Cassidy understood that this was a test, but that knowledge didn’t help when it felt like the walls were pressing in. Six walls. Four around her, one above and one at her feet, though that arrangement shifted now and again. Each had a window at the exact center point of the wall. Gravity was whimsical and could change without warning, though not in connection to the scenes depicted beyond each window. She had learned that the key was in those scenes if she could unravel the way out. She had to be smart about this.
She’d come to think of the volcanic landscape as up, no matter which way gravity said was down. That window had been up when the test began, and in that way she could track the movements of the room. Opposite to the volcano was a glade filled with bright spring flowers. She didn’t trust that one. She had opened the window on that side, only once, and the odor had made her retch. Not spring flowers. Beyond that she didn’t care to think on the subject any further.
The four side walls, as she liked to think of them, she suspected had something to do with each other and thereby most likely the actual labyrinth. One always had people in it. It was alternately a bustling market, as if the window were on the second story of a shop; a city street, several stories up; and a carnival or fair, where the window looked out from the back side of a ticket booth or something. One window was always a hallway, sometimes school, sometimes hospital, always empty. One window showed some kind of animal refuge and the last window seemed to be peering into the ocean.
She had tried the market on several occasions but failed to attract anyone’s notice, no matter how rudely she shouted. The hallways she had avoided so far. It seemed too easy. The three separate times she had tried the animal refuge, she’d found a hungry den of lions lurking under the window, where they had been out of view from the room. The ocean water spilled into the room if she opened the window while it was on any surface but the floor. The water stayed until she managed to sleep. When she woke again the room was always reset, the volcano roaring lava above her. And it began again.
She wasn’t sure anymore how long she’d been at it. Each time she awoke she seemed fed and refreshed, with no outstanding needs but to solve the puzzle. Professor Cruz had outdone himself on this one. She was beginning to recognize his technique.
“Okay Cruz,” she said, “let’s do this.”
Gravity shifted, and she walked from the spring glade to the hallways smoothly. “Volcano,” she said. “Next up we’ll be looking at wildlife refuge, and then a jot to the left for a visit to the market.”
On cue, the room rolled as she recited.
“It’s a dance,” she said. “A dance step.”
The room shifted again.
“A tango!” she tried. “Step step slide. Come on! Let’s move on!”
The pattern began again and she walked with it, no longer sliding or tumbling at the shifts.
“It’s the same pattern over and over again!” she yelled. “Forward forward side…”
She was in training to create games. A game creator would be far less interested in a dance step than the movement patterns of a playing piece.
“Check mate!” she yelled.
The room tilted until the market bustled above her head.
“Is that it?” she asked.
The window to the volcano swung open.
She could feel the heat pressing in from where she stood. She stepped forward and leaned over the windowsill. There was a ledge of rock under the window, and it looked like it wrapped around to the left in some kind of path. The air was stifling. Hot and dry. She eyed the window to the ocean.
Ten minutes later, dripping, Cassidy crawled through the frame and inched along the ledge, pressing her eyes shut against the waves of heat rolling off lava flows that were far too close. She laughed when she found another wall with a square window at its center. She pushed it open and crawled through, relieved to find herself in a temperature controlled office, Professor Cruz smiling at her from behind a desk.
“Check mate?” he asked wryly.
She shrugged. “It was the only chess phrase I could think of at the time.”
“It took you a while,” he said. “Chess is widely played. It should have been a standard point of reference.”
“Chess isn’t generally played in a cube,” she said, “and you added extra elements to throw me off the scent.”
“Scent, yes,” Cruz said, smiling.
Cassidy groaned. “This is a hint?” she scoffed. “You let me think I won and really you’re only giving me a stupid hint?”
Professor Cruz smiled more genuinely.
Cassidy was still grumbling unsavory things when she climbed back into the cube and walked across to the spring glade window. She opened it and nearly gagged at the noxious odor that crept in. On a whim, and in a rash action that she wasn’t proud of, she swung around, seated herself on the windowsill, and added to the stink.
When the walls fell away Professor Cruz and his fellow game designing friend known only as John were leaning on each other weeping with laughter. Cassidy strode past them, her head held high.
“You’re going back in tomorrow,” Cruz said, wiping his cheek with a sleeve. “You didn’t win.”
Cassidy smiled and kept walking to her room. She had a quick conversation to have with one of the game engineers first, and then she intended to sleep well.
Professor Cruz rose more aching than usual. He found that he was not in his bed. Had he fallen out? He stumbled toward the bathroom and met abruptly with a wall. His room was pitch dark and he was disoriented. He fumbled around until he found a window. He frowned. It didn’t match any of the windows in his room. He pushed it open and a wave of heat blew his hair back. From the dim red light of the volcano’s lava, he studied the room behind him. Black walls, each square and identical with a blackened window at its center.
“I’ve changed the game, Cruz,” Cassidy’s voice said from nowhere in particular.
The professor smiled, and this time it was with pride.
Written by W. C. McClure. This may be shared (and please do); just please be sure to share it in its entirety, unaltered (and including this fine print), with credit given to W. C. McClure. This is a work of fiction. None of the characters or events depicted are meant to represent anyone or anything this side of dreams. Comments are welcome athttp://www.farsideofdreams.com. Oh, and please help support this indie author by telling your friends about this short story blog and buying W. C. McClure’s books http://www.wcmcclure.com. Thanks for reading!