“Let’s see how you like it, shall we?” The Creator’s voice echoed from above.
The man stood frozen in place as the scene before him changed. The walls materialized first, the cold grey concrete rising toward an unseen ceiling. He’d watched this place spring into existence many times before and as much as he hated to say it, he was fascinated every time. The floor would change next. It was a lovely bed of grass at the moment, but soon it would be littered with broken glass and those small primary colored plastic blocks the human children loved.
The worst part was always the light, though. Usually, the clearing was lit by some form of ambient light; that changed when The Creator took over. It would be pitch black in a matter of moments.
Lastly, his own appearance would change, how this happened the man couldn’t understand. He had always considered himself a separate entity from the Creator, but he knew that soon enough, he would be stripped of his shoes, leaving his feet vulnerable to the glass scattered along his path. His dark suit, Italian made – not that the cost mattered here – replaced with shorts and one of those heinous ribbed white cotton tank tops.
It was always the same, the only thing that changed was the path he was forced to walk if he wanted out – once he regained control of his body, anyway. While he waited for The Creator to release her hold on him, he reminisced over the beginning of this all. Back then, he was able to find his way relatively quickly, but like everything that time touched, this too had evolved. The Maze had started out simple enough. He had even told The Creator as much, calling this an exercise in futility. The Creator had only laughed and changed the path again. The longer this had gone on, the harder the paths became – what used to take minutes was now hours of endless twists and turns.
There went the lights.
“As Effie Trinket would say, ‘may the odds be ever in your favor’….Asshole.”
A small clang told him that the flashlight was on the floor at his feet and the path was set, The Creator released her hold on him – now he just had to find his way out.
He stooped and let his fingers dance over the ground, seeking out the metal of the flashlight. Finding it, the man straightened, standing to his full height and steeling himself to take that first step forward.
As his foot settled on top of the glass and plastic blocks, he felt the first shard break skin. His face twisted into a grimace and a growl escaped his mouth. He pressed on, the floor hadn’t always been like this. The first walk through this maze, the floor had been strewn with twigs, sticks, and rocks. He’d still had shoes, then. It was nothing, he had even laughed and danced a jig over them, mocking The Creator. The next time the maze had appeared, there had been random spots of quicksand. He’d found ways around it, there was still light then, and the sticks became his own sort of divining rods. Again, he had laughed at The Creator. The next version of the maze was not only dark, but he’d lost his shoes, and the quicksand had been replaced with childrens’ toys.
The changes didn’t stop there. The walls started out as shrubbery, which he had climbed. Then they were made of concrete and were too tall to scale. He had tried his damnedest anyway, and now they were covered with barbed wire.
The man continued his trek, stopping every few steps, searching for a way to cheat the maze. It took him a moment to realize there was soft earth was under his feet. Scanning the beam from the flashlight over the floor he noticed spots where the glass and toys were replaced with mounds of fresh dirt.
A smile broke out on his face, as he turned his face toward the blanket of darkness that stretched over him. “Oops, looks like someone isn’t paying attention anymore. You should know better by-” His words broke off as sharp stinging pains and a burning feeling broke out over his feet and lower legs.
A chuckle resonated around the maze, “Fire ants, Asshole. I thought they were a nice touch. Didn’t want you to think I’d forgotten about you. Hurts, don’t it?”
The man jumped back from the dirt mound and shined the beam on it. Thousands of skittering insects poured out of the hole. His screams of agony mingled with The Creators howls of laughter, creating a cacophony of sounds. He swatted and swiped at his own flesh.
Undeterred, the ants climbed higher – the pain radiating from his lower extremities becoming almost unbearable. Searching for a way to rid himself of the pests, he moved quickly through the twists and turns ahead of him.
A quick left found him standing in front of a small pond of crisp cool water. Without thinking, he dropped his flashlight and flung himself into the depths. He waited for the pain to abate, but quickly realized the stinging and burning was getting worse.
A muffled noise floated through the water to his ears. Pushing hard off the bottom, his head broke the surface to the sound of laughter everywhere. The man dragged his body onto the rocks surrounding the water as The Creator’s voice broke through the laughter.
“I don’t think I ever told you how much I love the ocean. It’s good for many things – sexy beach hair is all the rage topside. Unfortunately for you, Asshole, saltwater stings like a bitch if you have open wounds.”
The man lay on his back, in pain and breathing heavily. He knew he needed to focus to be able to navigate his way out of this hell.
The voice spoke from the darkness again, “I’m gonna help you out this once, mainly because I have big things planned for you. Purely selfish motivations here. Remember what the doctor said? You know, the one you called a hack? 4-7-8. In through the nose for four, hold it for seven, then exhale through your mouth for eight. Come on, up and at ‘em, Big Guy!” The Creator continued with false enthusiasm. “The fun isn’t over yet, and trust me you’re going to want to start moving soon.”
He could hear the amusement in The Creator’s voice, and thought about ignoring her, but his body seemed to follow the instructions without his consent. His heart was slowing down, and the pain seemed to be lessening. Flipping himself over, he pushed up onto his knees. Struggling to his feet, he gave the pain a moment to further subside, then, bending at the waist, the man scooped up the flashlight. Sweeping the beam around the perimeter of the pond, he stopped on the far wall. Even with the light, he could barely make out what it was, but there was definitely something moving.
With a start, he understood the game had changed again. There was something other than him in this maze. Something alive.
The Creator laughed from above him. “Uh-oh, Asshole. Looks like you have company.”
He was moving before he even processed what was happening. Pausing for a second to gain his bearings, he used the flashlight to light the darkness surrounding him. The path ahead was clear, at least as far as the light touched. The path to his right, where he’d come from didn’t look much different. He moved the beam of light along the floor, nothing unusual that he could see. It wasn’t until he lifted the beam from the floor that he saw them.
Fire ants the size of Pomeranians, with mandibles as big as his hands. With no time to think logically, he took the path straight ahead. He knew he needed to get out of there, to stay ahead of the things that were chasing him.
“Run, Forrest, run,” The Creator taunted him. “Don’t look now, Asshole, but your friends are gaining on you. I’m not trying to tell you how you should escape here, but I think you should consider moving a little quicker. Have you ever been bit by a fire ant that size? Imagine the swarm they’d create. The tiny ones hurt like a bitch; it just stands to reason the pain would get bigger with them.”
The man clutched his hand to his chest but kept moving. She’d never pushed him this far before.
“Your chest hurts, huh? Feels like your heart’s gonna beat right out of your chest. That happens when your fight or flight response kicks in, basically it changes the force of your heartbeat. Don’t worry you won’t die, fear can’t kill you, right?”
His racing heart was affecting his breathing, he was panting and knew he was slowing down.
“Your breathing seems to be changing, buddy. I bet it feels like there’s an elephant on your chest. Not being able to take a deep breath is really going to affect your escape,” her voice turned mocking. “4-7-8, Asshole, 4-7-8.”
The running man threw a quick glance over his shoulder, he could still see movement in the darkness. The walls were moving.
“You do realize there’s no escape this time, right? What did you call it before? ‘An exercise in futility’? Don’t you see what’s happening? Always boasting about how smart you are, but when it comes right down to it, you’re thick as pigshit. Oh, right. How could I know what you’re feeling?”
The realization slapped the man in the face. Anxiety. The feelings he was so good at creating in others, he had somehow missed in himself. His pace slowed until he was no longer sprinting.
“Welcome to the party. Took you long enough. Bet you didn’t even realize that the skittering creepy crawlies stopped about ten minutes ago. Fun fact: there was only two of them, it really is amazing how well the power of suggestion works on an already frazzled mind.”
He stopped and looked around. He was back at the beginning.
“It’s easy to change the rules when you’re the one making them,” the voice didn’t sound as far away now.
Spinning, the man saw her for the first time.
Seven years ago, when he decided to make her mind his new home, he had thought her weak. That had been his mistake. Back then, she was timid and easy to manipulate, but now there was a fierce and vibrant glow surrounding her.
Looking into her green eyes, he smiled at the defiance he found there. Even now she was daring him to try her.
Neither one spoke, but an understanding was formed in the silence. They were each here for a reason. He had assumed he held all the power, and in his arrogance, had underestimated his opponent. Lesson learned, he’d never make that mistake again.