It was a usual day in the city of Salem, Oregon. The streets of downtown Salem were bustling with people, which meant Lizzie, Lizbeth, Mason and I were squeezing our way through the crowd as we ran. People glared as we bumped into them, but we hardly noticed. We just kept running to get to the bookstore for new novels. The August chill kept away most of the heat so we weren’t as big a mess when we arrived.
The bookstore stood before us, looking warm and welcoming. Its outer walls painted bright yellow and the windows full of soft light, revealing the rows of bookshelves within. Memories came flooding back to me at the sight of this store. Lizzie and I came here with our parents every Monday as kids. But as we grew up, our parents had less time to spend with us because of our younger siblings and work. Then Lizzie’s mom and dad got divorced so her mom stopped going altogether. This place held pain as well as happiness, which is why Lizzie kept going back with me.
As we stepped in, a cheerful voice greeted us.
“Heya, girls! Been awhile since I seen y’all here.” We turned to see Mr. MadMan. His real name is Jack Nomstorn, but we gave him the nickname Mr. MadMan because he reminded us of a mad scientist from a story we read some time ago. His dull brown hair was fading to gray and his chin was growing stubble with colors of black, brown, red, blonde, and gray. Mr. Nomstorn is from Texas, he was born and raised there, but when he hit the age of twenty-five, he moved north to get away from the heat. Now he’s the best librarian we have met in this town.
“Hey Mr. MadMan!” I said cheerfully as we walked over, panting from our race. “We came to see if you have any new books yet.”
“Well. I swear y’all have the noses of bloodhounds when it comes to new books,” he said with a laugh that made the corners of his eyes crinkle and his eyes sparkle. “We just got a load in. Mystery, horror, and fantasy. You know where to find ‘em.”
In fact we did. We smiled and thanked him before rushing off to check out the new books, Lizzie in front, me behind. For hours, Lizzie and I walked around, studying the books from title to cover to the description on the back. We laughed and joked and plain had a good time. It never mattered where Lizzie and I were, we had the best time.
After a while, we bought a book each before heading to my house. Since Mom and Dad weren’t home for the weekend, Lizzie was staying the night so I wasn’t alone and so she could get a break from her mother. This time, we walked instead of ran so that we could enjoy our time, and so we didn’t trip and get hurt since it was growing dark. The sky was growing dark as the sun set on the horizon, coloring the sky with black, navy blue, purple, orange, yellow, pink, and red fading together.
As Lizzie and I walked up the steps to my house, we started to slow as a terrifying detail came into clear view. The air in my lungs caught as I processed what it was I saw. The front door, which we had closed and locked tightly, was slightly ajar, hanging open to a hall filled with darkness that looked to be as thick as ink. We shared a momentary look before I took the lead to the door and stepped into my house.
The hall felt as cold as a freezer and it was so hard to breathe with the fear that was building within my chest. I could almost hear something rustling deeper in the house. That sent a chill down my spine. I shoved my fear and thoughts aside as I ventured forward.
I heard Lizzie suddenly scream, but it was quickly cut off. This caught me off guard and sent me whirling around to face Lizzie. A man stood with a rag over my friends mouth and nose. Lizzie’s eyes were drooping and out of focus, her limbs limp and hanging like a rag doll's arms, legs, and body. I was so terrified that I stood there without making a noise as the man dropped Lizzie and walked towards me. I almost screamed before he covered my mouth with that rag, but I was too late. My nose and mouth were filled with a sweet smell, and within a matter of seconds, my limbs went limp, my vision blurred, and my eyes drooped. I screamed in my mind to stay awake and fight, but I felt it too fall under the influence of the drugs and my vision went black as I fell into the dark abyss of sleep.
I woke in a plush armchair to someone shaking me by the shoulders. My head throbbed and there was an annoying beeping sound that was high and shrill. It added to the headache even more, making it painfully unbearable. Then another noise tickled its way into my ears. The static of dead air.
I sat up, my muscles aching from being unused, and surveyed my surroundings. Behind the chair I sat in was a steel door with several locks, and beside it stood a grandfather clock that ticked so softly that I barely heard it. To the right of the clock stood a wooden chair in front of a desk. On top the desk was an inkwell, a quill, papers thrown in a stack, and a newspaper that looked decently new. To my immediate left, was a small black box that I quickly realized was a monitor. To my right was a long rectangular mirror with a border of gold that with intricate designs. In every corner, there were small black cameras screwed near the ceiling.
To my left, I saw Lizzie, and she looked so terrified to be here. She was starting to hyperventilate. I stood, even though every muscle in my legs screamed at me and walked to her.
“Lizzie,” I said softly. “Hey Lizzie. Calm down and breathe. We’ll figure out where we are and get out.” I felt stupid for making that promise since there was no way to know where in the world we were, but I wanted her to feel better. “We’ll be okay.”
“How sweet,” a voice said. We turned to see a man on the monitor’s screen. He was sneering in smug satisfaction and that really ticked me off. “Even as you face death, you put your friend’s happiness before the truth. I hate such sweetness.” His face turned dark and hard, much like the face of a doll who was scowling. It looked as though a storm cloud had passed over his face suddenly and he made no move to remove it. “The only way you can make it out of here alive is if you escape my Riddle Room and escape me. This will be fun.” His scowl turned upwards into a terrifying smile that proved this guy was mental. “You have an hour and a half to escape my Riddle Room or you will be killed by poisonous gas that I will fill the room with. Good luck!”
With an insane laugh, he ended the broadcast and a time appeared on the screen instead. I stared at the numbers counting down to our demise as I tried to fight the rising panic. We had an hour and a half before we died if we failed to figure out his Riddle Room? How insane was this guy!
“Alright,” I said instead of screaming every last insult that was on the tip of my tongue. I stood and searched the room. “If this is a riddle room, where is the first riddle?”
“Check the paper on the desk,” Lizzie suggested as she rose unsteadily to her feet. I walked over to the desk since we had no other lead and checked out the papers. I found the riddle easily, but my eyes got distracted by the newspaper. It was of the disappearance of two boys from a week ago. I found myself reading the paper a little bit.
Yesterday, August 1st, two boys went out to go to the store and didn’t return home. The parents of the boys called the police after the boys had not been found in their homes the next morning. It is astounding to find that not one person in the very store they went to had seen any sight of them, nor had they appeared on the security cameras.
I stopped reading the paper, and focused on the stack of papers in front of the chair. The paper on top had handwriting and a title of ‘Riddle Me This’ at the top of the paper. The handwriting was smooth cursive that made me jealous of how good it was. That made me mentally smack myself. Now was not the time to envy psychotic men that wanted nothing more than to watch me die a slow and painful death because my brains had failed me. As if there was ever a time!
“What does it say?” Lizzie asked me, walking over to see what was written as well.
“Well. The riddle says, ‘I have four legs, stiff as bone. Yet I am worthy of a throne. Aren’t I simply just the best? Since I allow you to rest? What am I?’,” I told her. We sat in thought a while, puzzling the lines that made little sense so far. I scanned every inch of the room as I looked for where he could hide a clue. Then it started to dawn on me. “Four legs, stiff as bone. Worthy of a throne. Allow us to rest.”
“Yeah,” Lizzie said, obviously annoyed. She hated riddles since they were so confusing and vague. “But what all does it mean? What does it point to?”
I looked at her with a grin on my face. “Think Liz. What allows you rest that has, more often than not, four legs? You find it in every house and even in castles which have thrones, which look very similar to these,” I said. I saw the gears turning in her head, then as something clicked. Her eyes started to shine in excitement.
“A chair!” she exclaimed happily. I nodded, and she immediately ran to the armchairs we had woken up in. My brain, moving fast as usual, studied the chair that sat before the desk. I ran my hand over the back rest, then the seat as I let my brain whir with life. I slid my hand along the underside of the seat and found something out of place against the quiet roughness of the wooden chair. One smooth patch that partly hung down. I pulled on it, and my hand came back with a piece of paper.
“Well done,” a voice said, that insane guy. “First clue solved, next clue found. An hour and fifteen left, ladies. Then you face either my gas-filled Riddle Room or me.”
The room fell silent for a count to ten before I decided he was done with his useless comments. I unfolded the paper and read it out loud to Lizzie.
“I have a face, but no eyes to see, no nose to breathe, and no mouth to speak. I have hands that can move, but that cannot grab. With no mouth I still make talk, and all can see what makes me tick. What am I?” Again, it went silent as we puzzled out that riddle. I chewed over each line as I tried to decide an object that would tie them all together. A face without eyes or a nose or a mouth, hands that move without grabbing, can talk and tick. Those last lines set off bells of familiarity in my mind that annoyed me since I couldn’t put it together.
A full twenty minutes passed before Lizzie let out a frustrated groan and spoke up. “This riddle is bad enough, but that stupid clock is giving me a headache!” Only then did I finally notice the stupid ticking of the clock. Tick tock. Tick tock. Tick tock. I felt the tickle in my brain. Something that ticks and talks.
“Tick talk,” I said quietly. Lizzie looked at me like I was going insane as well.
“Don’t make fun of me!” she cried. I grinned at her and felt like hooting and hollering with joy as relief filled me to the core.
“You’re a genius Lizzie!” I said, wrapping my arms around her in a big hug. “Think about it. The object can tick and it can talk. There is one object in this room that can do both.” Lizzie’s eyes lit up as she realized that she had been the one to put the answer into my head.
“The clock,” we said together, bursting into giggles over the fact that we had spoken together so perfectly. I told you that we could be anywhere and still have a great time, I just never imagined our lives would be on the line at one point.
We ran over to the grandfather clock, and I studied it for any hidden compartments, because, honestly, this guy was not dumb enough to leave the clue in plain sight. He wanted us to fail, so he would hide the clues even better each time.
The clock was made of a dark brown wood that was smooth and glossy. Its surface shone like a mirror reflecting light. The small door on the front had glass in a two inch thick frame and gave us a view of the pendulum swinging back and forth. The face was open to the air, its hands looking completely normal. However, when I took a closer look at the hands, I realized the points were deadly and the edges were sharp. They looked like they were meant to be weapons instead of clock hands.
I looked back at the pendulum and noticed that there was a panel of wood that looked different from the rest. Yes, it was just as dark. Yet I could see the seams to the wood much easier. The pale color of the wood you see under the cover of the bark. I pointed it out to Lizzie. She giggled happily and opened the door. She grabbed at the pendulum and let out a blood curdling scream that sent me jumping back. Lizzie pulled her hand away from the now stationary pendulum and held her hand to her chest.
“What?” I asked her. “What is it?” Then I saw a dark bead of red roll down her hand and hit the carpet. I grabbed her hand carefully and found a deep cut down her palm, slashing it into two uneven halves and cuts across the insides of her knuckles. On instinct, I tore off the scarf my parents had gotten me for my last birthday and used it as a bandage for her had. “From now on we should proceed with caution. This guy is crazy, I should have realized the clock was made to bring us harm.”
Looking at my poor wrap job made me think about how my mom always tried to teach me first aid, but I had always refused as I had thought I would have time to learn it. Now, I realized that Lizzie’s hand could have been cut off completely, and I would have had only the slightest idea how to stop the bleeding, and I could have meant life or death for Lizzie.
“I will take care of the getting clues from now on,” I said, the guilt in my chest growing to an unbearable size. “That way you can rest up your hand, and you don’t get hurt again. Okay?”
Lizzie nodded, the pain making it hard for her to speak. She looked like a little girl all over again. The pain in her eyes and the fear the mixed in to make a terrible stew made it look like she was going through her parents’ divorce all over again, and just like back then, I needed to take charge and get her through this.
I shoved those thoughts out of my head and reached into the clock, careful of the sharp pendulum. I carefully pried the panel away, revealing a small area with a folded piece of paper within. Pulling it out, Mr. Crazy laughed, telling us we had only forty-five minutes left in his wonderous room.
“What does it say?” Lizzie asked me. I read the riddle aloud.
“Rectangular and long. I never show you anything wrong. I stand on a wall. And I show you all. What am I?”
“That’s easy,” Lizzie said. She walked to the same side of the room I had thought of. The side with the mirror hanging, reflecting everything else.
For some time, I stood there, watching the countdown in the mirror, thinking of the fact that I might never see my parents again if I failed. I didn’t want to fail them nor Lizzie, but I felt that I would.
“We can do it,” Lizzie said, trying her best to cheer me up. I smiled at her and found that I had just wasted five minutes, leaving us with only forty left. I cursed myself, and I got onto feeling the frame of the mirror carefully. It took us another seven minutes to find that the clue was not hidden in the frame of the mirror.
“I’m going to drop it off the wall,” I warned Lizzie. “Get across the room. Stay as far away as you can be.” Lizzie took my warning and hurried to the desk. I watched as she stared down at the newspaper a moment before I took a deep breath and pulled the mirror off the wall.
I quickly wished I had lifted it up instead of pulling one side off, since it tilted and cracked on one side. I shrugged it off then got the other side off the wall. The mirror crashed face down, creating the sound of shattering glass. Though I could care less about my next seven years of bad luck, because there was the clue, carved into the wood on the back of the mirror. One look at the countdown revealed twenty-eight minutes were left.
"Black, I am. To write, I am used. Though I need a little help. Touch me and you will come back black as well. What am I?”
“Ummmmmmmmm,” Lizzie said, her face contorted in terror as she tried to think of what the answer could possibly be. I thought of every single riddle I had ever heard and thought of one about chalkboards. When it was dirty, it was white. When it was clean, the surface was black. The process had to have been reversed then.
I hurried to the desk and found that there were papers, and a writing system I had noticed the moment I had studied the desk from the plush arm chair. A quill and inkwell.
I grabbed the inkwell and, in a move full of desperation and fear, I dumped the dark liquid out of the well. It all rolled out into my hand before spilling onto the beige carpeting, staining it with a black pool that had a slight tint of purple. Then the true prize fell into the palm of my hand. It was a key ring with at least eight keys, all covered with ink. Lizzie let out a cheer of joy as I went light headed. We had gotten this far! We were going to make it!
We ran to the door, ignoring the mirror that lay on the floor and the pool of black that looked like a bloodspot. At the door, a thought came to mind.
“Take the keys and unlock what you can,” I told Lizzie as I put the keys into her left hand, the uninjured one. “I thought about something I saw that we could use. I won’t let you get hurt anymore than you already are.” Lizzie nodded then set to work. I walked to the still grandfather clock and looked at the hands. I pried at the piece that held the hands to the clock face until it gave out and broke off. I then pulled the hands off carefully and put them into my right jacket pocket before going to help Lizzie out with the door.
“I got the top two locks,” she told me. “But I can’t get the other six. My hand hurts too much for that right now.”
“Alright,” I said. I took the keys and went through all the keys to find the one to the lock that was third from the top. I finally got it, but it had taken three minutes to do, and we only had eighteen minutes left. I moved faster, finding the keys to each lock in a matter of one minute each. With twelve minutes left, I swung the door open to a dark corridor with only an occasional faint red light that hardly pierced the darkness. I still had hope and everything screamed RUN!
“Our stuff!” Lizzie said. I found that to the right of the door, there was a small table in the hall that held our stuff. I grabbed my phone and Lizzie’s as well, and we bolted in the only direction we knew of, forward. We stumbled in the darkness, and our chests and legs began to ache, but we didn’t stop. Only when Lizzie let out a scream as she was pulled back into the darkness did I realize that I had forgotten to give her one of the clock hand weapons. I choked back a sob as I heard her scream get cut off prematurely. I knew with every bone in my body that she was no longer alive.
I grabbed the minute hand and pulled it out of my pocket. I ignored the stinging pain I felt as the bladed sides cut into my palm from how tightly I gripped the weapon, I ignored the warm wetness of my blood as it dripped down my hand. I had to make it out for Lizzie. I was not going to fail when she could have made it all the way with me.
The only noise I could hear as I ran down that hallway, to the only option that could mean living, was the pounding of my thundering heart. I kept the hand in my grip as I went to the door. I was, maybe, twenty feet from a door that was starting to take form in the distance when a hand grabbed my left forearm. Instinct had me turning and stabbing the owner of the new hand in the chest. My action was followed by a pained curse and me being free. I bolted down the hall, pulling my phone out. I felt stupid for having forgotten that I had it, but I pushed the thought away and dialed 911.
“This is 911. What is your emergency?” a male voice replied from the other end of the line.
“My friend and I were kidnapped by this man. We escaped him, but he killed her! He’s trying to kill me!” I cried, sobbing through my panting breaths. It was hard to keep moving now since the weight of Lizzie’s death hung there like an unpassable force. “I don’t know where I am, but he’s trying to kill me!”
“Alright,” the man said. “Try to stay calm. Help is on the way. Keep me on the phone. Whatever you do, don’t end the call.”
He started droning on about how I was going to be okay and that help was coming to me. I blocked him out as I threw open the door at the end of the hall and burst out into a dim alleyway. The light of the street lamp told me it was still nighttime, and it made it hard for me to see after that dark hall. I wasted no time and scrambled down the alley to get to the street. A startled cat suddenly ran into my path, causing me to try to stop so I didn’t trip on it and instead tripped on my own foot and fell.
My phone flew from my hand, and I didn’t see where it went, but that soon became the least of my worries. I heard the door slam open behind me, echoing through the alley ominously. I scrabbled to get up, but was quickly pinned down in a matter of seconds. Someone flipped me over, and I saw the hard face of the man from the screen, his eyes burning with madness.
“I quite enjoy the chase that accompanies someone whom escapes my lovely Riddle Room,” he told me, holding a sharp blade to the edge of my throat. He let out a crazy chuckle as he drove it in a little harder. “I have never had someone smart enough to take those dandy little weapons though. Always thought of as a trap instead of a chance. Well, thank you for solving my Riddle Room. Now I know to make it extra hard next time. I admit my riddles were quite easy, so I must thank you for showing me how to make them better.”
“The police will catch you,” I said hoarsely. He just snickered.
“I have been doing this for almost ten years now. I doubt that I will get caught this time. No one will be able to save you, stupid girl! Say hello to your friend for me!”
There was a momentary stinging pain in my throat followed by a loud scream. Then everything went black.
On the night of August 8th, a 911 call was received from a kidnapping victim. She stated that she and her friend had both been taken by a man and had escaped, but her friend had met a tragic end. Her murder was followed several minutes later, according to her autopsy. The kidnapper was caught while he was trying to drag the caller’s body into a doorway in an alley. He was arrested and will be tried and sentenced to a mental hospital.
The girls were identified as Lizbeth Mason, age 17, and Amanda Livers, age 17. The girls were students at Sprague High School, starting up their senior year. They were not very well known, but grief is spreading like wildflowers among all who hear of their deaths.
The officials say that the man who had kidnapped them, Jermey Kander, had them solve a riddle-based room. Mr. Kander openly admitted that that is exactly what he had had them do and that they were not the first of his victims. He has done this in several different states over the course of around ten years. During his interrogation, he said, “The girls had been very easy to capture since the one who often figured the riddles to my room had just stood there after I had knocked her friend out. She gave me a good surprise with that brain power of hers. Now it is sad that she cannot help me with the creation and testing of my next room. Yet we must all sacrifice something for the next bigger idea.”
It is good to know that this man is going to be locked up, leaving us a bit safer in our own homes.
As I read through short stories, it became just the slightest bit clearer to me that I love mystery stories and why I love them. Roald Dahl's Man From the South gave me a good dose of suspense and dark mystery, which encouraged me to write my own twisted mystery. I developed a plot in which my characters came to life and made the story come alive as best as I could. To follow the mystery, I just added a little suspense, a flashback or two, and a little bit of foreshadowing. Tada! I have a decently made mystery with a surprise ending for my reader(s)!