With a heavy metal clang, the door falls shut and locks. In the coloured light of the led strips along the walls, Noa opens the instruction manual and starts to read out loud, while Leslie turns around to examine the door and the lock mechanism next to it. Will and Marit lean in to hear what Noa is reading to them.
"The rules of the game are simple enough. Find the challenges scattered about the room, and complete them without losing your mind." Noa looks up from the page at Marit and they exchange a mischievous grin. Will swallows and lowers his gaze.
"When you have found the Keywords, you can speak into the intercom next to the door, and they will be checked off. The door will open if you have given sufficient Keywords, or when all players have lost. Your progress will be monitored."
Leslie looks around at the intercom, and a monitor that has come alive next to it. On the monitor, there are eight red circles in a row, and below them, four green stick figures. "I haven't spotted any cameras yet," Leslie says.
Will comes up beside Leslie, staring at the monitor. "Why those icons? Is that part of monitoring us?"
Marit rubs her hands together, looking into the dark room. "Let's find those challenges." There's only the coloured leds, blinking on the walls. It makes everything, including her friends, look eerie and unfamiliar. The middle of the room looks dark.
Noa flips through the pages of the manual, looking confused. "That is all it says. The rest is just pages with pictures of spirals on them. As if that's going to get to us…" Her voice trails off and after a second, she smacks the manual shut. "Yeah, just pretty spirals."
Will takes the manual from her. "I'll hold onto it. I have big pockets."
Noa smiles at him for a second and then twirls around in her pretty, candy-striped dress.
"I thought we were not going to look at pretty spirals," Leslie mutters as they walk further into the room, following Marit.
Marit is standing beside what seems to be a large, black arcade machine, one of those with a seat inside a cabin, like for a racing game. She runs her hand over the outside of the arcade machine. The room is so dark, that it's hard to see the edges of the black cabin. It seems to be turned off. As she walks around it, Marit sees a purple cylinder on the back of the cabin. As Leslie also rounds the corner of the arcade machine, their hair lights up, and so does the white logo on their Overwatch hoodie.
"Ha ha, it's a blacklight." Marit exclaims, as she pats the logo on their chest.
"Just don't touch the hair." Leslie mutters as they turn to look at the console machines with dark screens that are standing against the far wall.
Will also walks over to the blacklight, getting the manual out of his pocket again. "I'm going to see if there are any hidden clues in here." He goes down on one knee next to the blacklight and rests the open manual on his leg. His longish hair obscures his face as he bows his head to read. His hands and fingers are slowly flipping the pages, sometimes tracing the page to feel the texture.
"You be careful now," Noa says as she walks up to dark console with 20 identical looking white buttons on it. She reaches out with her hand to touch it, but Marit comes up between her and the console and pulls her into a hug.
"Don't touch anything yet," she whispers in Noa's ear. She's much bigger than Noa, and grabbing Noa gives her that mischievous grin again.
Noa giggles. Marit's wavy hair is hanging in Noa's face and it tickles. "You know, honestly, I had expected a little more than just this dark room."
"Aha!" Leslie exclaims as they open a drawer in one of the console cabinets. It contains three flashlights, and they immediately start to hand them out to Marit and Noa.
Marit shakes the flashlight after turning it on and off a few times. "This one is flickering. Do you think it's broken?"
Leslie turns on their flashlight and uses it to look at Marit's flashlight. "Weird. Nothing seems to be wrong with it. Although there seems to be something behind the bulb. I guess the flickering is intentional."
"This one is another blacklight," Noa says, aiming it at Leslie's head. "Your hair is so cool."
Will throws his head back and snorts. "Every spiral has the same word hidden on it somewhere."
Leslie looks over. "Which word?"
Will holds up the manual. On the open page is a classic black and white striped spiral, and under the blacklight, four ghostly letters light up: OBEY.
"Subtle." Leslie smiles.
Will nods gravely as he puts the manual in his pocket again and gets up.
Noa makes a squeeing noise. "It is a hint, though!" She shines her blacklight over the white buttons, and each button has a word on it that only becomes visible with the blacklight. They all gather around the console to read the buttons. Three buttons have the word OBEY on them, and all the other words are unique.
"Wait." Marit holds her chin while she thinks. "If you press the button labelled OBEY, are you obeying? Does that mean you're losing the game?"
Leslie shakes their head. "You're overthinking it."
"There's also a button called NOPE." Noa laughs. "Do you want to try it?" She runs her fingers over the console as she shines the blacklight over the buttons labelled DEEP, COUNT, RELAX and DOWN. It makes Marit anxious, she's shifting on her feet.
Will shakes his head. "I think we should press OBEY. All three of them."
Leslie puts their hands in the pocket of their hoodie. "I want to see what happens when we press NOPE."
"Me too." Noa quickly presses it before Marit can stop her. Immediately, lights go on, and they all turn around to see what's happening.
On top of the big console cabin in the middle of the room is a spherical device that's emitting a bright white light. The light moves like a pendulum from the right side of the room, swinging over the ceiling, to the left side of the room and then it stops for a split second. Every time it stops, there is a loud click from a speaker on that side of the room. The light swings back and forth, back and forth, ticking like a clock.
"Oh my…" Noa is staring at the ceiling, following the light with her eyes.
"Great…" Leslie pulls up their hood and looks at Will. "We should have done what you said."
Will shrugs and reaches over to press the OBEY buttons. When he has done so, all the screens in the room are turned on. Some screens are dark with text on them, while others have moving spirals on them. "It is on now, " he says slowly as he looks around.
Marit turns to Noa and gives her a shove. "Don't just stand there watching the light. Can I have the blacklight? I want to look for hidden clues near the door."
Noa blinks for a moment and then blushes at Marit. "Win or lose, I already love this place." She exchanges her blacklight with Marit's flickering flashlight and starts to inspect it, as Marit walks back to the door.
Will starts to inspect each arcade machine, making a mental inventory. There's the cabinet with the white buttons and no screen, there's two identical looking arcade machines standing right next to each other, separated by a glass partition, there's a computer console with a keyboard, mouse and big headphones, there's the big cabin in the centre of the room, and there's a screen with a mouse off to the side.
Leslie is interested in the latter. The screen is black with green text on it. "I hate text inductions," they say to Will. "I figure that it's less likely to put me under if it annoys me."
Will nods. "Good thinking." As Leslie goes over to the console, Will crouches next to Noa, who is sitting on the floor shining the flickering flashlight at a dark corner.
"There seems to be a pattern to it, but I can't figure out how to make the image clearer." She tries angling the flashlight and pulling it further away from the floor. Will reaches out to take her hand and help her.
"Woo!" Marit exclaims. After searching the wall and the floor near the door with the blacklight, she has found some text in a corner on the floor. She reads it out to the others. "Congratulations on finding this. One of the Keywords to open the door is Meticulous. There is one more Keyword hidden like this. The others must be found by facing the challenges in the consoles."
As Will and Noa praise her for a job well done, Marit walks over to the intercom, presses the button and proudly says: "Meticulous!" When she looks at the screen, she sees that one of the red circles turns into a green check mark. Then she also notices that one of the stick figures is now yellow instead of green. With a frown, she turns around to look at the others.
"I think that's the right distance, but it still looks weird," Noa says to Will, who is holding the flickering flashlight now. "I want to try something. Do you want to shine it straight in my face?"
Will gives her a serious look. "Are you sure?" Noa nods and smiles. "OK." Noa crosses her legs, sitting on the floor, and Will sits down across from her, carefully holding the flashlight at the right distance, shining it so that the circle of light is on her face.
Noa giggles. "Oh my, that's trippy. But I was right. I can see numbers now. It's counting down. Oh my…"
Marit approaches, her hands in the pockets of her jeans, watching them. Noa's shoulders and arms slump as she stares into the light. "There's something else when the count reaches zero, a letter, but it's too fast. Now it starts counting down from 10 again."
"Just say the number or the letter as soon as you see it," Marit says. "We'll be here to help make sense of it."
Noa's breathing slows down as she starts to count. "Seven. Six. Five. Four. Three. Two. One. Arrow pointing down. Letter N. Ten. Nine."
Will looks up at Marit, vaguely gesturing at Noa's concentrated, glassy eyes. He blushes and whispers: "That is so hot!"
Marit grins. "I know right? OK, focus. Letter N."
"Three. Two. One. Down. Letter I. Ten. Nine. Eight." Noa's voice has gone soft and flat.
Will anxiously holds the flashlight still, torn that on the one hand he is hypnotising her, making her lose the game, but on the other hand this is the best way to get this clue. The letters probably form one of the Keywords. But how long is it? How long would she have to sit there, counting herself down before they get the word?
"Two. One. Down. Letter T. Ten. Nine."
Noa doesn't notice how Marit is digging a pen out of her pocket and looking around frantically for something to write on. Will pulls the manual out of his pocket and holds it out to Marit. They look at each other for a second, eyes wide and alarmed. Can we just write on the manual? Will shrugs.
"Three. Two. One. Down. Letter E. Ten. Nine. Eight."
Marit grabs the manual, opens it to find a page with some blank space and writes down the letters. N I T E.
"Two. One. Down. Down. Letter F. Ten. Nine." Marit writes down the F.
Will frowns. "Two downs? Did she make a mistake?"
Marit looks at Noa. Her body has become very still and relaxed. Her eyes are staring blankly into the light. "She's too far gone. This is what the flashing light is telling her."
"Three. Two. One. Down. Letter I. Ten. Nine."
Marit shows the letters to Will. N I T E F I. "Is it a new I or the same I?"
Will shrugs again. "Just keep going."
"Two. One. Down. Letter N. Ten. Nine. Eight."
Marit writes down every letter, and watches Noa sink deeper and deeper with every count. A hot, wet feeling begins to grow in Marit's jeans and she grins again. This is why Noa and she wanted to do this escape room. It's hotter than she had imagined.
Will feels more conflicted about it, his jaw clenches as he watches Noa. He's doing this to her, and he could make it stop. He's here because, much like Noa, he's great at solving puzzles. And now she's sitting there, counting her magnificent mind away to solve this puzzle. And he could make it stop.
Marit is counting along with Noa now, her voice becoming softer with each count. "Four. Three. Two. One. Down."
Worried, Will looks at Marit. She seems frozen in place, counting herself down along with Noa. With her pen, she points at the letters on the paper. N I T E F I N I T and that's where she's stopped. She's slipping away, and yes, that is exciting to see, but Will also finds it disconcerting. He turns the flashlight off and grabs the manual to look at the letters, determined to figure out the Keyword while his friends compose themselves.
As Marit shakes the trance out of her head, Will gets up to go to the intercom. He presses the button and says: "Finite." Another red circle on the screen turns to a green check mark. There are now two green stick figures, one yellow one, and one red. Will frowns and looks into the room. Marit is hugging Noa on the floor. Leslie is standing at the console at the other end of the room. The pendulum light and their hoodie make it hard to see how Leslie is doing, so Will walks over.
Leslie's hands are resting on the console, one on the mouse. Their heavy-lidded eyes are staring at the screen and their mouth is hanging open with a long strand of drool hanging down from it. Their mousehand is slowly searching the screen, moving the cursor from side to side and down.
Will swallows, looks away from the screen and hesitantly asks: "How are you doing, Les?"
"I've almost got it…" Leslie croaks, their mouth is dry. "When I've found the last button, I can finally…" Their voice trails off as a sigh escapes their lips. It prompts Will to look at the screen, even though he didn't want to.
The cursor hovers over a button that says DROP! The button disappears when the cursor moves away too far, but reappears when Leslie moves in to click it. The screen starts to scroll up, revealing text in large green letters.
Leslie's head flops down, their eyes closed and their arms falling to their side. Instinctively, Will grabs their shoulders to make sure they don't fall over. Leslie sways in his arms and then leans heavily into him, lost in a deep trance. Will holds them and looks up at the other side of the room. "Marit? How are you two doing?"
"We're OK. Just snogging," Noa's voice answers with a giggle.
"Can you please input the word Somnambulism in the intercom?" Will shifts his attention to Leslie, as Noa and Marit go over to the intercom. He holds Leslie up, with their head against his shoulder. "Les, I want you to listen to me. Let me know that you're listening."
"Oh… OK…" Leslie utters softly, drooling on Will's shirt.
"That's a wonderful, deep trance you're in, Les. But it's time to come up and help us solve the challenges now." Will tries his best to sound as confident and calm as he possibly can while he's saying this. Leslie is always so tough when they're awake, holding them like this, so vulnerable in his arms, stirs all kinds of feelings inside Will. "Take a deep breath in, and feel how that energises you. It's so easy to just open your eyes and wake up again. You can feel proud that you've completed this challenge, and ready to help us figure out the rest. One. Two. Three. And up you go."
Leslie closes their mouth and wipes it on their sleeve. It takes a few seconds before they step away from Will, breaking the embrace. "Thanks." They look around the room for a moment and then bow their head in the hood again. "Fuck that pendulum light, it's going to put me right back under."
Noa and Marit both come up to them. "We've got three green check marks now," Noa says with a cheery voice. "But one of the icons is red."
Leslie smiles wryly. "That'd be me. I don't think I can do this again for another challenge. I'm going to stand on the sidelines and just help for a while."
Marit looks around. "So we have five more Keywords to find. And how many consoles?"
Noa strokes the cabin in the middle of the room. "I'm curious about this one."
Will points at the others. "That's one. The console with the headphones is two. Those two together over there could be three and four. So where's five?"
"I bet this one is so hefty, it rewards two Keywords." Noa tilts her head at the others. "I bet it has flashy lights and binaural beats and everything. Who wants to try it?"
Leslie shakes their head. "No way."
Will looks at the floor. He's not ready, it's scary, but he can't admit that. He looks the other way. "I'll try the one with the headphones. If you'll watch me, Les."
Leslie nods. "Of course. I owe you."
As they walk away, Noa looks up at Marit. "Will you sit in the cabin then?" That mischievous grin again.
Marit moves in to kiss Noa, and whispers: "I thought you'd never ask. But only if you watch me."
Noa takes Marit's hand. "I'll be with you all the way."
Meanwhile, Will and Leslie are looking at the console with the headphones. On the black screen is a text box and a button labelled SUBMIT. Above the text box, it says: INPUT TEXT FROM HEADPHONES. Leslie picks up the headphones and holds them close to their face. They hear a faint voice. "So the headphones give you a phrase, then you type it in the box and click submit."
Will looks at them. "Is it that simple?"
"The one I did was just reading and clicking," Leslie says through clenched teeth.
"Point taken." Will takes the headphones from them and takes a moment to think. He looks at Leslie, serious now. "Are there any after-effects for you? Any triggers?"
"None that I can tell you about." They stare at Will for a moment, and Will swallows. That's a yes. That's why the icon is red. Leslie has already lost.
"What are you waiting for?" They pat Will on the shoulder. "I'll be here the whole time."
Will nods and puts on the headphones. They're really big and soft on his head and they block out all the other sounds in the room. A computerised voice slowly repeats, over and over: "I want to be hypnotised." Will rolls his eyes. He understands exactly how this works. Feeling headstrong, he types: I DO NOT WANT TO BE HYPNOTISED and clicks submit.
The screen shows an error message in glaring red: WRONG. TRY AGAIN.
Leslie moves in closer to see the screen better. Will grimaces as he types: I WAN TO BE HYPNOTISED. The same glaring error message. The computer only accepts the exact words spoken by the voice on the headphones. Seeing no way around it, Will types the correct words and clicks submit. Immediately, a pleasant, soft sound plays over the headphones. It has an ASMR feel to it that gives him tingles that run down his neck. The voice says: "I will obey and submit." Will closes his eyes for a moment. This one is so clever.
Noa holds Marit's hand as she sits down in the cabin's seat. The screen and the speakers inside the cabin are dark and silent, but come to life as soon as Marit presses a button on the armrest. A rainbow-coloured spiral rotates on the screen and there are words in black letters in the middle of it. Strobes start to flash to the left and right of Marit's head, and a droning beat comes out of the surround-sound system.
Marit looks at Noa. "You were right. I'll be gone before I know it."
"If you feel yourself slipping, just squeeze my hand." Noa smiles. "I'll squeeze back and you'll know that I'm here, watching over you."
Marit squeezes and lets out a nervous laugh when she feels the response. "Yes. OK. Here I go."
Noa watches as Marit settles into the seat and looks at the screen. The strobes light up her face, making the little changes more dramatic. Her jaw relaxes and suddenly seems less square. And her eyes, Noa has always been in love with Marit's big, dark eyes. At first, they're blinking a lot, but as Marit's breathing slows down, her eyes start to stare. A squeeze and Noa dutifully squeezes back. Marit's full lips curl up into a smile.
Noa's mind wanders back to the kisses they shared when Marit brought her back from the flashlight trance. "And with every kiss, you feel the need to wake up grow inside you, it's the need to kiss me back. You want me, and you have to be awake to have me. So come back to me." Marit is sensual in everything she does. Noa sighs as she watches her lover go into trance in this strange machine.
Leslie paces around Will with their hands in the pocket of their hoodie. Will's hands move automatically on the keyboard, but otherwise his body has grown very still. As time passes by, Will's head bows slowly forward, and now his hair obscures his face. Leslie doesn't dare to look at the screen anymore. Will is typing affirmation after trancy affirmation, and just thinking those words will make them a little more true. Even watching Will go deeper into trance might make Leslie sink down again. They bite their lip.
There's nothing as delicious in the world as being in trance. All the responsibilities and inhibitions just fall away. Leslie loves to be free and mindless, but it's so hard and so incredibly embarrassing. They look back at the console that made them drool like that. Would that have happened if Will had stood there watching over them?
They turned back to Will. What are they supposed to do anyway, besides watching? Will is long gone, it seems like there was no way to prevent that from happening. Should they just wait here to help Will wake up when it's all over, just like he has done for them? Is that enough?
Hesitantly, Leslie steps closer to Will and brushes his hair out of his face. No reaction. Will's eyes are blank with large, dilated pupils. He doesn't need them to type; he has always been a computergeek. At the end of each phrase, his fingers press tab and then enter, so he doesn't need the mouse. His breathing is slow and deep, chest rising when he's listening to the voice on the headphones, and falling when he's typing. Leslie wonders if trance is as liberating to Will as it is to them.
Noa's face feels flushed as she's watching Marit inside the cabin. Marit has let go of her hand a while ago. The text on the spiral regularly prompts her to press the button on the armrest, and now Marit is tracing circles around her nipples protruding through her T-shirt with her fingers. If seeing Marit in deep trance wasn't hot enough, this vision of her mindlessly playing with herself is driving Noa nuts.
Noa wonders what would happen if she were to drag her lover out of the cabin to wake her up and then just occasionally press the button to make the machine continue until the end when it gives up the Keyword. Would the machine notice? Would it refuse to give the Keyword? Noa gasps as Marit thoughtlessly crams one hand into her jeans, her eyes still staring at the screen. Better not interrupt her now, Noa thinks to herself.
As Marit pleasures herself with one hand in her jeans, she starts to murmur words. At first it's inaudible, but it becomes clearer every time she repeats the words. Noa shudders in disbelief and arousal hits her like a hot flash. The creators of this escape room really did it. They had the balls to create it just like in all the porn. She no longer has any intention to interrupt the trance. This is a sexy fantasy come true, she wants it to last as long as possible. Breathlessly, she watches as Marit sits there, empty eyes reading the screen, one hand in her crotch, her voice monotonous as she repeats: "Obedience is pleasure. Obedience is pleasure. Obedience is pleasure. Obedience is pleasure."
There's a change in Will, Leslie notices. His face looks the same, slack with staring eyes, but his hands are moving more slowly, carefully pressing one key at the time. Leslie takes a deep breath and finally dares to look at the screen. I AM DEEPLY HYPNOTISED. Submit. Leslie bites their lip. They realise that they don't really know Will that well, and they have never really shared a moment of intimacy before. But watching him go into trance, watching this moment of surrender… Leslie gasps.
I SURRENDER MY WILL. I HAVE LOST THE GAME. Will types. The screen flashes two gigantic green words: WELL DONE! And Leslie can hear some kind of sound being played over the headphones. Will spasms as his eyes roll up and his knees buckle. Leslie catches him as he falls. They guide him to the floor and when he's safely lying down, they remove the headphones.
Will goes through another wave of spasming, his back arching, his head rolling back and the white of his eyes visible. Leslie turns Will onto his side, supporting his back and shoulders with their legs and gently holding his head. Hesitantly, Leslie speaks. "Let it fade away now." Another wave, Will's hands are shaking.
Leslie takes a deep breath and speaks more firmly now: "With every wave, you can feel those feelings fading away. It's all waning now. Take a deep breath. Feel the cold floor underneath you. Listen to my voice. Remember where you are. I am bringing you back, just like I promised I would. So keep your end of the bargain, Fucker. Wake up now."
Will jolts. His eyes blink and then look at Leslie. "I'm here. I'm awake," he rasps. He sits up and rubs his face for a moment, gasping. "That was…"
Leslie puts their arm around him and just sits with him, nodding. "I know, dude. I know. I won't tell anyone if you don't tell about me."
Will looks at them with a half-smile. "Deal." Then he looks up at the console, the headphones are dangling down beside it. "Why did I have to pick the one with the ASMR?"
Leslie opens their mouth and closes it again a few times. They want to ask something, but the words don't quite make it past their lips. Finally, they manage to ask: "Do you remember what you asked me just before you started?"
Will frowns as he thinks back. Then he shivers, processing some thoughts. He looks at Leslie and says: "Yes. Me too." Then he quickly looks away and gets up. "Do you want to input this word in the intercom?"
Leslie gets up too. "What is it?"
Will shakes his head as he looks away from the screen, blushing. "Complicit," he says without making eye-contact.
Leslie turns away, determined to let Will recover from the burning shame he must be feeling right now. They start walking towards the door, when they notice Noa and Marit making out in the cabin in the middle of the room. Noa is sitting in Marit's lap. It's a miracle she managed to curl herself into the cabin on top of Marit.
Leslie stops to lean up against the cabin. "For fuck's sake, girls, have you no shame?"
"Nope!" Noa responds with a giggle. "I have a hypnotised girlfriend and a dark room."
"You're not even trying to win, are you?" Leslie rolls their eyes and crosses their arms.
"The Keyword is Deference." Noa resplies without skipping a beat. "We're almost done having fun, and then we'll come back out."
Leslie lets out a dramatic sigh as they walk to the door. They input both of the Keywords, Complicit and Deference, and then they watch two more red circles turn into green check marks. Just as Will comes sauntering up behind them, they notice the stick figures. Three are red now, and one is yellow. Will stops beside Leslie and they share a silent look; they know what this means, but they can't talk about it.
Marit loudly clears her throat and spends a moment standing beside the cabin, closing the zipper of her jeans and smoothing her bra and T-shirt back down.
Noa skips towards the others, her candy-striped dress billowing around her. "How are we doing?" She looks at the screen and a puzzled expression comes over her. "Three red icons? But we're all awake." She whips around to look at Marit, who has come up behind her. "You're ok right?"
Marit puts her arms around Noa, holding her firmly in place. Marit's eyes dart from Will to Leslie and they nod at each other.
Noa's voice turns anxious now. "You're ok, right Marit?"
"I have lost the game." Marit replies.
Leslie and Will draw up close to Noa, saying the same thing. "I have lost the game." They stare at Noa as they come closer. "I have lost the game."
Noa tries to back away, but Marit holds her tight. Noa struggles for a moment, her breathing becoming faster and more shallow. "You're freaking me out now."
Leslie grabs Noa by the throat, holding her head in place. "We have to make you lose too."
Noa looks at Will. "There is no way we could have won, is there?"
"None," Will replies. "So stop fighting it."
"Remember how it felt to count your mind away, looking into the light?" Marit murmurs, her lips brushing Noa's ear.
Noa's eyes glaze over as she remembers, her head relaxing in Leslie's grip.
"Remember," Leslie commands.
"Remember," Will repeats.
Noa's body slumps in Marit's arms as her voice begins to count again. "Ten. Nine. Eight. Seven. Six. Five. Four. Three. Two. One. Down."