21 June 2013

"Where the Shadows Run From Themselves"

By Curtis C. Chen

The elevator stops and the doors open on a featureless white chamber, a single room with a square table in the middle. There's something on the table, blinking different colors, but you can't quite make it out from here.

You step out of the elevator.

The doors slide shut behind you, and when you turn back, the elevator has disappeared. There's only a blank white wall there, and all around you. No windows, no doors, nothing.

Soft white light seems to emanate from every surface, as if these objects are glowing from within.

The lights on the table keep blinking. You walk forward to get a better look.

Attached to the table is a rectangular white box. You can't move it; the box feels like a single, solid block, except for three blinking lights on top.

The lights shine inside three big plastic push-buttons—red, green, and blue, from left to right—each one a convex disk as big as your palm.

You reach out and press down on the red button. You feel something click inside the box.

A male voice booms from the ceiling: "I said don't push the red button!"

You jump back. Nothing else happens. You wait for what feels like a long time—you start counting slowly, but stop after you reach twenty-six.

The button-lights continue blinking.

You push the green button. Nothing happens. You push it again. Still nothing.

You push the blue button. All the illuminated surfaces around you go dark, leaving just the buttons blinking in blackness. You push the blue button again. The lights come back on.

It's weird that the green button doesn't seem to do anything.

You stare at the buttons for a while, and you realize that each one is blinking a different sequence. Sometimes the light stays on for a long time, and sometimes it's much shorter; similarly, there are short pauses, long pauses, and extra-long pauses between lights. The sequences repeat.

The red and green sequences are very similar. The only difference between them is where their single extra-long pause occurs. For red, it's after a long light and before another long light. For green, it's after a short and before a long.

The blue sequence is significantly different from red or green. Blue has more short lights, and a longer sequence overall. You wish you had some pen and paper to write this down, but it's a small enough data set that you can keep it all in your head.

You leave out the extra-long pauses, since that's where each sequence repeats, and the short pauses, which simply appear to separate the lights. What does that give you?

Red: long, short, pause, long, long, long.

Green: long, long, long, pause, long, short.

Blue: long, long, long, pause, short, short, long, short, pause, short, short, long, short.

Recognition snaps into place. You know what this is. You know what the lights are telling you to do.

You push the green button, then the blue button.

And then you see it.


Photo Credit: iseethelight via Compfight cc