The garden glows on a day like this. The summer sky is soon to swell grey, soon to lick at the roots of the fruit trees and flood the fountain. Edgar, a blond boy of nine years, is curled over the edge of the stone fountain. He pretends to be a bear, hand in the water, toying with a clownfish. While he cuts through the gentle waves, the sun dismounts a dizzy cloud and fires a sharp finger at Edgar. It crashes into the fountain, and just as it cuts into Edgar’s eyes, a shout is heard from behind.
“Boy!” squeals the joyful voice.
Edgar turns to see about the clicking steps rushing toward him. His eyes are cracked from the prodding sun, and so he only sees a soft blush of what nears him. It is a bell-shaped figure, the dome a flowing forest green. The lip and belt are yellow as the sun, the crown is a burst of strawberry blonde, and two black clappers chime opposite each other, clicking against the cobblestone as if the hours were spinning wildly out of control. It closes in, now sharp in his sight. It is a girl of about his age, mousy-figured and grinning.
“Boy!” she cries again, stopping just short of diving into the fountain. “Come on! I want to show you something!” She points toward the hedges.
The labyrinth was a mystery to Edgar. His parents had forbidden him to enter it, as they didn’t want him to lose his way. The girl grips Edgar’s hand, smiling, smiling forever, and tugs at him to come along. Edgar looks toward the hedges. Someone had blanketed the tops of the hedges with white linens along a particular path into the labyrinth. Above the hedges, the clouds have formed a cape around the sun. It would rain soon, and the garden offered little shelter. It would be another hour before his parents came to collect him from the park, and so Edgar clicked along behind the girl until the two were safe beneath the sheets.
They travel deeper and deeper into the vibrant green growth. The sheets cast shadows upon the stone beneath them, breaking up the sun into stripes along the path. Thunder rumbles in the distance. Soon, the sun is flanked, surrounded, and consumed by the billowing clouds. The bright stripes disappear, and the vibrant greens and yellows slip into a comfortable grey. Edgar and the girl move along beneath the linens at a quickening pace before stumbling into an open area of the maze.
Children are gathered all around, in their various groups, and only here, in this populated place of the maze, the sun breaks the clouds and exposes the unsheltered courtyard. Within these dense, impassible walls, many children have come to pretend in this growing thing, each traversing down its corridors and beneath the eclipse of its countless sheets, to arrive at this spot. A sudden flash of wind from the path behind him puts Edgar on his hands and knees. He turns quickly to see the path still grey, and the wind tearing the linens from the tops of the hedges. The guides that would lead him back to the fountain now dance violently toward the sky and disappear into the grey.
At an iron table in the center of the courtyard, children dressed in their parents’ Sunday clothing drink a golden juice. Their boisterous callow voices ring out in a blustery whirlwind of laughter. In one corner of the courtyard, a boy steals a kiss from a girl and turns coyly away. In another corner, a girl does this to a boy, and in yet another, a boy to another boy. The fourth corner completes this pattern, as one girl runs off to chase the other, and the strawberry blonde bell who gaily befell Edgar’s same fate runs off to chase them. Through all this bewildering merriment, Edgar catches the sound of weeping from an aged woman.
Within the far wall, a woman of middle age, ragged regalia, and haggard features is fallen to her knees and bound by both arms to the hedges. Leafless, petrified vines reach out from the dark innards of the verdant wall and spool themselves about her from wrist to shoulder in thick, tight tangles. As Edgar marvels at this, a boy several years his junior approaches him, leaving a crumpled, leafy trail from the soles of his little Florsheims. The boy is wearing his Sunday best, clutching to his chest a book without a cover. Upon his head, nestled in his flaring, wild hair, rests a set of glasses with cracked lenses. He fumbles as he pulls the book from his breast and perches his busted glasses upon the bump of his little nose. He begins reading from the book.
The moment the boy utters his first word, the leaves of his last footstep come ablaze. A moment later, the leaves of the step before go up, as well. This continues as he reads, until the flame reaches the hedge wall. The fire catches a bit of the foliage, and sends a quick burst of flame across the hedge, gripping the petrified vines and setting the woman’s arms aglow. The woman lets out a shrill shriek, and at that precise moment, the sun swells fiercely and whitens Edgar’s sight. Edgar stumbles around in the heat, blind, hearing the laughter of the children grow in combat with the shrieking of the woman.
As Edgar is stammering around, a soft linen strikes him in the face, putting him briefly on his backside before catching a strong wind and spinning him swiftly into the sky. The temperature rapidly cools and rain pelts the sheet as Edgar twists against the tangles of the fluttering cocoon, tumbling hand over foot through the storm clouds. He rolls blindly in the sky until he feels the sheet wrap around his wrists and grip tightly. In one sudden twist, the sheet flips behind Edgar and blooms above him, catching him on the wind. He drifts toward the ground, seeing beneath him the stone path that led into the hedges as it comes into view behind a dark smoke. His feet gain traction against the cobbles as the sheet releases his wrists, putting him once again at his hands and knees.
He puts himself to his feet and turns to view the labyrinth. It glows in the storm, blazing unforgivably, spreading toward him over the cobblestones. Edgar turns to run away only to discover the fountain at his heels and the fire surrounding him. With little choice, he climbs upon the edge of the fountain and steps in. The fire crawls up to the edge of the water and begins catching on the shimmering surface. Edgar dives beneath the surface, wondering how long he can hold his breath.