By Mack W. Mani
I have always lived inside the maze.
I was born here, and I will die here, in this little cottage by the central lake, brown and muddy with pollution and age. My life and my mother’s will be, in the end, nearly the same. She died in the bed I sleep in; she slept in the bed I will die in. I wear her dresses and her mother’s dresses, and I can see their faces beginning to bloom beneath my own.
My father died a climber, one of the brave scouts who navigate the narrow ledges high atop the crumbling labyrinth walls in search of undiscovered lands. The last section was discovered by the final climbers almost two years ago and the resources there, while vast (an orchard, castle, and vassal lands), have dwindled. Like everything we find, they have been eaten.
The center of the labyrinth was discovered by the first wanderers over 200 years ago, and since then a vast city has risen where all of human vice and knowledge can be traded. Booze, tobacco, men, women, books if that’s your sort of thing. There are a few scholars, after all, dedicated to unearthing the riddle of our history, though their progress is little and less.
Legend says we sealed ourselves inside, fled from the wrath of the gods, choosing instead to wander these cold, wet corridors forever, devouring and replacing parts of ourselves. Other stories (whispered stories) speak of treason and punishment. Just think: if you saw a man who had been locked away his whole life, you might ask what he had done.
We do what we can to survive; it is an unspoken rule that each is responsible for only themselves, though we do have certain mores. Farms are not to be trifled with; without their flow of crops, life within the walls would be impossible. There is a kind of government, small and corrupt. They maintain a brutal order, keep the climbers climbing and the farmers farming. They also oversee the population; each couple is allowed only two children ensuring that our numbers do not grow. Almost every third and sickly child is left in a far abandoned corner of the maze, for the scavengers and elements to take.
None has ever survived this exile, though many of our myths begin with such a child, left to die they instead grow wild, a feral beast come to hunt the parents who abandoned him. Or they return a messiah, hardened and wise at having found the ultimate secret: means of escape.
The edges yield no hope.
For decades it was believed that once the outer walls were traced, escape was inevitable. I remember the day they found them. I was a girl of eight, and all the labyrinth rang with joy that the end was in sight. At very long last they had found a corner. There was a parade along the lake in celebration, just outside our house; they even had a little band. I will never forget my mother crying, wrapped within my father’s arms, eyes streaming wet relief.
But the corner proved another dead end, the sheer exterior of the maze led down and down and out of sight or reach of rope. Dropped stones were never heard to strike. All four corners, every inch, embanked only by clouds and lonesome darkness.
Within the walls, some small creatures manage: insects, mice, and rats. In woodlands, we have found populations of deer and boar (and hunted them to extinction). In the southeast corner, they have raised bison for many years, but produce only weak and inbred creatures now, though many still pay small fortunes for their meat. And every so often we are graced with a bird. Birds are powerful symbols here, and many decorations bear their likenesses. It is said that in the beginning, the first climbers used little birds to carry messages between the walls.
I have done just this. My hope is that someone outside will see this handsome fledgling and the note tied to his talon. My hope is that you are not just some story that I am writing, that you and your people will heed my words.
I want everyone outside the labyrinth to know that we are here, that we survive. That the walls that border your world should not be scaled. That there is a monster waiting at the center of the maze, though there wasn’t always one.
When the wanderers first arrived, there was no danger here. In fact, there was nothing at all save wide open land and deep blue lake, full of silver fish that, as they darted about the shallows, resembled distant points of waning starlight.