathan remained still.

“She thought she was the only one suffering, her plan was to leave me on this Earth alone, suffering, childless, wifeless. Well, I wasn’t going to let her do it. I dragged her out of that bathtub screaming and fixed her up good. She’d lost a lot of blood but she wasn’t going to die on me.”

The cup slowly slipped out of Jonathan’s hand and crashed against the floor, shattering into pieces. Gerald looked over at Jonathan in the chair, drool spilling out of the corner of his mouth.

“Oh Jonathan,” Gerald said calmly, “don’t you worry about that. It was the drug’s fault not your own I assure you.”

Jonathan’s eyes darted from side to side, scanning the room, panicking. He saw Gerald get up from his chair and walk towards him. Jonathan tried to jump up and run for the front door but was no longer in control of any of his limbs and remained motionless in his chair.

“Don’t struggle, it only makes it worse ,” Gerald said. He walked behind Jonathan and bent down beneath the chair. He removed the latches the held the wheels in place and began to lead the chair out of the room.

“I think it’s time you met my wife,” Gerald said.

Jonathan tried to scream but he could feel all consciousness leaving his body, he barely had the strength to keep his eyes open. He watched in terror as Gerald led him down a long hallway that led into darkness.

“Now, your original question was what made me want to start a garden, I think you deserve the answer to that question.”

They reached the end of the hallway and Gerald opened up a door behind the giant staircase and pushed Jonathan in.

“After that wife of mine tried her damndest to leave me I swore I was going to get the child I was promised, with or without her help.” Jonathan’s view was slowly fading as he looked around and saw giant tubes filled with water and giant lumps floating inside them. He tried to make sense of it but was unable to concentrate.

“So I quit my job, I had no need for it anyway, I already knew what I was going to do. I set up shop here at home and started getting to work. I was going to get me a baby.  The doctors had all told me I was fine, I was a strong young man who should have no problem making a child, but she was too weak. Her womb couldn’t keep a baby healthy.”

Gerald stopped the chair in front of a large tube filled with water, larger than the ones they had passed before. It took a while but Jonathan was able to focus his vision and saw through the glass the body of a woman floating in the water. She had pipes sewn into her stomach, her mouth, and all over her body. Despite this terrible condition Jonathan immediately recognized her as the woman in the painting he had seen on the fireplace. She hadn’t aged a day.

“Beautiful isn’t she? Keeping her young and alive in there was the easy part. Recreating her womb not so much. I worked for months and months and finally I got one to stick.  Can you imagine that feeling Jonathan, to create human life with your bare hands. It was our child, Emilia’s and mine. And she was beautiful. I lifted her out of that tube of water and her cry was more beautiful to me than any composition you’d ever heard. But when she opened her eyes at me my heart dropped. I don’t know where I went wrong. I had made an error in calculation along the lines but I knew that I could fix it. I looked down at what I now realized was a monster and knew that I could do better. So I put her back into the water until she stopped crying.”

Jonathan was starting to feel a little life come back to him. He was able to feel his fingers once more.

“I knew that I had to keep trying, but I couldn’t possibly have a house full of dead monsters, can you imagine Jonathan? So with that first beast I created that beautiful oak you so admired outside. And then I went back to work, but time after time after time something went wrong. The hair was the wrong color, the mouth was too big, too many hands, I couldn’t get my calculations right. And so my garden grew.”

Jonathan knew that he had the strength to get up but he wasn’t sure if he could get away from this psychopath yet. It was then that Gerald stepped in front of him and dropped himself down onto his knees.

“I’m so close Jonathan, so close to getting it right. She’s going to be beautiful, I know it.” Gerald got up and walked behind Jonathan, he could hear him opening cabinets and shuffling instruments around.

“But I’m old now Jonathan, I no longer have that power to give life. I thought that was the end of it. I knew my project had an expiration date and I had reached it, but then you came along like a gift from God. Such a strapping young man, thankfully one who looks like I did in my better years.  Yes you will do perfectly.”

Jonathan gripped the armrests on his chair to shoot himself up when he felt the needle pierce his neck. As the drugs raced through his veins his vision quickly faded and the last thing he saw was Gerald filling up another tube with water right next to Emilia’s.

His Face Forever Red

I went to the woods to be alone for a while.

woods

  After a time, my brother found me (he always knew how to find me).

You shouldn’t listen to Papa”, he said. “His generation doesn’t understand that an artist like you thrives on creativity, not manual labor”.

    My brother always did understand me.

He always compares us. I can never live up to his standards like you can.”

Bah!” he said, clapping me on the shoulder. “There’s more to life than athleticism and brawn. Girls love romantics like you. Besides, I have faith in your talents, we’re not going to be here forever. Oh! Speaking of girls, I have to go meet Alice. I’ll see you later.”

And then he left for university.

university

Papa was so proud.

Now, here I am again.

hole2

Once a place for respite and reflection, these woods hold a lifetime of memories. 

Now, namely, a memory of death.

And something else.

demonbrother

(I still haven’t figured out what)

I look at the lifeless lump of flesh that used to be my real brother.

brobody

His body… it’s…

down

here… in this gaping hole.

His face still bloody and red.

red

Is this a gateway to Hell? 

gateway

I start exploring the walls while my inner dialogue continues.

Surely that imposter is a demon. My brother doesn’t have a twin.

devil

Has it come to haunt me for what I did?

When the beast looked into my eyes that night, it knew everything in my soul.

showdown

I could almost feel it combing my mind. It must know the uncharacteristic pleasure I derived from holding my brother’s weeping wife or the new desk I bought with the money his livestock afforded me? Before that anomaly shook our sleepy town with its appearance, I planned to write my way out of here… away from the guilt.

For, this must be guilt. Never has anything plagued my mind so.

That beast knew my hatred-

No…

my jealously towards my brother. No one will believe me now, but I did love him. But, if you pit any lesser person against someone who’s good at everything, some bitterness is bound to ensue. My failure knows no bounds after all the times my father made me feel inferior; it never lessened the sting.

The wolf was the demon.

A catalyst with a motive.

That demon knew the joy I felt when my brother left for college… knew I wanted that again. I didn’t have to compete anymore, I could just be… me.

I should have just left

(and never looked back)

Why the hell did I stay? Well… for the same reason people stay in dead-end jobs for years; they’re comfortable and hate change. It’s the reason my father is so unhappy.

Blast you, hindsight! I should have left. I should have gone so far away… to a villa in Italy perhaps, where some of my idols studied.

italy

That demon also knew what I would do that fateful night.

killed

A slow clapping sound fills the cave, echoing off the walls and reverberating in my ears

“How perceptive”, a familiar voice says.

eyes

A slow

  cold

    tingle

trickles down my spine.

I turn to see my dead brother’s blinking bloodied face staring back at me from an upright position

bloody face

“Impossible”, I breathed.

One would think, right?”, the former corpse supposed, “but in your selfishness, dear brother, it seems you have neglected to leave yourself an exit”

Surely I did. I climbed down by-

The rope is gone.

I turn my gaze upward to the starlit opening of the hole to see my brother’s twin smiling maniacally down at me.

You have turned what joy there is in family into hate and jealously”, the imposter said in a resonating baritone, “You are to spend an eternity

down here

with your beloved brother. In death, you will finally be equals. For do not be mistaken, he is the greater of the two of you. You must die to be missed… and even then, I am certain you won’t be.”

And while I screamed in protest, the creature extinguished all light in the deep hole and sealed it from above.

That left me, my cries bouncing aimlessly off the earth,

and my blood-soaked “dead” brother to the mercy of darkness.

Silence blanketed us as I grappled with understanding my now eternal situation.

So”, my glowing red brother said, “Shall I return the favor?”

glowing red

The End

Sample Fiction: A Slip and a Fall Away

It is 12:47am on a Wednesday – a day of no particular significance, sitting square in a month with no corporate holiday, filling in a colorless year that will soon be forgotten. The congested, screeching friction of hot metal and harried commuters has cleared to long stretches of silence. Lethargy broken only by the occasional passing rush of an errant driver, the flickering lights of a gas station, and the incessant chirps of scraping, membranous wings. It is in this perpetual cycle of day and night that human souls are crushed molded by unyielding, mundane, and entirely artificial forces – a brief respite available only in that sliver of time between sleeping and waking.

See: to your right – the gothic archways with their curves and crosses, framing stained glass that, in the light of day, paint inspiring tales of needless sacrifice and bloody hate and a rapturous End that will swallow the world. How powerless it looks now, though, with no Pied Piper on the stage singing innocent children and sinful rats alike to their burning, eternal salvation. What could this wondrous architecture of man be but the Vessel of divine love?

See: in front of you – the perfectly bland and symmetrical honeycombs of cubes and desks and halls that, under florescent lights, harness the plodding potential of the drone within the man. When the burning sun sets and the bulbs dim, the Hive disperses to find respective rest and sustenance, a temporary exodus before the inevitable return.

See: them accept the pause that they’re all given, gifted by the presence of a belabored Sandman (and a Tempur-Pedic mattress). These dreams that come and go will, in some near time, disappear into the seductive whispering maw of the permanent Black – but until then, drift easy, drift free for a finite moment.

Thus does the summation of human existence plod along, occasionally captured in the harsh glare of a Shell Service Station, shining alone on the corner of a deserted street at 12:47am on a nondescript Wednesday. It is a glorious, underwhelming moment of perfect, middling, banality.

Right here, at this intersection – nightly distributer of fuel for the modern rider and his iron steed, and Doritos bearing Savior of the drunken man – a bus sweeps through on the final leg of its journey to the garage. It is emptied but for an evidently well-loved copy of Playboy splayed next to a suspicious dark stain, and a single passenger. Snoring contentedly with his neck bent against his right shoulder (it will ache when he wakes), and the crown of his head resting against a smudged window, this modern-day Rip Van Winkle remains oblivious when the bus merrily roars through his stop without hesitation. There will be no off-brand Snickers and egg-salad sandwich for him tonight.

The driver is intently focused on the road ahead, as though by will alone he can suddenly reach the end of his route. And yet, the end comes and goes with not even a whimper. Bus “Not in Service” (and when did the LED sign lose its numbers and destination?) continues forward and leaves the grainy imprint of the garage behind in a burst of exhaust fumes.

Winkle is bounced painfully against his once-pillow when the bus jolts from a badly paved dip. He looks out the window with a groggy, uncomprehending stare. Though those are certainly Austin trees – dried, stubborn tufts of green hiding unforgiving nests of bird shit – and these are certainly Austin roads, cracked, uneven messes that they are, there is only an echo of the familiar. This is no part of the route he has followed for the past three years, and no part of the city he has lived in for four. Winkle turns to the driver but pauses before the question even leaves his mouth.

This scruffed mountain man whom he has seen and greeted day in and day out, but whom he has never known (the same way that the dull-eyed grocery bagger can never be known, nor the IT representative who blends together with every other IT representative over the phone) is gone – and Winkle is left adrift. Though the driver’s shoulders are the same broad wall of sinew and flesh, and his hair the same wild mop of dirty blond – or maybe it is a light brown – and his face the same generic face of all driversandwaitersandcashiersandwalmartmanagers, Winkle cannot find comfort in this figureless figure because he is not the same.

Winkle squints in confusion as the tiniest bit of fear creeps into his asthmatic lungs. There is a flickering in the peripheral edges of his vision when he shifts his eyes away from the bus driver, but perhaps this merely heralds the onset of stressed exhaustion. Perhaps what he sees are oddly gruesome floaters in his eyeballs, and not the peeling, fluttering, transparent skin of the driver fading into cracks of nothing. Perhaps he is falling into the black grasp of a diabetic coma, and imagining the dark slivers that pulse around the driver and grow into consuming shadows.

The terribly ordinary commuter is struck with an overwhelming desire to run, to hide, to escape this thick, sludgy dread that chokes his wheezing throat and coats his chest like the slimy imprints left by warm, blood-soaked fingers. As Winkle falls on to the grimy floor, gagging, the Driver turns around with a smile pasted on his melting, wax face – a creature of dripping flesh and oil with bones of rust protruding from his hollow cheeks. A ring sounds in the distance, as “Stop Requested” flashes across the ceiling, and the world slips sideways and over. Outside the windows pass flashes of death and worse and vast deserts of burning darkness, until Winkle can see no more.

He cannot see (or hear or speak) because there is only enough blood to feel, red life trafficking in the tunnels beneath his skin as he is flayed, seared, stripped and torn from the inside out. Interminable moments of not-pain and not-death until he feels translucent – until he is nothing but a beating, oil-pumping chrome heart wrapped in skin…

At 6:42, the bus returns to its route. Women in suits and children with lunchboxes and men in shiny leather shoes alight and descend. Another Thursday, and another day closer to the weekend. They say “thank you” to the driver – sometimes not even this – with their ears plugged and eyes ahead. To them, the driver is as faceless and forgettable as the motionless, smiling commuter sitting in the very back, who smells vaguely of eggs and caramel.