Last weekend, I went to an escape room.
Our company wanted to send the three of us interns for “team-building” and “camaraderie.” But because they’re cheap as fuck, they booked some dingy one in the middle of nowhere.
“Your cellphones, please,” the lone employee – a woman named Meredith – said, extending a plastic bin. “This is an immersive, team-building experience. No texting allowed.”
With a few grumbles, we plopped our cell phones in the bin.
“Here you are,” she said, swinging the door open. “The Medieval room.”
While Kate and I filed in, Derek stood on the threshold, staring at the blinking red light in the corner. “Is that a camera?”
“Here he goes again,” Kate whispered to me, snickering. Derek was crazy like that – always thinking his phone was tapped or the government was spying on his emails. Because, you know, the life of has-been frat bro is just the most fascinating thing ever.
“That’s just for surveillance. Or in case of emergency,” Meredith explained with her unwavering smile.
Derek shot her a glare, then slowly stepped into the room. The door swung the door shut; the lock clicked behind us.
The room was small and windowless, as most escape rooms are. Stone wallpaper covered half the wall; the other half was covered in sky, complete with a crudely-painted dragon. Banners hung from the ceiling, and a suit of armor stood in the corner.
“I’m fucking starving. Let’s get this over with as fast as we can,” Kate said, running over to the bookshelf. “Each of you take one. Flip through it, see if anything falls out.”
Derek got lucky. After a few minutes of wildly shaking a Bible, a slip of paper fell out. He picked it up and read: “Take the painting off the wall, and God may save you all.”
We removed the painting. Behind it was a coded message, and Kate found its cipher taped to the underside of the table. It all went smoothly, clue after clue, until we got to the suit of armor.
Put on the suit of armor, and you’ll become a charmer.
I looked at it – a beautiful thing, made of engraved pieces of metal. It looked surprisingly realistic for escape-room décor. “They… really want one of us to wear it?” I said.
Derek shrugged. “I’ll do it.” He stepped forward and yanked the helmet off the stand. Kate and I helped him get the plates over his shoulders, the bands over his arms. Finally, I placed the helmet on his head.
“You look great in that, Derek,” Kate said, with a hint of flirtation in her voice.
“I can’t see anything, and it’s hot,” he complained, ignoring her. “How long am I supposed to wear this thing?”
“No idea,” I said, shrugging. Kate was already on her hands and knees, combing the floor for clues that might have fallen out.
Five minutes went by. Then ten. We didn’t find anything, and Derek’s complaining grew louder, more hurried.
“Can you guys take it off?” he said, his voice muffled through the metal. “It’s tight, and itchy, and something is poking into my stomach –”
“Fine, if it’ll quit your whining,” Kate said. “Marisa, can you help him?”
I walked over and grabbed his helmet.
“It’s, uh… it’s not coming off,” I said.
Kate ran over and started tugging on one of the leg plates. But it was no use; it was like the suit of armor had somehow locked itself shut.
I could hear Derek’s panting breaths echo inside the metal, feel heat coming off the armor. “Get it off! Get it off!” he yelled, the armor clattering as he writhed and thrashed.
“Stay still!” Kate shrieked, as he accidentally kicked her in the head. “We can’t get it off if you’re moving like that!”
I ran over to the door. “Hey, we need help in here!” I yelled.
“We need help! Open the door!” I pounded on the door with all my strength.
“Get it off, get it off!”
Kate finally pulled the helmet off. It rolled to the ground with a hideous, echoing clank.
“Derek? Derek, are you okay?”
His face was red; his black hair was wet, sticking to his forehead. “Just get the rest of it off!” he yelled.
Now that the helmet was off, it was like the armor had somehow unlocked itself. The pieces quickly popped off, and when it was done, he collapsed onto the floor. “My stomach… it burns,” he muttered, wiping the sweat of his face on his sleeve.
“Okay, okay, sssssshhh. Let’s see.” Kate gently lifted his shirt.
Across his stomach were red imprints, as if something had been pressed hard his skin. Forming letters, forming words.
CHECK THE CLOSET
I bent over, grabbed the chest plate, turned it over.
“Oh, my God.”
There were the fourteen metal letters, sticking out from the surface. Backwards, so when pressed against skin, they’d leave the message.
“We’re leaving. Now.” I walked over to the door and pounded on it again. “Hey! We don’t want to play anymore! Let us out!”
Kate turned to the camera, its red light blinking in the corner. “Hey! Can you hear us?! Let us the fuck out!”
Five, ten, twenty minutes went by.
No one came.
Derek stared blankly at the red light. “What if – they want to keep us in here? To watch us, to record us –”
“Stop it with the fucking conspiracy theories, Derek!”
“But he’s right – if the camera’s for surveillance, why haven’t they come and saved us by now?”
She stared at me, nostrils flaring, but didn’t say a word.
“This isn’t an escape room. It’s some sadistic game.” Derek was standing up, now. His young face looked at least a decade older, the lines of panic cutting deep. “We have to get out of here. Kick the door down, if we have to.”
“Or we could check the closet,” I said.
“No! We are not giving into their fucking game!”
But I was already pulling the door open.
They ran over. The closet was about six feet deep, twelve feet across. It was pitch black, save for the light that spilled in from the main room. And as my eyes adjusted to the dark, I saw the message painted on the walls, in bright red paint:
‘How can I escape this room?’, you wonder
Here’s the answer: six feet under
I looked down. The floor… it wasn’t carpet, or wood, or anything else. It was dirt. And there, glinting in the light, leaning against the wall –
Were three shovels.
Kate began to sob; Derek awkwardly put his arm around her.
“The only way out… is death?” Kate said. “Is that what that’s supposed to mean?”
I stared at the message. A shrill ringing filled my ears; my vision swam and shimmered. Six feet under… six feet under…
I grabbed a shovel.
Kate scoffed. “So what, Marisa, you’re just going to give up, and dig your fucking grave now?”
I didn’t dignify her comment with a response. I just started digging.
I hit the first body after only two feet.
Kate began screaming. Derek hid his face, forcing down vomit.
Shreds of plaid cloth caked with dirt and dust. The waves of decomposing stench hit me like a truck; but I pushed everything away and kept digging.
A foot later, I unearthed a clump of long, dark hair.
“Stop digging,” Kate sobbed. “Please, stop.”
But Derek grabbed the next shovel and started to help.
It took us three hours to finish. By the end, we were starving, exhausted, and weak. Kate was lying on the floor, in a half-faint, half-asleep way; Derek looked like he was about to pass out.
But we found it.
At about six feet under, the shovel clanged against metal.
And on that metal was a doorknob.
It took several tries, but I was able to lower myself into the hole and kick it open. And when I did, I dropped through the opening – and into a damp, cold tunnel.
The rest of them followed. After walking through muck and sewage for an hour, the tunnel opened to the outside. We found ourselves standing on the street, a few miles down the road from the escape room.
We flagged down a car and made it to the police station.
But by the time they made it over there, no one was there, save for the decayed remains we found in the closet.
And the “surveillance footage” was gone.