“It’s a common belief that humans are complex creatures, but in reality they’re extraordinarily simple. They process in one way: think, decipher, feel...occasionally reversed. The problem with humans isn’t their simplicity or free-will; it’s the limitations of their minds. What if we could extract the typical process of the mind and alter it to become something tangible? Useful? Profitable?”
Professor Lynde Monien, Valentine IV University 2033
THE THEORY OF MANKIND
I gently knocked on the pristine white door once more. What greeted me was an echo of my efforts. There was a section punched out of the door, but it was filled by a mirror, so all I could see was my baggy-eyed self.
GUIN: Is anyone there…? At all?
Despite my attempts to call out to whoever or whatever could be on the other side of the door, my voice was too small and meek to be relayed back to me. Maybe it was because of my usual tendency to stay quiet or the fact that I was shivering down to my bones, my knees buckling below me nearly every moment that passed. I knew all the knocking and all the calling would be to no avail, though. My situation was too much like a mystery RPG - waking up in someplace unknown and finding myself trapped, my kidnapper refusing to show their face to intensify the atmosphere further. All I needed to do now was wait for the cute mascot character to appear.
I sighed. I had to give up eventually; if they wouldn’t answer the first fifteen knocks, they weren’t going to answer any of them. So, I took two steps away from the door and sat back on the mattress I found myself on not long ago. The entire room was cramped and stuffy, the walls all painted the same blaringly clean white as the door. They were bare with the only thing on one was a vent overhead. The only real object I found were my glasses, which were sitting next to my face on the mattress when I woke up. The furniture accompanying my bed was scarce, being a toilet and a sink. It reminded me of a cell in a prison.
...But a prison of all places? How, and why, would I end up in a prison cell? Wouldn’t the door be less solid and be nothing more than metal bars, too?
I pressed my fingers against my temples, my head now pounding from flopping out of bed so fast and standing for so long. I tried to even out my breathing, which started to become frantic.
GUIN: Think, Guin, think… Where are you…? What could this be…?
The last memory I had before arriving in this strange place was going to bed as usual back at home, falling asleep after tossing and turning for a bit. Nothing else…
My throat was tightening up. I sniffed, trying to hold back tears that were starting to well in my eyes. They had been trying to roll down my cheeks since I woke up, but I was doing well at keeping them in place. Surprising, since waking up in a strange room reminiscent of a prison cell with a door that was locked seemed like the surefire scenario to make me weep a few more tears. Little did I know was that it would only take one more thing for my tears to finally spill over:
A click and the sound of an air conditioner.
The sound came from above me, so I turned my attention to the vent-
GUIN: Wh-What’s that?!
From the slits of the vent seeped out a light green fog, slowly creeping and covering the entirety of the ceiling. I hopped back onto my feet and gawked at the view - the view of an ominous gas filling my confined, cramped room. It didn’t take long for the ceiling to be covered by the thick gas, slowly slinking down the walls. The room was filling with a strange odor that burned my throat, and I found myself gagging.
I covered my mouth with the collar of my turtleneck, trying to keep the gas out of my nostrils. I coughed a few times, my hands shaking and my collar coming loose due to my own tremors. I was about to scream, scream louder than I ever had before, desperate for someone to hear me and free me from this potential gas chamber when I noticed something next to the door.
It seemed to materialize from thin air. I approached it to see a keypad, it’s numbers ranging from 0-9 with a singular “ENTER” button. It seemed there was a portion of the wall that opened up and this slide out of it…
I choked, the gas burning my throat raw.
GUIN: What do I type in…?
I peered at the screen, which actually had something on it. There was a section at the bottom with a flashing underscore where what I typed would go. Above it seemed to be an equation:
10 ÷ (20 ÷ 2² × 5 ÷ 5) × 8 + 2
GUIN: M-Math?! Do...I have to solve this?
I fearfully gazed up, the gas now flooding half the room. My knees were quivering so bad, I knew they were going to buckle any minute and I would go toppling to the ground, the gas enveloping me and I would be nothing more than dust...possibly. It was a complete and utter possibility that this gas would dissolve my skin and my blood and my bones down to an unrecognizable dust, because the gas that was scraping my throat made it hard for me to speak, and everything burned.
And the only way to possibly stop it, or get out of here, was to solve a math equation.
GUIN: Okay… Okay… This can’t be too hard, right? Just… Just think, PEMDAS…
I used my vast knowledge gained from high school algebra, which was the magical equation that could save an endangered girl from choking on a green gas. At first, I thought through every step slowly in my head: parenthesis first, there’s an exponent there… However, I started to see green in the corners of my eyes, and they began to water, both from the burning and from the fear. So, I raced through the steps one hundred times faster than someone should, and typed in 2.2.
The screen turned red, reading a big “ERROR” message. The “ENTER” button I pressed let out a small volt, shocking the end of my finger. I yelped, and that’s when I finally started crying.
GUIN: Wh-What?! That’s not right…? How?!
I went through the steps in my head. Two-squared equals four… Oh, god, it’s touching the corners of the room! Four times five is twenty… I could feel the gas seep through my sleeves, burning into my skin. The tears flooding my eyes blurred the keypad; I could barely see any of the numbers. I was hyperventilating, shaking, the gas burning, my tears flowing, my heart racing-
I screamed out, but I knew there was no point. I tried to take a deep breath - which was strangely enough filled with pure, unadulterated air - and tried to calm my trembling hands. I spoke the steps out loud to myself, trying to ignore the gas that surrounded me, which no longer made an effort to touch me.
GUIN: Two-squared equals four… Four times five is twenty…
Wait! You don’t multiply that before dividing twenty with four!
Once I discovered my mistake, the rest of the equation came naturally. Beads of sweat dripped down my forehead, and my tears were still coming at uncontrollable rates, but suffocating gas seemed to dissipate a little bit...or, at least, it wasn’t filling up the room nearly as fast anymore. The real answer turned out to be completely off from what I got before - 18 - which is typical for math being done under pressure.
I pressed “ENTER”, and rather being met with a scolding shock and despairing red text, I was met with a neon green “CORRECT” and the door clicking open. Without hesitation, I rammed myself against the door, swinging it open and nearly off its hinges, and toppled onto the ground. I coughed, my throat still raw and burning from the gas. The door swung back, slammed shut, and clicked, locking itself once more.
I laid on the floor, my arms and legs completely numb and immoveable from shivering so much. The burning from the gas vanished before long, and it didn’t leave behind any scars. It was more for sensation purposes than actual harm, I guessed… My lungs argued otherwise though, for it took several long moments of choking and gagging for me to finally breathe right again. The tip of my finger still hurt from being shocked, but besides that, a sore throat, and sheer fatigue, there wasn’t much else wrong with me.
GUIN: What...was that…?
I hauled myself back onto my feet despite my body screaming for me to stay down. My vision blurred a bit, dots scattering across my sight. Once I regained hold of my senses, I found myself in a hallway, standing in front of a door across from the one I just escaped. There were several other doors lining the walls, all white and pristine with a section cut out of them where you would expect a window...and that’s exactly what I found.
Which was odd, I thought, considering that section of door was a mirror when I was trapped in my room. I peered into the window of the other door to find the same sort of arrangement that was in mine: a steel-frame bed, a sink, and a toilet. It was a carbon-copy.
GUIN: Is this really a prison of some sort…?
And this window here...is it by chance a mirror on the other side?
GUIN: A one-way mirror, maybe…? Something suited for solitary confinement…
To have so many rooms designed for such in one hallway seemed odd…
I decided to test my theory by peering into the room I just escaped, and without a doubt, I could see in. The window truly was one-way, with the other side being a mirror. I watched as the green gas was slowly sucked out of the room, it escaping back into the vent. I jiggled the knob a bit, but, alas, it was locked once more.
GUIN: I guess I can’t go back in… Not like I really want to…
I peered down the hallway of doors. My room was at the end - there was nothing at the right of it besides a blank, white wall. I walked down the hall, counting the doors on one wall as I went. There was a total of eight, so this hallway had sixteen total.
At the end of the hallway was a seventeenth door, but this one was starkly different than the rest. It was black, and instead of a one-way window, there were bars screwed on, much more reminiscent of a prison or a dungeon. I looked into a few of the other doors first before approaching the black one; they were all empty, void of any person or any thing except for the usual setup.
GUIN: Is there anyone here at all…?
I made my way to the black door. The bars were higher than me, so I had to get on my tiptoes to peek through with my hands holding them to keep steady. There wasn’t anything shocking or mind-boggling in there, but it was much different than the other rooms. What seemed like large, square drawers lined the walls, most with green lights lit near the handles. I only saw one with a red light, and another was open…
...with someone rummaging through it!
Before I could react, I started to move. Or, more accurately, the door started to move - I lost my footing and the door began to swing open as a result while I was still latched onto the bars! I squealed as it swayed into the room and slammed against the wall, nearly knocking me off of it. I kept my grip on the bars as my legs swung helplessly below me.
???: That’s one way to enter a room, I guess.
I tensed up so much when the door moved, I had my forehead lodged into the bars with my eyes squeezed tight. When I heard the voice - the awfully familiar voice - I finally loosened up, though I stayed firmly in place hanging off the door. I turned my head to find the person who was digging in a drawer…
I swung my feet.
GUY: You’re an inch off the ground.
Guy sighed and helped me get my feet back on the ground, which was simply holding onto my waist while I nervously relaxed my arm muscles so I could inch closer to the ground. Once my feet were planted firmly on the floor, I finally let go of the bars and let out the huge breath of air I had been holding in that entire time. Guy took this opportunity to flick my nose, in which I replied with a loud whine.
GUY: That wasn’t so hard.
GUIN: D-Don’t be mean!
GUY: I’m not mean.
GUIN: Yes, you are!
I rubbed my nose while Guy stood by, his arms crossed and his eyes as sullen as ever. Even though he was being his usual unsympathetic self, it was relieving to find my twin brother and know I wasn’t here by myself.
After I was done tending to my flicked nose, I noticed something wrapped around his neck. It seemed to be a thick, metal choker with several red lights lining it, each as bright as day.
GUIN: What’s that around your neck?
GUY: I don’t know. It was there when I woke up.
He reached out and pulled my turtleneck’s collar down.
GUY: Seems you have one, too. Your lights are blue, however.
My hands flung to my neck, where I felt the cool touch of metal and the warm sensation of lit bulbs.
GUIN: Wh-When did that get there…?
GUY: You probably didn’t notice it because of that turtleneck of yours.
GUIN: But...I didn’t feel anything around my neck when I woke up…
GUY: I didn’t feel mine, either. I only found it once I looked into my room’s one-way mirror.
GUIN: You were in one of those rooms…?
GUY: Yes. At the end of the hall, to the right.
GUIN: I-I was right across from you…! Why didn’t you try to get me out?!
GUY: It was locked. I figured you would get out like I did eventually.
GUIN: You didn’t even wait for me…!
GUY: I was going to wait for you here.
GUIN: Th-There was… There was poisonous gas in my room! I almost died in there!
GUY: Mine as well.
GUY: You have to solve an equation to escape, I’m assuming? I had to do the same as well.
GUIN: S-So you had poison gas in your room, too…?
GUY: Yes. I don’t particularly know what kind of gas it was, however. My first assumption was hydrogen chloride, though that doesn’t explain the color-
I stomped my foot.
GUIN: I almost died, Guy!
GUY: So did I.
GUIN: But you knew about the gas and didn’t do anything…!
GUY: It’s not like I could. Your room was locked, remember?
I stared at him for a long while with the meanest, angriest face I could manage. Then, I started tearing up, a whimper escaping my throat.
GUIN: I-I’m sorry…
GUY: For what?
GUIN: G-Getting mad at you…
GUY: You just escaped a high-stress situation. It’s only natural for you to react accordingly.
GUIN: Aren’t you scared at all…?
GUY: Not particularly. The gas was unnerving, but I’m more curious to where we are, who brought us here…
Guy seemed like he wanted to go on, but something stopped him. More particularly, looking me in the eye and noticing that my tears were spilling over (once again).
GUY: ...Are...you scared, Guin?
I didn’t respond vocally. I only nodded, my hands to my chest as I picked at my fingernails with my back hunched like a scared little rodent. Guy fumbled with his hands, adjusting his glasses at one point, before awkwardly patting my shoulder.
GUY: ...There’s something I’d like to show you.
I wasn’t sure if he was trying to distract me from this mind-boggling experience so far or if his mind simply changed direction. But, I didn’t argue; I nodded once more and followed Guy as he led me towards the drawers lined on the wall. The one he was digging through was still open and next to it was the only other drawer that had a red light.
GUY: Most of these had already been opened when I got here. These two were the only ones untouched.
GUIN: How do you know they’re the only ones…?
GUY: I figured when I opened this one, which had a red light as well, and found items within, that meant the other drawers with green lights were already rummaged through. Besides, you can’t open one that doesn’t have your things in it.
GUIN: Our things are in these…?
GUY: Yes. Open yours.
I peered down at the drawer in front of me, the red light giving off a faint glow against the gray metal.
GUIN: Are you sure this one’s mine…?
GUY: Well, it’s the only other one that hasn’t been opened, and you just arrived here. You could try another drawer, but…
While he spoke, I reached out to a drawer that had a green light nearby. Before I even touched the handle, however, it shocked my finger, similarly like the number pad did in my room when I got the equation answer wrong. I yelped out in pain.
GUY: ...it’ll shock you if you try.
I wanted to cry.
GUIN: Th-Thanks for telling me…
GUY: You’re welcome.
He was deadpan, unaware that I was being sarcastic.
With my finger roasted to the point that I believed my fingerprint was no longer visible, I grabbed the handle of my red-lighted drawer. Sure enough, there was no shock, and I was able to pull it forward with ease. It opened like the drawer in a filing cabinet, but instead of files there was my distinguishable dollar store backpack and a small device that resembled a smartphone.
GUIN: Oh…! Is everything in here..?
I dug around in my bag to find everything in it originally was untouched - journal, pencil case, two inhalers for the both of us, and a bottle of pills. The only things missing were my laptop and my phone… I guessed that the strange device that lay next to my bag was a phone in some way. It was small like one, but it had no buttons on it; all it had was a large screen encompassing nearly the entire surface with a small camera set at the top. I lugged my backpack onto my back, picked up the phone-device, and propped myself back onto my feet.
GUY: There was one in my drawer as well.
GUIN: What is it…?
GUY: I’m not sure. You can turn it on, though.
Guy reached out to the device and tapped it twice with two fingers. Nothing happened. He nudged me and, after a moment of hesitation, I repeated what he did. At that, the screen flashed white, then back to darkness with only a few white letters sprawled on the screen:
Stay Tuned For New Info!
Underneath it was a small block of cheese. A cartoon mouse scurried onto the screen towards it and started nibbling on the edge. Despite such a cute little animation on the screen, everything about this only sent chills down my spine. I felt uneasy, my legs a bit wobbly.
GUIN: What does this all mean…? Where are we?
GUY: I’d tell you if I knew. Though, I don’t think I’m the only person you’ll be asking that.
I was puzzled for a minute until I remembered: we were in a room with walls lined with drawers, and they all had green lights. When I closed my drawer, I noticed that it had flickered to green as well.
GUIN: There’s other people here…
GUY: Fourteen others to be exact.
GUIN: Where are they?
GUY: Probably behind this door.
On the other side of the wall, opposite of the door that swung itself open and nearly killed me, was another black one, this one with no bars or any sort of hole to peep through. It was sheer, polished black metal, our distorted reflections peering back at us from it.
GUIN: Sh-Should we go through, then…?
GUY: I don’t see anywhere else we could go.
GUIN: Do you think it’s safe…?
GUY: Who knows unless we step through?
I wished he could be a little more empathetic or cautious, but he was right. We could either go back to those rooms yearning to execute us with strange, green gas, or we could step through this new door and find out something new. Find these other people that are missing.
...I wasn’t sure if we’d be one hundred percent safe once we found them. Maybe I played too many escape room video games, but how else was I supposed to feel upon waking up in a place like this and experiencing what I’ve already experienced? I’d rather curl up in a ball and close my eyes, anticipating the moment that I would finally snap back into reality. All of this would be a bad dream, and I’d find myself nice and cozy back in my room.
But, that wasn’t the case. I knew it wasn’t the case since I’ve already been zapped twice, and neither time I’ve woken up. Maybe that shouldn’t be enough to convince me this wasn’t all a dream, but it did so anyway. Some part of me told me that this wasn’t a dream, and I wasn’t safe.
I found myself pinching Guy’s jacket sleeve as he cranked the knob. I felt all the air escape my lungs as he threw it open.
And, behind it, revealing themselves after the blinding light died down…