STUCK IN THE MIDDLE
“Richard, I hope you’re not staying much longer.” Margaret stood staring down at Richard, one hand on her hip, the other one tapping a pencil on his desk. Why was she doing the one thing that bugged the heck out of me, Richard fumed. Right now she was acting like Sister Rita and it was an instant flash back to my school life at Holy Bartholomy. Not a pretty picture, but I did my time and got out of there alive.
“Yes, ma’am and thank you.” I answered to be kind and not an idiot. “I plan to leave as soon as I finish adding the notes from the meeting to my work log.” That was so not true since I was wrapped up playing the video game, MINECraft, and not doing anything work related.
“The weather is to take a turn for the worse in case you missed the memo.” Margaret, aka Sister Rita, added a final sisterly comment. “Are you aware, that everyone but you, left the building quite a while ago.” A car pulled into the lot and the driver tapped the horn. “Well, my ride is here, and you need to leave as well. I don’t think I need to repeat the fact about the change in weather.”
“Ten minutes and I’m done. OK?” He was awarded such a stern look that radiated down her long nose and stopped at her pursed lips. Richard wanted to just escort her to the door and shove her out but he couldn’t let her get to him. She left without further fanfare.
“Wow,” Richard was done with that woman for the day. “I don’t know how she gets to me. I guess there are some things you never forget.” He thought back to one more moment in time. It was a minor lack of manners on his part and Sister Rita, in the heavy enunciation tone she used, wanted to make a point to the others. Loudly, told him to stand up and go into the corner in front of the classroom. Everyone laughed when he wet his pants. Silently, he cried. He shook that feeling away and put it back in his bad memory box.
He went back to playing MINEcraft and hadn’t realized a full hour had gone by before he looked out the window. “Wow. I suppose I should think about getting out of here.” The sky was darkening and the snow was coming down in a fury. He grabbed his coat, hat, notebook and gloves and attempted to push open the door. The snow was already piled high against it and now it was impossible to get out never mind attempting to get to his car. Heading down the mountain road from where the business was located, was not possible at this time, and would be an insane attempt on his part. Shaking his head and swearing a blue streak, he realized what a fool he was.
“Well, that’s not gonna happen.” Now what? He put his stuff down and pulled out his cellphone to check the weather app. No service. “Great. This is worse than I thought.” He felt a little creeped out at a now empty and darkened building. He went around the foyer and turned on a few lights. As he did, he was met with hollow whistling sounds as the gusting wind picked up outside. The echo of creaking noises throughout added an occasional loud pop here and there. He panicked, grabbed his coat and picked a spot underneath his desk in an attempt to settle in for a while. What else can I do? No one knew he was there. Only Sister Rita did and she made a point for him to leave which he did not follow up on.
Richard was stuck. He wasn’t familiar with the layout of the building as he was still the new kid on the job. The wind picked up and the lights flickered but thankfully stayed on – for now. After a while he began to nod off and laid down on his coat that he had bunched up to use as a pillow.
Suddenly, a screeching sound startled him awake. He attempted to get up but could only raise himself on his elbows since he was still under the desk. The sound, it seemed, came from down the hallway. Nervously, he got up and crept over to the long corridor. The sound of a door closing in the distance made him go flat up against the wall, anxiously breathing in short bursts. Now what? Another sound came from inside another room down the same hallway. It sounded like feet shuffling and then something hit the door. That room was the private office of the chief executive of the company who he rarely ever saw. The door was never left open. No one was allowed to access it for any reason.
Richard quickly stepped back to his desk and frantically looked around until he found his only weapon of choice, a letter opener. He had to have this, just in case, for whatever reason he needed it. Discretely, he went down the hallway to that office to find the door surprisingly open ajar. Slowly, he pushed on it and looked in. A floor lamp was on. He opted to go in to see if anyone was there. Stepping quietly inside, holding onto the letter opener, he scanned the sparse area. There was a fancy ornate desk in the center of the room, a large mirror hung on one wall, a bookshelf with only one book was on another and the far wall had a huge portrait of a large oak tree. Odd.
Richard took a moment to try to grasp what he walked into and to figure out what the heck was really going on .
First - He was the last one in the building. He didn’t get the memo, that it seemed everyone else did, concerning the incoming blizzard.
Second - Now, he couldn’t leave due to not paying attention to what was really going on outside.
Third – He had a feeling that he was singled out and being led into something that was kind of weird.
Maybe he was letting the noises and sounds play with his head. Somehow, this was beginning to feel like a “SHINING” moment.
His eyes landed on an open memo pad on the desktop. He went over, picked it up and found an envelope clipped to it with his name on it. Okay, this was now getting really strange. He hesitated and looked around to see if someone was going to jump out of nowhere and scare the crap out of him. His first thought was to pack up and just get out of the building. What was I thinking? He be dead before long before he made it out of the blizzard since he wasn’t prepared for it at all.
The wind suddenly died down and there was dead silence. Richard could only hear his heart racing. He held up the letter opener. Was it a coincidence that he had this? He opened the letter.
“Dear Richard,” it began, “You may be wondering at the interesting way we have purposely brought you here. Why you might ask?” And the letter went on to describe the reason he was chosen. It seems that this was happening in other corporate offices around the world. It was a game CEO bigwigs were in on with one handpicked person from their staff to be the guinea pig on a quest to compete for the grand prize, as yet to be determined. They were each given a clue to begin the game, follow it through to each location, do what was asked along the way and succeed to the final ending.
Richard was totally surprised and mystified as to this whole idea. Had he been watched and judged the whole time? This was crazy, but he had no choice. He was sort of locked in the building.
“Okay. What the heck. It’s do or die I guess.” He decided to take a chance, since there was no other option, but maybe he could make it fun.
The letter, which he was instructed to keep with him at all times, told Richard to go to the large mirror. Find a reflection of what he saw over his shoulder. Glancing around he finally guessed that it was a faint flower pattern embossed in the wall. He was instructed to go and gently press on it. Immediately a secret door slid open. Following his curiosity, led him into a brick walled room. As soon as he entered, the door shut behind him and locked. He was startled by this serious motion. Okay, I guess I’m in this ‘til the end.
Each wall had a small box attached with a number on it. He needed the right answer to the question in order to open one of the boxes. The question was his prompt in the letter. It asked Richard to name the tune. What? But, immediately a song filled the air. Richard smiled. He was so thankful that he was a fan of his buddies rock band of classic rock. He knew the song was by Queen. And sure enough, ANOTHER ONE BITES THE DUST was the answer as the #1 was on a box. He went over and pushed the button, but jumped back in alarm, as one brick wall crumbled down. Whoa! Now he was faced with stepping into another mystery room.
The room was stark white and only had a door with a complicated lock. Now what?
He was instructed in the letter to tap the secret code on the door. That was the one and only way he could leave. The clue to the code was a picture of a birthday cake. Okay, now this seemed simple, but not simple. What did he need to know? He was forewarned that each clue and solution was time sensitive. He only had three minutes to figure this one out. In panic mode he moved about, slapped his head to think, stomped a foot and grew angry at his dilemma. He closed his eyes and began humming a tune. I GOT IT! He knocked the first part of the happy birthday tune on the door and to his surprise it opened! 20 seconds more and it would have been over.
He let out a whoop and a holler at his success. Alright, letter in the pocket and into the dark I go. The door closed and he was now in pitch black with not even a sliver of light to help see where he was. I guess I’ll wait until…
And then a trap door near his feet opened. Startled, he jumped back. There was weak lighting from the opening that dimly illuminated the area. He took the letter out. It said, “Go down to the bottom.”
Richard panicked, I can’t jump that far down! Suddenly it was if someone was nearby and unrolled a knotted climbing rope as it swung towards him. The way down now seemed doable with this method, as surprisingly enough, he has climbed many a cliff with his crew, just not down an abyss into the unknown. He pocketed the letter, and without hesitation, grabbed the rope, anchored his feet in a safe hold, and began the descent. Slowly, Richard scaled hand over hand until he had gone down at least two stories before reaching the bottom.
He unraveled the rope, stood up and looked around. Well, not your average basement, he mused. Richard had no clue why he was chosen, and if he was ahead of the others on this mystery trail in this so-called game. What was the outcome if any? He had no idea the time of day or if it was still a nightmare of a snowstorm out there. I wonder if Sister Rita knew about this?
Suddenly, the low light, surrounding him, faded. It was met with a bright glowing light leading to an entry way that seemed to be the way out. He felt for the letter, and took it out to find that the next challenge was for him to ‘follow the light’. As he began to walk, a new light came on to guide him, the one behind faded and went out. This happened over and over leading him on. He understood that he had to keep going forward. The trail went a fair distance until he came to a crossroads. It seemed that there were three ways to choose. He needed to pick one. Oh, boy. How do I do this?
The letter was getting a bit frayed the more he pulled it in and out of his pockets. The question to this latest dilemma was, “You must go North. If you don’t, the game is over and you will not be able to leave until the end.” That was not a wrong choice he needed. Richard had no idea, from the beginning of this mystery game, with all its twists and turns, into what direction he finally headed in getting to these crossroads. There had to be a clue, yet there were no clues left in the letter. He pondered his dilemma and looked at each exit. They were all created differently. To his left there was a set of railroad tracks that disappeared into the darkness. A banjo hung on the wall near the entrance. The second one, and straight ahead from where he stood was a huge pile of snow built into a snow castle. The right side had only one very large light globe attached to the wall. Underneath were several strands of small multicolored lights hanging across the wall.
He had enough of the stress of all of this and sat down to contemplate the final answer when suddenly, each image timed out and blew away like dust as if they were only a mirage. Richard jumped up and became lost in the moment. Lights in each entryway starting blinking, Mardi Gras music began and confetti blew everywhere. This added so much confusion on purpose, no doubt. Which way do I go? He fumbled for the letter to reread the clue. “Go North.”
Richard started one way, swung around, came back, stopped and went back to the middle of the crossroads. “Think! Dammit.” He said to no one around. Okay, I got here and there were these images at each tunnel entrance. He hoped he was facing the same way he came in. Alright. The railroad tracks and that banjo were on the left. The music was confusing his thinking as it became louder. Lights appeared in crisscross patterns over where he stood. Another distraction. The right side had that really bright light globe and oh, yeah, those Christmas lights. Straight ahead he remembered a snow castle. Just then the music stopped, the lights went out and Richard felt his feet start to wobble. A part of the floor dislodged and a circular shape slowly rose with him on it. It began to move and Richard quickly got to his knees and held on. It slowly spun over and over, then stopped and lowered back down.
Richard stood up a bit woozy. All right! I get it. You got me. I’m done. I have no idea where I am or where to go. He was confused and was just about to run down the nearest tunnel when the music came on. He paused and stood still. Was this the last clue? His time was almost up. If he screwed up would he be buried alive? This was not fun. He felt taken advantage of and had a flashback of his worst moments. Then a banjo began strumming a familiar tune, the next was John Denver brought to life singing one of his well-known songs, then the last musical stanzas reflected a classic adventure tale. Richard listened intently to it all. Now he got it. On the left he heard the banjo playing, “Oh, Susanna”, a railroad song in tune with the country’s westward expansion. WEST. The bright light and Christmas lights was a clue to the east with, “Sunshine on My Shoulders” with John Denver and was on his right. EAST. The epic and final song was “North to Alaska” and the words that he knew spelled the way out. “Go North the Rush is on”. Did he need to rush out? Well, that was the only clue needed and he quickly strode straight forward and due NORTH into the tunnel. He walked quickly and did not hesitate one second because, sure enough, a gate was activated and sealed the opening. Did he make the right choice?
In the distance, Richard saw the faint image of a door. He hoped it was the way out and not another prank. He put his hand on the knob when it suddenly opened.
The CEO of the company stood beaming, and a crowd of his co-workers stood cheering and clapping. The sky was clear and a helicopter awaited. Richard was so surprised, grinning like a little boy as he followed his boss inside the big bird.
“Well done, Richard!” He was congratulated on his determination in winning the quest. As they took off into the sky, the CEO revealed to Richard his reward.
Tap, tap, tap. He shook his head and sat up not realizing he nodded off at his desk. The sound was Margaret tapping her pencil on his desk.
“Wha-at?” He was confused. What just happened?
“I came back in to get my purse.” She smiled with her usual smug look.
“I’m locking the door. Don’t let anyone know you’re here.”