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For The Strength of Youth

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    Ch. 44 The Wisdom of the Wise
Submitted by natalie jamison on 16 April 2007 - 12:55pm. | | |

The maze was cruel and twisted. Some passages were completely aphotic and lifeless. The rest glowed by a diluted yellow light emitted from some concealed source. The walls of these passages seemed to crawl with the shadows of invisible creatures and machines, and a weird, sickly breeze hovered near the ceiling, carrying with it haunting whispers of whatever arcane thing waited at the end. The shallow and wavering sound of Lee’s breath was the only other noise that accompanied the whispers. The air was bitterly cold. As he slowly made his way down the longest corridor he’d been through so far, questions swam through Lee’s mind about how he had ended up in this sinister place, the memory seemingly out of reach.

Lee no longer questioned why he did not just turn back. He had tried already, confident in his memorization abilities. It did not take long for him to realize that nothing looked familiar as he had expected. Disheartened, he turned back around, feeling there was nothing else to do but push onward to the end. Assuming, that is, that there was an end. He really wasn’t sure anymore; it seemed every time he turned a corner, the walls and shadows behind him would shift. The corridor he had come down just moments before, each turn or doorway fresh in his mind, was gone. Lee experimented on his suspicions, rounding one corner and a moment later, leaping back. The hallway he had just passed through no longer existed. If it had been short, it now extended and curved beyond his sight. If it had been lit, it now harbored the absolute nothingness that made Lee’s stomach churn. Familiarity was impossible.

Right or left? Lee was certain this must have been the thousandth time he asked himself this. It was yet another unwanted decision he had to make. Or was it another mistake? Perhaps. “Eenie, meenie, miny, moe,” he said aloud. He meant for the words to be comforting, the sound of his normally comical and careless voice bringing back some of the courage he’d lost along the way. Instead, the sound of his own voice made him shudder; the sound was alien to his ears.

He turned right.

It took Lee just one second to realize, hands down, that this passage was the worst. The whispers he’d never gotten used to began to grow. They howled and moaned as they whisked past his ears. The menacing shadows remained invisible, but now, instead of dubious glimpses out of the corner of his eyes, he could feel them. They reached out to him as he walked past. What felt like frozen flesh and steel on his skin cut through all layers of his clothing, making his body tremor all over. He began to run, flailing his arms out in front of him in an attempt to ward off the shadows. As he ran, the voices continued to grow. Lee still could not discern whether they were warning or taunting.

The frozen air in his lungs burned as his heart raced faster and faster. The walls suddenly seemed to be closing in, shrinking every way as he ran. Lee’s mind willed his legs to move faster, to keep up with his heart, but they were numb and unresponsive as they moved. “Come on. Come on!”

In the midst of the chaos that filled his mind, one of Lee’s aching knees locked and he stumbled to the floor. He closed his eyes and covered his head, waiting for the harrowing sound of bones being crushed by the immense force of the black walls. After a minute or so had passed, he wondered if he had missed it. Had the walls been quick and merciful? When he opened his eyes, would he find himself in light or darkness?

Slowly, Lee opened his eyes and looked up. Before him was a circular room, the same dull shade as the rest of the maze. He glanced over his shoulder to discover the opening he had just flown through remained the same dimensions as when he had started down the terrifying passage. He turned back around, propping himself up onto his knees. The air was warmer in this room; his lungs no longer burned. There were no shadows or voices, and the light that filled this room was white instead of a sickly pale yellow. Everything about this room was different, especially the lone door standing in the middle of the room.
An intense light shone through the narrow spaces between the door and its frame. It danced.

Lee started to take a slow step forward. “Lee,” a soft, feminine voice whispered in his ear. He stumbled to the side and searched the room frantically. He’d felt the cold breath of the voice in his ear, as though someone, or rather something, had been right beside him. “Lee,” the voice whispered again, this time from across the room. Lee followed the voice with his eyes as it continued to call his name arbitrarily throughout the room. The voice was soft and strangely soothing, so different from the terrifying whispers that had surrounded him until now. It was mesmerizing.

Lee didn’t realize he’d been moving until his back pressed up against the door. He slowly turned to face the slab of dark wood, taking one cautionary step backwards. The light behind it continued to shimmer, but it did not translate throughout the room. There were no splotches of light dancing across the curved walls as there should have been. A shot of ice ran down Lee’s back as he reached out and grasped the dull brass doorknob. The bits of the mechanism rattled against one another as he wrestled with the idea of opening the awful thing. Finally, he twisted the decrepit metal until he would have opened the door, but stopped. A chilled breath rested on his ear once again, and the voice whispered:
“Sie transit gloria mundi.”

The door shot open with enough force to knock Lee to the ground. A powerful wind threatened to rip the door from its hinges, but the small pieces of metal held fast. Lee shielded his eyes from the overpowering yellow and white beams that now engulfed the once dismal room. The sound was colossal – a synthesis of thunder and waterfalls. Lee stood back up and carefully made his way forward. As he stepped over the threshold, the voice spoke once more from behind, the soft words somehow breaking through the blast. “Tu fui, ego eris.” Lee did not understand the words. Nevertheless, they suddenly filled him with great fear; his heart pounded against his chest, begging for relief from the terror surrounding it. Lee turned to escape back into the round room, but stopped short as the door slammed shut, stifling his final scream for help.

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