Humans are creatures of habit. We like doing the same things. We like seeing the same outcome. It's how we interpret our world, and to some degree ourselves.
What happens if that breaks down entirely? What would you do if you found yourself stuck in something that made no rational sense?
The next short story comes from Texas writer Austin Green, who is part of a local writer's group and is one of the most ridiculously talented folks I know at building suspense-here is his contribution to our All Hallow's Read Celebration called "The Haunted Maze".
The Haunted Maze
Robbie had been going to the Halloween carnival every year for as long as he could remember. The one night event was his favorite night of the year. Every October 31st, as soon as the carnival opened, he would run straight to the entrance of the haunted maze. Robbie was always the first one to make it through the maze, winning a self created competition he knew no one else was keeping track of. As he waited for the gates to open, he wondered what new scares they would try to add. It didn’t matter. He would still be the first to complete it.
Robbie was alone this year. His other friends thought the carnival was kids stuff. They were in high school now. They spent Halloween night at costume parties or at sleepovers watching scary movies. Technically they were right. The carnival was held as a town alternative to trick-or-treating. Someone convinced someone it was a safer idea to throw a carnival for all the kids to go to than having them roam from house to house in search of candy, and the town just seemed to go along with it. He didn’t mind being alone though; that just meant there was no one to slow him down during the maze. He would see his friends after he finished the maze.
As the gates opened and the carnival began, Robbie suddenly felt more impatient than normal. He had no interest in winning a stuffed giraffe or buying any cotton candy. He ran past the hall of mirrors and the spooky hayride. He turned the corner and his greatest fear was realized. Just as he was within sight of the haunted maze, he could see someone else already going in. This wasn’t happening. He ran faster.
Robbie went right through the entrance without admiring the recently painted signs of warning. He wasn’t worried about being scared, he was worried about losing. He made the first right and could hear the other person ahead of him. Faster and faster he ran, each turn getting just a glimpse of the person in front of him. Why was he also running? He had told a few friends about how he was always the first one to finish the maze. Was one of his friends trying to beat him just to rub it in his face? He ran faster. Another left, another right. He stopped to see if he could hear anyone else. He couldn’t. This was either good news or bad news. His rival either went the wrong way, or Robbie himself went the wrong way. At least he wasn’t trying to play catch up anymore.
Onward he went, but something else was off. Since he ran in, no one had popped out of a trap door to try and scare him. Nothing flew up when he turned a corner. He hadn't even reached a dead end. Usually by now he would have seen at least 2 or 3 workers, painted up as zombies or ghouls. The maze seemed so much bigger this year. Time continued on, and Robbie lost all hope of being the first to finish. There were no sounds of others running through the maze. The person who got their first must have picked the right path. Suddenly all Robbie wanted was to be out of the maze. He tried turning around and looking for the entrance, but nothing was as he remembered. Eventually, he made it where he thought the entrance should be, but there was no way out. Just another wall. That’s when he saw him. The other person who had entered before him had turned the corner and was standing there facing him. Robbie couldn’t make out the face in the darkness of the maze, the tall walls blocked the moonlight from reaching them. He called out to the other person, asking if he knew the way out. The figure stood there silently. Robbie took a step toward him, but as he did the figure then turned and ran back the way he came at full speed. Robbie started chasing him again. He ran after him as long as he could but eventually he needed to rest. He couldn’t keep running. He continued on in this new direction, hoping to find something. He wandered through the twists, desperate for a way out.
He turned right and that’s where he saw him. He paused. Suddenly, the other figure called out to him, asking if he knew the way out. He recognized his own voice, and when the figure stepped toward him he turned and ran.
At the entrance of the carnival a couple of Robbie's friends paid admission and made their way inside. If it was important to Robbie to finish the maze first, the least they could do is surprise him at the end. They asked the ticket seller where the haunted maze was this year. "No haunted maze this year," he replied. "No one wanted to build it, so we just skipped it. Maybe next year though."
* Austin's Websites: http://frodocop.tumblr.com/
Austin Green is a mob hit man who, upon falling in love, quits. 5 years later, his wife dies and to make sure he's not alone she arranges for a dog to be brought to him after her death. Later, some men wanting his car break in and beat him up and kill his dog. When he recovers, he sets to get the ones who killed his dog. He learns that the leader is the son of his former employer. And the man wanting to protect his son, tries to take care of Green but he's still as good as he was.