Vote for Mithras, part five

Into the Labyrinth

The driver stared at Peter in the rearview mirror. “So…we’re here, buddy.”

“Yep.” Peter mumbled. He briefly met the driver’s eyes, then looked out at the gates to The Labyrinth, the Mithras estate (one of seven in the country) in western Maryland.

“Do you…need help getting out?”

“I know you’re surely tired of hearing this but, seriously, when Karl said dinner tonight, I thought he meant something in town. I didn’t imagine a 150 mile drive into the apocalyptic Maryland panhandle. “

The driver shrugged.

“And no booze!”

The driver stared ahead.

“Did Karl order that?”

“Yes, sir.”

“That doesn’t go too far towards establishing our relationship.”

“With me, sir?”

“With Karl, goddamnit.”

The driver looked back into the mirror, “Well, we are here, sir.”

“Into the Labyrinth, eh?”

“Yes, sir.”

“A good driver would have stopped for booze when I asked.”

“You were shouting, sir. I’m afraid that I was forced to concentrate instead on road safety in light of your – “

Peter opened his door and left the car, slamming the door hard behind him. The driver floored it and left Peter cursing in a cloud of dust and gravel. When his vision cleared and he caught his breath, Karl was standing by the open gates of the Labyrinth.

“Tough ride?”

“You could have said you were bringing me out to hell’s half acre, Karl.”

“You wouldn’t have come.”

“Damn right!”

“Mithras has quite a bit on his mind as he prepares for the campaign. He wanted to avoid the hubbub of the city… Out here, we can plan the strategy. You’ll be well compensated, of course.”

“You can start with a gin and tonic.”

Karl nodded, “I can.” He stepped aside and indicated for Peter to step into the Labyrinth.

There are irrational fears that haunt everybody. Some people, like Peter, know how to catalog and compartmentalize those fears. The spider is not a threat, the dark does not conceal evil, the bridge will not collapse. Yet still one jumps when they see the bug racing at them, and still one gravitates to the light, and still the legs turn to rubber when you look through the grates beneath you at a hundred feet of space ending in hard, unforgiving water.

Peter paused at the gates, Karl close to his side, and he experienced a brief moment of fear with the toe of his left boot just touching the threshold. It wasn’t a fear of Mithras. He’d seen plenty of the god when working for Webb. It wasn’t fear of working after so many years of semi-retirement. This job, after all, was an easy one. Mithras could have the presidency simply if he asked.

That’s where the fear was. The fact that all this was bogus, and now he was stranded in the middle of the rough woods of Garrett County, Maryland. All because the money was right and because he was bored. A lifetime, really, spent acting before thought. But now he suddenly felt old.

“All okay, Peter?”

“Quite a moment, isn’t it?” Peter smiled.

“Mithras is a great leader.”

Peter touched his nose, “He’ll make one hell of a great leader once elected.”

Well played, Peter thought behind his false grin. He crossed the threshold, and walked immediately into an eccentric hedge maze as the gates closed behind him. Karl followed a few paces behind, whispering the directions through the maze. Peter tried to concentrate on the turns, reversing them in his head and cataloging them. Always know the exit, right? The only solid advice he’d ever been given by his fuck-up of a father.

“Most people complain about the maze.” Karl said.

“Yeah?” Left, left, right…

“It is a bit odd. Evening out the somewhat offbeat sense of humor of our leader will be a major part of your job.”

“Good, good.” It was never going to end. Right, right, left… What was the point of this?

In the center of the maze was a grotto. Fake stone and a fountain spewing weakly, the sound of the water almost drowned out by the whining of the pump placed beneath a very plastic-looking boulder. Just beyond the fountain was an entrance to a cave with a waist-high metal gate barring the path.

“Just through here,” Karl said, stepping around the fountain and opening the gate.

“Really?”

Karl nodded.

“I have to ask, Karl… Is all this on the level.”

“What do you mean?”

“Well, put yourself in my shoes, Karl.”

Karl smiled and winked. “I know. It’s a little crazy. It’s how Mithras likes things. We must remember where he comes from.”

“South Jersey.” Peter muttered, stepping into the cave, the fake rock was cut to look rough hewn, though warm lights filled the tunnel. At the end of the tunnel, the fake rock gave way to metal walls and a large elevator, the doors open and a man in white robes standing at attention.

Peter and Karl stepped on, and the doors slid smoothly shut. The operator pressed a button and the elevator began to descend.

“To the Batcave?” Peter asked.

“There is a bit of that, isn’t there?” Karl replied. “Don’t worry, Mr. Willingham, I was quite ill at ease when I first arrived here. It is, as I said, all quite eccentric.”

“How far down are we going?”

“Mithras would reply ominously with ‘To the depths’.”

“’Creating our own darkness.’”

“Sorry?”

Peter shrugged. “Thinking of a poem I recently stumbled across. ‘Look how wide the world is now, no hell or heaven, just us creating our own darkness, our own light.’ A woman local to the DC area scribbled that about 40 years ago. Somewhat prescient, eh?”

“I suppose. I’m afraid I’m not much of a poet, Mr. Willingham.”

“Well, there weren’t any big words in there, Karl, so you should be able to make it all out.”

Karl didn’t reply and, after a minute, Peter cleared his throat and apologized. Then the elevator came to a gentle halt and the doors slid open to reveal the grand underground entrance hall of a god. Peter found himself rooted to the spot, mouth open, staring at the statues and artwork. Huge torches lined the marble hall that led to a set of oversized wooden doors, and statues of animal-like gods stared ominously down on anyone walking that path. Cunningly placed spotlights illuminated the statues from below, giving them an awesomely oppressive power over the observer.

Several followers, wearing monk’s robes and cowls, stood near the elevator and the far doors. Heads bowed, arms tucked into their sleeves, these monks of Mithras didn’t stir or speak as Karl led Peter down the pathway, actually having to take his arm to gently urge him to move from the spot. Each statue seemed more impossible than the last… And Peter felt that unrestrained, de-compartmentalized primal fear once more. Some of the statues he recognized. More than some, really. He was from a generation that now knew all of the gods intimately. But some he did not recognize, and that shouldn’t be. Mithras had given humanity its history back.

But there were many gods, great and small, so perhaps Peter was simply forgetting their faces. He didn’t really care enough to list them off, anyway. And how long had it been since he’d even bothered to review the new histories?

Still, there were those who (very rightly) wondered if Mithras was as forthcoming as he appeared to be. There were those who asked where the other gods were, and those who believed that such mortal creatures would also have their own skeletons in the closet. Down in what amounted to a secret lair, Peter found himself concerned about the unrecognizable gods. Who were these lost beings? And why were they important enough to line this hallway?

The doors opened on their own to reveal the inner lair of the lost god Mithras. It was, anticlimactically, somewhat reasonably furnished. In fact, it was nearly identical to Mrs. Peel’s somewhat mundane and well-ordered flat in The Avengers. Of course, it was about ten times as large.

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