One of the village girls saw him and pointed. She
called out loud against the wind, "Little Jerome starts
his new job today. Better watch out he doesn't turn
himself into a frog." All the girls started making
froggy noises. One also made froggy movements,
waggling a nicely rounded young body in Jerome's
He waved over to the girls as pleasantly and with as
much dignity as he could manage. But inside, he was
harbouring dark adolescent thoughts. 'They'll be
singing a different tune when I get the powers. Oh
yes, I'll be doing all sorts of things with the girls once
I'm apprenticed to the Old Wizard.'
He walked on, avoiding the puddles. He had a new
spring in his step as he thought over and over again
about what things he might be doing with the girls.
He barely noticed the miles pass on his way to the
cave of the Old Wizard. Soon he was deep inside the
dark woods where the village girls would never dare
The ancient trees were already casting their late
afternoon shadows when Jerome reached the cave.
There was no sign of the Old Wizard. Knowing he
should not enter uninvited, he sat down on a long flat
rock near the mouth of the cave and waited. He
thought about the stories. Old stories that were told
late at night and behind closed doors. Stories about
young lads from the village who were never seen
again. After a while, a lone raven glided silently out
of the trees to join him on the rock. He pulled his
warm woollen cloak tighter around his shoulders.
For what seemed a very long time he sat still, all the
while peering into the unlit depths of the cave.
Suddenly, he realized something had changed. He
was no longer alone. The Old Wizard was sitting
quietly on the flat rock right beside him.
The young apprentice jumped quickly to his feet.
"Sorry Sir," he said. "I didn't know you were there.
How can you do that?"
"Don't ask. You have much to learn first. When
you're ready, you'll know without asking." The reply
came softly and the Old Wizard seemed to be looking
far away saying, "I was thinking how much you
remind me of my first day in the craft. A day like this
but long, long ago. The day when I did The Maze
"Yes, young lad. You must do The Maze. We all have
to do The Maze before we can start."
"Like a test?"
"And then I can be your apprentice?"
The Old Wizard reached deep inside his cloak. He
drew out a little book bound in old leather and brass.
With a shake of his sleeve he had pen and ink to hand
and was writing calligraphy in a style of long ago.
Jerome thought this book must be by far the oldest
thing he had ever seen. He clasped his hands behind
his back for he did not want the Old Wizard to know
how much they were shaking. It was not seeing his
own name being added to the list that had brought on
such a feeling of dread but it was the other names, for
many had been crossed out.
As he closed the book, the Old Wizard gestured
towards the dark entrance to the cave. Jerome caught
a look in the old man's eyes that seemed to say, too
"Go in," said the Old Wizard. "Then you must do
whatever it takes to come back out again safely.
You'll be alright. Ask what you need to know. You're
a smart young lad and you've got a good tongue in
At this, Jerome found himself alone in the cave with
a strange heavy darkness closing around him.
And then, nothing. Jerome waited and once again he
was glad to have his woollen cloak. Finally, knowing
he must do something, anything, he remembered the
words of the Old Wizard. He must ask. So he called
out in a voice as clear and steady as he could
manage. "I'm here for The Maze."
At once, the cave floor opened and he was falling
gently in darkness. Jerome reached out to touch the
rock as he passed through. He quickly drew his hand
back when he found it was warm and soft, like a
And then, he was in a narrow tunnel. Here the rock
was hard to the touch again, like it should be. What's
more, it glistened with countless tiny crystals that
glowed a ghostly green all around. There was a fork
in the tunnel. One way sloped down. The other
sloped up. Not much of a test this, he thought. He
grinned as he went to that branch. But he
remembered it was a maze, so he took a pebble and
scored a rough arrow on the wall. Just in case.
Again and again the young lad came to yet another
fork in the tunnel. Again and again he took the path
that sloped up. Must be near the surface now, he
thought, as he tried to gauge how far he had risen.
But then came the first of the two great oh-shit-
moments of his time in the maze.
The next fork ahead looked strangely familiar.
Coming closer, he saw his arrow scratched on the
wall. The arrow that told him he was back where he
had started at the very first fork. Even the pebble he
had used to draw the arrow was still these. He picked
it up as if to draw a new arrow but threw it away
instead. He listened to it bouncing and echoing down
the tunnel until all was quiet, then sat down in the
dust and tried not to cry.
After a while he called out, "What now?"
It seemed to him that the walls were answering that
he should remember the girls. So then he did
remember the girls, and the powers he would soon
have to make them do what he wants, and how he
had to do The Maze, for everyone had to do The
Maze. Soon he was on his feet, dusting himself
Deeper and deeper he went, now always following
the branches that sloped down. They led him far
At first the sound was faint and far ahead. He stopped
for a moment to listen, just to be sure. Then yes, he
was sure. He could hear singing and his steps were
becoming quicker and quicker. As he got closer he
realized that this was more of a tuneless chant than a
song. Something to do with the powers, he thought.
Finally the tunnel opened out into a great cavern
where the ghostly light was stronger. Jerome felt a
sudden chill for he sensed evil all around him. The
walls were lined with ancient artefacts that had no
place in decent, ordinary life. His fearful eyes were
drawn to a line of chanting figures swaying together
in long black cloaks. He counted thirteen. This was a
coven and they were coming towards him. He wanted
to turn and run back up the tunnel, but he couldn't
move his legs.
The closer they came, the more hideous they seemed.
The young lad raised a hand to his mouth for he
knew he had to conceal the fact that he was gagging.
Their cloaks hid much and Jerome reckoned they had
much to hide. What was clearly in view was a
succession of grey wrinkled faces, each one
punctuated with more hairy warts than the one
before. And now they were lined up, each one
eagerly waiting her turn to become acquainted with
the new apprentice.
Jerome used every ounce of self discipline he could
muster to hide his disgust. He knew that this was a
time above all others in his young life when
disobedience or disrespect would surely put him in
most terrible danger.
Without speaking, the Leader of the Coven looked
Jerome straight in the eye as if searching out any
challenge to her authority. Seeing none, she beckoned
the young lad to follow her into a side chamber.
Once in the privacy of the smaller chamber, her voice
cackled loudly as if at some timeless and tasteless
joke, "There is one way out of The Maze. Only one
and you must take it now, or stay here with us for an
"What must I do?" said Jerome.
The dreadful old hag now let her cloak slip open to
reveal a glimpse of soiled red lingerie that strained to
contain a hideously misshapen figure.
"Well my dear," she said. "You can start by putting
your tongue in my ear and we'll just take it from
The Maze was published in Twisted
Tongue Magazine Issue 14, 2009, ISSN
First appeared as the Runner-up in
Adult Creative Writing Club
Competition, No 86, Oct 2008.