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Soul Stalker

Soul stalker


Estimated reading time — 29 minutes

What’s your worst fear? Do you even know? If you said something like spiders or clowns— that’s kid stuff; take a second and try again… 

I don’t want to hear things like heights or small spaces, either; those are a little better, but I asked for your worst fear. We all love a good story where everyone is plagued by that which they fear most, and every Harry Potter fan has imagined what their Boggart would be… But the simple truth is— if that stuff were actually real— none of us would be seeing snakes or mean teachers. 

Most people don’t actually realize their worst fear until they’re facing it. Our minds tend to reject the unthinkable; we would rather believe that animals are our biggest threat, and the Boogeyman doesn’t exist…  Well, it exists, alright— only it’s far more complex than a single entity… It’s Tragedy personified, and it lives in us all. 

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It’s the woman standing in the road while an ambush lies in wait; it’s the hooded man following that drunk girl home, and the unmarked van creeping by that school… The Boogeyman isn’t always intentional. Sometimes it’s the horrible accident on I-95, or that deadly gas leak in the night. It takes the form of tornados, earthquakes, and floods— but also cancers, famines, and droughts… 

It’s our deepest fears buried in the farthest reaches of our subconscious; we envision a monster lurking in our closet because that’s exactly what it is. We know it’s lying in wait, so we take precautions— we lock our doors, build our shelters, and take our vitamins— but it’s still coming for us… 

There are actually three main types of fear; Rational Fear is when there is a real, imminent threat. For instance, if a man were pointing a gun at you— it would only be rational to fear him. Primal Fear is pre-programmed into our brains courtesy of evolution— things like darkness and death… Then we have Irrational Fear— that which frightens us for no rhyme or reason. For me, it’s moths, and if one touches me, I’ll scream; for my best friend, it’s nectarines— even she can’t explain it.

Everyone has felt a version of these at some point, but only a few ever find themselves subject to a combination of all three… I wouldn’t have thought it possible for “rational” and “irrational” to coexist, but that’s one of the reasons we’re here… Well, that and the fact that demons are real; those fuckers are the worst, too. 

You see, I’ve been through an unbelievably traumatic ordeal, but talking about it makes me sound like a complete lunatic… So, I don’t know what else to do with all of this information; I only know that I can’t keep it to myself. 

Seriously; I have no physical evidence, so the police won’t help. My family and friends would have me committed— another pass. There’s always my diary, but that wouldn’t answer any questions… 

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So, what does that leave? Strangers on the Internet, obviously. But where? Oh, why, Reddit, of course! Thus, here we are.  


I

I guess my introduction seems pretty random without context… Sorry about that… If it hasn’t been made abundantly clear, I have no clue what I’m doing… I’m just flying by the seat of my pants— grasping at straws— or whatever metaphor rolls off your tongue. The point is— I’m a hot mess, so I’m gonna need you to meet me halfway on this. 

Maybe I should have introduced myself first. Hi, I’m Taylor, a recently single 21-year-old college dropout and starving artist. After a brutal breakup, I decided to impulsively spend my savings on a new tablet specifically for drawing. You know, so people would “take me seriously.” 

Unfortunately, I got a little carried away, and the “starving” part became all too literal. I needed a second job— something temporary with night hours. Since it was almost October, I got online and applied to every haunted house, corn maze, and escape room in my area. If I had to spend my nights working, there were far worse things to do than scaring people. 

I went to a few of the haunted houses but ultimately settled on the corn maze— and not just because it paid more. They have one in the same spot every Halloween, but the new management was clearly sparing no expense; I was absolutely in awe of the place. It’s almost not fair to call it a corn maze, but— at its core— that’s exactly what it was. 

They were still setting up decorations and cutting extra pathways, but the exterior was practically finished. It was more than double its usual size, and some extra sections were being walled-in for specially themed rooms. The costumes were also insanely high quality, and I would get to play a different character each night! I asked my boss (Pete) why that was, once; it seemed more productive to have us perfect a single role, but that was a common misconception. When employees— especially young ones— perform the same task night after night, they get bored, and their enthusiasm plummets. In this particular line of business, that’s basically a death sentence. By making sure we had fun, he ensured his customers had fun. 

Though— to be clear— Pete was only a part-owner; he had set up a few other mazes that did well, but having a silent partner allowed him to create the maze of his dreams without counting pennies. Who was this gracious benefactor, you ask? Well, that’s complicated; through most of this story, Maggs was just a name on a check, so we’ll have to circle back to that. For now, let’s start with opening night; each section had a few skits prepared, and we were all excited to show off the fruits of our labor. 

A team of makeup artists were employed to fix us up properly, and their work was incredible. I was playing a zombie in an overrun Catholic school, and we were painted varying shades of grays and greens. Our uniforms were torn and blood-stained yet trendy without being slutty— which I particularly appreciated— though I’m not sure how to describe the hair… It was like “sexy bed-head” meets “Scarface.” 

The concept was simple; when a group came in, we tore into the last survivor, then— after a dramatic pause— they rose as a member of the undead, and we all began chasing the patrons. The customers could also purchase cap-guns if they wanted to play along. When someone fired at us, we would “die” with a little flair; the kids really loved it… But there was something wrong with that place from the very beginning.

There was this brief instance— I mean literally just a flash— when I felt like a real zombie… A little girl shot at me with her cap-gun, so I dropped to my knees and fell back with a loud grunt— no big deal… Only then she came to pop-off a few more right in my face, and it was like the entire world shifted…  

Suddenly, I was consumed by the most intense hunger I’ve ever known… Which, don’t forget the money troubles that put me here in the first place; you have no idea how many times I’ve chosen Juul pods over food… But this was a ravenous, violent hunger; absolutely nothing else mattered. Taylor was gone; as were my relationships and responsibilities. All that remained was an insatiable, blood-thirsty craving for meat.   

I could hear the child’s blood coursing through her body like a surging river, and the smell… It was like smelling the best Thanksgiving dinner of my life; I would die if I didn’t devour her immediately… One second I was lying on my back, and, the next, I was lunging for her— my eyes locked on her plump, tender, red cheeks… 

Then— just as suddenly— everything returned to normal, and the little girl was running back to her mother. They seemed to think it was all part of the act, so I let myself believe the same… Until it happened again the following night… Only I was a Roamer instead of a zombie. Roamers basically wandered their assigned areas dressed as someone generic like Jason, Michael, or— in this instance— Leatherface. I was a little bummed to be leaving Zombie School, but then they gave me the chainsaw— minus the chain, obviously— and that eased my pain… For a while, at least.

The maze was divided into sections; I was in Section C— between the Zombie School and Emily Rose’s exorcism. There was nothing particularly special about being a Roamer; you chased a customer till they reached the end of your section or stopped for a picture, and that’s about it. We highly encouraged posting any and all photos; it only served to attract more business, though I hadn’t yet realized that was a bad thing… 

It was a completely normal night until my final group; when turning a corner, I practically collided with four teens slightly younger than myself. They screamed— I started the chainsaw— and the merry chase began… But in earnest… Because, again, the world suddenly shifted, and everything became very real— including my weapon and the desire to use it… 

Being Leatherface came with a different kind of hunger… It wasn’t about survival so much as hatred. I was furious with those kids; I’ve never before or since felt such blinding, black rage— just because they existed. I was alone and despised by everyone while they were beautiful and loved; it wasn’t fair. I needed them to feel my pain— to understand suffering.  

Those teenagers weren’t playing anymore, either; their screams turned from playful to bloodcurdling in a single breath… And I found it thrilling. Then the short, blonde girl tripped, and none of her friends stopped to help… I don’t recall moving… I was just instantly upon her as she began to rise… The chainsaw jerked as it entered her back, but I was prepared for the recoil and held it firm, relishing the moment her desperate screams eventually fell silent. 

I had to step on her to pull the saw free and couldn’t help smiling at the wet, crunchy sound it made. Upon resuming the chase for her friends, I turned the last corner to see them entering an old, wooden barn… 

There was a split second of crushing disappointment before the world shifted once more, and I was left standing before the entrance to our Emily Rose exhibit. The outside was decorated to emulate the movie’s barn, but— for that one instant— I had been staring at an actual barn. 

My chainsaw was once again chainless, but… Ok, this is about to get even more confusing… So, originally, my saw didn’t have any fake blood on it, but now it did… Real blood would have still been wet, yet this was more like dried paint… 

I ran back the way I came, and the dead girl was also gone; in her place was a new fake blood display, and— upon closer inspection— I noticed chainsaw marks on the ground where it pushed through the front of her chest. 

I wasn’t imagining that… It wasn’t there before, yet, if I tried to tell anyone what happened, my only piece of evidence would be a decoration! I studied my coworkers as we changed out of our costumes, but everyone else seemed to be in a great mood while I was waiting to be arrested for murder. 

After hurrying out of the dressing-rooms and into my car, I replayed the event in my mind until a soft knock jerked me back to reality. It was Pete; we were suddenly the last two in the parking lot, and he didn’t feel right leaving me alone. I appreciated his concern and drove home so he could do the same, but I never stopped seeing the fountain of blood that erupted from that poor girl’s back… 

My brain wouldn’t stop… Her body has to be somewhere… What happened to her friends? Surely they reported her missing… Unless they didn’t make it out either! That’s when I thought to look on Instagram, and— within minutes— I had all four of their profiles! Each one had tagged the Maze in several photos— including a clearly staged shot of me pretending to chase the blonde… But it had to be fake; I never stopped to pose with that group— at least not consciously…

The girl’s name was Maddie; her smiling photo winked at me, but I only saw the horrified expression she wore while being impaled with a chainsaw… Also— before anyone asks— yes, I was the only Leatherface that night; Pete never doubled up on his killers. 

I didn’t know what to think unless I was truly going crazy… The whole thing felt like a complete break from reality… I went to bed hoping to wake up feeling foolish (which I did)… But then each night grew progressively more unsettling until there was no denying it— something was seriously wrong with the Maze…


II

We originally planned to be closed on Mondays and Tuesdays, but there was such a high demand for admission that we had to stay open seven days a week. Even if nothing strange had happened before this, I should have known something was wrong when we didn’t hire extra staff. There was no need… Out of more than 50 employees, no one wanted a night off… We were all having too much fun… 

Well, the support staff came and went all the time, but they weren’t real employees… The customers, however, loved the Maze as much as we did; out of thousands of reviews, none of them were negative… Can you believe that? You shouldn’t. In case you aren’t familiar with how the internet works— that isn’t actually possible. No matter how perfect you are— no matter how many fans love you— a certain percentage are going to hate you; that’s just basic math… You can’t please everyone, but— even if you could— trolls exist, and they’ll get you everytime.  

Honestly, the Maze was kind of like an addiction… I knew it was unhealthy— I just didn’t care. Plus, there were plenty of good excuses like, “better make some money while I can.” Or, “I’m basically just going to a Halloween party every night;” haha, like that was any healthier… But I think the real turning point came at the end of our first week.

I was roaming Section A— between Bloody Mary’s Bathroom and Dr. Frankenstein’s lab— as Ruby Lane. For those unfamiliar with the Fear Street trilogy, imagine a hot college chick from the 60’s running around with a straight razor like she’s Sweeney Todd, and you’ve got the right idea; her look is phenomenal, and she sings a creepy song… That’s horror gold in any book. 

Again— most of the night was normal— and then the friggin’ world shifted the moment I laid eyes on my last couple. Two men appearing to be in their mid-thirties were running along the path when they saw me and came to a sudden halt. The dark-haired one tried turning back only to be stopped by his partner; he seemed to fear whatever was behind them more than my razor-blade. 

I’m not sure how to describe the emotions inspired by Ruby Lane… There was a large part of me that felt excited— giddy, even— at the sight of two fresh playmates (yes, I remember specifically thinking of the word, playmates)… Yet— though considerably smaller— there was also a part that desperately wanted to run away… Of course that was moot since the larger part immediately took control, and I was upon the two men like a rabid banshee. 

The dark-haired man was faster; he leapt out of reach and ran for his life, but his partner panicked, and I cut his throat in a single, fluid motion. The sight of blood pouring down his front was mesmerizing— both funny and beautiful at the same time… It held me captivated until I was suddenly hit from behind. There was no pain— just an unexpected momentum forcing me to the ground— and it only stalled me for a few seconds. 

The first man could have survived had he not returned to cry over a corpse… As I regained my footing and came within striking distance— he lunged at me with a large pocket knife. The scuffle was brief— not even worth calling a fight— but his attack left me with a deep gash to my upper arm… At least until the world shifted back, and then it was no worse than a cat scratch… 

I feel awful for the part I played in ending yet another human life, but… God why couldn’t he just keep going?! Now they’re both dead, and I have to live with knowing what actual madness feels like… Ok, fine… That last part isn’t actually his fault… It just sucks really bad. 

Once home, I went straight to Instagram where I found my victims almost immediately. Their pictures told the story of a great night at the Maze… There were dozens between them, including a selfie which showed us all smiling for the camera— my face on full display. The last photo showed the couple posing under our reaper as they left— not a scratch on either of them… 

The exit was one of the few things that never changed since it was everyone’s favorite spot to take pictures. To leave, you walked beneath a covered pathway leading back to the parking lot; at the end awaited our giant grim reaper— swinging his scythe— and the exit’s awning was his curved blade. The idea was to convey, “you only think you escaped.” The irony would be comical if not so tragic… 

I didn’t know how any of this was possible or what it could mean, but it was time to get some answers… Which meant recruiting a little help from my cousin, Lori… The following night, I was scheduled to play Ghostface— the only costume that came with a voice changer— and it was the last time my face would be covered for nearly a week; if I wanted to see the Maze from a customer’s perspective, this was my best chance… My cousin and I are roughly the same height and build, so— if she wore my outfit— she could take my place while I did some investigating. As long as we both kept our masks on— there was really no reason for us to be caught…. None that I knew of, anyway… 

I told Lori everything knowing she didn’t believe me but wanting her to be as informed. She offered to go snooping as a customer herself, but I couldn’t take that risk… It didn’t matter how many dead people were walking around posting selfies afterwards— I absolutely could not live with memories of stabbing my own cousin to death… But whatever was going on, Pete needed to know about it. I thought I could safely poke around until the end of the night and then maybe catch the shift on video; I even attached a GoPro to my bag in case I couldn’t get to my phone.


III

Not wanting to be recognized, I bought a black, hooded cloak and generic skull-mask on the way and arrived an hour after opening— when it was busy enough to disappear in the crowd. It was like a totally different place; right away everything seemed very real, but I chalked it up to the same effect as watching a magic show… In the audience, you only see the angle they want you to see… But— from backstage— the illusion is immediately dispelled. Suddenly, mirrors are everywhere, and the floating lady is lying on a platform; that’s exactly what entering the Maze felt like as a customer… 

The entrance’s open-roofed walkway had Greek fire painted down the length of both walls; I’d walked it nearly a hundred times, and it had never been heated, but I was suddenly pouring sweat… I only remained confused for a moment before panicking at the realization of a drastic oversight…

I assumed customers and employees alike experienced the shift from one reality to the next just before closing time, and that everyone— except for me— lost their memories immediately upon shifting back… But now I wondered if we were shifting throughout the night, and I was only retaining memories of the final transition… If that were the case, I would be in serious danger for the entire 3 hours. 

I had encountered costumed customer’s before, and they remained human, so I was confident the same would be true in my case. Sadly, I didn’t know about the employment contracts yet, but— hey— I was also blindly assuming my “shifting reality” theory was correct, so what do I know? If I had any sense at all, I would have aborted the mission, but— once I got out into the open again— I instantly felt better. I wanted to believe it was just paranoia, but— if I really had felt the heat from the Greek fire— at least there might be some kind of warning before the shifts, right? 

That simple, ignorant theory was enough to keep me going… 

Most of the themed-rooms are optional. Sure, people usually want their money’s worth, so they specifically visit each one, but there are technically several routes that lead to the exit with minimum engagement… There’s only one room that must be crossed; the area beyond the entrance was a sort of family recreational area with an information desk, gift stall, and concession stand. Beyond that was the unavoidable room— currently themed as Odysseus’ Voyage… My friend Adrianna was playing the siren; her boyfriend was the cyclops, and a girl named Erin was the witch. 

Each of their islands was represented in one of the corners, and— in the center— Odysseus’ ship sailed past Siren’s Rock… Which was just a fake boulder with a built-in platform for Adrianna to stand on while she sang her siren song. The part that actually worried me was the floor; it was painted with a swirling blue pattern to represent the whirlpool… 

If a shift occurred while I was standing on that— we were talking an instant Game Over My best chance was to run straight through and get it over with… But— as I approached the entrance— my mind was filled with a hypnotic song that made me forget why I was there… Suddenly, I was just a normal girl listening to the most beautiful voice I’d ever heard, and nothing else could have possibly mattered. No force on this earth could have distracted me from my new goal… Keywords being, “on this earth,” but I’m jumping ahead… 

Seriously, the craving to find the singer was stronger than words can ever convey… I’ve tried love both ways and thrown in the towel; I had less than zero interest in dating when I entered that room. Men might treat you like dirt and rough you up, but women… They’ll kiss your goddamn neck while they cut your throat… That voice, though… It made me want to try again. I would have handed that goddess a knife and laid there for the carving just to hear her sing a little longer… 

Odysseus was right to have himself tied to the mast; those sirens are no joke. Without even realizing it, I was already halfway into the room, and the woman was only a few feet away. My hand was reaching out for her, though I don’t remember lifting it… 

And then I was being dragged underwater by a raging whirlpool because I fell into the fucking ocean!

Well, a skeleton version of myself, anyway… My best guess? Since I wasn’t dressed as an actual character, I retained my own personality. Can you guess what I— a simple human— was like as a skeleton? Brainless, for starters… Blind… Deaf… Paralyzed… I didn’t need to breathe, though… So, that was handy…

I’m not sure how much time passed, but— once the world shifted back— I was lying on the blue flooring next to the Siren stand, and Adrianna was staring down at me in total confusion. Thankfully, my mask was still in place, so I scrambled to my feet and ran for the closest door before Collin or Erin could get too close. Then I kept putting distance between myself and Adrianna until I felt certain there was no chance of hearing that voice again…

What scared me most is how much I actually wanted to stay… Even now, I often dream of her voice and wish I could sleep forever… That’s how completely the siren’s song can consume its victim; it’s the one ailment that time is powerless to cure, and— when I die— it will be the last thought in my mind as the world falls dark. 

The confirmation of random shifts was disconcerting to say the least, but receiving sensory warnings from the environment provided some small source of comfort. According to the map I had prepared, I was currently in the section patrolled by Freddy and Jason; they were always paired for the sake of Freddy Vs. Jason shenanigans, and I had no desire to face off with either. 

I could go one of two ways not counting the dead-end— another zombie school or Annabelle’s dollhouse. Easy choice, right? Dolls all the way, baby! I ran straight past Freddy and Jason while they posed with a group of teens and didn’t stop until I was inside the dollhouse. Thinking it was one of the “safer” rooms, I paused to catch my breath. 

Only two employees were inside— Becca was playing Annabelle while Lori’s ex was playing what appeared to be a male version of the same doll. As an added precaution, I asked to get a few scene pictures before they started creeping, and they were happy to oblige— as I knew they would be.  

Only a minute— maybe two— passed when my lower back suddenly exploded with pain. Do you know what it feels like to fall directly on your tailbone? It was that, only— instead of falling down— something hit me! Something roughly the size of a baseball, only blessedly softer. With a surprised yelp, I turned in search of the source, but my back had been to the wall; no one else was on that side of the room… 

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There were only a few shelves containing various toys— including a rubber ball that was an exact match to what I had envisioned hitting me… I knew there was some vital piece of information to glean from this, but my mind refused to connect the dots… Still, even though I didn’t understand the mechanics behind it, I knew that cheapshot had to mean the next shift was coming… 

Of course it’s obvious now that I know the answer, but a load of good it did me back then. You see, there was a fundamental flaw in my original theory; I’d been operating as if the world was shifting between two realities— as if only one version could exist at a time… But that proved to be wildly inaccurate.

In actuality, my consciousness was shifting between two planes of existence on which both sets of events were occurring simultaneously. I know, I know— it’s confusing; that’s why I was trying to take you through this in baby steps, but it’s hard to explain something you barely understand yourself. 

For now, think of it as being split in two; most of the time, my consciousness was with my physical body in the real world, while my soul was trying to survive on the Other Side, but— sometimes— my awareness was able to join my soul for short durations. Had I understood this, the danger would have been obvious, but you know what they say about hindsight and all that… 

If you’re reading this, you’re likely a big fan of horror, but I’m really not. I always enjoy Halloween, but— for the rest of the year— I barely know this stuff exists… I knew Annabelle was a possessed doll connected to that famous Warren couple but not what it actually did; I just expected it to be really easy to win a fight against dolls, yet now even that was beyond me thanks to my costume. 

My only hope was to get the mask off before each shift. With my head down and hood pulled low, I could probably remain unrecognized through the darker areas— but not in that lit-up dollhouse with Lori’s ex… With my phone also set to record— and don’t forget about my GoPro— I rushed out of the door and into Michael Myers’ territory, shedding my mask just in time for the next shift.

It worked! I was no longer a skeleton— just plain ole Taylor in a cheap, hooded cloak! I actually thought things were looking up for a second… If I had to film a real murder being committed, Michael was by far one of the better options. He might be invincible and super strong, but getting stabbed didn’t seem so bad compared to what Pinhead or Pennywise might do… Even so, it wasn’t an easy thing to witness… 

The screams began almost immediately, and I had to force myself to run towards them instead of away. I passed others who were fleeing and did my best to capture the chaos— the terror so apparent on all of their faces— until, finally, there was nothing left between myself and the still-active murder scene… 

Centered in my camera-frame, a grown man dangled several feet above the ground as Michael held him firmly against the side of Hannibal Lecter’s house— formerly just a kitchen— and stabbed him multiple times. I took a few steps to my right, making sure to capture the full change of scenery along with a close-up of the victim’s face as he lost consciousness… The hard shots were a necessary evil; if Pete was going to take me seriously, there could be no room for doubts…  

Michael discarded the man’s now limp body in favor of the bloodied woman emerging from Lecter’s house. She screamed at the sight of him, but— instead of going back inside— she ran to the end of the porch where she became cornered, and he was on her in seconds…

All the while, I had continued moving closer— collecting all the footage Pete would need. It was now time to hide in the corn until Michael was out of the way, but a loud snap beneath my foot made that impossible; he would have only chased me deeper into the field until I ran into the arms of another killer or became lost. There was no choice but to run towards Dracula’s Castle instead. 

Even with Michael friggin’ Myers on my ass, the sight of it still stopped me in my tracks. If the world hadn’t shifted at that moment, I would have remained hypnotized by its beauty until a knife was in my back… But, suddenly— almost sadly— the Castle was reduced to a plywood mockery of its former glory. 

After putting my mask back on, I thought it was safe to stop and check the map; I had my proof, and now it was time to get the hell out of dodge— preferably before the next shift— but I needed to get Lori first. As far as I was concerned, I quit; there was no reason to risk staying all night. The only problem was that she left her phone in the car, so I had to physically go get her. Luckily, she wasn’t too far away; I only needed to go through Lecter’s kitchen, bypass the Creeper, and survive the Bates’ Motel to reach her section— piece of cake… 

That was sarcasm in case you couldn’t tell… To reach the kitchen, I had to pass by whoever was playing Michael. As expected, they pretended to lunge— rubber-knife held high— and I felt obligated to play along. After a brief interaction, we shared a knowing chuckle, and continued on our way… Or, tried to, at least, but I was suddenly brought to my knees by an unbearable pain in my chest— one that felt exactly as if Michael’s blade had struck down into my chest; I could see it in my mind’s eye… Yet I still didn’t understand what it meant! It’s all the more ironic to think I would have died were it not for a $3 Walmart mask… 

My dramatic collapse caught the guy’s attention, and he hurried back to offer his hand, but I was too afraid to take it. Whatever else was happening, it felt like actual flames were burning inside of my chest. If that was somehow an indication of the next shift, I did not want to be by Michael when it happened. 

Forcing myself upright, I practically sprinted away as I removed my mask once more. In the next section, I poured all of my focus into simply placing one foot in front of the other, and— before I knew it— I was entering Lori’s section without a single shift or attack along the way.

I didn’t expect her to believe me without seeing the evidence, so— after her customers left— I showed her the video of Michael killing two innocent people… Only that’s not what my phone actually recorded… The video I showed Lori featured some random guy posing with Michael before leaving with his friends. The woman who exited Lecter’s kitchen was actually with two other ladies, and they posed for their photos as a group while I seemingly stood to the side recording creepy stalker footage.   

Lori was ready to have me committed, but— knowing how badly I needed the money— she refused to leave in the hope I would “come to my senses” after some rest. I was desperate to get us out of there before the next shift occurred, but— whatever else happened— I just didn’t want ushappening” to each other, you know? 

If I hadn’t been so certain of her overall safety, I would have dragged her out kicking and screaming, but the gaping wound I received as Ruby Lane was hardly a cat scratch once everything shifted back to normal… I had no reason to think it would be any different for her… I guess it shouldn’t have been, but if I veer off onto that tangent now, we’ll never get back on track. 

I didn’t think my GoPro footage would be any different than my phone’s— and it wasn’t— but I couldn’t leave Lori without knowing I tried everything. I wouldn’t be able to convince Pete now, either, but there was nothing else I could do about it from inside the Maze. My new goal was to simply reach the exit; everything else could wait. I only had to endure one last shift before finally tasting sweet freedom. Lizzie Borden almost took my head off, but I managed to avoid her by pretending witnesses were in the next room.  

I went straight home to wait for Lori. I didn’t care about the Maze anymore; it was already obvious that she wouldn’t experience the shift, but I wasn’t going to feel right until she was out of there… Before getting into the shower, I asked her to call when she left— which she did. We talked for one minute and 37 seconds, and she was pulling out of her parking space when we disconnected… But then she was never seen or heard from again…  


IV

Lori had other messages on her phone when she called me— records eventually confirmed that much— but I was the only one she reached out to… That wasn’t her normal behavior, but it hadn’t exactly been a normal night, either…

When she still hadn’t arrived 45 minutes after our conversation, I tried to call her back, and it went straight to voicemail. I immediately panicked, but my roommate said I was being paranoid— that Lori had probably stopped for food, and her phone died. Fine, fair enough… But then another hour passed…

Something broke inside of me, and— deep down— I knew I would never see her again… The police wouldn’t even talk to me about an adult missing for less than three hours unless there were signs of a struggle. I had no choice but to go look for her myself. What else could I possibly do? Give up and do nothing?! Not when I was the one who put her in danger!

On the way back to the Maze, there were no signs of any accidents, and I drove through the still-open front gate to find a seemingly empty parking lot. After making a slow lap around the perimeter, I drove back towards the highway— still looking around for anything suspicious— and barely managed to stop before ramming into the now shut gate. Someone had locked it behind me, but I still hadn’t seen anyone else.

I almost opened my door… I knew the lock’s combination; in theory, I should have been able to let myself out, no problem… But what if whoever shut the gate was waiting for me to do exactly that? I may not be huge on slasher flicks, but I’m a true crime expert, baby! No one was getting me out of that car; I was ready to dial AAA and sit tight!

No sooner than I reached for the button did my phone begin ringing through the car speakers on max volume. It was Marilyn Manson’s This is Halloween cover— Pete’s ringtone— and my entire body was shaking like a cheap motel bed as I answered the call… Somehow, I felt like the asshole button wasn’t an option. 

I had wanted to believe he was innocent in all of this, but seeing his face on my Caller ID made me feel like the biggest fool in the world. Of course he knew! I began to doubt his “business partner” even existed, but I would soon be proven wrong on that front as well… Actually, I turned out to be wrong about almost every guess I made during this ordeal… I don’t really understand how I’m still alive… 

Pete sounded like his usual self— jovial with a dollop of sarcasm— but his words conveyed a different sentiment entirely. The way he invited me to join him in the Maze strongly implied Lori was there, too. That was really all I needed to hear; anything he said after was just white noise. Part of me knew that Lori was already dead, but if there was even a two percent chance of saving her— I had to try… 

The drive back to the parking lot felt a bit like going to my own funeral… When I was a kid, I saw a scary movie where the opening scene showed a single grave in the desert; the tombstone read,

Poorly lived, poorly died. 

Poorly buried, and nobody cried.” 

I saw that movie once and never thought about it again until that very moment— when those words suddenly began repeating in my mind like an unwanted mantra. They didn’t leave me until I joined Pete in the family rec area, but they’ve come and gone a dozen times since; the longest stretch lasted twelve hours… Now, that was a bad day.

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Pete offered me a bottle of water from the concession stand, but I declined, lest it be poisoned. Seemingly amused by my paranoia, he invited me to sit at the nearest picnic table where we discussed many things— beginning with how I “misunderstood” his implications regarding Lori… 

He never said she was still there— only that he had spoken to her… Apparently, they were very concerned about me when they learned an imposter was working in my section… Yea, he fully switched to “we” this and “we” that— like he and I weren’t the only two sitting there— but he always was a hard man to interrupt; he had a habit of talking over other people’s questions until he was damn good and ready to answer. 

Once they confronted Lori and learned she was my cousin— they found her delightful! They also completely understood the need for a night off and appreciated the initiative of finding my own substitute… But, “for liability purposes”, she couldn’t work without signing an employment contract— which she wasn’t willing to do— so they were forced to send her home. The end, as far as he was concerned. 

Pete finally paused long enough for me to confirm he was referring to his business partner when he said “we”. The name on our checks was Margaret V-something-complicated, but she prefers Maggs— double G; he clarified this like I would need to spell it for some reason… Oh, hey! I did need to spell it… Huh, how about that… 

Sorry; it’s been a long night, and it’s starting to rain. I’m tired, but if I don’t finish this now, I’ll never work up the courage to do it later. We’re almost at the end, though; just hang in there a little longer, and we can all get some rest… 

…Wait… Where was I? 

…Oh, right! Maggs!

While Pete was praising Maggs— and her wallet— for saving him from a lifetime of mediocrity, she suddenly emerged from the shadows, and a short scream escaped my lips. She appeared to be in her mid-to-late 30’s and had a stern face with long, flowing, black hair, but her body was nothing more than a shapely silhouette. 

Pete had wanted to convince me nothing out of the ordinary was going on, or— short of that— convince me to join them in a “lifetime of success and happiness”… Because that always works out so well in the movies… But Maggs grew impatient before he could even try. 

Upon pointing out that I still didn’t know what was going on in the first place, she snorted in disbelief, and a short burst of flames shot from her nose… My jaw actually dropped in  disbelief, but she thought I was faking that as well. I spent far too much time convincing a demon that my stupidity was genuine— which only served to further prove my point— but, eventually, I was able to pry the full story from them. 


V

First and foremost, Pete? Yea— he’s definitely an evil dirtbag, just slightly less so than I thought. His original story held a lot of truth; he really had opened other corn mazes— they were just much less successful than he led us to believe. Even so, the damn things were his dream. Every Halloween, he would pour all of his money into a new one and then be lucky to break even… But last year was the worst one yet. 

Right after wasting all of his money on another mediocre location, a much larger maze with a much bigger budget opened up less than twenty miles away, and he lost everything. That’s when he decided to make a deal with the devil… Only he wasn’t important enough to land a date on Satan’s calendar… Nor was he willing to sell his own soul— just other people’s… 

Maggs was the only demon willing to hear his plan. You see, it was previously considered impossible to cheat someone out of a soul because they must be freely given and always for something in return; it doesn’t matter what you pay as long as the seller accepts it. 

Those conditions were nothing for a guy like Pete and his Maze. He proposed making a fun “Admissions Contract” that customers could sign in exchange for a t-shirt saying, “I sold my soul at The Maze, but all I got was this lousy shirt.” Maggs thought it was brilliant, and they were signing their own contract soon after. 

By the time his pitch was made into reality, the Admissions Agreement also included a copy of the contract in a cute little gravestone frame… I gotta hand it to him, Pete always did have a twisted sense of humor. 

As for myself and the rest of the staff— it was in our Employment Contracts; when we were presented with our “standard agreements”, he jokingly said to read the soul clause carefully… None of us did, obviously, but— legally speaking— we never actually agreed to work there; we all sold our souls in exchange for a weekly sum of money— period! Even though I didn’t work for the last week-and-a-half, they still had to pay me as if I had, or my contract would have been voided. I tried not accepting the money, but they “paid me” whether I spent the final deposits or not…  

The thing is, there was a reason Maggs had to go around listening to losers like Pete… She was considered insane even among her own kind. It was hard enough to accept that demons were real, but the fact that they operated with actual social hierarchy was just too much for my brain to grasp. 

Well, someone who was too insane for the demon world certainly wasn’t gonna play fair with a short, bald guy named Pete, now was she? Sure, the soul contracts worked— at least 60-70% of our guests were walking around in those damn shirts— but the Maze itself was supposed to be legitimate. People were meant to come— sell their souls— have fun, and then go home to live exactly as they would have anyway; that was it!

Well— as she had already proven— patience was not one of Maggs’ virtues; she wanted to collect her payments immediately. The best method for accomplishing this was to utilize the giant Maze of horrors at her disposal… But this is where it starts feeling impossible to explain again.

Basically there are two planes of existence in our universe. There’s Our Side and the Other Side; the Other Side is where our dead go. Tons of stuff can happen once they’re there, but the only part that matters right now is the place that essentially sounded like Limbo. Most of the souls who go there died unexpectedly— without the will to enter the Cycle of Rebirth or a family to anchor them in our plane as ghosts. 

They wander through nothingness for decades— sometimes, centuries— before finally being reborn, but some are driven mad before receiving this opportunity; those often require several reincarnations before the healing process can begin… Maggs saw these people as two-for-one bargains. She routinely traded used bodies for eternal servitude and called it a kindness. 

The support staff— our makeup artists and hair stylists— hadn’t been quitting… They were replacing the people killed in the Maze! Spirits who survived their time in Horrorland simply returned to their bodies with no memories of what transpired… Yet— when someone died— their corpse was transported to the dressing area where a soul from Limbo could be inserted, and the body repaired… 

As for how the Maze itself actually worked— both versions existed simultaneously— just on separate planes. There was Pete’s Maze on Our Side, and Maggs’ Maze on the Other Side. When someone who signed the Admission Contract entered Pete’s, their souls were stripped from their bodies and placed on Maggs’ Maze to endure her horrific trials. 

The reason I could see behind the veil was due to a type of “sensitivity” some people have… I’m still learning about it myself, but being exposed to so much of that world in such a short period exercised the ability like a muscle, and it kept growing stronger. 

As for why I turned into a skeleton during my time as a customer— there was a special clause in our Employment Contracts that allowed us to adopt the identities of our costumes. The patrons weren’t so fortunate… But the main takeaway here is, do you understand what a ripoff it is to learn that after the fact?! Fuck that! No! I could have gone as Scarlet Witch, or— Christ— Superman! Do you understand how different this story would be? But, no! I went as a goddamn skeleton! 

Whew, sorry again— sore subject— but, likewise, that’s also how they knew someone else was covering my shift; Lori couldn’t guard her section on Maggs’ side because she hadn’t signed either of their contracts… I do take a measure of comfort in knowing she had her soul in the end, but I’ll never forgive myself for what happened… We can’t even give her a proper burial…

When the dastardly duo finally finished spouting their evil scheme like actual movie villains, I couldn’t handle the pressure of waiting to die any longer. I asked that my murder be quick— and preferably without pain— but didn’t want to get my hopes up on that second part. 

To my utter confusion, they burst into laughter at the request, and I feared my hope may have been misguided all around, but— apparently— there was no reason to risk killing me. I still had no proof, and if I tried to tell my story without it— I would either be ridiculed or committed… On the off chance I did get the story out there— it would only serve to hype up next year’s Maze, and people would either still think I’m crazy, or they would think it was a publicity stunt… Either way, Pete and Maggs win, and I lose. 

Look, I know they’re probably right— that only a handful of people will hear this story, and even they won’t believe it… But I have to try, right? They killed my cousin! Plus, I can’t just sit by while they try to open another one… Trust me, you don’t want this thing in your city!

I don’t know if there’s a way to break my contract, but I intend to spend the rest of my life trying… Otherwise, Maggs owns me, and I can’t live with that— I can’t. That’s a hard pass. 

It’s fine if you don’t believe me or think I’m crazy, but please— at the very least— if you go to a haunted maze for Halloween, and they ask you to sign a waiver… For God’s sake, don’t make our mistake— read the Terms and Conditions!

Credit: Page Turner

Official Site

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