Had a lot of fun writing this one. This was the first ever flash fiction competition I've done and the prompt really threw me for a loop. Comedy / An Escape Room / A Mousepad. First time I have ever written comedy. I didn't do great on this one, I got 13th/38. My goal was top 15 so I did achieve that, but knowing what I know now I would have changed a lot.
Mathilda Eleanor Pennywise III is a world-renowned escape room consultant, famous for her Neo-Freudian approach, with dozens of the best designers in the world crediting her for their success. This is the story of the one client, in her decades-long industry tenure, that she couldn’t help.
UltraCyberX - a B-list escape room whose owner somehow scrounged up enough money for a consultation with the legendary Mathilda Eleanor Pennywise III - otherwise ordinary.
The smell rode out of the room like a flood, crashing into me with the biblical force of a thousand sweaty teenagers. I stumbled backward, desperately clawing through my tweed peacoat for protection. Lemongrass! Third row, spring green knots. I pulled a lacey handkerchief from one of my pockets, covering my mouth as I stepped into the room.
The swollen man-child in front of me bobbed up and down like a chicken. His name was Arthur Mackinaw - the creator of UltraCyberX, today’s client… and patient. His lacquered hair - no doubt an homage to Gordon Gekko - shook all in one piece. His body oozed from place to place as he straightened chairs and picture frames, his thick arms straining against his already-strained lavender polo.
“The theme is hackers!” he barked.
A moist virtual reality headset dangled from the ceiling like a week-old fish. Symbols ran down the black walls and a central computer in streams - abstruse, chartreuse. Flickering bulbs hung from the corners of the room adding a dingy twist to the otherwise gaudy room.
“Yes, yes, that’s quite… apparent.”
I motioned for him to continue.
“First half happens in VR.”
He pushed the headset toward me with a face full of pride - like a cat bringing home some obscene prize. The force knocked loose some mysterious drop of liquid, landing on the beige carpet - millimeters away from my wingtip shoe.
“That’s… very nice… darling.” I patted Arthur’s head for reassurance. His hair was stiff and oily. “But tell me what this headset means to you.”
Arthur furrowed his brow. He opened and closed his mouth. He looked me in the eyes, then stared at the ground.
“It means… it’s uh… like a small sudoku puzzle with-”
“No!” I shouted, annoyed at his pedantry. “Not the illusion you draw over our eyes. Not this paltry physical form.”
“I don’t know what you mean.” Arthur protested. “It’s just a-”
“I need you to go deeper. To the soul of the headset. We build escape rooms to escape ourselves.These obstacles are our obstacles, and only by seeing that can you build truly incredible escape rooms.”
Arthur threw up his hands, starting for the door before stopping in his tracks and turning back around. No doubt remembering that my fee was non-refundable.
“Money. I charge extra for the VR. That’s why we all do it, right? For the money?”
I scoffed at his ignorance.
“If it were so simple then I’d be out of a job. VR… well VR signifies distance from the world. Let me ask you, have you ever found yourself consumed by fantasies of life as a tortoise?”
Arthur’s face flushed red, small beads of sweat forming just beneath his lacquered hair. He gulped audibly.
“What? Tortoise fantasies?”
“Mm… you’d like me to be more specific?” I stroked my chin. “Sudoku you said, right? That’s a uh… puzzle game with numbers?”
Arthur nodded. I motioned for him to come in closer.
“The tortoise is... quite a majestic creature.” I whispered.
“What are you...” A look of horror took hold of Arthur’s face. He turned toward the exit and for a moment I was worried that he might run out.
“Intimate fantasies. A strange affliction among our kind, but one as old as the craft.” I winked, Arthur stared at me with an unsightly gaping mouth. “It’s in The Design Manual you know, Section 23B - Delusions of Chelonian Copulation - in case you need a reference.”
“Hey! Wait just a minute! What kind of a consultant are you?” Arthur stomped his feet. “You’re supposed to be making me money and you’re going off about tortoises and… and...”
“It’s nothing to be ashamed of. Remember - section 23B. More common than you think. Now let’s move onto the walls...” I stepped around the computer desk in the center of the room.
Arthur looked distraught, his head whipping back and forth between me and the exit.
“Don’t worry Arthur. I’m a professional. I’m here to diagnose, to help, not to judge.”
He looked at me warily. I waved him over and he ambled over like a scared child, just finding his voice by the time he reached my side.
“This paint was the best five bucks I ever spent. I developed a brand-new alphabet to get the look and feel just right.”
“Of course you did. Looks like...” I leaned in close to the wall. “Devanagari mixed with Hangul?”
Arthur groaned, running his hands over the shell of his hair.
“What does that mean about me?”
“Why, nothing at all. Don’t be so paranoid Arthur.”
Arthur made a show of rubbing his temples as he muttered under his breath.
“The color though… that dayglow green on black suggests a… certain quality about a person. A kind of violent sadism that’s taboo in all but the most depraved social circles.”
“The most depraved…” Meaty veins pulsed with silent rage across Arthur’s forehead.
“Non-issue in our line of work, eh?” I slapped his back, and Arthur balled up his hands. “Don’t worry about it. Like I said, I’m a professional.” I shrugged, turning toward the center of the room.
“And the computer?” He mumbled through gritted teeth.
I stepped over to it, conveniently outside the range of his fists.
“Computers are information, information is power, and power my friend is why we do this.”
I sat down at the cheap pine desk. A fat bead of sweat rolled down Arthur’s cheek.
“The only question is what kind of power you want.”
I grabbed the mouse. He tugged at his collar.
“Like the saying goes, your mousepad is a window into your soul.”
I lifted it, but nothing could have prepared me for the rose I found beneath. I gagged, spitting bile into my lemongrass handkerchief.
“You sick bastard.”