by Paul Kane

The melting voice through mazes running;
Untwisting all the chains that tie
The hidden soul of harmony.
John Milton. L’Allegro.

The walls of The Maze were smooth and warm. He touched one and felt a bolt of electricity pass right through him. Jumping back, he continued on his journey. Trying to work out where he was. Trying to get to the centre of The Maze.
That was all he knew of any significance. He had to get there no matter what. His sanity depended on it. He looked up at the sky. It was dark, night-time, and yet somehow The Maze itself was brilliantly lit. The weight he was carrying on his back was becoming heavier and heavier with each step he took. The straps of the bag dug into his shoulders, almost cutting into him. He tried to ignore it, hitching the lump up higher so that it hurt his spine less. At this rate it wouldn’t be long before he’d be stooping like an old crone.
But he steadfastly refused to give up.
Ahead of him was another bend. So many twists, so many turns. He’d lost track of the way he’d come, of the entrance (if, indeed, there was such a thing). He couldn’t find his way back now even if he wanted to. And that was clearly out of the question. No, the only thing he could do was forge on. Stagger blindly around this place until he came to his destination.
He followed the path, his feet supported by the pliant surface. At least that was working in his favour. The spongy nap seemed to cushion his steps, massaging the skin on his bare soles. Now if only he could quench this terrible thirst…
Almost immediately he came to a fountain. About waist height and made from stone that was bluey-grey in colour, it was a dainty shape, resembling a flower, with a long flute-like stem and an opening at the top where mouth-wateringly clear water spurted out. Sublime!
But as he approached, ready to drink deeply of its spray, he saw the water thicken and turn a ghastly shade of red. It bubbled out of the fountain, jets of blood rocketing upwards from its gash. This nauseating stuff rained down on the walls and floor of The Maze, covering everything in sight. He held up his arms as the liquid struck him, protecting his face.
Retreating, he glanced at the ground where droplets the size of hubcaps were falling. And floating in the puddles he saw white spherical things, pockets of air given form and tone. Each one glistened as it rolled around and around, joined now by shreds of skin. And suddenly the eyeballs, some green, some brown, some blue, were looking directly at him. (Not the first strange spectacle he’d seen in here, by any means.) From somewhere came the sound of a beating heart.
He turned and ran, catching the side of a wall in his haste. It pushed him sideways and he toppled into the next junction. When he picked himself up, he discovered he was looking at a lane with several offshoots. How was he supposed to know which one to choose?
All would be revealed soon enough, he reckoned. Slumping forwards again, he set off down the passage.
‘Hey!’ The voice ran past him, then doubled back and smacked him in the head. It sounded like it had come from behind, but you could be sure of nothing this deep into The Maze.
He looked around for the source. Again: ‘Hey! Hey, Sonny.’ A familiar voice. Though it was warped by the strange acoustics in here, there could be no mistaking that inflection, or the use of his nickname. Only one person had ever called him "Sonny".
The face of his Aunty Peg pushed through a side-wall, twice, no three times its normal size. The pinkish-blue material stretched tight over her disgusting features like Cling Film, bursting at the mouth in strings of drool; those huge purple lips and rotted teeth confronting him. ‘Come and give old Peggy a kiss…’ she said, her fetid breath knocking him backwards like a hurricane.
Sonny tried his damnedest, but he couldn’t look away. She opened and closed eyelids crusted thick with mascara, tangled like a spider’s web (with the spider still inside it). She pursed her lips, the craggy face looming further and further out of the wall, chasing him. Peg wanted her kiss. Oh, she wanted it so badly…
God, he could not allow that. Turning his back on the woman’s obtrusive head, Sonny raced as fast as he could in the opposite direction. Cackling laughter followed him and he knew that if he should suddenly fall, or stop for some reason, Peg would catch him up. And then that mouth would smother him completely, suck him dry as it had done so many times in the past.
Sonny turned corner after corner, losing himself in The Maze again, hoping that one of these turns would offer respite.
In time he came upon another unusual scene. The path he’d settled on now led him to a dead end. But instead of just a wall blocking him off, he saw a kitchen rooted to a patterned floor, all fused with The Maze like some bizarre work of art. In it was a woman with mahogany hair.
She worked earnestly at her table, slicing pieces of fruit. Sonny watched her take an apple, remove the pips, then divide it in two, and eventually into four. When she was happy she dropped the pieces in a crystal bowl. A punch bowl. Laughing, she took a sip of the wine set beside her in a glass. She switched on the radio. The woman was in a party mood.
Sonny hobbled up to her. ‘I’m sorry, but do you know the way-’
There was no point carrying on. It was obvious she couldn’t see or hear him. He waved a hand in front of her face. Not even so much as a twitch. She began to dance to the Latin-American rhythm, hips swaying as she picked up the next piece of fruit: an orange.
This time when she brought the knife down a trickle of red squirted out from the skin. She appeared not to notice this and pressed down harder. More of the gummy juice escaped, dribbling down the sides. The two halves fell apart.
He couldn’t believe what he was seeing. Standing in for the usual triangular segments were miniature human organs: lungs, liver, kidneys. And on the left-hand side was a perfectly formed heart. It puffed out with every beat; the arteries around it swelling fit to burst. But before that could happen, the heart simply stopped pumping. The music ended at the same time.
The woman stepped back, showing the first signs of fear. And for just a moment he thought he saw her features change so that they corresponded with those of his long-lost mother, his long-dead mother. But in the moments after that she resembled no one. Her face was wiped like writing on a blackboard, leaving behind only a faint trace of the dancing lady she had been.
Repulsed, Sonny made to leave, though not before the woman reached out with her hands open, begging him for help. There was nothing he could do except escape from the nightmare, save himself. She started to scream, ripping and sucking noises coming from behind. It was already too late for her, he’d realised that as soon as he saw her face. The forces at work in this place would be dissecting her even now, doing the same to her as she had done to the fruit in that bowl. To the orange…
Sonny twisted his left hand round to support the bag on his back; in an effort to run faster, to be away from here. To find the…heart.
The woman’s cries died down after he negotiated the next bend. He looked back to find that the way behind had been sealed off. What chance did he stand when The Maze kept shifting, altering its shape? Was it a conscious thing? Perhaps he was being diverted for a reason. Something was either hindering or helping him; he just couldn’t decide which.
Again there was but one thing to do. Tramp on and hope for the best.
This road offered him the option of two routes, a left and a right. For a good few minutes Sonny lingered at the intersection, head pivoting, weighing up the alternatives. In the end he went left. No particular reason: it was fifty-fifty.
Another room, or part of one, was his reward. This time it was a bedroom. But it was too sterile, too ordered. Standardised, like there was another one exactly the same on the other side of The Maze wall. And then another, and another. A hotel suite? The pale pink bed-sheets, hideous wallpaper - blended seamlessly with the blue-grey Maze - the lack of any kind of personal items at all, seemed to justify this hypothesis…
But what was it doing here?
Ask no questions and I’ll tell you no lies.
Sonny heard footsteps behind him, hands turning a doorknob on a door that wasn’t there five seconds ago. The door opened, but no one entered. No one he could see at any rate. He felt something, two "ghosts" drifting past him to the bed. He watched as the sheets rose in the middle, bulging until human outlines could be seen beneath. The moaning sounds of lovers bombarded his ears. The shapes moved in a natural way. A couple combining, enjoying the carnality.
There was much more to see but the sheets were preventing him. He walked slowly towards the origin of the noise, intent on lifting the covers. Knowing that underneath lay a woman and her partner intertwined...It excited him, stoked his imagination.
Their cries were louder now, the motions faster. His hand was out, ready to uncover their shimmering bodies, the pleasant tangle of limbs. But he froze when he saw the colour of the sheets. The pink was darker around the midsection; sweat perhaps? No, darker still. Like paint or dye…or blood.
Sonny couldn’t bring himself to go any further. Some small part of him knew what he would find if he did. The bad things that lived in The Maze had already "changed" them, before his eyes, under the sheets.
But they weren’t going to let him escape that easily.
‘NO!’ he shouted as invisible hands drew the fabric back. He could barely assimilate the baseness of what he was seeing. An assortment of body parts, skin rent, carved pieces scattered all over the mattress. Wallowing in a lagoon of gore. The bits were moving, caressing each other as best they could. And on the pillow lay two mouths (one lipstick-coated, the other with stubble dotted around the top) which were still making the sensuous sounds of love.
Again there was a thumping like that of a heart.
He had to get away. This abomination was refusing to gel with that which had aroused him so. But in his hurry Sonny overbalanced and fell. The bag ensured his descent, dropping backwards onto the floor. He rolled around there for a moment, an upturned turtle. Then he felt himself sinking. Helpless and hopeless, the hotel room disappeared as the ground slithered up all around him. Sonny frantically tried to pull himself out, but the bag on his back was caught. His legs were next to go, followed by his torso. Electricity buffeted him and he shook with the intensity. Sonny’s face was the only part of him sticking out now. Was The Maze going to do the same to him? Pick him apart as a schoolboy might tear the wings off an insect - just for the hell of it.
Sonny sucked in a few last breaths and then disappeared.
Everything was black, but a cerise blackness; the same as when you shut your eyes on a warm sunny day. Inside The Maze he was content. After the initial struggle had proved fruitless, he’d let it take him. It seemed like the right thing to do. Sonny felt like a babe in the womb, except this womb was enormous and constantly fluctuating. His senses were stretched to capacity, unreality filling him up. Surely he wasn’t here, and yet where else could he be?
Where was The Maze taking him now?
The answer to that question came sooner than he thought as he was pushed upwards and outwards, shooting through the layers of The Maze to stand upright in another corridor. The floor healed itself up around his feet. It had helped him as much as it could, brought him this far. The rest was up to him.
But Jesus, the weight on his back was unbearable now that he was mobile again. Ten times heavier than before. He struggled to build up a pace to start with. And he understood that if he should fall over this time, he would never get back up. No way could he reach the centre on his hands and knees. Too much…It was asking too much.
The mezzanine opened out ahead.
It knew he wouldn’t be able to resist. He had to find out what was beyond, even if it killed him (which was looking more and more likely with each passing moment). Groaning, Sonny staggered on. The ground that had embraced him before was now green and waving. Grass, a meadow of fluttering blades and flowers - daises mainly, but a handful of dandelions added their yellowness to the scene as well. Giggling, the sounds of birds in the trees (trees? What trees?) and a far-off dog’s barking were audible.
By a river, which ran concurrently along The Maze rampart, he saw a woman in jeans and a T-shirt standing with her young daughter. This was a special time for them; a weekend, bank holiday, spent enjoying the tranquillity of nature. But there was also danger here. Sonny sensed it. The woman was playfully chasing the girl, both laughing. Unaware that there would be another chase soon.
Clickety-clack, clickety-clack; faint in the distance. Urban life infringing upon their fun out here. Both Sonny and the woman listened to the train. He couldn’t see any tracks around, no bridges. So where…
The mother held her child to her breast, arms around her. An urgent need to protect.
But from what?
And the train was nearing. It was so loud now. With a blast of wind it whipped past Sonny. He fought to stay vertical. Yet as it went by it seemed to do so in slow motion. The black metal was only half-right, only half-real. It had no undercarriage and there were no tracks for it to move along. The Maze itself was providing the necessary momentum.
A hand appeared at the window of the closest car, spreading fingers that slid down and left ruby patterns on the glass. A moment later and the victim’s head appeared, his eyes wide, muscles of his boyish face stretched tight as he tried to scream; an imperceptible something pulling his hair back. Sonny saw the neck rise above the frame of the window. And…
And nothing more.
His head continued to climb up the pane, but there was no body attached to it. Nevertheless, the severed ball was still opening its mouth and eyes wider (they do say that you can survive for so long afterwards, that it is possible to look down and see your own headless torso below), until ultimately the face melted like hot vinyl. Then the window exploded in a shower of glass and carnage.
The train sped up, travelling past a newly-formed station...
No, not a station - the beginnings of a public lavatory diorama. And hanging on hooks in the cubicles were bodies - just bodies - opened up, insides unveiled; cuts on display at the butchers. Each one wriggled and squirmed, but they could not reverse what had been done. Could not piece themselves back together again.
Sonny simply stared, his attention drawn to the train again as it headed for the figures by the river. They ran, the woman pulling her daughter behind, a last-ditch attempt to break free (their faces blank now). Didn’t they know that no one could escape The Maze? The train’s front was distorted, bending and flattening. Becoming pointed and lethal. The rear carriages took on the shape of a hilt and handle. Grass and daisies and dandelions were carved up in its wake.
The ground wept.
No matter how fast the two of them ran, the train-knife matched and doubled their speed. The outcome was inevitable; in a sense it had already happened. The tip of the blade speared them both and they slid back like meat on a barbecue skewer. It was over in the blink of an eye, leaving nothing but the sound of a beating heart.
Sonny’s initial horror had deteriorated into fascination. He’d seen so much in here it had desensitised him. The thing that had been following him, committing these atrocities - The "Other" - was everywhere. All seeing, all knowing. But he wasn’t afraid. It would never harm him.
And he knew then that the centre of The Maze was close. There was just one more corner to turn. A corner which appeared before him, leading to…
The tool shed.
Like everything else in here, it was partially solid but still part of The Maze. Its door was creaking slowly open, slats of knotted wood a guiding hand to welcome him; more an entranceway than anything. To get to the core. He heard the deep-seated chuckling of his father. Sonny knew he had arrived.
It was a funny thing, but the weight on his back was no longer a hindrance. In fact he could hardly feel it anymore. There was no point now; the game was lost. It couldn’t prevent him from doing what must be done. Sonny stamped confidently through, his assignment clearer and clearer. Roaches and wood lice the size of small rodents crawled over dusty shelves. There were a variety of tools hanging up in the shed: clippers, axes, drills, hammers. He grabbed a couple of items he would need to perform his duties, and the back of the shed fell away. He moved into the hub, the nucleus. The Heart.
It was ring-shaped, encircled by those same soft Maze walls. In the middle was a hill-like protrusion, and spiralling around that in concentric circles were much smaller mounds of dirt. Next to each one was a name, carved sloppily across the Maze floor. Some made no sense (strangers to him), others he could read and recognise (these were the people he’d known; there weren’t many - his parents, Peg, a handful of close friends).
He took the shovel and began to dig. It wasn’t long before there was a hole next to the last mound. Wiping the sweat from his brow he ditched his load on the ground; the weight from his back. It was a brown bag with something inside, something curled up - the merest inkling of definition, but that was all.
He opened the drawstring at its neck and pulled down the sacking.
Then he reached for the other object he’d brought. A power saw. Sonny worked diligently on the curved thing until it relinquished its whole. Now only parts remained: a finger, toes, a torn piece of thigh, an ear…eyes. (The eyes followed him all the time.) And the things he’d found when he’d opened her - it - up: organs, entrails…heart. Everything went into the pit and was covered over.
But even as he patted down this fresh hump he heard a muffled voice say: ‘You can’t bury the truth!’ Sonny ignored it and stood back to admire his handiwork - a reflection of something he’d done before he entered The Maze.
The bigger mound in the centre started shaking, thumping. He remembered what was buried there and he cowered away from it. A heart, his heart - symbol of his own enshrouded compassion.
And the presence he’d felt all this time, that which had done those awful, awful things (not so awful now, though, eh?) finally caught up and joined with him.
He wondered if it would always be like this. Would he always have to travel the canals of his own brain each time? Relive every incident, every slaughter, in a surreal and warped way before disposing of a fresh sacrifice and moving on?
Or would it get easier the more times he did it?
One thing was for sure (and The "Other" told Sonny this so he had to believe it), only after his new victim was buried could it start again. Only then could the process begin anew.
And soon he would wake up to find that The Heart and The Maze had gone - for the time being. Replaced by another world.
A world full of wonders.
Where anything, absolutely anything, was possible…

© Paul Kane
Courtesy by Paul Kane
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