Thud, thud, thud.
I run between the high walls of leaves. Gleaming back-green in the hazy, source-less light, they reach out and claw at me. Hundreds of scratches from the spiny leaves crisscross my skin. My limbs are pale white, mottled with blood and bruises.
I used to hurt, but no more. I used to be hungry and thirsty and tired too, but no more. Except for survival, nothing matters in the Maze.
Mist condenses and drips down my skin. The Maze is thick with it, wisps of white hiding the sky, the path behind me, the path in front. Even the ground it hidden; you see nothing but the mist when you kneel, feel nothing but the texture-less surface of whatever is hidden beneath. It gets to you, eventually, seeing nothing but white fog and green leaves and red blood.
I dash around a turn, then another and another. They all look the same, but I cannot give up. I have to keep running.
I falter and my legs tangle beneath me, sending me crashing to the ground. I ignore the ache in my knees and palms, head whipping around. My eyes are wide enough to burst from their sockets. All I can hear is the gasping of my own panicked breath, the tinkling of bells that comes from nowhere and everywhere.
It is behind me, indistinct, but I could never forget that sound.
“Uh oh, looks like Little Doe took a dive!” He emerges from the fog, fingers pressed to his lips to contain a giggle. “That was almost poetic, I think. What would you say?”
I do not reply. My gaze rakes him up and down. I see the long, billowing white robe, the pale skin of his throat. Long white hair, a mask like a stylized, vicious stag covering his face. Antlers rise from his skull. Not fake, but real, with red ribbons trailing between the tines. And tied around the base of each is a pair of shiny silver bells.
I scramble backward until my back hits the maze wall. The leaves slice through my clothes, and blood wells, flows down my back.
“Well that wasn’t smart, Little Doe. You do know how they love the smell of blood, after all. Weakness makes them strong.” He stops at my feet and kneels, pushing the elegant, snarling face close to mine. I can hear his breath hitting the back of it. Wonder what his real face looks like.
“L-leave. Now,” I stammer. Familiar heat is gathering in my chest, setting my hands to shaking. No, no, no, no…
He sits back on his heels. His shoulders sag, and he somehow manages to look sad behind the bright red-and-white paint of the stag’s face.
“But I can’t, Little Doe. This is how it is.”
The howls start, so loud I flinch. They are more human than beast, screams of pain and bottomless hunger. I know what’s coming now and look at him, eyes wild and pleading.
“Save me,” I whisper, staring into the glassy black eyes. They draw me in, draw me close, just like they always have. They are the only beauty in this hell.
But you brought them here. It’s YOUR fault. Just like always.
He stands. The beasts are close now, so close I can hear their footsteps shaking the ground. He glances off through the mist, and I know that he knows what happens every time he seeks me out.
“Why do you follow me?” I ask, standing up beside him. It’s no use running. The beasts will get you no matter what. Better to face them with a bit of pride.
“Because I have to.” He looks at me for a brief moment, then turns away. “Good luck, Little Doe. Maybe this time will be different.”
He walks away, bells tinkling, and is soon swallowed by whiteness. As always, beauty has lured in the beasts. His job is done.
I take in a shaking breath, and turn to face the monsters. Their eyes glare through the fog, and I can see my blood running through them. I close my eyes as they overwhelm me.
It is never quick. By the time it is done and the blood has stopped flowing, I am beyond thought. By the time I have healed, I am beyond feeling. I only know one thing, that I have to get up and start running again. A turn in the Maze, then another and another, but it never changes, never ends.
Thump, thump, thump.
Credit To – Kate G.