A wizard has stolen your heart! You sag and shake onto the ground as he issues his final set of instructions.
There will be seven transformations. If you can find and catch your heart in each passage, it will be yours again and no one will take it from you. If not, not.
The wizard disappears. You sit up, finding it difficult to breathe deeply, and the world changes within and around you.
You are a temple of jade and jaguar bones and your heart is a stone knife. The people who built you have a taboo against bringing any weapons inside your doors, so the knife never comes past the altar standing at the entrance. You host gods. Small animals nest in the roof. The people stop coming; the statues go to pieces; the jade is stolen. Travelers occasionally pass the night in your ruined halls, pulling the furnishings down from the walls for makeshift bedding and fuel. One night the altar is dragged inside and picked clean of anything that could feed a fire. A worn stone knife clatters to the floor, your first victory.
Your heart is a small heap of laundry and you are a housecat. This seems suspiciously easy. You jump onto the pile and burrow your head in an errant sleeve. You sprawl out, stretching your limbs in every direction to hedge your bets. You are warm, your second victory.
Your heart is a credit card and you are a bus pass. A thin layer of translucent plastic within the wallet separates you. You make quick and desperate friends with a dime and a museum ticket stub. When you leave me, you ask them, if you make it to the other compartment -
But how to finish your request? The dime is extracted for a parking meter. The ticket stub stays and grays and sheds uselessly at the edges. You wait.
One morning, the jacket is ripped off, the pockets torn open, the wallet taken. Fingers rifle through the compartments, dumping the contents onto the street. The driver’s license goes first, followed by a debit card, some petty cash, a dry cleaning receipt — and the card. You fall next, connect, hold your position. You wonder what happens to the ticket stub.
Your heart is a spider and you are a rooster. You eat it. Was that right? God, that was delicious. You’d eat more spiders, but there just isn’t time.
You are a labyrinth and your heart is a minotaur. This round confuses you — if your heart is already inside, haven’t you won the game? Wizard, you think, is this a test or are you cheating?
Wizards, as you already know, are allowed to cheat and often do. If he were a spider, you’d eat him.
Your heart stumbles blindly inside you. It sleeps, it eats the errant youth, it charges around corners and gibbers and beats its head against the walls. Bones pile up. Sometimes your heart tries to speak, although language is not the minotaur’s strongest skill and everyone capable of hearing it has been eaten.
One day, the minotaur stumbles into a corridor and feels a breeze on its skin. You stiffen, or you would if you weren’t a labyrinth. It turns its sightless head toward the entrance and starts to move. No, you think, no you don’t, and rocks shift and slide until the air is filled with dust and the way is blocked.
The minotaur is still. Is it dead? Is it over? The dust settles. You hear breathing. The minotaur sits up and exhales a deep, shuddering breath. Slowly it gets to its feet and starts to walk back in. It turns left and right and past piles of bones, away from the entrance and down toward the center of the maze.
This is enough. You win again.
You are an asteroid and your heart is an iceberg. You skirt the atmosphere for months, scanning the blue underneath you. Space is as cold as you have always suspected, and very quiet, which makes it easy to concentrate. Clouds can be a problem. In the autumn, blizzards crop up along the white coastline and drift hazily toward the polar troughs, making it impossible to distinguish your iceberg from the rest of the herd. You circle and you watch. The closer you get to the earth’s surface, the greater the risk you’ll burn up before figuring out where to land. Ice storms and mile-high waves roll away underneath you. The features of the sea resolve and sharpen and then at last you see it, bone-white in the sun. You close your eyes and you hit home.
Finally you are a taper-bodied and gently disfigured seabird. Your heart is a small brown bird with tilted eyes. As you try to keep up with your darting and diving heart, you discover that one of your wings is a little bit longer than the other. At first it isn’t difficult for you to manage, but when your heart spurs out over a northern ocean, keeping up becomes a struggle. Slowly but surely you begin to veer off course. You find yourself caught in a breeze — not a strong one, just enough to peel a series of whitecaps off the ocean underneath you — and now the unevenly distributed strength of your wracked body finally betrays you. Your heart becomes a small, steady point on the horizon and then becomes nothing at all, and the two of you are lost to one another. You spend the remainder of your brief and sun-addled days searching for his shadow on the waves, but never find it, never stop to rest, never hear the answering rush of his wings coming up to meet yours as you finally collapse, exhausted, into your own reflection in the sea.
Previously: Text Messages From a Ghost.