Mandy screamed as she fell. The clothing room disappeared from view and was replaced by pure darkness. Her butt hit smooth, slanted plastic, and she began to slide down a long, winding tube, screaming the whole way. “My clothes!”
After what seemed like an eternity of skin sliding down plastic, the ride came to an end. The tube stopped abruptly in the middle of a dusty room and Mandy shot off the end of it, landing face-first on a slightly uneven, slightly damp surface of soft rubber. She lay still for a while, wondering if she’d broken anything. But her body felt fine, if a little cold.
“Uurgh,” she groaned, finding the strength to roll over onto her back. She blinked her eyes rapidly, only to suddenly have them filled with a blinding light.
“Mandy!” shouted a familiar voice. “Holy shit!”
She put up a hand to shielded her eye from the light, which quickly receded. Then her brain connected the dots of what was currently happening to her. The voice she’d heard belonged to Stephen, leader of the Escape Artists. He had been shining a flashlight in her face. And now he was shining it on her body. Her naked body.
“Eek!” she squealed. But before she could move her arms to cover herself, she felt hands clasp each of hers and hold her arms out to the side.
“Mandy, whatever you do, don’t move,” said Caroline. “Thomas, hold firm to that arm.”
Mandy whimpered. What the hell was going on now?
The light shone on her body again, moving around slowly and methodically, a little too slowly, really. “Yep,” said Stephen. “It’s all over her.”
Thomas gasped, “Oh shit, Mandy, I didn’t realize you were… um, totally, uh…”
“What happened to your clothes?” Caroline asked. “Wait, you can tell me later. What’s important for now is that you don’t touch yourself.”
The boys snickered.
“Ew guys, get your heads out of the gutter. Mandy, look down.”
Mandy did as she was commanded. She saw her an expanse of pale flesh. Breasts, stomach, pussy, legs, all exposed to the eyes of her friends. And across her bare torso, an intricate series of markings in glistening purple ink. “Is that… a map?” she asked.
Caroline nodded, fixing Mandy’s gaze. “It’s the map we need to solve the final puzzle. And the ink is still drying. Hence, don’t move.”
“But Caroline, I’m—”
“Naked, yes, I can see that. But we only have one copy of this map, and we’re mere minutes away from solving this room in under four hours. Just keep still, and we’ll beat the record. By an hour!”
Mandy glanced at the timer on her watch, the one covering she had managed to retain. With everything else that had happened, she’d totally forgotten to check the time. The timer read 03:47. Caroline was right.
Thomas shone another light on Mandy’s back. “There’s some back here too, guys. This is a pretty big map.”
“And it’s got a lot of intricate details,” added Stephen. “We’ll have to study it carefully.” He was already paying intense attention to the markings across Mandy’s breasts.
Caroline rolled her eyes. “Try to focus on ink parts, guys. And Mandy, just hold still. If we want to beat the record, we’ve all got to work together.”
For the next few minutes, Mandy sat, and then, when it was pointed out that some of the map had printed on her ass, stood in silence. The map was, of course, carved into the rubber press that she’d landed on, but it was a single color, the same purple as the ink across her body. If she squinted, she could make out the details of the map in the press’s indentations, but only faintly.
A rolled up sheet of white paper lay unused in one corner of the room. The designer’s intention must have been for the team to press the paper against the inky rubber press and create the map that way. Her body seemed a poor substitute, but no-one appeared to be complaining.
The other three Escape Artists scurried around, fiddling with compasses and astrolabes and telegraph machines, unlocking boxes and reading clues, and taking every opportunity to study another corner of the map. The boys seemed to divide the bulk of the map analysis between them, with Stephen focusing on the top half and Thomas focusing on the bottom half. Given how often she’d caught Thomas looking down when walking behind Caroline, she figured this had more to do with each one’s favourite part of the female anatomy than anything else.
Mandy was thankful for the room’s dim half-light, which shrouded her from view in the brief moments that a flashlight beam wasn’t exploring her body. She noticed Caroline throwing a few inscrutable glances their way as Thomas studied part of the map that had imprinted on her ass. Was she… jealous? She didn’t even like him!
Stephen’s next map consultation took a while longer than usual. Mandy found it best to turn her head to the side and avoid eye-contact, pretend this wasn’t happening. The flashlight beam was warm against her chest. “Uh, Mandy, could you…” Stephen asked, determinedly looking her in the eyes. “There’s a bit I can’t see just beneath your boobs.”
Mandy looked down. Stephen’s hand was hovering dangerously close to her chest. She cringed and put her hands to her breasts, lifting them so that Stephen could inspect the undersides, which he did for a solid minute, flicking the flashlight this way and that.
“Ah, that’s it!” he said at last. “Thanks Mandy, you’re a real team player!”
The solution to the final puzzled seemed to have something to do with the distance between different capital cities on the map’s imaginary fantasy landscape. “We’ll need to check the scale, just to be sure,” Thomas said, pointing towards the scale marker printed on Mandy’s left hipbone. He and Stephen locked eyes in a silent challenge. Mandy gulped.
“I’ll do it!” cried Caroline, to mixed disappointment and relief. Then, acting with clinical quickness and precision, she measured the size of the scale between two figures and quickly jabbed those across Mandy’s belly, breasts and back, rattling off numbers.
Stephen and Thomas grumbled to themselves, but then set about putting Caroline’s numbers into the final lock. They were correct. The padlock clicked open, the final box was opened and the final key produced. Stephen held it aloft, like King Arthur wielding Excalibur, and clicked it in the lock of the final door.
There was a brief buzzing sound as the door swung open, and then a mechanical voice spoke from the ceiling. “Congratulations, your time was… three hours, fifty-eight minutes, twelve seconds.”
The Escape Artists looked at each other. They had succeeded in beating the previous record by more than an hour. “Yes!” shouted Thomas. “We did it! And by a whole lot!”
The team ran around high-fiving and hugging each other, elated by their victory. “Yes yes yes! We did it! We really did it!” Mandy was just as happy as the rest of the team, and, as she normally did after they beat a record, started dancing around madly. Then she felt the eyes of her teammates on her body, remembered her state of undress, and immediately turned bright red. “Uh, guys, could—”
Mandy’s words were interrupted by the entrance of a stranger, who now stood before the team, slow clapping. It was a woman in her forties, dressed in blue overalls. “Congratu—oh wow, are you… what happened?”
Mandy blushed deeper and wrapped her arms around herself. The light pouring in from the entrance made her state of undress abdundantly clear.
“Uh, well, uh,” the woman continued, her composure shattered. “Right, well. Uhm. Your team, the Escape Artists, has set a new record for the completion of my Mega Ultra Escape Room, beating the previous record by over an hour. This is highly unusual, but I’ll grant that it may be possible. Please, tell me how you did it. Starting with you.” Her gaze settled on Mandy.
“Could I get something to wear first?”
The woman put a finger to her chin, a funny look in her eyes. “No, I think you can stay like that a while. At least until I figure out whether or not you’re a cheater.”
Mandy’s previous stridency withered at the woman’s penetrating gaze. Her friends made no move to contradict the lady or insist that she get some clothing before saying anything. The boys obviously wanted to keep her this way as long as possible, those dicks, and who knew what Caroline was thinking. Mandy was starting to realize she didn’t really have anything in common with these people apart from their shared love for escape rooms. And hers had taken a heavy knock today.
The woman in blue overalls appeared very serious and proper, completely unlike the fat, perverted old man Mandy had been imagining as the room’s creator. She thought back to the curses she’d leveled at the room’s designer and suddenly felt very small. Then, with a quaver in her voice, she recounted how she’d solved her portion of the escape room. She recounted every puzzle, every point at which she’d lost some piece of clothing. Reliving the whole thing in her mind while standing naked in front of everyone was humiliating, and she was relieved that the woman didn’t interrupt her with questions.
“… and then I got the map all over my skin and the others told me not to move because the ink was still wet.”
“Extraordinary,” said the woman. “Those are some very… unorthodox… solutions. I wonder why Paul didn’t alert me earlier?”
“P-Paul?” asked Mandy.
“He’s the control room guy. Watches the teams and opens the doors, resets the puzzles, that sort of thing. You wouldn’t have met him, there’s no intercom system because we don’t do hints for this room.”
Mandy shuddered. So this Paul was the one she’d been shouting at all day. The one she’d been… stripping for. On camera. She felt a bit better about the cursing.
“Well, he probably didn’t want me to spoil the show,” the woman continued, raising an eyebrow. “Although really, I ought to disqualify your team for your use of personal items, but… no, I don’t think that would be in the spirit of the room. You certainly displayed ingenuity and no small amount of bravery!”
Mandy couldn’t believe what she was hearing. “What? Unorthodox solutions? What are you saying? But… but my challenges were designed so that losing my clothing was the only solution!”
The woman cocked an eyebrow and looked at the rest of Mandy’s team members. “You three would have encountered some of the same puzzles, but you’re all fully dressed, so far as I can tell. Perhaps you could explain this to your friend.”
“The plaid wall… I solve that by pulling up some of the cloth that was already on the wall and rearranging it more efficiently,” said Stephen. “There was a lot of overlapping and crumpled up fabric. But it took a while to find all the right pieces.”
“I solved the maze by keeping my right hand on the wall,” added Thomas. “It was weird walking around in the dark though.”
All eyes focused on Caroline. “I actually did take my sweater off for the mannequin challenge. But that was just to unlock the window into the clothing rack room. From there I used the mannequin’s fishing rod to grab a couple of things and put those on the mannequin. Though it was a bit fiddly and took quite a while to get right.”
“And I don’t know why you didn’t just hold onto your shoes instead of leaving them lying next to the trampoline,” said the woman. “But I do apologize about the water coolers and the armchair. I’ll get those fixed for the next group.”
Mandy let her arms and head slump forward, feeling completely deflated. It all seemed so simple, so easy, so logical, now that she heard other people go through it. “Wait,” she said. “What about the fire alarm room?”
The woman chuckled. “Oh, you had the intended solution there. But you didn’t need to jam anything in the break room door, that one doesn’t lock.”
“It’s… pretty strange that you would think you had to use your own clothes to solve escape room puzzles,” said Stephen. “Almost as if… you wanted to…”
“I did not!” Mandy screamed, somehow blushing even redder. “This is really embarrassing for me!”
“If the shoe fits… take it off!” Stephen chortled at his own joke, Mandy glaring daggers at him.
“Hey, cheer up, you broke the record by an hour!” said the overalled woman, putting a consoling hand out to touch Mandy’s shoulder. “It was a stroke of good luck that you chose the door you did—that route is normally the longest by far. And as a show of good faith, I’ll pay you back for the destroyed clothing. Now, let’s get a team photo!”
The Escape Artists were quickly herded back into the front room where they stood in a row in front of the overalled woman. Mandy found herself crouching in the room’s strong light, making herself as small as possible. The woman produced a camera.
“What? No way!” Mandy protested. “I’m still naked!”
“And that’s how you beat the record!” replied the woman. “Own it, lady.”
Mandy grumbled and wrapped her arms tighter around her body, looking around at her teammates for support. The boys shrugged, and Caroline said, “Well, she does have a point there.”
“What? Don’t you want at least one photo? It’ll be a fun memory!”
The boys concurred.
“It’s okay, I won’t post this one on social media,” said the woman in the overalls. “Or anywhere else. You’re covered in challenge spoilers, after all.”
“Fine,” said Mandy. “One photo. And it’s staying on my phone. Maybe Caroline’s as well.”
The woman snapped a couple of shots before Mandy finally had a moment to convince Stephen to lend her his leather jacket. The woman took a few more photos, and the team did some different poses, Mandy being careful not to flash anything.
“These look good,” said the woman, showing them the photos. Three Escape Artists stood beaming, and the fourth stood smiling nervously, desperately covering her body with her arms, skin still blotched with purple ink. In the final few, Mandy looked a bit more at ease in Stephen’s jacket, but was still showing a lot of leg.
“Honestly, I liked your outfit better without the jacket,” the woman told Mandy, as she was taking her number to send the photos through. “But then, I did design it.” She winked. “Actually, you’ve given me some intriguing ideas for new puzzles. How’d you like to test my next room?”
Mandy gulped. Before she could reply, Stephen butted in and said, “She’ll give it her all.”