LABYRINTH



I

The first labyrinth was built by Father and Son on an unfinished island that lay near the rim of the sea. The island, still rudely volcanic, was suited to such construction with its numerous quarries of heavy rock. The stone was iron-rich, and it darkened quickly under the hot summer sun as it was exposed by the pick and the shovel.

The center of the labyrinth, a series of inter-rotating concentric locks, was constructed first. One morning, while they raised cylinders and fitted tumblers, Son asked Father why they were digging a hole in the stony surface of the island. "To better hide our sins," Father told him.

As the years passed, and the chaotic splendor of the walls grew around the rings in the center, Son asked Father why they wanted to hide their sins. "So that others may not find them," Father said.

And, when the labyrinth was finished, Father bound Son and placed him within the last span of wall. As Father was laying mortar and stone, Son asked why he was being left behind. "So that you may warn the others," Father said.

Father could not tell his only child the true reason they had built the labyrinth. The night before they had started digging, he had dreamed that Son would one day grow curious about the world beyond the island and seek to fly. In his dream, Father watched his innocent flesh be burned by the sun and drowned by the waves, and he could not survive the heartbreak of such a loss.

II

The second labyrinth was laid in a market square, two unbroken lines of intricately twisted orange stones. The bricks were carefully carved from sandstone and dyed with the pressed juices of poppies.

At night, when the farmers and merchants had bundled up their stands and shops, when the persistent noise and smell of the market was gone, the stonemasons would come to the square. The apprentices would sweep the shit and garbage and hay away, and the journeymen would scrape trenches in the hard ground with small trowels. Water would be sluiced along these fresh troughs to make their walls soft and muddy. Finally, in the quiet belly of the night, the master masons would press the newly carved stones into place. The space around and between the bricks was filled with a cement, tinted to reflect the sere ochre color of the ground.

When the labyrinth was done, it was covered by sawdust and straw and forgotten for a generation. When the masons' children's children grew old enough to dance, the labyrinth was uncovered. In the spring, when maidens and lads were allowed to chose one another, they danced the path of the labyrinth. Those who found their way to the center and back again were married in the eyes of the village and the gods of confusion and commerce.

Children born of the masons' childrens' children were highly prized as scouts and guides for they never got lost.

III

A swamp surrounds the third labyrinth, and crocodiles sleep along the inner curve of the outer wall. The swamp is a marshy lowland, fed by the river, and in the spring, most of the swamp will be awash with dirty mountain water, overflow from the torrential river. In the summer, the swamp will be a field of sticky tar surrounding the labyrinth.

The labyrinth had been commissioned by one of the last Sun Kings as a present to his consort, but he was claimed by the river before it could be finished. In her grief, the Radiant Queen wanted to tear down the half-finished labyrinth, but as the stonebreakers assembled their tools before the walls, her grief broke. She stayed their mallets and picks, and commissioned their brothers to finish the work instead.

On the morning after the last stone had been laid, the river broke its banks for the second time in that generations' memory and flooded the area around the labyrinth. The crocodiles came with the flood, swimming upstream from the fetid jungles of the south until they reached the breach in the riverbank.

When the flood waters receded, the Radiant Queen entered her husband's tomb. A blue-scaled crocodile was her guide, and she wrapped gold chains around her wrists and its tail so that they would not become separated.

She never came back. Nor was the blue-scaled crocodile seen again. The gold chains were found at the center of the labyrinth by the Radiant Queen's daughter, who wears them still. They are the only memory she has of her mother and father.

IV

Neither love nor fear nor pain guided the architect of the fourth labyrinth and, when he died, the impetus was lost and the labyrinth was never finished.

V

The fifth labyrinth is a corporate logo. It is both a clue and a diversion. Like all symbols.

VI

Do you know the difference between a maze and a labyrinth?

A maze has many paths, a labyrinth has only one. One is emblematic of chaos, the other order. One represents a God who is visible, the other a Deity who has abandoned us in the wilderness.

The gardens of Babel were the sixth labyrinth. When the tower fell, the ruin of stone and masonry created a maze. This was the birth of language.

There are no more labyrinths. There are only mazes.

VII

In the desert, lost to civilization and history, a wizard dreams. He imagines a path with no branches. It begins, and it ends. Its course is neither straight nor complex; once he steps on the path, he realizes this to be true—the path is the simplest of geometries.

He writes his dream down—thereby making it true—and buries the papyrus in the sand. His notes and his diagram of the path are the seventh labyrinth.



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