Written by Samuel Gaistkell
Julia took a long, deep breath, ignoring the stinging dust flooding into her nostrils. Before her stood a door with 26 buttons upon it, each button representing a different letter of the alphabet. Beside her, three men - David, Nathan and Ryan - stood, looking very confused .
‘What are we doing here?’ Ryan asked, looking around the nicely polished wooden walls. ‘It seems a bit more… I don’t know, modern than our usual scores?’
‘We were hired to retrieve a treasure that apparently was stolen from a very valued collection,’ Nathan explained, yet again, an annoyed look washing over his face. ‘We hunt treasures. Not all treasures are ancient-’
‘Shh.’ Julia hissed, trying to concentrate. While David, Nathan and Ryan’s expertise lied in breaking and entering, scaling over or under walls that shouldn’t be scaled over or under, making rash decisions that shouldn’t be made, that sort of thing, Julia’s area of expertise was undeniably riddles and puzzles, making her the perfect person to solve their way into the middle of this modern, mind-bending maze. Or at least she would be, if everyone would just stay quiet.
Above this door sat a seemingly simple riddle. Framed in gold, and written all in capital letters, on paper that hadn’t even been glanced at by time, were a series of letters.
O T T F F S S _ _ _
Naturally, Julia assumed the letters and the three spaces following the final ‘s’ had to be a series of some sort, one she had to complete. But how?
‘... O T T F F S S …’ Ryan thought aloud, wrongly believing to be a help ‘... Maybe… maybe it’s something to do with-’
‘She said shut it.' Nathan glared over to Ryan, who promptly shut his mouth. Nathan did always have a strange way of getting Ryan to listen. No one really knew why, either. Not even Nathan himself.
Julia shot Nathan a grateful, weak smile before doubling her focus.
‘Come on, Julia, you can do this.' Julia thought to herself, frustrated over the fact that the very first riddle was already stumping her focus.
Julia stared at the letters intently, repeating them in her mind over and over. O T T F F S S…O T T F F S S… O T T F F S S… And in a sudden, and near inexplicable moment of brilliance, she had it.
‘Ryan, count up from one.' Julia said as she spun to face him.
‘You told me not to talk though.’ Ryan protested.
‘Just do it.’ She groaned along with a roll of her eyes. She preferred not to waste too much time here, seeing how the guards to this place wouldn’t stay knocked out forever.
‘Alright… uh, one, two, three, four-’ Ryan began, before being cut off.
‘And the first letter of each of those numbers?’ She asked, before the penny dropped, for Ryan, Nathan, and David alike.
‘That’s… so simple. It’s counting to ten,’ David said, looking up to the riddle 'The answer has to be ‘e n t’ then, eight, nine, ten.'
Julia, with a particularly bubbly bounce in her step, moved back over to the door covered in lettered buttons, where she punched in ‘E, N, T’. With a satisfying pop, the door flung open, to reveal yet another room with yet another door, yet another riddle positioned above it.
'This… could take a while' David sighed out before the four carried on
The group continued on, expecting, or rather hoping, that the riddles from that point onward would be as easy as the first. They were sadly very wrong, or rather their hopes were sadly dashed.
The next room’s door had far less buttons. Just 10. Each button having a number, one to nine, zero on the bottom. Above it, another riddle.
On my way to St. Ives I saw a man with seven wives. Each wife
had seven sacks. Each sack had seven cats. Each cat had seven
kittens. Kitten, cats, sacks, wives. How many were going to St. Ives?’
'Oh, okay, so just simple adding?' Ryan scoffed, taking the riddle at face value. 'So, seven wives, seven sacks, each having seven cats, so that’s seven times seven, which is 49, and each cat had seven kittens, so that’s 49 times seven, which is… uh… 343, plus the seven we started with, so that’s 350, plus the seven sacks because… wait no hang on.'
'Okay, maybe leave the thinking for the thinkers, Ryan' Nathan said, gesturing over to Julia, who was looking up at the riddle, carefully reading over it.
'Wait no, so it’s just seven times seven times seven times seven, right?' Ryan said 'Plus one for the person on their way to Saint Ives. So seven times seven equals 49 and 49 times seven equals 343. 343 times seven equals … uh… 2401… roughly, plus one is 2402!'
Without warning, Ryan moved over to the number pad and began to punch in the number 2402. The three looked over to Ryan, their eyes widened with a mixture of confusion and anger, before a portion of the floor opened up and dropped away. Specifically, the portion that Ryan had moved on. Acting exclusively in panic, he managed to grapple to the ledge, not wishing to fall onto the spikes that he could see far below.
'That was the wrong answer!' Ryan called out, stating the obvious.
'Shit, Ryan!' Nathan said, a surprisingly genuine sounding mixture of panic and worry in his voice, as he hurried over to Ryan. Just as he found his fingers slipping, finding no decent hand-holds to grapple to, Nathan managed to clamp his hands onto Ryan’s arm, his eyes widened with a mixture of panic and fear alike. Ryan could only watch on helplessly as Nathan grunted, his body straining to pull him up. After a few excruciatingly long seconds, Nathan managed to pull Ryan out of the trap, the pair both panting heavily.
'I… uh…' Ryan stammered, suddenly finding it hard to speak, as he found himself embraced in the arms of the panicked looking Nathan.
'Uh… D-don’t touch anything ever again!' Nathan commanded, his usual scolding tone slowly returning, his face almost looking as if it was blushing.
'...Okay, so it looks like we only have a limited amount of guesses,' Julia eventually stated, deciding to ignore the strange interaction, or at least choosing to ignore it for now. 'Roughly three, I’d say, because the first wrong answer-' Julia paused to send an annoyed glare over to Ryan 'Caused about a third of the floor to drop away.'
'But all the math was right, as far as I can tell.' David began, looking up to the riddle '... oh.'
'Oh?' Julia asked, looking up to the riddle herself. It took her a second, before she got it too. '... oh!'
'Care to fill us in?' Nathan asked, trying to calm his rapidly beating heart.
'The answer is one.' David said. 'The riddle only said that one person was going to Saint Ives, and along the way, he saw others, though they weren’t going.'
'... Well, I feel dumb.' Ryan admitted.
'That’s because you’re the dumb one.' Nathan quipped, hiding a smile as Julia moved to the number pad and punched in the number 1. Once again, the door popped open with a confident pop, and once again, the group moved on.
More Short Stories like This…