The Labyrinth (from the Paradise & Hell) — Isabel del Río

Contrary to what some people might suggest, you can wander around a labyrinth without necessarily dirtying your hands.  The way to do it is to take the whole thing seriously and avoid making any emotionally-charged or ego-driven decisions.  It will be difficult, of course.  This is a labyrinth after all, so there cannot be a stress-free way out.  It would appear that it is all a matter of luck, but then you know only too well that ventures of such magnitude will depend solely on your efforts.  You might even want to introduce some kind of order into the procedure so as to avoid leaving anything to chance.  For instance, in crossroads you may walk in one direction, then return and walk in the opposite direction: forwards or backwards, as if there were nothing else to do; for an hour or for however many hours you wish; whether you feel like it or not; whatever your ideas about the whole thing are, and even if you have not given the matter another thought; whether expecting nothing, or expecting the world; whether you are convinced of your ultimate success, or having given up entirely.  In other words, you have to be aware that wandering around a labyrinth is, one could say, the only option.  There is no way out of there not being a way out, if you can get that.  But, of course, it could happen, it is a possibility like any other, it may well occur although it is unlikely –as frustrating as this may sound and as awful a destiny as it might appear to be– that you actually find the exit.  So, don’t be put off by the exertion required or the lack of success of others.  Try your best, never call it a day.  Try, and try again, and try better.  This is not an aimless pursuit, far from it.  It is what you are here for.  It is what all this is about.  Yes, we are aware of the difficulties.  No, we are not oblivious of the discomforts that you might have to endure.  Of course, we are totally sympathetic towards your plight.  We definitely want to help you in any way we can.  And we understand that, after a series of attempts, you might feel unable or unwilling to go on finding your way out of the labyrinth.  You might forget why you are here.  You might well decide to deny your presence in that maze of never-ending footpaths and walkways.  You might simply want to give up.  This is all as expected:  an understandable reaction, though ill-advised.  But if this turns out to be the case, and you become despondent or disheartened or simply bored, then please stay in any clearing you find, if there is one, and wait to see if your luck changes.  Or better still, remain there until you feel like continuing on your journey.  You never know, your initial enthusiasm might choose to kick in once more, and you will soon be up and running, trying wholeheartedly to find the way out again, and then again, and again.  We hope this will be the case.  Remember that we are here to help, which is our sole purpose in this whole enterprise.  And therefore, here is one more useful piece of advice:  if wandering around the labyrinth has been going on for a long time now, you are allowed to do things to prove that you were there.  For instance, you could draw symbols or words on the sand; or you could trim the dividing hedges so that they resemble the silhouettes of other creatures like you; or you could casually leave one or two personal items in the area of your choice as a memento of your presence there.  And if you do find the exit on your own –something unheard of, but certainly possible– it is desirable to go around the labyrinth once again in order to prove that your success was not the result of mere chance but the product of a methodical and well-thought-out plan.  So, go ahead and find the exit once, twice or as many times as may be required in order to show your commitment to the cause.  Never stop looking for the exit, try from diverse perspectives and taking unusual routes.  Do it differently each time, for the sake of proving who you are: someone who has guts, motivation, inventiveness; someone who is not afraid of challenges, however empty they may be; someone who is a hero, however insignificant.  And if you do get to know the labyrinth just like the palm of your hand –which you probably will, since you are expected to be there for the better part of your life– the sensible thing to do is to stay on and not make a break for it.  You see, we do not really know what is waiting for us on the other side.  No, nobody knows because no one, as far as we are aware, has ever managed to find the way out.  And yet you could be the first.  Imagine that!  Yes, imagine being the first one ever to find the exit and escape from the labyrinth.  The very first one!  The one!  That would certainly be a feat!  That would be something!  You could turn out to be a champion or a star!  And so, bearing in mind such a prospect, do your best and never concede defeat.  Chin up and good luck.  You have our full and unconditional support.  You can do it, we are sure of that!  And forget about rumours that say that the labyrinth is more a cul-de-sac than anything, that it is nothing short of some kind of hell.  Such ideas are mere fallacies, meant to undermine your efforts to be free one day.  Yes, free!  Try to imagine that!  Hence, dream of success, never of failure!  Dream of triumph and not defeat!  Dream on!  Dream!  Go on dreaming until the very end!  And before we go, here is one final piece of advice: if you have not yet managed to find the exit and your life is about to, shall we say, come to an end, we recommended that you lie down in any place you like and try to remember all those routes that you took over time, even though they led nowhere at all.  Remember each of those routes in detail, for memories are all that is left once everything is over.  As expected, it is all a matter of passing the time judiciously.  But if, for some reason, you do not wish to remember the past, then you can make up stories about similar situations from which there is no escape.  Stories are as comforting as memories, they say.  It is not for us to know that sort of thing, but we can provide motivations for stories, and here are a few:  imprisonment, betrayal, deception, unrequited feelings, loneliness.  And if you want a few adjectives:  insane, ludicrous, incongruous, pointless, stupid.  And here are some verbs: to be lost, to feel disoriented, to be confused, to feel abandoned, to be forsaken.  And if you were to make up stories about your experiences in the labyrinth, it would be good to memorize all those words in case someone willing to listen arrives unexpectedly one day; you never know, you might be able to share your experiences with others, and you must always be prepared.  As to the end of all this, here is what we know: some say that just before the moment of your death you will be able to see the labyrinth from high above.  Yes, as if you were a bird soaring the skies, if you happen to have seen a bird before and know what it is.  And from that height you will finally find out where the exit is.  But then, of course, it will be a useless revelation, since trying to escape from the labyrinth at that point in time will prove to be unlikely.  It comes too late!  Although nobody knows whether there are other labyrinths nearby, with other inhabitants and other paths to follow, you are allowed to shout in case someone might hear you.  We have, nevertheless, a strong suspicion that you are very much on your own, so that shouting inside the labyrinth would be comparable to shouting in deep space where nothing can be heard, and no sound can be reproduced.  And yet shouting in a void is so much more convincing than the void on its own:  if the wake of your screams remains, then at least something lives on.


© Isabel del Rio 


Isabel del Rio is a writer, poet, linguist, journalist, publisher.  Born in Madrid, she has lived most of her life in London.  She has published fiction and poetry in both English and Spanish.  Favourite genres: fantasy, sci-fi, noir, dystopia.  Fiction: La duda, Paradise & Hell, Dissent, El tiempo que falta, Una muerte incidental.  Poetry: Ataraxy, Madrid, Madrid, Madrid and Punto de fuga.  Favourite works: La duda, a series of instructions on how to write short stories, and Zero Negative, a bilingual collection of short stories on the subject of bloodshed.  A co-founder of Friends of Alice Publishing, her website is

Photograph by Isabel del Rio, taken at Mateus Palace, Vila Real, Portugal

From the short-story collection Paradise & Hell, published by Friends of Alice Publishing and available on Amazon