As we pass through the violet doors, we are greeted by what most would call carnival or circus music, but the song’s actual title is “Entry of the Gladiators”, composed by a man named Julius Fucik. We find ourselves walking a dirt path in a grassy area of the labyrinth.
“Doors, messages, music, remnant world pieces,” Polus says. “Hey hostess thing, isn’t there a shorter way, you know, a shortcut?”
Ariadne 256 turns its head slowly to regard Polus, then says, “We are on the shortcut especially designed for Daedalus’s guests and visitors. Had you not waited for me and managed to open the greens door before my arrival, you three would be wandering the halls aimlessly. You would be subject to the many perils such as spike pits, the flame rooms, pendulum blades, and shadow beasts who roam the wilds of the labyrinth.”
With that, Ariadne 256 turns its head forward and moves forward. We follow along the earthen path that now lies under our feet.
“I would rather be facing the shadow beasts than these creepy rooms. I hate being stuck in a constant state of anticipation,” Polus says.
“Me too. At least that way, we know what we are up against. I mean, how do we know this isn’t some large elaborate trap?” Theseus asks.
“I mean, Than, you said it yourself. We can’t trust Daedalus,” Polus says.
“He is right. We can’t,” Theseus says.
As we crest a grassy hill under a fake sky and a faker sun, my mind begins to wander. I thought of the darkness of my prison in Corinth. Funny how we try to outrun the past, but sometimes the past is waiting to greet us right around the corner.
We are bombarded by distorted carnival music once again. It’s playing through a pair of loudspeakers perched high on large wooden poles. There is a large metal archway with rusting red letters that should spell out Carnival, but some of the letters have fallen off and lie on in the grass. We all share an uneasy glace as the automaton continues forward on its track and proceed with a sense of unease and caution.
“Be at the ready just in case,” I whisper to them.
Both Polus and Theseus nod their agreement as the dirt path gives way to red brick cobblestones laced with the occasional yellow. We find rusting cages advertising various animals with skeletal remains inside. Along the path are black gas street lamps that light up as we pass them. The carnival music fades as we continue, passing by ripped tents and some that have collapsed entirely. There are hulking rusting remnants of trucks that must’ve been used for transport. We warily eye the busted and broken down caravans, which would have been the homes to the carnival workers.
The hairs on the back of my neck have been standing up this entire time. I feel like we are being watched by the dead in this place. I sense their souls, but they are hiding, angry at our presence here. We have trespassed on their land, and I can sense they have no interest in being reaped. They like it here and will fight to stay. I can tell my companions feel what I am feeling as well. Theseus’ hand hasn’t left the hilt of his sword since we entered, nor has Polus unclenched his fists.
There is rustling in the grass, the laughter of what sounds like children, giggling, and murmuring voices.
“We are being watched,” Theseus whispers.
“Indeed,” I reply.
“Where are they?” Polus asks.
“There,” I say, pointing to a large tent on top of a small hill.
The tent is what would have been the big top where the main show would have been held. The large striped tent is weather-beaten, with sizable rips in the roof but still standing. Another metal archway in front of the tent reads Uncle Pocket’s Circus, and the noise from inside chills me.
I shudder as I notice Polus growing pale. Theseus takes a step back, letting out a short exhale. They hear the noises too. On the surface, there is applauding, laughter, sounds of excitement, music, and mummers of the ringmaster announcing the next act. But underneath, I can hear crying, screams, and laughter. Those underlying notes remind me of Tartarus and the cries of the damned. The performers are holding the audience hostage. I know it in my gut and can see it with my godly eyes.
The automaton has stopped next to us. It listens to the sounds emitting from the big top and chuckles, which chills me even worse. I decide to do my godly duties and free them from this plane of existence. I pluck a dozen feathers from my wings and place them on the ground. Black clouds of smoke arise from each one forming into my clones. They stand at the ready.
“Get in there,” I demand, pointing at the tent. “Do what you must, reap every soul.”
They nod and advance on the big top as we continue our march to the next door. We pass under another metal archway, thanking us for visiting and encouraging us to come back soon. Pearl gray glass doors with indigo glass door handles stand at the end of the path. Above the door in the white tile wall, built-in pearl gray letters spell out Icarus the fallen.
“Crap,” I mutter.
The automaton goes through its tunnel next to the doors, which open them for us. The sounds of Frederic Chopin’s “Funeral March” greets us as we enter. The doors close behind us, but the music continues to play on unseen speakers.
Before us is a massive hill wrapped by a spiraling stone staircase. Next to it are the tracks for the automaton. It proceeds upward, and we follow suit taking to the stone stairs. The steps are narrow, and there is no guardrail on either side, so we must be careful as we ascend to whatever is at the top of the hill.
I am not sure how many steps there were in total, but we are all winded by the time we reach the top of the hill. I can’t speak for the others, but my legs feel like jelly. Then our eyes fall on the stone monument atop the hill.
“Son of a bitch,” I mutter.
“Isn’t it wonderful?” Ariadne 256 asks.
I give no reply and just stare at the marble and granite statue atop a similar base. It is of a young curly-haired boy. He lies on his stomach, his arms outstretched with a pair of wings attached to them. A stone rise attaches to the base at the statue’s stomach, giving it the illusion of flight. There is an engraved message on the base.
My loving son Icarus who was taken too soon from us.
Never regret thy fall
O Icarus of the fearless flight
For the greatest tragedy of them all
Is never to feel the burning light – Oscar Wilde
“Ah-ha-ha-ah-ha-ha.” We hear the robotic-sounding laughter coming behind the statue. Theseus draws his sword, I summon my scythe, Polus balls his fist, and we advance around the statue with extreme caution. Sitting on the other side is another automaton. Built similar to the Ariadne model, it sits on a wheel instead of a clamp to ride the rail.
I know its face at once. Hadn’t I reaped him from his watery death centuries ago? Hadn’t his father cursed me for doing so, and weren’t we just staring at his monument. The automaton of Icarus sat there clapping his hands and laughing in the flat monotone. Its wild eye focused on us as it rose slowly to stand before us. Icarus flashed us a toothy smile.
“I am Icarus 1138. It was a funny one. It was hilarious. Now watch me go!” Icarus 1138 says.
It backs up and then shoots forward, launching itself off the edge of the hill with its arms outstretched, laughing in that monotone as it does so. We run to the edge and watch it plummet, still laughing. It smashes on the ground below, then from somewhere deep inside the labyrinth comes the rumbling of a horn. The Icarus 1138 sinks into the ground and is quickly gone from sight. Behind us, the Ariadne 256 applauds madly, and we slowly turn to face her. Her face is alight with glee as if she had just watched the greatest theatre performance ever.
She begins to move forward on her track to the edge of the hill, where a stone footbridge waits for us. On the other side, we can see the white tile wall with the next door.
“There is an escalator! Why the fuck couldn’t we have taken the escalator?” Polus asks.
“It is out of service,” Ariadne 256 says.
“Of course it is,” Polus says.
We march over the footbridge. It’s narrow, and we have to cross in a single file line. We get to a stone platform and in front of us is a pair of Indigo glass doors with orange glass door handles. The words above it spell out, “Water, water everywhere and all the boards did shrink; Water, water everywhere, nor a drop to drink.” It is a quote from The Rime of the Ancient Sea Mariner.
The Ariadne 256 goes through her tunnel, allowing the doors to open before us. We enter to Antonio Vivaldi’s “Storm”, the doors closing behind us.