THE ROOSEVELT NATIONAL LABYRINTH

The Roosevelt National Labyrinth begins near the state of Selima’s easternmost border, and never ends. At times it is like a forest, for its bricks change color with the seasons, and many of its walls shed them in the months before winter. At other times, it is more like a dungeon, for the walls grow so high that the sun appears not as a disk, but rather, as a single, narrow line. The bass drone of giant crickets rattles the bones of those lost inside.

It is the first federally-recognized afterlife, designed to bridge that ancient gap between exile and capital punishment. It was not exactly built so much as vividly implied into reality by legal precedent. “They told me that it needed to exist,” Eisenhower wrote in his journal, having just been briefed on its presence. “To fill the void between justice’s scales. America now exists beyond mere rationality, and all of our institutions must find ways to adapt, including those that claim to be built upon blind reason.”

Your lawyer tried his best to bargain for a more orthodox death penalty, but your case was quite grim from the start. At first, you were only to be charged with an attempted escape from prison; that is, until it was revealed that this was the only charge on your record. The jagged cursive of a polygraph test proved that you had always been in prison, outing you as an institutional paradox.

Your last meal was served on a paper plate that melted apart from its sauce-slathered contents. There was a mound of pan-fried hornets with maple salsa for dipping, hippopotamus ribs glazed with nectarine jam, refried jellybeans, mashed plantains soaked in sawmill gravy, and cornmeal doughnuts injected with whipped tabasco butter. They gave you no knife or fork to use, so you ate the whole dinner with your hands, careful to spit out any stingers. Then you washed it all down with a glass of blackberry wine.

It has since all passed through your system, however, and you’ve never felt more hollow. After two weeks inside, you’ve at last found the labyrinth’s minotaur, grazing alone in a stadium-sized clearing. He seems quite surprised that you’ve sought him out intentionally. His four, bison-like heads rise above the tall grasses like some primal approximation of Mount Rushmore, and when they see you, each one bellows out a guttural roar that is slightly dissonant from the rest. You accept your fate beneath his hooves, wondering which afterlife awaits you next. You’ve heard good things about Valhalla, lately.

When your eyes open again, however, you’re back in prison in Arkansas. It seems that once again, your attempt to escape the system has failed.

THE TIN TYRANT

ON IMMORTALITY