The Labyrinth

Most are not aware of the difference between a maze and a labyrinth. What differentiates a labyrinth from a maze is that the former has no dead ends: there is only one path in a labyrinth. If you follow that path in either direction, you will end up at either the entrance or the center.

I don’t know how I ended up in the labyrinth, or why. Who put me in here I cannot say. I simply awoke one day to find myself in a darkness. I don’t know how long ago that was; with the only light being that of wall torches, it has become impossible to tell when it is night or day, or to judge the passage of time.

Survivalists often quote the “rule of three” about how long a person can last without the necessities for life: 3 minutes without air, 3 days without water, 3 weeks without food. The air in the tunnels is damp and heavy, but I will not suffocate. At intervals I come across pools set into the labyrinth walls, filling with slow trickles of cold water from ornate heads carved into the stone above them. Though the water in them is brackish, I will not die of thirst.

The only other necessities are food and sleep. Starvation will eventually be the end of me, but it is not knowledge of this, nor the hard ground on which I lay when exhausted, that makes it difficult to sleep.

It is not knowing whether the path I tread is leading me to daylight or deeper toward the heart of the labyrinth.

Sunburn

My mother always told me to wear sunscreen. I guess I should have listened to her.

I took a vacation to Mexico a while ago. I didn’t wear sunscreen. I don’t need to wear sunscreen – sunscreen is for pussies who are worried about their delicate skin, their pale complexion turning bright red like a tomato, and those horrors looming ominously in the future of skin cancer and melanoma and basal-cell carcinoma.

Not me; I’d rather burn like an egg in an ungreased pan the first day and get it over with, then let my bright right burn fade into a perfect dark brown tan. I never peel. Peeling is for the weak. So I don’t peel. But that wasn’t the case this time.

I got one of those truly horrible burns you only ever hear about from your friends, one of those burns where you burn and it peels and then you burn under the peel and it peels again. I guess I should have stayed off the beach after that but it had stopped hurting by then.

When I got back after my week of vacation my skin was still peeling, mostly on my back and shoulders.

“Geez, that’s a bad burn ya got yourself there,” one of my co-workers ventured the day I got back. “No shit.” Douchebag. “Glad to have you back, Chuck.”

After a week when it was still peeling was when I started to worry. The top layer had long since peeled away and the layer beneath was peeling too. And the layer beneath that. It didn’t itch. It didn’t hurt. It just kept peeling. How many layers deep could I have possibly burned myself on that beach in Mexico? Christ, how many layers does a person’s skin have anyway?

I went to the doctor but he didn’t have much to say.

“Wow, that’s a bad burn you got yourself there, son.” No shit. “Just get back yesterday, did ya?”

“No, I’ve been back for a week.”

His face wrinkled. “Hmmm. I would have expected the peeling to stop by now. Try some aloe.” Thanks Doc.

The following night I stood in the mirror and pulled a long strip of the deepest dry, peeling layer back. It just kept coming and coming off my shoulder, a giant wide strip that grew as it travelled downward. It was an oddly satisfying experience, like taking the plastic wrap off the screen of a new TV.

That is, until I noticed that beneath it there was no more skin. There was no blood. There was no pain. I wasn’t afraid. I watched with a sort of morbid fascination, like someone burning an insect under a magnifying glass, as I peeled the last layer of my dry, burnt skin off and revealed the red corduroy of my shoulder muscle beneath.

I stared at the exposed muscles in my back in the mirror for a long time that evening.

I wore three undershirts to work the next day, to soak up the blood, but there was none. That night I peeled the burned skin off my calves and chest and revealed the muscles underneath. It was strange, to see my insides in the bathroom mirror, bright red, but without a drop of blood. I looked like a drawing in an anatomy textbook, or like one of the bodies in that travelling science exhibit where they plasticized the cadavers and displayed their horrific bulging muscles in frozen poses of action: a dead man throwing a frisbee; dead people playing cards around a table; a dead woman atop a rearing horse cadaver, with its skin missing and muscles also pulled tense in exertion.

It’s only a matter of time before the last layer of skin on my face starts peeling too. It’s been another week now and there’s no skin left anywhere else on my body. I can’t go back to the doctor, not now. After he got over his disbelief he’d surely commit me to scientific research somehow – a medical oddity for study. He’d become famous and I’d become a prisoner, a walking cadaver, a freak show like those I’d seen on display in the travelling exhibit.

That’s not what worries me though. What worries me is the other day the muscle on my right hand started to come loose. Last night I grabbed a portion and started to peel it back and it all came away, muscles, tendons, nerve, everything. I could see the white bone of my fingers below.

What worries me is that I have no idea just how deep a burn can go.

Room Key

Damn, I thought, where the hell did my room key go? I always kept it in my front pocket but now, curiously, it was missing.

I walked down the long dim corridor of the hotel and wondered about where it could have gone. Did I take it out with my billfold when I got a drink at the bar? I couldn’t remember.

I continued to search my pockets in vain as I arrived outside my hotel room. The door was open just a crack, letting a long sliver of light peek out onto the wall opposite.

Great, and I didn’t close the door all the way behind me either. I pushed it open, expecting to find my room ransacked, or a knife-wielding serial killer waiting for me on the other side. There was nothing of course, just the flutter of tacky floral drapes above the air conditioner.

I scoured the room for the key to no avail. I stepped in front of the nightstand between the two Queens, picked the handset off the receiver and pushed the button for the hotel bar, the one with a little martini pictogram next to it.

“Hello, I seemed to have misplaced my room key, did I happen to leave it there? No? I was just there.” Strange, I thought, I normally never misplace things and always remember to close the door behind me. I was having an off day. “Okay, thank you, I’ll do that. Goodbye then.”

As I set the receiver back into place I felt cold bony fingers slowly encircle my ankle, and looked down to see an arm reaching out from under the bed.

Workplace Performance Issues

“I’m terribly sorry,” said DeBiers. “But your performance as of late has been completely unsatisfactory. We’re going to have to let you go.”

“Unsatisfactory?” replied Carson, incredulous. “UNSATISFACTORY??!” He began to breathe quickly and his face became flushed. His chest rose and fell in rapid succession as his supervisor watched from across the mahogany desk.

“Now Carson, understand that it’s nothing personal.” DeBiers cleared his throat. “Nothing to get upset about. There have been complaints….”

“UNSATISFACTORY????!!” Carson became fully enraged, and slowly stood up from the office chair. As his shoulders rose and fell he actually seemed to be getting bigger; with each breath his chest extended further and further, almost impossibly so.

DeBiers began to back away. Finally Carson’s spasms reached their apex and tore his shirt apart. His bare abdomen split down the middle into a jagged fleshy maw, revealing rows of enormous triangular teeth. Spiky insectile arms burst from his back and unfolded in a bloom.

DeBiers turned to run, but the monstrous insect limbs ensnared him, and he was pulled, screaming, into the waiting jaws of his ex-employee.

I Love You More Than Ever

When I woke up he had already gone off to work. I turned in bed to find a steaming cup of hot tea on the bedside table, next to a simple white card with an embossed heart on the front. Our anniversary! He hadn’t forgotten!

Inside the card was one sentence written in giant black cursive: I love you so much.

In the kitchen there was my favorite breakfast: toast with peanut butter and jam, eggs and bacon, and a cup of granola with yogurt and berries. Another card: I love you more than ever. I ate the delicious breakfast and beamed when I thought about how much I loved him.

At work my cubicle was dominated by a giant vase of enormous roses and a heat-shaped box of chocolates. Next to it was another card: I love you more than ever, more and more each day.

Finally work was over and I went home. I just wanted to take him in my arms and kiss him and tell him how much I loved him too. I burst through the front door and into the kitchen.

His body was slouched in one of the chairs around the kitchen table. The front of his dress shirt was slashed open and stained with blood; he’d been stabbed multiple times. My world collapsed and I cried. It wasn’t until after I had called the police, still crying, that I found it. I read the message, blurred by my tears, one scrawled and scribbled in a psychotic hand on a simple piece of brown butcher’s paper: I love you more than ever. SEE YOU SOON

True Love

Mom always told me that true love isn’t easy.

That’s what I’ve found with John. We’ve had tough times. We’ve had good times. But still we remain together. Our love has been something that has come together slowly and gradually. It’s something we’ve had to work at.

At first I didn’t even love him. When we first met he was so insistent, forceful even, and I was shy and resisted. But eventually he charmed me, and now we’ve spent enough time together that I’ve truly grown to love him, and our relationship is something we work at every day. It’s so satisfying to share such a beautiful thing with another person.

It’s not always the easiest for me, because I know that our relationship is so uneven. John knows this too; the world I live in is much smaller than his, but I still try to be the best I can for him. When he comes home I always make sure to have a smile on my face, and ask him about work, and give him all the space he needs – especially if he is tired or had a rough day.

I love John so much, and am so glad that I have him in my life. As Mom taught me, true love isn’t something you just fall into where everything is perfect, it really is something you have to work at. And I’m so glad we’ve made things work like this. I really couldn’t be happier.

Still, I just hope that one day John will love me enough to unchain me and let me out of his basement.

Grin

“How can you treat me this way,” she implored, “After all that we’ve been through together?”

“I don’t know what the fuck you’re talking about,” I was furious. “I’ve always treated you better than you deserve and you fucking know it!”

Jenny cried.

“I hate you!!!” More tears. “You’re horrible!! Horrible!!” Wah wah wah. Boo-hoo.

“I don’t think you even actually know how horrible I am, do you Jenny?” My anger gave way to bemusement. I started to grin and the feeling of it spreading slowly across my face was strange.

Jenny stopped crying. The tears gave way to a look of concern, then fear, then horror.

She finally saw that I was carrying the claw hammer.

“Tristan…. what… what is this? Don’t -”

Those were the last words she ever spoke.

I raised the hammer and my grin turned to a mad grimace of insane fury. I brought the hammer down onto Jenny’s blond head, over and over again.

Crack. Boo-hoo. Crack. Boo-hoo. Crack. And then only silence. Crack. Blood. Crack. Blood. Crack. Brains. Crack. Crack. Crack. Crack.

The warm red liquid spattered against me, coating my arms, my shirt, my face. I grinned even wider yet. Now I was slamming the hammer against a lifeless body, what had been the love of my life. I didn’t care. I kept pounding away.

Crack. Insane laughter. Crack. More blood, spattering. Crack. The laughter turning to sobbing.

The grin broke and there was more weeping. The swings of the hammer slowed. I licked my lips and tasted copper.

Jenny was dead; my grin, gone.

Walk-In Freezer

“First shift, eh?” My new co-worker muttered while stirring up some of the meat frying on the giant grill. “Well, ya seem like a smart girl and I heard ya worked in kitchens before so you’ll be fine.”

“Right,” I said, and looked down. I tried not to stare at the massive tattoos covering his arms.

“Great, we’ll put ya on prep to start then,” The meat sizzled. “Actually, go n’ grab some more ground beef from the back wouldja, from the walk-in.”

“Sure thing.” I walked past the rows of pots and pans with things bubbling and sizzling, and the array of knives and cleavers laid out on the wall on a magnetic strip.

When I jerked the large steel handle on the freezer door it relented with a loud thunk. As I stepped inside the door immediately swung shut behind me. A wave of panic hit my body along with the intense cold – it was pitch black inside. It wasn’t until the lights flickered on with a hum that my panic rose to terror.

The fluorescent lighting illuminated rows of mutilated bodies hanging from meathooks, and revealed that the door had no handle on the inside.

Clinical Trial

“I see you’ve finally found us,” Dr. Mallory said, his back still turned. “Congratulations.”

“How could you do this to so many innocent people?” I accused with indignation, still catching my breath. “How could you administer the treatment and not tell us what it actually was – what it would do to our minds, to our souls?”

Mallory laughed and turned from the view of the night skyline to face me.

“Why surely you misunderstand,” he said, smiling. “There are no others – it is only you.”