I fiddled with Molly’s bracelet as I thought back to her and everyone else back in that world. I knew it was wrong to leave them like I had, but how much longer could I have waited? I couldn’t imagine how worried they were. The train was passing through a country side and the aviary drew further and further away until it was nothing but a speck of light in the distance.
“You look lost, child,” a sweet-sounding voice said to me. Sitting on the opposite side of a train was an elderly man with a long white beard. He reminded me of Father Christmas, he even had rosy cheeks and a round nose.
“I suppose I am . . .” I said.
“Where are your parents?” he asked.
“They’re not here, it’s just me,” I said. “I’m looking for my sister but I don’t know where she is. She might be lost too.”
“I’m so sorry to hear, but you shouldn’t be alone in your search. How long have you been alone?”
“Not long,” I said, “I met some new friends at the circus, but I had to go and they needed to stay. It was their home and, I have to find my way home with my sister and grandmother.”
“That’s understandable,” the man said, “but I don’t think it’s wise for a girl as young as yourself to go alone.”
“I know. . .”
“What is your name, dear?”
“That’s a wonderful name,” the man commented. “It means ‘wisdom’ I believe.”
“I don’t believe that meaning suits me,” I said.
“I’m not smart enough to share any wisdom,” I answered. “To be honest, I don’t believe I’m that smart at all.”
The man frowned. “You shouldn’t think so negatively about yourself, I see you as a charming young lady.”
“You’re too kind, thank you.”
“It’s my pleasure. I do not ever want to see someone as young as you put themselves down. Why don’t you tell me something you love about yourself?”
“Well. . .” I thought for a moment and then said, “I suppose I can be funny. Sue has told me I make her laugh a lot.”
“Humor is a wonderful trait to have, very good,” the man agreed. “Anything else?”
“Uh,” I thought again, glancing up at the train’s ceiling. “I’m really good at playing games.”
“Is that so?”
“Yes,” I said. “There was this one time that I played this game where I had to hide, and my grandparents and Sue were looking for me but they couldn’t find me for so long.”
“Where were you hiding?”
“Mmm, it’s a secret,” I said. “I’m sorry, but the hiding spot is too good to tell anyone.”
“I understand,” he said, “now you’re looking for your sister.”
“Yes, and I’m certain she’s looking for me too,” I said. “I suppose that we’re just playing a really long, really difficult game of hide and seek”
“If you want to think of it as a game you should,” the man suggested. “It might not be the best game, but keeping that in mind might help you feel better.”
“Yes, thank you.”
There was a loud whistle as the train rolled to a stop. I glanced out the window to see that we were in a town with small brick buildings and windmills. I thought back on Caleb’s world and wondered how he was doing. . .I hoped that he and everyone else were alright.
“This is my stop,” the man said as he got up. “I would ask if you’d like to join me for tea, but I understand that you’re busy and want to finish your game. Farewell, my dear.” The man bowed his head, but before he left he said, “Oh, and I would advise you to get off at the next stop.” He was gone before I could ask.
The train rolled on again, and the town disappeared into a forest that grew and grew until I saw nothing but tall tree trunks that blocked the sun. It looked like nighttime now and when I turned to the other passengers, they were gone. I was alone. I thought there had been others on the train just a second before. The train stopped and the cabin door slid open, letting in a cold breeze. I shivered and wanted to stay, but something told me I needed to get out and so I did.
Once I stepped out, the cabin door closed and the train vanished into the forest. It whistled a high pitch noise and then there was silence. I was in the middle of a huge, dark forest and only a sliver of light slipped through the branches. Where was I?
“Hello?” I called. No answer. “Hello!” I called once more, and still there was no answer. I cradled my arms and moved in the opposite direction of where the train had left. Why did that man tell me to stop here? What was in this forest?
After several minutes of wandering, two sparks of light appeared from the darkness. The sparks turned out to be lit torches which were on either side of a massive stone gate. Iron knockers that were twice my size were stationed on the doors, and my mind wandered to a fearful thought that a giant could be living there. I’ve read about them in fairytales, but I didn’t want to know if one truly existed in this forest.
However, what frightened me the most were the two giant scorpion statues crawling amongst the stone walls. They stared down at me with intimidation, looking like they could attack me at any second.
I was ready to run, but before I could make another move, one of the scorpions’ eyes glowed yellow. A female’s voice whispered in my ears and I shivered.
“A little girl.”
“She seems familiar.” The other scorpion’s eyes glowed as well. Now it was a male’s voice.
“But I don’t believe we’ve met before,” the female’s voice said.
“What’s your name, child?” the male’s voice asked.
“Uh.” I hesitated and backed away a few steps.
“She’s frightened,” the female’s voice said.
“She was already scared when she got here,” the male’s voice said.
“There’s nothing to be frightened about child.”
“Tell us your name.”
I swallowed and cupped my hands together which were now getting sweaty. “It’s Sophie.”
The eyes from the scorpions brightened and I jumped.
“I thought as much.”
“Yes, she’s the missing sister of—”
“Suzette,” the voices said together.
“Wha—” I covered my mouth in shock and drew closer. “Sue was here?”
“Indeed, she was,” the female’s voice said.
“She was so worried about you,” the male’s voice said.
“Where is she now?” I asked.
“But we have something to help you find her.”
“Yes, we do.”
“The labyrinth,” both voices said.
“What’s in the labyrinth?” I asked again.
“The labyrinth is filled with many doors,” the female’s voice said.
“Doors that lead to wants that have been lost,” the male’s voice said.
“But the doors show fears and nightmares so you best be careful.”
“Yes, all the doors except one look the same, but what’s behind is different.”
“Fear or desire, what could they be?” they asked together.
“Only one door will lead to your deepest desire,” the female’s voice said.
“While the other doors are simply illusions,” the male’s voice said.
“But where could that real door be?”
“It could be at the start.”
“It could be at the end.”
“Either way, you’ll be under a time limit.”
“We can’t let you go in freely, that’s not fair to us.”
‘So we advise that you should be quick.’
‘Yes, you must be quick.’
“I. . .” I hesitated, staring at the gates and the scorpions with confusion. I wasn’t sure if I should go in but what other choice did I have? I wondered if that elderly man wanted me to come here, he did say to get off the train at this stop. Then how—
“Do you not want to go in?” the female’s voice asked.
“Do you not want to see your sister?” the male’s voice asked.
“I do want to see her!” I cried out. “I . . . I really do. More than anything, I want to see Sue again.”
“Then you should come into the labyrinth.”
“Yes, you should.”
I paused once more and shuffled my feet uneasily. I looked around my surroundings again, but there was nothing but the dark trees looming all around like shadows ready to pounce.
“The doors show my fears as well?” I asked timidly.
“Yes,” the female’s voice said.
“But don’t let that stop you.”
“Fear is a natural feeling to have, you just need to know how to get passed it.”
“If not, well. . .”
“That’ll be unfortunate,” both voices said together.
The scorpions chuckled and I frowned. When they were done, the female’s voice spoke up again:
“But while there are fears, there are your desires you will come across.”
“Yes, the doors shall reveal what is in your soul.”
“Fears and desires. . .what will you come across in those doors?”
“If you want to find your sister, you should step into the labyrinth and find out.”
“And do be careful.”
“Yes, be careful. For we sense that you have a much fragile soul.”
“Yes, very fragile.”
“Don’t let fear overpower you.”
“I. . .I won’t,” I stammered, thought I wasn’t sure myself if I could keep that promise.
“Enjoy the labyrinth.’
“Yes, please enjoy.”
The voices faded away and the glow disappeared from their eyes. The gate creaked open so loudly that birds fled from the trees. Once I stepped into the labyrinth, a grandfather clock appeared between two paths, chiming loudly in my ears. I chose the path on my left and it wasn’t long until I came across the first door.
I reached for the doorknob, turned it to the side and swung it open. A burst of light swallowed me and when it died down, I was back at the mansion inside the foyer. At the top of the main staircase was a painting of a gazebo grandma had painted long before I was born. The painting filled up most the wall, and it glowed from the chandeliers.
I walked up the stairs and my feet sunk into the carpet. I decided to take off my shoes and smiled as my toes felt around the familiar fuzziness that reminded me of times running from Sue when we played silly games. Now it was exceptionally quiet and no servants were around to tell us to stop running while grandma watched on, holding in a laugh.
Grandpa was there with that kind smile of his that I so missed. I would’ve always jumped on his lap and give him the biggest hugs. Sue would want to sit on his lap too, so we squeezed together and gave grandpa a kiss on the cheek when we had to get off. I looked about the foyer, hoping that there was some sound to ease me, but there was none.
I hated that it was so quiet. I hated that it was so empty. I needed to get out before the silence and emptiness became too much. I reached for the door and was welcomed by the clock’s chimes that returned to ring in my head. I wasn’t sure what I preferred, the chiming or the silence, but I couldn’t think of the answer as I hurried down the path in search of another door.
I passed by many more rooms from the manor, but like the foyer they were unbelievably quiet and empty. I continued to wander aimlessly through the labyrinth, hoping for some hint of Sue’s whereabouts, but there was nothing but memories that I longed to relive in a happier time.
“Four hours left,” the scorpions’ warned.
How could it have been an hour already?
I was running now and nearly tripped on my way. My heart beat in tune with the clock’s chiming and I searched desperately for a door that would lead me to something, anything that’ll guide me closer to Sue.
“Sue!” I cried, hoping that somehow, somewhere my voice would reach her whenever I opened a door. All I was faced with were memories that tempted me to step inside and waste more time in quiet rooms.
I threw open a door, but instead of facing another room in the manor, I was in the countryside during daybreak. The meadow stretched far and wide with a mixture of flowers from tulips, to poppies, to many others covering the meadow in a blanket. I wanted to run and jump into them really badly. In the far distance, I could see the mansion, and above me were hot air balloons joined together by ribbons. Hundreds of them were floating in the sky and all had lights strung to the baskets. Porcelain dolls sat in the baskets and had lace or hats on their heads. Their wide glass eyes stared down and rosy smiles were plastered on their faces.
The sun sat on one side of the horizon, while the moon sat on the other. Stars sat on purple and pink clouds and took the shape of animals such as cats and rabbits. One cloud in the shape of a dog started to frolic across the sky and jumped down onto the field. The dog jumped into my arms, he was as soft as a pillow. I hugged him before he jumped away and ran up a hill.
“Hey, wait!” I called excitedly and chased after him.
At the top of the hill was a long table clothed in white. All sorts of desserts—including a giant chocolate cake topped with strawberries—decorated the table. Tiny tea cups and little plates sat in front of chairs with huge pink bows. The delightful smell of Darjeeling tea sent me gliding to a chair and I sat down. The dog jumped on my lap and sniffed the treats. I picked out a biscuit and was about to take a bite, but a familiar, silvery voice froze me in place.
“It’s improper for a lady such as yourself to indulge herself in sweets like that, you might get a toothache.”
My heart skipped a beat when I saw the familiar smirk and strange, purple eyes leering at me from the other side of the table. The imposter wore that emerald necklace, and a dark green dress that was a sheer contrast to the vibrant colors around us. The dog growled, but the imposter snapped her fingers and the dog turned to a puff of smoke. I gasped and stood up, almost knocking over the chair.
“You. . .” I breathed. How was she here? I thought she was gone? No . . .no this was just in my head, right?
“What do you fear the most, child?” the imposter asked in a velvety but cold voice. She used a knife to slather jam onto a scone and bit into it. “It’s not I, there’s something else. What is it?”
“ I. . .” I paused and found myself slowly slipping back into the chair. “I suppose. . . I fear losing Sue the most. I can’t recall how long it’s been now since I’ve seen her. . .weeks, maybe even months. I’ve lost track of time.”
“Fear of losing your sister. . .” the imposter repeated. “That would be unfortunate.” She stole another bite of the scone, and then she poured herself and I tea. She handed me the cup, but I refused to drink it.
“Why are you here?” I asked quietly.
“You should already know.” The imposter took a sip of tea. She set the tea back on the saucer with a clink. The clink rung louder than it should have and the lights from the hot air balloons faded out. All the clouds disappeared, followed by the stars, the moon, and lastly the sun. A shadow leaked out of the imposter’s cup like liquid and crawled across the table cloth, turning everything black in its wake. Soon the entire table was smothered in black, and the food had crumbled to dust. The cake had melted, leaving an ugly stain on the once beautiful silver plate.
When I looked up, I was surrounded by white cloaked figures whose faces were covered by hoods. They sat so still on the chairs I swore they were statues. The imposter had turned into one of the cloaked figures, but the only distinctive feature left were those haunting eyes that never left my sight.
“This is what your soul interprets your fears to look like,” the first scorpion’s voice slithered from one of the cloaked figures.
“Nightmarish creatures. . .drawn from actual creatures that reside here in these worlds,” the other voice said from the figure next to the former.
“—And drawn from your fears of failure—” another cloaked figure said.
“Death,” the next figure said.
“You have many fears, but what you fear the most is losing your sister,” the female voice said.
One of the figures dropped their hood and there was Sue, but her face was pale and when she stood, a bloody gash, contrasted against the paleness of the cloak, was ripped through her side with blood still leaking out. I staggered back and lost the ability to talk.
“It’s too late,” Sue’s sweet voice said, “your fear has become a reality.”
“No . . .” I said shaking my head.
“I’m dying, Sophie, I’m dying at this very second,” she said. She rounded the table and drew closer to me.
“This. . .this can’t be true,” I said. “We. . .we promised that we would find grandma together and go home. We promised. We promised.”
“You’ll have to find grandma yourself,” Sue said. “You can handle it.”
“No, no I can’t handle it by myself,” I whimpered with tears blurring my vision. “I need you. I need you, Sue. We—we’re going to find grandma together and we’re going to go home. We’re going to! Please, you can’t leave me alone, you can’t!” I took hold of her hand but it was deathly cold.
“I’m sorry, Sophie,” Sue whispered to me. “I’m sorry.”
“This can’t be real, this can’t be real!” I cried out, pulling myself away. “You’re not dead, you’re not dead! This isn’t happening! It’s fake, it’s all in my head! Stop. STOP IT PLEASE!” I screamed and found myself running down the hill, but I tripped and ended up rolling. Once I maintained balance I scrambled to my feet and hurried back to the door. My legs ached, my heart rung loudly in my ears and my mind raced so much that a headache formed. However, I kept running and running until I got back to the labyrinth and collapsed.
“It can’t be true. . .” I sobbed, “It can’t.” Unable to find the strength to get up, I ended up curling myself into a ball and sobbed into my dress. “I can’t do this alone, Sue.”