Maze of Souls
The night was quiet in Miss Bradley’s Orphanage. Faded moonlight streamed through the window, landing upon Xavier. Two small figures stood in the dark as they looked upon him. One fluttered above while the other stood tall for its thin form. The thin form certainly looked taller with the top hat upon its head.
“He looks so peaceful, doesn’t he?” said the fluttering figure.
“Yes, he does. Let’s go to the maze so we can keep it that way. The souls are going to be restless tonight,” said the thin figure.
“Full moons are always a hassle.”
The two figures sneaked out of the room, barely making a noise. But with the slight creak they made, Xavier’s hand twitched. Then his hand grasped for something, but felt nothing there. It didn’t take him long to wake and get his tired, ten-year-old body out of bed. In a panic, he checked underneath and behind the bed, then scanned the room. His precious stuffed animals were nowhere to be found. He knew that he had them when he went to sleep, so where were they? So, with a deep breath, he decided to brave the dark corridors of the orphanage. After all, someone had to have taken them. They can’t just get up and walk on their own.
“Mr. Lala? Fleur? Where are you?” he whispered as he opened the door, checking the hallway. He tip-toed through the wooden halls and peeked in each room. No matter which door he opened, Xavier couldn’t find his animal companions. A peculiar light poked out from beneath a door from down the hall.
“Did that mean janitor take them? He’s always yelling at me, so he must have taken them while I was sleeping.”
Xavier ran to the door and stopped in front of it. He was told to never open the janitor’s door, otherwise he’d get in trouble. Right now, he didn’t care. His little buddies were on the line so he’d take any punishment to get them away from the mean old janitor. So, he took hold of the door handle and opened the door.
There was no janitor or even a janitor’s closest. Instead, a weird light engulfed the room. Pastel colors faded from one to another, a swirl originating in the middle. With wide eyes, Xavier reached into the light. His hand disappeared for a moment before he pulled back.
“What is this? It feels like water…” he said and stuck his hand back in. “Did someone stick Mr. Lala and Fleur in here? They better be in here, or else I’ll tell Miss Bradley.”
Xavier closed his eyes and held his breath as he stepped into the weird light, hands outstretched. He put his foot down, expecting some sort of ground, but met nothing and flipped forward and landed face-first into something as hard as stone. He pushed himself off the ground as tears formed in his eyes.
“What was — Xavier?” a smooth, deep voice said.
Xavier looked up at a stuffed ferret with a top hat and monocle. He grinned and shot up from the ground, then grabbed the stuffed animal.
“Mr. Lala! There you are! And you can talk.”
“Shh! Quiet down. And yes, I can talk.”
“Honey, who’s — How did he get in here?” said another voice, this time soft and sweet. Xavier turned around to find a cute, stuffed dragonfly with flower wings.
“Fleur! You can talk, too!” Xavier said as he bounced around. “This is so cool. You two are even cooler than before!”
“Yes, yes. Now, c’mon. Let’s get you back to the orphanage,” Fleur said as she grabbed his pants and tugged. “Let’s go, sweetie. You need to go back to bed.”
“But I don’t want to! This place is so cool looking,” he said. He gazed up at the glittering, twisted tree. The swirls from the orphanage snuggled between its jagged roots.
A guttural growl echoed to Xavier’s left. He turned to look down the passage, a shadow moving along the wall of… something from his worst nightmares. Fleur tugged harder and Mr. Lala shimmed out of Xavier’s grasp.
“Stay there! I’ll handle this one,” Mr. Lala said, rushing over the opening. The shadow stopped and popped off the wall. With its multiple legs, it charged the stuffed ferret. Five sets of hollow eyes opened, all focused on the small obstruction.
“No!” Xavier sprinted to his stuffed animal while Fleur grasped onto his pants for dear life. The ground beneath them rumbled as Xavier got close. As the shadow jumped, Xavier tripped and pushed Mr. Lala to the ground, his monocle almost falling off. They slid forward on the rough stone as the ground behind them began to quickly rise. The shadow missed the rising floor by inches, falling down into a seemingly infinite abyss.
“Xavier! What did you do?” Mr. Lala said as he crawled out from beneath him.
“Saving you! That thing was going to eat you!”
“Listen. When I say I’ve got something, I’ve got it.”
“But I don’t want to lose you too!” Xavier said while he teared up.
“We know, honey. We know. It’s just that you need to be careful here,” Fleur said. She patted his leg as she calmed down Xavier.
“Can you see where the portal’s tile went?” Mr. Lala asked. With a nod, Fleur let go and flew up a bit and scanned the horizon. Pieces flew about while she focused on the tree as its leaves glimmered in the eerie light.
“Oh goodness… We better get moving. It’s already settled into a spot but there’s only one way in again,” she said and fluttered back down.
“Great for when we’re defending, but horrible when we fall off,” Mr. Lala said. “Alright, let’s get going, Xavier.”
“Why can’t we wait here?”
“Because,” Mr. Lala said and pointed to the empty space behind Xavier. “It’s more likely to move to the spot next to this one than this one again.”
The tile Mr. Lala pointed to slid up, its stones nearly falling off as it rose. The tile flew above them, disappearing from their sight. Another tile came from below, the sound of grinding stone filled their ears as the tile took the empty spot and prevented passage back from where they came.
“What is happening?” Xavier asked.
“Too long to explain. Right now, we need to get going before the outer portal changes location,” Mr. Lala said. Fleur flew over to Xavier and took his hand.
“Don’t worry. We’ll get us home. Now, just stay behind us. Those Shadow Beasts are nothing but bad news.”
“Beasts are meanies, so I wanna beat them up!”
“No!” Mr. Lala said. His tiny stature didn’t match his booming voice. “You are staying behind and not getting involved. It is too dangerous for you to run around.”
“No buts! Stay behind me,” he said. He led the way as Xavier shuffled behind. Mr. Lala went up to corners and looked high and low, checking the passage before the group moved forward. After many twists and turns, the ground rumbled again. “Check where we’re heading.”
Fleur nodded and flew above the walls and with a quick scan, she floated back down.
“There’s a tile five over that’s going underneath the others. There’s going to be multiple openings, though. Prepare for a Shadow Beast,” she said. “Be careful, Xavier. We’re going to be moving soon.”
Xavier stumbled as the tile rose, the rumbling keeping him from getting up. He looked at the odd sky, an ever-changing swirl of purple and gold. Once the tile settled, Xavier looked at the new passageways. In one passage, another shadow stood on serpent-like legs. It took no time to close the distance between them.
Xavier stood back up, getting ready to throw a punch. Mr. Lala beat him to it, sending a wave of sparkling light. As the wave passed over the beast, the shadow roared in pain and skittered back the way it came as small, glowing holes appeared on its body. Mr. Lala turned to Xavier.
“What did I say?”
“But it was a beast!”
“It doesn’t matter that it was a beast. What did I say?
“To stay behind you…”
“Exactly! I know you love playing the hero. I’ve certainly got the stitches to prove it, but this isn’t something you can just punch!”
“But beats are the meanies and we’re the good guys! Good guys always beat up the meanies!”
“Not always, Xavier. Not always.”
“Well, you’re wrong!” Xavier said.
“Listen to him, sweetie. You need to stay behind as we’re protecting you from all the beasts,” said Fleur.
“But I’m the good guy!”
“Well, right now the good guy can’t punch things, alright?”
Xavier went quiet and stomped his feet and crossed his arms. Fleur shook her head and nudged his arms to uncross, taking his hand as she floated along. Mr. Lala took the lead once more. Xavier pulled Fleur’s arm anytime he heard the roar of a Shadow Beast and whined anytime Mr. Lala hit the beast. Fleur decided to fly above and tried to keep the group safe from the Shadow Beasts.
“We’re close. Only a few more turns,” she said from above. The ground then rumbled beneath them.
“You had to say something,” Mr. Lala said back. She flew back down as the tile rose up. It shifted around and fell into place, another single passageway leading their way. With another scan, Fleur shook her head.
“We moved five tiles back. We’re still connected but it’s going to be longer than before.”
“Alright, let’s get going. C’mon Xav —” Mr. Lala said as he turned to the spot Xavier previously stood. “I should’ve seen this coming. The second we look away, he always disappears!”
“I guess nothing’s changed, hun. Now, let’s find him!”
The duo went down the passage, Fleur flying high to spot Xavier’s small form. Mr. Lala followed bellow and darted in and out of other passages, making sure his top hat stayed on tight. As seconds ticked by, Fleur flew higher and higher. She scanned the tiles and spotted Xavier, thankfully, wandering into a dead end. Bad news…
“Found him, but there’s a Shadow Beast nearby!”
“Lead the way!” yelled the ferret from below. He dashed through the maze, slamming into walls as he turned hard into the corners. With a final corner, they finally found him. Fleur’s wings shook as Mr. Lala took a second to realize what was in front of him.
Xavier was being engulfed by a Shadow Beast, its form trying to drag Xavier into the ground. Being but a child, all Xavier could do was squirm in its grasp.
Mr. Lala charged the beast and sent out a huge wave of sparkling blue light. The Shadow Beast screeched. It dissolved into the ground and slithered away. Xavier dropped to the ground and curled into a shaking ball. Fleur flew down to him in a flash, caressing Xavier’s hair as he nearly shook her off.
“It’s alright now, sweetie. We beat the bad guy who tried to hurt you.”
Xavier grabbed Fleur and pulled her into his grasp. He began to sob into her plush form, his words coming out in jumbled pieces. Mr. Lala shimmied up to him and allowed Xavier to pull him into the hug. From the speed he was pulled into it, Mr. Lala’s top hat fell off and onto Fleur. They all stayed there for a moment and let Xavier squeeze them as tight as possible.
“It’s okay now, buddy,” he said, patting Xavier’s arm. “You’ve had a tough night. Let’s get you back, alright?’
“I… I wanted to protect you two! I didn’t want to lose you guys too!”
“That’s kind of you, sweetie,” Fleur said. “But here, we’ll protect you from those Shadow Beasts. We don’t want to lose you, either. Now, please let us down so we can go home.”
Xavier nodded and set them down. Fleur took off the top hat and daintily put it atop Mr. Lala’s head. Xavier wiped his nose with his arm and flashed a smile across his tear-stained face. With a flick of Mr. Lala’s tail, they continued their journey.
Xavier stayed right behind Mr. Lala and mimicked his quick scans, moving his head so quickly it made Xavier dizzy. When a tiny Shadow Beast approached, Mr. Lala gave a simple glare and sent the measly enemy scurrying.
After several corners and straight passages, the tree tile’s entrance was finally in view. They ran to their goal. A loud growl stopped Mr. Lala in his tracks while Fleur and Xavier passed right by. Mr. Lala turned to see the largest Shadow Beast yet, with its snake-like body having multiple shadowy blades that jutted out of it.
“Keep going! I’ve got this!” Mr. Lala said as he faced the new threat. “C’mon, try and fight me, bucko.”
The Shadow Beast lunged with its blades pulled back, ready to strike. Mr. Lala sent out a shimmering wave. It sliced the beast in two, only for both parts to attack him again. Mr. Lala backed up, sending out wave after wave at the multiplying enemy. They while the Shadow Beast was no longer large, its multiple clones were still as dangerous as before.
“Mr. Lala! The ground is going to go up again!”
With those words, Mr. Lala turned and bolted toward the portal’s tile. Sure enough, the tile had started to float up. The Shadow Beasts chased him, each one screeching with a high pitch. Xavier crouched at the edge, arms outstretched. Mr. Lala jumped into his arms, the Shadow Beasts clipping his tail as some of the group fell into the abyss. Xavier hugged him tight as Mr. Lala sighed in relief, his top hat askew and monocle hanging by its chain.
“Can we go back now?”
“Yeah. Let’s head back.”
Fleur landed upon his shoulder, nodding in agreement.
“Now, we won’t be able to talk once we go through, sweetie. We’ll go back to being your stuffed animals. We only talk when we need to protect this place from those beasts.”
“Oh, okay… Wait!” Xavier exclaimed. “Can I come back with you guys if I do a good job at protecting you guys back at the orphanage?”
“Sure, but only if you listen to us and don’t wander off again.”
“Yes! Now, back to bed,” Xavier said, yawing.
They stepped through the portal, landing back in the orphanage. Xavier looked behind, only to find the portal disappearing. When the light went away, Xavier made his way back to bed with his, now limp, stuffed animals. He pulled up the covers, tucking himself and the animals in. In the faded moonlight, soft silhouettes appeared and laid beside Xavier.
As sleep overtook him, he only said, “Night, Mom and Dad.”