Chapter Five

A trained ear would recognize Gigi Gryce’s, “Paris the Beautiful,” coming in through the speakers of the limo they all shared. The song was just beginning as the driver took their first right U-turn.

Seth didn’t particularly have a taste for jazz. He hoped that wouldn’t be what they’d be playing all night. If they do, he thought, it’ll be so lame. 

They had asked so many strange questions about him and his friends when he’d signed up, though… and having a hood over your head while clutching a form you just signed without reading was anything but a boring start to the evening.

That’s all Sophia could think about. What on earth did I just sign? What is this? Why are we here? I hate this. Ok. I don’t hate this. It’s actually kind of cool… Although, everyone who know’s I’m here is here too, and my parents won’t get my note until they get home. Who knows when that will be. I know the rest of these… people… lied to their parents. Who even were these people that she was spending her weekend with? She barely even recognized Seth anymore. 

In the seat next to Madison, an older guy – maybe in his late 20’s, she thought – sat crumpling and un-crumpling the pages he’d signed without reading. Clearly, he was nervous. Madison wondered how much he knew about what they were about to face. She had seen him talking to the others before they got in to the limo. He wasn’t the only one to come alone, but he was the only one that talked about having been there before. At least that’s what J. whispered to her while Sarah dragged her in to the limo.

“I think I’m gunna be car sick,” the wedge said after what seemed to be the 20’th zag, and right before the the 21st zig. “I said, no talking!” The voice of their present god.

B. was so mad that some random guy had gotten in between him and Madison. He was just about to jump in behind Madison when this stranger cut in. He chose not to dwell on it. How long could this ride be? It gave him time to try to figure out what was on the papers he’d just signed.

B. didn’t like to sign anything without reading it three times. People always gave him flack for being slow, but B. knew his quiet fastidiousness would help him succeed in the end. He didn’t need everyone’s constant validation the way Seth seemed to. Everyone thought Seth was so on top of everything, but B. knew he was the brain behind the operation. That’s what made Seth’s conspiracy all that more troubling to him.

It was hard to make anything out in the darkness. There were lights on in the limo, but whenever anyone reached for their hood, someone from the front would shout at them to, “Quit it!” So, he had to do his best with the black velvet obscuring his vision. This was a lost cause.

Just as the song was coming to an end, the car stopped.

“Take off your hoods and leave them on the seat. You’ll get new ones when you need them.”

“What? Why would we need these rags again?” Sarah never learned how to be a gracious guest.

“Sarah, stop being such a brat.” Sophia was starting to let her cracks show. Sarah’s plan was working.

“Neither of you are going to ruin this night for me.” Seth was the last one in the limo, and he was the first one out. J. was right behind him, having trampled the rest of the group in his excitement.

***

The sight before her eyes was truly indescribable. When her husband had first told her about how he wanted to surprise her with plans for their first anniversary, she had been skeptical. He’d been making her feel foolish about it ever since. He started with a quaint little road trip.

They spent their first day driving through small beach towns, browsing boutiques, and eating gelato while observing a beautiful crone interpret the sunset through the elegant strokes of her paint brush. Reservations awaited them at a private peninsula paradise, where they had a cottage house all to themselves.

She knew the family business was going well, but she hadn’t realized just how well until this trip. She didn’t want to talk about any finer details until after their trip, of course. She didn’t want to spoil pleasure with office talk. There would always be time for that. This trip was meant to carve out time for them; and boy did her husband do a good job with that.

She was still trying to figure out how to reward him when they pulled in to the parking lot. The whole way there, he had been trying to prepare her for his next big surprise. They were both in to “weird” things, and she tried to be game for anything. She was a cool wife (and proud of it, thanks very much). However, his attempts at arranging a description of what they were about to participate in, left her wondering, if she should have reserved final say on all the items on his itinerary.

Her faith wavered again in the limo. At least she was there with him. As long as they were together, she could get through anything. Wasn’t that the point of this trip, anyway? To celebrate that very fact? She clutched his hand the whole limo ride. Why were his palms sweaty?

She wanted to ask him. She almost did, but she hated being yelled at. It almost always made her cry.

Then, having this vision before her, she felt that same pang of embarrassment. How silly of her to spend any of her time worrying. Her husband would never bring her to a place that could potentially cause her any harm- and this place… This place was out of a dream.

“Timothy, look at the flowers!” She was the third one out of the limo. She had been sitting next to Seth (though she didn’t know his name). She hadn’t been rushing to get inside the limo, like some of the others. In fact, she had been trying to read the forms, before one of the men in black had threatened to leave her behind if she didn’t sign that moment. So, she just did.

“I’ve never seen so many different kinds of flowers in one place,” Timothy replied, stepping from the stretched automobile. He liked flowers, always had. Even as a boy. The right flower at the right moment could make all the difference, he had heard someone say on the radio. He didn’t know why that stuck with him. He never seemed to know how his memory worked.

“Hey, Scarlett, look at that hummingbird!” He noticed it wiz right past his wife.

“I didn’t know they came out at night!” Scarlett giggled with glee.

“When it’s warm enough.” Madison was finally getting out of that cage of claustrophobia. She never usually had an issue with that, but the air in the car was stifling. She took in a gentle breeze and the scent of a thousand petals.

“That drive was, like, half an hour long.” One of the girls that came by herself was just getting out behind her.

“Who goes anywhere by themselves on the weekend?” Sarah snickered under her breath to anyone around her who was listening.

“I did,” the other lone lioness said, shooting a look that could kill someone with a frail ego. With that, she walked over and introduced herself.

“Bitches.” She groaned to the first girl. “Hey, I’m Agatha. I came alone, too.”

“I wasn’t going to come alone, but all my friends had other plans, and I heard this was the last night. I’m Daphne, by the way.” She said, tucking several stray strands behind her jeweled ear.

“I’m sorry, but we don’t allow jewelry.”

People sure did have a habit of coming out from thin air at this place. No one had noticed the tiny woman approach. She extended a fragile hand, expecting Daphne to surrender her accessories. “Don’t worry, your belongings will be returned to you if – I mean… when the time comes.” She gives them a Cheshire grin meant to tell them she’s made a joke.

Of course it was a joke, Agatha’s inner monologue, trying to convince herself. She’s trying to set the mood.

Daphne removed the earrings and placed them atop the tiny fingers in front of her. As their new guide placed the pair in her pocket, she walked to the beginning of what Agatha could now see was a hedged maze.

“Please follow me.”

That was all she said before venturing in to the labyrinth.

What else were they to do, but silently follow?