The Ride to The Labyrinth
The line moved quickly as each individual raced down the chute without much regard for the previous rider. While I thought it was a foolhardy decision, I was pleased with each inch closer it delivered me to the open mouth of the slide and unknown route of the plastic tongue. My bare feet arched away from the dry and pointy floor boards. Under normal circumstances, I would have never surrendered my feet to such sharp and dubious unfinished wood. But I was drawn to this ride in ways that still eluded my logical mind. The support structure was old, rickety, unstable, with splinter teeth that pulled away from the beams. Separate pieces of the poorly molded, plastic chute was connected together shoddily; stinging ridges bit at the flesh that bulleted by. Brown water cradled the body on its journey, leaving a rank, organic film on the skin after emergence on …wherever the Other Side was.
Come to think of it, I could not recall if I ever saw the patrons that rode exit in the same place… if they exited at all. Thinking on the matter (though not much), my eyes barely recognized the fact that there was now only two people ahead of me. I had previously decided that I was going to wait a full thirty seconds, at least, after the person in front of me went in to dart down myself. I didn’t want my ride to be spoiled by rider collisions or an obstructed view. (Nothing is more dissatisfying than having another’s experience infringe upon one’s own when submitting to the Great Letting Go.)
The brunette (about my age) in the bright red bathing suit was having trouble committing to the action. She sat, then stood, then sat again. Looking back at us with an apologetic smile, she stood up again and began stepping forward and back in a ritualistic, indecisive dance. The boy with matted (blonde?) hair ahead of me (about a decade our junior) crossed his dirt-caked arms and began rolling his eyes in melodramatic exasperation. In an attempt to overcome her own apprehension and to break the rising impatience around her, the brunette laughed nervously and made a self-deprecating comment, mostly to herself though she was looking at me and the boy for reassurance. The boy tilted his head back and looked down his nose at her before muttering “I’m done waiting,” and popped into a streamline as he belly-flopped in the shallow water. Splashed with murky water, she frowned a little as she looked down at her suit. Her eyes then asked me to wait for her, and I obliged after feigning consideration by summoning words of encouragement. After a couple more minutes and some impatient groans from the others in line, she tentatively pushed herself down the shoot, her eyes looking for support from the sky, the random seagull, the hazy sun, or anything else that might be sympathetic to her confused desires.
Finally, my turn. My lips took their time rounding over silent numbers as I counted the seconds since her departure. Peering into the floating grime and muddled reflections, my mind glossed over the possibilities of where I was headed or why I wanted to do this at all. There was no sensible reason, just these etheric hands guiding me to the mouth and my insatiable curiosity. I stepped into the water; it was lukewarm and a little gritty. My feet wanted to recoil, and my nose crinkled. But I pushed the criticisms and warnings about sanitation down, and realigned my determination with my curiosity and necessity for novelty. Head-first or feet-first? Sitting upright or lying down? I don’t remember which position I chose before launching myself into the Unknown.
Brackish water, slung to the sides of the chute, flowed into my nostrils and partially open mouth. The light shifted from the yellow-white haze of polluted city daylight to sudden black as I passed between open and tunneled segments. Adrenaline began to surge with each new twist or sensation. I spilled down hills and whipped around turns, the underside of my thighs, against the plastic, hot from the speed. Passing swiftly through the air within the tunnels, smells of mold and organic decay were augmented. Was I now in the alimentary system, headed to the belly of the ride? I kept going down…
“Hello, and welcome.”
A lean, attractive man with dark, curly locks behaving erratically over his hazel eyes greeted me. I took his warm hand, extended from a flamboyant cuff of a blouse underneath a burgundy jacket sleeve. I held my hand in his, and let him initiate his measured shake. I didn’t want him to let go; he caught it and cleared his throat as he dropped my hand. “First time?” He asked me.
I raised a well-groomed eyebrow and gave a bit of a smirk as I headed off to the iridescent purple-blue-green wall to my left. Light (unknown, artificial-looking source) danced of the facets, enough to give those with a predisposition towards it seizures. The more I moved, the more light danced. At this point, I noticed I was holding something. A collection of prints, photos and papers in a somewhat ragged but thick gray folder. I repositioned it securely under my arm, freeing up both hands to explore the intricacies of the wall. As if my hands were trained, they found several nooks and niches quite easily. I sensed the organization within the wall and intuitively found its switches and safes. Pressing it just so, I managed to open a section up for me to step into. As I moved within and between the crystalline walls, I found artwork, lockers and old arcade games wither made of or embedded into the walls. High above me were small trails on shining crystal; higher still were ornate chandeliers and hanging lanterns made from the iridescent matter.I saw no particular structure I could call a ceiling though.
A pull on my shoulder to my right. My hand slid softly over the cool, smooth faces of the lockers until I felt the urge to stop. Tap, tap, tap in three specific locations on the face, and the locker clicked open. Nothing remarkable was inside, merely small trinkets that I didn’t recognize. I shut the locker quietly and continued to explore, walking down random hallways, following my whim.
Telegraphic snow sputtered high on the wall in one room to which I was delivered. No projection source could be identified. The crystalline hearth was a few hues lighter than the walls and stood out considerably. I doubted it housed any fire known to mortals. (I was unsure if there indeed was a fire burning inside that my human eyes mistook for confusing light play.) I walked passed the stools and benches. Didn’t indulge in the presented foodstuffs on the table (they all looked to shiny and waxy anyway). Images flickered (in front of me? behind me? within me?). Geometric shapes rotated in spaces that switched in and out again rapidly. Each rotating object looked like glass etchings, condensed fog or spiderwebs. My pointed finger crooked outward to the empty space around me in anticipation and hesitation. I simultaneously wanted to and didn’t want to touch. As I moved slowly to the other walls within the room, I found rotating objects seemingly embedded into or projected out of the walls. Some looked in/out only inches from the surface of the walls, while others looked in/out many feet or yards.
I stopped in front of a rotating cube that seemingly hovered about six inches into the wall. Its movements switched between fluid and jagged, spinning effortlessly for a few seconds before it began snapping through differing positions abruptly, like skipping music. The cube itself could fit within the palm of my hand. I decided that it pleased me and that I was going to take it. The task of pushing my hands into the wall was surprisingly easy. There was some tension and pressure around my skin and between my veins, but movement within the wall was much like shifting solid sheets or disks through molasses. Move slowly and with purpose, and flesh could adapt (or the wall could adapt to flesh) just fine. Move quickly and unpredictably, perhaps the sheets would feel like needles or knives. My hands closed in around a rectangular structure that seemed to be the ‘container’ for the cube. It felt a few inches thick, like a frame that I could clasp tightly between my thumb and the rest of my fingers. Extracting it took some time, pulling treasure through what felt like drying concrete now.
It came out dry and thin, no thicker than cardboard. On it was what looked to be a drawing of the cube (pencil), a composite of all the positions within one space. Lines pointed from areas on/within the cube, leading outward to the empty space, where math and unknown symbols were scribbled. I ran my fingers over the writing, detected no grooves or smudging; the markings were permanent. Picking at the edges of the ‘cardboard,’ I found that this, too, was seemingly indestructible, at least from superficial insult. I stowed the cubeboard in my gray folder and easily found my way back to the main room, where I had been greeted.
To my delight, the dark-haired man was still there, almost in the exact spot where I last saw him. His eyes caught me instantly, though he was in the process of greeting others; he shifted them quickly back to the other woman so to not appear rude. I felt his calls in the quick glances he stole and his shifted stance, pointing a foot my way. His hand unsuccessfully fought the urge to gesture to me ‘one moment;’ the microsecond message conveyed perhaps unconsciously with the hand that rested by his side while the other gesticulated a show for the woman. I hung back patiently and enjoyed watching him become slightly antsy. After some more words, the woman thanked him, took something from him (a flier? a pamphlet?) and walked away. He began to say something to another greeter, probably excusing himself for a bit, and then my view was obstructed by a cleanly shaven, bald, attractive man in thick, black framed glasses. My eyes attempted to dart pass him, but he moved with my intentions so that he was the focus. I’m sure my annoyance was written clearly on my face, but he just ignored it as he donned his charm-laden smile and continued his welcome spiel. Most of his words ran right past my brain without a hint of acknowledgment, except for “Labyrinth.”
“Blah blah The Labyrinth blah blah. Maps and guides, blah, blah, blah. The Labyrinth blah blah blah.”
I almost asked about this title when a hand, complete with the ivory and burgundy, patted the bald greeter’s shoulder. “I got this,” my hazel-eyed man said as he motioned to me. The greeters exchanged looks of contempt and irritation. No doubt this exchange aired the subdued competition. I wondered if all the greeters were in competition with one another. Looking around, I took note of a handful of other greeters, both men and women, that spotted the quiet tension. Most turned away quickly after a facial tick of commentary.
A shit-eating grin came across the bald man’s face. “Of course you do.”
My man came between me and the bald man and turned back to the other greeter, waiting for him to leave us. “Is she new here?” My man was not expecting the question and furrowed his brow. “Because you know, newcomers are not allowed to roam the halls without an escort. Surely you already asked her that before you allowed her to scout the area.” This was not a question; it was a threat.
“I am not new here, in fact.” I said, stepping up so I was just beside my man.
“Oh,” the bald man said rather loudly with much affectation, drawing the attention of other greeters and newcomers alike. “My mistake. Terribly sorry. You must already know Ted. I’ll just leave you two alone.” He proceeded to dig his heels in and put his index finger to his chin. “It’s just…” he shook his head a little. “Well, it’s just that… I’ve been here for a while and I can’t seem to place you.” He stared at me with a smirk he let leak out the sides of his mouth as he feigned bewilderment. The tenacious bastard was engaging in foreplay before the inevitable interrogation.
“My look changes quite frequently.”
He nodded. “Hm. Well…” he looked me over, making it obvious to both me and Ted that he was indeed checking me out. “I have a knack for remembering…” Pause and his eyes slid down my body. “…faces. And I’m sure I’d remember you.” He winked.
I shifted my stance, brushing up against Ted. I felt the heat licking off his body; his stony face did not betray the hot temper.
I was beginning a reaming about how none of this was any of his business when the bald guy’s aura changed. “What is that?” He motioned to the folder. Again, not a question, an accusation of some sort.
At this point, some of the other greeters gravitated over and were bending their ears (not so subtly either) to hear us. I looked down at it, now in my hand, and raised it in front of me to examine it. I didn’t really know what it was. I knew it was mine; I had the feeling it held important information. But the only piece of information I was sure about was the cubeboard. I hadn’t felt the urge to check to see what else it held. To him, I probably either looked like I was a moron or that I was taunting him, staring blankly at the folder that I flipped and turned in front of us. He clenched his jaw and took my uncertainty for provocation. Quickly, the folder was snatched up and pulled open by the shithead greeter.
Inside there were notebook pages full of diagrams and comments, the cubeboard, a moving snapshot of what looked to be static and snow, fluid apparitions contained in tablets and numerous photos and sketches. He leafed through some, moving away while trying to focus. Ted grabbed at the folder and many sheets fell to the ground. We regained possession of the folder and I crouched down to gather up the notes. Onlookers could not make sense of the contents of the folder nor our squabble. It seemed some eavesdropping greeters may have had an idea about what was going on, why the contents of the folder might be important, and who I could potentially be or represent. (I still had no idea though.) Ted kicked the bald man away as he was trying to shout something. Another greeter, a 30-some man with long brown hair and an easy-going vibe, pulled the bald man off in another direction, telling him to calm down. Female greeters started at the scattered materials without assisting.
After Ted and I reassembled the notebook, a small swarm of people closed in around us. Salespeople? They were definitely trying to solicit something to me, each one pushing a folder in my hand and attempting to talk louder than the other. Many of them were women in skirt suits and updos with bleached smiles and tired eyes that strained to twinkle brighter than her neighbor’s. Ted attempted to keep them within arm’s length, holding up his hand while trying to get their attention. “Ladies!” And then “Sir, please, don’t crowd us,” as a well-dressed man with a comb-over squeezed his way to the front. As Ted pushed back at the crowd, I looked down at all the folders being tossed my way. Many had names scrawled across the front in fancy fonts. Some had photos, phone numbers, emails, ID numbers or hologram images. Every folder was crisp, clean, eye-catching, pretense oozing from every square centimeter.
The squawking was silenced by Ted’s impressive bellow. “You all must leave now. You are intruding on our time.”
Catty remarks and sour looks were flung in Ted’s direction. A lot of “She would be better off with so-and-so,” and “How did he get so lucky?” “What does she think she is doing with him?” “He doesn’t know what he’s doing.” “She doesn’t know what she’s doing.” “Probably worthless anyway…” One young woman demanded that Ted give me his folder, waving her finger in the name of Protocol and Rules. She crossed her arms, intent on watching him complete the task.
With a sigh, he removed the light gray, ratty folder from his inside jacket pocket. Coffee and water stains rippled the fibers and curled the edges. Frayed edges of worn notebook and sketch paper stuck out the sides, no flaps holding them in place. Quotes and lyrics were written in black ink and marker across the back. Turning over, big bold letters declared “TED FUCKS.” My eyebrows went up. He pressed his lips together, glanced at the floor before shrugging with a smile.
The woman stepped up to me and whispered, loud enough for Ted to hear, “If you want any serious work done, call me.” She handed me her smooth, thick folder. Shooting Ted a contemptuous look, she headed off, heels clicking with purposeful rhythm. Ted began to lean in, and, as if she had Ted-deflating radar, she shouted without turning “In fact, call anyone else besides him.” Her clicking heels did not miss a beat.
I tapped my finger lightly over the declarative, revealing phrase on Ted’s folder. My inquisition was soften by playfulness. He exhaled, shrugged with open hands and said, “Everyone takes everything too seriously around here.”
I looked at the folder, “Ted fucks, huh?”
He proffered a sheepish smile, executed horribly; the obvious slight dilation of his pupils and mischievous glint in his eyes destroyed and feign of innocence. I had no line of questioning regarding his interest in me; I already fully knew it from his physical responses. His shiftiness indicated some uncertainty in his speculation of what I thought of him. So I smiled. “Good to know.” He let out a relieved laugh, and before he could get too distracted, I sat in a nearby chair and motioned for him to come sit next to me. “I have something to show you.” I opened my folder on my lap as he came and took his seat next to me.
Shuffling through the materials, I came to the cubeboard. “That.” I said as I pointed to it. I didn’t pick it up; instead, I let him lean across my chest so that his face would have to come near my breast, his breath hitting my bare neck and collarbone as he moved in close to see the writing. And if we didn’t have such things to talk about, I would have goaded him into taking me right there. After being momentarily distracted by my flesh, he focused on the cubeboard. “Huh,” and he laughed a little in delight.
“You know what it is?”
He nodded enthusiastically. “Yup, I know exactly what this is. And I feel fortunate to know the person that can Extract.” It was a compliment, the underlying implications I could not completely grasp. He was excited, and though I saw the intention on his face, the kiss still came as a bit of a surprise. He tasted sweet; we lingered. Then he stood up and took my hand. “Come on. I have a lot to show you, and we have a lot to talk about. Here is not the place.”
I gathered up the folders (mine and his), leaving the rest behind in a messy pile. Through the river of people, we made our way quietly and efficiently to the entrance of The Labyrinth. We disappeared like ghosts behind the glittering walls, and I felt cradled by warmth.