As the man with greasy, black hair took their money Jillian felt the chisel of anxiety drill into her temple. Something wasn’t right, but she couldn’t put her finger on it. The man guided them to a large metal door and turned to face them.
“Tonight, you’re going to experience the Escape Room called Meltdown. Beyond this door is a nuclear power plant located on the banks of North Carolina. Hurricane Matthew is heading right for it and we can’t reach the plant manager.” The man paused for dramatic effect, looking at each of them. There was a sneer on his lips and something hard in his eyes.
“Your job is to find the door codes and escape the room before the power goes out. You have an hour to complete your mission.”
Sandra, who never took anything seriously, giggled and asked, “What happens if we don’t figure it out?”
“You die.” He turned to open the door and motioned for the eight of them to enter.
Jillian hadn’t wanted to come tonight. Something about doing an escape room sent a tremor up her spine. It might have been her claustrophobia, but this felt more visceral. Like something bad was going to happen. She bit her lip, trying to contain her emotions.
Francesca nudged her. “You alright?”
“Yeah, just nervous about doing this.”
Sally looked over and said, “You get nervous about everything. Lighten up. This will be fun!”
As the door closed behind them, a digital clock flickered on the wall with a countdown. She took a deep breath to ease the stress that had tightened her shoulders. On the far wall, there was a door with a keypad. That meant two sets of codes. One for the door and one for the generators. But where would they enter the generator code?
“Over here! There’s a book with some numbers in it.” Sandra called them over. Jillian wanted to look too, but had read online that it was better if they didn’t bunch up. Instead, she glanced at the wall to her right. Metal cabinets covered it from floor to ceiling.
From the other side of the room, there was a clatter as tools were knocked off a desk. Marie looked up, eyes widened to appear innocent as everyone laughed.
The lights flickered on and off.
Jillian froze, as if her stillness might avoid complete darkness. She looked up at the clock to see that they only had thirty minutes left. She opened a cabinet to find hazmat suits swaying from metal hangers. She inhaled sharply. Beneath the flickering light, they looked like white flesh inside a meat locker. After another breath, she rifled through the suits as an explosion resounded outside the room. The walls of the cabinets shook and an Ipad fell to the floor.
Pounding the door’s keypad, Sandra yelled, “The numbers from the book aren’t working! We need to find the combo to the door.”
Jillian picked up the Ipad and swiped the front. Icons displayed on the screen in an odd arrangement. Normally, they were spread across the screen, but these were arranged differently. As she puzzled over it, another explosion rocked the room and a klaxon alarm blared.
Two minutes left.
Jillian’s friends ran around the room, frantic to find the answer before their time ran out. The noises, the lights flashing and their panic were making Jillian’s head spin. She had to focus. Somehow, she had to figure this out. She swiped to the other pages of icons only to notice the exact same pattern. Maybe it was the arrangement. There were five icons on the first line, three on the second line, four on the third line and two on the last one. It had to be it!
She ran over to the door and punched in the numbers. The door clicked open a fraction of an inch and the room fell silent. Jillian looked at the clock. It had stopped with ten seconds to spare. The girls cheered and hugged each other.
They’d done it!
Even though they’d escaped, Jillian had a nagging feeling of something not right. That was when the lights blinked out leaving them in complete darkness. Jillian screamed.
A moment later, the light came back on.
“Why did you scream like that?” asked Francesca.
The door clicked shut. Over the loudspeaker in a singsong voice, “Nice job girls, but you didn’t figure out the generator code.” The man cackled. “We’re not done with you, yet.”