The red book made the space we were in a lot less scary and a lot more predictable, although the map on its first page looked like a painting by Escher. Confusing staircases leading up, down, sideways and bending the area into impossible shapes. But we didn’t mind, because now, we had a way to navigate through it.
“Listen, Alphonse, I’m…” Mike started what would obviously be an apology.
“Don’t worry. I know. I realised what the minotaur is now. He’s fear itself. And he scared you into a very dark place.”
Mike just looked at me.
I continued: “I saw that the beast must have touched on something really hurtful from your past – it changed you.”
“Alphonse, I’m sorry that I was so distant and that I blocked you, it was…”
I interrupted him: “I’m just glad that you got out.”
“You know, Mike, I… I wanted to say that… I…”
Mike touched my arm and said: “Let’s do that once we are out. You know, just in case.”
We walked on. The book told us which stairs to walk down, which door to avoid. It also told us where the minotaur is. But we didn’t mind too much.
After all, knowing that he was fear made him seem a lot less scary.
So after a surprising short while, we reached a part of the tunnel that didn’t seem bent at all. We could see a shimmering doorway leading to the Opera métro station – it was the exit. And it was blocked by the minotaur.
“Where do you think you are going?”
“We’re leaving.” I said.
He sneered and prepared to attack.
“Oh, snap out of it,” I said, “you’re not going to attack and we know it. You are fear. You are the embodiment of fear. So you need us, you won’t endanger our lives.”
He laughed an eerie laugh.
“My, aren’t you clever. What gave you that idea?”
Mike cleared his throat and said: “Well, you did. The one I was most afraid of was my father. So you portrayed him for me to feel anxious and afraid. And it worked.”
“But,” I added, “now that we know that you are just fear, we can do what one must do with fear. Move on.”
The minotaur nodded.
“Well, you are right that fear needs you. You just failed to realise one thing.”
“What’s that,” Mike asked.
“I can’t kill you… but I CAN hurt you all I like.”
With that he jumped forward and kicked Mike in the face. The red book went flying and landed against a wall, ripping it apart once again.
I asked Mike whether he was alright, but at that moment the beast came for me. I quickly evaded his attack and hid behind a pillar.
The minotaur laughed.
“Did you really think that it would be that easy? Fear feeds on itself! You are afraid right now! I can smell it and that smell makes me strong!”
He looked down on Mike who was still sitting on the ground. The beast suddenly looked like Mike’s father again.
“Pathetic little faggot, do you want me to hurt you again?”
He took out his belt and beat Mike with it who shouted out in pain.
“I’m not afraid of you!” he shouted.
The minotaur laughed.
“My, aren’t we courageous. Somehow, I don’t believe you!”
“Well, believe this,” I shouted and stuck the rapier Mike had brought into the beast from behind.
“Fool, you can’t kill me!” the beast screamed as it turned back into the minotaur form.
“True, but I can distract you long enough to do this…” I shouted.
I grabbed Mike’s hand, pulled him up and ran.
“Wait, Alphonse, the book!”
But it was too late. By then we had passed several stairs and when we turned around, the space was shifting again. Wherever the book was, we would not find it again. It wouldn’t help us out of here. At least not how things looked right now.
Once we had run far enough for the roar of the minotaur to be more distant, I sat on the ground and allowed myself to despair.
“We are never going to find out of this place, never…” Alphonse said.
“Are you giving up?” Mike asked.
I stared in front of me.
“This… this is my dark place, my fear. To be trapped, alone and scared, not knowing where to go. If you hadn’t found me in time, if that would have taken a bit longer, I fear that I would have gone insane. Just as I’ve almost gone insane once you were gone. In a way… things were much easier when we were still roaming around Paris, trying to find clues.”
Mike opened his backpack and handed me a mask.
“What’s that?” I asked.
“The mask merchant explained that as long as I wear that mask, I’m not the protagonist, I’m the friend. But as we are stuck in your nightmare, that may be too difficult. But what about if you are just tagging along? Wanna be my sidekick again?”
I grabbed the mask eagerly…
…and I watched as Alphonse put the mask away in his bag. Looking around, the change was almost immediate. The stairs and the pillars disappeared. There were no longer trains on different levels passing over us and underneath us. We were no longer in the confusing Escher-like maze. We were back in the room that looked like my father’s house. I allowed myself a moment to look around. On the far side of the room there was the minotaur, about to pull out the rapier. And in one of the corners there was the red book. I walked to it and picked it up, while Alphonse glared at the beast.
The minotaur had finally managed to push the rapier out. The wound was closing immediately. He turned around and again took on the shape of my father.
“Ah,” the beast said, “so Mike has decided to finally grow some balls and address his old man, did he? Well, I…”
“I’m not afraid of you anymore.” I said.
The father said nothing.
I grabbed Alphonse’s hand and opened the door to the exit.
“Wait here, faggot, I’m not done with you!”
The minotaur stormed towards us and now he looked like a mixture of the father and the beast. I waited for him to come close, then I pushed Alphonse aside, jumped in the other direction and pushed the minotaur through the door.
The figure vanished.
“What… what did you do?” asked Alphonse.
“We may think of most fears as real, but most of them are made up. The fear itself is not real, they do not exist in the real world. So I thought this might make him disappear. And it did.”
Alphonse smiled: “And what if you hadn’t been right?”
I grinned and shrugged. Then we walked into the tunnels. I managed to put the pages of the red book together.
“My spine… it hurts…” read the first page.
“Well, at least you can still say and do things.”
“Let me guess. You want me to show you the way out.” the book quibbed.
“If it’s not any trouble,” Alphonse said.
The map disappeared but looking at it, we decided to take a detour. It was time to visit some old friends.