by Heather McDougal

Finding the entrance to the labyrinth is easy; you think you’ve hidden it well, but you’re fooling yourself. I slip in while you’re sleeping, pacing out the first long sweep, that outer lane, full of car brands and the girls you’ve known. This part is always cluttered but still interesting to me. Places you’ve lived, favorite ice cream, summer vacations when you were little.

You toss a little and moan in your sleep; I slow, relishing this first turn where you veered away from those friends in middle school, the ones with the board games who offered you a glimpse into a world of drawings, your precise sketches coming unglued into the wild and elliptic…but no, now we turn.

I am a tourist within you, pacing out the lengths and twists of you, swallowing you down with my strides. Your mouth twitches with the sensation of it, your head pressing into your pillow. You know something is wrong, but your eyes go on behind their closed lids, back and forth…

And now we reach the second turn, where that first girl stands, pleading. I lick my lips and inhale: her sweetness, the hand-wringing quiet depths of her, now spilling away behind.

Two shorter arcs, filled with engineering notes and the sour tang of unfulfilled desire, angry smiles and a brief moment when you see a girl, a redhead in a shopping mall.

I pause here and study it. So close, you were, to that freckly neck, the way her sweater lies in a gentle dipping curve across the smooth bones and muscles of her shoulders. Here is where engineering and desire could overlap, but you didn’t take that step. The path hovers there, hesitant, pointed like a dog after a bird, leaning with magnetic flesh; but it turns then, and she too falls behind.

You roll over as I leave her, your brow furrowed, still, with the lack of her, the lost chance to capture and subdue; you begin to breathe quickly as I burrow deeper.

Yes, I am more than a tourist, now, as we enter the curve, which sweeps so close to that central space. You turn over in your bed as I brush past it: the lengths of rubber tubing in your bottom tool-cupboard drawer, where your wife never goes. I let my toes linger lovingly along the edge of the path, thrilling you, making you harden, teetering on the edge of nightmare.

Then the path carries me onward, back toward the outside edge. I move past graduate school apartments, a wedding (so brief and cursory compared to the redheaded girl!). There is something, though, a color or a flavor that enters here. The labyrinth has a forced rigidity, white walls now reeking of architecture and planning. I shake my head at how calmly you are breathing, now, as I pass through between hard, smooth angles.

And then, with a swirl, the path plunges inward: back and forth, closer and closer to the center. The architectural patina grows thin and through it I smell the iron spice of blood. Girl blood.

What have you been doing, I wonder, with the rubber tubing, which makes you moan every time I come near? Your toes stretch as I come to a corner where your car waits, the tubing in your hands. I can feel how it’s been stretched, been plunged into stickiness and later washed.

As I wander closer to the central chamber, your tension builds. I pause again at the tool cupboard, the drawer emanating hot sweaty smells, the whetted blades nestling inside, sharpness next to latex. Something else gleams there, in the darkness. An eye? A locket?

Your wife is not sleeping too well, either. She sighs next to you, her labyrinth muffled and furry with denial, and I shudder to think of visiting that place of soft corners and calculated risks. She lies primly on her side, her back to you, while you—rampant with proximity, with the heady aura of my knowledge—you stir the bedclothes, your eyelids fluttering, your breath quickening.

The last curve approaches.

I lean into it, eagerly examining everything: the tattered nylons, the gloves…a brief flash of your wife’s pregnancy, gone soon after. There is a bitter smell around it, a green scent of leaves and vomit. It is peculiar, but I pass by. I am in the last leg here, ready for the penetration; my lips are open now, tongue tasting the nearness, breasts swelling with it. There is nothing here but your secret trespasses, the metallic heat of blood and semen, the coming unglued into the wild and elliptic—

But here is the last turn; the darkness of the central chamber rises before me, massing with whispers, bulging with the force of your longing. I smile, baring sharp teeth, and lick my lips in anticipation, running my hands over myself, preparing. Then, with a chuckle, I plunge.

—And you sit up with a cry, wetness on the sheets, panting with the joy and the horror of it, my laughter echoing in your ears, your skin alight with awareness, sleep slipping away under the door, forever elusive now.

Aching with repletion, I drift into the dark, sipping the sweetness of your dreams.

Heather McDougal is a writer and educator living in Northern California. She won a Writers of the Future award in 2009 and has been in several anthologies since then. Her story “Talisman” went up at Pseudopod as of July 2011. She attended Viable Paradise in 2007, and has received grants and residencies for her writing.  Her blog, Cabinet of Wonders, has been highly praised for its eclectic content.

1 Comment

  1. Haunting, beautiful, and a bit diabolical. Wow!

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