By Hannah Aud
The room you enter is far brighter than any other room you’ve been in so far, and you feel blinded by the stark change in light. The room is tiny, with seating on either side. The walls are plated in reflective metal, that industrial crisscross texture that creates an array of strange shadows and reflections so you can’t quite make yourself out on its surface. There appear to be no other participants. You think back to the phone in the locker next to yours and wonder if the other person is already inside.
The only other person in the room is a man who stands at the other end, looking extremely disinterested with his hands behind his slightly slouched back. He is dressed in a dark red shirt with a tiny “Benton’s” stitched into the left breast. He does not look at you as you enter. Instead, he just zones out, his eyes trained at one of the back corners. His face looks like he’d rather be anywhere else but here. You sit down and wait, picking at your nails as a distraction.
Your eyes flick up after about two minutes. They wander around the room, taking note of the lack of other people in there with you. It really was dead tonight. When you finally turn your eyes to the worker, you look at him curiously. He speaks loudly, like there’s some invisible audience. You’re not even that far away, maybe a couple of feet between where you sit and where he stands. Even though it is just the two of you, he doesn’t look you in the eyes. Instead, he scans the room silently. It’s a motion one would do if they were waiting for a room of people to turn their attention toward the front.
“My name is Hank. I’m going to briefly talk you through what’s about to happen once you leave this room. As you all probably know Benton’s Funhouse Mirror Maze is the largest maze in the nation.”
You didn’t know that, but you don’t say as much because you frankly don’t really care.
“That can be quite daunting for many customers. When you get inside, many customers are going to want to try and go as fast as they can through the maze. Do. Not. Do. This. You will get lost, and it will make things harder for you. The number one rule of the maze is ‘keep calm, everything is as it should be.’”
Hank pauses, freezing in place for dramatic effect, and for a second you think he is finished. But he isn’t.
“Many people have been known to freak out in the maze. Being surrounded by constant reminders of who you are as a person has been known to cause psychological harm. If you feel that you are vulnerable to this and have signed the waiver, we are not liable for the psychological damage that you experience. If you have not signed the waiver, you are not legally allowed to be here, and I ask that you make your way to the exit.”
Again, he pauses, but you make no move to leave.
“Alrighty, now the rest of you may enter the maze.” Hank steps aside and opens a hidden door in the wall. A dark corridor with flashing lights at the end of it is exposed. You stand and walk past him, giving a nod to Hank as you move forward. As soon as you are out of the room, the door shuts behind you with a click. You are shrouded in darkness. Don’t rush, you think. So, you walk slowly toward the light, letting the ambiance settle into you. The moment you reach the end of the corridor, you are blanketed in flashing lights. The maze is a mix of florescent neon colors, both in light and painted design. The blacklights shift and bounce off the mirrors in a way that’s almost disorienting, but it’s only ever for a flash before they move on to another wall. Large, ornate archways frame each mirror, and overhead a generic kind of techno instrumental plays. It’s a fun, pseudo-futurist kind of sound.
You step into the main foyer and look around. You can clearly see your reflection on the mirrored walls, so you walk slowly, with arms outstretched toward a wall where your reflection looks far away. You walk until you are right in front of your reflection, then you turn left. With confident steps, you walk forward until you approach another mirror. You circle around and turn to your right. You walk, approach a mirror, turn left. Near a mirror, make a right. Make another right. Make a Left. Straight. Right. Right. Left. Right. Left. Smack. Face hitting glass, you laugh, realizing you hadn’t seen your own reflection until it was right in front you.
“Good going dumbass. He said don’t rush and what’s the first thing you do?”
Looking at your surroundings, you backtrack. A third passageway, less obvious than the dead end, is straight in front of you. You walk in that direction, careful not to slam into the next mirror you come across. The process starts anew, with a careful consideration of your surroundings. You decide to turn left, then continue forward again until you must make the decision to turn right, or stay straight, or go in which ever direction leads you toward the exit. After what feels like an eternity you speed up again. The longer you walk the more the excitement starts to drain out of you. You make a left, turn right, go straight. Right, Left. Left. Straight. Left. Right. Right. Left. Straight. Stop. You stare at the mirror just a few inches in front of your face. You almost hadn’t seen it.
“Ha, not this time.” You let out a dryer laugh than before. Rather than a building of confidence inside of you, your speed increased more out of a need to reach the end. There’s a noticeable feeling, or rather a lack thereof, of enjoyment. But you are trying to keep your spirits high for the moment. You suddenly wonder how big the biggest mirror maze in the nation is. This was exactly what you were warned against. Don’t stay in your head. You circle around yourself, turning to face each individual wall and checking for a reflection before you notice an arch that has no reflection in the middle. You walk toward it.
Smack. You hit glass.
“What the fuck!” You grab your face and take a step back.
With eyes squeezed shut, you do your best to hold back tears. When you open them, you stare at your. . . reflection?
“That- was that- how didn’t I notice that.” You feel ready to scream, frustration and confusion all an ugly mix inside of you. You swear the reflection hadn’t been there before. Your breathing labors as your throat closes from incoming tears.
Breathe in. Breathe out. Pinch the bridge of your nose. Use the slight sting to center you. Breathe in. Breathe out. Calm.
Considering your oncoming panic averted, you contemplate your next course of action. Plan A and B now feel unusable. You settle on the oldest and most childish way to do anything. With hands placed on the cold mirror’s surface, you feel your way around the room until you hit an opening.
Walking at the lowest speed so far, you carefully feel your way through the next few corridors. Despite the fact that there was really no clear way to tell time, you feel that at the very least, a good fifteen minutes has passed. Though it was getting harder to tell. You felt pretty blind to the passage of time at this point. In fact, you felt pretty blind in general.
When you first entered, you felt that the lighting had been fine. Now you feel like you can’t even trust your own eyes. The corridors feel darker. The fluorescent pathways look more like nightmarish archways. Every step forward is scarier than the last. You are certain that you’re overthinking things. Obviously, coming out of darkness would make any semblance of light feel brighter. But the darkness around you still seems to creep into the corners of your eyes, blocking out anything else. Without looking around constantly your path begins to feel narrowed.
Breathe in. Breathe out. Breathe in. Breathe out. You count your breaths, both to keep yourself calm and to pass the time.
“God, I wish I was on the beach right now.” You cringe, and immediately regret saying it. You’d avoided thinking about it this long, but now it was the only thing echoing through your otherwise stupidly quiet mind. But it was the truth. You wish that you’d said yes to your friends. That you’d gotten over yourself. Over your stupid fear of changing the routine. Over the stupid idea that someone would be disappointed if you didn’t do exactly what you’d always done. The only person who was disappointed now was you.
You reach an alcove and stop in your tracks. On the ground in front of you lies a bright orange scarf. For a second, you're grateful for the distraction. Who wouldn’t notice their scarf going missing, you wonder. You lean down to pick it up. Out of the corner of your eye you see movement, like a person running past. You whip into an upright position and stare at yourself in the mirror. A short breathless laugh escapes your lips as your heart beats heavy in your chest.
You feel crazy.
Again, just out of your view, a figure seems to run past. But this time you swear you catch a glimpse of orange. You whip around, again, face to face with your reflection.
“Hello?” Your voice echoes through the corridors but falls short, eventually fading into the darkness. Your breath gets caught behind the heart in your throat. Your skin breaks out in goosebumps, muscles trembling under the weight of your fear.
Move! You think to yourself. Move goddamnit! For once in your pathetic life just fucking move!
Another flash of movement and you're off. You walk at a brisk pace, trying your best not to get lost, and let your hands drag over the mirrors. The feeling that someone is following you sits right underneath your skin, making all your nerve endings stand at attention. You want to run, want to let your legs carry you far away from here. Fear, however, holds you back just as much as it moves you forward. It’s getting closer, you just know it. Whatever is following you is quick on your heels, practically biting at them. You want to speed up, you do, but you can’t. It’s almost got you now. You’re certain it’s wrapping its hands around your arm. You scream, flailing around.
There is nothing. No one is there.
“Stop it. Stop. It.” You’re not certain if you’re talking to yourself or to someone else. You look up at the ornate crown molding above the mirrors, but there are no cameras. In fact, there doesn’t even look like there are speakers. You can’t even tell where the lights are coming from. Dread sinks in. This place is not right. You feel it now. A sort of wrongness in the air that pushes down on you like gravity. The same kind of off you felt outside. A suffocating, nauseous feeling grips your insides, and you must forcibly refrain from throwing up. You gaze at the ground, watching as lights and shapes dance across the floor.
You realize you are moving again, walking at nothing more than a snail’s pace. But you are moving forward. Hand planted firmly on the window to your left, you let it glide across the surface of the mirror and over the bumps and ridges of the archways. You refuse to look forward. Shaky limbs guide you toward what you can only assume is the exit. You turn when there is a place to. Every movement you make only adds to your paranoia. Breathe in. Breathe out. Breathe in. Breathe out. Counting your breaths isn’t helping anymore but you have nothing else to do. You simply try to busy your mind from focusing on the impending doom you can feel building inside of you. Eventually your hand hits air. Your fingers wrap firmly around the column, and you turn your body so that you don’t have to let go. You stop when you see a figure in from of you. Looking up, you stare at yourself with wide eyes.
In front of you staring back, is your reflection? Except your hand is still clutching the column. A look of horror crosses your face. Or its face. Or maybe both of your faces. It’s hard to tell since you are definitely horrified.
You, or rather, your reflection, because it certainly isn’t you, screams. It lunges at you, tackling you to the ground, and you are too surprised to react in time to stop it. It scratches at you, and all you can do is block your face. You try to push back, try to fight your reflection away, but it’s hitting you with such a ferocity that you barely have time to move your arms in any other way than defensive. The orange scarf, still wrapped in your hand, bunches and hangs in your face, obscuring your vision. The thing that looks like you manages to snake its hands between your arms, and they close around your throat. Your screams become garbles as your airflow is cut off. Clawing desperately at this thing’s arms, you feel yourself beginning to become lightheaded. Suddenly this thing freezes. You take the chance to push it away from you, dropping the scarf, and doing your best to crawl in the opposite direction.
“No!” you hear yourself, or rather you hear your voice, yell.
You turn around, ready to defend yourself, but the thing has now turned away from you. You watch as it pulls itself up and runs off. You drag yourself into a sitting position. When you make eye contact with another reflection you scream and scurry back. But this one seems strictly stuck behind a pane of reflective glass as it mimics your actions. You push yourself up against one of the closest mirrors, sobbing and panting. Breathe in. Breathe out. Breathe in. Breathe out. Breathe. Breathe. BREATHE GODDAMNIT! But you can’t catch your breath, it stutters and seizes in your throat, no air making it to your lungs. Your head hits the mirror, and everything goes black.
. . .
By the time you wake up, you feel unbelievably lost. You sit up as fast as you can, immediately on your guard, but getting up too fast has its consequences, and you lean on the mirror in hopes you don’t pass out again. The passageway in which your doppelganger attacked you looms heavy in the corner of your eye. You stare at it, waiting for a round two, but nothing happens. Eventually you decide that sitting around won’t do anything, so you crawl toward the opening. As you approach, you can see your reflection creeping up to the mirror as well. Except it’s too perfect. It mimics you with too much accuracy. You realize with a sickening sense that what you thought was a passageway, is now nothing more than glass. Just another mirror to confuse you on your journey. You stand and rush the mirror. You push at the edges, rubbing your hand all over the surface, looking for some kind of indicator that it’s a false wall. It isn’t. It’s like the mirror had always been there.
“What the fuck! What the fuck! WHAT THE FUCK!”
You consider for a second that you misremembered where the passage was. But as you push against the adjacent mirrors, you quickly realize that you won’t be finding anything. Terrified and angry, the feelings well up inside you and spill out as tears and screams. But you wipe them away with a cynical ferocity. Now is not the time to cry. Not anymore. Crying would only keep you here longer and you wanted out. All of this was already too much.
You take a step back, and almost lose your balance, feeling so unbelievably disoriented. Had you imagined it? A part of you clings to the idea that it was real. It had to be real. But the longer you look at the walls, the more you realize you must have made it up.
“You’re losing it.” You laugh, but it’s dry and defeated. “They warned you about this, jus-just calm down, and move forward.”
You don’t move. Your feet remain planted in the same spot for a couple of minutes. You breathe. Breathe in. Breathe out. When you feel that you are significantly calm again, you take a wobbly step forward, and do your best to ignore the shakiness of your legs. There are so many thoughts running around your mind that you feel overwhelmed. Then again, everything about this place is overwhelming. The seemingly endless corridors of reflections upon reflections, stretched on for infinity, an effect that was cool at the beginning but now just feel like dark reflections of your inner anxieties about your experiences, or maybe only what you imagined to be your experiences, in this place. You move on to the next thought. How long had you been passed out, you wonder? How long had you laid almost lifeless and vulnerable with a dark version of yourself ready to attack at any moment? You consider that it can’t have been that long, or else someone was surely to have come gotten you by now. Right? The revelation that no one would know if you needed help sits on your chest. You move onto the next thought. You wonder why you are even here. Back before summer had even begun, you’d been invited to go out west. Spend the summer with some friends on the beach. And you’d said no. You’d rambled on about how you had a summer job, how the beach wasn’t your thing because you’d grown up on a shipyard anyway. You’d rambled on about stupid fucking things that felt extremely pointless now that you were walking through a fucking mirror maze scared out of your goddamn mind.
You move on.
You stop thinking entirely and revert to counting steps. The monotonous action doesn’t calm you, but it grounds you, and keeps you from getting too upset at your own thoughts. You press on, only really turning when you finally find yourself at a dead end. Every opening you come across is approached slowly. Despite the possibility that your doppelganger was in fact just a figment of your imagination, that you’d simply passed out and dreamed something terrible, you still felt that you could not let your guard down. With every passing entrance you feel worse and worse. There is no relief the longer avoid your doppelganger, and eventually the regular reflections begin to frighten you.
You approach a mirror that looks too dark from one perspective only to jump when you come face to face with a flat reflective surface. You touch the surface, pushing on it as you take a deep breath.
“You’ve got to calm down.” You run a hand down your face, trying to rub the exhaustion out of your skin.
It catches you by surprise when you hit an opening and still see a reflection. You stare wide eyed, confused. You look at its hand, wrapped around the whole of the column. It’s your doppelganger. You scream and lunge for the thing before it can attack you this time. You push it to the ground, hitting and scratching at its face. It does it’s best to block you, but you manage to wedge your hands through its arms and wrap them around its neck. You squeeze. It scratches at your arms. And then you freeze. There is a bright orange scarf wrapped around their hand. But you’d never picked it up again. A nauseating sense of déjà-vu washes over you. You recognize this, action for action. Except the last time this happened you were on the other side. Your doppelganger, or rather, you push yourself away.
“No!” You watch yourself crawl away, the same thing you did only a short while ago. You drag yourself up and run. You run blindly, hitting mirrors and throwing yourself through openings as they come.
It was you. It was you all along. How did that work? How much time had passed? Had time ever even really passed? Had you been walking in circles the entire time? Did it even matter? Because walking in circles didn’t mean you could be in two places at once. And it definitely didn’t mean you could meet yourself. That is not how real fucking life works.
You make a right, turning into a small chamber of sorts. The sudden change from endless corridors gives you a reason to pause. The room isn’t lit with the same neon fluorescence that haunted the rest of the maze. This room is lit with a dim but stark white light. There are no archways, no fun painted designs. When you look around, there are only mirrors from end to end, from floor to ceiling. And when you look up or down there are just more mirrors. No sign of where any light is coming from. No carpet with fun designs. Just mirrors.
There are no other exits than the way you walked in. You turn around to leave but are startled when you come face to face with another mirror. You place your hands on the mirror, feeling around for a false door but just like before there is nothing of the sort. Stepping back, you swing around, looking for something. There has to be something you missed, but there isn’t. You rush a mirror, banging on its surface with your fists as the glass gives the barest of tremors.
“No. NO! HELP! SOMEBODY HELP ME!” you scream as loud as you possibly can. You scream until your throat feels raw and your hands hurt, and nothing happens. You scream.
Finally, you step back and slump to the floor. You’re exhausted, but you still manage to let a sob break through your chest.
“Fuck.” You say it quiet and defeated. No roar. No final battle cry. Just a fool out of options.
You are trapped. But the feeling is not new, and with exhausted clarity you realize that you’ve always been trapped. You’ve been stuck your whole life. In this town. In a stupid dead-end part-time job. And now in this fucking maze. Deep down you’ve always felt it, and more times than not, it was your fault. You’ve given reason after reason about why you couldn’t go anywhere, why you couldn’t just move on with your life. It had always been easier for you to stay with the familiar, the paths laid out for you. Anything out of the ordinary was so easily avoided. Just stay in one place long enough and everything will move on without you.
But you were tired. You were so tired waiting around for life to get better.
You stare at your reflection, looking so defeated and still, so unmoving that it didn’t look real, it barely even looked like you. It barely even felt like you. You hated it.
So, you move. You stand up, never breaking eye contact with yourself. In your eyes, you watch as your idea takes shape, as you realize what you have to do. The only thing that’s left to do. You rush a mirror, this time using your shoulder and elbow to ram into it.
You do it again.
Over and over, until your shoulder hurts and you switch to the other side. The mirror shakes harder and harder and you can hear it clatter against the sides of the other mirrors. When your other shoulder begins to hurt, you begin kicking at its surface. You bring your leg up and push it forward. You hear the mirror crack. You kick it again. And again. And again. Until tiny shards begin to fall. Until the cracks begin to expand and mar the entire surface of the mirror. Until finally, the glass gives way, and it shatters to the ground. The sound is so loud that the silence that accompanies it afterward is almost unreal. You breathe heavy as your stare at what you’ve done. Beyond the broken glass is just darkness. There is no maze on the other side. No neon lights. No cliché techno music. No mirrors. Just a black abyss. It’s frightening, knowing nothing can fully prepare you for what comes next. But it’s also the only way out. You try to center yourself. Breathe in. Breathe out. Breathe in. Breathe out. Calm.
You move forward, and step into the darkness.
The Road Home
Cicadas Scream in the Background
To sit in the heat and think is to die
What living is there without movement
But who am I to say I write like a poet
But speak like a hypocrite
Hoping my words have meaning
Without having to give them any
I sit in the heat and think and dream
Of action and death
Until the vultures descend
With truth or lies
It does not matter
Because they pick away at my false actions
With good intentions or bad
It does not matter
Because I am inevitably destroyed by myself
And the words I paraded
Around the page
With no intention to tell a story
But with the intention to be loved
not for truth or personhood
but or the simple fact that
I crave affection
And that I am lonely
And when the vultures descend
I welcome their barbs and pecks
Because it is attention
Despite how it tears me apart
Despite how it does not last
Despite how it will leave me lonely again
When all is done
Can’t you see me
Can’t you hear me
As I sit in the heat to think and die
As I write like a writer
And Speak like a speaker
And croak out words
In garbled blood-filled tongues
Dark and mysterious
Promising a story
Making you listen and moan and suffer
No pleasure derived
Just a pain in your heart
As you wait for a punchline
That will never come
And I trap you in a sense of inaction
As you now sit in the sun to think and die
All the while
Cicadas scream in the background
To lead astray in a dead tongue
Morphed to stab you in the back
The Older version is confused
For the true meaning is Middle French
But sexuality didn’t exist until 1550
And by then it was clear
The object, the prize: a woman
Better yet her virginity purity
She makes an attempt to reclaim
She calls herself seductress (He calls
But never slut
For that shows too much
Of the systemic misogyny
That peaks in the 1800s
Then down and down
Until the roaring 1920s
(Now that her knees show she obviously wants it)
Then it peaks again
Just before the 2000s
So many ruined women
Makes you wonder
Maybe it wasn’t confusion
A trail of betrayal
That leads to today (2019)
“I’ll seduce her” he says
The time for fear is over
He will pay for his insult
For his crime
The time is now