Consumed by a maze of unknown horrors the size of Texas and seemingly endless hallways, I stopped to trace what led me to such a disorienting fate.
I had planned to spend spring break visiting friends in Fort Worth, but I got lost and directionless in a modern House of Leaves that mimicked an antique mall shortly after I arrived. My friends had already hiked the winding trails. It would be fun, they said.
I fell behind after coming across a Corona portable typewriter. I stopped to peck a few keys. “It is the end.” It always worked perfectly.
The building stretched over a city block seemed to be bigger inside. Texans have always bragged that everything is bigger in Texas, but that doesn’t mean everything is better. Nobody wants bigger pests, potholes or pimples.
A little boy wearing a Rangers baseball cap took my attention away from the keyboard. Wide-eyed and smiling, he leaned his face against a display case full of pocket knives.
“I want them all,” he said to himself.
The pint-sized butcher’s dad shot him.
“You already have a pocket knife,” said the former butcher.
The kid mumbled something under his breath. Pocket knives are gateway weapons to chainsaws.
Among the many antiquities, in the center of the maze was a cafe that looked suspiciously like the one described by Lewis Carroll in “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.”
A knee-high lattice fence covered in faux ivy separated the dining room, which also featured a quirky faux fireplace adorned with half-melted candles and topped with a funhouse mirror that made people looking into it look puddles of flesh, of hair and eyeballs.
“Ride Like the Wind,” Christopher Cross’ 1979 soft rock hit, playing as I walked in. I expected to be greeted by a tense Mad Hatter. He would wave an empty teacup in the air and beg customers for more of the magic mushroom liquid he loves so much. The March hare would not be far behind. However, the demons didn’t seem to scare anyone, as the cafe was buzzing.
“If I were her, I’d use it for my skills,” a girl with a mass of blonde hair on top of her head said to her friend as I walked to my seat. The higher the hair, the closer the sky. At least that’s what they say in Texas. After a second glance, the girl with big hair and helpful expertise was talking to a child-sized doll with an emotionless glass face and a sense of Victorian fashion.
The menu consisted of quiches and bites. First I ordered an apricot iced tea. Each time this happened, I would tear open four packets of sugar and pour them into the cup, but unexpectedly found myself in my first confrontation in Texas with a man at a nearby table. He was mixing sugar into his sweet tea at the same time. We made eye contact and kept it. The sound of our spoons twirling around the oversized plastic cups accelerated. The middle-aged man had his jet-black hair slicked back like a kitschy desperado in a Quentin Tarantino movie with a pencil mustache. But instead of spurs and leather, he wore black Adidas joggers. What weirdos have fallen down the rabbit hole. I gave in and left before I got my mushroom quiche.
A nearby bathroom offered a temporary reprieve, or so I hoped. The lime green room looked more like a morgue, as a handful of urinals were draped in pieces of clear plastic large enough to cover a body. A broken dentist’s chair sat in one corner. An old man stood in front of one of the broken urinals shortly after I arrived. I panicked and left without washing my hands, but not before I saw my reflection. A gray hair was hanging from my chin.
After escaping the ghost piss, I stumbled upon a seedy Victorian bar tucked away in one of the maze’s most remote corners. Covered in a thick layer of dust, the price put the room out of my budget, but I was surprised to find a bartender in a gold silk waistcoat and black bow tie behind it. He asked me if I needed a drink. Bulleit Old Fashioned, I replied. As he started making my cocktail, I wondered if the place was haunted.
“Oh, yeah,” he said without hesitation.
“Well, there’s a little kid running around the front of the space, but they’re harmless. Then there’s Marge, who’s in the men’s room. The toilet will flush randomly, or I’ll be here alone and go over there to find the sink is leaking.
“Have you ever seen anything?
“Oh yeah. When I started it freaked me out, but I have a strong sense of faith. I’ll tell them my god is stronger than your god. It seems to be working.
He dropped a blood-red maraschino cherry into my glass and placed it on the worn wooden counter in front of me.
“On the House.”
Before I could pick it up, my friend found me.
“What are you doing?”
I turned back to the cocktail and the bartender, but they weren’t there.
“Nothing…just thought it was cool.”
“Well, we’re leaving, but we can come back another day, if you want.”
“All good. I think I saw pretty much everything I needed.