by Brian Lelas
What can only be described as a loud smack on the top of the head was the last thing that Ohsenn heard before he felt his knees fall from underneath him. He’d just heard a sound by the window and when he went to take a peek out onto the street below, he was startled to find the reflection of a hooded figure in his window.
Ohsenn was a messy, untidy type, who tended to eat every meal from a disposable container and let it sit by his couch for a few days afterwards. He was the kind of guy who didn’t have time for a vacuum cleaner or an oven, but had hours and hours of every day to watch television, drink beer, read books, use the internet and sleep if he got bored.
Ohsenn’s three room apartment consisted of a basic living area with the usual living room and kitchen crossovers, a bathroom and a small bedroom. Living on the third floor of a four storey building had its advantages. Firstly, he was above the flood of shit that called themselves people on the streets below. His area wasn’t exactly friendly. He liked to stay out of it as much as possible, locked away in his three rooms. The advantages ended pretty much with that. The main disadvantages were the extremely loud neighbours on the floor above him. From what he could tell, they were very much in love and not afraid to shout about it. The other disadvantage that made Ohsenn regret living in the residence was the fact that there was no elevator, so he had to climb up three flights of stairs every day. Ohsenn’s life was so devoid of real problems or anything of notable nature, that this was one of the main things he could complain about.
Ohsenn was a person that didn’t so much have any life whatsoever, but rather was totally unaware that such a thing existed.
When Ohsenn woke up in his apartment after being knocked unconscious, he could smell something rather different. It was a sharp smell but not very strong. It was very apparent from the very moment he regained consciousness, but the lack of substantial light in the apartment prevented him from pinpointing a source of it. He pushed himself up with both hands and brushed himself off. He realised fairly quickly that he was in his bathroom and had been lying with his head under the sink.
The smell. The smell was paint.
“Paint…” he said in a whisper and walked from the bathroom out into the main room cautiously.
The room was drastically different. There were no signs of furniture. There was nothing in the room at all except for an old computer screen and a single light-bulb clearly positioned on the floor under a hanging wire that would house it and provide more illumination.
Ohsenn noticed that the mess of his apartment was gone too. Not a single box or empty milk carton could be spotted. It was also obvious that the room was unoccupied. Rather than put the light-bulb in to light up the room, Ohsenn decided that searching the bedroom while he was not noticed was the best course of action. As he turned the handle of his bedroom door and gently pushed it forwards, he noticed with the illumination from the old computer screen in the main room, that the bedroom had been completely stripped of everything too. His bed was missing. His wardrobe was gone. Even the mess from the floor was gone too. The room was definitely empty.
“What the hell is going on here?” he asked himself.
He made his way back to the main room and noticed that even the cooker and refrigerator where gone. The only thing that was left was the sink and the surface of the kitchen counter. Even the shelving and presses from around that wall were missing.
He tried the front door but upon approaching it, realised that the handle was missing and upon closer inspection, the door had been replaced by a large metal barrier. It was as if someone had fitted another door, a reinforced one, around the old door.
He walked carefully toward the light-bulb and picked it up. It had an unusually coarse texture and feel. It was rough to the touch and felt bumpy against his hand. Before trying to plug it into the hanging wire, Ohsenn ventured towards the window only to find that someone had filled it in with bricks and concrete. They’d done a pretty thorough job and the smell of paint was now apparent from walls around where the window had once been.
Scared and confused, Ohsenn stretched up to the hanging wire and twisted the bulb into place. It came on instantly, resulting in Ohsenn pulling his hand away quickly in case of a burn or a shock.
To his immediate surprise, the light-bulb was not a bright white of light, but rather the opposite. It was dark and had been painted over in blue paint. It was painted over so much that the light barely escaped it at all, and rather than give the room any substantial difference, simply made the room colder by making all of the walls a dark blue. It was better than nothing though, and Ohsenn let it sink in for a few moments before turning his attention to the computer screen in the corner. The machine itself must have been hidden away, linked to his room by a wire that connected to the screen, for it was literally just the old screen and a keyboard attached to it.
Ohsenn sat on the floor with his legs crossed and pulled the keyboard closer. He looked at the screen and took in the three words quickly. They were written in bright blue on a black background in text that was larger rather than smaller. The three words read:
--- You are trapped.
He looked around and started to fret. He left the hairs on the back of his neck stand up and he experienced a shoulder-jerking shiver of cold. It only kicked in with him after reading the words, that he was in some serious trouble.
“Somebody help me!” he called. There was no response. “Help!”
The computer screen went blank for a moment and then another message appeared.
--- Nobody can hear you. You are completely alone.
“But somebody will hear me! Help me! Help!” Ohsenn screamed. He banged his fists against the hard floor and screamed again and again. “Help me! Anybody!”
But there was no response at all.
The computer screen went blank again and flashed up another message, written in the same light blue writing.
--- When you are finished screaming like a little girl, I will tell you what you need to know in order to get out of that room.
Ohsenn looked around him as if expecting to see the person who had sent him this message. He kept quiet.
--- That’s better, Ohsenn. Allow me to explain. You are in your apartment, which I have carefully rearranged and quarantined from the rest of the world. You are completely alone in your building because the normal residents are all staying elsewhere for the next few days. They believe that there is a major raw sewage leak in your building’s basement and that I am cleaning up the mess using some equally dangerous chemicals. So, as you can see, you are completely alone.
Ohsenn looked around and asked, “What do you want with me?”
--- I will not answer anything you ask at this time. I am still explaining to you what you need to know. You have 11 questions to ask. These questions will only be answered in one of two ways. Yes or No. In the event of you asking a question that is not answerable with Yes or No answer, I will be answer with the word “Binary,” which is the answer that will hopefully remind you to ask your Yes or No questions accordingly. If you ask a question and get the response of “Binary,” it still counts as one of your 11 questions. All you must do is ask your 11 questions. Once you have asked your limit of questions, you will either die or be allowed to leave. The nature of your death shall remain a mystery for now, but should you choose to guess it in the form of a Yes or No question, you may find out.
Ohsenn spoke out, “What do I have to achieve to get out? How do I know you’ll answer truthfully!? This is crazy! Just let me go, whoever you are!”
--- I’m trying to explain this to you, Ohsenn. Read these words carefully. They will not be repeated.
--- All is not as it seems in your room. Be aware that it is very different to when you last saw it. The last time you were conscious was two weeks ago. The other people in your building think that you are either after running away from your rent or that you are dead. Nobody cares which one is true.
--- I can hear you ask your questions from a microphone built into the screen. There are only two ways to leave. You can use up questions trying to figure out the password to the new door of your apartment and attempt to guess it with your 11th question, or you can try to claw your way through three feet of bricks and concrete without any tools. And before you get any ideas about breaking through the floor, I’ve modified that too so that you can’t get through…
Ohsenn stared at the screen and couldn’t believe what he was reading. He kept quiet for the moment and awaited further instructions from the computer screen.
The light blue text disappeared and the screen remained blank for a few moments. As Ohsenn was about to look away, he noticed a flash on the screen and in the top left corner there was a number.
Ohsenn looked around for the joke. He expected someone to jump out from somewhere and say “Got you!” But nobody did. He felt like asking if it was a joke, but then looked at the number on the screen, and suddenly eleven was not a very big number at all. It was miniscule. Eleven chances to get out. “All I need to do is find out the password to the door. I can’t get though the walls. The password must be something to do with me, otherwise it’d be too hard to guess…” he said aloud, almost addressing the computer screen.
“Is the password to the door a person’s name?” Ohsenn asked.
Ohsenn sighed heavily. The counter in the corner of the screen flickered and changed to 10. The answer remained on screen for a few more seconds and then disappeared. Ohsenn decided to inspect the door. When he looked around the frame he noticed something he didn’t see before. There was small computer pad with tiny buttons, ranging from every letter in the alphabet to the numbers 0-9 and a green button that was clearly for entering your selection. The password could be anything, he realised.
“Is this terminal useful to me in this situation other than to input the password to the door?” he asked.
“Shit.” The counter slipped down to 9. Ohsenn walked away from the door and began to pace frantically around the room. He banged his fists against the solid brick walls numerous times until he got even more frustrated and sat down on the hard floor facing the computer screen. “Help!” he called again. It was futile to try it. There really wasn’t anybody in the building. With walls as thick as the ones in that building, nobody would hear him on the street either.
“What’s the password to the door?” he asked himself.
The counter changed to eight questions remaining.
“Hey! That doesn’t count! I wasn’t asking you! I was thinking aloud!” Ohsenn said and then shouted, “Hey! That’s not fair!”
--- Nothing about life is fair, Ohsenn. Don’t you know that? This is the last time I will remind you. Yes or No questions, Ohsenn. If you ask any other kind of question, you will simply get the response, “Binary.” 8 questions remaining…
Ohsenn got up and paced again. “It’s so unfair,” he said. “I wish I could see who you are just for a second. I’m going to find you, and when I do, I am going to tear you apart. I’m going to rip your limbs off and strangle you until you die! Why is this happening to me!?”
Ohsenn noticed the counter flicker from 8 down to 7 and stood up and screamed at the screen, “That doesn’t count!” He thought about kicking his boot through the screen, but then realised that it might easily be the only thing he can use to get out of the cell that was his former home.
“Are there any things that you haven’t told me about the room that I should be searching for?” Ohsenn asked. It seemed like a pretty reasonable question. It took some time for a response. Too long for Ohsenn’s liking.
The counter flickered down to 6 and he smiled a weak smile. “So, I guess I’ll search around some more.”
He decided to tear the sink from the wall, finding only the pipes that burrowed in behind it and no access beyond the wall. The pipes went in an L bend around and into the apartment on the next side. He tried to pull and kick at the pipes but they wouldn’t budge. They were too thick and too strong to bend or break.
He looked around the walls, searching high and low for some kind of marking or noticeable sign of change. He didn’t find any. But…
“The wallpaper…” he said. “I’m pretty sure it was torn at the top over there,” he said aloud. “But it’s not anymore. Either you’ve lowered the ceiling for some reason or this isn’t really my apartment…”
He looked over at the computer screen. He only had six chances left to get the password; unless he used his questions to find out another way to escape. How could he ask about the ceiling and find out if he was in his apartment or not, using just one question? He thought about it carefully.
He pointed at the ceiling and asked, “Is that the lowered ceiling of my apartment?” and waited for an answer.
“I knew it,” he said. “You obviously lowered the ceiling for a reason. I wonder…” He glanced at the computer screen as it went blank and returned with the number 5 in the top corner. The ceiling appeared to be only a little lower than it had been before, and was still far too high to reach unaided. Ohsenn tried to jump to reach it but it wasn’t quite enough. He even tried balancing on the broken sink to reach it, but it wasn’t high enough.
Preoccupied by the ceiling modification, Ohsenn realised that he only had five chances left at getting the password. How could he find it out? Should he ask if there were X number of letters in it? What would that achieve? He’d still have more possible answers than five, or four once he’d asked it. He had a dilemma. He had already eliminated names as a category for the word to fit under. If he could establish the number of digits in the password, perhaps there was some way of finding it, but it could be anything. It could be a number. It could be a mix of letters and numbers. It could be a word backwards. It could just be the letter “A” typed seven or eight times. It could be anything.
Ohsenn sat down on the floor in front of the computer and asked, “Does the password contain any numbers?”
“Well, that’s a start.”
The digit in the corner of the screen fell to 4.
“Is the password written anywhere in this room that I could find it?”
The computer went blank and took a few moments to respond.
--- This is a tricky question, so I will answer it as best I can. No, it is not written anywhere in this room that you could find it. It is not written anywhere in this room. But it could be, if you wanted it to be.
“Hmmm…” Ohsenn sat back and lay on the floor for a moment, looking at the ceiling which was noticeably lower. He didn’t know why it didn’t strike him when putting in the light bulb earlier.
“I think that there is no password.” He sat up and stood up. “I think your answer there has given it away. I think that the password is anything I type into the keypad, and that the test to get through is to be brave enough to try it. And, if I was to write a word anywhere in the room and try it in the keypad, it’d work, because anything would… Am I wrong?” he asked.
The counter flickered and went to 3.
--- Yes. You are wrong.
“Shit. I thought I’d figured it out.”
Ohsenn wiped his face with both hands roughly and massaged his temples, rubbing it to soothe his mind for a moment. “Or maybe I should just try it.”
He walked over to the keypad and typed with his index finger, the word “A-S-S-H-O-L-E” into it and pressed the green button. The screen went blank and an LED message ran across the small screen on the keypad. It read, “You may only ask the questions. You forfeit a question.”
The counter read 2 questions left.
“You fucking bastard,” he said aloud. “That cost me a question… That is really…” He picked up the broken sink and threw it towards the wall. Rather than make a bit of a dent in the wall, it simply shattered. It was obviously a cheap sink, made of cheap materials by his cheap landlord in the cheap building of the cheap world.
“Two questions left,” he stated matter-of-factly.
“Are you doing this out of revenge?” he asked.
“I don’t understand why you’re doing this.”
--- I will let you in on this for free, seeing as you only have one question left. I am doing this because I can. I noticed that you are the most disposable person in this building. I had the contract to clean up the toxic mess in the basement, because I’m the one who put the mess there. I’m tired of doing my rounds, cleaning up shit after someone else and not getting any thanks. I want to be the one in charge. The one with the power. And today, that is me. You play by my rules and if you fail, you die. I do not care if you survive. But you will try. And from the moment this started, I knew that you would fail. Prove me wrong. One last question, Ohsenn. Ask it.
“I would rather not give you the satisfaction of asking, but I don’t think I can ever get this password, and I know that if I don’t get it now, that’s it. So I think I’ll ask something that will put my suspicions at rest.”
--- Ask it then.
“You’re in this room, aren’t you? And you’re going to kill me now, right?”
And with that, Ohsenn looked around the room and finally saw movement in the top corner of the room. A gloved hand appeared from above the ceiling and reached down. It was followed by a second hand and they pulled together to reveal a face, or rather, a masked face.
The figure appeared to be pulling itself out of the ceiling, which is exactly what it was doing. The mask was quite unusual. It was simply white with a flat face and a simple children’s doodle of a stickman’s face, merely a dot for each eye and a curved mouth, smiling. The mask covered the figure’s entire head and it wore all black.
“I am the hangman,” a male voice spoke, although distorted by some kind of voice altering machine. “If you can’t find the password before your limit is up, I fall,” he said, and landed on the ground. In his left hand was a small portable keyboard and in his right was a silenced handgun. He typed a bunch of letters into the keyboard and they appeared on the computer screen beside the number 0 in the top corner.
“You were hiding in the ceiling…” Ohsenn said, backing away.
“Yes. Well done, you got it right. Only, you’re far too late, and I’ve had to fall. Now it is your turn to fall,” the hangman said in his distorted voice, held up the handgun, pointed it at Ohsenn’s face and fired, painting the blue walls behind him a crimson red.
Looking down and the still body of Ohsenn, the hangman spoke once more, “You asked me the password to this room, and I told you what it was. You just didn’t want to listen.”
The hangman walked to the door, typed into the keypad B-I-N-A-R-Y and left the mess for someone else to clean up for a change.