The Stolen Man episode 2: The Escape
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You are standing outside of room 6-5, your room, according to Six. Dan gives you a big bear hug. It doesn’t warm you or make you feel loved. It makes you feel stifled, suffocated, strangled. You pull out of the embrace. Dan is grinning broadly like you are his best friend.
Well, maybe he is at that. Who can say? Certainly not you.
“Ho ho ho, time to go.” says Dan in that slightly manic singsongy way he has.
You turn and head towards what you think is the staircase when Dan stops you.
“No time to play; the stairs are this way.” He points the opposite direction and heads towards the stairs.
“Sorry, just got turned around,” you say and follow him quickly, “ I don’t want to sound ungrateful, and I’m happy to be out, but where are we going exactly?”
Dan turns and grins at you again, “The diamond room, to ease your gloom.”
“You know where it is?”
“N-n-never been there. But you got your fix in hall 76, right?”
“You’ve been to hall 76, then?
“So where are we going?!”
He’s still grinning irritatingly, “76.”
You stop walking just before reaching the door to the stairwell. You stare belligerently at “L6”. You’ve just decided not to take another step until someone starts making more sense. You are weary of his cadence, of this game, whatever it is, that you are playing.
Dan sees your face and sobers up immediately. Taking a deep breath he says, “I’ve never been there, that much is fair, but I think I know where to go.”
Dan grabs you by the arm and predictably the vision hits again: the hand coming out of a white sleeve dragging you down the hall. It’s not Dan’s hand though. You shake your head to clear the vision and, once through the door. begin to head down the stairs.
“Where are you going?” Dan asks pausing on his way up the stairs.
You are following Dan up the stairs and he’s humming something now. A children’s song: “This Old Man.”
He’s a strange bird, this Diamond Dan. But then, you suppose being janitor of Sunnyvale might make anyone a little nuts.
You arrive at the landing behind Dan and he points triumphantly at the sign on the door: “L7.”
You shake your head, “But that’s not it. It said 76, not L7.”
Dan just grins and goes through the door pausing just long enough for you to enter. He begins to walk down the hallway and now he’s singing as he goes, pointing at each door he passes as he does so.
“This old man, he played one, he played knick knack on my thumb with a knick knack paddywack give this dog a bone, this old man came rolling home.” he sings pointing out door 7-1 as he passes.
“This old man he played two,” he continues singing as you pass by each door.
7-2, 7-3, 7-4, 7-5.
“This old man, he’s named six, he’s named six with his bag of tricks, with a six and a seven and we throw the dog a bone–” Dan flourishes at the next door, and manages to bow while singing “–7-6 and now we’re home.”
You consider it. Everything is so confused, “Yeah, could be. Maybe. Yeah, yeah, it must be.”
Dan pulls on the door but it’s locked. Reaching into his pocket he pulls out the set of keys you saw before, fits one in the lock, turns it…and nothing. The door is still locked.
Dan looks at the key sternly, as if scolding it, then holds it up to you as he says, “How can it be; this is the master key.”
You bend down to look at the lock and freeze. Someone is inside and they are talking, not quite talking though, the cadence is wrong. It’s more like a chant or a bad reading. You can’t make out any of the words, but just as you lean in listen more closely, Dan pushes you aside and tries another one of the many keys on his key ring. This one fits and Dan throws the door open.
At first glance it looks nothing like the patient room you just came from. In fact, initially you take it to be a hall, but that has more to do with expectations, and the fact that the room is extremely poorly lit, than the truth. As you and Dan step in to see better, the door shuts behind you.
It is a room like your room after all, at least in dimensions, but the furnishings are completely different. In the back corner, something is huddled. It’s too dark to see exactly what but it looks vaguely canine.
Aside from this there is only one other thing in the room.
It’s a very large glass cage: a transparent box with a door on one side and seamless corners all the way around. There is a single green light above the door of the cage, but the light it casts is barely enough to illuminate the cage itself, let alone the room. The front has a panel on it on the inside of the cage. But as it is the only opaque part of the cage and is facing away from you, you have no idea what it really is. What really grabs your attention most though, is the woman locked inside the glass cage staring at the front of the panel.
She’s dressed in some sort of skintight black outfit. It’s too dark to make out exactly what the outfit is made of, but even in this strange circumstance you find the shadows and shapes, the way she stands, a strong sensuality radiating from her to all be very distracting. She seems aware you and Dan have entered the room, but only from the merest flick of her eyes up and then back down to the keypad she’s concentrating on, and she is chanting. She’s the one you heard and she’s still at it. Her voice is getting louder as she goes, her face flushing with excitement and exertion and, from the moment you enter, these are the words you hear almost but not quite in a yell.
“…habits, plagues, commandments, witches, wonders, lights on!”
She lifts her eyes to you now and her triumph turns to surprise. Her eyes pass over Dan and settle on you as she says,
“Money man! I didn’t expect to see you here!”
“Wait– what? You know me?”
She looks at you from behind her glass door with an expression that’s hard to read (especially in the dim room). Suspicious or just curious?
“Everyone around here knows the money man. Where would we all be without you?”
She interrupts herself, gesturing at her cage and laughing, “Well, then again, maybe that’s not such a good thing.”
“W-w-who are you?” Dan asks her from behind you.
She turns with the same suspicious/curious expression to Dan, “I’m Lorelei, but then he,” gesturing at you, “already knew that.”
“No, actually I didn’t. You know me? You really know me?”
“What’s the game here?” Then she brightens in realization, “Oh! Is this still part of the test?”
“I…” Dan interrupts you which is just as well, because honestly you had no idea what you were about to say.
“Come and see, the man without memory.”
“You?” This strikes Lorelei as very funny. Her laughter is not manic and creepy like Dan’s. It’s pleasant and it almost makes you smile, “You lost your memory?”
The laughter comes again. It does make you smile, but it also carries a gentle mockery with it, like she’s keeping some secret that makes everything even funnier to her.
“You said I’m the money man? I am a banker?”
“This is part of the test, isn’t it? Do you want me to say you’re a banker?”
“What? No, I want to know the truth. I really don’t remember. What’s my name? Is it Troy?”
“Troy? No idea, could be Richard Nixon or Moses, for all I know.”
“But you said you knew me.”
“You really don’t remember? Amazing. Yeah, I knew you, but no one here knew your name. We all just knew your number. You were–”
“Number!” You look at Dan, “I have a number? Like Six and Seven?”
Lorelei laughs again in the same mocking tone, “Six? You remember Six?”
“He’s the one who did this to me. I’ve been having some memories of that.”
“Six did this to you?” This idea actually sends her into a fit of giggles. It’s beginning to feel to you like the mocking is not so gentle anymore, and you are wearying of not being part of the joke.
“What?” you ask angrily.
“Nothing, baby, but if Six did this to you, then you really are stuck. If Six doesn’t want you to remember, you will never remember.” She says this without laughing, but her tone still carries a lightness to it which belies the finality of the words.
“That’s just it, though. I do remember some things. I remember Six, for instance.”
“Indeed you do, sugar.”
“So what was my number? Why did you call me the money man?”
Dan has wandered over to the “vaguely canine” thing in the dark corner while you’ve been talking and now he draws back, a look of horror on his face, “What’s that?”
Lorelei turns toward Dan, “Disturbing isn’t it? I think it’s some kind of animal, or it was, you know, from Level 9. Don’t worry, it’s dead now. I killed it. “
You move over to get a closer look but Dan steps in front, “You really don’t want to see.” and then to Lorelei, “You killed it?”
“Yeah, I wish I hadn’t though. I think I need it.”
Things are moving too fast. All you’ve done since this morning is play catch up and yet you seem further from the truth than ever. Still, you ask, “Need it? For what?”
She turns and looks sharply at you, “Actually, nothing. I think I just figured out another way. Look, I’d love to keep chatting, but I’ve got to get out of this cage. If I don’t get out the instant that light turns yellow, it could be fatal for all of us.”
“Fatal? I don’t understand any of this.”
The woman laughs again and you decide it’s definitely less pleasant than you thought, “That’s really funny,” she says, “you don’t understand.”
“Why is that funny?”
“Because, hon, you built all this.”