I walked through the shimmering violet doorway to face my next challenge, my stomach filled with butterflies. The room beyond the starting chamber was the tallest I’ve ever seen; its ceiling stretched to what must’ve been at least ten metres. There were strange hanging steps positioned all over the room, reaching upwards to a small opening on the ceiling. It was like a crazy kind of staircase, one where the steps are attached to the walls by the thinnest possible metal rods. Some of the steps were flat and others turned sideways so they hang vertical, the upper side a mere sliver of material. Before I could even walk over to the lowest step, that creepy computerized voice spoke again.
“You have landed at a ladder’s bottom,” it said, “To move onto the next square, you must reach the opening at the top of the room. Your task is to climb the steps all the way up to the next room, but before that you must reach the marble ledge located halfway up to retrieve the key. There are seven levers located around the walls, each next to a step. When pulled, the levers will change the states of the steps. That is, the flat steps will become vertical and vice versa, with the exception of the step you are currently on. You are allowed to turn only three levers in the one minute that you have to reach the opening. Your time will start when you step up on the lowest step. You currently have three tries left.”
Oh crap, how was I ever going to get up there? Looking at the hanging steps was enough to make me dizzy, let alone climbing up and changing levers. I could not for the life of me work out how to use those levers effectively, and for the first time in my life I wished I had listened to my dad more. He was always talking about mechanical stuff, and this was one of those things that he would know. Okay, three chances, one minute and three levers. I can do this.
I stepped onto the first step. My plan was to reach the lever on the other side of the wall, because then I could probably reach the marble ledge. Jumping from one step to another, I tried not to look down because I didn’t particularly like height. I got to the lever with forty five seconds to spare, and heaved the handle to reverse the steps. Hopping upwards, I suddenly found myself in a dead end. I was surrounded by the vertical steps whose edges were way too small to try and step on. Spying a flat step just out of reach, I tried to hold on to one of the vertical steps to get there. Suddenly red light filled the room. I was chucked off the step onto the padded ground as the hanging staircase went back to its original state.
“You have two tries left.”
I started my climb, this time reaching another lever on this side of the wall. It was the right one, and I raced up the steps to the marble platform with the key. Grabbing the ornate silver key off the ledge, I jumped up another couple of steps to reach my second lever. Turning this one opened up several different paths, with three going upwards and one receding down just a little. Each path ended with a lever, which did not help my indecisiveness. Finally choosing the middle path upwards, I raced up and turned the lever to see that I’ve reached another dead end. The staircase that I’ve created was a few steps off from the opening, and I did not dare to touch the vertical steps this high up. Running down to a reasonable falling height, I placed my palm on the vertical hanging slab and found myself unceremoniously dunked on the floor again. The silver key had disappeared.
“This is your last chance.”
Biting my lips, I stepped onto the lowest ledge one last time and followed the path I took in my previous attempt. At the second lever, with the key in my hand and the four paths looming before me, my instinct told me to go down. Reversing just a little, I turned my last lever. The path ended in yet another dead end, and I cringed just to think about what would happen to me because of my failure to complete the challenge. Taking a deep breath, I decided to walk up the steps all the way to the end. If I was being eliminated, at least I’ve reached the highest point possible. With fifteen seconds left on the clock, I stood on my little ledge and looked up. To see that the flat steps above me hung perfectly above each other, with the last being right under the opening.
I clambered up, using the steps like rungs of a ladder. I had exactly four seconds to shove the key into the lock and open the little trapdoor. My fingers were shaking like crazy, but finally the lock clicked and I was able to push the trapdoor upwards. Pulling myself up and out, I hastily shoved the door back into place. I did not want to fall down onto that padded floor for the third time.