Pac-Tara rounded the corner with the red monster hot on her tail. She ate some dots as she chomped along the corridor. Eating the dots slowed her down, but she turned another couple of corners, which kept her ahead of the red monster. The monsters couldn't navigate the corners as quickly as she could. She thought it was because she was round and they were not. And the robes they wore slowed them down a bit too.
The red monster was always chasing her. That was no different than always, actually - the red monster's nickname wasn't Shadow Willow for nothing. All the monsters chased her - that's what they were there for. Speedy Buffy, Bashful Dawn, Pokey Xander, and Shadow Willow chased her all day long in the maze. She tried to keep ahead of them and eat all the dots before they caught her.
Sometimes Pac-Tara turned the tables on them when she ate an energizer. Then the monsters all turned into blue ghosts and Pac-Tara could eat them. When she ate them, their bodies disappeared and their eyes winged their way home to the monsters' home den in the middle of the board, where they were reincarnated like new. Pac-Tara liked it when she could eat the monsters - for once she was the hunter and not the hunted.
She especially liked it when she caught and ate Shadow Willow. That had happened more frequently during the last three boards. As a blue ghost, the red monster seemed to run away more slowly than usual - although she still retained her speed when she was the chaser. Pac-Tara almost regretted eating Shadow Willow when she caught her - Shadow Willow's eyes seemed extra green lately.
Pac-Tara knew all the monsters' quirks: Speedy Buffy was pink, and was very fast - she could outrun Pac-Tara on the straightaways. Bashful Dawn was blue and sometimes would turn tail and run when Pac-Tara reversed directions toward her suddenly. Bumbling, orange Pokey Xander always seemed to be messing up - turning the wrong direction when the other monsters were trying to box Pac-Tara in, so she could make a getaway. And Shadow Willow, the red monster, chased her relentlessly.
Lately Shadow Willow never seemed to give Pac-Tara a moment's rest. The monsters would periodically seem to give up the chase and would return to their individual home quadrants in the maze, as if they were receiving some secret signal only they could hear. Pac-Tara could make a getaway when this happened and clean up stray dots she had missed in the constant pursuit, or sneak over to eat an energizer.
About three boards ago, Shadow Willow had stopped going to her quadrant when the other monsters received the secret signal - she just kept chasing Pac-Tara no matter where she went. This was one of those times - Pac-Tara had been being chased by Speedy Buffy and Shadow Willow, and was hemmed in on both sides at the bottom of the board when Speedy Buffy suddenly reversed course and made for her home quadrant. Shadow Willow, however, ignored the call and continued to chase Pac-Tara.
As Pac-Tara rounded the T at the bottom of the maze she considered her options. She could head up the right-hand side of the board and make a break for the tunnel, or she could hook left and try to escape up the middle past the monster's home den, eating the fruit along the way. She chose the left route and buttonhooked around the top right arm of the T.
She focused on the next turn she'd have to make to head up the S-channel toward the monsters' den. As she turned the corner, she heard Shadow Willow whisper something to her.
Pac-Tara was so surprised to hear Shadow Willow speak to her that she paused in the S-channel and came to a halt in the corner. She cringed, sure that she had been fooled and that the red monster was about to eat her.
Pac-Tara didn't like being eaten by the monsters. It was a disturbing experience - when one of the monsters overtook her, they would latch onto Pac-Tara's round yellow body. There would be a pause. And slowly, Pac-Tara's body would fold up in on itself, winking out of existence. Then she would be reincarnated in the middle of the maze, all the monsters would return to their den, and the pursuit would begin anew.
Pac-Tara braced herself in the corner of the S-channel. But when no attack came, she opened her eyes.
Shadow Willow had come to a halt in front of her, and was looking at her with wide green eyes.
"Hi, Pac-Tara!" Shadow Willow said.
"Um - h-hi?" Pac-Tara replied hesitantly. She wasn't used to being this close to a monster unless they were about to eat her - or vice versa.
Shadow Willow smiled at her. Then she cocked her monster head. "Oops. Company's coming. Quick, get behind me."
"Quick, no time!" Shadow Willow urged. Pac-Tara was baffled, but complied with Shadow Willow's instructions and hid behind the monster, crouching down out of sight.
She heard Speedy Buffy's voice as she huffed by. "Have you seen Pac-Tara?"
Shadow Willow answered. "She went through the tunnel, to the right!"
"Got it!" answered Speedy Buffy as she zoomed away toward the tunnel.
"It's safe to come out," Shadow Willow whispered to Pac-Tara.
Pac-Tara emerged from behind Shadow Willow. She looked at the red monster with gratitude, and a little confusion.
"Thanks," Pac-Tara said. "But, um, don't you want to eat me?"
Shadow Willow smiled. "I've been trying to catch up to you for the last three boards - I just want to talk to you."
Pac-Tara bit her lip. "I don't see how we can talk now. The others will be by any moment."
Shadow Willow grinned. "Don't worry. Follow me!" She zoomed off up the left S-channel.
Pac-Tara followed out of curiosity. Truth be told, she didn't mind quite as much when Shadow Willow was the monster who caught her and ate her. Shadow Willow always seemed to grab her a little more gently than the others, and appeared to regret it when Pac-Tara's body would fold up and wink out of existence. In contrast, Speedy Buffy was an all-around roughneck both in the chase and the catch, Bashful Dawn seemed unaware of her own strength and overcompensated, and Pokey Xander was always so surprised to have actually caught Pac-Tara that he ate her with a lot of excess gusto.
Shadow Willow rounded a corner and ended up in front of the monsters' den. "Come on in!"
Pac-Tara hesitated. "I don't think I can come in. I've tried before, when I wanted to find a place to hide, but I could never get through the door."
Shadow Willow held out a corner of her robe. "You can't come in unless you're a monster - or you're with a monster. Grab on!"
Pac-Tara took the proffered corner of Shadow Willow's robe, and together they glided through the entrance.
The inside of the monster's den was empty, square, and glowing with the same gentle neon light that illuminated the rest of the maze. Shadow Willow turned to Pac-Tara and beamed.
"But won't the other monsters come in when they can't find me out there?"
"Nah," Shadow Willow dismissed her concerns. "They never come in here unless you eat them when they're blue ghosts. Just between you and me," she said conspiratorially, "they're not that smart."
Pac-Tara laughed. "So what did you want to talk about, anyway? How come you don't want to eat me anymore?"
"Um, well. That is…well," Shadow Willow seemed suddenly bashful. Not Bashful like Bashful Dawn, but a little shy. Her robe seemed to turn a slightly deeper shade of red, and she averted her green eyes from Pac-Tara's gaze.
Pac-Tara smiled. She already thought that Shadow Willow was a cute monster, and her shyness just served to cement that. And she was beginning to have an idea, anyway, of what might be on Shadow Willow's mind.
"Pac-Tara, I've been chasing you in this maze for as long as I remember. Sometimes I catch you and eat you. Sometimes you eat an energizer and then you chase me and eat me. Sometimes I never catch up to you and just follow you around a million corners. And well, it just seems sorta pointless sometimes. All we ever do is chase each other, but when we catch each other, the whole cycle just starts again."
Pac-Tara nodded. She had thought this herself sometimes, when she had a moment to rest and reflect. What was the point? No matter how many dots she ate, there were always more dots and more boards. No matter how many different kinds of fruit she ate, there was always more fruit. And no matter how many times the monsters ate her, or she ate the monsters, they always came back.
"So anyway, like I said, I probably follow you the closest of all of us. And um…" Shadow Willow's voice trailed off a bit. She cleared her throat and continued. "That means I have the best view. Lately I can't help noticing your round yellow curves, the way you turn the corners, and wondering what it would be like to kiss your yellow wedge of a mouth." She seemed embarrassed, but looked into Pac-Tara's eyes.
Pac-Tara was gratified by Shadow Willow's admission. She had been feeling the same attraction to the red monster - but didn't usually have much time for introspection in the neverending chase. A thought struck her.
"But how can this ever work? I'm a Pac-Tara, and you're a monster. We're diametrically opposed."
Shadow Willow shook her head. "I've been thinking about that. I don't think we're enemies, Pac-Tara. I think we're two sides of a coin. Even if we eat each other, we always come back. We're never gone permanently. And if you didn't exist, we monsters would have nothing to do. And if we didn't exist, it would all be too easy for you, eating dots and energizers all day long."
Pac-Tara considered this. It made sense. "So you're saying it's not where we end up, but the journey that matters?"
Shadow Willow nodded. "Especially since we don't get anywhere anyway."
Pac-Tara grinned a vixeny grin. "Well, as you said - let's change that. I think we definitely have a chance of getting somewhere today. I want to see what's under that robe."
Shadow Willow's breathing caught as Pac-Tara came closer. "Oh, my my my."
Outside the monsters' den, oblivious to what was going on inside, Speedy Buffy, Bashful Dawn, and Pokey Xander raced around endlessly in search of Pac-Tara.