He panted through the mysterious maze. The rising fog from the mud below was suffocating. The gloomy sight pressed at him so hard that he felt only desperation and anxiety – he wanted to get out.
He had no memories of actually entering the maze. The past was like a blur to him, as was the future. The labyrinth was changing itself as he went, as if it wanted to trap him inside permanently. One second, dark brown bushes were creeping on the wet ground to the right, while ivy was clinging to the left side’s crumbling walls and the mist shielded a narrow passageway to the front. The next second, a tall but leafless tree was standing abandoned on the right, a putrid tree trunk and several sapless kinds of grass lay quietly to the left, while a statue of Contemplator stood in an opening straight ahead, dark-red blood oozing out of its hollow eye sockets.
The statue seemed to peek at him through the corner of its eyes, a dreadful moan coming from its curled body. There was an invisible pain that the statue endured, but couldn’t resist. He moved toward the statue in curiosity, but the scene suddenly shifted…
Suddenly, he stood in front of the maze’s exit. The gate was decorated with curving ivy that was entwined with its rusty bars. A crafted sickle painted in black was atop its arc. Behind the exit, there was only endless darkness. The sun was still behind a shadow, causing the distant sky to merge with the unknown. A few ravens croaked from one bush to another as if they were curious speculators awaiting a good show. The smell of decay prompted him to take a step forward and escape the horrible trap.
He raised his left foot. The exit was so close that he could pass through it with just one small step. Exactly as his palm was reaching for the frame of the exit, he stopped. He didn’t want to lose sight of hope. Though it was pitch dark behind the gate, for some reason, just staring at it silently with his eager eyes had already rendered him hopeful. With the gate in sight, at least he knew where the hope was coming from.
As he was deep in thought, he felt his body become stiff, even rock-like. The exit stood there quietly, but there was a continuous attractive force coming from the Other World that took away his vigor. He pulled his feet back and curled up in agonizing pain. The vessels in his body were shrinking as blood drained out of his skin and permeated the air. His tissues were wrinkling and curling due to dehydration and malnutrition. It seemed like there was a vacuum within his body that pulled all of his muscles, tissues, cells, and body fluid into a black hole. He could even hear his bones crackling; his marrow began to disintegrate, and his bone density decreased sharply. There was massive pressure over his head that pressed him into the mud. He held his breath and closed his eyes, hoping that the torture would cease.
The statue, he thought.
The ravens became excited, croaking over the branches, and flapping their wings. They were laughing at him, taunting him… They were waiting for him to become the statue…
He still had some control over his legs. His muscles were so stiff that he had to exhaust all of the strength he had left just to break through an invisible hard layer and activate the dying meat still attached to his bones. The veins over his head bulged, and his remaining muscles quivered, but he managed to lift his right leg a foot or so into the air. His mind was like a battlefield now, weighing up the pros and cons of the small step he intended to make. Meanwhile, the muddy soil beneath his feet was dragging it down like a hungry swamp, while his mind was still battling over all the possible outcomes.
She likes planning things and making lists—the feeling of control, and the order of life fascinated her. But recently, life was like a naughty child, no longer following the guidance from her pen. She got so panicked when things got off track that she tried to calm herself by making lists.
Five Reasons Why My Life is Out of Control.
She wrote the title down neatly in her planner, hoping that this moment of reflection could appease her anxiety:
1. Goals aren’t detailed enough every day;
2. Non-REM sleep period too short;
3. Excessive sugarcane from breakfast just drives me nuts;
4. Cannot focus because of the annoying puppet in the neighborhood;
5. Lack of determination in managing things.
She held up her planner as if she was appreciating a masterpiece. Perfect! She thought, now I know the reasons why.
But her bloody unpredictable life continued to strike at her heart hard. It felt like the tenuous string between her being and life was broken, and she was only holding on by a wisp of air.
Things that Went Wrong Recently.
She held her pen tightly in her hands, tears streaming down her cheek. It was the first time in her life that she felt she was lost in a figurative maze. Every step she took and every outcome she expected had become random combinations of, well, just things. The frustrating permutation and combination of incidents and consequences continued throughout the week
She thought for a second and began writing.
1. Planned for an hour of SAT model testing in the morning, but I had to deal with a call from my tutor about my assignment.
2. Expected to dress in my favorite shirt to take part in the Mathematics Olympiad but was informed there that I had to change into my school uniform
3. Planned to study Python in the afternoon but was forced to take part in a family banquet.
4. Planned to hit fade (to the right) with my driver but ended up hitting draws (to the left) no matter how the coach altered my swing
5. Planned to cook breakfast in 15 minutes but the electricity went out; ended up eating takeaway, wasting one hour
6. Prepared for a 10-minute speech at the graduation ceremony, but the teacher said I had to speak for half an hour when I while I was waiting backstage
The lists could go on and on, so she put down her pen and rested herself on the chair. Staring at all the unexpected incidents on her planner, she felt herself becoming afraid of what life had in store. The uncertainty of life rendered her disheveled and lost. She felt unprepared to deal with the randomness.
What Should I Do?
She turned a page over and started thinking about the solution.
1. Considering all of the possible situations and making individual schedules for all of them
2. Stick to original plans no matter what happens
3. Keep life plain and simple by minimizing all the unnecessary contacts
Cons for each:
1. Too many combinations.
2. Impossible when things are not at your side
Her gaze fell on the third solution. It sounded like a practical way. She nodded her head in agreement because she hadn’t come up with a disadvantage for it yet. After all, minimalists were still very active in the world, and a simple life sounded appealing to her as a way to clear her frustrated mind. There was no way life could go off track this way.
Days passed. One day she woke up from her sleep, rubbing her eyes and yawning.
Is it Monday or Tuesday?
The next morning she woke up from the same spot on the bed, rubbing her eyes and yawning yet again.
Is it Monday or Tuesday? She was confused.
Then another day…
Every second was a struggle for him. His leg muscles began to tighten as they resisted the attractive force seemingly coming from everywhere and nowhere. He could sense his eyelids pressing down into his face and melting, his vision fading. Then, the exit became a blurry black spot only a few inches away. If she were him, she would make a quick list in her mind:
Move towards the exit:
1. He would fall into the darkness and escape the maze forever;
2. He would be transported to a different place and start over again until the exit magically appeared. Nothing lost, nothing gained.
1. He would become one of the statues in the maze.
There was not much time for him to think, but the situation was palpable. If he stayed, he would gain nothing but desperation and torture. Taking a risk for the uncertainty could at least render him hopeful so that he could continuously motivate himself to explore further.
He took a deep breath. The rotten smell from the plants and the humid maze made him want to vomit. Even if there was only a 0.01% chance of getting out, he would give it a shot. He closed his eyes and used all of his might to step forward.
With his eyes shut, he could still feel that the light in his surroundings had changed. He could sense he was somewhere much lighter as excessive brightness caused the dark to turn red, with the veins in his eyelids becoming visible. The ground titled slightly, and he was standing on the brink of a rocky surface. The putrid smell faded from his nostrils, and he could breathe normally. His heart began to pound excitedly. He couldn’t wait to open his eyes and check out his surroundings. No matter where he ended up, it was worth it to accept the uncertainty because he would finally be freed from the statue’s shackle. His vigor had gradually returned to him, and his blood began to run through his vessels. The feeling of vitality was overwhelming. He opened his eyes.
For her, things were not clear yet. The wheel of processes had become stagnant with the pounding of time. She felt trapped inside an invisible prison built by the fourth dimension, no longer able to sense the passing of time.
She stared at her daily plans that were placed beside her bed. The last time she had written plans was a long time ago because her life was so regular that she didn’t need to make any.
Things to Do:
1. Get up at 7:00 am.
2. Eat breakfast at 7:30 am.
3. Think about life for four hours
4. Prepare for lunch
5. Eat lunch at 14:00
6. Nap until 16:00
7. Reflect on the day for two hours
8. Prepare for dinner
9. Eat dinner at 19:00
10. Take a shower and relax
11. Sleep at 10:00 pm.
Indeed, she was the absolute authority of her life, but what was the meaning of such a foreseeable repetition? Every day her reflections were identical because there was nothing novel to reflect on. In her sleep, she could picture her life for the next day a million times over. Or was it her life two weeks later, or the before day she died? Did time even matter anymore?
Speaking of death, this was one of her chances to break the dull loop; an extra note on the planner:
12. Go to heaven at noon.
The ridiculous thought amused her. Her life was like the morning sun, full of potential. There were plenty of opportunities and exciting moments waiting for her to explore and embrace. If only she could come to accept all of the unpredictability of life.
She quickly made another list, her pen gliding along the surface of the yellowish paper that had been forgotten by time. She could bare her monotonous life no more. There was nothing to lose if she took on the uncertainty, so why bother trying?
She put down her planner. It was 10:00 pm—time to sleep as usual.
The next morning when she was awoken by the shining sun, still drowsy, she straightened up with her eyes still shut: the longer she closed them, the greater the “surprise” could be. She felt the bed around her: would she be in the same spot? The bed sheet’s wrinkles seemed to be a little different, but she couldn’t be a 100% sure. Her quilt was placed beside her pillow as usual. Her mind was spinning fast. She wanted to go to the bookstore to buy that book she craved. She wanted to stay at Starbucks and observe the changes occurring in the city. She wanted to try a new type of dish… There were so many things she wanted to do that she didn’t know where to begin.
But first and foremost, she had to open her eyes and embrace the new day.
Zixuan Zheng, the rising senior student of Huafu International, Guangzhou, Guangdong of China. Her pieces have been featured in magazines, newspapers and on TeenInk, The RavensPerch, and Medium. Three-time junior golf champion in California. Enjoys making friends from around the globe through playing golf and via creative writing.