“Charles Olivier Benson, you have been summoned before the Court of High Justice today to answer for your crimes. You have knowingly, and wilfully, inflicted harm upon your body and in so doing, have broken the sacred law of protection and preservation found in the Book of Self. How does the accused plead?”
“Not guilty, Your Honour.”
“I hold here Doctor Sanderson’s notes, in which it clearly states that several lacerations to both wrists were found upon the subject’s body and, after thorough examination, were ruled to be self-inflicted. I ask again, how does the accused plead?”
“Not guilty, Your Honour.”
“Are you familiar with Law 112 which states all those found to have deliberately damaged their physical selves, will renounce all right to their bodies, giving absolute power to the state for an interminable period of time?”
“Yes, Your Honour.”
“Are you also familiar with the clause of Law 112 which states that should the state have no immediate use for the criminal’s body, they may be put to death?”
“Yes, Your Honour.”
“Then, Mr Benson, I will ask you one more time. How does the accused plead?”
“Not Guilty, Your Honour.”
I was guilty, of course.
The blood was for an experiment I’d been attempting, foolishly believing I would be able to keep the scars hidden. A handful of us had been working together for a while; we knew the risks, but the possibility of creating an antidote to the new virus that had been spreading through the cities had made me believe it was worth it. Only I’d been caught so far – the slowest one to escape when the raid took place.
I sat on the ground, my back resting against the thick trunk of the tree they’d chained me to whilst they decided my fate. Closing my eyes, images of all the ways in which they could execute me began flashing through my mind. I quickly opened my eyes again.
I didn’t fancy becoming someone’s guinea pig but with death as an alternative, it was somewhat preferable. My advisor had told me to plead guilty – as a minor he thought I would be likely to get a reduced sentence, but I’d decided to try to front the bastards out. Watching them deliberate now, all impassioned outrage and self-righteous expressions, I was starting to think this hadn’t been the smartest option.
“Hey, um, excuse me? Your Honour? Sir? HEY! PEOPLE DECIDING WHETHER OR NOT TO KILL ME!”
A hush fell over the group as they all turned to look at me. I could see one of the particularly sanctimonious looking women turning a deep shade of puce at my interruption.
“I’d like to change my plea,” I said, addressing the examiner directly, causing a mutter to ripple through the watching crowd.
“I’m afraid it is too late for that, Mr Benson,” he replied, beginning to turn his back on me.
“Wait! You don’t understand. It was all just a big misunderstanding, a moment of madness. I…I wasn’t myself,” I said, wildly grasping at any defence I could find.
“I see,” he said slowly, fixing his eyes upon me. “Well that does change matters slightly, Mr Benson.”
I felt the first sweet tendril of relief begin to unfurl itself in my stomach as The Deciders put their heads together once more. I was going to be pardoned after all.
The examiner was standing over me, his hands clasped together, forming a steeple with his fingers. I scrambled awkwardly to my feet, the chains cutting into my skin.
“You have freely admitted to us that you were not yourself when these unlawful actions took place. As I’m sure you are aware, we take great measures to ensure all citizens of the state are as closely connected to their true selves as possible, for as The Book of Self states: ‘There is no greater pain for a man than to lose oneself. Until that self is found, man will wander, broken and lost, until his last dying breath. And if a man should die before finding himself, he will be nothing more than an empty husk, capable only of grief and agony, cursed to walk the afterlife forever more, in search of his lost self which will never be found.’ Therefore, we consider it our duty to ensure you once more find yourself, in the hope you will be spared this terrible fate. Charles Benson, we sentence you to The Mirror Maze.”
I huddled in the corner of the prison cell, trying to conserve as much warmth as possible. After the examiner had announced my fate, everything had lost focus. I remember hearing the sharp intake of breath from the crowd as I was being hauled away by the guards. I had never heard of The Mirror Maze, but from the reaction, I knew it couldn’t be good.
“The Mirror Maze, eh lad?” A thin voice wavered its way out of the darkness.
“Who’s there?” I said, balling my shaking hands into tight fists.
“Just Old Tom,” croaked a hunched figure, shuffling its way into the thin sliver of moonlight coming through the cell window. “I hear you’re bound for The Maze.”
“Do you know of it?”
“Oh yes. A dark and twisted place it is, full of ghosts and shadows. They haven’t sent anyone into The Maze for almost fifty years. Last person who went in there lasted around three days. That’s how long the screams went on for, anyhow.”
“Aye, terrible sound it was. That woman was screaming her own name for hours and hours, till her throat was ripped raw. Then just as sudden as it started, it stopped; not heard a sound from The Maze since.”
“But some people come out, right?”
“I’ve only ever known one man to survive The Maze. Sammy Rosenfeld. He was in there for eight and a half days and when he finally came out, all he had were two black holes in his head, full of blood. His eyes had been scratched clean out of his skull. As far as I know, he never spoke a single word to his dying day. I’d get what sleep you can tonight boy, for tomorrow, you enter hell.”
I stood before The Maze, clutching the satchel they’d given me. It had enough food and water to last seven days. I didn’t like to think what would happen if I hadn’t found my way out by then. The walls of The Maze towered over me, stretching out either side for as far as I could see. They seemed to be made of some sort of black glass in which I could only dimly see a shadow of my reflection. I wondered if it the inside would look the same.
It sounded like the entire city had gathered to watch me enter, their voices melding into one indistinguishable clamour. The atmosphere felt charged with the same sort of frenzied excitement that usually accompanies an execution. Remembering the words of the old man in the prison cell, I supposed it wasn’t too far off the mark.
The Examiner stood directly behind me, flanked by the rest of The Deciders who formed a semi-circle around him, cutting me off from any hope of escape. Their silvery cloaks trailed against the grass, reflecting the sunlight, causing me to shield my eyes from the glare.
“It is time,” he said, and as one, the group took a step towards me.
Throwing my pride to the wind, I attempted one last plea to save myself. The Deciders continued to advance, pushing me closer to wall.
I ducked my head as a sudden deafening crack from behind me split the air. Glancing over my shoulder, I could see a deep fissure snaking its way down the black, glassy wall of The Maze. I could hear shouts and screams from the crowd as the Examiner’s face loomed before me only a few inches from my own.
“Remember who you are, Charles Benson.” Then he pushed me through the gap and I fell backwards into The Maze.
I hit the ground hard, quickly clambering to my feet to make it back towards the entrance, but even as I lurched forward, the wall was pulling itself back together, finally sealing itself with a thunderous boom. I ran my hands desperately over the surface, now smooth and unmarked. I slammed my fists against it in frustration, the noise reverberating all around me.
As the air around me settled, I noticed it was now the only sound I could hear. The noise of the crowd, overwhelming just a moment ago, had been replaced with a deep, heavy silence. The air was thick with it, and a sick feeling of unease was quickly pooling in my stomach. I turned to examine my surroundings. All I could see was myself, reflected back a hundred times; the walls, the floor, even the ceiling – everything was one long mirror. I tried to shake the sense of claustrophobia clawing its way up my spine and pulled my satchel up onto my shoulder.
“Welcome to The Mirror Maze,” I muttered to myself.
Taking one last look at the black wall behind me, I set off down the path in front of me.
I’d been walking for about three hours when I stopped to take a break. Various twists and turns had taken me deeper into The Maze, but so far every path was indistinguishable from the next. Taking a long gulp of water, I looked at my face in the mirrored wall, shiny and red from the heat of the glass. With everything enclosed, I couldn’t figure out how it was so bright in here. Glaring light was constantly bouncing off the surfaces of The Maze on to me, yet I couldn’t find any gaps through which the sun could be infiltrating to cause it. Closing my eyes, I rested my head against the wall behind me.
My eyes flew open in alarm. “Hello?” I called, straining to hear something amidst the silence.
Leaping to my feet, I grabbed the satchel and took off running towards the sound of the voice. It was high-pitched, almost child-like with a sing-song sort of quality. I skidded to a halt as I came to a crossroads in The Maze, almost smashing into the mirrored junction. The voice came again, wavering as if it was moving further away. I raced down the left fork towards it, wiping away the sweat coursing down my face.
For the next few hours I chased the voice, eventually collapsing, exhausted and breathless, no closer to finding the mystery person calling my name. With my head pounding from the heat, I drifted in and out of consciousness.
I awoke a few hours later, shocked by the drop in temperature. The Maze was now dark, leaving me shivering from the cold. I’d have to keep moving if I didn’t want to freeze to death. Hauling myself to my feet, I jumped as I caught sight of my face in the mirror, stark white against the blackness surrounding me. Leaning closer, I gently traced the outline of my face on the glass, wondering how it was possible to still see my reflection. As I did so, I felt a light touch against my cheek. Gasping, I snatched my hand away from the glass. This godforsaken Maze was already starting to get inside my head.
Quickly I began walking, chewing on one of the protein bars from my satchel. It was tasteless and dry but I could instantly feel energy seeping through my body and, somehow, I felt full by the last bite. With a renewed sense of purpose I decided I needed a strategy – I would take every right turn I came across, but with The Maze now so dark, it was almost impossible to see. I was going to have to keep contact with the right hand wall in order to guide myself, but after my earlier experience, I was reluctant to touch the glass again.
“Come on Charles, get a grip. It’s just a bloody mirror,” I muttered. The sound of my own voice comforted me slightly, and tentatively I reached my hand out towards the glass, my fingers skimming its cold surface. Nothing happened. Breathing a sigh of relief, I rolled my eyes at my own cowardice and started following the wall of The Maze. Turning a corner, I came almost face-to-face with two red eyes glowing in the darkness before of me. I stumbled back, praying whatever it was hadn’t seen me. What the fuck was in here with me? I could hear a faint rustling on the wind that sounded like whispers. A sudden hissing filled my ears, making me jump. “Charlesss.”
Muffling a scream, I began running as hard as I could. Glancing in the mirrors on either side of me, I could see a dark mass flowing through the air behind me. Shadows were flitting past me, their breath sending icy blasts past my face, filling my ears with the sound of whispers chanting my name. More eyes were appearing in the glass and I couldn’t tell if they were in front of me or reflections of things behind me. A low moan was coming from my throat and I was running out of breath. I risked a look behind me but could see nothing. Turning I saw a fleeting image of my terrified face right in front of me before I hit the glass and passed out.
Wincing, I gingerly touched my forehead, my fingers coming away sticky with blood. Opening my eyes, I saw it was light again. The mirror before me was cracked and bloody where I’d smashed into it. Images of last night were swirling around my brain but I couldn’t be sure now how much of it had occurred after I’d knocked myself out. Reaching for my satchel I used some of my precious water ration to clean my cut before easing myself to my feet. I stood there unsteadily for a moment, light-headed from the events of the past 24 hours. Steeling myself, I began the day’s journey through The Maze.
Trudging through the endless mirrored pathways, I almost missed the hole in the wall. Stepping inside, I found myself in a gloomy passage. It reminded me of The Hall of Mirrors I’d visited at a funfair once when I was younger. At first I had been fascinated by the criss-cross of mirrors, masking the real doorways and creating tens of mini-mes, but it hadn’t taken long for panic to set in and eventually I had burst into tears, huddling into a ball until someone’s mother found me and carried me out.
I stepped back out into the light of the path I’d been following; no one would pull me out if I got lost this time. But I’d been wandering round for almost two days now, and this was the first break in structure I’d seen. Perhaps I had to go through this to find my way out of The Maze. Slowly, I ventured back into the gloom.
Snaking my way round the mirrors, I caught a glimpse of a little boy. Quickly hurrying towards him, keeping my arms out in front of me, I stopped as I hit glass. Dazed, I watched in mounting horror as the little boy in the mirror waved shyly up at me. There was something horribly familiar about the child. Bending down, I looked closer at the tight brown curls and one dimpled cheek – the little boy was me. A sudden movement to my left had me whirling round, lashing out wildly. A man stood in the mirror opposite, I could already tell from this distance that it, too, was me. I moved towards it, as if in a trance. I was older in this mirror; my body muscular, my jaw line square. A scar ran up my left cheek, ending just beneath my eye. The man grinned and pointed to another mirror. Turning, I saw an old man, hunched and wrinkled, struggling to stand. The same scar lined his face and I watched as a single tear rolled down into its crease.
“Why am I crying?”
“You’re dying,” said Old Man Me, my voice weak and thready.
“I don’t want to die,” said Child Me, beginning to sob.
“Everybody dies”, said Man Me, shrugging his shoulders. “You’re dying right now. Look.”
I looked at my selves and saw that I was right. We were dying. Blood was leaking from our noses, our ears, our eyes. Old Man Me began to cough, a hacking, wet sound that splattered blood from my mouth. Child Me’s sobs were getting louder, my mouth open in a terrible wail, revealing teeth stained a nasty red. Man Me leaned out of the mirror and grasped my arm, leaving bloody fingerprints on my sleeve. “If I were you, I’d run. Oh wait, I am you.” A manic laugh spilled from my lips as I began pulling myself from the mirror. Wrenching my arm free, I ran for my life, careering off mirrors and slipping on the shiny floor. Seeing light, I sprinted towards the exit and found myself back in the well-lit, mirrored walls of The Maze.
Leaning over, my hands on my knees, I struggled to get my breath back and shake away the horrifying images of myself. No, not myself, I thought. They’re not real. They’re not me. They’re just tricks of The Mirror Maze. Still, I decided it would be a good idea to get as far from here as possible, just in case any of those things made it out.
I set off again, searching for a break in The Maze’s pattern. After a few hours, the light from the mirrors began to dim and I realized this must have been the bit I’d been unconscious through yesterday. I decided to stop and rest for the night, and pray I wasn’t haunted by the eyes and shadows of the previous night. I ate another Protein bar and lay down to sleep.
I awoke the next morning to a suffocating mist which clung to my skin, curling itself slowly around my body, leaving me shivering in its icy wake. It cloaked the air, resistant to part as I moved cautiously through it. The further I walked, the more it seemed to thicken – I could feel my throat tightening as it became harder and harder to draw breath. Stumbling against the wall of The Maze, I felt it move beneath my weight. One slat of the mirror wall suddenly opened and I fell through, landing on my hands and knees in warm, dewy grass.
The air was clear and fresh and I inhaled gratefully; deep gulping breaths which filled my lungs, stopping the swimming in my head. Raising my head to look around me, I had to shield my eyes from the sunlight. I was in some kind of meadow – the sun shining down from a perfectly clear, blue sky, bathing me in delicious warmth that ran right through my blood. Bluebirds tweeted softly from the willow trees, trailing their leaves lazily over a shimmering lake.
I closed my eyes, letting the serenity and peace of the meadow wash over me. The lake was rippling beneath the trees’ branches and I let myself be pulled to its edge. Lying flat on my stomach, I peered over the edge of the bank into the water below. My face gazed back at me, iridescent beneath the touch of the sun. Resting my head upon my heads, I gazed dreamily into the water, watching my reflection dance upon the surface.
Strands of thought weaved their way through my mind. This was where I belonged – this paradise, this Nirvana. It was perfect for me. No, more than that, the meadow was me and I was the meadow – it was a physical manifestation of my soul, encasing me within it. A soul within a soul, enveloped in a Maze of Mirrors to reflect that soul back a thousand times, until all that filled the Earth…was I.
Consumed by this singular though, I lay transfixed upon my reflection, soaring upon the wings of my discovery. After a time, I felt a fluttering on the edge of my consciousness, an irritation fracturing the peace of my musings. I pushed it back into the dark depths of my mind, yet it returned again and again. Angrily I turned upon it, ready to destroy, but as my energy focused on it, it burned brighter, filling my head with a searing heat.
Desperately, I plunged my head into the cool water of the lake, shattering my reflection. Instantly, all the aches and pains of my days in The Maze hit my body, anchoring me again. I pulled back from the lake, groaning as every muscle in my body screamed in protest. From the corner of my eye, I could see the water becoming still again and felt its pull. Inching closer, I saw my reflection and fell under its spell once more.
Soon, I began to feel the need to be closer, to truly become one with myself. Gently, I leaned further into the water, until my own face was millimeters away from my reflection. Gazing into my eyes, I slipped softly beneath the surface and let myself drift lazily down into the depths. I felt myself becoming lighter as my mortal body began releasing my soul. My fingers brushed against something and I allowed my head to fall back to see what. A corpse floated next to me, its flesh swollen and rotting, blank eyes fixed upon me, popping out of its skull, its tongue distended – a gruesome purplish mass.
I struggled backwards in the water, adrenaline filling my veins. Suddenly, I could feel the weight of the water crushing me, my lungs burning from lack of air. Frantically, I kicked out, propelling myself back towards the distant light above me. I broke the surface, coughing and heaving, and dragged myself onto the bank. I lay there, eyes closed, drinking in precious oxygen. Gradually, I felt my heart rate returning to normal and was able to pull myself up into a sitting position. Using all my strength to avoid looking back towards the lake, I stumbled to my feet, almost collapsing again instantly. Half crawling, I reached the mirrored door through which I’d entered and tumbled back into The Maze.
For a moment, I stared in disbelief at the reflection before me. Surely this must be another trick; a gaunt face greeted me, eyes hooded over the hollows of my cheeks, clothes hanging from my body. I looked down at myself and saw this was no deception. My wrist bones jutted outwards, and I gasped as a cramp ripped through my stomach. I had literally been starving in that meadow. Horrified, I realized I’d lost days in there, wasting away with no sense of time or purpose. Even as I realized this, I could feel my head begin to pound and my throat begin to burn with a terrible thirst. Slumping to the ground, I devoured three Protein bars and drank two-thirds of my remaining water. With energy seeping back into my body, I set off with a new desperation to find my way out of this nightmare.
The Maze wound on, dragging me deeper and deeper into its depths. Turning another corner, my eyes fell upon an enormous mirror blocking the path in front of me. It stood within an intricately carved frame, gold filigree coating the stone. It looked impossible to budge, but no way in hell was I going back the way I’d came – with limited supplies left, forward was my only option if I wanted to survive. Bracing myself, I pushed all my weight against the mirror, revealing a small gap I was able to slip through.
A long, gloomy corridor loomed before me. I edged forwards, my footsteps leaving imprints in the thick dust coating the floor. A large wooden door on my right stood slightly ajar, and I pushed it open slowly, preparing myself for whatever new horror lay within. It creaked loudly on its hinges as it swung inwards, the noise echoing down the empty corridor, but the room stood bare, housing nothing but cobwebs.
I continued on, passing more and more rooms, all of them empty. Bewildered, I made my way back the way I came, slipping once more through the gap. Instead of finding myself back in The Maze, I faced yet another door. Entering, I found myself in an immense ballroom, the ceiling stretching far above my head. Every single inch of the room was covered in mirrors; oval ones, square ones, miniature ones, patterned ones, colored ones, scaling the walls as far as I could see. I could feel the hairs on the back of my neck prickling and my heart rate rising – this many mirrors was sure to be dangerous if my previous encounters were anything to go by. I backed away towards the door, keeping one eye on the reflectors behind me.
“I see you” rasped a voice, millimeters from my ear.
Whipping my head round, I found myself face to face with a wizened old man, eyes milky white in his macerated face. Staggering back a few paces, I gaped at him, dumbstruck to be faced with another living being.
“Wh..who are you?”
The man tilted his head to one side, considering my question. “Who am I? I am no one. I do not exist. I am not. There is no I.”
“I’m looking for a way out, do you know how I get out of here?”
“There is no I,” repeated the man, emphasizing each word.
“Look, I’m running out of time. I’m going to die here if I don’t find a way out soon.” I could hear my own desperation, my voice breaking on the last few words.
“No I. There is no I. No I, no I, no I.” The man brought his hands up to his head, rocking backwards and forwards, mumbling incoherently.
“Alright, alright, but is there a way out?”
The man paused, a sly expression washing over his face. “Surrender your name and all will be revealed.” Suddenly, the man’s head snapped up, sharp blue pupils rolling into the empty white space of his eyes. “I had a name once,” he whispered. “I had an I once. Give me yours and I will be free again.” Lunging forward with a snarl, he gripped my arm tight within his bony grasp.
Stumbling backwards with a cry, I smashed into the wall of mirrors behind me, feeling one crack beneath my weight. The whole wall shuddered as a thousand mirrors shook in their frames. For a moment, all was still and then my eardrums exploded as a thousand mirrors shattered. Shards of glass rained down upon us, and I felt the man’s hand slip from my body. A piece of glass sliced my cheek open, narrowly missing my left eye. Diving to the ground, I curled into a ball, burying my head beneath my arms. I could feel more glass fragments piercing my skin, leaving the backs of my hands slick with blood. Eventually, everything fell silent again and I carefully eased my head up. In the center of the room lay the man, impaled by a long, jagged piece of glass. A thick, gurgling came from his throat as black blood spurted from his mouth. Glass crunching beneath my feet, I turned and ran from the room.
Images of The Mirror Maze began to haunt every moment of my existence as I found myself stumbling once more through its identical paths; little, curly-haired boys chased waterlogged corpses round meadows filled with infinite images of myself. Completely out of food and water, I dragged myself onward through sheer force of will, all the time hearing whispers of my name repeated inside my head. Everywhere I turned, my ravaged face reflected back at me, imprinting itself upon my mind. But I knew The Maze’s reflections could not be trusted. Old Tom’s words flitted into my brain: “Sammy Rosenfeld…when he finally came out, all he had were two black holes in his head, full of blood.” The knowledge dawned on me that the only way to see myself, to truly see myself, was with my own eyes. Mustering what little strength remained in my body, I drove my fist into the wall of The Maze again and again, until cracks began to form. I dug out a piece of glass and brought it up to my eye, ready to see my true self once more.
“Charles.” The voice was strong and steady, something familiar in its tone. I turned my head slightly and saw another mirror. Yet, this one was different – it held no reflection in it. I stared for a time, wondering at this new enchantment, the longer I looked, the more I began to see other images forming. Wasn’t that sky I could see? A church spire behind a hill, a swallow soaring below the clouds…dropping the shard of glass, I walked towards the mirror. Reaching out my hand to the glass, I felt only air. I took a tentative step and walked straight through the mirror, back into the world.
Jemma is 21 years old, originally from Bristol but currently living in Newport, South Wales. She has been writing for Wales Arts Review for the last 2 years (you can read some of her reviews here). However, her real passion is for writing short stories and poetry.