This story is by Kayla Aldan and was part of our 2017 Winter Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
A single candle atop a corner table lit the room. To the right of the table and across from the couch where Martin slept stood a pair of arched doors adorned with the number 3 in gold. There were no windows. He awoke, took a deep breath, and reached his arms toward the ceiling.
I remember sitting at the bar and having a beer…no two. Martin grumbled. Two beers wasn’t enough to get him buzzed. Wait—that man ordered shots. What did I call him? Oh yeah, the dandy. Martin chuckled. A man wearing a tailcoat, a waistcoat, a top hat, and a white scarf had strolled into their small town bar last night where everyone was dressed in their team jerseys. He called his attire white tie.
Martin walked over to the doors and tried turning a handle. It jiggled but didn’t turn. He tried the other. Same thing. He grabbed hold of both handles and shook them in a frenzied manner before he kicked at the doors in frustration, which resulted in a high-pitched yelp. Martin leaned against the door. It was then that he noticed something on the table by the candle. He limped over to it. His name was written in red, elaborate handwriting on a rectangular piece of parchment. On the other side, an ornate V had been pressed into crimson wax to seal it. Martin broke the seal and unfolded the parchment. The same handwriting decorated the letter’s interior.
I am honored to say I had the pleasure of enjoying your company last night. To remind you, each room contains a puzzle or task you must complete in order to gain access to the next. Each door number tells you how many rooms are left. The tasks or puzzles will become more vigorous and mentally challenging as you progress through the rooms. The key to this door can be found under the center couch cushion.
Martin hobbled to the couch. M. Vallencourt…must be that dandy. He lifted the cushion. Well, I’ll be damned. Bastard wasn’t lying—there’s a key here. He picked up the key and limped to the door. The key fit the lock, so he turned it and opened the door.
This room was smaller than the previous one. There was a chandelier hanging from the ceiling, a letter on the floor, a digital timer counting down from two hours, and a door to the next room, which was marked with a gold 2. He picked up the letter and opened it.
From this point on, you have two hours to make it through the remaining rooms. The countdown started when you opened the door. To open the next door, you must answer the following question correctly: what is my first name? State each answer out loud. Every incorrect answer will subtract ten minutes from the time you have left.
Martin had one hour, fifty-eight minutes, and some odd seconds left.
“Martin?” He started with his own name. One hour and forty-eight minutes. What was that guy’s name? The letter was signed M. Vallencourt, so it starts with M.
“Michael?” One hour and thirty-seven minutes. I know he told me….
“Matthew?” One hour and twenty-seven minutes. Martin started pacing.
“Mark? Marco?” One hour and six minutes. Try to think of something other than Michelangelo and Merlin.…
“Mason?” Fifty-six minutes.
“Miles? Mario?” Thirty-five minutes. I need M names!
“Marcel!” Martin yelled. Twenty-five minutes. Just use those other ones—it might help me think of something else.
“Michelangelo? M—” Martin stopped. He had just under fifteen minutes, and he still had two rooms after this one.
“Maurice?” Four minutes. I bet nothing will happen—probably just a stupid prank….
“Malcolm!” Martin heard a loud click. He grabbed the door knob and turned. It opened! That dandy’s name is Malcolm Vallencourt!
Martin stepped into the next room. It was a long hallway with a pool filling the space. He stood on the only spot in the room where there was no water. The door at the far end had a gold 1 on it. The timer showed he had less than four minutes. He picked up the next letter.
This pool is 50 meters long and seven feet deep. If you can make it to the other end and into the next room in under one minute, you will be rewarded with half of the time you lost in the previous room. The door is unlocked.
Martin undressed. I’ll swim faster naked. I lost one hour and forty, no fifty, minutes naming wrong names. Plus the time spent thinking and undressing. If I make it through this, I’ll get what? Fifty-five minutes!
Martin dove in the pool and swam as fast as he could. His lungs burned. He pushed harder. Then, he hit the wall. The door was on the edge of the pool. I have to open it from in the water. He reached for the door knob and missed. He tried again. His fingers grasped the knob, then slipped off. He tried a third time and pushed. The door grated open. Martin lifted himself into the next room and rolled into a pile of sand with some water sloshing over with him. The door shut and locked behind him.
Breathing heavy, Martin glanced at the timer. Fifty-six minutes. He managed a smile and closed his eyes.
Martin awoke to a weight on his feet. He sat up and saw a pile of sand growing up the walls and over his legs. He pulled his legs out and backed away. Where’s the sand coming from? Martin looked around until he saw the openings by the ceiling pouring in the sand. He looked at the timer. Forty-one minutes. There was a letter on the timer.
The door out of this room is unlocked. When there’s one hour left, sand will begin pouring in from vents around the perimeter. The room will not be filled in one hour, but it is unlikely you can get out after that point. The final door opens into this room and once an hour as passed, there will be too much sand in the way to be able to open the door.
Martin looked at the last door. It already had a sand dune covering the handle. He dug down to it and pulled. No luck—there was too much weight against the door. He dug faster, pulling sand towards the center of the room. If I hadn’t fallen asleep, I could’ve walked out! Sand filled in some of the gaps Martin had cleared, but he could see most of the door. He tried opening it—still too much sand. Twenty-eight minutes.
Martin’s hands were raw, sand penetrated every pore, and he kept digging. He tried the door again. He managed to open it almost five inches, but that wasn’t wide enough for him to get through. He left it open and continued digging. Martin checked the timer—twenty-three minutes. He pulled on the door, widened the gap a few more inches, and tried to squeeze through. Need just a little more.
Martin had enough room to move sand through the entrance. He scraped the sand from behind the door and sent it outside. Then, he wedged into the space and pushed against the door. Sand cascaded down his back. He wiggled further into the tight opening until he fell out onto the sand pile collecting outside.
Brushing off, Martin stood and looked up. Malcolm Vallencourt sat at a small table under the shade of a tree sipping tea. Martin covered his front with his hands and stormed over.
“What the hell is wrong with you? What kind of sick, twisted—” Martin stopped. There was a folded robe on the other chair and a document on the table with his signature. “What’s this?”
“You can wear that,” Vallencourt gestured to the robe. “And this is the contract acknowledging the terms of the competition and was witnessed by both bartenders.”
Martin put on the robe and the read the document. It outlined how he had challenged Vallencourt to a drinking contest. If Martin drank the most shots without getting sick or passing out, Vallencourt would have to wear football jerseys every day for a week. If Vallencourt won, Martin would be the guinea pig in Vallencourt’s untested escape rooms. In addition to the bartenders’ signatures, there were written notes attesting to Martin being of sound mind at the time the document was signed.
“Is this it then? Are we done?”
“Of course. There’s a car waiting to take you home.” Vallencourt gestured to Malcolm’s left.
“I’m gonna go then.” Martin stepped back.
“Might I make a suggestion?”
“That depends—will it end with me signing a contract and having witnesses attest to my sobriety?”
Vallencourt chuckled. “No.” He poured himself another cup of tea. “Avoid challenging a stranger to a drinking contest.”
Martin huffed and strode over to the car.