A bottle of Amontillado

Submitted into Contest #166 in response to: Start your story with someone saying “I quit!” ... view prompt

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Suspense Fiction

"I quit! Do you hear me? I quit. You win." I was waiting for a response or for the door to open. I shouted out again. "I'm stumped. I can go no further." Still no answer. 

I had been in the escape room for just over an hour, or as best as I could gauge. He made me give up my cell phone in the reception room so I couldn't cheat. An old clock on the fireplace mantle ticked with a familiar authority - tik tok, tik tok - but the time never changed. The hands were frozen at 10 o'clock. It was part of a puzzle which I had already solved. There was a pocket watch on a side table, and when you adjusted the time to 10 o'clock, the back popped open, and a note fell out. 

A zig-zag diagram titled "Aristotle's solution" was on the paper. That stumped me for a while. The room was set up like a Victorian Parlor, complete with paintings, a faux fireplace, a rich leather loveseat and chair set, a gorgeous music box, and polished oak side tables. Sumptuous Victorian clutter filled the room with figurines and busts, leather-bound books, and tea cups. The walls were covered in dark red paper with a pineapple relief pattern. On one wall hung a portrait of a man with a stern demeanour. Another had a young couple dancing; the third was a pastoral scene with sheep and trees. Actual gas-lit lamps danced among the shadows in the corners of the room. Overall it was either dark and spooky or warm and cosy, depending on your frame of mind. In the top back corner of the ceiling was a video camera through which Charles could watch me.

I looked around the room for something related to Aristotle. Let's see, what did I know about him? He was an Ancient Greek philosopher and used observation as a method of inquiry. I searched the books on the shelf and the side table, but none were by or about Aristotle. Then I spotted him on the shelf. It was a small marble bust of the philosopher himself. When I picked it up to examine it closer, a laser pointer cut straight across the room, where it hit a small mirror and reflected down on the hardwood floor. I looked at the diagram and adjusted the mirror so that its angle hit another small mirror which sent it back to the opposite side of the room, right below Aristotle. The laser triggered a small sensor, and a pass card like the ones you get at a hotel popped out. The mechanics of this puzzle were phenomenal. It was really cool. Charles was a genius.

He was my roommate, and he had designed this escape room as a business idea. Charles had asked me to test it out for him, and I suggested I get a group of friends together to give it a try, but he insisted that I be alone.

We were cordial roommates but not friends, so I was slightly surprised when he asked me for help. I have done two other escape rooms in the past and was able to solve them, so I was pretty confident I could complete his. He took that as a challenge.

We had never gone anywhere together, so driving in his car was awkward. I asked him a few questions about the escape room, how long he had been working on it, how he designed it, and things like that. He was not interested in chit-chat and replied to my questions as briefly as possible. A long gap of silence followed. I had not been paying attention to our route and suddenly realized I had no idea where we were. After the last turn, the street lights became scarce. Massive warehouses and industrial buildings loomed in the darkness.

"Where are we?" I asked.

"The portlands." He replied.

"Looks abandoned." 

"Because it is."

"Why did you locate it down here?" 

"Rent was cheap."

After a few more turns, I was utterly lost. Every building looked the same; none had logos or company names, and there were no other vehicles on the road. Finally, we pulled into a small parking lot around the side of an old warehouse.

"We're here." He announced. 

"Wow. How are any of your customers going to find you? Some of those streets weren't even named." I thought it was a valid question, but he just ignored me.

A single street light across the road illuminated our way as we walked silently up to a windowless steel door. Without hesitating, Charles pulled the door open. It wasn't locked, which I found curious. Was he squatting on the property?

Inside was a very plain waiting room. There were hooks for coats, a reception desk and a monitor which allowed someone to watch what was happening in the escape room.  

I took off my coat, and he asked me to put my cell phone in the basket on the desk.  

"No cheating," he explained.

But now here I was, stuck. I pulled out the pass card and went around the room, looking for someplace to use it. All I could hear was tik tok, tik tok of the fake clock. I had already solved many problems, more than you usually get in an escape room, but this clue stumped me. Finally, I looked into the security camera and said, "You win, Charles. I can't figure this one out."

There was no response. I went to the door where I had entered, and it was sealed shut. There was a door knob on the outside, but on my side, it was papered flush with the wall. You couldn't even see the seam, and it was as if the door had disappeared entirely into the pineapple wallpaper. 

I knocked on the door. "OK. Let me out." Perhaps he had just gone to the toilet or for a coffee. I gave him a couple more minutes; then, I pounded where the door had been. Next, I tried to pry the door open with my fingers, but the seal was too tight. 

I banged and kicked the door. I started yelling, "Charlies! Let me out!" I began to panic as there were no other exits. I stopped to think. Tik tok, tik tok. The clock drew the tension tighter. The cosy room felt like it was collapsing in on me. I took a deep breath. I can figure this out.

I looked around the room again and finally noticed a slot in one of the picture frames at the bottom. I pushed it in, but nothing seemed to happen. Tik tok, Tik tok. Fuck. I was getting frustrated. I pulled it out and then pushed it in again. This time I noticed that a small dog was backlit in the pastoral painting when the card was inserted. Again it was a cool effect, but I didn't appreciate it at the moment. I had much more on my mind. "OK, OK." I started talking to myself. "Dog. Dogs."

I met Charles through a roommate app. I had just moved to the city to start my new job. I didn't have much money saved up, so I decided to share accommodations for a few months. His online profile seemed decent. He was my age (mid-twenties) and pet-friendly (I didn't have a pet of my own, but I didn't mind he had a cat.) We were both in IT support, but he was lucky to work from home. I had to trudge into an office tower every day. It wasn't that bad, though. It was only a 30-minute streetcar ride away.

We lived in a small turn-of-the-century house. We both had a bedroom and a washroom and shared the kitchen and living room.

Charles himself was pretty ordinary. He played a lot of PS5 video games. He particularly liked survival horror titles like Resident Evil and Tormented Souls. I'm not a gamer. I prefer to spend downtime listening to music and reading. I know; I'm an old soul. Suddenly Charlies seemed very much a stranger. 

I looked around the room for dogs and soon found a pair of porcelain Staffordshire dog figurines on either end of a sideboard shelf. I lifted one dog and found a winding key. The other dog had a note that said wind three times. Between the dogs was an ornate music box made of rosewood with a cylinder and bells. I put the key in the bottom and followed the instructions. I turned the spring tight and then let it go. The simple yet complex harmony of the Blue Danube filled the room. Each delicate note resonated beautifully. I began looking around the room for a river. Nothing, but on the opposite wall was a painting of a couple dancing the waltz. That must be it. I went over to the painting. There was nothing unusual about it until I spotted the artist's prominent signature. It was Edgar Allan Poe. That was odd. I didn't think he was a painter. I turned around and began scouring the room for a book which turned out to be on a side table by the high-wing back armchair. It was The Tales of Edgar Allan Poe. There was a bookmark which I opened right away. It was in the story “The Cask of Amontillado”. On the table was an empty glass beside a bottle of Amontillado. Handwritten on the bookmark was "No one provokes me with impunity."

I quickly read the story searching for a final clue, and promptly located his quote. This must be some joke. I panicked. "Hey!" I began yelling and pounding on the door more aggressively. My situation suddenly became clear. I was locked away in a fake room inside an abandoned warehouse in the middle of a derelict portland. I was alone. I didn't tell anyone where I was going. No one can hear me. What did I ever do to him? We hardly even talked.

This couldn't be happening. I kept shouting until my voice was hoarse. I threw the chair against the door. Perhaps, I thought, he would let me out if I started to destroy his escape room. The furniture was well made and didn't break easily, but the porcelain dogs shattered. 

And then the gas lights shut off. I was alone in the dark: Tik tok, tik tok. The clock was mocking me with its incessant sound. In the darkness, I tried to calm down. I tried to think logically, but there was no rational solution. Some nutcase had locked me away in the hope of fulfilling some Victorian gothic fantasy. The red light on the camera blinked in the corner. It was still recording or was it live streaming, and the damn clock kept ticking. Tik Tok, Tik tok. I looked directly into the lens. "Charles, let me out. Funny joke. Ha Ha." Still nothing. I was alone.

I'm not sure how much time passed. I finally just laid down on the floor. I gave up. Tik tok, tik tok. I was at his mercy, and he was not showing any. Eventually, distraught and exhausted, I fell asleep.

I am not sure how long I was out, but when I heard the bolt slide and saw the door open, I jumped to my feet. It was my girlfriend. Sandy had tracked my phone's last location when I didn't answer her texts or calls. She had thought it strange that I was not at my house and that my roommate was gone, so she went on her own adventure to find me. Thank God my phone was still in the basket. 

October 06, 2022 20:28

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1 comment

Ru B
18:46 Oct 09, 2022

I could feel the tension throughout! I'm still left wondering what the whole deal was with Charles because it seemed like an actual escape room? Great story!


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