Raymond was dead. So are Becky, Josh, and Melissa. Sylvie may or may not be. I only have a few heartbeats left.
We decided to have a Friday Fun Night after being cooped up for the last seven months. Six friends at a puzzle room, masked for our own protection and in compliance with the pandemic rules of life. Three boys and three girls together since kindergarten. A clique, a company, a troop, a gang. Friends without benefits. At least, that’s what I always thought, but apparently, we have been lying to one another.
We arrived at six. Since it’s November, it’s already dark out. Each of us came in our own cars from all over the states of New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, and Delaware, to party in our home town of Cherry Hill to The Locked Room - an escape game experience.
The attendant ushered us into the Frenemies with Benefists room, handed us each a sheaf of papers, and locked the door after he left.
Raymond took his mask off once the guy left. He always was an ass, so it’s not surprising he died first.
“Let’s get this over with,” he said.
“That’s the spirit,” said Becky.
“Shut up,” said Melissa.
What the hell?
Raymond moved away from Becky and Melissa and tried to wrap an arm around Sylvie. She dunked her shoulder to avoid him. The three women scowled at each other.
Seriously, what the hell was going on?
“Our time has started, guys,” said Josh. “Let’s concentrate on getting out of here. Clearly, this wasn’t a good idea.” He shook the papers in his hand and snapped them as if they were wrinkled and in need of straightening out.
“Live or Die
You all know why
The first to solve a riddle
Gets a knife in the middle
The second to crow
Gets shot with an arrow
By the third solution
You’ll grasp it is retribution
Once the fourth one is dead
All covered in red
Persons six and five
Will still be alive
But as the clock strikes the hour
We will cut the power
And only one of you
We all looked at our pages.
“That’s it?” Raymond threw his sheets on the floor and leaned against the wall, arms crossed. “Where are the clues? It sounds like a threat.”
He gasped; his eyes went wide. Blood bubbled from his lips, and he slumped forward, skewered on a knife protruding from the wall behind him.
Becky shrieked, sounding like a raven hunting in a field. An arrow shot from a crossbow in the corner pierced her forehead. She fell over onto her back, her skull hitting the floor with a loud crack.
“What the hell?” I said. I waved my hands at them, the dead and the living. “Nobody move. Nobody speak.”
“You’re doing both,” said Melissa. “Who made you boss?” She brushed her black hair back, tucked it behind her excessively pierced ears, and took off her mask.
“Don’t take your mask off,” said Josh. He sucked his toad-covered covering into his mouth, then blew it out. He looked like a bullfrog.
“Why? Am I going to catch my death?” She pointed at Raymond and Becky.
“We need to figure out what’s going on,” I said.
“Someone is killing us,” said Sylvie. She moved back from us a bit. “Just like in the poem.”
“Why would they want to kill us?” I looked at my paper; the only thing on it was the clue. No business name, no logo.
“They wouldn’t,” said Melissa.
Josh was reading the poem to himself, his lips moving without sound. He looked at Sylvie.
“You wrote this,” he said. “You like writing bad rhyming poetry, and you were talking about revenge over breakfast. You even used the word retribution.”
“You two were together this morning?” Melissa let out a sob.
Josh looked at his shoes.
“Oh, grow up,” said Sylvie. “You were with Raymond last night.”
A cloud of gas floated down from the ceiling.
“Put your mask back on,” I said to Melissa.
Josh, Sylvie, and I backed away, our hands over our masked faces.
Melissa fumbled with her mask and dropped it on the floor. “No, no, no,” she said, hyperventilating. She bent to pick it up and fell on her blue face and lay still. A whoosh of air cleared the room of the airborne poison.
“You’re doing this,” I said to Sylvie. “This was the plot of your latest novel.”
“Oh, you read it,” she said. “So, you know how this ends.”
“Sylvie?” Josh moved towards her.
“I wouldn’t if I were you,” I said to him. “The next person to die is shot.”
“You shouldn’t have slept with Becky and Melissa,” said Sylvie to Josh. “You said you loved me.”
“I do love you,” he said.
“They threw themselves at me. They were mad at you and each other and Raymond. All three of you had sex with him. They told me. So, I had sex with Becky and Melissa. It seemed only fair.”
“Raymond drugged me,” said Sylvie. “He raped me. I told him no because I loved you, so he took away my choice.”
“What the hell, Sylvie,” I said. “Why didn’t you say something?”
“To who? To you?” She shook her head. “You never have time. I called you. Right after. You said you were in the middle of something. One of your oh, so important projects. Do you even remember?”
“Why didn’t you tell me?” Josh reached for Sylvie. She backed away from him. She pulled out a gun.
“I went to your apartment. I saw you with Becky. The next night I went again and saw you with Melissa.” Tears dropped from her eyes.
Sylvie shot Josh in the face. I rushed her. The gun went off, and I felt burning in my stomach. I wrestled the gun from Sylvie, wrapped my fingers around the grip. She punched me. I fell to my knees. She gouged her thumbs into my eyes. I pulled the trigger. The timer clanged. The lights went out.
I lay on the floor, blind and bleeding. Sylvie wheezed for a bit then went silent. I didn’t know if she was alive or dead. I didn’t know if anyone would be back to open the room. I didn’t know how Sylvie had managed to set all of this up, but she was always the most clever of us. I did know how I missed all of the drama, and it cost me the people I professed to care the most about.
A lock clicked. A rectangle of light crept into the room.
“What the hell,” said the attendant.