Can't Slow Down

Mae's Mazes 

 As it turned out, quiet like an escape room or a trip to the movies, a hedge maze was a lot less fun when you decided to attempt it on your lonesome. It was also ill-advised when you had a general leeriness about enclosed spaces and a tidal wave of anxiety where the unknown was concerned. She supposed she had no one else to blame for this but herself. All the same it was the height of summer, a time where it looked and felt like three in the afternoon even as she glanced to the screen of her phone and realized it was quickly encroaching on seven.

 How long did these things stay open? Would they check to make sure everyone was out before leaving for the night? ... Do Vampires like hedge mazes? A whole slew of questions that made her heart sink further and further down with every one that draped itself atop the last. Subconsciously she picked up her pace a bit, a brisk walk as she tapped the back of her phone to her thigh and ran her tongue over her teeth.

 Someone somewhere had told her that you couldn't fuck up a maze as long as you stuck to your left. But it turned out that was a whole lot of horse shit - less than surprising as she looked at the wall of greenery in front of her before turning back around and swallowing the dry feeling in the back of her throat.

 She slipped her phone into her pocket and wiped the slight clammy feeling of her palms away on the denim of her shorts. Some small part of her brain that had a megaphone in hand then and there yowled about sunset. When was it? Eight thirty or so, last she checked ... so over an hour and some change and surely the maze wasn't so big that she could really stay lost for that long.


 Slowing her pace to a shuffle in the hopes she might catch someone breezing by and latch on to them, she pulled her sunglasses off the bib of her overalls and slid them over her eyes. The dulled gold of the sunlight wasn't so bad - but like hell was she going to risk a color change. Wild fox shifter loose in labyrinth in Avondale. No thank you, Satan.

Hey, Skuld, this will be fun he'd said.

What could go wrong he'd said.

Fucking everything apparently.

Fray was currently fucking stuck in some motherfucking corn maze. His sense of direction? Apparently not that good, because they'd been in here since approximately 4:00? Whatever time it was, it was way past that. It was encroaching on evening.

And he'd lost Skuld.

Okay, exaggeration. He'd been separated from her because she was off staring at the clouds or some shit, and he'd gone ahead, took a few wrong turns, and poof. He suddenly had a wall of corn between him and his girlfriend.

"I'm SORRY okay. What do you want me to do, go all hulk and smash my way through?" His voice was somewhat exasperated, but mostly just.. Amused. Because even if this was ridiculous, this was amusing.

Some little tweeny gal thing was coming up his way, and she had a certain ah.. He had a sense she wasn't exactly human. This didn't make him automatically trusting or anything, but it certainly helped him grin towards her and flap his hand at the wall blocking him and his fellow jaguar. "You know how to get out of this thing man? I've lost my girlfriend."

Please kid, use the magic Goo Maps or whatever it was called.


Literally five seconds. That’s all it took for this to go wrong.

Skuld looked up at a pretty cloud, and even commented out loud about how pretty it was. Then she looked back down and lo and behold, Fray was completely gone.

Fuck’s sake.

”Do NOT destroy this maze!” she shouted back, trying to get a bearing on where Fray’s voice was coming from. NOT THAT THAT MATTERED BECAUSE IT PROBABLY TOOK 5 MINUTES TO EVEN WALK THERE FROM WHERE SHE WAS.

Breathe in. Breathe out.

Skuld was not shifting in the middle of a public maze because she got lost in it. That was not happening.

..If it were to happen, it’d be because she’d lost Fray.. Skuld was afraid of losing people, and so far, this was pretty fucking close to it.

And most of all she couldn’t stop saying ‘Mae’s Maze’ over and over either in her head or muttering under her breath. It was a fucking good name okay.

 There was a chittering in her mind, the sort of impulse reaction that told her the guy in front of her wasn't entirely what she could see. Not a fox, all the same, devoid of the comfort of familiarity that she had felt in waves when she had met Heather and even Romeo after her. But a ... something. It was familiar, feline, the sort of thing she was certain she should have recognized but was struggling to establi-

 "Boof." She mumbled it under her breath, snapped her fingers as the gears fell in and everything started turning properly once more. It certainly felt like there was a jaguar influx all of a sudden, but she kept that to herself and assessed the wall of ivory that he was turned towards.

 "I'm lost too, but ..." She cleared her throat, thought about how leaders came from unusual places at the most peculiar of times. "Hello?" She called out, ran her hands along the wall to jostle the leaves the slightest bit. "Look, we're to the right of you so ..." She tried to visualize the maze - closed her eyes and thought it through. "Backtrack a couple turns and stay to your right?" Sure, maybe - sure.

Oh yay, so he'd stopped a fellow lost-in-the-corn-sucker. Hopes of being saved now low, Fray had no issues letting her help anyway. Worst comes to worst, he was just fucking smashing his way out of here and never, ever coming back.

"You can do it Skulders, use the force. Follow the stars or some shit." If only it was actually dark, and not verging on twilight. That was given she knew how to navigate celestially or.. However that was called. Like sailors, right?

Could you tell Fray had never been on a boat in his life?

He'd walk a little bit back down the row, at least until it split off again - getting more lost, away from his gal? Nope. Not happening. Hopefully fellow were-something would stick around, and between their three heads they'd make it out of here in one piece.

What was she? It was a vaguely familiar sort of energy, but he was struggling to pinpoint it. Surely she'd feel the same, no? And that therefore was enough reason to turn to her, smile a bit, and wave between them. "You're a furry too, right? Doooog..?" It seemed doggish. Almost.. Not quite. Were there were-dogs?

Imagine if there were, and you'd have some huge big Labrador like Clifford the Big Red Dog.

Was Fray talking to someone? He'd better not find another girl in the maze, then Skuld would get lost here forever and die a maze hermit whilst Fray went with the prettier younger lady. Hnng..

Shit it even was a girl too. Although.. it seemed like she was just trying to help. Right, okay, fine. Maybe Fray wasn't getting stolen from her, she could.. somewhat calm down. "Hey," she called out back, before listening to the rest of the instructions.

She saw the rustling, which interested her cat more than her. Pouncies! No, hold.. okay fine one little pounce. Skuld's eyes shifted pink, and hopped just a bit to rustle them back with a dumb grin on her face.

..Alright that's enough now get back down. "Sure, lemme see.." So if she turned around.. went that way and back.. but stayed right.. rolled 1d10..

Oh. Wow. Shit that worked. Fray was right there talking with a short and pretty girl. No, Skuld, stop you're not jealous. "Fray, we're never doing another maze after this." Either way, she walked up to the duo, and went to take her place at the side of her boyfriend. "Thanks, we might have ended up as part-time gardeners if you didn't step in," she added on the way.

 Something inside her felt a rush of adrenaline and panic when he started to take shots from the hip about what she was. Her attention twisted, glancing over her shoulder cautiously and clearing her throat to drop her voice to a whisper just as his companion turned the last corner and came into sight. "Fox." Sure - they were all more or less on different levels of the same boat, right? Right.

 "Your jaguars. I know one, I recognize it." And it felt a lot like doing something she wasn't supposed to - like somehow some way Romeo would cut through the shrubbery to scowl at her. She drummed her hands on her legs, motioned at the trail and shuffled a couple of steps further along the gravel. "Well, now we're all officially just as lost as one another. Wanna ... make it a group effort?"

A fox, oh shit.

He thought he recognized the smell, the feeling. He also recognized Skuld coming back into sight before seeing her, his cat making a bunch of rooing noises in his head and trying to push towards hers.

"Yup, got that right. You met one of us before?" Fray questioned curiously, backpedaling to go and grab Skuld's hand. There was that weird need to be close - the jaguar was settled by it, and in turn, so was he.

Now to just.. Get out of this.

Fray nodded in turn, gesturing to Skuld and himself in turn. "Skuld, and I'm Fray. Three heads are better than one, so let's do this."

How were they doing this.

He looked to the girls hopefully, thinking they'd probably know better. If they didn't, again, he had the hulk-smash method.

So this girl was a fox. This was new, when really all Skuld had ever met were jaguars, and it seemed the girl recognised that.

She accepted the hand grab, squeezing Fray's back as their jaguars played around with each other. He introduced them, and Skuld nodded and waved back with a little "Hi."

As for the maze.. "I don't suppose we'd be able to use that uh, map app thingy on the phone right?" She was just throwing out ideas.

 "Yeah, friends - actually." Well, sort of, she supposed - it had been a while since she'd spoken to Asha. And that was ... still probably her fault. An inherent flakiness that spanned her life, human and animal. She twisted away from the both of them, smiled to herself as she noted how they held hands with one another. Cute date idea - except for the whole getting lost bit.

 "Asha, you guys know her?" And while she liked to think she wasn't the manipulative sort, she also wasn't an idiot. Asha had mentioned a sudden species influx the last time they'd gotten together and it seemed almost promised that was what she was looking at then and there. But she used a gentle underhand to roll the ball into their court, focused for everyone's sake on the task at hand.

 "Do you mean a map of the maze or like, GPS?" She glanced over her shoulder, tucked hair behind her ears and lifted her shoulders in a shrug. "I don't think GPS would account for the layout of all this mess." But hell if that wouldn't have been impressive. "But if you can pull up an aerial of the maze and we can find a landmark - well ..." There were fountains and benches and stuff in here, she'd seen one about twenty minutes ago - or at least it had felt like twenty minutes ago ...

Asha, of course it was Asha. Fray wasn't surprised, and smiled somewhat faintly as he nodded in reply. "Yup, know her." He left it at that for now though, because guess what guys? This was supposed to be a fun stress free outing minus the thoughts of jag groups being formed and shit.

Let's move onto GPS and ariels or whatever.

"Uh.. We're not the most techy." Fray pulled his phone out, because it was the one without the fucking cracked screen, and handed it over to the kid with a raised eyebrow. "If you can get one up, I can help with the orientation." He knew how to read maps - he just like, didn't know how to find one on the internet.

He swung Skuld's hand in his a little, looking up towards the setting sun. "Hey, you know another fox dude? Kinda looks like James Bond?"

Maybe there was a small group forming in Avondale, and they'd take over before the jags could and problem solved.

Did these guys know Asha? Oh boy, didn't they just. That reminded Skuld that she was basically set to go on a karaoke date with the dominant girl soon, which still irked her a bit. She could power through it, besides, singing was her thing.

Anyway, did they mean a map of the maze itself or, some thing she didn't know. Was that the map that showed on her phone? The one where she could pin and stuff?

Well, whatever, Fray was on the job with a phone that was much clearer to see (why was Skuld's the only one that was cracked Dx) and it seemed like they could sort that out between them.

And he also brought up Faux James Bond whilst swinging their hands a little more. "Jealous you guys seem to know more weres than me," Skuld chuckled out. It was a joke of course.. but still, it made it hard to relate when she'd only found one good one so far, and she already knew that good one inside out.


 Well, fine - she could pretend she knew her ass from her elbow where these sort of things were concerned. Sure. She took the phone carefully, held it with much more caution then she afforded her own phone. Distracted by the task, she shuffled along at a slow pace and took to Google to try to find anything that looked remotely promising.

 More banter, a bit about a staunch looking fox (she gave herself away by scoffing), and knowing a good deal of shifty types. "It's more of a curse then a gift sometimes, I promise." Serious as she glanced back to the other woman and pulled up a map - held it out to the guy. "God speed. And yeah, I know the guy - you two actually talk to him? Real social butterfly ..."

Honestly, Fray would agree with the kid on that point. Knowing weres for him had gotten them no where. Asha and Abraham were idiots. Katya dumped him in some hormonal fit. Who else was there even, he thought, taking the phone from the foxy girl and squinting at the map.

Oh yeah, Jo, who kicked him out of his first legit job in years. And. Mr. Social Butterfly.

"Just me, he found me after a shift and apparently watched me sleep in the nude for god knows how many hours just to scold me for shifting in the middle of nowhere." Fray snorted once, turning the phone around a little and making a disgruntled noise. "Fuck mazes. Who thinks this is fun?"

Alright so.. If.. That big ass tree was there.. That was to their left..


"Kay like.. Right. Keep twisting right for a bit till we hit that tree."

How confident was he? Like, 45%?

Hm. On second thoughts, maybe it was better off if Skuld didn't know any other shifters. They all sounded like asshats as soon as a single thing went wrong. Nothing like Skuld at all, because when something went wrong in her life she shuts herself off and cries and wants to.. die..

On third thoughts, this was not a fun topic to think about.

"Who thinks this is fun?" "Probably the owners. Getting to watch everyone wander about aimlessly, seems like a real power-trip." Goddamn mazes.

"Three rights make a left," she quipped, being her turn to swing hers and Fray's hands. The girl was.. wait. "I don't think we caught your name," she asked.

 For a while she was content just to listen to them banter about mazes, smiling to herself and tapping her right hand absently against the side of her thigh to keep his directions in mind. Three times - didn't that mean they were basically going to ... wouldn't one left solve it? She didn't say anything - took comfort in the belief that three heads had to be better than one where these sort of things were concerned.

 "His name's Romeo, or at least that's what he told us." She hesitated a moment, tilted her head to the side and winced. "Me. What he told me, sorry." Anyway, that was enough about other foxes ... the other fox, rather. At any rate, she glanced over her shoulder and smiled - the slightest show of teeth as she looked back. "Sorry, Chloe - nice to meet you both."

Three rights make a left. What. How did that.. Work?

He blinked at Skuld in slight horror, then back down at the phone map again. Um. Maybe one left then? How did mazes even work.

Then the chick, Chloe, spoke up again and Fray actually wheezed. "Romeo? Oh wow. Kay. That's a name." Who even willingly chose to call their kid that? Didn't the Romeo from Shakespeare die or something?


"Nice to meet you too Chloe. You live around here or just visiting for fun and games?" A vague hand gesture to this hell-scene before them.

'Romeo Romeo, wherefore art thou Romeo?'

Apparently staring at Fray passed out nude.

Bad Romeo, only Skuld could do that.

Anyway, the girl's name was Chloe, and Skuld would nod back with a quick "Likewise," before Fray started speaking. Asking her subtly where she lived. Skuld would remain quiet, giving the girl a chance to respond.

 "He's got a friend named Echo." No love lost, she didn't feel like it was private knowledge - like names were the sort of thing that she should be expected to guard. "So my running theory is that they're full of shit and they're up to something less than legal." Half way a warning to them to keep an arms distance, halfway just using others to bounce off her ideas and see how absurd they sounded out loud.

Pretty absurd, oh well.

 "I live in Larkspur, I just thought I'd see what's up -" She motioned vaguely, halfway referring to the maze and halfway the area of Avondale all together. "It's one of the few places where no one's got a clubhouse, you know?" Halfway vague just in case anyone was listening in. ... Maybe some of Romeo's paranoia had rubbed off after all.

Something illegal, with a chick named Echo. Yeah.. Those weren't real names. Fray could bet his ass, given where he'd met the dude, they were into some sort of shit.

Best way to avoid it? Stay out of other people's business. "That's probably it yeah. He seemed pretty sketchy to me, so just be careful if they try to rope you into anything." With weird dominant fox powers and shit.

Fucking weres man.

They were nearing the tree, so he started squinting at the phone again and only half listening. "Ah chill. Well there's no one occupying the area yet, so enjoy while you can. Before some more crazy vamps or other weirdos take over."

You know, like four bitchy jaguars?

Echo. Romeo.

Hang on a fucking second. They were the E and R of the phonetic alphabet right?. Skuld's brow furrowed as she halfheartedly listened to the rest of it. Fray warned her to be careful with it all, etc etc. Nobody was occupying Avondale, which wasn't true but also was. Skuld just hoped that the two asshole jaguars wouldn't find two other asshole jaguars to force into their little asshole club to asshole the asshole of their assholes.


Either way, she was mumbling to herself now, going through that alphabet. Alpha, Bravo, Charlie, Delta, Echo.. okay so that one was correct. F.. the fuck was F. G.. H.. uh, India.. J, K, L.. oh that was Lima right. Oh K was Kilo.. Uh where was she. M, N, O, P, Quebec.. Romeo. It fuckin was Romeo. Because the J was Juliet, RIGHT SHE HAD IT.

"Chloe.. are you sure those are their names? Like, really sure?" Skuld said, completely ignoring the fact the topic had moved on.

 The mention of the vampires had her all but packing up her suitcase, prepared to nope out of the conversation before it had a chance to get too far. Some got hostile, she was just happy to pretend she had no idea what they even were. What's Cordova? What's a skating rink? No clue. Quiet with that in mind - the sound of her name made her twist around and shuffle her feet so that she could walk backwards and look at Skuld properly.

 "I mean -" your names are Skuld and Fray. No, that was douchey and she made it a personal policy to try her hardest not to be ... that. "No? I don't necessarily think Echo's name is really Echo, but ..." She left out her reasoning for that - the knife and the body count and the contacts. But Romeo wasn't too out there, was it? And he had a house and stuff - like a real adult and ... "Why?"

Skuld, babe. The topic moved on already. Fray gave her this bemused look, not at all miffed that she'd apparently zoned out deep enough to completely ignore what was happening. In a druggie fucked way, it was cute.

"Skuld, sweetie. Look at our names. Yours is real, mine's a nickname, people are weird with names." Like, Echo? Could be real or not. Romeo? Probably real, because no one willingly picked their nickname to be Romeo.

Unless you were like, a real chauvinistic asshole.

But also yeah, why.

She was looked at weirdly, which was to be expected honestly. She was used to it at least, but still.. it was a little off-putting.

To further the putting of the off, Chloe was being all questioning, not seeing anything wrong with it. To further it even more, Fray gave an explanation of how weird their own names were. In retrospect, Skuld couldn't count the amount of times she'd either been asked "is that your real name?" or she'd seen it spelled on a letter as 'Skull'.

So, she looked between the two of them, and just shook her head. "Nothing. Guess I was just being paranoid," she'd say with a little huff and quirk of a smile, before going back to her usual monotone expression.

 Fray backed her up and then all at once she felt like a wiener all over again, intimately familiar with the sensation of being dismissed. Not cool. So when Skuld dropped it she slowed her pace the tiniest bit - a little over time so that she was more or less walking beside the lady-cat. Fray could flounder with the map all on his own, and even if it was absolute banana's, she was curious to know what had that monotone poker face lighting up seconds ago.

 "Hey ... no, listen - I am ..." She laughed a little, thought about some of her more outlandish ideas of the past. "I'm all ears, what's on your mind?"


Kay, Skuld, now you were making him paranoid too. Fray side-eyed her, brows furrowing in the deepest of worried scowls, before Chloe got all up there with the niceness and shit. Cool, awesome, please try and wheedle his weird girlfriend person out of her shell a bit more.

Encouraging in his own sullen way, he'd squeeze her hand gently.

Then back to the map, which was complete bullshit, but whatever. They'd made it to the tree at least. Fray paused then, squinting hard.. Turning around a biiiiit..


Uhhh.. Leeeeft..? No wait too many lefts made right. Then right! RIGHT.

He pointed to the right-hand path in faked confidence, humming "This way."

Oh jeez, now she was being chided on both visibly by little Chloe here, and secretly by Fray's little hand squeeze. Fuckin'.. she wanted to drop it really but.. sigh dammit.

"It.. fuck, it sounds so stupid now, but.." she brought her other hand up to clear her throat, "well, Echo.. Romeo.. they're letters of the phonetic alphabet."

...Did.. did she need to explain or.. oh god this was dumb but.. fuuuuuck.

"A for Alpha, B for Bravo, C for Charlie, D for Delta, E for Echo. Then, down the line R is Romeo."

Another pause again. "I mean, yeah, just being paranoid.." Skuld would go quiet again, her head dipping a little.

 Were it one person with one peculiar name, perhaps she would have been just as quick to dismiss Skuld as paranoid and overactive where her imagination was concerned. As it stood, she was quiet - silent for a bit as she thought about the one in a million odds of that being coincidental. She tapped the screen of her own phone to life, opened up Google and went to take a gander as this alphabet.

 "I don't think your crazy." Firm with the proof laid out before her own eyes. "I think - those assholes." A little annoyed that she hadn't strung this together all on her own. It was then she remembered the boyfriend, or mate, or - whatever. Looking forward again as she sighed and slid her phone back into her pocket.

"You're not crazy, thanks for the heads up."

Well wasn't this sketchy as fuck. Those were most definitely code names, yeah. Or just really fucked coincidences of poor name choice. But being Fray, he was suspicious enough to believe the former. Seemed Chloe did too, and he would grunt in agreement as the kept walking along.

"To be honest, I met the Romeo dude up in that abandoned coal mine place. Dunno what the fuck he was doing up there, but it probably, from ah.. Let's just narrow it down to past experience, wasn't legal. So."


There were more noises now, and suddenly a small family was ahead of them and making a beeline to.. somewhere? He perked up, squinting. "Think that might be the exit guys?"

Well that was a first. Someone thinking Skuld wasn't crazy for once, and when she tried so haaard too. Still, she appreciated the validation, and smiled a little. "No problem I guess."

She looked up to Fray too, with a little raise of the eyebrows sort of saying "Hey, can we keep this kid?". The jaguar would like that too, very much please.

Also, Fray seemed to forget that he was in the abandoned coal mine place too, so what the fuck was he doing up there. Probably pottering around like a curious cat. Ironic really.

And then there was a little family running, and Skuld couldn't help but chuckle a little. "Go team animal go," a quip just as monotone as the rest of her.

 They were nice, she liked them - final answer. Glancing down to the time on the screen of her phone and grimacing as Fray tried to grab everyone's attention. She glanced up, looked from the family to the gentle curve in the pathway and jumped a little with each step - nearly skipping as the exit proper came into sight.

 "Great job team, now we don't have to pull straws to see who gets eaten first!" Spoiler alert - they were giant cats and they were a couple ... it probably would have been her. Her pace slowed the closer they got, looking from one face to the other and smiling as she extended her hand towards the general direction of the both of them. "Well, thank you for all your help and it was nice to meet you!"

Second spoiler alert - Fray totally would have just gone smashing through corn bushes if they really were stuck. But hey, he at least wasn't going to be banned from the farm for destruction of property, they made a fox-friend, and all was well.

"Nice seeing ya too, maybe we'll catch you around sometime." He stuck out a manhand to shake hers, offering up a genuine smile.

She was a chill kid, really. It was nice meeting shifters who weren't like.. Assholes. "Good luck with your Romeo Echo Alpha case."

Don't get murdered by the CIA of weres!

Third spoiler alert - Skuld would've totally become a creepy hermit lady of the maze. Probably end up as a folk legend to scare kids around the campfire. The Legend of the Bush Witch.

But, here they were! Finally at the end with an experience and a vow to NEVER DO ANOTHER MAZE AGAIN. Chloe thanked them and held her hand out, but Fray took charge of that situation, so Skuld just nodded back with a genuine smile of her own. "Likewise, makes a change to meet a nice were."

And yeah, Skuld just hoped she hadn't freaked the kid out too much with her crazy conspirac- oh god that's what she was wasn't she. A fucking conspiracy theorist.

Ah for fuck's sake.

"See you round," she'd add, poking Fray lightly to go go go.

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