Something I wrote for Ace of Escape to be posted on TucsonHappenings.com. Of course, the final version got edited a bit (apparently I was a bit too specific), but I felt like posting the original for posterity. First fiction (ish) writing project I've finished in a while. Took me a couple hours overall (spaced out over a normal work day, had some research and notes involved), and a day between first draft and editing for final.
Confessions of an Escape Room Enthusiast
I never thought I'd get hooked on escape rooms.
First time I heard of them was from a co-worker friend. “Hey, did you try the new room?”
“Escape room. Online.”
I wrinkled my nose. “I don’t even know what that is. Why would I have tried it?”
“How,” I asked, one eyebrow up.
That was the real question. Even with her hurried explanation about solving puzzles and connecting clues to escape a two-dimensional virtual room, I didn’t see how that sort of thing could be FUN.
Then she parked herself at my desk and said, “You need to do a real one.”
“Because you love this sort of thing. The mystery solving. The aha! moment. The satisfaction that your gut or sleuthing was right.”
“Hmph.” She had a point, but I was skeptical.
Two nights later, I found myself in the lobby of a local escape room, sitting with my friend and six other people I’d never met.
The owners greeted us with big smiles, asked if we’d ever done an escape room before. I shook my head along with the other six, but my friend offered, “Only online.”
The owners nodded, and proceeded to explain that the object of the room is to get out in the time allotted; in our case, that was one hour. “There’s a story and a theme to every room,” one of them said. “All the clues are tailored to that theme. It’s about paying attention, letting your brain stretch, and trying to put things together in a way that makes sense, though maybe not in a way that you’re used to.”
After some safety instructions and tips for first-timers, we filed into a room lit only with black light, and one owner handed me a flashlight. “There’s more throughout the room, but you get to find them.” She smiled mischievously. “Have fun!”
Most of us hesitated at first, unsure what to do. My friend, however, just dove right in, started tipping over vases and opening box lids. I followed suite, along with another gal. We found small things at first, like chess pieces and scrabble tiles, some puzzle pieces, too. Soon the whole group was investigated every nook and cranny, even the underside of tables and chair cushions. We made a MESS, even if an organized one. I started feeling excited. We were doing this, laughing and calling to each other when we found yet another possible clue. Someone started collecting the puzzle pieces and putting them together. Someone else volunteered to organize the Scrabble tiles, yet another the rest of the items we found. Then the key, cleverly concealed. We rushed to the drawer they told us to open first, half eager, half anxious. What would we find inside? Would we understand it? Would it be too hard?
No, not hard. We found more pieces of everything else we’d collected, and each of our three organizers bore off their treasures to their respective piles. The rest of us started at… something new. For a beat, no one moved, then an epiphany. “That over there!” I pointed across the room. “It would fit here!” I rushed over and grabbed it off the wall, then placed it in the bottom of the drawer. Yet another clue!
That was the moment I got addicted, I think. I had discovered something, figured it out. As we swarmed around the rest of the room, fitting together more clues and opening one lock after another, I realized that my friend was right - this was fun. I enjoyed using my brain in ways I don’t normally, creativity hand-in-hand with logic, and the feeling of satisfaction and achievement as I recognized patterns and connections and uncovered yet more secrets of the room, bringing us closer to finding the key that would let us out.
We came to a riddle toward the end, just minutes shy of an hour. We were close, we could feel it. It was just a plain riddle; two sentences. Everything we’d opened came down to this. If we could solve this, we’d have the final combination and the key to get out. But I had no idea what it meant. I glanced at my friend. She looked back at me and gave me this helpless splay of a hand. It stumped her, too. I couldn’t stand the silence as we all just gawked at it, trying to let our brains stretch but trying not to follow any red herrings. We had too little time. I glanced at the clock, staring as the seconds ticked down from two minutes to one minute and fifty-nine seconds. Fifty-eight. Fifty-seven.
“There’s got to be a clue about this somewhere,” the Scrabble woman whispered. She turned away from the riddle and started eyeing our glorious mess, searching for anything we hadn’t used yet that might help. My friend and I looked at each other again. For an agonizing minute, no one said anything.
“WAIT!!” Her yell made me jump, and we all jerked toward her as she darted to the table. “Quick! Try this.” My eyes yanked back to the clock. Less than a minute. Forty-six seconds. Forty-five.
The man holding the lock groaned. “It didn’t work.”
“Let me try.” My friend held out her hand, and he gave it to her.
I wanted to tell her we had only half a minute left, that she needed to hurry up. But I pinched my lips as she painstakingly lined up every number. Twenty-four seconds. Twenty-three.
I whirled as she pulled the key out and triumphantly held it toward the Scrabble woman. She hurried to the door, the rest of us screaming while she turned the lock.
We all flung the door open, and one owner flew past to tap on the timer button. Ten seconds. We had beaten time by ten seconds and we couldn’t stop talking about it. The excitement filled the room and spilled out into the hallway. That was the other moment, the one where I marveled at the minds we had, the unique ways we process information and ideas, how alone I might not have made it out, but together we did.
My friend glanced at me with this smug grin, and I just shook my head back at her. Of course she had been right. She usually is.
As we walked out to the parking lot, she nudged me with an elbow. “They have two other rooms, you know.”
I didn’t reply until we got to her car. “Think Janet would come with us next time?”
She smirked. “And Angie.”