19:00 - Level One
“This is the biggest section guys. We should split up.” I say, map in hand.
“How are we gonna find a specific black and white painting while I can see four right here from the entrance?!” Oliver asks, almost panicking.
I take a moment to think and all of a sudden the lightbulb from earlier changes to a white LED (which are much, much brighter for those who don’t know lightbulbs). “Wait! I think we’ve been going about this all wrong!” My brain is going full eureka moment mode. “It’s probably not just the color, it’s a word too! It’s got to be.” I turn to Rory. “Rory, What are some synonyms for ignorant?”
“Oh, let me see.” He pulls out his phone and gets on Google again. “uneducated, untrained, illiterate, foolish, uninformed, backward, the list goes on.”
Alright, that narrows it down some. “I’ll take this half of the gallery.” I motion with one hand and grip the GPS in the other.
“I’ll do the other.” Oliver says with determination in his tone.
“I’ll check the far ends.” Rory says with a grin, tilting his hat back on his head. “Let’s do this thing.”
I swear to god, If I see another Andy Warhol, I’m going to absolutely lose it. I’ve got nothing against the guy, but it seems like this place has a hundred of his pieces on display, and nothing remotely close to what I’m looking for.
This floor is surprisingly quiet considering how many people were here earlier. I can feel myself start to drift off into thought as I walk silently through the gallery. I shake my head to get back to reality and see Oliver reading a placard on the opposite wall.
“Anything yet?” I say as loudly as I dare.
“Huh?” he turns to me.
“Trust me,” He laughs, “you’d know if I did.”
“I wonder how Rory’s doing.” He says as he walks over to me.
“Well, he would have called us if he found it, like you said.” I say “We would know.”
He goes to leave. “Time’s running out.” He walks around a wall and disappears. Just as I return to what I was doing, I see a flash of dirty blonde hair out of the corner of my eye. They’re here.
My heart is racing as I snake through the gallery walls, looking for something. Anything. Just as I’m about to turn another corner, the three of them nearly bowl me over. I jump back before they can touch me, and when everyone gets their bearings, we stand there silently in the space between one room and the other just staring confusedly at each other like we just woke up here and have no idea where or who we are.
I’m trying to think of something to say, but none of my thoughts escape my mouth like they ought to. The awkward silence is growing a little too intense, and Dayna keeps looking at me which makes it even worse, so I turn around and walk away into the room like nothing just happened. It’s there that I see, under the glow of a bunch of white LED light bulbs, exactly what I’m looking for. It’s the word ‘FOOL’ painted in bold, daring, black letters over a snow white background.
Before I have the chance to think, my brain takes over again and I start walking towards it. I can hear Mauve’s footsteps behind me, following me to it, and I speed up. Crap, they know. I pick up the pace and they follow suit and before I know it I’m running. I can feel their hot breaths on my neck as I charge the painting and slam my sore hands against the wall on either side, my forehead just inches away from the canvas. It’s mine.
“Ma’am, please step back.” A security guard says, but I pay her no mind. I’m too shaken up, my adrenaline is going crazy, and I can’t help but crack a smile.
“Ma’am,” She persists, “Please step back from the artwork.”
I look over at her bitter and impatient face beside me, and then to an utterly defeated Mauve behind. “Yes, of course. My apologies.” I take a couple steps back, and she thanks me before walking away.
I pull the GPS out of my back pocket to get the coordinates. I turn it on and watch the numbers pop up in dark green on the screen, along with the little map of where we are.
“Y’know we could literally just cheat right now and steal this right out from under you, although that wouldn’t do either of us much good.” Henry speaks up after a second. “But still, you’re trusting us to just stand here silently and do nothing. That’s pretty brave.”
“Well, I trust easily,” I reply. “It’s a blessing and curse. More so the latter than the former, as I’ve found.”
I get out my phone and call Oliver and Rory. When they answer, I say in the most non-excited voice I can muster, “Hey guys, I found it.” It isn’t more than two seconds later that I hear the echoing pounding of feet on stone flooring. I turn to see the two of them scrambling through the gallery to get to me and Team Mauve walking off and out of sight without another word.
“You did it Avril!” Rory cheers, running up and hugging me tightly. Oliver joins in and almost crushes my rib cage, and I can see the security guard from earlier is back and is looking right at us. She rolls her eyes and shakes her head in disbelief before leaving again, hopefully for good.
I inhale dramatically when the hug breaks up and hand the GPS to Rory, who passes it to Oliver, who almost drops it but manages to catch it between his thumb and ring finger. “Four minutes to go.” He says, looking at his phone. He looks up at the painting with a hint of uncertainty. He presses the GPS button on the site and the coordinates pop up there too. He checks both of them over. “They’re both the same.” He enters the coordinates into the box as the time slowly ticks down and then states, “I really hope this is right.” He clicks the button with a bit of reluctance, and we all hold our breaths as the dreaded spinning lollipop of death pops up and spins around and around.
The tension leaves the room in a rush as the familiar ding sounds and a green check mark pops up on the screen. We try not to start cheering in the middle of the museum as our team claims first on the scoreboard again with the annoying little girls in Vermillion in second. “Guys,” I whisper, letting the moment sink in. “We won the challenge!” I make little jazz hands and squeal with excitement.
“Not to be pessimistic,” Oliver interjects, “But I swore for a bit we’d never find anything. But we did!”
“Wait a sec, guys. Where’s the item?” Rory asks, and he’s right. We can’t just take this expensive painting off the wall of a museum. But it’s right then that I notice a spot on the ‘L’ in ‘FOOL’ that looks to be a bit raised off the painting.
“Hold on.” I say. I look around to see if any guards are around, but there are none in sight. I reach for the raised section and try to remove it with my nail. It pops effortlessly off without leaving a mark and falls to the floor. A card.
“That’s pretty good for hiding in plain sight.” Oliver remarks.
I pick the card up and turn it over. The SØMNIUM logo sits patiently at the top, waiting to see the light of day, er, spotlights in a museum gallery. Underneath it is the next clue:
You know the name. Everyone does. You’ve seen the place. Everyone has. You don’t remember where from or when, but it is real. And it has a Qdoba.
The air outside warms my skin and reminds me just how cold museums are sometimes. "There are a heck ton of Qdobas, though," Rory sighs as he leaves the spinning doors. "Souhait isn't making this very easy on us.”.
“That’s for sure,” Oliver adds. “But it’s probably a lot easier than we think.”
“We’ll just have to figure something out and hope it’s right. That’s what we’ve been doing and we’ve been right every time.”
“I wouldn’t count our chickens before they hatch.” I say, absentmindedly bending the card in one of my hands which have begun to scab over from earlier. I look out at the parking lot and see Team Mauve sitting on the curb in front of one of the school busses looking either tired or sad. I’m not exactly sure, but they aren’t very peppy from what I can tell.
At the crosswalk, Rory turns to them. “You guys okay?”
“Not really,” Calia replies almost instantly. “Our car got towed right as we got out here. Our cash was in there and our clothes and food and everything.”
“Darn.” Oliver says. He sticks a hand in his pocket and pulls out some of the money he brought in. He hands it to Dayna, who takes it with a surprised look. “That should probably cover a cab and the cost of getting your car back.” He joins us again and we start walking across.
I step into the crosswalk and at the same time hear Dayna stir behind me. “Hey, Avril. I…” I turn to look at her, my eyes stealing all the fire from hers, and she stops and does that same little open and close thing with her mouth.
She finishes after a second of silence. “I like your hair.”
I don’t give her another second of my time. After all, she wasted six years of it. I turn away with a well-deserved flip of my hair and cross the crosswalk. From the other side I can hear Henry grumble, “This was not how I was planning to spend my Spring break.”