A golden ray of sun cuts through the blinds of our tiny, cramped, fish pattern wallpapered motel room. I roll over in the uncomfortable bed, trying not to wake Rory, who is snoring terribly loudly next to me, and grab my glasses off the nightstand. The digital clock reads 7:25 in a hot red.
“You're up.” Avril states from the other bed, her grey eyes trained solely on her phone screen. She doesn’t even look up to acknowledge my presence.
She insisted that she sleep alone, which I respect. I wouldn't ever want someone I just met sharing a bed with me. Unless it was a dog. I love dogs. (And, to be completely frank, she scares me a bit).
“That is a fact.” I reply, plugging my nose instinctively at the musty odor of the room that is clinging to everything. It smells like mothballs and soggy toast, which is not a very pleasant combination. However, this place had the best nightly rate for a few teenagers who only have a couple thousand dollars and are trying to use it sparingly.
“I figured you’d be the heavy sleeper, considering how much raw caffeine your friend Snorey over there takes in every day.” Avril gestures to Snorey— er, Rory, who is now muttering in his sleep about something that may or may not be paper airplanes.
“I don’t know how he does it, to be honest.” I admit, standing up and heading to take a shower. Avril pulls her wavy, turquoise-dyed hair into a tight ponytail that seems to stretch her face back towards the base of her skull a little bit. I turn back to her.
She crosses her legs as she sits up on the edge of the bed. She is still wearing the same yellow, black, and grey blouse she had on yesterday. Her filled-in eyebrows stretch back a tad with the ponytail, making her look like she’s contemplating something. Who am I to say how ponytails should make you look, though? With my hair length, the best thing I could manage (if I even possessed the knowledge or skill) would be a horribly wimpy bun.
“What are you staring at, bud?” Avril questions, her thin, glossy pink tinted lips forming the words perfectly.
“How do ponytails like that not tear the skin off your scalp?”
She shrugs. “Willpower, maybe.”
The cheap motel soap from off the bathroom countertop smells like peaches and flowers and burns my skin a bit. Uncomfortable, to say the least, but better than not showering for who knows how long and waiting till we can get a room at a regular hotel.
The water pressure is terrible, beating against the white, fiberglass walls with an incessant drumming sound. Matched with the high-pitched screech from the rusty shower head, it's like a terrible rock band made up of middle school kids who’ve never even touched a single instrument in their lives. However annoying, it’s enough to make me lose myself in thought.
I can’t believe my parents actually let me go do something without interrogating me for once. Normally they'll sit me down and force me to siphon out every single tiny detail of an event, even if I didn’t know half of the stuff that they want to know.
They'll ask when it starts and ends, where exactly it’s located, and who all is going and if they have ever caused me trouble. Thank god it usually doesn't include one of the dreaded police-level background checks with search warrants and everything.
Like that one time before a class pool party I went to. The victim: A person who currently sits in the back of my English class named Tanner. They're a friend of a friend’s friend’s half-brother’s second cousin and had literally just moved to town like, three months before from Boston when their parents wanted a “change of perspective”.
They literally did nothing wrong at all, and with the way they were and still are going, they probably never will. And, needless to say, they don’t wanna talk to me ever agai—
Rory knocks on the door, breaking me out of my daze of indirect frustration with my parents, and back into the reality of the steam-filled bathroom.
I know it’s him without anyone having to tell me. He has a certain way of messing up the last two beats in “Shave and a Haircut” by making them just a little too long.
“What do you need Rory?” I ask, turning off the water, which snuffs out the screech of the shower head.
“Avril says to finish cause we're gonna head to the Hy-Vee to get food and stuff before heading out!” He shouts through the door.
“No need to yell, I can hear you just fine in here.” I rub a bit of tiredness out of my eyes. “I'll be out in a minute.”
The fluorescent light bulbs hanging over our heads illuminate the linoleum-tiled aisles. There is a faint smell of toilet cleaner drifting through the air in the frozen food section while I'm stuffing a basket with pint after pint of of Ben and Jerry's.
Rory speeds past outside the aisle on a rogue shopping cart full of chips and soda, screaming something unintelligible as loud as he dares. His noisiness drowns out the calm elevator music playing over the speakers all over the store.
I find Avril in the aisle over after I finish jamming my basket full of as much cookie dough and chocolate-caramel-swirl goodness as I can manage. She's stacking pizza Lunchables, strawberry milk, and Sunny D inside a foam cooler.
She eyes the contents of my basket and locks eyes with me, “Just one or two for each of us.” She commands, sticking up a two, stubby, manicured fingers in front of my face.
“Not seven thousand. And save a rocky road for me.” Her stormy eyes mean business beneath the sharp, black eyeliner wings.
I shove fifteen of the pints of ice cream back into the freezer and head off to find Rory, wherever he may have ended up.
“Oliver!” He shouts from the candy aisle. Of course.
“Rory, we need food first, not candy.” I remind him as I walk to where he is gawking at the vast selection of jelly beans and M&M’s.
“Yeah but just look at it, Oliver. So many colors…”
“Yeah. Colors. Pretty. We're kinda in a rush right now though, bud.”
“Just…” I breathe in and glance around the aisle, my eyes falling on an unopened box of king size PayDay bars. “Just grab some of those bars over there and then let's get back to it.”
He sighs. “Okaaaaaaaay.”
We meet Avril near the produce after filling our baskets with almost every kind of trashy food that American teenagers eat. She is filling up a few gallons of water at their little 39 cent drinking water station.
“One for each of us. Gotta stay hydrated so we don't die before this thing is over. Kapeesh?” She states, carefully handing Rory and I each a gallon of water. We exchange glances as we try to balance the heavy bottles in our arms full of junk food.
We put all of our stuff in the shopping cart, trying not to crush any of the chips, and head to the checkout line.
While we're unloading things onto the conveyor belt, Rory tosses a pack of cinnamon gum into the pile.
Both Avril and I’s heads snap simultaneously in his direction, wondering what in the world makes him like the worst possible gum flavor of all time.
“What?” He asks, waiting for an answer with an expression bordering on exasperation. When he doesn't receive one, he laughs. “You guys are missing out. It's freakin’ delicious.”
Avril is driving once again, heading on I-80 straight toward Iowa. We decoded the second clue last night, which ended up being the address for some random little antique shop in West Des Moines. I've been to Iowa only once or twice before for some hospital visits, but I've completely forgotten how much of the state is just corn. It's like Nebraska to the next level.
We've concluded that almost all of the clues and items and where they are hidden are unique to each group, referencing a Facebook Live that went semi-viral last night by one of the players of the current third place team, Team Vermillion. That just makes the game much more complex. I appreciate the amount of effort that must’ve been put into this thing.
Rory and I are both in the back of the car, stuffing our faces with food and gazing at acre after endless, urine-colored acre of corn. The only thing we've eaten since lunch yesterday were the complimentary chocolate chip cookies at the front desk of the motel. So I guess you could say we're pretty hungry.
“I wunner wha we ha tuh fawn iss tom.” Rory says with half of a turkey sandwich crammed in his mouth.
“I do too. This second clue is even more obscure than the first.” I hold up the piece of paper that was in the box with our first item.
“Lehm—” Rory pauses for a second to swallow and then continues, “Let me see it again.”
I hand the paper to him and he studies it. I glance over and read it for maybe the 700th time. Underneath the text are notes scribbled by Avril, who seems, as of now, to be relatively okay at breaking codes.
Congratulations! 3 You have found your first item! 2 10 The things you find, if your memory has become antique, are the keys to your victory. 5 Great things are in store for you.
Found Things Antique Store
Clue 1: IMss Dio Wwaest, eone
West Des Moines, Iowa
Clue 2: A pocket watch, a baby's lace-trimmed sock, keys from a broken typewriter, a skeleton key, a green glass jam jar, a knife with a handle of mother of pearl. Inside the briefcase. ???
“I've always wanted one of those knives—” says Rory, cracking open and sipping some iced coffee quietly from a glass bottle. “And a skeleton key sounds cool too.”
“What I don't get is that there's only supposed to be a single item at every location. If we have to find all of this random stuff in one place, like I'm assuming, why are there seven things?” I say, pointing to the second clue.
“Maybe it's a collective item. Like, all of those seperate things are supposed to be parts of one thing.” Avril says as she glances back at us and then returns her gaze to the road.
“That's always a possibility.” Rory agrees.
Avril drives through the exit and heads into West Des Moines. I have the map on my phone pulled up, and from the way it looks, we shouldn't have too tough of a time finding this place.
We pull into the first gas station we see to fill up the car. Rory and I head inside. There are shelves of souvenirs near the entrance, and Rory goes over to try and find our names on Iowa license plate keychains. I look through a bin of cheesy, discount movies. I've never thought there would be any Bee Movie rip offs, but Plan Bee, from the deep, dark bottom of the bin has successfully convinced me otherwise.
Avril walks into the store and pays for the gas and then gestures for us to go. Rory quickly grabs a couple of the keychains from off the rack and slaps a twenty down in front of the register. “They really need to update their keychain names.” He says as we walk out. He hands me a keychain with my name on it in all caps, and then shows me the others.
“The closest I got for me was Rodney, and then Avril was April, which isn't necessarily wrong, but still not right.” We get in the car, and Rory opens his bag and shuffles through its contents. He pulls out a black Sharpie, bites off the cap, and crosses out the “NE” in RODNEY and transforms the “D” into a misshapen “R”. He much more easily changes the “P” in APRIL into a V and then hands the keychain to Avril, who smiles and laughs before hooking it on the zipper of her shiny backpack.
“To the next item we go.” Avril states, pulling out of the gas station lot and back onto the road. We gaze out the windows at the tall buildings around us as we drive through the city. It's been years since I've seen this place, and in some ways it’s changed a lot. Before we know it, Avril pulls into a parking spot outside of a store in the downtown area. I get out of the car and look at the warping wooden sign posted above the metal awning:
Found Things Antique Store
“This is it.” I glance at the map on my phone, the little blue dot right under the red pin. “Let's go.”
We are hit with a whiff of the smell of dust and burning wood when we walk into the store. A gramophone is playing a record of Frank Sinatra songs into a microphone that is connected to a bunch of speakers around the store. An old woman is seated at the desk at the front, embroidering some pattern into cloth.
The woman looks up at us when the door shuts. “Is there anything I can help you kids find? Polaroid cameras? Kids today love those Polaroid cameras.”
“No, thanks. We're just looking around.” Rory replies with a smile and walks off into the shelves of old stuff. We follow him and find him looking at a shelf near the back stocked with typewriters.
“Don't you think that maybe all these items are together inside something, Rory?” I ask him as he goes about trying to pull the button of the H key off of one of the typewriters.
“That's probably an easier option.” He admits, letting go of the button and then pulling the paper out of his sweatshirt pocket. He mumbles to himself and then says “—Inside the briefcase. All the stuff is already together but probably like, in a briefcase. We should split up and look around. I think there are three floors in this store.”
“I'll search downstairs.” Volunteers Avril.
“I'll take the upstairs.” I say, and Rory nods.
“Then I'll finish looking around the main floor. Let's see if we can find this thing.” Rory puts the paper in his pocket and walks off.
Avril heads downstairs right afterward, and I speed up to the top of the store, eager to find the next item on our hunt. I haven't told them yet, but I saw on the site before we got here that Team Mauve has already found their second item and is holding their first place spot. Hopefully, that won't be for long.