“Labyrinth”, an award-winning short story by Dimitris Apergis

[For “Labyrith”, Dimitris Apergis was awarded a Praise For Short Story from the Panhellenic Association of Writers in 2013.]


{photo: from Encyclopedia Britannica, Narrow pathway between walls at the Great Zimbabwe ruins, southeastern Zimbabwe.}

I have seen this turn before. I must have been here before. Hm, maybe not. I’ll keep walking…

There’s this unbearable heat these last days. A relentless heatwave. The sun is burning from high above, and the rectangular stones that compose the walls of the labyrinth are piping hot. The rain is just refusing to arrive. My mouth is dry, my throat is swollen from thirst. I am thirsty. I am very thirsty.

I am also hungry. There’s no grass sprouting in the ground, neither does any grass grow in the partitions between the walls’ stones, nor do I see any beetles crawling around on my route.

However, before hunger, I must first quench this –by now intolerable- thirst. It has turned my journey in the labyrinth into a torment. It’s only the night’s darkness that somehow comforts me from my ordeal.

Before I proceed, allow me to apologize for my admittedly inappropriate appearance. The reason I am all naked, without a trace of cloth on my body, is quite simple: One day, whilst walking in the labyrinth, I remembered the myth of Theseus and decided to copy the ploy of Ariadne’s clew, meaning I resolved to unwrap a thread behind me in my journey’s entire duration, hoping that maybe this way I might be able to decipher the labyrinth’s enigma and even find the much-desired exit.

Since I had no ball of yarn in my possession, I could do nothing else other than stretch the seam out of my topcoat and, after picking out a thread and tying it in the best way I could on a wall’s tiny jag, I started stretching the rest of my topcoat as I walked. When my entire topcoat was finished off, I picked a thread out of my trousers and connected it to the topcoat’s thread and proceeded stretching out the rest of my trousers. When my trousers were finished off, it was the shirt’s turn, then the underwear, then the socks. I always headed right-wise, and always under the fear of what could happen if I finally ended up completely naked and exposed in a potential cold vibe, without ever discovering the labyrinth’s solution.

When finally all my clothes were finished off and I found no solution in regards to the labyrinth, I realized how vast this labyrinth is and how little I am. But, how strange a thing and funny at the same time: When I acquired this semblance of an idea about how inconceivably vast the labyrinth is, the labyrinth wrapped itself around me like a warm embrace and I felt cold nevermore.

Just don’t ask me how I got inside the labyrinth. I very kindly beg of you not to ask me that. If you ask me how I got myself in here, I will very simply tell you that I can’t remember. You see, I’ve been in the labyrinth for so long that any memory from the past has sunk like a shipwreck into the abyssal oceans of oblivion.

But even if I did give you some explanation about how I got myself in here, I would very humbly ask of you not to take whatever reply of mine into serious consideration and to not regard it as true. And this is because the stay (and the journey) inside the labyrinth is of such nature that the dividing line between reality and fantasy fades away, is drowned in obscurity, transforms into an indefinable landscape, a misty landscape which if analyzed in its molecular form (with some hypothetical hyper-advanced microscope) will present nothing but intricate pathways and perplexing hallways, meaning that it will present itself with nothing but a labyrinth.

The likeliest version is that I got in here against my will. But then again, I don’t actually swear on this.

It rained today. It rained at last. I raised my face at the sky and surrendered myself to the raindrops. Of course, I didn’t wait for the troughs on the ground to be filled with water in order to quench my thirst. There is a special technique for drinking water in the labyrinth when it rains, a technique that one can learn only with actual experience inside the labyrinth. I stick my underlip on the wall, in a vertical partition between two stones. The water flows like a stream inside the partitions and comes directly in my mouth running down my swollen throat. I finally quenched my thirst.

I quenched my thirst. How priceless water is when one is as thirsty as this. More precious than gold, more beautiful than diamonds, more hedonic than a woman. Hahahahaha, forgive me. I am truly thirsty no more.

What’s missing now is food so that I satisfy my hunger. How nice it’d truly be if I had a live juicy beetle right here in front of me. I fully realize that, as far as the average reader is concerned, the word “beetle” refers to the well-known insect which nests in the ground. However, for me the beetle stands for more, a whole lot more. It stands for an exquisite lunch, rich in proteins, vitamins and trace elements. A lunch with that special taste, that divine taste, that taste which is salty like the shell of a peanut, and equipped with a sour under-taste like the taste of citrus, and with a faintly bitter under-taste as if it’s relished with two drops of black vermouth. A truly addictive taste when one gets used to it, believe me. Apart from beetles, I also eat cockroaches, ants, scarabs. I generally enjoy eating insects.

I refuse to eat worms, snails, caterpillars. I despise their slimy texture, it fills me with disgust. I consider extremely comforting the fact that the labyrinth has not consumed me entirely after all and that my taste buds remain highly selective under the circumstances. This means that I still maintain assets of my good old self, whoever that self was.

A series of happy instances has so far been the reason of me finding food and water inside the labyrinth, always at the right moment. This is mainly how I have managed to keep myself alive all this time I’ve been here. Based on the indisputable truth that I am still alive, I regard it as fairly sensible to surmise that I am a generally lucky person. I am fairly lucky. I am very lucky. I am extremely lucky. I am the luckiest person in the world.

Today, whilst walking, I discovered a beetle-nest on the ground. I rushed myself on it and started digging the earth with my numb fingers in the hope that I’d find a whole beetle-family hiding inside. I found nothing. It’s already been eight days that I am unfed. The need to find food is now nothing short of imperative.

Today, whilst walking, I came to a three-way crossroad. The one road led to the left, the next one led to straight on and the third one led to the right. I followed the road that led to the right because my main principle is to always move right-wise inside the labyrinth. Of course, I do not follow this tactic in order to find the labyrinth’s exit (oh no, this ambition has been abolished within me a long time ago) but in order to better comprehend the labyrinth’s mysterious brilliance, to discover the secret of its architectonic perfection. And this is because of the indisputable truth that only an unparalleled genius –a mind beyond reach- could have created a structure of such virtuosity.

This labyrinth is nothing but a groundbreaking achievement of modern science, a monument of incomparable artistic excellence, a model of mathematical precision and advanced aesthetics. How many indeed the times were where I lost myself for whole hours studying this harmonic symmetry of the towering walls, the hypnotic diligence with which the carved rectangular stones are piled up in lines. And how many indeed the times were where I tried in vain to climb these stonewalls in order to be able to gaze from high above the labyrinth’s unsurpassable construction. A flawless objet d’ art, that’s what this labyrinth is.

Neither today did I manage to find food. Whilst walking, I saw right in front of me the shell of a snail. I snatched it and put it in my mouth and started sucking its inside with incredible voracity, completely forsaking any idea about my taste buds’ preferences. But it was empty, there was nothing inside it.

It was during afternoon when I noticed the song of a cricket and realized that this song has been accompanying my journey for some days now. I looked around and saw no cricket anywhere. I am only able to hear its song. It seems that this time, instead of food, luck has provided me with a friend. Let it be so then.

Cricket, I’m starving. I’m really starving. My stomach is shrunk from hunger. My limbs are numb. My heart is fiercely pulsating since there’s no more blood for it to recycle. My legs ache. My vision is filled with black spots that seem to be dancing some princely waltz between them. I can’t see clearly anymore. I’m starving, cricket. It’s only your song that somehow comforts me now.

Today, the labyrinth had an unpleasant surprise in store for me. I walked for hours and hours a long hallway and, following the turn, I found myself at a dead end. There was nothing for me to do now but go back and follow the same route that I came from. I fell into deep despair. Sing for me cricket, my good friend. It’s only your song now that keeps me alive.

Bastard, cock-sucking labyrinth… I love you.

Cricket, my dear friend, my old friend, there’s one thing you should know about me. I never give up, I never surrender. I keep walking, yes, and I parade myself in these hallways like an emperor, and the earth trembles under my footsteps, and the stonewalls on my left and right are not but my loyal subjects standing still in my presence.

Cricket, my dear friend, my old friend, I cannot hold anymore. I cannot walk anymore. My legs are in pain. I’ll lie down here, next to this water-trough. There’s no point for me to go on. There’s food nowhere to be found.

Cricket, my dear friend, my old friend, how beautifully the moon is shining in this night. How finely your song is sounding in this pale moonlight. Your song, cricket, brings memories to my mind. Memories that could be fake indeed. It brings to my mind erotic summers that I may have never lived. Lustful female eyes that I may have never yearned for. Flaming female lips that I may have never kissed. Truly, cricket, such melodic your song is that it touches the softest of my spots.

I am crying, cricket. You made me cry, my dear friend, my old friend. I thought I was incapable of crying. I was under the impression that the labyrinth had abolished every emotion within me. I deeply thank you, my good friend. I definitely owe you so much.

Take my tears, earth. Take them and water yourself with them. It’s been such a long time that you carry me on your back, plus I’m stealing the oxygen from you. Accept them as a token of gratitude.

Cricket, I have a secret I need to confess to you. A great secret, so please keep it between us. Many are the times, my dear friend, that I dream of this labyrinth’s exit with great longing in my heart. And I imagine –employing this deficient imagination of mine- that in that exit a magical oasis awaits me with palm-trees and clear waters running in waterfalls and the vivid red sun setting inside a serene lake. Cheap foolish thoughts, you’ll definitely say, my old friend. Forget the exit, there is no exit, that’s what you’ll say. But even thus, my dear friend: It’s only walls that separate me from any magical oasis.

It’s dawning, my old friend. The sky is dawning so poetically in your singing…

Cricket, I am dying. I’m dying, my old friend. There’s no question about it anymore. The spots in my eyes have now turned into ballerinas dancing pirouettes and then vanishing inside the drunken irises. I’m dying, cricket. Incomparable indeed is my luck of having the honor to die inside this masterpiece with your song in my ears. Who wouldn’t dream of such a sweet death inside the labyrinth’s heart in your company? I am truly the luckiest man in the world, my cricket.

You came to visit me, my old friend? I deeply thank you, my good friend, my only friend. At last, I meet you in person. How beautiful you are! I truly marvel at your sight, my dear friend. I marvel at the aerodynamic shape of yours. I marvel at your hydraulic motion. I marvel at your wonderful antennas that seem to be receiving signals from outer space. I wish I was as beautiful as you are. I envy you, my old friend. But even more than envying you, I adore you, cricket. I adore you the same way I adore this very labyrinth.

I am establishing a new religion today, cricket, my old friend. It will be called Labyrinthism. I believe in one god, the only god, the real god, the god Labyrinth. I appoint you, cricket, as the Great Prophet, as the Messiah. And I, cricket, shall be the Holy Spirit that’s now ready to abandon this hungry flesh and become one with the labyrinth. The three of us, cricket, are the new Holy Trinity. The three of us, my dear friend, will unleash ourselves like a bacillus in this world and will infect it, and then the whole world will be transformed into a boundless labyrinth with no limits and borders. Truly, cricket, the future belongs to us.

I gotcha! I gotcha, cricket. I got you, my only friend. I am putting you in my mouth, cricket. I am eating you, cricket. Stop resisting, cricket. Stop shaking your legs, cricket. Wonderful is your taste, cricket. Salty taste like the taste of a nutshell and with a sour under-taste of citrus. You lack however, my dear friend, that bitter under-taste of black vermouth that your cousin beetle has. But, who needs the vermouth at moments such as these?

I will miss your song, my dear friend. Once I digest you, I swear, I’ll pray for you and then I’ll carve an epitaph on the ground in your honor. It is here that my best friend, the cricket, passed away. I shall never forget you, my old friend. How could I anyway? We lived such magical moments the two of us. You saved my life. You’ve been my best friend.

I already feel you inside me, cricket. I feel the proteins and the vitamins and the trace elements filling my body with energy. I have recovered now. My sight is back. I feel strong again. I can walk now. I’ll walk.

I have seen this turn before. I must have been here before. Hm, maybe not. I’ll keep walking…

I’ll keep walking… How exquisite this phrase sounds in here between these towering stonewalls! It makes me wonder: How pathetic those who’ve never experienced life inside the labyrinth truly are…!