“I Was Imprisoned For 24 Hours Inside a Dollhouse Escape Room”

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"I Was Imprisoned For 24 Hours Inside a Dollhouse Escape Room"

Written by Blair Daniels

Yesterday, I found myself in a dollhouse-themed escape room.

We booked it at EXXXTREME ESCAPES for our friend, Rosanna, as a last-minute birthday gift. I hate escape rooms… and dolls. I don’t think my husband, Matt, was too fond of them either. But Rosanna’s been my best friend since 4th grade. I wanted to do something special for her.

“Oh my gosh. This is so cool!” Rosanna squealed, as the staff member shut the door behind us.

We were standing in the ‘kitchen’. True to dollhouse fashion, it was tiny. My head brushed uncomfortably against the ceiling. The walls were painted a nauseating shade of pink. All the appliances looked like Easy-Bake ovens.

“So, what now?” I asked, taking a seat at the kitchen table. The plastic chair rocked dangerously underneath me. “I’ve only done an escape room once before. Do we ask for clues, or…”

“Just start looking!” Rosanna replied, already opening the cabinets. “The hints could be anywhere.”

“Oh. I’m so tired, though.”

Matt swooped down and whispered in my ear. “The sooner we get out, the sooner we get to go home.”

I sighed and heaved myself out of the chair.

I decided to start with the refrigerator. It was gray and plastic, with huge, mirror-like stickers covering its surface. A poor attempt at mimicking stainless steel. Bright pink magnets were glued to its surface. I yanked on the door. It flew open, nearly hitting my face.

“Damn. No snacks,” I said, picking up the plastic piece of chicken.

I sighed, bent over, and checked the drawers. Every last one. They were, unfortunately, empty. I closed it up and opened the freezer.

I jumped back.

“Woah.”

There, sitting on the first shelf, was a plastic bag. Inside… was some sort of reddish-brown liquid. Like a horrible cross between blood and Coke. Unlike the other stuff in the fridge, this did not look fake.

“Ew,” Matt said. “What is that?”

“Oooh! Oooooh! Maybe it’s a hint!” Rosanna shrieked.

She pushed past me, grabbed the bag, and spun it around in her hands. Sure enough, there was a square of pink paper taped to the back. In a cutesy font, it read: BRING THIS TO THE BATHROOM.

“See? I told you.”

Her bright purple nails glittered as she carried it down the hall. We followed after her. It was incredibly narrow – we had to walk down it single-file. The ceiling scraped against my hair.

Rosanna opened one of the tiny doors on the wall. “Here it is!”

We walked inside. It was a tight fit – the three of us standing in that tiny bathroom. A huge mirror hung on the wall, underneath several little lights. The wallpaper was kitschy blue floral. Out of curiosity, I opened the toilet lid. A smooth bowl lay underneath – no water, no pipe out.

I started opening the drawers. In one, I discovered a fake hairdryer that didn’t even have a plug. In the other, an empty box of Band-Aids.

“I found something.”

Rosanna’s voice didn’t sound so peppy anymore. It was low and quiet, almost fearful.

I turned around to see her leaning into the shower, half-concealed by the floral curtain. Matt got there first. He pulled the curtain back.

I froze.

Lying in the bathtub was a large, naked doll.

But it had no detail. No face painted on. No plastic hair stuck to its scalp. There were shallow depressions where the eyes should have been, and smooth disks for the ears. Vague lumps for the breasts. And it didn’t have any deep grooves where pieces fit together, like a Barbie would have. It was a single, solid piece of plastic, molded into the vague shape of a woman.

“Why’s it naked?” Matt asked.

We let out a nervous laugh.

“It’s probably a hint.” I bent over and, holding my breath, touched it. Its skin wasn’t hard and plastic as I expected it to be. Instead, it had a soft, almost putty-like feel. When I pulled my fingers away, they left a small impression before the material snapped back to its original shape.

I gently turned the doll over.

And, sure enough, there was a note taped on the back.

POUR SOME SUGAR ON ME.

“Oh! Bon Jovi, right?” Rosanna asked. “Maybe his name is some sort of anagram, or –”

“It was Def Leppard,” Matt said, with a condescending snort. “Not Bon Jovi.”

“Right. Well… maybe it has something to do with a leopard?”

“Isn’t it obvious? I think we’re supposed to pour that… stuff… on it.” I pointed to the bag in Rosanna’s hands.

She stared at me. “Becky… that’s not really the type of thing escape rooms do. It’s more like puzzles that can be solved with a pen and paper. Not getting messy like that.”

“This doesn’t seem like an average escape room, Rosanna.”

Matt shrugged. “Doesn’t hurt to try it.”

Rosanna slowly pried the Ziploc bag open. Immediately, a strange smell wafted over us. Sweet and sour all at once.

She carefully dumped it over the body.

The doll – and the bathtub – splattered with dark liquid. For a second, I expected it to expand, like those little toys that grow to ten times their original size in water.

It didn’t.

Instead, pale letters appeared on the doll’s abdomen, somehow unaffected by the dark liquid.

Three words.

UNDER THE BED.

“To the bedroom?” Matt asked.

We walked out of the bathroom in silence. The hallway split off in another direction, halfway between the kitchen and the bathroom.

A narrow set of stairs led up into the darkness.

“I’ll go first,” I said.

Matt grabbed my arm. “Are you sure?”

I scoffed. “It’s just an escape room,” I said. My voice came out more confident than I felt.

I ducked and took a step up the stairs. The wood creaked loudly underneath me. With each step, my head scraped against the slanted ceiling, and my hips brushed against the walls. If I were claustrophobic, I would have died then and there.

Matt and Rosanna followed behind me.

The stairs curved into a hallway, culminating with two closed doors at the end. A sliver of golden light came from underneath each of them.

I decided to try the one on the left first.

It opened into what looked like a little girl’s bedroom. Pink walls, pink bedding, pink everything. A mesh canopy hung over the bed. Opposite of me, there was a unicorn poster plastered to the wall.

Rosanna walked in front of me. I smiled for a second. With her purple nail polish and pink tank top, she looked right at home.

“Ugh. So much pink,” Matt scoffed.

“Sssshhh!” Rosanna said. “I’m trying to concentrate!”

She got on her hands and knees and peered under the bed.

She reached a hand beneath it. Then she grunted and pulled something out.

A slim, black suitcase.

Stuck on the front was a note in the same cutesy font, accentuated with a hand-drawn heart.

OPEN ME.

“Should we do it?” Rosanna asked.

“Why wouldn’t we?” Matt asked.

“I… I don’t know. Something just feels off about this whole thing.”

“Let’s just open it,” I said.

That was the final moment I still believed this was all a game. Before she opened that case, I thought I’d be home in an hour or two, sitting in my pajamas and reading trashy tabloids.

I had no idea.

Rosanna pulled the case open.

She reached in and pulled out a cotton candy-pink ruffled dress. Then she pulled out a pastel polo shirt, sewed directly onto khaki shorts. Then a purple paisley dress.

“There’s a note at the bottom,” Rosanna said. She picked it up, and her eyes scanned the page.

She went pale. “It says… ‘Put these on. Then the game can begin!’”

“There are name tags,” Matt said, pointing.

Across the breast of each outfit, a small piece of paper was taped. The one on the pink dress read: ROSANNA. The purple’s read: REBECCA. And the man’s outfit read: MATTHEW.

“Can we go?” Rosanna asked.

“What?”

“Sorry, I don’t want to be rude. I know you booked this place for my birthday and all, but… it’s giving me the creeps.” She threw the clothes back in the case in a crumpled heap. “Let’s just go to Carrie’s Ice Cream.”

“Sounds great to me!” Matt said. I nodded enthusiastically.

We walked back down the narrow staircase, through the hall, and into the kitchen. “Door’s locked,” Rosanna sighed. “Guess we’ll have to use the intercom.”

Next to the door was a small intercom. The staff member, Lily or Linda – or whatever her name was – said we could use it to contact them at any time in the event of an emergency. In case someone needed to use the bathroom, or didn’t feel good, or anything else.

I depressed the large, round button. “Hey, uh, we’d like to leave,” I started. “I’m not feeling well.”

No reply.

“I think I’m going to vomit,” I added. Rosanna made some convincing retching noises in the background.

Two minutes passed. Then five. Then ten.

No one responded.

“Hey!” Matt said into the intercom. “Are you even there?”

A low beep came through the speaker.

“Unlock the door!” Matt shouted.

Another low beep.

Then a crackly, monotonous woman’s voice came through the speaker.

Did you put the clothes on yet?

We stared at each other.

“No, you don’t understand,” Rosanna said. “We want to leave the escape room. You can keep the money. We don’t need a refund.”

Matt raised an eyebrow. “Yes, we do. That was three-hundred dollars I’d like back.”

Rosanna shot him a look. “Just let us out. Becky’s not feeling well.”

Beep.

You have to play the game to escape.

“No, you don’t understand. We quit. We’re not playing anymore.”

Beep.

You have to play the game.

“Becky’s really sick! She’s going to vomit on all your stuff!” Rosanna motioned to me. I made some not-so-convincing retching sounds.

Play the game.

“Hey! If you’re not going to let us out, I’m – I’m going to call the police!” I shouted into the intercom. “We don’t want to play anymore. We’re not going to ask for a refund, and we’re not going to give you a bad review on Yelp or something. We just want to leave, okay?”

No reply.

“Hello?”

Silence.

Then Rosanna burst into tears. “What if – what if they’re trapping us in here? On purpose?” she cried. “What if this place isn’t even an escape room? What if it’s like that episode of Pretty Little Liars?” She choked on a sob.

Matt shot her a look. “You watch that show?”

“They probably just don’t want to break the immersion,” I said, wrapping my arms around her. “That kind of stuff only happens in movies and stuff.”

Inside, I was terrified. None of this felt right. Why wouldn’t they let us out? Even if it was for “immersion”, we could sue them for keeping us trapped. What if I had been vomiting myself to death? What if I had a heart attack or a seizure? What if a fire broke out? No escape room in their right mind would keep people trapped when they were begging to leave.

“I’m calling the police,” Rosanna said. She pulled out her cell phone. In an instant, all of the color drained from her face. “No. I don’t… I don’t have any reception.”

“Neither do I,” I added.

“I say we break a window and get out of here,” Matt said.

We walked over to the window over the sink. It was small, but it could definitely fit the three of us. I grabbed the thick floral curtain and yanked it back.

My blood ran cold.

There was no window behind it.

Just bare cinder block.

* * * * * *

“I’m hungry,” Rosanna said.

I reached into my purse and pulled out my emergency cupcake, half-squished in a plastic bag. Usually, “emergency” meant getting yelled at by my boss or getting the munchies in the car. This was a very different kind of scenario.

I pulled it out and divided it into three sections.

It had been five hours. Or more. We’d spent most of it in the mock bedroom, lying on the rock-hard bed, staring at the canopy overheard.

We’d tried everything. Opened every set of curtains, only to find more cinder blocks. Checked our cell phones every five seconds for reception. Screamed into the intercom until our voices went hoarse.

Nothing worked.

Ding.

A loud chime echoed from downstairs.

“What was that?”

The three of us bolted up and ran down the stairs, nearly trampling one another. When we arrived at the kitchen, we found the door still closed and locked. But sitting on the kitchen table were three plates, piled high with chicken and pasta.

Rosanna sat down and immediately reached for the fork.

“Rosanna, wait. We don’t know what’s in that food.”

“I don’t know, and I don’t care. I’m so hungry,” she said, plunging the fork into a moist slice of chicken. “It’s this or starving to death, okay?”

We sat down and ate in silence.

* * * * * *

My eyes fluttered open.

That stupid canopy hung above me. Wait… how’d I get up here? The last thing I remembered was eating dinner at the table.

Oh, no. The food was drugged.

I sat up. The room was dark, save for the soft glow of a yellow nightlight. I started to climb out of bed.

My foot collided with something soft and warm.

“Ouch!” I cried.

Matt sat up and rubbed his arm. “That hurt,” he grumbled. Then he glanced around the room. “Wait. How’d we get up here?”

“I have no idea,” I replied. “Where’s Rosanna?”

His eyes widened. “Oh, no.”

We raced out of the bedroom, down the narrow stairs. “Okay, uh – I’ll check the bathroom. You check the kitchen.”

I flicked on the light.

No Rosanna. Only my reflection stared back, pale and exhausted.

That’s when I noticed there was something wrong with the mirror.

Beneath my reflection was a dim outline. A block shape. What the hell? I leaned in closer.

My heart stopped.

It was a one-way mirror.

Beyond the reflective surface, I could make out an office. An empty chair. A desk. A computer. And a camera.

I jumped back.

And nearly fell headlong into the bathtub.

I grabbed the shower curtain, the slippery tiles. As I pulled myself up, I looked down at the bathtub.

It was empty.

The doll was gone. All that remained in the bathtub was the residual dark liquid, staining the white plastic surface.

“Becky!” Matt shouted.

I ran into the kitchen. Rosanna was sitting in one of the kitchen chairs, smiling up at Matt. “Rosanna! Are you okay?”

“I’m fine.”

“Have you been down here all this time?”

“I think so. I just woke up a few minutes ago. Right in this chair. Where were you guys?”

“In the bedroom,” I replied. “Someone moved us there. The food… it was drugged, Rosanna.”

Her eyes widened. “Seriously?”

“Anyway. It doesn’t matter.” I finally broke into a smile. “I found a way out.”

Both of them snapped towards me, eyes wide.

I motioned them into the bathroom. “It’s a one-way mirror. If we can break it… we can get to the other side.”

Matt picked up a prop shampoo bottle and hurled it at the mirror. Again. And again. I picked up the fake hairdryer and smashed it against the mirror, too.

A spiderweb of cracks formed.

Within fifteen minutes, we’d created a sizable hole. “Come on!” I shouted, jumping onto the counter and crawling through it. Matt and Rosanna followed.

“Quick. There’s a camera,” I said. “Before long, they’ll know what we did.”

We walked through the tiny office and pulled the door open. It revealed a lengthy, desolate hallway. We sprinted through it, turning randomly, until we got to the front door of EXXXTREME ESCAPES.

Outside, the sun was shining brightly. It was late afternoon. We’d been trapped for more than twenty-four hours.

We didn’t stop running until we were in the car, panting, shaking, and on the verge of tears. Rosanna ducked into the driver’s seat and grabbed the steering wheel.

“We need to call the police,” Matt said, pulling out his phone. “Now.”

But I wasn’t listening. Because all I could stare at were Rosanna’s hands, clasped tightly on the steering wheel.

She wasn’t wearing nail polish anymore.