Still in his twenties, Percy Callendar is one of the richest men in the world. In an attempt to find the future love of his life—and because he likes to have fun—he builds the ultimate haunted house and assembles a select group of men to go through it.
Sage Donovan, owner of a fledgling IT company, is the seventh applicant to receive an invitation. He figures completing the maze—something no one has done yet—will guarantee fame and maybe fortune, and he immediately accepts despite having a little problem with anxiety.
Witches, spiders, ghosts and ghouls are the least Sage has to deal with, because before the night is over, he will face his deepest fear, changing his life and Percy’s forever.
Just short of midnight, they pulled up outside a multi-level building that stretched back into darkness on either side of a red door lit by an overhead light. It looked welcoming. In fact, what he could see of the house seemed normal, at least on the outside. There weren’t even any Halloween clings on the windows, no inflatable ghosts or witches on the front lawn, and when Nina opened the door, it didn’t screech or cackle.
“I’ll leave you here, Sage. Good luck! I hope you make it.”
“Thanks. Me, too.”
He waited until she returned to the car and drove slowly back down the drive to the highway before stepping inside the room.
The first thing that hit him was the smell: something light, woodsy, with a touch of lavender. The second was the sound of logs crackling in a fieldstone fireplace; sparks flew behind a screen. Who, he wondered, had started that fire, and where was he now?
Lamps glowed on small tables around the edges of the room. Two overstuffed chairs and one couch were grouped around the fireplace. An antique desk was in one corner; papers were stacked in the center and beside them was a pen. A clock on the mantel ticked the seconds away. On the back wall were two doors. On one was a sign that read Restroom. We suggest you use it before beginning. On the other were two painted words: The Maze.
A thrill went through him when he saw that. He was here. It was happening. Smiling, he shut the door behind him.
Outside, it was around fifty degrees. In this comfortable, cottage-like room, it was warm enough to remove his hoodie and drape it over the nearest chair.
He heard a metallic click, and someone said, “Welcome to The Maze, Sage.”
The voice was modulated, cultured, and came from hidden, omni-directional speakers; it seemed to emanate from the air around him.
“Please call me Percy. I hated the name growing up, but I’ve since become accustomed to it. On the desk you will find several forms: non-disclosure, risk disclaimer, a statement that you undertake the challenge of your own free will, etc. My lawyer assures me these are necessary for your protection and mine.”
“Mostly yours, I’m guessing,” Sage said with a grin. The nervous stomach and sweaty palms he’d experienced during the drive from Sacramento had magically disappeared. He felt in control again and confident he could do this.
“Of course,” Percy said smoothly, humor evident in his tone. “That’s what I pay him for. Please sign where indicated. On the table near the fire is a freshly-brewed pot of tea if you are thirsty. Help yourself to cookies or cake.”
“Tea? Who drinks that anymore?” Sage crossed to the desk, sat in the hard-backed chair, and picked up the gel pen.
“The first maze runner enjoyed it. There are cold drinks in the small fridge in the corner. I encourage you to take one with you. Refreshment in the maze is not guaranteed.”
Sage skimmed each document before signing, satisfied they were what Percy said they were. When he’d finished, he went to the dorm fridge and perused what was inside. He settled on one bottled water and a can of Mountain Dew. He popped the top on the soda and drank; he’d had nothing during the long car ride.
Percy was speaking again. “It will take you anywhere from two to twelve hours to complete the maze, depending on how quickly you solve riddles and puzzles. On the desk is a bracelet. Put it on. If you wish to exit the maze for any reason, flip open the metal top on the center piece and push the button. All special effects will cease instantly, and I will guide you to the nearest exit.”
Sage studied the leather cuff before buckling it onto his left wrist. It was studded with silver and gold, intricately worked in designs he thought might be runes. “Very nice. Can I keep this if I win?”
“You can keep it if you lose, too. But you are not going to lose, are you?”
Sage thought he might say this to every contestant, but he went along with it. “I am not going to lose.”
“Glowing half-moons indicate bathrooms. There will be no cameras there, but you may run across other things. Enter and use with care. Exits are strategically posted along the route, but you will not see them unless you quit.”
“You’ve really thought this through, haven’t you?”
“Me, and a dedicated, overpaid staff of hundreds.”
Sage laughed. “I have a question. Can I bring my phone?”
“Yes. However, I ask that you limit its use and not access it to solve riddles and puzzles in the maze. The challenge is designed to test you, not your phone or the internet.”
“Got it.” Sage looked around the room, his gaze landing on the bathroom. “Excuse me a minute.” Starting with an empty bladder sounded like a good thing.
He didn’t expect anything to jump out at him here, before he’d even entered the maze, so he flipped up the seat, unzipped, and peed without worries. It wasn’t until he was washing his hands that a rubber spider dropped down in front of him, causing him to jump.
Chuckling, he opened the door and stepped into the other room. “Very funny, Percy. Got me with a kid’s toy.”
Percy snickered. “Time to enter the maze, Sage. Good luck.”
About the Author
Theo Fenraven happily lives in south Florida where it is hot and sunny all the time.