“Come on,” Arya whines, “mazes are fun!” she points towards the entrance of one. It is shaped like the maw of a serpent. A serpentine maze, twisting and winding, difficult to navigate but I want Arya to have a good birthday. Today, her wish is my command.
As the maw swallows us, I can feel Arya bouncing next to me. She beams, “let’s go rock this shit,” her motto in life for nearly everything. The first couples of turns are easy enough, no forks, just stick to the wall.
“This can’t be sustainable,” I wonder out loud, “it must have taken them ages to build this maze and it will take them longer to disassemble it.”
Indeed the walls were towering. Boxes stacked on top of each other so high that it’s impossible to climb them if someone got lost.
“You are scared,” Arya pokes my ribs making me giggle.
“I am not!” I protest and she gives me a knowing smile.
Our banter falls short as we come across a fork. The people we saw entering the maze have thinned out leaving us alone to make the decision.
“Flip a coin?” I suggest and she takes one out of her pocket in response.
“Heads we go left,” she says balancing it on her fingers.
“Right it is,” I mumble and we go deeper into the maze.
I am plagued with an uneasy feeling. It’s not quite dread but something’s tugging at my gut. I scold myself for being paranoid, instead, I should focus on crossing it as quickly as possible. A left, another left and a right then a left has my head spinning but Arya looks as energetic as ever.
The maze is peculiar, I observe with discomfort. Wooden boxes that made up the outside wall have been replaced by hedges. Hedges that will surely take up too much time and energy to maintain for a travelling carnival. I remember the day the carnival arrived on the outskirts of my town; people with tanned, freckled faces setting up the works, clowns juggling to keep the passersby interested, asking them to return once the carnival was in full swing.
Arya seems to not notice the change in our surroundings. She looks mesmerized by the puzzle. Then I suppose she has always been the puzzle solver out of the two of us.
Debating and flipping coins we make our way deeper into it. Something shifts in the air, I can feel it. The air feels stale and my breaths come out in short pants.
“I think we should turn around,” I voice my concern, “This doesn’t feel right anymore. There’s no one here but us. You would think they would at least put people in there to help the lost.”
“No, why would you want to turn around? It’s getting more and more fun!” She looks at me, incredulous, “plus you said I could do anything I wanted today.”
Her tone turns accusing and I have to give up. Something in her expression is troubling though. Her smile feels a tad robotic, her eyes slightly glazed. She even moves smoother than usual as if she is gliding forward.
I watch in horror as the hedges slowly thin out and turn to stone. I know this place, I have seen this stretch of land ever since I was a kid and there has never been a maze here, much less stone that looks like this. We live nowhere near water and yet the stone is slick with algae.
“Arya, I promise I will make it up to you but we need to leave right now,” my voice grows frantic with each word but Arya looks beyond reasoning. She looks like she is being seduced by a siren’s song, gliding deeper within, her eyes glazing over more and more with each step.
That’s when I hear the whispers. They are intangible at first, some names here and there, and a few morbid cries. I can’t control my body anymore.
My mind keeps screaming at me to run, to turn around but my feet keep moving forward, deeper.
“You could have turned around, but it’s too late now,” a voice giggles to my right and a shiver goes down my spine.
“I can feel it, we are almost there,” Arya mumbles. Her pupils are fully dilated turning her lovely hazel eyes a sinister black. She is in a trance.
One more right and the maze changes colour once again. It’s dry and white. It looks withered with age, feels ancient. I touch it gently and with horror, I realize that the walls are made of bone.
My mind has given up trying to fight the compulsion and I am gliding along with Arya, both of us dying to find out the secret in the centre.
It’s a fountain; beautiful, also made of bone. In the water sits a woman. With her watery skin and long white hair, I can tell she is not of this world.
“Two pretty birds,” she tuts, “I offer you eternity and you try to escape?” Her voice is old and young, ugly and beautiful.
She extends a talon and looks at Arya maliciously. A very real jolt of fear goes through me. For a solid second the compulsion is lifted and I am so thoroughly alert that I grab Arya by her waist and hurl her out of harm’s way. The action is so sudden that she hits her head on the wall.
Her entire face changes, I know she’s broken free of mind control as well.
“Run,” I yell. I can’t let her succumb to the same fate, “get help, Arya.” I try to coax her.
The witch turns her hateful eyes towards me. From the corner of my eye, I see Arya stiffen and give me the smallest of nods. Then she bolts faster than I have ever seen her run.
The talons are so close to my chest now. The witch sneers at me, she is pissed. Terror, pure and undulating grips me and I soil myself. The talon rests on my chest and I know it’s the end. I just hope Arya makes it and never comes back.
It’s Arya’s birthday again. I know this because she’s back in the maze. She tries to navigate it, tries to remember the turns she took last year but I am there every step of the way, guiding her in the opposite direction, getting her out of here.
There is no hope for me now. The witch sucked my life a long time ago. My bones have already fused with the walls, expanding it, complicating it further. I am just another wandering spirit, bound to this maze for eternity.