Perhaps all we are in this life are nightmares. Nightmares cloaked in white fluffy clouds or coated in sweet, sticky honey. Maybe shrouded in warm, yellow light or veiled in purple, floral scents. No matter how you put it, that’s what we are. Nightmares stuck in human form, seeking desperately to be something we aren’t, something better or worse. Nightmares humming out of tune melodies trying to trick others that we are them and they are us but it doesn’t matter because we are all deceivers, all manipulators, liars of the most honest form. We try to live or maybe survive – the difference is important – but can you live if your life and all you know is a lie, can you live if all you fear is someone ripping the mask off revealing who (what) you truly are? No matter what we call it and no matter what we say or what we do or what we go through or don’t it all remains the same. All humans are nightmares.
There’s a maze in this town. It stands on the outskirts, away from the village, looming over the houses as a sort of shield – or sword – casting a shadow far greater than any man could possibly hope. No one really knows when it was made, only that the walls don’t crumble or erode after a particularly harsh storm or that when the kids try to create art upon them the paint is washed away seemingly overnight. If you ask the locals in the markets they will tell you as they pack up their stalls, that the maze was created before the town was, that it has always been there and that’s all there is to it. If you ask the locals at the pub they will tell you as they finish off their pint, that the maze was created by the old German rulers as a way to torture traitors and that the bones of those traitors are built into the walls. If you ask the locals at the park as they scoop up their children, they will tell you that the maze isn’t worth looking into, that those who go in don’t come out.
But if you ask the locals at the church as they smile at you with wizened eyes and pat you on the cheek, they will tell you that the maze was created by the Gods – it doesn’t matter which ones – as a trial for humanity. When you ask what happens if you get lost in the maze, if you fail the test, they will laugh and shake their heads. You are asking the wrong question.
The walls of the maze are impossibly high is the first thing Mya noticed when she opened her eyes. The concrete walls tower over the clouds, so high that she can’t even begin to comprehend where they ended and she began. She couldn’t see the tops, not even if she craned her neck all the way back, they disappeared into the sky as a fleeting bird would once do – up, up, up. The second thing Mya noticed, a hazy realisation enough to snap open her eyes wide and have her jump to her feet, was that she was in danger.
As she scrambled upwards and started running, Mya knew that she was almost out of time. She was the prey, a gazelle grazing in a dried out field waiting for the predator, slinking in the shadows, to make their move, to strike, to chase her until they get bored, until they decide to end this game of theirs, until you’re gone.
Her feet thudded against the concrete, skidding along the floor as she made sharp turns, praying that she hasn’t met a dead end, praying that maybe she has a chance, praying that she will be the first, praying that the pounding of her shoes don’t give her away, praying, praying, praying.
To whom she is praying does not matter, it won’t make a difference. What good is praying when the place you are in is shut off? What good is praying when you are in the one place the Gods cannot hear your cries?
She makes a turn and she knows she has lost. There is a man waiting for her, the predator, who wears a grin on his face as he stalks towards her slowly. His eyes are light and he has a scar on his jaw, every inch the man her mind made up, down to his smooth, polished shoes and the gun he grips in his hand. He wears all black with the only glimpse of colour being the red arm band wrapped around him with pride.
Hot tears build in Mya’s eyes as she holds her breath and bites her lip. She won’t show weakness, it is the one thing she can control, she won’t give in, she promises herself that and she won’t.
The cold barrel of his gun presses against her forehead, the grin on his face only growing wider with each passing second. The walls of the maze seems to be getting closer, they even seem to be less tall now but maybe that’s just perceptive. His thumb reaches for the trigger, his eyes seem lighter.
It all goes black.
Gods and demons living in the same body. Who wins? Nobody and Everybody. In the end the actual body is torn to shreds, gold spilling from its lips and lies slipping through its fingers. The body tries to grasp, for air, for water, for life, for death – for anything really. All it gets, though, is a pleasant thrum throughout it, the steady beat of its heart, an apology maybe. A ‘sorry for using you as a battlefield, to test my will against each other, to prove my worth amongst my men, to show that we are you and you are us.’ But if everybody wins then who are you? A body. Waiting to be taken so you can get lost in their maze. If nobody wins then who are you? A body. Waiting to be taken so they can play their games. Who are you? What are you?
All humans are nightmares.
There’s a bed pushed up in the corner of the room, it has soft navy cotton sheets and velvet throw pillows in a deep orange. The room itself is full of candles, flickering in the wind coming from the open window with a plush, grey carpet lining the floor – there are pictures on the walls and coats hanging on a hook on the wardrobe, a bookcase filled to the brim with novels and candles alike. A girl is sleeping, her back to the door and facing the window, her eyebrows furrowed.
She jolts awake, a cold sweat enveloping her body. She has a familiar face, Emile, Shay, Mya, Lillian. She looks around, tucking her hair behind her ear before sliding off the bed, planting her feet on the floor and pushing herself up. There’s a throbbing in her forehead, right at the centre as she massages the skin, closing her eyes and inhaling.
The air feels tight, off slightly, as if the world knows something she doesn’t and is forcing it down her throat. Wind caresses her face as if it’s a hand against a cheek, an unprompted feeling of nostalgia washes over her with aged eyes watching. The candles flames sway slightly against the breeze, they run away from the wick – run, run, run.
The girl’s feet take her to the stairs, she knows this house – it’s familiar. It could be her house, it should be her house, but it isn’t her house; she looks down to the hand gripping the bannister, knuckles turning white, it’s familiar.
Voices float from the kitchen, her mother perhaps? She follows the voice as if it were a ghost leading her to its killer, down the stairs, through the hall and to the kitchen. There are two women sitting at the counter, each with a glass of wine in their hands and laughing at something the other said. Her mother and her cousin, she recalls, her throat is dry but she manages to say hello anyway. The women smile happily at her before nudging the girl into the garden, asking her to look after her baby cousins for them, she complies and shuffles into the greenery - it’s familiar.
The garden is bright and green with a brick patio, table and chairs. There’s a young boy running on the grass, his arms spread outwards as if he were trying to catch rain in his hands alone though the sky is empty or maybe as if he was an airplane or a bird – up, up, up. The throbbing in her head gets worse as she smiles placidly at the boy, her legs burning strangely as she walks to the chair next to the young baby in his basket, his small hand clutching a grey blanket.
She sits and looks up at the blue sky, pulling forward a feeling of fear so strong it chocks her as she rubs at her prickling eyes, desperate to get up and run, desperate for her brain to stop pounding against her skull, desperate to feel something else.
There’s a voice, maybe it’s hers, maybe it’s not and it tells her to run, to go as far as she can. Pressure builds up at the back of her head as the voice gets louder. Maybe it’s her. Maybe it’s not. The pressure starts to ease, as if there was a needle being pushed into the back of her head, the throbbing gets worse, her legs feel numb. She needs to run – run, run, run. She slumps forward, her head crashing against the table.
It all goes black.
All humans are nightmares.