#NoEscape (Volume 3) - Gretchen McNeil
Persey tried to ignore the voice booming through the loudspeaker, but it was impossible with three people crowded in behind, desperately waiting for her answer. She could feel their dank breaths against her neck in a claustrophobic (creepy) way and fought the urge to start throwing elbows to get them to back off.
You don’t have time for that.
Which was true. Instead of starting a fight, she concentrated on not internalizing their tension. But between the ticking clock, the stress of the moment, and the physical proximity of their bodies, Persey could feel herself absorbing the anxiety that dripped off her teammates in heavy, saplike beads, which made it super freaking difficult to focus on the image before her.
Persey swallowed, her eyes darting around the touch screen at the sixteen cryptic squares filled with color and lines and shadows. Each depicted a snippet of a larger image, but they had been scrambled, rotated. Lines and curves no longer met neatly at the seams, and it was Persey’s job to rearrange them into something that made sense before time ran out.
Okay, well, technically it was a puzzle all four of them should have been unraveling together. But her “teammates” had all thrown up their hands in confusion and so the responsibility (stress) of completing this final task had fallen squarely on Persey’s shoulders.
“Hurry up!” a shrill female voice chirped from behind. “We’ve only got three minutes left.”
Persey didn’t even need to turn around to know the look on the woman’s face. Her beady brown eyes, flanked with creases as if they’d spent the better part of their five decades on this planet pinched in a scowl, were burned into Persey’s memory. Ms. Middle-Age Stress Case had been on edge since they met in the lobby before even entering the library-themed escape room, as if the whole thing was a matter of life and death instead of a silly competition with some prize money on the line.
And my dad called me the idiot.
“Maybe we should let someone else try,” the woman continued, her voice increasing in pitch as her anxiety swelled. “She’s what, like nineteen?”
“Maybe an adult should do this.”
“Calm down, Sheryl,” her husband countered. The tall Black man with the distinguished gray hair. He exuded the kind of cool, professorial calm that Persey found comforting (intimidating). “She’s nailed everything else so far. Let her have at it.”
“Yeah, Sheryl.” The young, tanned guy in cargo shorts and flip-flops—with a surprisingly pristine pedicure—emphasized Sheryl’s name as if they were old friends, even though he had no connection to her and her husband. His pretend familiarity reeked of sarcasm. “Why don’t you just pipe down and let, uh…” He paused, and Persey felt his warm breath move from her neck to her cheek as he leaned closer. “What did you say your name was?”
I didn’t. “Persey.”
“Whoa!” He sounded (pretended to be) impressed. “I have a cousin named Percival.”
“Per-ci-val,” Mr. Sheryl mused, drawing out each syllable as if he was evaluating how they felt in his mouth. “You have an odd name.” He didn’t elaborate and seemed to be waiting for Persey to chime in with her thoughts on a name that wasn’t hers, had no connection to hers. Like, who the hell would name their daughter Percival? And why were either of them wasting even five seconds thinking about her name at a time like this?
Persey was fourteen when she decided to go by her middle name of Persephone instead of the one her parents had christened her. It felt more comfortable, somehow, even though her family refused to use it. And though she loved the nickname Persey, she hated explaining what it was short for. The moment “Persephone” left her lips, everyone within earshot chimed in with some little factoid about the name, gleaned from their eighth-grade Greek-mythology modules. As if Persey didn’t know exactly who her namesake was.
“The reason I say that,” Mr. Sheryl said, displaying a penchant for pontification, “is because Percival is generally viewed as a male name, from the Chrétien de Troyes epic poem Perceval, the Story of the Grail, set during the—”
“It’s short for Persephone,” she said with a heavy sigh.
Here we go.
Mr. Sheryl cleared his throat. “You know, she was the queen of the underworld in Greek myth, destined to spend six months a year there due to the identical number of persimmon seeds she ate—”
“Pomegranate,” Pretty Pedicure said, correcting Mr. Sheryl.
“Persephone ate pomegranate seeds in Hades.”
“As a professor of English literature,” Mr. Sheryl began, “I’m relatively sure