Highly Commended Story - Seventh Hour
“Seventh Hour” by Midah Arif, Al Mustafa Academy, Canada, is the Highly Commended story in the senior category of the second biannual Short Story Contest 2020.
“AVANI OVER HERE!” I scream at the top of my lungs. I wonder how I got into this situation. All I knew was that I had to get out before the time ran out. The clock was still ticking and my anxiety grew as each second passed by. I didn’t want to think about it much, so my only goal right now was to get Avani through the door. I didn’t know who she was until 6 hours ago but now she was my second priority, my first priority being my own life. She struggled to get through the narrow opening but managed to squeeze through. My lean build had made it easier for me to get through smaller openings. Now we were both looking at a black dot on the wall trying to figure out what it meant. Perhaps it was the side of a dice, or maybe something more complex. Isn’t that how escape rooms work? All things aside, this was no ordinary escape room, none of the answers to the stages were what they seemed to be.
I was pondering over this riddle, 1, number one. There were two of us, what could this mean? Was it the start of a code?
“Nico…” Avani mumbled, cutting my trail of thoughts off. We heard a loud beep, it made me flinch, and the lights went out. I started for the wall because it was the safest thing to do, I had read about this in a fictional book, not knowing it might happen to me. Shortly afterwards, I heard a blood curdling scream. My knees froze and my throat went dry, I couldn’t force a word out of my mouth and fell to the floor, not being able to control my body. My mind goes blank and I start counting, my mother had taught me this trick when I was younger, being 23 now, the response was natural. 8.. 9.. 10.. CLACK! Light started creeping in, I guessed the heavy metal door in the corner of the room might have opened. Maybe this was the end. Maybe the one one the wall was supposed to indicate that this was the last stage. Maybe the door led outside, away from this prison. A grin took over my face as I started for the door. “AVANI HURRY!” I let out excitedly.
There was a blinding light on the other side, I walked towards the light while using my hand as a protective shield for my eyes. Soon, I noticed that it was just a huge spotlight, inside another room. I was wrong, this wasn’t the last stage. Who knows, I could be stuck here forever. I see a trail of red on the walls, it was a huge red arrow directed to the room I just came from. What was this supposed to mean? The lights were back on in that room too, how pleasant. I glanced at the room looking for clues but I hadn’t a clue until I fixed my eyes on the floor.
“Oh no, no, no, no, no.” I whisper to myself. The most terrifying sight was right in front of me. Blood rushed to cheeks as they started to heat up. I felt dizzy but made sure not to pass out. I could never trust this place, things happen quickly. Strangely, I felt a burden off my shoulders. I no longer had a second priority. She was gone. Her body was cold and her eyes still, lifeless and open. Her fingers were wrapped around her neck, as if she was running out of oxygen to breathe. I’m sure that wasn’t the case, it was murder. Is this what they intended to do of me? Maybe I would die here. I didn’t mind that much though. Afterall, if I did make it alive, I still had student loans and bills to pay. I realized it couldn’t end like this, I wanted a happy ending. So what if Avani died? I couldn’t let that happen to me.
I pace back to the other room to continue playing. Ha, I say ‘playing’ as if it is just a game. I see cups on the shelf near me, they all have weird symbols on them. Eyes, mouths, stars, crosses and everything demonic. I was used to the theme of the escape room at this point. This shouldn’t be too hard. I arrange the cups in a specific order and a drawer opens up. Inside, there’s a card, an empty card. “I can't do this anymore, I’m losing brain cells,” I started talking to myself. “There has to be another way.”
A beeping light catches my eye. Aha, the camera. I walk around the room, looking for a way out. There were no windows or any other big openings. To my surprise, there was an exhaust fan. The building looked like an old factory, which explained the rusty fan. I got on my toes to examine it farther. Surely, I could slip through if I tried. At this point, I just needed to smash the camera and escape before they noticed. There was a broken chair in the corner of the room that could help boost me up. There was still hope.
Without thinking further, I grabbed the chair and threw it at the camera with all my power. The camera broke off and landed on the floor with a bang. Then, I stood on the chair and tried tugging on the fan, it was definitely more sturdier than it looked. Using my quick thinking, I grabbed a piece of metal that was lying around and broke the fan. I squeezed through the opening and found myself in an empty lot. I could see a highway nearby, there was a possibility I could catch a ride. I turned around to have a final look at the place but was staring at the other side of the empty lot, not a building in sight.