Labyrinth of Souls

Reads: 63  | Likes: 0  | Shelves: 0  | Comments: 0

More Details
Status: Finished  |  Genre: Horror  |  House: Booksie Classic

Submitted: June 12, 2019

A A A | A A A

Submitted: June 12, 2019

A A A

A A A


Chapter One

THE WORLD HAS WALLS, stone walls with mouths full of teeth. At least that is what I learned in my brief time adventuring beyond university halls into the world of stockbrokers and businessmen: A world where capitalism is not just a philosophy, but a religion complete with a full pantheon and devoted monks. But wait, there's more! No religion is complete without a holy book. You can't say I didn't learn anything in Dr. Windstorm's world religions class.Yet, no Koran, Bible, or Book of Mormon will do here. No, this religion requires 100,000 holy books all with a smiling face and business suit splayed on a cover promising your best life now and how to make your money work for you. Meanwhile, like leeches in a river, they wait for you to wade in, so they can suck you dry.

Okay, maybe I am a little bitter, but who wouldn't be after having your hopes and dreams crushed by the hundred corporate rejection slips.

When I walked out of UT Knox's doors I didn't realize I was walking into a cloud of mosquitoes in whose eyes I was a feast of dollar signs. Just the way I must look to the mosquito who has landed on my left forearm... Wait! A mosquito on my left arm!

I swat at the Kamikaze bomber with my right hand sending the famished spirit down into moist flakes of the forest's dead skin.

"Wow! You really showed him, bro," I hear the bluesy baritone of Murph's Motown voice say from a few feet behind me.

I turn around and find myself face to face with Murph's chest. I have to look up to look him in the face because Murph is a six-foot-something guy and I usually tell people that I'm five-foot-six (which is a slight of a tall tale).

I can still hear Anna's Mississippi siren and Mekayla's deep smoky alto in a battle of voices down the trail behind me. The feeling of a moth flutter invades my chest. I hate arguments! They make me anxious.

I'm envisioning the scene as I left it and increase my hiking speed down the sparsely graveled woodland trail. The gargantuan monster of a pack that Anna insisted we bring along (but cannot carry herself because of an old back injury) lies like a small blue man in the fetal position between the two warring parties. On the left, Anna McCarthy, the war with words champion and on the right, the challenger, Mekayla Fox!

"Well, ya know me, man... Are they about done back there?"

"Naw man, they just gettn' warmed up...it'll be at least another twenty-five ya know."

"Sure, if only we could be that lucky."

"Not with your luck," he says with a blazing fire-white grin splitting the dark clouds of his face like lightning.

"Look, man, why don't you guys head back. I'll catch up with ya after I check out this trail."

Murph looks back down the trail over one of his massive shoulders as a puff of white breath escapes his mouth.

"Alright man, we'll have some breakfast ready when you get back... just don't take to long cuz you know Mekayla."

"Have you ever known me to miss out on Anna's cooking."

Murph shakes his short crop and heads back up the trail. I stand there watching as my best friend disappears into the morning mist. Travion Murphy is what his mother named him, but everybody just called him Trey or T-ray in middle and high school down in south Memphis.It's what I called him too until he told me one day after practice that he didn't like being called by either. Since then, it's been Murphy—or Murph to his close friends. He is the constant that keeps our friend group together. When mine and Mekayla's relationship didn't work out he was the one that got us to talk to each other again. In many ways, Murph is what has kept my life from falling apart.

Everything has always been torn from me. It started long before starting the MBA program. Before my dreams of a business of my own were drowned in the hundredth horrendous happy hour cocktail concoction I was forced to memorize. When I was eleven years old it was my dad who was torn away. Then the darkness came when everything became my fault when I started building the walls.

With all these thoughts racing around my mind I almost missed the red and black suited gentleman whose crimson crested head pointed at me like an arrow. One starry night eye stares at me from his deep green bottle brush perch in the pine ahead. Seeing the cardinal brings me back to reality, and I am keenly aware of the soft musical notes the forest plays upon the sweet-cool morning air. The slight earthy smell of life fills my nostrils.

I have always found that I think clearer and find more peace when hiking in nature. That was the whole reason for the hiking trip my friends currently had me on.

I can still see the surprise etched onto the soft, red-sand skin and slightly pink velvet lips of Mekayla's face when I opened the bedroom door with her in mid-knock. Her face shifted into a look of playful defiance. I don't know what it is, but Mekayla is most attractive when the amount of sass is at its highest. Murph had let her and Anna in the apartment and I found them with camping gear scattered all over the floor.

"I was just coming to get your lazy butt out of Bed."

"Lazy! You're one to talk, last minute Mekayla."

"Well look who finally got up," Anna said.

"You were supposed to blindfold him!" Came Murph's voice from the floor.

"Sorry, I'm not at my best in the morning."

"Whelp, it's official she finally admitted it," Anna said. "Well Chase we were going to make this a big surprise kidnapping and all, but you are such a sound sleeper it's amazing we got you up for the trip at all."

"Trip?"

"We thought you could use a nice hiking trip in the mountains, so we arranged it," Mekayla added.

"Thanks, I'm not sure that I needed it, but it would be fun I guess."

I lied. It has been exactly what I needed, minus Mekayla's and Anna's bickering. Their fights always cause my mind to regurgitate memories of mom and dad fighting. Which is why I decided to take an early morning hike alone this morning. If only Anna didn't have me on her woman-nar.

What a beautiful morning it is on this lonely trail. The trees are cloaked in their own chiffon robe of mist that hides only the most intimate details of their features. Three or maybe four golden beams have broken through the canopy to reveal the haze of old man mountain's smoking. The sunlight creeping through the white-gray limbs and contrasting dark-green leaves of a rhododendron reaching for me out of the white mist.

Oh, I wish I could hide forever in this world of forest and cloud, away from the world of promised lies, and Anna's constant complaining.

It's not just the complaining itself, because if it was it wouldn't be so awful. Ever since a couple of springs ago Mekayla and Anna's relationship has not been the same. Now every time Anna makes a comment the icy lake between them can be felt.

Once those fights started, the ones where I woke up in bed to my mother's screams downstairs. The thunderous rumbles of my father's voice carried up the stairs into my room and would shake the foundations of my soul. I would try to shut it out with music, but the memory of it haunted every tune. I felt like I was treading water in a stormy sea with no land in sight, no cause for hope.

I had been a child with a seemingly endless supply of hope. I did everything a child could think of to restore peace and security to that home. Every trip, every gift, every moment I attacked with enough enthusiasm to off-set Lanna's apparent apathy. My sister didn't share the same optimism. That did not stop me. I even used humor, for which I had some real talent. Other times I would invent captivating tales just to distract our parents from how much they hated each other.

The distractions would work for a little while, but I knew it would soon end. Then I would be in the hornet's nest of another domestic battle once again. The dark emptiness would return and my world would again be shrouded in disquiet. But through it all there was still hope.

Until that day. The day hope was ripped from me...

I see the shape of another hiker coming up the trail in the opposite direction. At the moment the person is just a silhouette in the morning mist coming around a bend in the trail. My breathing increases and my pulse begins to flutter. Then the image clears. Now, I see a woman in a dark green uniform and sunglasses with a pinched ten gallon on her head. She's out early.

Her shift probably just started.

Of course, but you just don't see them very often on these trips. The thought vanishes like mist as the ranger tips her head to me in greeting. I tip mine in return, noticing there is an attractive woman behind the ranger mask. I get one momentary glance before she jogs past me. My eyes follow her form as she vanishes into the mist.

As I near the lower south bend in the trail, I notice fog getting thicker making it impossible to see farther than a few feet in front of me. Also, the sun must have gone behind a cloud or something because it is significantly darker than it was before. No longer are golden flecks of light chasing me through the trees and now the back of my neck has become a probe of static electricity.

I stop to check the time, becoming an island in a sea of mist. My cell phone display reads 7:16 am.

It's only been about an hour since I started this hike. The sun should still be rising. It can't be getting dark already? A storm must be blowing in. I better get back to camp...

The sound of uncontrollable inhaling and exhaling in quick succession catches my attention. The sound is followed by a higher pitch noise that is unmistakably the sound of a child sobbing. The crying is faint but clear, there is no mistaking it.

"Hello, is somebody there?"

The crying stops for a moment and the entire forest becomes stony silent. A stillness, now pregnant with dread. My heart is thumping faster and faster like it is going to beat out of my chest. Then my lungs begin to scream out for air. At this point I realize I have been holding my breath and I release it, taking in gulps of air.

After a few minutes, the weeping sound begins again, this time closer. I hear its whispering reaching me through the mist on my left.

At least now I know what direction the voice is coming from... if he or she or whichever it is would just answer me I would know this is not just my imagination.

"Hello" I call out again with more baritone force.

Out of the mist comes a little girl's heaving horse squeak.

"Please... Help... Me."

These three words hit me in the chest like bullets punching so deep it would knock the wind out of anyone. I feel the cold hand of fear and the quivering desperation in her voice. Now I have intense desperation to help this child get home.

"Stay where you are, I'm coming"

The words jump out of my mouth before I even have the chance to stop them.

Don't worry my dear the cavalry is coming to the rescue! There could not be a worse person to come to navigate her to safety.

I bend down at the edge of the trail and begin my search for a walking stick. I find a sturdy gnarled limb before taking that first fateful step beyond the relative safety of the trail.

***

The trees like silent guardians have crowded around me with seeming suspicion. Tree branches reach through the mist like clawed hands at my face and clothing trying to stop me. I find myself working harder to evade those reaching mandibles then to progress up this hill. Yet I continue on at breakneck speed like I'm wading across a swiftly flowing river. The primal spirit of protectiveness drives me forward despite the cold grip of fear tight around my chest.

How am I going to find her in this damn mist?

"Say something so I can find you."

"Help me I'm lost!" is the only reply she gives, but it is enough for me to get my barrings. I am made immediately aware of my blunder in the navigation of this maze of nature. I adjust my direction with a firm placement of my newly acquired walking stick.

"So...um I was thinking we might need a little introduction. I'm Chase. What's your name sweetie?"

Sweetie? Really Chase?

"Help please." Answers the tiny sweet voice.

"Look, I want to help you, but if I'm going to find you were going to have to keep talking, so we might as well get acquainted. What's your name?"

"Aponi," Comes the sweet little songbird reply from somewhere in the mist to the northwest.

In the dense fog tree after tree seem to disappear in the hungry white cloud. Each one another landmark gone. As the gray-white mass creeps closer, Aponi's sweet voice is the only thing guiding me. Then a terrible thought breaks through this wall of a nightmare.

Once I do find her, how will I ever find the trail again?

"It's very nice to meet you Aponi. Is there anyone with you?"

"My daddy is looking for me." Comes the canary voice from nearly at my feet. All I see though is an island of murky brown leaves in a sea of pale as death smoke.

"Aponi could you do something for me? Could you come to the sound of my voice?"

The sea of fog is breached by a butterfly of a hand which slaps the mush of leaves at my feet. My breath and heart instantly halted by the sudden appearance. Another hand comes out of what should be the ground to meet it, my heart and lungs now working double to make up time.

A shadow rises up in the mist, morphing from an indistinct shape into the silhouette of the head and shoulders of a young girl. Aponi begins to rise up off her hands and knees. The image of her rising through the mist is gaining details and losing obscurity like a black and white photo developing in a darkroom. As she rises leaves cascade to the forest floor.

A slight spasm shakes through my body where a disquieting chill has settled. The chill is not from the cooling air. Why was she hiding under the leaves? And what is she hiding from?

"Hello," she says in the same little songbird voice, Her face still hidden behind dark brown weeping willow hair. She takes a step forward like an apparition coming towards me out of the fog.

"Hello, Aponi... Why were you hiding?"

"Something's watching me..."

At these words, a deep sense of dread tightens its iron fingers around my stomach. The eyes of some midnight shadow presence are burning into the back of my neck causing the tingle of danger.

Common Chase, pull yourself together. She probably just crossed some animal and now is scared.

That's not true. You have sensed something's not right since you got up this morning. You're just afraid to admit it.

Where did that thought come from?

Lost in thought, Aponi finally begins to look up at me through tangled tendrils of hair dotted with pieces of leaves and earth. The tendrils part like the beaded strings in a fortune teller's doorway revealing the wide hazel eyes and the rose-stone kissed cheeks of this little girl. The soft pattering of my heart tells me, not only do I know these staring round eyes, but that I care deeply for the child to whom they belong. Is she a long lost family member or is this some projection of mine onto a sweet little child?

Immediately her eyes widen with the unmistakable look of terror. Her eyes look through me instead of at me at some unknown beast and I stand frozen in place; unable to turn and see the unnamed fear. I can feel the brail like bumps as they rise on the back of my neck at the chilled touch of a breeze too icy for spring.

Then the most horrid of sounds split the air from between two petite butterfly lips. Aponi's scream rams like a gunshot into my chest and breaks the spell.

Suddenly, I am filled with burning rage and courage I didn't know I had and I turn on the nameless fiend...

NOTHING… Only the white mist.


© Copyright 2019 E.C. Wegner. All rights reserved.

Add Your Comments:

More Horror Writing Contests