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Reads: 21

Beneath the vague light and darkness, between walls as he lays down on the wet concrete ground and breathes the hazy fog while he slept soundly. Until he wakes up and jumps on his feet. Ryder quickly looked around to see where he is — he was no longer in the mansion in his seat, he looks around to his confusion, that he is standing in the middle of a crossroad, with one way in each direction; an oddly, there were numbers on each path walls, the number five. He walks towards the walls to touch it, feeling its hard-stony texture and wet feel, different from the wallpaper back at the mansion — it was normal, he thought — but there was something he couldn’t grasp in his mind; it felt familiar, yet he knew, that it was something he never felt before. He walks away from the wall to examine the four ways it showed him — all were filled with fog so blurry that he couldn’t see through it. He looks up only to see the height of the walls, and the darkness that floated above them. He suddenly touches his body to see if there was anything on him; he still wore the same clothes without any changes, with the exception of his jacket and later, his satchel, which was nowhere to be found.

 

“Where… Am I?” he said to himself, trying to remember what happened before.

 

He remembers Leopold Deville, the supposed host of the game. He remembers Drew and the other contestants, but he was not with them. He was alone as far as he could see, with only the small bugs on the walls and floor to keep him company, “Is this the game?” he asks himself. He lingered for a few minutes, trying to contemplate where he is, or what he is supposed to do. He looks at each way, seeing only the fog still, “This must be the first game. A maze or something,” he thought to himself, but he didn’t see any mazes on the way to the mansion. He thought that maybe the maze was behind the structure, but after seeing the height of the walls that surrounded him, and the fog and darkness that flowed in the maze; he must be somewhere else — somewhere farther, yet so close. With no other choice, he decided to choose one of the pathways to go, but he did not know which since the paths looked the same with its fog and wet floor. He lingered for a few more minutes, trying to decide which path to take, but the time to think was short-lived. Drops of water began echoing from behind Ryder, quickly making him turn and lift his hands. The drops slowly began to echo like footsteps stepping on the wet floor.

 

Ryder’s heart prepared to run, he only heard the echo and not the figure of who made it; he stared only at the same fog with bated breath. The wet sound of footsteps began to come closer, and as it came faster, Ryder slowly looks down at the wet floor; to his dismay, small ripples of water came towards him. He knows that someone was there, but who. The ripples became bigger as the footsteps become splashes; Ryder inches his foot backward, ready to turn around and run. But he didn’t. Along with the splashes, he hears a voice — a voice he never heard before despite the contestants’ constant bickering back at the mansion. The voice was not of a man, or even a woman, he thought. It was shrill and soft, but piercing as the voice came closer and closer, and the splashes became near to his ear. As one splash came out from the fog, Ryder screamed; trying to hit the one that caused it, but he missed. Instead, something passed below him, hitting his stomach as it runs. Ryder quickly turns around to see the one running, and to his surprise, it was the child — the little boy he saw at the front row seats — and he shouted at Ryder.

 

“RUN!!”

 

Ryder only stared as the boy disappears into the fog, confused about what he said. He looks down to see something laying on the wet floor: a blue bunny with a bowtie, assuming that it belonged to the child. He goes down on one knee to grab the bunny, examining it, but in the end, it seemed like a normal child’s toy. He gets back on up looking at the bunny, placing it to hang on its jeans; he then looks to the path where the boy ran, “What does he mean by…run?” he said to himself; he thought the boy was just playing tricks until he finally realized what he meant. Buzzing suddenly replaces the splashing the boy made before, startling Ryder to turn around. He thought that it was just another contestant, having his phone ringing from a call, but it was not. At a far distance within the fog, he sees one black dot in the white mist, floating around it; he squints to look closely, only to see one bug flying towards him. Ryder stood still as the bug flew close to his nose, flying still until it lands on his nose. Ryder didn’t do anything however, his eyes were still bewildered by the bug’s appearance: it was purely black with its 2 sets of wings of the same color, and only its eye stood out the most; because, it was red as blood. The bug suddenly bites Ryder’s nose, making him grunt in pain before swatting the bug towards the ground, killing it.

 

Oddly, the water around the bug rippled only in one path, but Ryder didn’t notice. He quickly covers his nose with both of his hands while he taps it to get rid of the stinging pain the bug left. When the pain slowly seizes, he breathes to his relief, but it was only a feeling. He gently uncovers his nose to see what the bug left behind, and to his bewilderment, blood was sipping out of his pierced skin, going down on Ryder’s face. He quickly wipes it off with the collar of his shirt, making its color change into blood red, “What kind of bug was that?!” he shouted in anger while he stomps the bug’s body. After wiping the last drop of blood from his nose, he quickly noticed something: the buzzing was still echoing. He slowly tilts his head to the bug’s pathway, hearing the buzzing become louder and louder, then, Ryder’s mouth went wide open along with his eyes; as he sees more black dots — a swarm of black bugs — flying towards him. His legs moved on their own as he turns around and run, going to the boy’s path. He ignores the other routes and zoomed through the blurry fog. Taking glances behind him as he runs, seeing the swarm of the bugs coming closer to his heels.

 

Without taking a breath, he runs, until he stops at another crossroad, now embedded with a different number: four. Frantically looking at each direction while he tries to decide which. But as he glances behind, the very swarm was coming towards him like lightning. With no choice, he hurriedly goes to the left path without any thoughts, continuing to run as fast as he can without taking a rest. Splashing the wet floor as he passes through; stepping over scattered bones and broken wall fragments; but despite his effort, the swarm still kept his tail. He sees another two turns at the distance, going towards the left without any hesitation; but shortly after, he regretted it. The very end of the path he took was nothing but a dead-end, a giant wall with no other way through. He hurriedly touches the very bricks of the wall, trying to find something to open or something to climb onto; but no luck was shown. Breathing heavily from his attempt, he turns back at the path; hoping that the swarm never comes around the corner, but the chilling buzzing deemed it otherwise.

 

“Is this going to be it?! What kind of sick game is this?!” He punches the very wall that blocked him, despite knowing the pain.

 

“Well! Come on then!” He shouted, throwing his hands up and his feet down, ready to take it.

 

Waiting for one single bug to even fly around the corner, his heart rapidly beating, but confused; wondering if it was from his run, or from fear. He had no choice but to just wait. Sweat runs down from his forehead, and his legs felt like stone. There was no other way but to just take it. He bows his head down to close his eyes, breathing softly while his heart beats like a drum. Whispering last words, “Brother…. I’m sorry”

 

The swarm finally turns, crashing on the wall as it changes wind. Ryder refused to turn around, not wanting to look into the crimson red eyes of the bugs that followed him; his heart tiredly beating, but in rhythm, he accepted it. He listens as the sound of buzzing came closer to his ear; he gritted his teeth and flamed his eyebrows, wanting to scream as it takes him, and so he did. He closes his eyes shut and then.

 

“I’m not afraid of you! AHHHHH!”, his final words…

 

The swarm crashes onto the wall, surrounding every bit of it, but they did not find any flesh. Ryder did not feel any pain, or any bites piercing his skin; he slowly opens his eyes, seeing the same wall, but darker, in fact, everything around was darker. He tried to make a sound, but something covers his mouth: a woman — a woman with brown hair and black eyes, with small fragments of dirt covering her lightly tanned skin.

 

“Shhhhhh…” The woman slowly puts her hand away from Ryder as he refrains from speaking.

 

The woman turns her eyes towards an opening, a crack in the wall hidden by weeds. Seeing the woman’s eyes, Ryder followed her gaze, looking at the swarm as it scatters and disappears. He breathes a sigh of relief, his heart calming down and his sweat cooled.

 

“…Thank you. You saved my life!” He tries his best to give the woman a smile.

 

“….” The woman replied with silence, standing up as she exits the little crevice they were in.

 

Ryder stared blankly as the woman left, his mind dazed, until he realizes it. He quickly gets back up and follows the woman, swatting away the weeds that covered the crack, “Hey u-um miss, where are you going?” he asks in desperation.

 

“….” She replied again with silence, but after a moment, “… To find a way out of this maze.”

 

“Can… Can I come with you?” Ryder asks.

 

“… No,” the woman said plainly as she starts to walk out of the dead end.

 

Somehow, Ryder wasn’t shocked, but he followed the woman anyway, “That’s it?! Then why did you save me then?”

 

“… So that you wouldn’t end up like the others; and also, the bugs can smell blood, I don’t want your bloody clothes to alert them and bring the bugs down on us.” The woman continued to walk the path Ryder took.

 

“So, your plan is to walk around this maze until you find an exit?” asks Ryder while he followed.

 

“Isn’t that the goal?” the woman replied.

 

They stopped at another crossroad, similar to the one Ryder woke up in. The woman carefully examines the floor of each path, carefully touching the water and ground, “What are you looking for?” asks Ryder.

 

“… Blood. To see if the bugs came past here.”

 

While the woman continues to examine the paths, Ryder's eyes fell into a different attention: he looks at the messy numbers on each wall, feeling its stony texture. All were the same, showing a thick number 3. He moves his hand away from the numbered wall, but still, his eyes stayed focused on it. He turns his head slightly to the woman, but still looked, “Do you know about the numbers on the wall?”

 

“It's probably just graffiti,” the woman said simply.

 

Ryder stands still as he contemplates, going into his memory to see the same messy numbers back at the crossroad he woke up in. He seizes away from his mind, making it bright as he turns to the woman, “Maybe it’s not graffiti, but markers.”

 

The woman stops as she hears Ryder, turning her head to speak to him, “What do you mean?” she asks.

 

“Back at the place where I woke up, the crossroads had the number 5. And when I was trying to escape from the bugs, I saw the number 4 when I ran past another crossroad,” said Ryder as he walks closer to the woman, “Maybe it marks how close we are to the exit. We are in the third crossroad, which means that we have to find two more to reach it.”

 

The woman thought in silence as she gazes at the numbers, trying to think. After a minute, she looks back at Ryder, walking closer to him, “I can’t think of any other way to determine the paths; so, you better be right about this,” said the woman coldly.

 

“… me too”

 


Submitted: August 06, 2022

© Copyright 2022 Dante Blake. All rights reserved.

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