Rat in a Maze

(From the Writer’s Digest creative writing prompt Labyrinth)

A jackhammer behind my temples wakes me, and I groan and roll to my side as I clutch my head. What the hell happened to me? As soon as the thought crosses my mind, a more disturbing one follows. Who the hell am I? I try to think back, but my memories are gone. My past doesn’t exist in my mind beyond when I awoke.

When my eyes open, I find myself in a sterile white hexagonal room with halls branching out from each wall. I push myself up, and once my head stops spinning I get to my feet and survey the room. It’s bare save for three things: white mats under my feet where I slept, a small video screen on a stand, and a table beside it. The latter is what draws my attention.

A small arsenal of weapons is laid out before me. Twin chromed 1911’s, a Bowie knife with a bone handle, a semiauto Mossberg, an AR15, machetes, throwing stars, a SOG tactical tomahawk, Berettas, Glocks…I even see a couple Smith and Wessons and a crossbow. As I take a step toward the table, the video screen flickers to life. A man’s face appears.

“Good, you’re awake. Welcome to our Labyrinth of Eradication. Pick your poison and start running. You have an hour to make it out or you will be terminated. Oh….and don’t touch the walls.”

The screen goes blank with his mocking words echoing in the room. I hear something else—is that water?—then a counter pops up in glaring red numbers. 1:00:00…..0:59:59…

The numbers spur me into action although in the back of my mind I’m aware of water rushing into the room from somewhere. I slip the Bowie knife into the top of my boot. I reach instinctually for the 1911 and go through the motions of verifying it’s loaded with a habitual ease I can’t explain. I buckle on a dual shoulder holster that seemed designed for my petite frame and secure both of the chrome pistols. I strap the 18-inch machete and the tomahawk on my back with their handles in easy reach at the tops of my shoulders, then pick up the Mossberg.

The water is up to my ankles as I slosh my way to the hall on my right. If I keep going right, eventually I’ll reach the exit. I go around two corners before I dead end and have to retrace my steps. The water’s almost to my knees now, and I wonder if this is how they’re planning on killing me. I wade into the next hall.

Around the second corner the floor slopes up, and soon I’m on dry ground. The sound of a heavy door slamming closed behind me has me checking over my shoulder, and I find myself sealed off from the room I woke in. Now the only way is forward.

I hear them coming before I can see them, their growls and barks loud in the hallways. I bring the shotgun to my shoulder and wait for them to come around the corner, and they don’t leave me hanging. As I fire, I feel a sense of disconnect, as if I’m watching some other woman pulling the trigger. Six shots and the Mossberg is empty. I drop it and pull the pistols.

The dogs are followed by men. Uniformed but not patched to represent an organization…armored as well. I’m running now, toward them, firing as I go. They crumple before me, the last one falling as the last bullet is fired. This must have angered the little maze god, as the walls begin attacking. Fire, metal spikes, gaping holes in the floor…I keep running while holding tight to the tomahawk after I had to use it as a climbing pick when I leapt the last chasm.

There—up ahead. I can see a door, four more guards around it. I draw the machete with my non-dominant hand and charge in. The surprise still shines in their dead eyes as I step over them and kick the door open. Another room, different from anything in the maze, and at a large desk with a computer and control panel is the man whose face was on the video screen at the beginning of the ordeal.

I stalk toward him, blood still dripping off my blades. I have questions that I want answers to, and he’s the one who can tell me. He gets to his feet as I get closer, completely at ease. He signals someone, and I feel the sting of a dart piercing my skin. The poisoned tip acts fast, and I hear my weapons hit the ground just before I start to collapse. The last thing I’m aware of, I hear the man walk around the desk and see two hazy forms standing over me.

“She’s moving along nicely.”

“Yes, and the only one to complete this obstacle. Deploy her on a trial mission. Reset the Labyrinth and send in the next one.”

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