Chapter 9: Matthias
I hit the ground hard. Blood spilled into my mouth, and soon afterward out on to the pavement below me. The officer's knee dug into my back, and the cold metal of handcuffs cut into my wrists. Silently, I fumed. Everything passed by like a blur for me, I wasn't truly paying attention. I chewed myself out internally, but remained calm and composed on the exterior. Colors melded together, I was vaguely aware of being forced into a police cruiser, dimly took notice of the city rushing by as I was driven to the local police department, and dully gathered I was being ushered into it.
They shoved me down a labyrinth of hallways. Past lines of desks, stacks of paperwork, and legions of faceless drones meaninglessly completing task after task. They brought me to the office of a Mr. Joshua D. Daelus. I was seated in an uncomfortable leather chair in front of his desk. We sat in utter silence as my visage-lacking captors left the room. All around the desk, and the office in general, was a chaotic clutter. Books, charts, papers, blueprints, calculators, protractors, every imaginable instrument ever was scattered all over the office.
"Do you know where you are?" asked Joshua. He sat shrouded in shadow, his face obscured. Only his suit, templed fingers, and silver tie were visible.
"I'm..." I stopped, and realized that I didn't know where I was. I didn't no the name of the city, "I'm in the local P.D."
"Of what city?"
"And do you know why you're here?"
Again, I had no idea. I remembered being arrested, but I had completely forgotten why, the crime I had committed had already slipped my mind.
"Because I was arrested."
"You're in the Labyrinth, Matthias."
"The what?" I asked.
"You don't remember?" Joshua said, bemused. And as he did it slowly came back. Light, Mr. Granger, our escape, the maze of trees. Joshua smiled as he saw the look of dawning comprehension come across my face.
"That look is what makes my job worth it," he muttered.
"What's the Labyrinth?"
"That, my friend, is a complicated question to answer," Joshua replied. "There are a couple of layers to it. From the standard, realist viewpoint, the Labyrinth isn't anything. It does not exist. There are no people in it. It takes up no space and it does not travel through time. It's a void, an imaginary, unreal concept. From the metaphysical, existentialist viewpoint, the Labyrinth is your own personal Hell, Matthias."
"Neither of those answers are very helpful..."
"No?" I sensed that Joshua frowned a bit, though I could not see his face. "Well, in the most practical terms, for the moment, the Labyrinth is a prison. One with no walls, no guards, and no bars, but one that is inescapable regardless. You're trapped here Matthias."
"Until your friends find their ways out."
"For my own amusement really," Joshua said flippantly. "I get so immensely bored on my own here, it's so rare that I get visitors."
"How do the others find their way out? Where are they?"
"Oh they're elsewhere. You can't get to them, I assure you, you're quite unable to go anywhere. And even if you could, your friends must escape on their own. There's nothing you can do, you're fate is completely out of your control."
"Why?! What the hell type of psychological maze is this? Why am I left totally to the mercy of everyone else?" I yelled.
"Because that's what you fear most," Joshua answered calmly. I sighed and leaned back, defeated. For a few minutes, I looked around the room silently as Joshua drummed his fingers on the black desk in front of him.
"Well what the hell do I do now?" I asked.
"Want to play a game?"
"What?" I said, slightly put off by his nonchalant attitude. Joshua revealed a deck of cards that seemingly did not exist a few seconds ago.
"I got these from a friend of yours," Joshua said, "Want to play a game? I love card games. Of course I typically only get to play Solitaire..."
"I don't think I'm really in the mood..." I muttered.
"Matthias, look around. There isn't a way out of this room. You're stuck here, what else are you going to do?" Joshua seemed slightly peeved. I did a rapid three-sixty in my seat, and the door I had come in through had been replaced by an empty plaster wall. Additionally, there were no other doors, windows, or ventilation shafts in the room.
"... That doesn't seem fair..." I grumbled, "What do you want to play?"
"Have you heard of Mao? Let's play Mao."
"No... I haven't heard of it. How do you play?"
"This is the only rule I can tell you," Joshua said. I waited for more but there wasn't any. He started shuffling the deck, then once he finished dealt us each seven cards. He placed a single card, ace of hearts, down on the desk and stopped, apparently waiting for me to make a move.
"I don't-" I began, he interrupted.
"You talked, draw a card," he said, gesturing to the deck which was next to his ace of hearts. I glanced at him, confused, then tentatively drew a card. He placed a seven of hearts, and looked expectantly at me. I put down a seven of clubs, and he nodded.
"So it's like Un-"
"Talking," he said, "draw a card." I glared. He placed a nine of clubs as I drew my card. I placed a two of clubs, he placed an eight of clubs, I placed an eight of diamonds, and he looks worriedly at his hand, then with a resigned expression drew a card. Cautiously, I put down a four of diamonds. He followed up with a four of spades, I with a jack of spades, he with a queen of spades, and I realized suddenly that I was out of cards I could put down. I eyed him as I reached to pick up another card. He did not contradict me, and as I drew my card, he put down his, a queen of clubs. I put down a three of clubs, he placed a three of hearts, I put down a king of hearts, he put down an five of hearts.
"Mao," he said suddenly.
"What?" I asked.
"No talking, draw a card," he ordered.
"The hell?! You just said something!"
"Draw another card."
"What so you can only say Mao?!" I yelled.
"Aaand, draw another card," he replied.
"Mao! Mao, mao, mao!" I snarled as I reached to grab my accumulating stockpile of cards.
"Calling mao when you don't have mao," Joshua said, "Four times. Draw four cards." I got the sense he was smiling again. I placed my final card, not even paying attention to what it was, and he placed a six of diamonds.
"I win round one!" he said gleefully, "I get to add a rule!"
"... Oh hell no, is that how it works?" I asked.
"Yep, winner gets to add a rule," Joshua said. "I think you figured out the rest, no talking," he began shuffling the deck, "place a card that is either the same suit or same number. You say mao when you've only got one card left," he dealt us each seven cards. "Of course, I just added another rule, so you really don't stand a chance now." He emitted a sound that vaguely resembled giggling. "Oh boy, Matthias, we're going to have so much fun together. The name of the game is Mao, ladies and gentlemen. Let's play."
Vous êtes un faux. Je vous déteste. Words that sting me. I can't forget them. They bite me like insects, they plague me. Burned, seared into my memory for eternity, constant reminders of a single, bitter mistake. Je suis désolé. The words I never said. The words that ate themselves. The words I regret, not because I uttered them, but because the failed to utter themselves. The scapegoats. Words that, had they been spoken, would have saved so much pain, would have lead to me escaping this hell I'm not trapped in.
Quelle est la couleur de la voiture? Words that break everything. I'm sorry, Natasha. I should have never noticed.