Pike stood next to her opponent before the entrance of an old-style funhouse. The wooden archway was painted to resemble the gaping maw of a laughing clown. The once white face paint is now an ashen color. The wood behind one of his eyes has rotted and fallen out, leaving it sunken and hollow looking.
“Funhouse?” scoffed Pike. “How did the people of old see this as anything but terrifying?” She shook her head and rubbed her goosebump covered arms. Whelk tried to appear aloof, but his unwillingness to look directly at the entrance betrayed how disturbed he was. He pointed to the words spelled out across the clown’s teeth.
“Can you read? What does that say?” She squinted to see the words through her lenses.
“It says ‘Uncle Phil’s Funhouse.’ Whose uncle? That’s weird.” He shook his head.
They’d both shown up to this location as they were told, just before dusk. Pike had recoiled at the shadows the building cast and nearly jumped out of her skin when one of them moved toward her. Whelk was dark, so dark he nearly vanished in the dimming sunlight if she didn’t keep an eye on him.
Now they were waiting for the house to open. They’d each approached, only slightly worried that mouth would close on them, and tugged on the door. It was locked tight and wouldn’t budge. They were mostly silent toward each other, though it was agreed it would unlock at either sunset or full dark. Pike didn’t mind. She’d like to be able to take her polarized goggles off. In fact, it was probably dim enough she could do it now without much pain.
She slipped them off and put them into a pocket. Whelk chuckled, “It is a little dark to be wearing sunglasses.” She knew he was trying to lift the mood of that spooky place, but after hearing it repeatedly for the last few years, she was tired of the joke. She shot him a weary smile.
“Need them to see.”
She wasn’t too concerned about her tone, that joke needed to die a slow, painful death. Whelk looked away and she, at least, enjoyed the ensuing silence.
The sky got darker and darker, and Pike was able to make out more details of the funhouse’s entrance. Above the clown’s eyes rose rainbow-colored hair. She squinted. There was something else there, something glinting in the dying light. She was about to inspect it up close when she heard a click and groan from the entrance.
The door had opened!
Pike and Whelk spared just a glance at the other before making a dash for the door. Just before she reached the steps, bright light exploded into being, blinding Pike. Differently colored bulbs were strewn throughout the clown’s hair, illuminating the space before the door.
“Ah, Domer piss!” She spun away, her arm over her eyes, as she tried to retrieve her goggles. By the time she fitted them into place, Whelk had entered and disappeared down the hallway. Pike glared up at the now brilliantly lit up jester.
“Thanks a lot,” she grumbled at it before hurrying to catch up with her opponent. As she went through the open door she rubbed at the skin around her eyewear. She could feel it already. Her skull was going to ache for days.
The floor groaned under her weight and the air seemed to smell of rotten wood. She couldn’t see Whelk, but her line of sight was stopped short by a sharp turn to the left a few feet ahead. She turned it and found a short flight of stairs down. A much longer set of stairs to the left at the landing descended into darkness. She took to them quickly, reminding herself that Whelk could be very far ahead.
Only a few steps down her hurry proved a hindrance. The floor swept out under her foot with a bang, throwing her violently to the side. If not for the banister, Pike would have tumbled downt he rest of the staircase end over end. She hauled herself up and the step shifted under her weight to slam into the wall she clutched.
Pike experimentally shifted her weight back and forth, eliciting loud bangs with each shift. She looked down the stairwell and tried again.
Looks like this is all one piece, just supposed to drop your feet from under you and give you a fright. I don’t see how that’s fun, but it’s not dangerous if I don’t sprint down the steps.
Pike proceeded cautiously, shifting with the stairs until she reached the next landing. She could see even floor beyond a few more steps again to the left. These didn’t move under her weight.
His lead wasn’t that big. Either he’s got magnificent balance or he tumbled to the bottom.
She rounded the next corner and jumped out of her skin. Someone was waiting at the far end of the hall! She quickly ducked back behind the corner. When she poked her head out, the person was no longer there. It took her a moment to find their head sticking out as hers was.
Pike narrowed her eyes. She reached out her hand and watched as the other person mimicked her waving exactly.
“Ah, it’s my reflection! I see now.” She stepped into the hallway and approached herself. Mirrors weren’t uncommon among the Socratics, but new ones weren’t being made and Pike had only used a few. Most of the larger ones had been claimed by the growing fashion industry among the scholars. Pike didn’t understand the allure, but mirrors themselves were rather interesting.
As she stepped near the mirror, the ceiling cut away, briefly revealing a large room easily two to three stories tall. The mirror blocked her view as she got closer.
Touching her reflection she saw that the path split to the left and the right, both lined with mirrors. To the right mirrors were cracked and broken, many shattered to the ground, glinting oddly in the low light. The left had pristine mirrors and honestly looked better lit. Pike could see herself at the far end as it turned again.
If I take this path, I’ll be able to see better, but the mirrors might mess with me. The right path has sharp edges and low lighting, but I’ll be able to tell if something’s a mirror or not.
After a moment’s deliberation she turned right to follow the darker path.
She moved briskly, aware of the gap growing between Whelk and herself. Pike wanted to keep a hand on one wall, try to follow advice she had heard once, but the broken glass made her keep her distance. The last time she’d gotten a bad cut she’d almost died. The blood wouldn’t stop flowing. She’d been careful since, and had managed to keep her skin intact, even after joining the Socratics and working with their machines. She wasn’t going to bleed out here.
Pike continued along the right wall until an odd intersection gave her pause. It turned left and right like the others, but straight ahead on the opposing wall rose a sturdy ladder. The lights flickered as she traced it up and up where she could just make out a platform hidden in the gloom.
She looked down both the left and right paths, but they each ended with a sharp turn back in the direction she’d come from.
“I hate to break my pattern now, but I like the idea of being able to look down at the maze.”With a shrug, she started climbing.
She tried to climb quickly, but it was a long ladder. There was no telling how far ahead Whelk could be, but falling now wouldn’t help her chances. The lamps casting their infrequent light came into view and then she was past them. A short minute after that saw her pulling herself onto the waiting platform.
Pike stood and shook her arms out. It really had been a long climb. Looking down over the sides revealed that the details of the maze were difficult to see beyond the lamps. Out in the distance other platforms rose from the twisted path.
“Are those ramps leading up to them? Mine doesn’t have one, does it?” A bright blue glow grabbed her attention before she could investigate. In big, bold letters the word EXIT glowed above a doorway in the far wall. It was the most colorful thing in the room, even if she hadn’t been able to read, it was obvious which way to go.
She was so intent on trying to trace the path back to the base of her ladder she failed to notice the floor dropping out from under her. There was no banister to latch onto this time. She fell solidly onto her butt and started sliding forward. Walls grew around her as the slide hurtled her down at an ever faster speed. She let out a shriek as she entered a tunnel and winced as it echoed around her. Everything was pitch black for a moment and then she was tipped forward as the slide ended to stumble across a new room.
Picking herself off the ground, she looked around the room. One wall featured free standing, oddly shaped mirrors. As she stepped in front of them her image showed up but grossly distorted. This one made her skinny and tall, and the next made her squat and wide. She rolled her eyes at these. There was only one exit unless she wanted to try climbing the slide. Hmph, I suppose that would be fun if I’d known it was there before I was on it.
With nowhere else to go, Pike left the room only to come to a three way intersection. Back into the maze it seemed. She knew choosing a direction was entirely random, but she tried to remember which way the exit had been from the slide. The slide had been straight, right? She shrugged and chose the path directly ahead of her.
Fewer mirrors were broken along this path, but it seemed the walls were getting closer. The path became so narrow for a while she had to turn sideways and pull her bag after her. She was sweating nervously by the time the walls had retreated.
“Stupid sharp edges. Next time I enter a maze of broken mirrors, I’ll bring body armor along.” She continued grumbling to herself as she turned corner after broken corner. She was getting really tired of seeing herself at the end of every corridor. She stopped short when the next turn revealed she wasn’t.
She dashed forward in hopes that, yes, the light from the sign was visible! She was almost out! Her reflection appeared so suddenly that she yelped and tripped over her own feet and smacked into the clear glass plate ahead of her.
She pulled her way up it and glared at the EXIT sign just out of reach. She was so close. She started again as something moved sharply to her left. It was Whelk! How had he gotten on the right path?
Whelk stopped short as he saw Pike through the glass. He placed a hand on the pane and looked it over. He let out a whistle.
“That is the worst thing I’ve ever seen. That’s downright mean putting this here when you’re so close.” His voice echoed oddly over the top. Pike wondered briefly if she could climb over before dismissing the idea. Too much risk she’d break the glass in the process and cut herself to death. She supposed talking to him was the only thing she could do now.
“I’m curious, which way did you choose at the beginning of the maze? There couldn’t have been just one correct path.”
“I chose the path with the unbroken mirrors. I’ve heard all about broken mirrors, I wasn’t going to risk going down that path.” She gave him a confused look, but he didn’t stop to explain. “Anyway, since this is a competition and there’s not much you can do, I’m just going to step through this door and win. Sorry!”
His cheerful grin grinded on her, but there really was nothing she could do about it as he opened the door and stepped through.
“What? There’s more? Don’t tell me that was just the exit from the maze!”
Pike’s eyes widened at his shock from inside the door. It wasn’t over! But what could she do? Turning back would still take too long and climbing still didn’t look any better an option. There was only one option; she’d have to break through.
Hesitantly she hefted her rubber mallet and looked once more at the obstacle in front of her. This is going to suck! She hauled back and brought the hammer down heavily on the pane. The tiniest crack appeared. Disbelief spread across Pike’s face as she swung the hammer again, only to grow the crack imperceptibly. Now fully frustrated she slammed the tool down again and again, slowly widening the crack as well as the lead Whelk had on her.
Suddenly the crack widened significantly, and she could hear it creak as it spread across the whole sheet of glass. This was it. But how could she strike it again without shattering it and being shredded in the process?
She narrowed her eyes at her tool of choice before taking several large steps back. She released a hesitant breath and hurled the hammer with as much force as she could muster. Shards went flying in all directions, causing Pike to cower. She felt several pieces strike her back, but her tough shirt kept them from punching through.
When she looked back only a few shards dangled from the frame. She hurried through the hole and through the exit, stooping to pick up her mallet as she went.
A short corridor led to a larger room, and Whelk wasn’t that far ahead! She could see him halfway across the room. She squinted. He seemed to be having trouble walking? He wasn’t moving very fast in any case.
Pike briefly looked over the room, searching for traps or any reason Whelk might be acting strange. Nothing stood out until she turned back to the entrance. Two grotesque clown statues stood on either side of the doorway, gesturing out to the floor. With a startled yelp, Pike jumped back, thinking they were there to attack her.
They didn’t move, but the floor did. As she stepped onto it the floor groaned as it began to tilt to one side. She nearly lost her balance, but managed to wobble upright. Whelk laughed from across the room.
“That’s why I’m going slowly! The whole place tilts back and forth.”
Her side was still tilting, but not so much she had trouble standing. She could see now that only the floor she stood on was tilted, while Whelk’s section of floor was mostly flat. Small cracks ran width-wise across the room, showing where each part of the floor was separate from each other. A soft thud echoed as the floor came to a stop.
It’s like the stairs from earlier. They can only go so far before being stopped. But since there’s not one huge piece, I wonder if they’re centered differently. She wasn’t far from the center of the room, so she took three large steps, bringing her to the next section. As she stepped up to place her feet on it, the ground tilted heavily and she scrambled upslope trying to find the fulcrum. As it rebalanced and she caught her breath she had to admit to herself, If this wasn’t a competition I think I’m beginning to see how this could be fun. Have some friends with you and giggling over running into dead ends and scrabbling as the room tilts. I can see that.
“Wouldn’t hurt if you didn’t find clowns to be creepy, either.” This she mumbled to herself as she stepped lightly onto the next section, placing only enough weight on it to see where it moved. This time she moved quickly toward it without trouble. The next section was the one Whelk had been standing on when she entered and she had no problem moving to his position.
Looking forward, her opponent was now climbing up a slope on the final section toward the door. He still had a lead on her and Pike needed to fix that. Quickly judging the distance she leapt completely over the section between her and Whelk, landing solidly on the opposite side of the fulcrum. The lever moved violently, bouncing Whelk into the air and sending him sliding down the shifted plane.
Pike managed to hold her stance as the swearing man slid past her and moved surely to the door. She had to maneuver around the raised floor, but was finally ahead! She jogged down the hallway, not sure what to expect next.
The hall emptied out into a suspiciously empty room. There weren’t even the creepy clowns to greet her as they had before. She took a cautious step out onto the floor. It didn’t shift, or lean, or sprout demonic vines she’d have to fight.
That last one’s probably a little unrealistic, but I don’t know what to expect.
Two more steps revealed nothing more. She paused and raised her hand to her chin in thought. Whelk entered behind her and stopped short when he saw her motionless.
“Are you okay? What’s wrong?” Quite frankly she was surprised by the concern in his voice, but she tried to keep it from her own.
“I’m fine. It’s this room that’s got me concerned. All the other rooms have had gimmicks, but nothing has happened in this one. It’s too empty, if that makes any sense.” She turned on the spot to look at him. He just waved his hand dismissively.
“Sometimes it’s just an empty room.” He took two steps and a loud click echoed in the room as his foot depressed into the floor. Pike could see his eyes widen as he looked at his foot. She almost missed his frightened whisper.
Her own eyes widened at that and she turned to dive to the ground, followed closely by Whelk. She covered her head and waited. When nothing happened, she looked around. The room hadn’t changed. No opened panels on the walls, no knives or darts thrown about. She looked back at the spot he’d stepped on.
“Are you sure about that booby trap? Now that I think about it, this is supposed to be for fun. I doubt you’d have many repeat visitors if this room killed whoever came into it.” She rose to her feet to examine the depression. Whelk rolled over to look at her.
“Maybe they enjoyed near death experiences back then. It could be a dud.”
Pike shook her head, sure of herself now. She reached a hand out and pressed on the floor. It clicked again and retreated to floor level.
“No, look. I think this was just to make you stumble, feel like the floor is falling out from under you, like a lot of the other tricks here. I don’t think they actually wanted to hurt anyone here.”
Fascinated as she was with the mechanics of the device, Pike failed to notice Whelk get to his feet behind her.
“Well, if you’re sure, then…bye!” She whirled as he took off, stepping high to avoid the indents as he created them. She moved to dash after him and promptly tripped over her own dropped floor, landing flat on her face. She rose onto her elbows and watched Whelk disappeared down the next hallway.
She pounded a fist on the floor. She just couldn’t seem to keep up, and this time it had been her own fault. She sulkily dragged herself to the nearest wall and pulled herself to a standing position. She sighed as the mental scolding began. Will my curiosity always get in the way? Will I never learn to stay focused? Will I…what is that?
The tirade ended as quickly as it began as she reoriented herself on a crack in the wall in front of her. She felt along it with her fingers and could feel a small draft. A light tap revealed a section of wall that was different from the rest. Further down she found another crack, though this one wasn’t as visible. She reexamined the first crack and found it jutted from the while just a tiny bit.
A door? Maybe? But why would there be a door here?
Her drive to know had taken over and she found a flathead screwdriver in her hand. She wedged it into the crack and jimmied it back and forth. The door became more defined until she could get a grip with her fingers. She yanked it open and found a narrow passage beyond.
Immediately to the right was a ladder leading under the floor. The hole extended out into the previous room as well as under the false trap room. Confused, Pike took the left path leaving the door to swing softly shut behind her. There was just enough light to make her way. The floor was solid and nothing attempted to move on her.
A small room opened up and she saw a metallic box sitting on a desk. Approaching it she found an image of another room on a display, words written underneath. The text seemed to be referring to a disk that made up the floor of the room on the screen.
“Is this…an active computer? I didn’t know there could be such a thing outside the Dome! This is incredible! I should – no! Stay focused! These have to be maintenance tunnels. That means they’ll bypass all the obstacles. I’ve got to keep going!”
Despite her fingers itching to disassemble the lost technology, Pike swept out of the room into the next narrow corridor. The next room was a little larger and had a vast work bench shoved against one wall. Several stools suggested this was for many people to work at once. Lying on a section of table was a mechanism she hadn’t seen before. This time she couldn’t help picking it up to examine it, but she kept moving. As long as she didn’t stop, it wouldn’t impede her progress, right?
Before she could step through the door Pike heard a shout. She looked around the room, maybe Whelk had found a way back here too? But the next shout sounded muffled and she realized it was from beyond the wall. He was in the room adjacent to her. Was there a way she could see him?
Searching along the wall revealed a sort of peephole. The view was a little hazy, so there must be something covering it to give the illusion of a whole wall. She could see Whelk near the entrance pacing back and forth. He looked frustrated. Pike watched him walk forward a step only to flail his arms about and quickly jump back.
She couldn’t help watching him try again, this time hearing a soft pfft before he filled the silence with cursing at spirits for holding him back. She could tell it wasn’t spirits, there was something under the floor. The voice that had told her to ignore the computer failed to speak up as she looked for some way under the floor.
There! A trapdoor lead underneath the room, revealing several devices like the one Pike had found upstairs. Each had its nozzle stuck up to cracks through the floorboards of the room Whelk was in. A circle of larger ones in the center of the room drew her attention. All of the devices had hoses attached that connected them to a large tank in the corner. Each device seemed to be anchored to the ground above them with a pressure plate. As she watched, Whelk attempted to move forward again, depressing a pressure plate and the device under him made that same pfft sound she’d heard before.
He stepped back once more and Pike’s eyes widened.
“They’re air jets! That’s so interesting!”
“…Pike? Was that you? Where are you? Air jets? You mean…”
Pike turned and bolted for the ladder. Whelk was clever enough he’d figure out the room didn’t actually have any obstacles for him to overcome in just a moment. She had to move! Her hands automatically latched onto the air jet on the table and slipped it into her tool belt as she moved to the door.
She nearly sprinted down the hallway, bruising her shoulders heavily on protruding support beams in her haste. The path ended at a wall and she looked around frantically. She could hear Whelk thumping up stairs outside her walls. There had to be a way up.
Then she spotted it. A ladder was hanging out the darkness above. She jumped to reach it and with the sound of metal scraping the ladder dropped to her level. She scaled the ladder and found herself in a room more the size of a closet. There was a rather well marked door on one side with a peephole, but she didn’t bother with it. Pushing at the door accomplished only a shift in the door. Pike narrowed her eyes and stood at the far wall before throwing herself against the stuck door.
It slammed open and she hurtled out, narrowly missing Whelk who took two surprised steps back down the steps he was ascending. Pike caught herself on the far wall and got a good look down the corridor around the corner. Another blue exit sign. This one had to be the end!
She locked eyes with Whelk for just a moment before pushing herself up and toward the exit. She could hear Whelk right behind her. They were both so focused on the exit ahead they failed to realize there was still an obstacle left.
Hearing the groan just a moment too late, Pike lost her footing and fell to the ground, Whelk falling nearly on top of her as well. There was a long tunnel and it was spinning! Pike struggled to get to her feet and keep her balance, briefly considered just crawling the remaining distance, but moved forward.
She couldn’t be sure if he’d pushed her or used her to retain his own balance, but Whelk was suddenly in front of her and she was leaning against one wall as it rotated, her goggles scraping noisily. Once again he was too far ahead for her to catch.
“I can’t lose this close to the end.” Without thinking for more than a breath, Pike hefted her hammer again and threw it after the escaping Whelk. She’d never been good at long range…anything, but this time her aim was spot on. The mallet struck him in nearly the center of his back, knocking him to the floor. She ran after him and paused only to pick up her hammer.
He wheezed as he tried to grab at her legs, but she managed to avoid his grasping. The pouch on his waist squirmed, as if something was trying to get out, but he was almost laying on it.
“Ooh, knocked the wind out of you. Uh, sorry. You’ll be fine…yeah…” She turned and staggered the remaining way out of the tumbling tunnel and nearly fell through the exit door. Down two rickety, grated steps and she was on solid earth again.
There, just a few paces away was a pedestal, sleek blue lines drawing her eyes to the top. There a screen overlaid with a grid waited. When Pike approached the pillar beeped at her and the outline of a hand formed on the screen.
With a hesitant look at her hand she placed it down on the outline, covering it completely. She let out a small chuckle. Her hand was bigger than the hand provided. But the machine did its job and moment later beeped to let her know it was done. Pulling her hand away revealed a single line of text:
Pike let out a sigh as she turned to see Whelk burst out the door. Seeing her standing next to the scanner he could only drop to sit on the metal stairs to try and catch his breath.