The Challenge

by Marcellus

It was a sunny but brisk October afternoon when Shane and Sheila Motto went on a weekend getaway, staying at a bed and breakfast in a quaint little town on the banks of the St. James River.   They decided to stroll in and out of the little shops that dominated the short two lane main street.  

The couple had been married for 12 years.  Shane, balding and slightly overweight, was 48 years old.  Sheila was 43, but looked 20 years younger and reminded some people of a more diminutive version of the actress Teri Hatcher. However, she was barely five feet tall and weighed less than 100 well-proportioned pounds.   She wore her straight dark brown hair at shoulder length and her big brown eyes dominated her small featured face.  Remnants of her deep summer tan still remained, making her very radiant in the golden October sun.  She wore a lilac sweater over a white blouse, gray knit pants that were cropped just below the knee, covering the tops of her knee-high black leather boots with 3-inch slender heels.

She gave her husband a warm smile as he held open the door of the darkly lit knick-knack store for her to enter.  A kindly looking older man gave them a slight wave as they walked by, attracted to the bright green “Free” sign on a table near the back.  The table was full of kaleidoscopes of different shapes and sizes. 

“The kids would love these,” Sheila said to Shane as they each picked one up to try.

As they were both looking at the wondrous colors and mirrored shapes in the tubes, they didn’t notice the click of the front door automatically locking.   They also didn’t notice the kindly old man pushing a button under the counter.  But they certainly did notice the floor beneath them give way as a trap door opened, sending both downward feet first on some kind of giant slide.  Their screams echoed in the shaft until they landed on a soft surface in complete darkness.

“Sheila?” Shane called as he got up on his knees.

“Right here, are you ok? Did the store collapse?” she gasped.

Suddenly bright lights turned on, almost blinding the couple.  A deep voice startled them, stating:  “The storefront is in fine shape.  It has closed early for the day but otherwise it’s undamaged.” The man behind the voice came in to focus.   He was in his early 50s, with short dark hair graying at the temples.  He was of medium build and wore a long black cloak; not especially intimidating by himself, but what flanked him was. 

They were identical twins, both close to seven feet tall and they each must have weighed over 400 pounds, with none of that being fat.  The pair stared straight ahead, almost as if they were in a trance. 

Shane was very unsettled by the duo’s imposing appearance, but Sheila was not.

“What the f*&^ is going on,” she yelled as she got up, gave a little tug on her sweater to straighten it, and walked towards the men.

“You are quite high-spirited, Mrs.?” The graying man replied.

“Our names are none of your business,” she countered.  “We’re leaving.”

“Your spunk should serve you well during your upcoming challenge,” he said, smiling.

“What challenge?” Sheila demanded, very annoyed.

“Well you said you wanted to leave.  And you will, if you are up to the challenge.”

Shane eyed the two giants and said meekly, “Do we really have a choice?”

“I’m afraid not,” the man answered with a wry smile.  “And can you please hand over your purse, wallet and cell phones now?  You can take them with you if you leave.”

Ifff we leave?” Shane croaked.

“I’m sure you’ll be leaving, Mr. Motto,” he said, eyeing Shane’s identification, which he had procured from the wallet.  “Especially considering how plucky your lovely wife is,” he said, while winking at Sheila.  She glared back at him but said nothing more.

“Allow me to introduce myself.  I am Erich von Strasshavenburgstein. And these are my assistants, Gerhold and Harrold,“ the man said.

“What the hell’s the meaning of this challenge?” Sheila said, coldly. “And what do you mean by “if we leave”? Are you planning on killing us if we’re not up to your ordeal?’

“I’m no murderer, Mrs. Motto. But if you will come this way, you’ll find out all about it.”

He turned and held his hand out toward a hallway.  Gerhold and Harrold parted, allowing the Mottos to pass through.  They all walked down the narrow hallway until they came to two sets of stairs on the left; one leading two steps up, the other going two steps down.  Beyond the landing of the right stair at the end of the hallway was a locked double door.

“This is the way out,” Von Strasshavenburgstein said, pointing to the doors. “Your belongings will be left on the other side and you can pick them up on the way out.”

They proceeded up the left stairs and stopped in front of an open door.  Suddenly, one of the twins shoved Shane through the doorway, and quickly shut the door behind him.  Von Strasshavenburgstein locked the door with a key he had on a large blue key ring he produced from under his cloak.  

Sheila gasped as she was led back down the stairs and then down the right steps and into another high-ceilinged room.  This room wasn’t very large, furnished only with a single wooden chair surrounded by a large metal floor grate.  Opposite the chair was a large digital clock with red glowing numbers set at 60:00. 

“Mrs. Motto, can I direct your attention to the corner of the room up there?” Von Strasshavenburgstein said pointing at the top corner of the room, which was glassed in.

There was Shane, looking helpless with his body pressed against the floor-to-ceiling window in his upper room.

Von Strasshavenburgstein continued.  “This key,” he said holding up a green key ring, “will open the door to this room you are in.  This other key,” he said, holding up a blue key ring, “will open the door to the room where your husband is.   Finally, this key,” he instructed, holding up a red key ring, “will open the door to outside.  All you have to do is unlock these three doors and then you can leave,” he concluded, smirking.

“What’s the catch?” Sheila asked.  “You didn’t go through all of this business to watch me unlocking three doors.”

“You are very perceptive, my dear.   If you will please sit down, I’ll explain the rest.”

Sheila eyed the two silent giants as she slowly sat in the wooden chair.  As she sat, they moved ominously behind her, the wooden floor creaking from their combined weight. 

“Can you place your hands behind the chair now?” Von Strasshavenburgstein asked.

Sheila didn’t move as she glared at her captors.  Shane was shouting something, but the glass muffled his words.

Von Strasshavenburgstein smiled at the twins, with the slightest of nods.  As he did, the short, spunky, brunette relented and moved her hands back behind the chair, where the twins immediately took up her wrists and securely bound them together.

Sheila glanced up at her helpless husband as her eyes welled up.  Meanwhile, her bound wrists were secured to the chair back and then another rope secured each of her arms to the wooden chair uprights. As still another rope was wrapped around her firm chest, she looked coldly at von Strasshavenburgstein.

“So this challenge is for me to untie myself before I can get the keys?”

The man laughed as he watched her booted ankles get secured to the chair legs with still more lengths of rope.

“Well there’s more.  Actually much more.  After we exit the room, the timer starts and you will see some white smoke coming out of the grate below you.  That is sleeping gas, which keeps you in a sound sleep for precisely 55 minutes, after which you’ll start waking up.  You will then have 5 minutes to get yourself untied and unlock your doors before the white smoke starts again.  The 2nd dose is a little stronger and will keep you asleep for 56 minutes. You can keep track of your time left via the clock you see on the table over there. Each dose after that will give you one less minute to get free until after the 5th hour when you will only have one minute left.  And that is your final chance, because the 6th dose will not be white sleeping smoke but instead will be green.  And that green smoke is a fast-acting paralyzing gas.”

As the bound woman started to open her mouth to protest, a thick cleave gag was shoved in her mouth and tied in the back. All she could was mumble “mmph” as another wide gag was applied over her mouth.

“That particular paralyzing gas will inhibit you from moving any of your voluntary muscles on your own; a sort of induced catatonic condition. You will still remain alive and be able to think, see and hear, but essentially you will be turned into a living statue. You would then become my latest, and my GREATEST work of art.”

Tears welled up in the young captive’s eyes as she looked up at her husband, who was now pounding on his glass enclosure.

“We’ll leave the keys on the table, not quite in reach,” von Strasshavenburgstein said as he and the twins turned and left the room.

Sheila started pulling at her bindings violently as the hiss of gas could be heard coming from the grate.  Soon she was enveloped by thick white smoke and her head slumped to the side.  The clock started its countdown from 60:00.  For most of the interval, nothing seemed to be happening.  Sheila was out cold.

Shane paced back and forth as the minutes clicked by.  It seemed forever before the 5 minute mark was reached. Slowly the bound captive’s eyes opened as she soon remembered that this challenge was not some horrible nightmare but an equally nasty reality.   Again she furiously and violently pulled at the ropes but they were too tight. 

Even with her husband watching her every move from above, seemingly cheering her on, she didn’t make any progress in her allotted time and before she knew it the white smoke enveloped her again.  Feeling herself blacking out, Sheila thought to herself,  “Next time I have to be more methodical.”  Again the countdown commenced.  And again the time slowly passed by. 

This time, with 4 minutes left on the clock, she stirred a few times, thinking she was still dreaming before finally startling herself awake.  “Methodical, Methodical,” she kept telling herself as she slowly twisted her wrists to try and free them.  When the time was up and the sleeping gas came again, her bound wrists were looser. 

Her third attempt was cut short because it kept getting harder for her to even awaken.  But again she made heroic progress because as her head slumped to the side, the ropes binding her wrists had fallen to the floor.

A glacial 58 minutes passed and Sheila again groggily woke up.  She was ecstatic in realizing her wrists were free, next starting to work on the rope holding her arms to the chair.  She methodically grabbed and pulled the rope with one hand opposite to the arm being held, doing both sides at once. By the time the white smoke overcame her again, that rope was also on the floor.

While the 59 minutes passed by, both Shane and the evil men watching the proceedings on a TV monitor could not believe that what had seemed like a hopeless hurdle to escape before was now a very real possibility.  Anticipation built as the minutes again slowly ticked by. Finally the red digits struck 1:00 and began counting down relentlessly. 

Sheila didn’t stir. Shane pounded the glass trying to wake her.  Her heavy eyelids started to slowly flutter.

:40, :39, :38

Her head started to bob back and forth.

:30, :29, :28

“Sleep; I want more sleep,” she thought, dreaming of early school mornings.


Suddenly, with a start, she bolted upward.  She used her lithe slim body to thrust upward, freeing herself from the ropes tying her torso.


She quickly started untying her bound ankles, breathing heavily while the air remained.


Her left leg was free!! Now she turned to untying the right ..

:02, :01, :00  - the clock beeped once, then…  Hisssssssss

She gasped as the sinister green paralyzing gas flowed up through the grate and surrounded her struggling body.  She tried to hold her breath as long as she could, but it was to no avail.  Sheila gasped for air and inhaled the gas instead.

Suddenly, for the first time in the last five hours, a peacefullness settled over her. It was as if she was floating on a cloud. Time was moving on without her as her struggles slowed and finally stopped.  Sheila seemed to be resting for a moment, pausing, though in fact she could not move a muscle as her body became completely paralyzed.

After 10 minutes the smoke had dissipated from the room and the three villains re-entered.   Sheila remained immobile, staring blankly at the last ropes holding her ankle.

Harrold firmly grasped Sheila’s booted ankle and loosened the last binding while her gags were removed by Gerhold.  She was then stood up, her body flexible but impassive like a life-sized poseable doll as her hands were moved behind her back. 

Von Strasshavenburgstein grabbed the keys from the table and then his men headed up the stairs.  Still at peace, Sheila could only stare straight ahead as the men turned out the lights and left the room.  She was unable to lift a finger or utter the slightest sound.

He unlocked the door that had been Shane’s trap for the previous six hours.  As Shane emerged, Harrold handed a large lumpy cloth bag to von Strasshavenburgstein. He, in turn, handed it to Shane.  “It was a pleasure doing business with you.” von Strasshavenburgstein said, shaking Shane’s hand warmly.

“Watching that challenge,” Shane said, “the pleasure was ALL mine.”

All four of the men erupted in villainous laughter, and then Shane exited the building grasping his $250,000 money bag.  Payment in full.

Meanwhile, time stood still for the beautiful brunette posed stiffly in the room below.


…to be Continued...

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