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Nine Strangers: Basic Roleplaying System

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Wednesday, May 2, 2017

(After Kyle Matheson ran his Basic Roleplaying System original scenario “Nine Strangers” with Ashton LeBlanc, Austin Davie, Katie Gallant, Ben Abbott, Yorie Latimer, Whitney Ward, Collin Townsend, and me Saturday, April 14, from 7:30 p.m. to 11:30 p.m.)

What defines a man? What makes him what he is? Is it his past? His hopes? His dreams? His memories? Can he aspire to be something better than those things make of him? Or is he trapped in whatever he has made of his life? Can he change it? Can he better himself?

Most importantly: Does he want to?

Those were not the thoughts that ran through my head when I awoke in a prison cell. I had no idea what I was doing there though it didn’t feel like I shouldn’t have been there. The cell was only about 10 feet by 10 feet and had a bunk, a vent, a toilet, and a television. I stumbled to me feet and saw there was a mirror over the toilet.

The man that stared back out of the glass at me was young with greased black hair. He wore a black t-shirt, jeans, tennis shoes, and a leather jacket. He looked tough, not the kind of person you’d like to meet in a dark alley. Handsome-ish, he also looked a little world-weary, like he had more on his mind than he should for someone in his early 20s. He was clean-shaven and somewhat pale.

I knew it was me. I didn’t know who I was.

I saw a terminal near the door, a small box with some kind of reader on it. It said “Locked” in the digital display. When I reached for it, I saw I had bracelet on my wrist with the number four upon it. It was a digital bracelet that probably acted as a keycard for the terminal from the look of both. I put the bracelet up to the terminal but it only beeped negatively.

The door was made of metal with a small, barred window and a slot in the bottom for food. Outside was a dark hallway, dimly lit, without doors on the opposite wall.

“Hello?” I called none-too-loudly.

“Who’s out there?” a man’s voice came from the left. “Let me out!”

“I’m in a cell,” I said, raising my voice. “I’m in a cell.”

I’m in a cell!” the voice said.

“Who are you?”

“Who put us in here?”

“I don’t even remember who I am. Look, could you call for a nurse or something?”

“I don’t gotta phone!”

I checked my pockets to see if I was carrying a cell phone. I thought I owned one. It seemed familiar. The only thing I found in my pocket was a piece of paper that read “Marcus Wilson.” I wondered if that was who I was.

“Hey, is your name Carl?” the man called. “Is your name Carl?”

“I don’t remember,” I said. “I found a piece of paper in my pocket. Did you find one?”

“Yeah, it says Carl! Who’s that?”

“I don’t know! I don’t remember anything! I don’t even remember my own name. Is this a hospital? Nurse! Nurse!”

I wondered if it was a hospital and then I heard someone outside whistling.

“Nurse!” I called again. “Nurse!”

I went to the television and turned it on. There was static.

“You think this was a hospital?” the man’s voice shouted at me. “Why kind of hospital has bars?”

“Maybe it’s a psychiatric hospital,” I said.

“That explains why you don’t know your name!”

“What’s your name?”

“I dunno.”

“You don’t know your name?”

“You don’t know your name!”

“Well, you just gave me shit for that!”

I heard other voices in the hall but couldn’t understand them.

The static cleared and a figure appeared.

“Hey, my shows are on!” a woman’s voice bellowed down the hallway.

“Hey Doc, gimme outta here!” I called back.

“I think you should turn on your television set, everyone,” the whitest man’s voice I’d ever heard said.

“It turns itself on!” another woman’s voice called down the hallway. “It’s okay!”

The figure on the screen resolved itself into a hooded man whose face was blurred.

“Oh shit!” I cried out. “We’re in Saw.”

“Greetings,” the man in the television said, his voice heavily distorted. “My name is Zero. I’m sure you must be confused and disoriented from the drugs that got you here and you must have a lot of questions. For now, I will only explain that you are here for your atonement in the death of an innocent, but you are not solely responsible.

“Nine of you participated in this and nine of you will face the consequences. How you choose to accept responsibility will ultimately decide if you live or die.

“The device on your wrist is a key to many doors within this complex. The number on your device will act as a partial key on other doors used in conjunction with others. I will explain this interaction later. It should be noted that any attempt to remove this device would be ill-advised. If the wrist device senses enough force indicating possible removal, it will trigger a small bomb that I have placed inside each of you, so tread with caution.

“The only door out of this room can be opened by putting your wrist near the digital terminal. I suggest you leave now.”

The picture faded to static and the television went blank. Then gas started coming out of the vent. I ran to the terminal and put the bracelet up to it. It beeped and the door opened.

I found myself in a hallway with eight other doors on one side. The opposite wall was blank. Coming out of the cells were a number of other men and women, each of them with a bracelet on their wrist.

The man in the door to my left was black man with short-cut hair and a short-cut beard. He wore jeans and a wife-beater. Further down that direction was an Asian man with a short-trimmed beard and mustache, a woman with long black hair, an older, balding man with a shaved haircut and beard, and another pretty, dark-haired woman. To my left was beautiful black woman with her hair pulled back tightly in a bun, an older lady with short hair and glasses, and an older man with a completely bald head and a white mustache and goatee.

“I never saw this movie,” I said. “I don’t know what I’m doing.”

The door to the room I was in had a number four on it. I saw all the rest of the people also had bracelets on.

I felt over my body for fresh scars and found a recent incision on my right side just under my ribs. It looked like recent surgery. I felt there and thought I felt something that wasn’t supposed to be there.

“So, he put a bomb in us, because … what?” I said. “I was a little freaked out because everybody was yelling at me.”

“He said we killed somebody,” the black man said.

“He said we all contributed,” the Asian said.

“I don’t remember!” I said.

I turned to the black man and realized the sheet of paper in my pocket must have been my name. One of the dark-haired women started to whistle.

“Doesn’t your sheet say something?” I asked him.

“It says Carl!” he said.

“That’s a black man’s name,” I said. “Yeah, I bet that’s right. I’m Marcus. Yo.”

The white guy said his name was John Whitmore as he went around shaking everyone’s hands.

“Marcus,” I said.

“John Whitmore,” he said to me.

“Nice to meet you,” the Asian man said. “Eric Roland.”

“How do you know your name?” Carl said when John reached him.

“I found it in on a scrap of paper in my pocket,” John said.

“How do you know that’s your name?” Carl said.

“We’re assuming,” Eric said.

“Well, I looked at myself in the mirror and I thought ‘Eh,’” John said.

“What’s your name?” I asked Carl. “You said you were Carl. That fits you.”

“What are you saying?” he said. “What are you saying?”

John looked at the nearest cell and his eyes went wide. I saw the gas was coming out of the cells.

“Excuse me, group,” John said.

“Yeah yeah!” I said. “I see it. I see it. Let’s get outta here. Which way? Is there a door down there?”

I headed for the door along with the rest, Carl pushing me out of the way. The woman at the end who had not given her name started whistling again.

“Hey, has anybody seen Saw?” I said as I headed for the door. “Anybody seen that movie? Or I Know What You Did Last Summer? I haven’t seen either!”

“I saw it years ago,” the older lady said.

“How do we get out?”

“I don’t know! I didn’t pay attention! I fell asleep halfway through!”

“He had to saw his own leg off!” Carl said over his shoulder. “I ain’t doing that!”

The woman looked at him.

“Now you spoiled it!” he said. “I can’t watch it now.”

“I thought you said you watched it!” Carl said.

“We’re all gonna die anyway,” I said.

“Are we in hell or something?” the older lady said.

“I think it’s called purgatory,” Carl said.

The bald man with the goatee reached the door first and pushed it open. The whistling lady pushed past everyone to get there first.

The room beyond the door looked like a theater. There were three sections of seats separated by aisles facing a large stage with a pair of doors at the far end of it. Another door stood on the wall with the door we’d just come out of. The room was not fancy by any means and had kind of a run-down look to it. A screen was on the stage and a projector in the wall we’d come through shined a light on it. It was simply blue though. Nothing was on the screen.

The whistling woman went to the front row and took a seat on the right while Eric headed for the stage. I headed for the other door but Carl shoved me out of the way and walked by.

“*****!” I said.

He tried the door and found it locked. There wasn’t even a terminal on it.

“Excuse me, you two,” John said.

The woman started whistling again. It was starting to get to me a little bit.

I moved to the seats on the left and started searching under them for anything. I was hoping to find a piece of wire I could use to try to pick the lock on the door. Carl started looking through the center seats. On the stage, Eric picked up a broom. The other black-haired woman went to the doors on the stage and looked at them. One of them had a three on it and the other had a six. There were digital terminals near them. The black woman went over to the door marked with a three.

“Hey y’all,” the black-haired woman said.

“Yes?” John said.

“These doors have numbers, like on our cells,” she said.

“What are the numbers?” Eric said.

“This one’s a six,” she said.

The black woman put her bracelet up to the terminal but nothing happened. Eric, number six, put his up to the other terminal with the six but it only beeped at them.

“What if we do that at the same time?” the black woman said. “I put my hand against this door and you put your hand against that one.”

“Uh … it could work,” Eric said. “Maybe.”

“Let’s-let’s try it,” she said.

The terminals just beeped.

“What if y’all switch places?” the black-haired woman said.

“Hey Carl, you should check over here,” I said. “I checked on the left side─”

“I thought you checked over there!” he said.

“I check where you checked, you check where I checked,” I said. “We double check each other!”

Someone asked Carl about the other door near where we’d come in and he told her it was locked.

John moved up to the stage and looked around. I went to the right side of the seats and looked around but didn’t find anything. Carl moved to the left side and looked around.

“Don’t worry, I found the ‘G’ key!” the older, short-haired lady said. “I found the ‘G’ key. Anybody found a ‘G’ anywhere?”

She held up a gold key with a “G” on it.

“This is like Resident Evil, you guys!” I said.

“What’s Resident Evil?” the dark-haired woman who wasn’t whistling said.

“It’s a video game,” I said. “I played a lot of it.”

“My favorite game is Candy Crush,” John said.

“Ew,” I said.

“Oh! I play that all the time!” the older woman said. “It’s so good!”

Carl, unbeknownst to us, had found a briefcase marked “J.W.” lodged in the seats on the left sides. I hadn’t noticed it. He found a gun and a badge in it. He pocketed the pistol and left the badge. It said “Whitmore” on it. He closed it and put it back. There was only one bullet in the revolver.

It was about 10 minutes after we entered when the projector started up and projected that same static that had been on the television.

“Excuse me, everyone,” John said.

“Oh great, the Saw Guy’s back,” I muttered. “He’s gonna tell us we’re all gonna die again, right?”

“Now, we don’t know,” John said.

“You gonna tell us we’re all gonna die again!?!” I said. “We don’t even remember what we did, you jackass!”

“Let’s hear what he has to say,” Carl said.

“We don’t know he’s the Saw guy,” John said.

“Okay ‘Dad!’” I said.

“I feel like a dad,” he said.

The face did appear on the screen.

“I will explain how your bracelets work with the door from here forward,” his distorted voice said. “The door for your cell was a special type of door where your bracelet was the only thing you needed to open the door. Now, these doors require multiple bracelets to open. The doors are opened by a ‘digital root.’”

The camera switched from his face to a desk. A piece of paper was in front of him.

“The ‘digital root’ works like this,” he went on. “For example, one of the doors you have is door number three. If you want to open door number three, you need a digital root of three. How you get a digital root of three is adding numbers until you get at least to the double digits, 10 or more. Once you get there …”

He wrote “1+2+3+4=10.”

“Then you add the digits,” the voice said. “One and zero would add together. That would be one. That would open a one door. The way I have arranged the doors are ways that everyone can always go through. Though there are two doors, all of you can go through. You would have to split up, obviously. But it could work out.”

The whistling black-haired woman raised her hand as I looked around for cameras.

“Can multiple groups go through the same door as long as each individual group does the root thing?” she said. “Or can only one group of people that add up to that number go through the door and no one else can?”

“Once you have put your bracelet on a door, you are locked to that door,” the distorted voice went on. “If you put your bracelet to the three door you cannot switch to the six door. Calculations should be figured first. Once the door opens, you have 10 seconds to go through the door as a group. If none of you go through, the bomb goes off on your person. Only those who use the door can go through it. Those who don’t use their numbers will explode as well.

“Be careful not to get the root before everyone is registered for a door. Or they will be left behind.”

“So, we need to add up to a three and a six,” I said.

“Excuse me, everyone,” John said. “If someone has seven, we could make 15, which adds to six.”

We figured out who was to go which door. I did what math I could.

“You, lady,” I said to the older lady. “Jew lady. You and me and this Chinese guy can go through.”

“Wait wait wait,” Carl said. “We gotta make sure everybody goes through!”

“Stop,” the whistling lady said.

“I’m just saying I did the math for us,” I said. “Hey, you ain’t said a word to us yet, lady!”

“I talked to him,” she said, pointing at John.

“Uh-huh,” I said.

“Nah nah, she did,” the older woman said. “She did. I mean she’s a little weird but …”

There was some talk about math, which was not my specialty. I remembered that at least. I kept my eye on the old guy, number one. I didn’t trust him.

Carl was figuring.

“Damn, Carl, you’re smart,” I said.

“Hey, guys, I did it,” the whistling woman said. “I did it. I did it! Guys. One through six and seven through nine are the two groups.”

“One through six?” I said.

I had struggled through the description the Saw guy had given. I was obviously no math whiz.

“One through six is 21,” whistling woman said. “Three.”

“And then seven through nine,” Eric said.

“Seven through nine is 24,” Whistle Woman said.

“Yep,” Eric said.

“Yep,” Carl said.

“Which is six,” Whistle Woman said. “We could do that.”

“I was slightly behind you on the math,” John said. “But I agree.”

“She’s the math whiz,” I said.

“I want to open this door first,” she said.

She pointed to the other door that led back the way we’d come. She went to the older lady and pushed her towards the door.

“Sweetie, sweetie, sweetie,” the older lady said. “I already tried that door. It doesn’t work.

“Okay,” Whistle Woman said.

“I tried the key and it doesn’t work,” the other woman said. “It has a ‘G’ on it. The door doesn’t have a ‘G’ on it.”

“We should try to think of some other combinations though,” Whistle Woman said. “‘Cause if seven, eight, and nine run into a different door, I don’t think they’ve got a good chance of making it through again.”

“Um, we could also …” Eric said.

“And the guy, he’s, like, seven,” she said. “We can’t make seven.”

“We could also - one through five and six through nine also works,” Eric said.

“No, we can make seven but we’d also have to give up eight,” the woman said. “Eight would be left behind.”

“Does that work better for you, lady?” I asked.

“I mean that’s still heavily weighted,” she said.

“It’s half and half!” I said.

“It’s four and five,” Eric said.

“It’s close enough!” I said. “There’s nine of us! It’ll never be even!”

“We should have a split level of people, high and low,” Whistle Woman said.

“You’re the math genius,” I said. “Tell us how to do it!”

“We can’t,” Eric said. “There’s only nine of us. Four and five.”

“One moment,” she said.

“Has everyone checked everything in this room?” the other dark-haired woman said. “Is there anything we can use?”

“I found the key under the seats,” the older lady said.

“Did it work on the door back there?” Eric said.

“No,” she said again. “No, it did not.”

“Did anyone else find anything when you were looking?” the dark-haired woman asked again.

“I didn’t find anything,” I said.

“Yeah, did anybody find anything?” the old lady said.

There was talk of the broom.

Carl went to the three door and put his bracelet on it.

“I guess we’re going one through five or six on this side,” the older woman said.

Carl tried to pull on the door but it didn’t open.

“All right, let’s go!” I said.

We did the one through five and six through nine combination. One through five went to the six door while the rest went through the three door.

As we passed our bracelets over the door, I tried to figure out if I was more attracted to Carl or the Whistling Woman, unsure of my sexual preference even. I realized I was more attracted to her though Carl had the feeling of someone I’d interacted with before or knew. I also realized I didn’t like people like Carl. It wasn’t a racial thing, but I just didn’t like abrupt, bullying men.

We all used our bracelets and headed through. The door closed behind us. There was no terminal on the other side. We headed down a hallway with doors on either side. They were metal cell doors and locked. The cells were dark and empty. The old man told us his name was Mike.

“Do you think he wants us to remember?” I said. “Or do you think he wants us to repent? Or do you think he just wants to kill us?”

“Well, if he wanted us to remember, he’d leave us with our memories,” Carl said.

“Unless he wants us to remember in the worst possible most traumatic way,” I said.

The door at the end of the hall had no bracelet reader. It opened into a large room with a small table with a scale upon it in the center. To one side was a bar while in another wall was a safe. There was a picture on one wall and a bookcase across the room. Carl went to the bar and slid over it coolly. I realized I was over 21 or at least had done some drinking as I knew the things I liked.

“Hey, Carl, gimme a bottle,” I said.

Carl was looking at a pint glass and a knife on the bar.

“I’m not filling that with my blood!” Carl said. “I’ll cut one of y’all!”

He grabbed the knife. He held it like he didn’t want to hold it.

“Can you hand me one of those empty bottles?” I asked.

“Why?” he said. “They’re empty.”

“Yeah,” I said. “I want an empty bottle.”


“Oh my God!”

“Are you gonna pee in it? That’s gross!”

I walked around the bar and picked up a bottle.

“Is there any wine back there?” the older lady asked.

“I said they’re empty!” Carl said.

“Oh, they’re empty?” the woman said. “Okay.”

“If we find a box later, I’ll check it for wine!” Carl said.

“I mean, I don’t like box wine,” the lady said.

Mike had gone to look at the safe and the black woman went to the bookshelf and was looking over the books. She started taking out some of the books and looking at them. I walked over to the shelves and noticed some of them looked different from the others. They looked less weathered and each had a number on it, one through six.

“Can-can I look through number four?” I asked.

“Sure,” she said, handing it to me.

I put the book down and to see if it opened to a most-read page. The book seemed to be part of a fantasy series. I realized I didn’t read a lot.

“Is this Lord of the Rings?” I asked.

The speakers in the room suddenly crackled.

“Welcome to your first escape room,” the distorted voice said. “These rooms are designed to remind you of the roles you played in the death of an innocent woman. Before you sits an unbalanced scale representing the unjust legal system, something Evelynn Stevens thrives from. To your right is a bar with the tools needed to complete the task at hand. Much like a scale, a human body has a tipping point when consuming alcohol. Isn’t that right, Carl? The legal maximum BAC for an individual driving is .08, yet you kept serving because was tipping well. Remember the .08. It will come in handy. Balance the scales and escape the room.”

I could barely understand anything the voice said.

“Yeah yeah, Saw Guy!” I shouted. “I can’t even understand ****ing word you’re saying, mother****er! Why don’t you eat my shit!”

“Would you calm down?” the black woman said. “Please.”

“These white boys,” Carl said.

The entire message came over the speakers again.

The scale in the center of the room had a tiny bucket on one side and a larger bucket on the others. The larger bucket was actually higher than the smaller bucket, so the small one was made of something heavy. We guessed whatever we put in the scales would balance them.

I walked over to the picture of an older gentleman, sitting in the chair. It looked very old. The man in the picture looked at the safe. I told the rest and the older lady looked at the safe.

“Anybody find any numbers?” she said, noting the combination lock.

“Who’s Evelynn Stevens?” I said.

“We’re numbers,” Carl said.

“Is anybody in here Evelynn Stevens?” I said.

“Well, yes, but like a series of numbers,” the older lady said.

“Are you Evelynn Stevens?” I asked the black woman. “What’s your name?”

“Christine,” she said.

“Christine,” I said. “Hm.”

“That’s probably the girl who died?” Carl said.

“No, he said ‘he’ - ‘he’ was served over .08,” I said. “He said that.”

“No, but she died,” Carl said.

“Evelynn Stevens didn’t die,” I said. “Some guy did.”

I looked around the bar for any liquid of any kind but there wasn’t any at all.

“What’re we putting in the scales then?” I said.

I picked up the pint glass and looked at it. I felt like anything I should interact with would be things that were fairly new. Things that were dusty and old didn’t seem to be for use. I told the others my idea and Christine told me the new books had diagonal lines on the bottom.

“We gotta put blood in the scale!” Carl said.

“Why are we jumping to that conclusion?” the older lady said.

“Blood?” I said.

“I got a thing about blood,” the older lady said.

“There’s a knife,” Carl said. “And a pint glass and a scale. And he was talking about blood alcohol content.”

“You sure there’s no booze behind that bar?” the older lady said.

“No, I looked,” I said.

“You think he would give us booze if we were meant to put blood in the scale?” Carl said.

“I mean it would have been nice,” the older lady said. “But … okay.”

“White boy!” Carl said. “White boy. Pee in this pint glass.”

“What’d you call me?” I said. “What do you want me to do?”

“Pee in this pint glass,” Carl said.

“Oh,” I said.

“If you’re gonna do that, do it in the corner when I’m not looking,” the older lady said.

“All right,” I said.

I went behind the bar.

“Turn around,” I said. “I can’t do it if anybody’s watching me.”

“Can you squat down so I can’t see the top of your head?” the older lady said.

“Just go look over there at the books or the picture,” I said.

The speakers crackled again. I looked at Carl.

“Urine will not weigh the same as blood,” the voice said.

“Oh, thank God!” the older lady said. “I thought he was going to have to pee in the cup.”

I put the pint glass back up and zipped up.

“Is he zipped up?” the older woman said. “I’m not looking until he zips up.”

“Yeah, I heard the zipper,” Carl said.

“Okay,” the older woman said.

I went over to Christine, who was stacking the new books. It didn’t take her long to stack them so the diagonal lines on the bottom of the books lined up. From top to bottom, looking at the spines, it was 134526. There was a keypad beside the bookcase. The older lady used the numbers on the safe without luck. I suggest 13, 15, 21 as they were the prime numbers. They didn’t work either. I told her 4, 6, 3, but that didn’t work either.

Christine entered the numbers on the keypad and it lit up and something clicked in the room. She suggested checking the picture and the old woman felt around it.

“This actually feels loose now,” she said.

“Was it tight before?” I asked.,

“Boy, I will come over there and I will slap you!” she said.

She pulled the painting off. She found a piece of paper with “23-41-19.”

“Oh, I actually found the safe combination,” she said.

I went back to the bar while she fiddled with the safe and unlocked it. I had ducked down and peeked over the side of the bar, ready for the safe to explode.

“Hey, it worked!” she said.

She found a bottle of whiskey, an ounce measuring cup, a laminated paper with the letter ‘E’ on it, and two keycards.

“What’d you find, lady?” I asked.

“Well, I found - I found the booze,” she said. “It was in the safe, not behind the bar where it shoulda been.”

“Don’t drink it,” Christine said.

“That’s what we put in the other bucket,” Carl said.

“Okay,” the older lady said. “I mean, I kind of want to drink it but it’s not wine, so … I don’t know. I tried whiskey once and I had a hangover for, like, three days.”

“How do we know how to measure it though?” Carl said.

“Well, I also found a little ounce glass, like a shot glass,” the older lady said.

“Oh,” Carl said.

“And I got two cards but they say weird things,” she said. “I mean if you want to look at these.”

“Gimme that!” Carl said.

He grabbed one of the keycards. I looked at the other, the one that said “Defended a guilty man.”

“So, what, you think we put alcohol in one and blood in the other?” I said.

“You could say please,” the older lady said to Carl. “It’s okay.”

“Bah!” Carl said.

He threw the other card on the ground. The older lady picked it up and let me look at it. It said “Served a violent man alcohol.”

“And you’re the bartender, he said,” I said.

“How am I supposed to remember?” Carl said.

“Oh, you were a bartender,” the older lady said.

“That’s what … Saw Guy said,” I said.

“Saw Guy or you saw a guy?” the older lady said. “Carl, you’re smart. You think blood one side and alcohol in the other, is that what it is? Then we gotta get .08. That’s not much alcohol.”

“Ounce glass of alcohol,” Carl said. “Pint glass of blood.”

“That’s a lot of God damned blood,” I said.

“It doesn’t have to be from one person, probably,” Carl said.

“Yeah, but it’s gonna be a big cut to get it started,” I said. “And it’s going to be hard to stop it once you get it started.”

“Okay, I’ll do this one,” Carl said. “But if we gotta chop someone’s leg off, it’s not me. It’s not me.”

“I prefer not either,” the older lady said.

“Hey, ma’am, is it okay if I use your over shirt as a bandage?” Carl asked her.

“Well, since you asked so nicely, yeah,” she said. “Here, take it.”

Mike walked up to the woman and tried to pull the bottle of whiskey from her hand.

“Why do you want this?” she said. “Why do you want this? Mike! Mike!”

“I got nerves,” Mike said.

“Well, can you wait until we measure it out first?”

“Just a swig. Look how much there is.”

“Well, now we know,” Carl said. “Now we know who the guilty man is: the alcoholic.”

“Lemme just have a swig,” Mike said.

“Do not let him have a swig,” I said.

“Once we have enough to use in this, you can have the rest of it,” she said. “Because I don’t like this stuff.”

“I’ll hold you to it!” Mike said.

“Mike, that son of a ***** wants to kill us all,” I said. “It’s probably poison.”

“It ain’t poison,” Mike said.

“Why would he want to drink it if it’s poison?” the older woman said.

“I know whiskey when I see it,” Mike said.

“Saw Guy might want to poison it,” I said.

“Yeah, I’m not the Saw Guy,” Mike said.

“Well, that’s good,” the older woman said.

“I just want some whiskey,” Mike said.

“That’s exactly what the Saw Guy would say,” I muttered.

“Cut yourself,” Mike said. “Let’s do it.”

Carl made a bandage and then cut his hand. He dripped blood into the shot glass. Then he poured the whiskey but I stopped him and suggested he pour the whiskey into the pint glass until they evened out. In the end, he put his blood and the old woman’s blood into the pint glass. They only filled it about 2/3 of the way. Mike offered to do it for the whiskey bottle. Then they filled the shot glass with whiskey and put them in. The scale still wasn’t even. It was close but probably off by the weight of the heavy pint glass. Carl fiddled with it until it evened out. Then the door unlocked.

“Get through!” Carl said. “Get through! Ten seconds.”

We ran to the door and put our bracelets to the terminal so it would open. The older woman gave Mike the whiskey and he drank most of it! Then we were out of the room. Finally.

* * *

I later learned the others went down a corridor similar to our own. When they entered the room, at first they thought there were people in it. It only took them a moment to realize they were actually mannequins. That disturbed Eric even more. There were makeshift stage curtain between the mannequins All of them wore hats: two white hats and two black hats. There were four low pedestals of various colors: red yellow, blue, and green. On one side was a safe. Offset just a little off from each of the pedestals was a picture on the wall of a person doing a different, distinct pose. Each of them had one of their legs in the air. A piece of paper was on the table and Whistle Woman rushed it.

“We must gather as much information about our predicament as we are able,” John said.

Whistle Woman saw it was a safe combination but one of the numbers was missing.

She held the paper up triumphantly.

“What’s that?” the other dark-haired woman said.

“I think it’s the safe combination,” she said quietly.

Eric examined the pictures but none of them were wearing hats. They were pictures of dancers.

The other dark-haired woman examined the mannequins. John looked at the one on the other side of the curtain. All of them faced the curtain. When John saw the man alone looking into nothing, it resonated with his tragic back story. Tears welled up in eyes as he felt a wall had been put up between himself and society. He wiped the tears away.

Eric suggested standing on the pedestals in the poses of the pictures behind them. The dark-haired woman suggested using the mannequins to do it.

“I can already tell you, I am not a dancer,” John said. “Just from the limberness I have felt in the small amount of time. I don’t think I’m a very posing person.”

Whistle woman looked in the hats and saw there were tags with numbers in them. One was 12, the other 23, one 16, and the last five. Then the speakers crackled again.

“Welcome to your first escape room,” the voice said. “These rooms are designed to remind you of the roles you played in the death of an innocent woman. Before you stands four prisoners with colored hats who will be granted freedom if one can guess the color of his hat with only the knowledge in front of him. The hat of the prisoner who knows their hat color contains the combination to the safe. The safe, however, will only allow you to enter one code. So make sure you have chosen the right one. In the safe are the tools to uncovering the truth of how to escape. Sometimes the truth is before us yet it takes effort to uncover, a lesson John will hopefully not soon forget. Remember, it’s not always about what you see but what others see.”

“Could you repeat that first bit again?” Eric said.

The message was repeated once again.

They discussed which mannequins could figure out his color based on what they were each seeing.

“Hey, can we stand on these pedestals?” Whistle Woman said. “I want to stand on these pedestals.”

“That was my initial idea,” Eric said.

“Let’s do the pose in the pictures,” she said. “I think it would be fun.”

Eric agreed with her.

“I have fun about once a week,” John said. “So, I guess it’s my time.”

They each got onto the pedestals and did the poses that were closest to them. Nothing happened. Eric suggested trying the one across.

“That makes no damned sense,” John said.

“Just do it, it might work,” Eric said.

Nothing happened.

Whistle Woman told them her answer to the riddle: the second man with the black hat. He knew that if the third person on that side saw two white hats, he’d know he was wearing a black hat. But he didn’t, so he didn’t know. But that let number two know that he saw a black and a white hat. Therefore, he had a black hat.

“It’s a good explanation,” Eric said. “Except for the fact that they’re mannequins and they can’t speak.”

“Yeah, but we’re treating this as a hypothetical,” she said. “That’s a very literal interpretation. This is a puzzle. Did you go to public school?”

“Yes,” Eric said.

“Well, I’m sorry,” she said.

“All right, I’m fine with it,” Eric said with a sigh.

She took the hat and used that number for the safe. It opened. She did a little dance and then looked in. She found a bullet, a black light, a laminated piece of paper with an ‘S’ on it, and a keycard that read “Did not uncover the full truth.”

“These puzzles aren’t that difficult, it seems,” John said. “We were able to quickly deduce that one.”

“This is the first of probably many,” Eric said. “What did you find?”

“I found a bullet, a black light, and some paper,” she said.

The black light worked. Eric suggested looking at the pictures with it. John agreed and looked at the back left picture with it first. It had a yellow mark on it. The next one had a green mark on it. The next had a blue and the last had a red.

“What’s written on the keycard?” the dark haired woman asked.

“On this keycard?” Whistle Woman said. “It says ‘You didn’t uncover the full truth.’ I don’t think we solved the puzzle, guys.”

“‘We didn’t uncover the full truth,’” Eric said.

“I think he’s teasing us,” Whistle Woman said.

“Well, yellow and blue mix to make green?” Eric said.

John black lighted the hats but found nothing. He black lighted the mannequins and then, at Whistle Woman’s suggestion, black lighted the pedestals. He found each of them had a color: green, blue, yellow, and red. They did the poses on the pedestals that matched the picture of the same color. There was a click from the door and a second click in another part of the room.

John heard a click and thought it might be the pedestal. He jumped off and tried to move it without luck. Then he went to the green painting and tried to move it. It opened up and he found a secret compartment with two syringes. One was marked “adenosine” and the other was labeled “lignocaine.”

“I would just like to make public knowledge,” John said. “I have two different kinds of drugs.”

He held up both syringes.

“What are they?” Eric said.

“Well, I’m not a doctor, by they are adenosine and lignocaine,” John said.

Eric was unsure which of them did which, but knew when used in conjunction together, both, when inserted to someone, would get the person’s heartbeat to stop as if they had died. However, slowly, their heartbeat would come back. The heartbeat would go to zero but then the person would resuscitate on their own. He felt like he had some kind of medical background.

Whistle Woman, meanwhile, put on one of the hats.

“Do you know what these are?” the dark-haired woman asked. “Does anyone know what that is?”

“I don’t know what they are,” Whistle Woman said.

“I think they’re drugs,” John said.

“My favorite number’s 23,” Whistle Woman said.

“Should we take ‘em with us for now and go through the door?” the dark-haired woman said.

“I feel very responsible,” John said.

“I know what those are,” Eric finally said.

“Enlighten us,” John said. “I’m still holding them.”

“Be careful with them, please,” Eric said.

“Well, I wasn’t planning on tossing them around!” John said. “I wasn’t going to juggle them!”

“Individually, they don’t do very much,” Eric said cryptically. “But together, they work very well.”

“To do what?” the dark-haired woman said.

“Well, I like it when things get together to work well,” John said. “It’s just like my marriage.”

That made him remember that he was recently divorced. Then Whistle Woman touched his arm.

“You know anything about these bullets?” she asked.

“It’s a bullet,” he said.

“Let’s go through the door,” the black-haired woman said.

“Do you mind if I take those?” Eric said.

“I would be much more happy to give them to you if I knew what they do,” John said.

“They lower the blood flow and simulate death,” Eric said.

“Oh,” John said. “I don’t want anything to do with these.”

He handed over the syringes and took the broom from Eric. Whistle Woman was looking at everything with the black light. They ended up taking all the mannequin hats with them. Some of them thought the numbers on the hats might have importance in another room. Eric put the syringes into one of the hats.

* * *

We had gone down another corridor and through another door that led us to a cafeteria. There were several tables evenly dispersed throughout the room. There was a long bar at the far end of the room and a door with a seven over it to the left and a door with a two over it to the right. We found the others there when we arrived. They had already searched the room. Unknown to anyone, Whistle Woman had found a taser and hidden it away on her person. John had found a couple more bullets, which triggered some memories, and he was still considering them when we arrived.

Mike was not looking very good. He drank a lot of the whiskey and was bleeding.

“Excuse me!” John said. “This is a bullet!”

“May I see it?” I asked him.

“Okay, look at it,” he said. “That’s a bullet.”

I examined the bullet and saw it was a .45 caliber. The others were talking about numbers in their hats and key cards and all kinds of things over each other. I could barely make out a word of it. I pointed out the bullets would go to a semi-automatic pistol or a revolver. The others discussed the key cards.

“You’ve been finding bullets?” the older woman asked. “Did you find a gun?”

“No, I found two of these,” John said. “We have a third one. She does.

He pointed to Whistle Woman.

“What good are the bullets if we don’t have a gun?” the older lady asked.

“They are no good without a gun,” I said.

“Well then what’s the point of the damned bullets?” she said.

“I don’t think they are good with a gun!” John said. “Have you thought about that?”

“What?” the older woman said. “Sir, have you been stealing Mike’s whiskey?”

I noticed Whistle Woman put her bullet in the band of her hat.

“Y’all found two bullets - three bullets - you said?” I said.

“Yeah, three bullets between the two of us,” John said.

“Three bullets, no gun,” I said. “Okay.”

“No gun,” John said.

I told them a little about what happened to us. They told us about the poses.

“Carl has a knife,” I said.

“Excuse me, everyone, I have some bad news to impart on the group,” John said.

“Oh no,” I said. “More?”

“All of the food is gross,” he said.

“What do you mean it’s gross?” the older woman said. “Like, gross like foreign food or gross like it’s been in the fridge for a few months.”

She looked at the food

“Oh, you mean like moldy bad,” she said. “I thought you just didn’t know what it was.”

“I got the numbers,” Carl said. “We’ve gotta be careful with this one though. ‘Cause both could get 16 or 11, so we gotta be careful what order we go in.”

“What do you mean?” I said. “Oh …”

“I got one, two, four, five and eight,” Carl said.

He looked at Christine.

“I’m sorry, girl,” he said to her. “I’m sorry.”

“Me too,” I said. “I am so sorry.”

“And three, six, seven, and nine,” Carl said.

“Look, guys, I did the first door,” Whistle Woman said. “Listen to me. I’m the best. Everybody knows it.”

“Why do you have a bullet in your hat?” I asked.

“Do you have a gun in that hat, too?” the older lady asked.

That’s when I noticed several of them had hats. It was very strange.

There was a mess of conversation that I couldn’t keep track of. Carl and Whistle Woman were talking about numbers but I couldn’t follow them. Carl was telling her they had to be careful of the order or some would get left behind. When she told him to shoot for 20 or 25, he noted he had and it made the most even groups. Eric made him repeat the numbers of the two groups.

That meant I was with the same group except we lost Christine and gained John. Before we split up though, I slipped up to Whistle Woman and snuck the bullet out of her hatband. Then I went to John.

“What’s your name again, buddy?” I said.

“My name is John Whitmore,” he said.

“Okay, John, here you go,” I said.

I handed him the bullet.

“Wow, I have three now,” he said. “I’m a cop!”

“Sh,” I said.

Carl told us what order to go in. We went in the two door and the others went in the seven door. Mike was completely drunk and we had to help him through the door.

“I would just like to brief everyone in this group,” John said. “You all have nothing to fear.”

He looked at Carl.

“Especially you,” he said. “I am a police officer.”

“I feel like I’ve heard this line before,” the older woman said. “It never turns out good.”

“He’s black,” I said. “He’s got everything in the world to fear from you.”

“I just want to remain racially sensitive,” John said.

“You’re just making it worse!” I said. “You’re just making it worse.”

Carl just glared at him.

We were in a room that had five doors on the far wall. Each of the doors had a terminal with a black digital display. As the door locked behind us, the digital displays came up on the five doors. They were our numbers.

The loudspeakers crackled.

“They say that quitting addictions are a constant battle, a war within a person as they try to fight for their former self,” the distorted voice said. “Two of you nine are in constant contact with addicted individuals, Marcus distributes to them while Lydia tries to help them. Ironic that you two would find yourselves in the same room from such opposite ends of the spectrum. However, that’s what happens when one of you fails to diagnose a troubled teenager and the other one becomes his main dealer. Before you are doors with your corresponding numbers that each of you must enter on your own. Tonight you will see addiction up close and personal to truly understand what you support and what you fail to cure. Good luck.”

“Who the hell is Lydia?” I said.

The older woman raised her hand. She had just realized she was s therapist.

“Uh … you sir, you might … uh … you know, the station’s a pretty cool place,” John said.

I was reeling from the news that I was a drug dealer.

“Sir, this is probably not helping,” Lydia said.

“I don’t - I don’t know anything about who I was,” I said.

I checked my arms for the first time. There were track marks all over them. I was a dealer and a user. How sloppy. How ****ing sloppy as hell. I slapped myself in the face.

“Dumb ass!” I said.

“Welp, I guess there’s only one place I can go,” John said.

He went to the eight door and scanned his bracelet. The terminal seemed to recognize it but it didn’t open.

“We gotta go together,” I said. “God damn it.”

I went to my door, as did the rest. I was dwelling on the fact that I was probably a heroin addict.

“All I got to say is, none of you are going to get the DTs if we’re in this place too long,” I said. “Except for me. God damn it. And Mike, he’s got his fix. Dumb ass!”

“Excuse me, Mr. Michael,” John said. “If … uh … if there’s any drug-addicted persons in the next room, I want you to say this to them.”

He told him some cop-rhetoric for talking down druggies.

“For clearly you’ve been sipping out of the class of intoxication tonight,” he went on.

“Wait a second, Mike, what’s your last name,” I said. “Maybe we should all give our whole names. What’s your last name, Mike?”

“What’s it to you?” Mike said.

“I’m curious.”

“What’s yours?”

“Wilson. Marcus Wilson.”

Mike pulled the paper out of his pocket.

“Newton,” he said.

“And you’re Lydia who?” I asked the older woman. “What’s your first name? What’s your name?”

“I said ‘Amenos’ like 20 minutes ago!” she snapped. “Or however long we’ve been in here!”

“And you told me …” I said to John.

“I am John Whitmore,” he said.

“Carl, what’s your last name?” I said.

He just glared at me.

“Who needs to know?” he said.

“I’m curious,” I said.

“Well, you know what they say about curiosity.”

“Yeah, you find out answers to questions.”

“Maybe questions you don’t wanna get answered.”

“All I’m saying is, the only way we’re going to get out of here alive is if we work together.”

“I don’t think there’s going to be much talking,” Mike said to John. “You heard what he said. Addiction? Up close and personal? Sounds like a fight to me.”

“How does addiction transfer to violence?” John said. “Well … never mind.”

“They said it was a fight with the self,” Carl said.

“So, are we gonna see a mirror inside there or something?” Lydia said.

“Now, I’m no humanities major, clearly,” John said.

“You’re a cop,” I said. “No.”

“Oh wait, you’re a cop?” Lydia said.

“I am a police officer!” John said.

“He said he was a police officer,” I said.

“I am a lawman,” John said.

“I thought I smelled bacon when I came in here,” Lydia said.

“I named my bullets,” John said.

“What’re their names?” Lydia said.

“Tim, Jerk, and Flanagan,” John said.

I took John aside.

“Look, you’re a cop, right?” I said. “I wanna get outta here alive.”

He offered me a recommendation at the station.

“No no, your station ain’t gonna want nothing to do with me if I got a skills set that … Jaws Boy or whatever his name is - Trap Saw Man - thinks I have,” I said.

Mike reached for the bottle of whiskey Lydia held.

“I ain’t drinking no more,” he said to her. “I need a weapon.”

“Here,” I said. “Here ya go.”

I handed off the empty bottle I’d been carrying since we were in the room with the bar. He smashed it, giving himself a makeshift weapon. He walked to his door and Lydia stopped him, asking him to pay attention to what was going on and try to remember it. I tried to get the knife from Carl but he wouldn’t give it up. John reminded Mike if he murdered someone, he would arrest him. Lydia argued that he had no place to take him.

I took off my jacket and wrapped it around my left arm as a makeshift piece of armor.

We all went to our doors and activated the thing before walking in.

* * *

The room had a single light bulb burning from a string coming down from the ceiling. The door slammed immediately behind me and I found myself facing a man with a knife in my hand. I realized the man was an addict, hopped up on bath salts. There was a knife on the floor near me and another one on the ground next to the madman as well. There was a door behind the man.

I knew bath salts made someone crazy and violent. There was no talking or reasoning to someone like that. He wore prison attire. He had a bracelet as well.

“Look out behind you!” I cried out.

I charged him as he looked behind him. I grabbed at his arm with the knife and we struggled.

“Give me the knife, man!” I yelled at him. “Give me the knife!”

I tried to get the knife away from the man without success. I vaguely remembered being in fights before.

“Calm down, man!” I said to him. “ Calm down! I’ll get you some more stuff. I’ll get you some more stuff!”

Then I thought I heard yelling and an explosion from Lydia’s direction. I continued to struggle with the man, trying to get the knife from him.

“Man, I’ll get you some shit!” I said. “I’ll give you some shit! Just lay down!”

I disarmed the man, getting behind him and pulling his arm up until he dropped the knife. Then I headed him for the door. I figured it took both bracelets to get out. I struggled to get both to the terminal. I got mine next to it first and it buzzed negatively. Then I got his and it was the same. I finally got them both to it and it still wouldn’t work.

I heard an explosion and a guttural scream from the room to my right.

Oh, Carl’s dead, I thought.

Then I heard another muted explosion to the right.

I put the druggie in a headlock with the intention of choking him out but then I heard a beeping sound that seemed to come from inside his body. I shoved him as hard as I could and then turned, unfurled my jacket, covered myself as best I could, and crouched in the corner. There was a muted explosion and something hit the jacket.

I lowered my jacket and found it was covered with blood.

* * *

I later learned that Lydia, in her cell with her insane drug addict, tried to reason with the man. She picked up the knife near her.

“Okay, sir, I’m going to need you to, like, just take a seat for a second and just wait,” she said. “I know you’re probably on drugs. Oh sir, sir. I’ve been through, like a dozen of these cases already. I just can’t … I know I have this knife, but it’s just for self-defense so just … please … stay where you are. Can you please sit?”

The man crossed to Lydia and swung his knife so hard he fell over.

“Sir, I told you to sit down and just listen,” she said. “You hurt yourself.”

She looked over the obviously badly crazed drug addict.

“All right, sir, I’m going to need you to calm down,” she said. “I just want you to relax.”

Lydia moved away from the man.

“Sir, I really don’t want to use this knife,” she said. “But I will if you do not calm down.”

The addict tried to slash her ankles. She heard a beeping sound and the sound of a door opening to her left. That was the direction Mike was in.

“Hey Mike!” she yelled as loudly as she could. “If you’re still alive, how did you get through your room!?! I heard it beep.”

“You gotta kill ‘em,” Mike yelled.

“Are you sure?” she yelled.

“What I did,” he yelled.

“Oh God,” she said. “All right, sir, sir, sir, I really don’t wanna do this so if you could please use your bracelet on the door? Or something? Just don’t get up. Please.”

The maniac slashed at her again with the knife and also struck the floor with the bracelet. A beeping sound came from it.

“Sir!” she said. “You’re really gonna wanna stop doing that!”

She backed up into the corner. There was an explosion.

“Oh God!” she cried out. “Sir, you’re gonna wanna stop!”

The room was covered with blood as was she. She slowly crossed the room, picking up the dead man’s knife. She went to the other door and used her bracelet to open the door.

* * *

I later learned Carl grabbed the other knife so that he had two. The Latino man advanced on him.

“Hey man, I don’t wanna hurt you,” he said.

The man rushed him, slashed too quickly, fell, and crashed to the ground. Carl grabbed the third knife up and ran for the door. He tried to get out of it using his bracelet but it just beeped negatively at him.

The other man got up and Carl looked at the ceiling.

“Hey man, this ain’t cool!” he said. “I ain’t killing nobody!”

The other man came at Carl with his knife.

“What the point of being in here for killing an innocent person if I got to kill another one!?!” Carl yelled at the ceiling.

The other man ran towards Carl and just exploded in his face. He found himself uninjured but covered in blood. He screamed.

* * *

In his own cell, John got into a fighting stance, instinctively reaching for a baton that wasn’t there.

“Uh … excuse me, sir,” he said. “We can figure this out. But, if you resist, I will have to throw you to the ground and give you a thrassling.”

The drugged up man rushed him. John punched the man in the gut.

“Sir, this a preview of the thrassling,” he said.

John pushed the man aside and walked to the door. It beeped at him but wouldn’t open.

“Excuse me, sir,” he said. “Do you know the mechanism by which I can escape?”

The man came at him with a knife again and he realized he had killed someone before though he couldn’t remember the details. He usually used a gun. He didn’t like it but he accepted it as his job. In his line of work it was just what happened.

The man swiped at him and he ducked to one side. His knife struck the door and then John punched the man in the kidneys. The man was knocked down to the ground and dropped the knife. It slid across the floor. John stepped over him.

“Now, sir, I’m going to ask you again,” he said. “We’re going to get out of this room and then you’re going to go turn yourself into the police like a responsible young man.”

He heard a beeping start inside the man.

“Oh Jesus Christ shit damn!” John said.

He ran away. He crouched in the corner as far away as he could but still felt the blood hit him.

* * *

I never found out what happened to Mike in the his room but, when Lydia came out of her room, he stood there with his right arm covered with blood.

“You good, Mike?” she said. “What’d you do?”

“I sobered up in there,” Mike said.

“I just talked to my guy and he kind of exploded. So … I guess that’s how therapy usually works?”

“I guess you’re a bad therapist.”

“Yeah, I guess so. I won’t deny it. I mean, I don’t know how it usually was but …”

* * *

I used the bracelet on the door again and got out. I found Lydia and Mike there. Then John came out of his room, covered in blood I had gotten the best of it, I guess.

“What the ****?” I said.

The other side of the room had a first-aid station. The table beside the first-aid station had a baggie of cocaine.

“This should be taken as evidence,” John said.

I pocketed it.

“What!?!” he said.

Carl came out with a lot of blood on him as well. He had two knives in his belt and carried another one. He looked really angry. He was covered with blood but it was all on his back.

“You killed that guy without looking at him?” Lydia said. “God!”

Carl didn’t say anything. He just went to the exit.

“Carl, you hurt?” I asked.

“No,” he muttered.

“All right,” I said. “Anybody get hurt?”

“Did you talk your guy to death like I did?” Lydia asked. “Because I just kind of talked to my guy and he exploded.”

“I mean, you heard the explosion,” Carl said.

“Ah, well, I mean I heard the one in my cell too,” Lydia said. “He just blew up.”

“Now, about that cocaine that you just took,” John said. “Mr. Marcus.”

“It’s evidence, like you said,” I said.

“The person to handle that should be the police.”

“Here you go, copper.”

I handed it over to him.

A key card was there with the drugs. On it was written “Stopped therapy because of stopped payments.” I told the others what I had found. Another under that read “Sold drugs to a troubled man.” I read that as well.

“Well, that’s me because I’m a drug dealer, right?” I said. “Stopped therapy because of stopped payments - that probably belongs to you.”

“Yeah, probably,” Lydia said.

“Aren’t you a therapist?”

“Yeah. Aren’t you the bartender?”

She had directed that last one to Carl. He took the key card and threw it down on the ground again.

“All right, I’ll hold on to it for you,” Lydia said.

The door out of the room didn’t have the terminals we’d also faced but a heart monitor.

“Aw ****!” I said. “We all gotta take some of the coke. I can bet money on it.”

Lydia made noises in her throat.

“Put your arm in the heart meter,” I said. “I bet it won’t be fast enough.”

She wasn’t going to put her hand in the cuff.

“Mike,” I said. “Why don’t you put your hand in the cuff?”

“All right,” Mike muttered.

He did so and nothing happened. The door still said “locked.”

Carl started doing burpees. It consisted of him jumping up and then lowering himself quickly to do a push-up and getting back up to make a leap before going back down for another push-up. He did them over and over again in an effort to get his heart rate up. I followed suit, not wanting to deal with cocaine in that horrible place. Lydia jogged in place.

Eventually, we all got our heartbeats up and checked it in the cuff. Once we’d all done it, the door opened. We headed through.

* * *

The others had entered a room with an operating table in the center of it. No one was on it. The table had two different displays: one a timer that read 11:28, and the other a heart monitor. In one corner was a cage with a man’s body in it. In the opposite corner was another cage, this one with a woman’s body in it. In a third corner was a keypad with a locked door. It looked like a small room. On a table near the operating table was a lock pick. In the last corner was a terminal with a slot for a card. A safe was on one wall with a ‘G’ on it.

The speakers crackled and came to life.

“Before you sits an operating table, much like one Alicia is in contact with on a daily basis,” the distorted voice said. “However, on that fateful night, EMT responder Eric Roland delivered a wounded man to be operated on first from a fatal car crash. The innocent woman involved in that car crash died of her wounds while the murderer was stabilized. The time of her death is displayed next to the operating table, a time that it etched in my mind.

“Tonight you have a chance to do it right. inside of these mannequins’ bodies are two electronic key cards that must be inserted in the terminal in the corner. The tools you need for this room are locked behind a keypad. However, the code is before you. Find it.

“Once the mannequins are put on the table, their heartbeat will start to rise. There is a way to stop this, but you must find it. If you were fast enough that night, you could have saved two lives. However, we will test that theory. Operate on both bodies and deliver the key cards. Your time starts now.”

The timer blinked 11:28 and then it changed to 00:00. Then it became 10:00 and started to count down.

Whistle Woman went to look at the cadavers and found they were behind terminals that used the bracelets. Each had a six on it.

“Someone go to the keypad and try 1128,” Eric said.

The other black-haired woman did so and it unlocked and she found surgical equipment within. Whistle Woman grabbed Eric by the wrist and walked him to the woman cadaver and he pushed his bracelet to it. It opened immediately. He wasted time trying to search the body for wounds. Whistle Woman pointed him at the other cage and he went over there to open it as well.

The black-haired woman brought the tools to Eric and he told her to put them on the table for him. She put them down and suddenly realized she was a surgeon. She knew all the tools and realized she was the one who had operated on them before.

“I think we should do the female first,” the black-haired woman, Alicia, said.

“Yes,” Eric said.

Whistle Woman brought the female body over to the table. Alicia got to work looking for the keycard. Eric suggested someone else move the bodies and he be her assistant. As soon as she placed the woman’s body on the table, the heart monitor popped up and started to act like it was monitoring an actual heartbeat.

Eric was going to put the drugs in the syringes into the other cadaver but realized he didn’t have to as it wouldn’t do anything. He wondered why he had the syringes. He went to help as best he could.

Alicia finally found the keycard.

“Bring me that man,” she said to Eric.

“Someone else get the body,” Eric said. “I’m going to start sewing her up.”

She looked at him like he was crazy. It was a dead body.

“Just in case he wants us to be thorough,” he said.

“All right,” she said. “All right. But do it in the corner because I need this table.”

Whistle Woman had gotten the card. It was different from the other ones they’d found.

The timer was down to five minutes before Alicia got the keycard out of the other body. Whistle Woman took the keycards to the terminal and saw it was a slot that you just put the keycards in. She suggested sliding in the one from the woman first but made sure it was okay with everyone. She did so and the terminal beeped as she slid each one through. There was an unlocking sound from the door but the timer continued going down. Two keycards also came out. One read “Operated on a killer” and the other read “Delivered killer before victim.”

Whistle Woman noticed the lock pick on the table.

“Who knows how to use a lock pick?” she asked.

They discussed it and she asked if Alicia had a stethoscope in the tools. She did. Whistle Woman suggested they use the stethoscope with the lock pick. Alicia worked on it but then broke the lock pick. They left the room.

Whistle Woman slipped the keycard that read “Delivered killer before victim” in Eric’s pocket.

* * *

We arrived at a room that looked like a prison visiting area. It had built-in desks, six of them in total, with glass between each of them and a duplicate one on the other side. Two were lit up: the first and the third from the left.

“This is just like when I came to visit Stan that one time,” Lydia said.

We looked over the visiting room and found a door that connected the two sides of the room. John found a key with an ‘A’ on it. It looked like Lydia’s ‘G’ key.

Then the others showed up from another door.

“We were forced to a moral dilemma,” John said.

“Did y’all have another blood puzzle?” Whistle Woman said.

“We had a puzzle - the puzzle was to get the blood out of the person,” John said.

“We had to kill somebody to get through the room,” I said.

“We had to kill somebody to get through the room,” John said.

“Did you kill someone?” Whistle Woman said.

“No, I just kind of talked to my guy and he exploded,” Lydia said.

“Why did y’all lie to me?” Whistle Woman said.

“But he didn’t explode like getting angry─” Lydia said.

“I didn’t kill nobody!” Carl said.

“… he just blew up,” Lydia said.

“They tried to make us kill somebody to get through the room,” I said.

“Oh,” Whistle Woman said.

“And they gave us coke as a prize,” I said.

“I found out I was a therapist,” Lydia said.

“I took the coke as evidence,” John said.

“I’m a surgeon,” the other black-haired woman said.

“Oh, well good for you,” Lydia said. “You’re a doctor?”

“Yeah,” the other woman said.

“EMT,” Eric said.

“I would like to make it very clear …” John said.

Whistle Woman asked Lydia to see the keycards she’d found.

“I have one that says ‘defended a guilty man,’” Lydia said. “Are you an attorney?”

“No,” the other black-haired woman said.

“That’s her job,” someone said.

“I don’t know,” Whistle Woman said.

I started asking people’s names. The black woman was Christine Franklin.

“Are you Evelynn Stevens,” I asked Whistle Woman.

“I don’t know what’s going on?” she said.

“Yo, Evelynn,” I said. “Evelynn.”

I went over to Whistle Woman, drawing my knife.

“What the **** is your name, *****!?!” I said.

“Excuse me, sir!” John said.

“Evelynn Stevens?” I asked her.

She just stared at me.

“You say something or I’ll ****ing cut your throat!” I said.

“Excuse me, he won’t,” John said, coming over. “I’m a police officer. I will … uh … if you try to do a cutting, I will do a punching.”

“Listen, I think it’s important that we know everybody who’s here and that we find out what their professions are,” I said. “And this woman has said not shit since she’s come in here. She might be working with them!”

“I just gotta know,” Whistle Woman said. “Do I have to say another word or not another word to get cut?”

“I have two knives!” Lydia said.

“Why does everyone have a knife?” John said.

Lydia handed him one of hers.

“You said if I say another word I get cut,” Whistle Woman said.

“I don’t know how I feel about this,” John said. “This is a knife?”

“What is your name, lady?” I asked Whistle Woman.

She just stared at me.

The speakers crackled and came on.

“Finally, we come to the last guilty members of our party, the two arguably the most sinful,” the garbled voice said. “Mike and Christine, you had the most contact with the murderer, yet you did nothing to stop his demented mind. Your neglect and chaotic lifestyle respectively empowered their man to eventually hijack a woman in her car and cause a wreck that would see her pass and him not even serve two years. They say words are powerful, mixed with real compassion eight letters can be the strongest mixture, a phrase I can no longer tell my dead wife or hear from her. You will say this into the phones before you continue to the final test.”

I didn’t really listen, instead watching Whistle Woman whom I was convinced was Evelynn Stevens, the whole time. I didn’t trust her and thought she might have been working with our abductor.

“Who’s Christine?” I said.

“Me,” the black woman said.

“Then that’s Evelynn,” I said, pointing at the other woman.

I turned to Carl.

“I think she’s part of it,” I said.

“Excuse me, Mr. Mike,” John said. “It seems there’s eight letters you need to say.”

“Say ‘I love you,’” Alicia said.

“That seems to be the prevailing thought,” John said.

“You have to say it,” Alicia said.

“I don’t love him,” Mike said.

“Well … I don’t really think …” John said.

“You’re not talking to him,” Alicia said.

“… that was exactly the point of the statement,” John said.

“It could also be ‘I miss you,” Evelynn said.

“Yeah, it could be ‘I miss you,’” Mike said. “I don’t miss him either.”

“Uh … Michael, I think you’re missing the point,” John said. “We need to move through here, whatever happens, regardless of whether you believe the statements.”

“Yeah, Mike, what was your deal with this?” I said. “You recognize this room? Were you on a parole board or something?”

“You say you were retired?” Evelynn said.

“Retired,” Mike said.

“He’s retired,” Evelynn said.

“Retired what?” I said.

“Doesn’t matter now,” he said.

“No, actually, it does,” I said.

“Listen, if I gotta say ‘I love you’ into a phone to get the **** outta here, I’ll do it,” Mike said. “How about that?”

He went to the booth and picked up the phone there. He muttered it and it was very awkward. The light in the booth went out. He came out with a keycard.

“All right, Mike!” Alicia said, holding up her hand.

Before he thought about it, apparently, he nearly high-fived her. Then he looked disgusted at the act.

“And … uh … Christina, I believe you need to do it too,” Eric said.

She went to the other booth that was lit and said it into the phone as well. Her light went out and the door to the far right unlocked. She also held a keycard.

The final door on the opposite end had a nine on it.

“That’s 45,” I said. “That’s all of us and we need to do it in a way that we all get through.”

We looked at the door.

“You really think any of us are getting out of here alive?” I asked. “He went to all this shit, just to let us walk?”

“No, this isn’t over,” Alicia said.

They decided it would be in reverse order of the numbers. Then we went through.

There was another room with a four and a five over the two doors there. Alicia had been right. It had been another deception. The others started to do math again to figure out who was going where.

“We all have keycards,” I said to Christine. “What’s yours say?”

“Excuse me, Miss Evelynn,” John said.

“Did Mike get a keycard?” I asked.

“‘Failed as a father,’” Mike said.

“So is this your son?” I asked.



“It’s my son apparently. I don’t know him.”

“Yo, Carl, I still got your card whenever you want it.”

Once they figured the numbers, I found myself with Carl, Eric, and Alicia for the five door. The others were to go to the other door.

“His son is murdering us,” I muttered about Mike.

“Either that or his son is the murderer,” Eric said.

We went in our respective doors.

* * *

It was an execution room. A man sat in an electric chair before us. He seemed passed out. A table was to the right of the door we walked in with an semi-automatic pistol on it. A heart monitor stood near the electric chair.

“Oh now he gives us the gun,” Lydia said

A door stood behind the electric chair. It said “Locked” and there was no terminal. To the left was a great glass mirror, like the kind they have in execution chambers.

* * *

We later found out the other room was the observation room and they could see us. There were chairs there and a lever to on the wall.

* * *

I went over and picked up the gun and checked the magazine. It was full of bullets. Then the speakers crackled.

“I must say, the scene before you is what I have fantasized about for so long,” the distorted voice said. “My wife’s killer receiving the death penalty for the crime he committed. This is your final test and is your most crucial.

“Both of your rooms have doors leading to the outside. However, neither will open until his heart rate reaches zero. On the observation side is a lever that controls the voltage of the chair. If the switch is flipped while his heart rate is active, the observation exit will open. On the execution side is a gun to carry out the deed. If the heart rate reaches zero without the switch being flipped, the execution exit opens.

“Regardless of how he dies, he will be released from the chair at zero beats per minute. Which group will right their past wrongs first? Or is there a way for both doors to open?”

“Hey, go give him the stuff!” Alicia said to Eric.

Eric went to the man in the electric chair and checked his pulse.

“Hey, hold on,” Alicia said to me. “We got something in one of our rooms.”

“I just wanted something to defend myself,” I said. “I ain’t gonna shoot him.”

“Okay,” she said. “We have something.”

I went over to the mirror and guessed there was some kind of execution chamber behind it. Then I thought of Evelynn.

“Aw Jesus! Don’t let that ***** throw the switch!” I shouted at the mirror. “Don’t let that ***** throw the switch!”

I banged on the glass with the butt of the pistol. It seemed solid, like bulletproof glass.

* * *

In the other room, Evelynn went to the switch to guard it.

She pressed the button to the intercom near the switch.

* * *

“Eric, do it,” Evelynn’s voice came over the intercom.

Eric looked at the mirror and gave a thumbs up.

“What’re you doing?” Carl said.

“Doing what?” I shouted, pointing the gun at Eric. “Doing what?”

“What are you doing?” Carl shouted.

“Doing ****ing what!?!” I shouted. “I will take your head off your shoulders!”

“He has the syringes!” Lydia’s voice came over the intercom.

“What syringes!” I said. “I don’t know ****ing jack about no God damned syringes!”

“Oh, the syringes,” I heard John’s voice over the intercom.

“Calm down,” Alicia said.

“Lady, you don’t know how close I am to ****ing calming everybody down,” I said.

“Very nice gentlemen,” Evelynn’s voice came over the intercom. “Very nice gentlemen!”

“Yeah, what’s your name, *****?” I shouted.

“Very nice gentlemen,” she said again.

“That’s not a name,” I said.

“He has a very good chemical that will make the guy’s heart stop and then start again,” Evelynn said.

“We can do this without anyone dying,” Alicia said.

“I don’t like not knowing what’s going on,” I said. “And all I’m hearing is codes from everybody here.”

“I’m trying to tell you exactly what’s happening.”

“What is exactly happening?”

She told me Eric had two chemicals that, when injected would lower a person’s heartbeat to zero but then bring him back to life. She reiterated no one needed to die and we could all go free.

“I thought it only opened our door, though,” Carl said.

“Nope, that’s if we shoot him,” Alicia said.

“Oh,” Carl said.

“Or if they kill him,” I said.

* * *

In the observation room, Evelynn, John, and Christine saw Mike heading for the switch. John tackled Mike to the ground and held him down.

* * *

“All right,” I said. “Go ahead.”

Eric injected the drugs into the man in the chair. When the heart monitor reached zero, his clasps came undone.

“Get him out of there!” I said.

The door clicked open.

“Hey, hey,” came Evelynn’s voice. “The heart monitor needs to start beeping again before I flip the switch, right?”

The others all looked at the man in the chair. Alicia finally pulled him out. The man was still hooked to the heart monitor and his heart rate got going again. As soon as the heart rate got to five, the clasps on the chair locked shut again. Then there was a crackle of electricity as someone in the next room flipped the switch.

I went to our door and through. The rest followed. The others came out of a door right next to us.

We were in a bare room with a single door that had a nine on it. It had both a terminal for the bracelet and a key card slot as well. We found that the unconscious guy had a bracelet with the number zero. We found no scar on him so there was no bomb in him.

We used each keycard in conjunction with the bracelets to get out. Luckily, Lydia had kept Carl’s keycard.

“You will leave in the order it actually happened,” the voice spoke for the last time over the intercom.

Mike went first, the father of the murderer. Lydia went secondly as she had stopped the therapy. Christine was next, having broken up with the murderer sometime after that. Then it was me, for selling drugs to him. Carl was next, who served him drinks at the bar. Then was Eric, the EMT who took the man before the woman and Alicia who worked on the killer but not fast enough. John was next for not getting the information that was necessary to putting the killer away for longer. Finally, Evelynn was the one who defended him, according to the keycard.

The door let us outside. We found ourselves on an island. The building was an old prison. We had to signal to nearby boaters to get them to send help but we’d escaped alive.

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