The Lost Path
Standing at the crossing path, I place a foot out and feel my heart beat with the thrill of taking a step towards the unknown. There is a sweet moment where I feel like I can run on and on. Then the grey walls close in and startles me back to reality. My foot snaps back and I sigh, resigned to the impossible maze that wraps around and keeps us nestled in Centre.
Depressed, I look up above the high walls to the blue of Outer Maze and reach up with both my hands as if I can fly to freedom. It is a pointless dream and I can already hear my cousin Arin shouting out to me from Centre. Normally I would turn away from Crossing Path and head back to the safety of Centre and Family, but today I feel adventurous. Today I want to make that step. So I reach out further with my right foot and I follow it with my left until I am standing at a point where I have never stood before. The path leads to my left and to my right; I wonder which is the correct way to lead me out. Feeling suddenly small, I look back towards Centre and the startled face of Arin.
“What ya doing, Book?” His face is pale with fright and his eyes look me up and down, undressing me hungrily. Arin has wanted me for years, since we were kids. Mother said he was too close for us to ever be together, that our children would be sour. That suited me, because I don’t fancy Arin and it was easy to use our genetic closeness as an excuse so as not to upset him. You would never think us closely related, for Arin was short and chubby with curly red hair. I am tall and slim with long black hair. If I had to find something similar about us, I suppose we had the same bright blue eyes.
“My name is Brook, Arin.” I cast my eyes away, because I can see the embarrassment in Arin’s face as it glows hot red and I feel bad for him. He is a little simple and has never been able to say my name properly. There is a hushed rumour that Arin’s parents are brother and sister. In our little world, it’s probably true, but no one likes to talk about that. Besides, we are all related to the founding parents who came to Centre over two hundred years ago.
“What are you doing over there?” Arin stammers. “Only hunters and Exiles are allowed into Maze. Come back to Centre!”
I tilt my head, playfully pondering. “What if I want to explore?” I take a step back, deeper into the maze. Arin goes to reach out to me, but pauses as he realises he has taken a step further away from Centre. “I’ve always wanted to see what’s around the corner.”
Arin folds his arms and stands like a rock. “Ain’t nothing but more corners, Book. Maze goes on forever and ever.”
I give a sharp laugh. “It can’t go on forever; our ancestors came from Outer Maze, following the paths to the centre, so there has to be a way in.”
Arin shrugs and I can see his expression is clouding over with frustration. “You know Maze has grown since then!” he snaps at me. He holds out his hand towards me. “Let’s get back to Centre before we get in trouble.” He goes quiet for a moment. “Unless you want to bump first?”
I screw my face up. “You know that’s not right, Arin.”
Arin’s shoulders drop with his gaze and he makes no attempt to hide his disappointment. “It’s just a bit of bumping, Book.”
Shaking my head, I turn him down with a sympathetic but firm look. There’s no arguing back with me, because he’s used to rejection as I am to harassment from most of the boys.
There is a change within me as I look down the narrow path. If I stretch both hands out, then I can touch the walls with my fingertips. Legend has it that some of the paths are even narrower the deeper you go into the Maze. Those who have explored further claimed to have come across parts of the Maze that open up as wide as Centre where paths lead out in all directions. There is one story that talks of a great lake that is impossible to cross where strange creatures swim in the depths. At night, when all of us are gathered around the fires, the Weavers tell us of the horrors our ancestors faced on their great journey to find Centre Maze and how they had a great disagreement about the way. They split into two groups, but only one found their way to the Centre. The others are said to wander as lost souls, never to find a way in or out.
“At night, you can hear their cries for help on the wind,” the Weavers tell us. “There is only death out in the Maze, but the Centre is life.”
We would all repeat, “Centre is life,” before making our way back to our family camps and wait for the day. As we have done for all our lives, and all the lives of those before us.
Now I didn’t want to wait anymore. Though I had never seen anything but the grey of Maze and the distant blue of Outer Maze above, I dreamt of open plains that stretched on and on without walls. The tales of Outer Maze were passed on through our generations and we were all humbled by the thought of a place where there were Orizons, the Outer Maze blue reaching all the way to the ground. How I wanted to see Orizons!
“Come with me, Arin,” I say, grinning madly. “We can find the way out of here together, then come back for the others.” Of course, I am only half serious about this; Arin would not be my first choice of companion. No, someone like Rek who was tall and strong would suit more.
“You can’t talk like that, Book; they’ll kick you out of Centre for sure.”
I sigh and take the two steps back towards Arin, my thoughts of escape fading into a pointless dream, never to come true. We walk back down the path to Centre and I remain quiet as Arin rambles on about nothing. My mind is on bigger things, of leaving behind my entire world to find another. Our ancestors from hundreds of years ago had found their way into the maze, and I would find the way out. But for now we had to prepare for night. The path widens up and the ground slopes steeply down as we go into the valley we call Centre.
I stop at the edge, looking down into the lush green circular valley, the high grey walls of Maze watching over for countless years. It is a wide expanse of green fields and forests, but you can walk from one end to the other in less than a day. They say Maze is over a thousand times bigger than Centre with countless paths that wind around and around. My head spins just thinking about it. When I stand in Centre, thoughts of leaving are far from my mind and the many paths of Maze seem like a dangerous place.
“Malak has been talking about pairing you at the Tree Dance,” Arin says as we wander slowly down into Centre. “Reckon she might pair us?”
I sigh. Malak had her eye on me for the last three years since I came of hair age, but I refused to take part in the Tree Dance where the witches would chose who could be paired depending on family ties. For over a hundred years we had prevented sour babies this way. There was, of course, no way they would ever pair Arin with me and he knew that. We all had our own dreams, I suppose, but it creeped me out to think that I was the focus of another’s dreams. While I wasn’t the kind of girl who was into my own looks, I was aware that there were many boys who desired me and would bump with me at the first chance. I never gave them any.
“Arin, you’re a good friend and all-”
“I know, but I can’t help but think we would be good together.”
I just smile and continue on at a faster pace with Arin desperately trying to keep up. We leave the tall grass and come out by the lake where the women are cleaning clothes. They turn and wave cheerily to us and we wave back.
“Where have you two lovers been wandering?” a young, stern faced woman asks. “Kissing in the Kissing Forest, chasing in the Catch Me Meadow?” I can hear the tone of sarcasm in her voice. Feyla was my aunt, yet she seemed to despise my family. Malak had paired my mother with the man Feyla had an eye on since they were kids and mother said she had never forgiven that. Often would I see Feyla watching my father with hungry eyes.
“We’re not lovers,” Arin says to my surprise. “We’re just good friends, and cousins.”
Feyla snorts as she straightens up from the lake, wincing as her back clicks. “Didn’t stop your ma and pa,” Feyla says with a cruel grin. “The fruit went sour from that tree.” She sings the last few words and the other women laugh.
Anger bubbles away inside of me. “There’s only one sour thing here, Feyla, and it’s all over your face.” I grab Arin’s hand and lead him away, ignoring the protests from Feyla. One day I would give her something to hate me about.
“She’s going to tell your parents about that one,” Arin says, his eyes wide with wonder as his hand squeezes mine.
Shrugging, I say, “It was worth it to see the look on her face.” I laugh as we hurry on down towards South Wall Village. I pull my hand away from Arin before he gets any ideas and we fill the time bitching about my horrible aunt. When we reach our camp of little wooden cabins, my spirits have lifted and I say my goodbyes to Arin. In a strange way, Arin was the only one I really liked in the whole of Circle, besides my mother and father. Deep down I was hoping that the witches would allow my parents to have another child so I wouldn’t feel so alone. But I knew that when they declared the population of Centre had fallen too low, they would be looking to me to have a child.
I shrug away the sudden dismay as I go to my house, but I pause as I see Rek standing at the door, looking uncertain.
“What’s up, Rek?” I ask, wondering why he is all the way at South Wall.
Rek stares at me for a moment. “There’s been an accident,” he says, matter of fact. “Your father...” he trails off, his eyes stare into the distance as he tries to avoid my gaze.
“Rek, what’s happened?”
Before Rek can answer, the door creaks open and the old hunched form of Malak steps out, wrapped in her thick black robes, the hood pulled up over her ancient features. She looks up at me and the hood falls away. She stares at me with milky white eyes and her hand touches my hand. It feels like a dry twig.
“What’s happened to my father?” I say as calmly as I can.
Malak sighs. “I couldn’t save him,” she says, her voice barely a whisper.
Rek puts his hand on my shoulder, but I shrug him away. “Brook, it was an accident. We were hunting Broar in the forest, but it was a big one, smart, too. It got around us, charged your father and....”
Malek gives my hand a little squeeze and wanders away. She turns to me. “Things are changing, Brook,” she says. “I have seen this in the stones. There is more to come.”
I am aware that Rek is talking, but his words are fading and my head spins. I want to go inside and be with mother, but instead I turn and run as fast as I can across Centre valley. When I am out of breath and halfway to North Wall I scream out, then fall to my knees where I cry uncontrollably.