In today's story, Getting Lost, Stanley explores the Maze of Mirrors
The prompt for today's story comes from one of my younger listeners, my best friend's son, Lincoln McMullan. Thanks, Lincoln! I love when people send me prompt suggestions, so if you have an idea, please let me know!
More about Susan Quilty
Susan Quilty mainly writes novels, including two standalone novels and her current YA series: The Psychic Traveler Society. Susan's short stories for Freely Written are created during quick writing breaks and shared as a way to practice her narration skills before she dives into recording audio versions of her novels.
The Freely Written Book: Freely Written Vol. 1
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Below is the transcript for Season 1, Episode 67 of Freely Written, a podcast by author Susan Quilty:
Welcome to Freely Written where a simple prompt leads to a little unplanned fiction.
[Light piano music]
Hi, friends! I’m Susan Quilty and today’s prompt is Getting Lost.
The prompt for our story today came from one of my younger listeners, my best friend’s son, Lincoln McMullan. Lincoln has been reading my recent book, Freely Written Vol. 1 (which collects 20 stories from this podcast) and he was inspired to suggest a prompt for my next story.
I love getting prompt suggestions from listeners and readers, so if you have any ideas, please let me know. Any word or short phrase is great. Then, like always, I’ll write whatever story comes to mind, with no planning and very little editing, and then share that story with all of you.
You can connect with me through social media or my website, SusanQuilty.com. Links are in the show notes.
And now, let’s jump into today’s story.
Stanley was always getting lost. In books, in video games, or in his thoughts. But when it came to finding his way around, Stanley had an excellent sense of direction. He helped start the hiking club in his high school and, he was always the first to find his way through mazes made of hedges or hay bales.
When Stanley went to the State Fair with his friends, he was thrilled to find the Maze of Mirrors tucked in the shadows beyond the flashier rides. His friends wanted to go back on the dragon boat, but they let him drag them up to the maze entrance.
That was far as they were willing to go, once they met the creepy old couple sitting at the gate.
The couple had pure white hair, thick glasses, and were dressed in purple and blue robes with small pieces of mirror sewn into the fabric. They perched on stools, side-by-side, and spoke in crackling voices that finished each other’s thoughts.
“No groups,” the man told them.
“Ten minutes apart,” the woman added.
“We can’t go in together?” Stanley heard a grumbling murmur from his friends.
“Ten minutes apart,” the woman repeated.
“You start.” The man pointed at Stanley.
“Next one ten minutes later,” the woman continued.
The grumbling grew louder. Chris said, “Ten minutes apart? That will take forever!”
The others agreed, rapidly losing interest in the Maze of Mirrors, but Stanley really wanted to go in.
“Oh, come on,” he said to the couple. “You can let us go in together! Or in two groups? There’s only six of us.”
“No groups,” the man repeated.
“One at a time,” the woman insisted. “Ten minutes apart.”
“This is stupid,” Chris said, and Joe agreed, suggesting they go back to the dragon boat or the tilt-a-whirl.
“Wait!” Stanley begged before turning back to the old couple. “How long does it take to get through the maze.”
“Depends on your focus,” the woman told him.
“On whether you get lost,” the man added.
“Right? But, like, how long on average? How big is the maze?”
“As big as your imagination,” the man answered, widening his eyes.
“As long as your focus,” the woman smiled mysteriously.
There was an eerie pause. Tina broke the silence by saying, “No wonder there’s no line here.”
The other kids laughed, and someone suggested they go get funnel cake.
“Wait!” Stanley begged again. “It’s a Maze of Mirrors! It’s gotta be really cool.”
“Then, you go,” Chris said, clearly unimpressed. “I want French fries.”
“Fine!” Stanley snapped. “I’ll go through and meet you at the Ferris wheel. It can’t take that long. Like, 20 minutes?”
He glanced at the old couple to see what they thought of his estimate, but their expressions didn’t give anything away.
“Yeah, okay,” his friends agreed. “Whatever.”
“If it’s really cool, we can come back,” Monica told him. Though she sounded skeptical.
“Yeah, fine. Okay.” Stanley told the couple he was ready to go in.
The woman reached into a box beside her and pulled out a small device that had a blinking blue light and a raised button.
“Take this with you,” she told him.
“Press it when you get lost,” the man continued.
“Someone will come get you,” the woman finished.
“Uh, thanks.” Stanley frowned at the device and stuck it in his pocket, sure he wouldn’t need any help finding his way.
The entrance to the maze was dark. The walls were covered in black velvet with tiny mirrors embedded in random places, glinting in the soft blue light.
Stanley followed the hall and turned right, which was the only option. It wasn’t a maze yet and there weren’t many mirrors. He had a sinking worry that he’d be disappointed by this so-called maze of mirrors.
He walked on until he reached a left turn, again without a choice, and then continued toward what looked like a dead-end. As he got closer, Stanley saw it was a velvet curtain. Pushing it open, his mouth dropped. This was a maze of mirrors!
Towering walls of mirrors were set at angles, stretching into an infinite space. Stanley saw himself reflected from all sides as he walked into the shining field. Looking closer, he saw gaps where the mirror walls opened into new corridors.
After a few short turns, the velvet entrance had disappeared. Stanley did not see or hear anyone else. He was alone with many echoes of himself wandering through the maze. He kept track of his turns. Right, left, another right. But it was hard to pay attention when his eyes were drawn to his own reflections moving around him.
At the next turn, he found his first funhouse mirror. It curved in a way that made him look short and fat but with a long neck and face. He laughed out loud, turned a corner and gasped.
The mirror ahead showed a younger version of himself. Not a distorted image like the mirror before, but one where he looked about 10 years old. Stanley instantly remembered the family vacation they’d taken when he was 10. They’d gone kayaking and hiked a mountain.
Stanley remembered his fifth-grade teacher and the day he’d won the school spelling bee. Memories crowded in as he stared at his younger self in the glass. After several minutes, he felt a buzz in his pocket. He pulled out the device, but it was quiet.
When he looked back at the mirror, his current self looked back. Shaking his head, Stanley moved on. The corridors of mirrors were disorienting, but he felt sure he was moving in the right direction.
After a left turn, he saw another funhouse mirror. This one made him tall and skinny, though his feet and head were squished wide. He braced himself for the next turn and this time found an older version of himself. His reflection was taller and broader and had a scruffy beard.
Stanley ran his hand over his chin. It felt smooth, but his reflection—which also ran its hand over its chin—clearly had a beard.
“What is happening?” Stanley whispered, looking around for confirmation of what he was seeing. But he was alone.
Stanley studied his reflection and guessed that’s how he would look like in a few years. Maybe when he was in college or starting his first real job. He wondered what his life would be like then. Would he have a car? Where would he live? Would he have a girlfriend? Friends? A job?
He imagined living in a city apartment and going to work at a cool job. Maybe he’d be an architect. Or a scientist. Or maybe he’d be a farmer and live in a small town. Maybe he’d fly one of those small planes to dust his crops.
As he stared, Stanley’s imagination soared. Until a buzz in his hand made him look down at the device. With a few blinks, he cleared his head. This time, he wasn’t surprised to see his normal self looking back from the mirror.
“This is crazy,” he muttered, then moved on.
Stanley had to be nearing the end of the maze, but everything looked exactly the same: mirrors after mirrors. His own reflection everywhere he looked.
Eventually, he reached a fork where he could turn left or right. Stanley hesitated. He could see wavy mirrors in both directions and felt afraid. What if he chose the wrong path?
But he shook off the fear, telling himself he could try one side, then backtrack to see the other. He hurried to the mirror on the right and laughed to see how it stretched his legs long and thin while squashing the rest of his body into a plump meatball.
In the next mirror, Stanley saw himself as an old man. He had white hair and thick glasses. His shoulders were stooped, and his face was wrinkled. But he looked happy. Stanley could see a light in his eyes and a smile that bordered on laughter.
Stanley thought he looked like his grandpa and wondered if he’d have grandkids someday, which would mean a wife and kids, too. He wondered if they’d have dogs or cats. He had a dog now, but he liked cats, too. He imagined a life spent taking kids to softball games and swimming pools, going camping and hiking, and roasting a huge turkey at Thanksgiving.
He didn’t even feel the device buzz, but it still pulled him out of his daydreams. Stanley felt dazed. He wanted to go back and see what the mirror to the left of the fork would have shown him, but when he turned, he only saw a velvet curtain covered in tiny mirrors.
Walking through the curtain, he breathed in the night air and saw his friends clustered a few feet away.
“There he is!” Tina shouted. The group rushed over.
“You’ve been in there over an hour!” Chris told him. “Did you get lost?”
Stanley shook his head. The walk through had been easy. It felt like only a few minutes had passed since he entered. He looked over at the old couple who smiled back knowingly.
“Not exactly…” Stanley told his friends.
“Was it cool?” Monica asked, and Stanley didn’t know how to answer. It was the coolest, strangest thing he’d ever experienced in his life.
“It was, uh, weird,” he said at last.
“Whatever,” Chris told him. “We found the best ride while you were gone!”
The group dragged Stanley off, chattering about fried pickles and the view from the Ferris wheel. Stanley tried to listen, but his thoughts were still lost in the Maze of Mirrors.
Thanks for listening. If you liked this story, share it with your friends! And check out any of the earlier stories you might have missed. There are lots of different styles here, since I write whatever pops into my mind! You can also learn about my books at my website: SusanQuilty.com.
Until next time, try a little free writing of your own. Let go of any planning and see where your imagination takes you.
[Light piano music]