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March 18, 2013 | Fiction

Labyrinthian

Matt Rowan

Labyrinthian photo

The big oak entertainment center was of no good use to them anymore. They now had a flat-screen TV that allowed them to free a lot of the space the entertainment center had once filled. So Gerald had to do something about it. It would start with moving that big oak entertainment  center. Where it would end, he didn’t know for sure.

But moving the thing, that was a nightmare. It was as unwieldy as anything. And he was required to move it through the back entryway of his apartment, which was claustrophobic and gross and small and musty, a big square opening in the otherwise confined and covered space led down into a strange little dust-coated pit, with the acquisition of years and years of garbage and things no one needed. Gerald thought it would be disgusting to fall over the stair railing into it.

He hauled the entertainment center down the stairs, banging it hard against each step.

Slowly he became aware he was no longer traveling down his back-entrance staircase. Now he was pulling his entertainment center through a series of increasingly constricting corridors and passageways that he was dimly aware were unusual. Eventually, he decided his path was too cramped to travel down any farther with the entertainment center in tow. He left it.

He hated when this happened, when stuff like this happened. He was probably going to have  to sword fight someone now. And of course he did have to sword fight someone, but it was, happily, not a minotaur. A sword fighter, someone with some skill with a sword. Good-sized muscles, strong jaw. They fought on a rickety old bridge! Better still, despite the sword fight’s being epic and dangerous and scary, Gerald won.

He kept feeling his way through dark passages, and down and occasionally up old wood staircases, that creaked noisily at the slightest application of pressure from the weight of his body.

Gerald wasn’t one to give up immediately, as evidenced by the sword fight he got into and won. Sure, over time, and with the right amount of futility coming between him and his objective, he did give up, like most people. But not now. What he discovered was that his back entranceway was in equal measures an M.C. Escher painting and the Odessa Catacombs. Passages green and silty with a half a foot of tepid water, and those staircases, good god, those staircases. He kept feeling along the walls. He traveled further down the splits and tendrils of narrow, honeycombed passageways. He knew he should have turned around much earlier, when there had still been time. When he might have known the way back.

He thought of people who got lost in caves and died. He did not want his rotted body to become a sight to see, that people would visit like some object of macabre curiosity. He was thirsty but defiant that he would never drink the water he sloshed through. He was repulsed when finally he broke down and drank it.

For the first time, he was like, “Well, why is there this labyrinthian passageway back here, anyway?” Was his escape even possible? He’d be stuck here forever, scratching his head and feeling ashamed, feeling he just didn’t have what it takes to navigate the labyrinth.

Gerald was delusional enough to think he could accomplish the impossible, though. So he continued to set off down each new fork in his path. He could make it work. He could find his way out. He could be free. If only he could just stop thinking those nagging thoughts. Free of those thoughts, he’d be able to set himself free of this labyrinth, too.

He’d be free to be the man he remembered he was once, called Gerald. Gerald: what a cornucopia of feelings he’d had. They were beautiful enough to decorate a dinner table. Smartly, with gourds and ears of Indian corn and other comestibles.

He was dehydrated when he found the little girl. She offered him a glass of water if he would help her find her way. He thanked her profusely but confessed he didn’t know where he was or who he was or what he was, and all that he was sure of was he had been caught in the fog of delirium. She told him her name was Masha.

Masha led Gerald to another passageway, one he hadn’t been down before. She let him collapse there, while she strode on. He thanked her, thanked her for all that she’d done.

Here, he was free, finally. Free and dreaming, dreaming of sword fights. Sword fights he would win and lose. Win and lose, win and lose. Till all his wins and losses became whispers, whispers of things he had done.

 

image: Andromeda Veach


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