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The Ward Labyrinth
Sarah slowly drifted up from a deep sleep. She was in that grey, quiet stretch between slumber and wakefulness, and it was with some sort of sluggish early-morning thinking that she realized: I’m not in my bed.
Jolting to full consciousness, she saw that she had been sleeping on a damp, cold floor of ancient stones. Heart pounding like an unsteady drum, she scrambled to her feet and looked around.
She was, it seemed, in some sort of maze. Damp grey stones formed the floor, walls, and ceiling, and the only illumination came from a series of flickering lightbulbs. The only distinguishing feature of the place was a handwritten sign on the floor beside her. “YOU HAVE ONE HOUR.” It said in all caps. “DON’T TOUCH THE WALLS.”
Suddenly, Sarah realized where she was. This place, it was familiar to her. She hadn’t been here in quite some time, not since she was just a little girl, but she would never really forget it. It was the labyrinth beneath the Ward mansion.
Charles Ward had been known in the community as a philanthropist, the kind sort of man that you automatically trust. He had an effortless air of charisma about him.
When children began to go missing, no one ever suspected him. At least ten boys and girls between the ages of 6 and 13 had disappeared from the surrounding community, and he had been the one to console the worried parents, he had promised to do all he could.
It wasn’t till his young daughter came sobbing to the police station, screaming about bodies in the cellar, that the police finally caught on.
“Where are you?” Sarah yelled at the top of her lungs. “I know you’re here, you sick, murderous bastard!”
She paced around the area, bare feet scraping against the rough stone. “Where the hell are you? How did you find me?”
No reply came. “Answer me!” she screamed. Her voice echoed against the dark walls, a one-woman chorus of terror and fury. “Ward!”
Sarah screamed in frustration, muffling the noise with her hands. She stomped her feet, and then screamed again at the dull pain from the uneven stone floor. Then she stood, and began to run.
She was no fool; she knew what Ward’s game was. She had to get out of the maze as fast as she could, because when an hour passed from when she woke up, she wouldn’t have a chance. That was when Ward would release the dogs.
Her feet beat against the ground as she jogged through the twisting corridors. She didn’t run as fast as she could; she had to be careful not to touch the walls. There were, she knew, sensor plates that were randomly placed. If she were to as much as brush against them, the dogs would be released immediately.
Her spine was jarred with every impact of her bare feet, but Sarah was not the sort to give in to pain. She was nothing if not tough and determined. Ever since Ward had escaped from prison, she had lived her life on the run.
She screamed with frustration when she was faced with her first dead end. “C’mon, Ward!” she bellowed at the top of her lungs. “Face me head-on, coward!”
Without a pause, she turned on her heel and resumed her jog. She was fit, but her legs were beginning to burn with exertion. Sarah ignored the pain and pushed onward. She had no way of knowing how much time had passed, but she knew with certainty that rest was a luxury that she could not afford.
She was focused entirely on the corridors in front of her, squinting down each one as she jogged closer. But because of this single-minded concentration on escape, she failed to notice the fallen stone brick that was directly in front of her. Her bare toes collided with its hard, rough surface, and Sarah screamed in pain as she fell, carried forward by the momentum from her speed. An explosion of pain traveled from her shoulder when it hit the wall.
She scrambled to her feet quickly, but the damage had been done. There was no chance that her impact with the wall had not been picked up by the sensors. Sure enough, an alarm began to scream shrilly.
Sarah’s mind was filled with blind panic. “No… No!” She began to run as fast as she could, no longer avoiding the walls. After all, the dogs had already been released. If she couldn’t escape before they got to her, she would be torn to pieces.
In her mindless fear, Sarah tripped again. Her knees hit the floor painfully. “No!” She looked behind her, expecting to see the vicious dogs. But there was nothing. In fact, she couldn’t even hear their barking.
She struggled to her feet. But before she could begin to run again, she heard a soft hissing noise. Looking around wildly for the source, she saw an open valve releasing pale, translucent gas. Her eyes widened.
She tried to run from the gas, but her legs felt as if they were made from lead. Her body hit the ground again. When she tried to raise herself up enough to crawl, her arms collapsed beneath her. Her eyelids were so heavy. In a matter of minutes, she was completely unconscious.
“Wake up, Sarah. Come on, sleepyhead, we have a lot to talk about!”
Sarah groaned and shifted away from the voice. Still groggy from the sleeping gas, she refused to open her eyes.
“Sarah. Wake up.”
Her cheek rested on some sort of pillow, and she felt as though she’d never been more comfortable. “Nn… ‘M goin’ back to sleep,” she slurred tiredly.
There was a pause. Finally, the voice bellowed at her. “Wake up, Sarah! Now!”
With a gasp, Sarah jolted awake, blinking the grogginess from her eyes. Suddenly, she remembered what had just happened. The maze. The wall. The gas.
With growing terror, she looked at her surroundings. A face she had hoped to never see again loomed in front of her. Ward. He had grown a beard, and he was considerably older than before. Life as a prison escapee had apparently taken its toll on him, but he was still formidable in stature. His wrinkled patrician face had a kind expression.
Sarah scrambled backward, terrified. She glanced down, seeing a small, twin-sized bed covered by an old purple quilt. She looked at the walls, which were painted a soft lavender hue. She hadn’t seen this place in years, but she recognized it immediately. It was her childhood bedroom.
“What is this?” she managed to say. “Ward! Why am I here?” She pushed herself off of her bed and stood unsteadily, wincing in pain from her bruised knees and feet.
“Whoa, whoa. Careful, now,” Ward said, reaching for her shoulders as if to steady her. “Give it a moment, you must be very disoriented.” His deep voice was soft and soothing, as if he were trying to calm a wild animal.
Sarah stumbled backwards. “Don’t touch me!” she yelled. She looked around for some kind of weapon, but found nothing.
“Now, now, Sarah. You’re overreacting, just take a breath.” He stepped closer. In a jarring contrast to his kind voice, Ward was holding his formidable stature in an aggressive way, like a bear ready to attack. Sarah glanced down at his suit jacket, noting the gun holster barely concealed beneath it.
“Don’t come any closer,” she growled. “What is this? I know your game, you release the dogs. You don’t gas people.”
Ward rolled his eyes, exasperated. “Sarah, Sarah. That was for the others, not you. What, would you prefer to be attacked by dogs?”
“What are you planning?” she snarled, backing away towards the door.
“Oh, Sarah… Why do I need to be planning something? You’re always so suspicious. Why should I have some sort of diabolical plan when all I want is to talk to my darling daughter?” He smiled, but his blue eyes were as cold and emotionless as a snake’s.
Her hand found the doorknob, and she twisted it desperately. Luckily, it was unlocked. She opened the door and raced into the hallway of the Ward mansion, her childhood home.
“Sarah!” Ward yelled angrily. “Come back here!” He charged out of the bedroom, racing towards her.
Sarah looked around wildly. She ran to the front door, but it was jammed shut. Clearly, Ward knew that she would try to escape.
She needed a weapon. She ducked under Ward’s outstretched arms and ran towards the kitchen, shutting its door behind her.
The kitchen was just as it had been when she had gotten Ward arrested, albeit a little dusty. On the corner of a marble counter, she saw a knife block.
“Hah!” she whispered as she grabbed a long, wicked knife. Ward had a gun, but if she could get to him first, she could incapacitate him. Gripping her weapon tightly, she went to the side of the door to wait. Sure enough, his footsteps pounded up to the door and it slammed open. Ward’s gun was drawn, but it wasn’t raised. Before he could shoot her, Sarah stabbed the knife into his right shoulder.
He bellowed in pain and anger, clutching the wound. Sarah kicked him in the gut as she pulled the knife free, and he stumbled backwards.
Filled with rage, Ward’s voice was a deep snarl. “You betrayed me when you were a little girl, and now this! I’m going to kill you slowly.” He aimed the gun at her shoulder. “But first…”
Before he could shoot, Sarah dodged to the side. “Death is too good for you, Ward. But I’ll kill you anyways.” She lunged forward, but Ward fired his gun. The bullet grazed her right shoulder, causing an explosion of agony. She cried out in pain.
She didn’t falter much, but it was enough for Ward. His fist collided with her cheek, knocking her to the floor. Through some miracle, though, she kept her hold on the knife and scrambled to her feet. Before he could come closer, she slashed it across the front of his left thigh, slicing through muscle and nicking bone. He fell to his knees, dropping the gun to clutch at the wound. Quick as a blink, Sarah snatched it and pointed it at the murderer’s head.
“How many did you kill, Ward?” she asked, panting with exertion, fear, and rage. “How many children?”
He looked up from the wound and bared his teeth in a grin. “How many did we kill, you mean.”
“W…What?” asked Sarah, keeping the gun aimed at his head.
He began to chuckle. “Oh, don’t worry. You didn’t personally kill anyone. But you chose the victims.”
“What the hell are you talking about?” Sarah gasped.
“Oh, Sarah. You weren’t a happy child, were you? Always coming home hiding your tears. The other children made fun of you, and there was nothing that you could do about it. But you would always write about your day in that diary of yours. And when you were bullied, you would often mention their name in your entry.”
“Y-you’re saying you killed the kids I wrote about in my diary?” Her grip on the gun trembled, and Sarah’s stomach boiled with nausea.
“No one else was going to help you, Sarah. Don’t you see? I did it all for you.” He smiled, as if he was remembering something blissfully. But then his expression clouded with rage. “And after all that, you stumbled upon the bodies and ran to the police. You’re the biggest disappointment in my life, Sarah. You turned me in, even though I did everything for you.”
“You’re sick!” she gasped.
His expression was some awful mixture of rage and happiness. He began to struggle to his feet, trying not to put too much weight on the damaged leg.
“Stay down!” she screamed, gesturing with the gun.
Ward only chuckled. “Come on, Sarah. You’re soft, weak. Cowardly. Why else would you have gone to the police rather than kill me?”
“Normal people don’t consider murder as an option!”
“What, like you’re normal?” He grinned widely. “Remember the diary? You’re to blame as much as I am. You’ve got blood on your hands, Sarah, the blood of all those children.”
“I never asked for that! You’re insane! Stay down!” Sarah struggled to keep her grip steady as Ward slowly rose to his full height.
His chuckle developed into a booming laugh as he stared down at her. “You’re not going to shoot me, Sarah. Weak, vile thing that you are, you still would never shoot your own father.” With that statement, he lunged forward arms outstretched to grab her.
Sarah’s fingers squeezed the trigger. An explosion of blood came from the right side of his chest, but he barely faltered in his charge towards her. Screaming, she shot the gun again. And again. And again.
With bullet wounds peppering his chest, Ward finally collapsed. His body hit the kitchen’s linoleum floor with a soft thud. His blue eyes blinked several times before finally gazing up at the ceiling in the glazed, unfocused stare of the dead.
Dropping the gun and the knife, Sarah felt her legs give out. She had been running on adrenaline, but the threat was vanquished. Staring blankly at her father’s body, she wrapped her thin arms around her legs. “It’s over,” she whispered to herself. “He’s dead.”
Her shoulder continued to bleed sluggishly. Finally, she stumbled to her feet and limped to the old landline, praying that it still worked. Unsurprisingly, it didn’t. The mansion had been vacant for years. Feeling emotionally dead, she made her way to the cupboard and grabbed a large frying pan which she hurled at the kitchen’s broad window, shattering it.
Since the window reached from the floor almost to the ceiling, she easily stepped out. After blinking uncertainly at the night sky, she began to walk away from the Ward mansion.