“She had something I fancied; her daughters”, the blond, athletically built man in ninja garb said with a smug smile on his face.

“Verily! But wherefore would you place yourself in such danger? There must be myriad means by which to gain entry to the hall of the Queen Hag.”, the droning noise of the dozen or so washing machines were no match for the booming voice coming from the flaming shrub. “To venture into the abode of the abomination surely sits low on the list of reasonable methods.”

“Oh, don’t be so uptight, Enoch. Alex is only doing what any brash, young man would do,” said the well-tailored, well-coiffured gentleman as he gestured with the martini glass he held in his left hand.

“Of course, you would approve of something like that. There are more reasons such as this why you cannot enter past the pearled gates any longer, Mr. Scratch,” said Enoch the flagrant shrub.

“It was rather fun, I’ll tell you that much, fellas,” the blond ninja leaned against one of the washing machines, looking at his friends expectantly.

The gentleman Scratch obliged.

“I know you want to tell us all the gory details, so go ahead, talk already!”

Alex the ninja chuckled.

“If you insist, then… As you may know, the Three Witches have always had a soft spot for shiny, ancient jewelry, much like their hideous mother. So I thought to myself what sort of bauble of power could I get my hands on to woo them?

“The Labyrinth’s Pearl, of course,” said the gentleman Scratch.

“Precisely, Mr. Scratch; the pearl it is.”

“However did you manage to get past the abomination?” asked Enoch the burning shrub.

“That took some thinking, my leafy-pyre, so I went to the altar of the bleeding god, where my best ideas often spring to my mind. As always, to my eternal delight, the old perverted priest was there. As I lay there naked, receiving the treatment the pious dwarf always subjects me to, I grew most tired of the embrocation and his insistence on rubbing his liniments on my sensitive areas. There’re just places no man should be touched!”

“I know a thing or two about those filthy priests…” said the gentleman.

“I bet you do, but this annoyance proved useful to me, for once. I quickly hatched a plan in which I would both retrieve the pearl and get rid of the priest. As the priest asked me to turn myself over to the other side I let myself fall to the floor, where I proceeded to act as if I had gotten hurt. The priest became so alarmed at the thought of the Holy Mother finding out about my getting hurt while in his care that he was quite easily swayed into going with me to the Labyrinth. So little do these men of the cloth know about the world outside their church… ”

“Clever. I like where this is going,” said the gentleman, shooting a smile to the flaming shrub, who somehow managed to quietly project disapproval despite the limitation of not having a face.

“You will like it even more, Old Scratch,” the blond ninja beamed. “So the priest went with me, seeing as I was a veritable invalid because of his attentions, and how could he allow me to venture into a dark place alone?” he stifled a chuckle.

“Once in the Labyrinth, I made sure that his voice would sound the loudest by pretending not to understand what he said, effectively causing him to nearly yell. By the time the Minotaur’s hooves could be heard I was already running away, leaving the priest in the dark to fend for himself. A perfect distraction for the abomination who would fall asleep after gorging itself on the pious dwarf.”

“That is quite low, Alex, quite low,” said Enoch the burning shrub.

“The man was a fiend and all his claims of the treatments being beneficial to me were baseless; I never felt anything but disgust,” the ninja said.

“Indeed, the man has a nice niche set for him in my realm, as we speak,” chimed the gentleman Scratch, smiling.

“It took about an hour but once the Minotaur was asleep, I made my way to the center of the maze by going left at every turn.”

“The left-hand path is the way, truly,” said the gentleman.”Don’t you grow tired of the noise in this place?”

“The pearl was there in plain sight, no larger than my fist,” the ninja gestured with his right fist to illustrate. “Left at every turn again and I was home-free. But I knew getting to the Hag’s daughters wouldn’t be so simple. So I went straight to the Queen Hag pretending that it was her I was interested in. Using the pearl’s blinding beauty, I ensnared the hag and slit her throat as she was mesmerized by the light.”

“Most cunning, I must say,” the gentleman said, raising his martini glass to Alex the blond ninja. “It is concurrent with the zeitgeist, after all.”

“If it must be said, that was a rather brilliant move. I continue to find it beneath you, nevertheless,” the burning shrub said as his flames flared up momentarily.

“All three of the Witches were quite appreciative of the gift.”

“And you merrymade with them, forsooth,” said Enoch the flaming bush.

“How do you know that?” the blonde ninja was astonished.

“I am the Metatron, after all,” the shrub chuckled, his flames flaring up.

“I knew that, as well. You know what they say about me being wise because of my age and not who I am and what not… Debauchery, wantonness… the works, if you will.” the gentleman said between sips of his martini.

The blond ninja joined in the shrub’s laughter.

Alex, it’s time to go.

The sound of his mother’s voice broke into his trance. His friends dispelled for the time being, Alex was left sulking in his wheelchair. In each of his mildly atrophied hands he clutched a small action figure; a spy in a tuxedo in his left and a ninja in his right. On his lap sat a diminutive pot that housed a bonsai tree, little more than a sapling.

“Now, honey, don’t give me that look. You’re mommy’s little man so act like it,” his mother said and gently kissed Alex’s forehead. “Have a peanut butter sandwich,” she produced the sandwich from her black leather purse.

“Do we have to go to church?” Alex did not relish the thought.

“You know it, young man.”

Alex knew it was a battle he simply could not win. He carefully removed the plastic wrap off of the sandwich with his hands and took a small bite.

“The clothes are done, honey. Time to go.”

Alex’s mother took the clothes out from the dryer and placed them into a woven basket which she hung from the back of his wheelchair. She pushed him out onto the street where his mother’s fat friend was waiting for them. The woman greeted them and dove in for a kiss, planting it on Alex’s left cheek. He despised the smell of her perfume, and the exaggerated amount of makeup she always wore tended to rub off on his face.

“Girls, say hello to Alex and his mother,” the hideous woman squealed to the three identical looking girls that stood behind her. The girls greeted them in unison as Alex sheepishly stared at them.

As was customary, Tina took over wheelchair driving duty as the grown women walked ahead of them. Gina and Deena walked along on each side of the wheel chair.

Alex placed the action figures on his lap along with the discarded sandwich and fished into his trousers’ pockets, looking for something. When he found it, he called to the triplets, “I got you girls something.”

Gina and Deena both squealed with excitement at the surprise while Tina remained quiet, though clearly curious about the unrequested gift.

All three looked to Alex’s hands, where he held the gift, and peered with curiosity as his twisted fingers unfolded before them.

“What’s that?” asked Tina from behind him.

“It’s a pearl. I found it with my dad when I was with him last week. We went to the beach and he dove for oysters,” he explained with some pride.

“Just the one pearl?” asked Tina with disappointment in her voice.
Alex remained quiet as he contemplated his latest failure.

Women, sir, women,” said the gentleman resting, diminutive, on his lap. “They never appreciate what you do for them and are always looking for a better prospect. It’s why I chose her back in the old, old garden.”

“I cannot argue against such wisdom, old friend Scratch,” said Enoch the burning shrub.

“Perhaps we should consider the elimination of the priest, non?” said the gentleman Scratch.

Alex simply stared into his lap, the blond ninja’s silence was deep.