Monday, April 17, 2023

The Choice in the Maze

Greetings Everyone,

While I write a lot of different things, one thing I don't write is "Fan Fiction". Nothing against those who do, that just isn't my forte. So, when the short story prompt for my group turned out to be "Game of Thrones", I tried to come up with a different direction for my story.

This story is called "The Choice in the Maze". I would be intrigued to receive any feedback on how the story flows and if it works!

Hope all of you are enjoying the last weeks of Summer!


The Choice in the Maze
by James J Meadows III

                It was a day I knew would change my world forever. Though, truth be told, even as I stood there, resolving myself to carry out the plan I had placed into motion, I still couldn’t foresee the results of my actions. Not that it mattered. I had made my decision and there was no turning back now. Whatever the consequences, my mind was made up.

                “Are you okay?” Kim asked. “You seem nervous.”

                Kim, my girlfriend of two years, stood next to me, looking ravishing in her Daenerys costume, as we waited to enter the Renaissance Fair. She didn’t know what I was about to do. She thought this was just another trip to the festival, an opportunity to enjoy ourselves and spend time together. She couldn’t know the true reason we had come here today.

                “I’m fine,” I lied, “Just excited.”

                My eyes fell on the security guards, standing at attention outside the gates. Their eyes swept over the crowd looking for any suspicious faces. The one at the front of our line kept looking at me, over and over again. His eyes made me nervous and I shuffled several times. Why did he keep looking at me? Why couldn’t he look somewhere else?

                “You look really good in your costume,” Kim ventured, apparently trying to break the tension. “I swear you look just like him.”

                I smiled, thanked her for the compliment, and reassuringly squeezed her hand. My costume for the day was Jon Snow, one of the protagonists of the Game of Thrones series. It went well with her costume. More importantly, the collection of thick garments provided ample room for concealment, a convenience I needed if I was going to succeed in my plan.

                Pressing my free hand nonchalantly against the side of my costume, I felt my pocket. The feel of a small bulky object told me it was still there. My eyes rose back to the security guards. There were no metal detectors, scanners, or any other equipment for checking bags and possessions. There was nothing to stop me from walking right through the door without anyone ever knowing what I carried in my pocket.

                We reached the front of the line, handed the man our tickets, and were just about to pass through when the security guard grabbed me by the arm. I froze for a moment, uncertain of what to do as I turned toward him. He gazed into my face for a second, a second wherein the world seemed to freeze. Then he smiled, saying, “Nice costume! You look just like him.”

                My heart, which had momentarily stopped beating, resumed its rhythm as I returned his smile with a simple, “Thanks.”

                He released me and I headed inside. For the next several hours, Kim and I wandered the park, visiting shops, catching shows, and otherwise doing what we always did when we visited. Yet, whenever she wasn’t looking, I found myself checking my watch and my hand drifted toward the pocket, whose interior concealed the true reason for our visit.

Over the preceding weeks, I had planned the exact time and the exact place. Still, as the minutes passed, I found it strange how each second seemed longer than the last.

As the time drew closer, I put my plan into place. Casually, in as nonchalant a manner as I could manage, I steered our shopping and walked in the direction of the main jousting arena, where I knew hundreds of people were gathered to watch the various shows. She went along with me, not suspecting anything as she laughed and looked at all the sights there were to see.

The minutes ticked closer. The arena was only a few stores down. Everything was going according to plan. Then, it happened.

“Hello, my lady,” a man’s voice broke in upon our conversation. “Would you like to visit the Dark Maze?”

The man was dressed in black armor with frills on his shoulder blades. His costume was almost identical to mine, although his clean-shaven face and short hair meant he looked far less convincing. He smiled at us, pointing to a large multi-story building painted all grey with a thick fence around it, clearly designed to look like a small castle. 

“What is it?” Kim asked, her eyes taking in the man and the fake keep.

“It is a pair of identical mazes, one on each side. You have to go through each room, answering trivia questions about Game of Thrones, Princess Bride, Harry Potter, and other classic movies and stories. You race against another group of people going along the opposite side. The team that gets out first is the winner.”

“Sounds like fun,” Kim declared. “Wanna go?”                                                   

She looked at me, excitement and adventure sparkling in her eyes.

“Well, uh, I mean, it, uh, sounds like fun,” I stammered, uncertain of what to say.

I checked my watch and glanced at the arena. I could hear the cheers and shouts coming from the stadium as the people celebrated the announcement of the knights entering the ring.

“Oh, come on!” She pleaded. “It’ll be fun.”

“I know,” I replied. “I think it’ll be great. I’m just not sure, you know if this is quite the right time. Maybe we could wait and do it in a little bit.”

Kim was about to reply when I felt a hand land on my shoulder.

“Hey, stranger,” a female voice said into my right ear.
            Kim gave a shout of excitement and I turned to find myself looking into the faces of Justin and Marie Kardo. Marie was Kim’s best friend from middle school. The two were practically inseparable, even going to the same college. In many ways, dating Kim meant dating them also, and we spent large amounts of time hanging out together as a couple. 
            “Oh, hey,” I replied, my response rather flat compared to the excited squeal Kim gave as she leaped forward, throwing her arms around Marie.

            “What are you doing here?” Kim shouted.

            “We were given free passes for the day, so we decided to take advantage of them,” Marie replied. “We just finished watching a show at the arena. What are you doing?”

            “We were just about to play the castle thing,” Kim said, pointing back at the structure. She quickly told them all about the maze and the game.

            “Sounds fun,” Justin said. “Wanna race? I bet we can beat it faster than you.”

            “Oh no, you won’t, 'cause we’re gonna kick your butts!” Kim laughed, putting on her ‘tough act’. “What do you think?”
            Three pairs of bright excited eyes turned toward me, waiting for my response. Clearly, this was going to happen, for better or worse. There was no way out of it now.

            “Sure,” I replied. “Let’s go for it.”

            The four of us got in line. Though there were not many people in front of us, it seemed to take forever. With each passing moment, I became increasingly anxious. By the time I paid the man the money to enter, my hands were almost shaking.

            “Are you sure you’re alright?” Kim asked again, clearly beginning to sense my tension.

            “You do look awfully pale,” Justin noted. “Scared of being beaten by us?”

            “As if,” I replied, trying to put on an air of cockiness, and hide my growing agitation.

            Once inside the maze, I tried to remain calm, an emotion which contrasted sharply with Kim, who was all but bouncing off the walls in her eagerness to answer questions and beat the maze before her friend. Yet, despite my attempt to maintain a calm demeanor, I felt completely out of sorts, my mind so focused on other thoughts that I badly missed several questions that I knew.

            For what seemed like an eternity, we moved onward, answering questions and solving puzzles. I could feel my pocket growing heavier, as though weights were being added to it every second. By the time we reached the last room, my pocket felt like a hundred-pound dumbbell, weighing me down with each step.

             Half a dozen cloaked figures stood around us as we entered. The leader addressed us.

            “You have reached the final room in the maze. On the other side of this door lies freedom along with the revelation of either victory or defeat! To see it, you must answer this question. In the Song of Fire and Ice novels, what are the words for the House Lonmouth?”

            I knew Kim would know this one. She virtually had the books memorized. Sure enough, right on cue, she spouted the answer, “The choice is yours.”

            “That is correct,” the leader declared.

            If it wasn’t for the fact that my nerves were so on edge, I might have sighed with relief. The maze was over. At last, I could carry out the plan that had brought me here, the act that I had waited for all day, the final conclusion of all my plots, schemes, and actions. The wait was over.

            Kim laughed and hurried toward the door, pulling me behind her. Just when it seemed we were about to be released, however, the figures suddenly raised their swords, blocking her way and moving toward us.

            “What is going on?” Kim asked, stepping back. “I answered the question.”

            “You did,” the leader said. “But you have not answered the last question. There is one more question you must answer. And, ‘the choice is yours’. You must choose!”

            “Choose?” Kim said, stepping backward as the figures advanced toward us. “Choose, what? I don’t understand. What am I choosing? What is the question?”

            “The question is,” I said. “Will you marry me?”

            I pulled a large plastic case from my pocket and knelt before her, flipping it open to reveal a ring. At the same moment, two of the cloaked figures dropped their hoods, displaying the grinning faces of Justin and Marie, their eyes sparkling in the darkness of the room. Other figures dropped their hoods too, revealing various other family and friends, all collected by me over the past weeks, all arranged to be here at the exact time and moment, which I’d planned from the very beginning of the day, though the part of meeting Justin and Marie at the arena had gone slightly awry.

            Kim’s hands shot to her mouth. For one long second, I remained kneeling on the ground, my nerves screaming as I awaited her answer. Then, at last, a smile broke across her face.

            “Yes,” she said, lifting me up and giving me a kiss.

            It was a day that would change my world, forever.