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The Maze

the maze


Estimated reading time โ€” 17 minutes

I’m writing this story as a warning, if you ever find a floppy disk with the words The Maze written on it in marker, I implore you to throw it away. Don’t insert it and certainly don’t run it.

It all started a few months ago. My friend Nick’s father had passed away. Both Nick’s dad and his mom ran a retro game store in a small strip located in a small town in south Georgia.

I had moved to Oak Lake about three years ago for a job. I didn’t know anybody in the area at the time. I met Nick and his parents when I happened to see the sign for their shop the Retro Shack. Intrigued I went inside and found myself in a place I could only dream of. They had all kinds of older in games some predating even the Atari 2600.

Upon entering the store I was greeted by a middle aged with salt and pepper hair. “Welcome to Retro Shack, if there is anything you’re looking for let me know and I will do my best to help you.” The man said with a smile.

I looked around the shop for a good hour, half expecting to get kicked out when I met a younger man closer to my own age. “Yep, sure is a lot to take in when you first visit here isn’t it?” He said, chuckling a little.

I nodded and picked up a game to look at the price. I almost dropped it and felt a slight hint of disbelief when I saw the price. The price was considerably lower than it was online or even at the used game stores in my home city.

Nick looked amused and said, “Shocked by the prices? Dad has a few rules for the shop. We always sell at a fair price, never online prices unless those prices are reasonable. If we catch anyone reselling any games bought from us they are permanently banned from the shop. And finally we never buy anything from the two most recent generations of games. Oh, I’m Nick by the way. “

I turned to Nick and introduced myself, “I’m Alain. You don’t have to worry about me reselling anything I find here. I’m just amazed by this place. Don’t be surprised if I am a frequent customer.” As I looked around me it was like a treasure trove of lost childhood memories just waiting for me to reclaim them. After a bit longer I grabbed a few games to go check out.

At the register was the middle aged man from earlier. He rang up my purchase and smiled,”So you think you’ll be a frequent customer? Good to hear. Judging by your awe at my store I am guessing you’re new to town?”

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I nodded as I awaited the total price of my purchase. “Yeah just moved to town the other day. I don’t really know anyone yet but when I saw your store I just knew I had to check it out.” I said sounding more nervous than I probably should have.

“Your total for today is $50.67 and since you’re a new customer, I’m throwing in an extra game of your choice for free.” The man said with a warm and welcoming smile.

I quickly turned around and rushed to grab one more game, one I had put back to avoid spending too much. Getting 4 well really 5 games from my childhood for so cheap felt really amazing.

The man chuckled as he watched me hurrying to get the game I wanted and hurrying back. “I’m Greg by the way, and you’ve already met my son Nick. If you’re not doing anything later, maybe you could come over to our place for dinner.”

I without hesitating upon my return to the counter fished my debit card out of my wallet to pay for the games, and considered Greg’s offer. “Are you sure? It won’t be any trouble?” I asked a bit more hesitantly.

That night we discussed various topics ranging from video games to work. I met Nick’s mom that night too. Cheryl was middle aged much like Greg, and one of the kindest people I met. Between her, Greg and Nick I felt like I was part of the family.

A few weeks later I would return to the store because Nick and Greg wanted to show me something. As I entered the store Cheryl greeted me and asked me to remain where I was till Greg and Nick came to retrieve me.

I felt a strong sense of curiosity as I awaited my hosts and the very special secret they wished to show me.

After a few minutes Nick appeared and motioned me to follow him. Next to the counter was a door which Nick led me through. We walked through the back storage area until we reached another door. “Go on in.” Nick said motioning towards this door.

I entered into a room full of various game consoles and even computers. Many of the consoles were on the demo displays seen in stores back when they were brand new. I felt like a child again. Greg turned and waved at me from one of the computers.

I couldn’t even begin to decide where to begin with playing. Greg had gotten up and walked over to me. “This is our game room. We test all games and even systems here. We also occasionally even let customers test games here before they purchase them. Only our regular customers are allowed in here.” Greg said beaming as he looked over the room.

Nick had finally entered the room and seemed a little out of breath, “Sorry it took so long. Mom had me helping with receiving a new shipment. And it was a big one. A full car load of games, old systems and PCs.”

I decided to go play on one of the PlayStation systems. Loaded into it was an old Action RPG from my childhood. Playing it again brought back memories from the first time I played on a similar demo display to the one in front of me.

Fast forward about three years now. Over the years I had become good friends with Greg, Nick and Cheryl. I often bought from their shop not just out of loyalty but because I truly enjoyed seeing what video game treasures they had for sale.

One particular day Greg came out of the game room looking particularly haggard. He just smiled weakly and waved at me when I tried to ask him how he was doing. Nick pulled me aside and just shook his head. We walked out of the store and towards the Hot Dog place just down from it. “Alain, I’m worried about my dad.” Nick said with a sigh. The melancholy look on his face was enough to concern me. Nick was one of those always smiling people much like his father.

“What’s going on with him?” I asked out of concern.

“He found this old game from when he was in college and has been playing it again. Sometimes he forgets to eat or even come out and assist customers.” Nick replied grimly.

I scratched my chin for a moment and studied Nick. “That’s definitely out of character for your dad.”

Nick nodded in agreement,”Very out of character. The strange thing is, he seems almost fearful when he does stop playing. He’s a bit jumpy and constantly looking over his shoulder.”

I sighed and asked the question I was afraid to ask, mostly out of fear of offending Nick. “Do you think he’s doing any drugs or anything?”

Nick shrugged and sighed, “I just don’t know anymore. Mom has noticed the changes too but she avoids saying anything. It’s almost like she’d rather pretend to not.”

The conversation with Nick that day was the first and last time we’d discuss the changes with Greg. Not because we’d stopped talking, but because the changes stopped almost as suddenly as they started or so we thought.

Fast forward to the day Greg died. Nick and Cheryl called me on the phone and seemed distraught. At first I couldn’t understand what they were saying, but once they calmed down I knew. Greg had died. I went to the Retro Shack first, but no one was there. So I stopped over at their house. I knocked lightly on the door and was about to walk away when Nick answered the door. He had been crying, that much was obvious by his red, puffy eyes. “Come on in.” He said quietly.

At first I hesitated, but Nick waited patiently.I entered into the living room with Nick and took a seat. “I am so sorry.” Was all I could manage to say at the time.

Cheryl shook her head,”He’s no longer suffering now. You’re family too. I just want to know, had Greg called you or anything lately?”

I shook my head, “No he hadn’t.”

Cheryl closed her eyes, “We found him in the game room. He was seated in front of one of the computers. I ask if he called because he left a note with some instructions. The note detailed some items he wanted to go to you if he passed away. Though the note seemed a bit odd. It was like Greg knew he was going to die soon and lately he’d been paranoid.”

My eyes immediately darted over to Nick who looked shocked about this news. We looked at each other knowingly for a moment and Nick began to speak.

“A couple of years ago now, Dad was acting kind of strange as you may recall. He would lock himself in the game room and rarely would come out. And when he did…he seemed scared.” Nick said, his tone betraying the fact that he would rather not relive that time.

Cheryl muttered something and started sobbing. Nick and I looked at one another with puzzled expressions.

I waited till a few days after the funeral, to go pick up what Greg had left for me. I didn’t want to seem impatient or insensitive to people who were effectively family.

I was amazed at the turn out at the funeral. It seemed like everyone in Oak Lake had showed up. Quite a few had kind words or stories to tell about Greg. The man was well liked in the community. I never even knew just how much the Goddard’s did for Oak Lake. Everything from hosting events for the community and even helping gather funds for a storm shelter.

When I came to pick up whatever Greg left me, the store was closed but Nick was inside. I knocked on the door and Nick let me in. “How are you holding up?” I asked, trying to make conversation.

Nick sighed, “As well as can be expected. Just give me a moment and I’ll bring you everything.” Nick turned and walked to the back for a while.

I stood in silence, remembering the day I met Nick and Greg in this very store. I remembered how excited I felt then and thought about how I felt now.

Nick came back out with a box and placed it on the counter. “There is something I wanted to tell you, that I never told mom.”

I studied Nick for a moment and put my hand on his shoulder. “I’m here for you and your mom.”

Nick nodded and continued, “The day we found dad, I went back to the game room to look at the computer he was on. The screen was blank. Just a blank white screen, nothing on it at all. I unplugged it before mom got back there again.”

I raised my eyebrow curiously, “So do you think it froze up or something?”

Nick shook his head,” I think whatever Dad had been playing might have been responsible for his death.”

I pondered it for a moment and replied, “Any idea what it might have been?”

Nick frowned, “Not a clue. Whatever was in the floppy drive, Mom removed before I could investigate but I think she knows more than she’s letting on.” His voice sounded shaky as he said those words.

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I grabbed the box and turned to Nick, “Maybe you should sit down and talk with her about it.”

I left the store and headed to my apartment. The box was a little heavy, which made me more curious as to what was inside.

Once in my apartment, I set the box on the floor and began going through it. Inside was a myriad of items. A few games for various consoles, an old laptop with a detachable floppy drive, and finally a plastic case for index cards loaded with floppy disks.

I rummaged through the floppy disks and found some games I knew of quite well from my childhood and several I never even heard of. One in particular stood out to me. It was a black floppy disk with writing on it that appeared to be done in white out. The writing said The Maze.

I pulled it out to examine the disk. It looked like maybe it was one someone just put a game onto as opposed to one sold in any electronics store. Definitely seemed odd for something Greg would have allowed to be in the store. Curiosity would however get the best of me.

I turned on the laptop and to my surprise the old thing was fully charged. I popped the disk for The Maze into the hard drive. It asked if I wanted to install it. I rolled my eyes and clicked yes. It didn’t take nearly as long to install as I thought it would.

A few minutes later an icon appeared on the desktop. I decided to click on it and start up the program. I was greeted with a screen that was rather plain and looked like something from an old MS-DOS computer. The screen was black with the words The Maze written in green block letters. Below the title was three options: Start, settings and exit. I clicked start.

The game if it could even be called that looked like some really early flash game. The first level was so simple I doubt anyone could call it a maze.

There was two diagonal lines colored lime green against a white background. Both lines angled inward at the start and outward at the end. All one had to do was move the little dot that represented the player to the exit. A timer could be see in the upper right side of the screen, far enough from the so-called maze to be easily visible. There was also a spot on the left side that said Health with a number. I didn’t understand what that was about till later on.

I played through a few levels and at first they didn’t really get more difficult. By the 17th level a change began. The screen that said level 17 also now mentioned goblins. The goblins were solid lime green circles that moved slowly through the maze at first. Some sat just outside. In later levels they had arrows they – fired though I use that term loosely as the arrows moved slowly at first and would deplete player health if hit. The timer running out would also deplete health every second until it ran out leading to a game over or until you escaped that particular level.

After a few days, I decided to call Nick to see how he was doing. We decided to meet up at the store. At the store we talked for a while and I mentioned the game The Maze. Cheryl would had been walking through, had flinched upon hearing me mention it and turned to walk the direction she just came from. Nick hadn’t noticed. Nick didn’t seem to know anything about the game but had admitted occasionally his dad would allow some strange homebrew games to be sold in the store.

As I was leaving, Cheryl stopped me and said she needed to talk to me, that it was urgent. However what she said next I regretfully thought was far-fetched and shrugged it off.

“Please whatever you do, destroy that game. The Maze is dangerous. It’s not just a game. Please I am imploring you, get rid of it. I don’t know how it ended up in your possession but please listen to me.”

I studied Cheryl for a moment and shrugged, “I don’t know about all of that. It seems pretty harmless if a bit dull. Besides it was in the box of stuff that Greg left me.”

Cheryl looked stunned and confused for a moment. She whispered to me “Please get rid of it. I don’t know how it ended up in the box. I had taken that disk and locked it away in the vault so it wouldn’t end up hurting anyone else. When I checked the vault earlier it was gone somehow.”

I considered what she was saying for a moment, not thinking of what Nick had said before or maybe blocking it out because I didn’t believe this game was dangerous at all.

I returned home and went back to playing The Maze. I reached level 23 and this time the level was far more of a maze than usual. The goblins were present as usual moving through the maze in various directions. Something was different with this level though. About a minute and half into the maze, a message appeared at the the top of the screen. The message read “Something has entered the maze beware.” I blinked and noticed a reddish brown dot appeared in the maze. It was stationary which struck me as odd but I continued through the maze and upon finishing it, exited the game.

After working for a few days, I decided to return to playing The Maze. Every level the message would appear about something entering the maze. At first it remained stationary. After a few levels however it began slowly moving through the maze. I noticed another change too, the goblins would always move as far from as it they could. They wouldn’t even fire their arrows or pursue the player anymore. I found the slowly moving something unnerving, yet I found myself unable to explain why. I exited the game again and told myself I needed a break from it.

That night I had a strange dream. I was walking around Oak Lake, and suddenly in my head played a message…”Something has entered the maze.” I found myself running and sweating, intense terror gripping me as if some unknown entity, perhaps a predator was chasing me. I awoke in a cold sweat. I went to the kitchen to grab a glass of water and saw something that startled me. The laptop was turned on and the start screen for The Maze was visible from the kitchen sink. I could have sworn I turned the laptop off before I went to bed. I convinced myself that in my exhaustion I merely forgot. I went over and turned it off before returning to bed.

When I woke the next day I decided to research the game. My searches on a certain search engine turned up nothing. I decided to look at the game’s start screen for clues that may help. After a bit of searching the screen I found the name of the developer – Penfield Software Inc.

A quick internet search of Penfield Software Inc. showed me that the company went bankrupt after only putting out a couple of games. The Maze however wasn’t mentioned. There was a website for Penfield Software Inc. that while was clearly outdated I decided to look into. As I searched the page which someone was obviously paying to keep running I found something a bit startling. A spot that said “Coming soon – The Maze”

I was out walking when someone approached me. It was a woman of about forty years old. She grabbed my shoulders and said, “We need to talk.”

I was a bit shook up but I nodded and replied, “U-um ok.”

I followed her in my car to a nearby diner and we both went in and took a seat. She told the waitress to give us a moment before turning to me. “You’re Alain Stewart right?” She asked, looking around in a rather paranoid manner.

I nodded and replied nervously, “Yes I am he.”

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She breathed a sigh of relief and said to me,”Cheryl Goddard called me. I am an old friend of Greg and Cheryl’s. She told me you have been playing The Maze, is this correct?”

I frowned and nodded again, I felt ill at ease suddenly and was about to get up to leave when the woman calmly said, “Please. Stay and hear me out. I’m begging you.”

I stopped for a moment and considered her request. After a moment of deliberation I returned to my seat. “Why can’t I find anything about it online?”

The woman took a deep breath and quietly said, “Because it’s not supposed to exist. Back in college, Cheryl was my roommate and Greg was my best friend. There was one other who used to hang out with us too. His name was Germaine. One day Germaine came to us with a surprise. He gotten his hands on a special test copy of a game. He made disks for all of us to try it. The game was called The Maze of Endos.”

I raised my eyebrow quizzically. At this time I was unsure if I should believe this woman or not. I at the same time had my curiosity piqued. “Go on.” I said casually.

The woman nodded and continued,” We were all obsessed with this game. Germaine and Gregory moreso than I or Cheryl. Another newcomer would join our friend group in this time as well, Amber. We introduced her to the game soon after. At first it seemed like harmless fun, until Greg announced he had gotten further in the game than any of us before. He seemed a bit freaked out though. We at first just chalked it up to stress from college life and an overactive imagination. At least until…” She paused there for a moment and shuddered. She waved the waitress over and ordered some coffee for both of us.

I eyed the coffee when the waitress brought it to me. I patiently waited for the woman to continue the story.

“Before I continue I should properly introduce myself. My name is Samantha Laughlin. Anyway where was I again?” She asked partly to see if I was paying attention and partly because she lost her train of thought.

“You mentioned about Greg being freaked out about something.” I replied as I mindlessly stirred my coffee.

“Ahh yes. Well at first we didn’t think much of Greg’s being freaked out, until the incident with Amber. See at this time Amber and Greg were dating. Well one day she came into our dorm room crying and shaking. Greg had tried to overdose on some pills he got from some guy. Amber herself also admitted she was having some weird dreams too ever since she reached level 30 in the game. We called an ambulance for Greg and suggested Amber talk to the psychiatrist at the University.” Samantha shifted uncomfortably in her seat.

“Sorry this next part is always a bit… difficult to talk about. Everything seemed to be better for a time. We had mid terms and no time to play The Maze. Everyone had gotten part-time jobs on top of everything else. A couple of months had passed and that’s when shit hit the proverbial fan. Germaine one day came to visit me, he looked awful. He was thin, pale and had dark circles under his eyes. He seemed terrified of every little thing. He explained that he wanted to get further than even Greg had, it became like an obsession for him and he wished he hadn’t. He claimed something was coming for him. He begged me to stay with him for just that night, but I told him I couldn’t because I had to work.” Samantha seemed to choke up at this point. Her voice became shaky and the glint of tears forming showed in her eyes.

“Germaine was missing for almost a month. Police gave up looking and told me he probably just left for wherever he was from or something. That he just took a vacation more than likely. They were wrong. A few days after I spoke to the police, I heard a scream while walking in the courtyard on campus. Somehow deep down I knew what they found. It was Germaine. He was alive, but out of his mind. He just kept repeating the phrase – Something has entered the maze, beware. He was taken to a mental institution and that’s where he’s been ever since. I visit him from time to time, but he never seems to even notice me.” Samantha was fighting back tears and I could do nothing to console her.

I took a deep breath and asked,”What happened next?” I knew it was insensitive to ask, but I also needed answers.

Samantha closed her eyes and wiped her cheek with a napkin. She took a few slow, but deep breaths and continued. “We at first refused to believe it was the game. The events that would come would change our minds entirely. Amber was the next to have issues along with Cheryl. Amber collapsed one day and began screaming about something in the maze when she came to. A few days later she would commit suicide. She left a note simply saying “I had to escape it.” Cheryl on the other hand stopped showing up to class or even work. Someone said she was spending all her free time in the computer lab staring at a blank screen, but if anyone approached she would insist she needed to get further in the game she was playing. Finally one day, she was banned from the computer lab after she directed some colorful language towards the professor who ran the lab when it was time to close it up. She did get better after that however.”

I sipped my coffee which was starting to get cold and took in everything I had heard. I noted in my head about Amber and decided I would see what I could find after this.

Samantha pushed her coffee away and continued with her story once more. “Following Amber’s death, Gregory was inconsolable for a time but it kept him away from that infernal game. I began playing more but stopped when I realized the connection between it and everything happening to my friends. Cheryl and Greg before long started dating and left college. We kept in touch over the years however. Now please knowing what you know get rid of that game. I am certain it’s what killed Greg whether directly or indirectly. I don’t want to see anyone suffer the same fate as any of my friends.”

With that Samantha went and paid for both coffees and left. I left a five on the table as a tip for the waitress and left. As I walked to my car everything Samantha said weighed heavily on my mind. I decided to call Nick and ask him about Samantha.

He did confirm that his parents were friends with her. He however didn’t entirely believe that a game was responsible for all of those terrible events. He did feel convinced though that a combination of addiction to a game and possibly not eating is what ultimately killed his father.

When I got off the phone with Nick I went home. I slept poorly the next several nights. My dreams a jumbled mess of everything Samantha told me and the dream I had a few nights earlier.

The more I tried avoiding The Maze the more it seemed to haunt me. Finally one day I broke down and played again. The game was getting faster paced and the mazes more challenging and difficult. The brown dot seemed to increase in speed more as the levels progressed. Soon it was actively hunting the player dot and even able to move through the maze walls. I always managed to escape and evade it, albeit narrowly after a while.

Finally I exited the game and turned off the laptop. I made sure of it before going to bed. However a sound awoke me in the night. I crept out of my room and the laptop was on. A new level screen appeared and the player dot was moving on its own. The message appeared about something appearing in the maze. I frantically took control as best as I could. This thing was homing in on my dot and as I escaped the maze it followed.

There was a horrible screeching sound and sparks flew from the laptop. Soon I could smell something burning, and smoke was being emitted from the laptop. The screen had turned black. I ejected the disk from the floppy drive and took it outside. I grabbed a hammer from the trunk of my car and smashed the disk.

That was eight months ago. Every so often I still see the message in my dreams and occasionally a weird pixelated creature appearing on a screen with it. Every so often I get the feeling of being watched. Every so often I hear a whisper on the wind…

Something has entered the maze.

Credit: J. Hoppe

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