The MEDEX escape room was the first one we opened. We had a series of articles ready to whet future players’ appetite –and this is one of them. MEDEX is, as you probably know, an agency that hires contract killers, the most mysterious of whom is a man nicknamed The Beak (there is a mannequin of him in our hall).

Well, I was a still a boy, so it’s understandable, isn’t it? My father was a heavyweight in that company – the one where jams are made, and all that fruit, and don’t forget it was the early eighties – real solid Socialism. It was at Christmas. I would travel there by train every year, like to meet him, ‘cause they would always have this farewell party, or whatever they called it, before Christmas Day. Well, they’dget together in an office and get boozed up until late at night. Those last five years I would get on the train on that day, go to that town where the factory stood and pick him up. I was fourteen.

This year I’m telling you about, it was the same.  Except there was loads of snow. You don’t get that anymore these days – it may freeze a bit and there’s this yucky slush in the streets, but it did snow in winter back then and you even had to struggle through the snow in some places. When I arrived at the reception, it was already dark and freezing. Old Bečička let me in, naturally, giving me a salute as a joke, because he remembered me. The party was in full swing at my father’s office – I think I even saw some female comrades with their tops off, showing off their tits in their bras made by the state textile company. Yeah, those ugly ones. They were always advertised in that magazine –Vlasta was its name, wasn’t it?

When I entered, everyone got quiet for a moment but then they burst into roaring laughter again – they were on a roll, even my father, who would normally be careful not to booze in front of me. And booze he could! But he was a conscientious comrade – on the outside it was important that he was building the socialist homeland, but when he went out to drink with his friends, it was somewhere around the corner where no one could see him. But not that year – he really let his hair down. And as he was boozed up, he sent me to the office next door to play with the stapler at the secretary’s desk. What can I say – it was embarrassing.  On the other hand, I was happybecause it meant I could snoop around the place and pretend I was the boss, which I loved to do as a boy.  There was even a phone there and when I made a call, nobody cared. You could even call for the exact time, for example. That was a kind of service back then – a woman’s voice would always say “It’s five past nine sharp”, and there was a beep.

I sat down at the desk, put a rulerin front of me, and got out the yellow plastic calculator with that big red display bent toward you so that you could somehow read those illegibly tiny numbers, and I was the boss of the Universe. But father’s secretary Blanka, who I started to have wet dreams about back in those days, soon turned up at the door telling me not to stick my nose in the lab, that there’s a Christmas tree in there, and I’d better be a good boy and wait for Father Christmas. First of all, this obviouslypissed me off. I had been fed up with that Father Christmas bullshit for ages already…that’s only good for kids of up to five and not for the young man I was – at least in my head. Secondly… imagining Blanka naked, in various interesting positions, it cuts you down a notch to hear her talk to you as if you were a child.

Out of spite, I sneaked out into the corridor straight away and made my way to the lab through the quiet hall. The hall was scary enough in itself, let alone at night. All those automated production lines from Sweden were silent and motionless. The only light was leaking in from that crazy office of my father’s and every step sounded like hitting the bass drum I played in our progressive pseudo-rock band with my friends.

When I tried to open the lab door it wouldn’t open. Normally, it was never locked, but this time it was. I thought I’d peek in through the keyhole at least to see that marvel of a tree of theirs. Then it happened.  I was squatting, squinting into the small key opening and, when I finally got the right focus, I realised someone was looking at me on the other side. An ugly eye – evil, kind of, like in Beauty and the Beast, a predator’s eye.

Startled, I recoiled. To my horror, I heard someone unlocking the door from the inside. Fortunately, I had the presence of mind to start running away immediately. Unfortunately, at the same time, I was stupid enough to run not towards the office full of people but in the other direction, deeper into the dark production hall.

Well, I’ll keep it short, because there’s no point describing how many times I knocked into something or fell down in the dark. The important thing was, he was pretty quick to find me. Who? That guy from the lab, or whatever that was. He was quite tall and broad-shouldered and he was wearing a suit, which wasn’t really common in those days. He had an old-fashioned hat on his head, which was totally rare and, most of all, he was wearing a mask.

…which is why I avoid going to Italy even today – they have the same masks there when they have those celebrations and carnivals. The man wasn’t chasing me, or looking for me, he was waiting for me. I have no idea how he got there before me, but there he was in one of the shadows and as I was desperately groping around, he just stretched out his hand in a glove and pressed me against the wall. At that moment,all the world narrowed down to that mask of his. That long leather beak and those yellow eyes.  I think he even lifted me up a bit, which seemed easy for him, even though I already weighed a considerable amountat fourteen. He was inspecting me for a while. I’d say he was thinking what to do with me. Then he says in that hoarse voice: “Blanka was right, you should have waited for Father Christmas.” And I peed myself. Really. And I didn’t care, because the horror that seized my whole body was doing whatever it pleased. I’ve never been so scared in all my life.

Then he let go of me and disappeared into the shadows. And guess what? The next day the dead body of the deputy director was found in the lab. He supposedly died a natural death – a heart attack – but I know better. I’ve never told anyone because father would have only given me a beating for making up stories. But it’s been thirty five years now and father’s six feet under, so it doesn’t matter anymore.

I just always avoid being alone and in the dark for a single moment at Christmas. Because Father Christmas is a pretty tale for little kids but no one has ever said he was a nice guy. And I have the feeling that he’s got quite a good memory.

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