Home > The Plus One Pact(3)

The Plus One Pact(3)
Author: Portia MacIntosh

While my job is a creative one, it is one that requires a great deal of care and concentration too.

My mum tells people that I lock people up for a living, which usually makes them think I’m a police officer. My dad tells people I lock people up and watch them try to escape, which usually makes them think I’m some kind of dominatrix.

I work for Houdini’s Great Escape, a company that has escape rooms up and down the country. Their flagship branch is right here in Leeds and I was lucky enough to bag a job designing rooms for them.

I’ve always loved puzzles. Jigsaws when I was a kid, a little pocketbook of Sudoku when I used to commute, endless puzzle apps on my phone – all far easier than playing the dating game on Matcher, that’s for sure.

Escape rooms are basically just a room full of puzzles of all different types. Figuring out number codes, opening puzzle boxes, finding hidden messages on the wall, and locks. Lots and lots of locks. Each puzzle needs to lead seamlessly and sensibly into another, ultimately leading up to the unlocking of a door.

I come up with themes for the different rooms, draw up blueprints, and create the pathway that players will follow. I absolutely love it, but it’s so hard to do when you can’t think straight, and one little mistake could throw the whole room off.

I’ve known for a while that I need to move if I want to get my work done in peace, and I thought I’d found somewhere, so I gave notice that I was moving out of here. Except things fell through with the new place and my landlord had already found someone else to move in here after I moved out, so now I'm having to try and find somewhere against the clock. You’d think this would motivate me, and it does, but I do need to get on with my work too. I have a few places I’m going to look at next week. One of them has got to be OK, right? OK will work, so long as it’s OK and quiet.

Despite it being a Thursday afternoon, today has big Monday morning energy. This week has felt like a week full of Mondays and today is dragging just the same.

I suppose I should get ready soon. I’m heading to my parents' house for dinner. They only live a short train journey outside Leeds so I see them and my brother quite often, but we make a point of having dinner as a family every other week.

The only thing that could make my day worse would be piling into a commuter train, standing for the entire twenty-minute journey, probably with my face pressed up against the dirty glass door, murky from a day’s worth of fingerprints.

I’ll hop in the shower, throw on some clothes and hurry for the train. Once I’m at my parents’ place I can sit in front of a fan, drink lemonade and just enjoy the peace and quiet that comes with living on the edge of the moors. The only thing that could potentially ruin the nice, quiet evening of my dreams is if the subject of my cousin’s wedding comes up – which it almost always does, but I’ll cross that bridge when I come to it.

My phone vibrating on the desk in front of me snaps me from my thoughts. I have a notification telling me that I have a new match on Matcher. I open up the app and instinctively reject the first person it shows me with a swipe to the left. Almost everyone gets swiped away these days. I’m about to go and check my new match when I realise that it’s showing me a message that I haven’t seen before. I squint at it suspiciously until I realise what it says:

No more matches. Check back soon.



It turns out I have run out of people to match with in my area, meaning I have swiped my way through every vaguely eligible bachelor (plus a few married ones who, it always amazes me, are lurking on the app) in Leeds. It’s official: I have run out of men. Well, you know what? Good. Good riddance to bad rubbish. This app has been nothing but trouble. I guess I’ll just go back to playing Candy Crush when I’m bored, rather than swiping my way through men who just aren’t worth shaving my legs for.

I place my phone on charge to give it a boost before I leave and head into the bathroom to get ready.

This escape room isn’t going to plan itself but, right now, all I can think about is escaping my own room. Of course, once I’m in a room with my mum and dad, chatting about the wedding of the century, I’ll probably want to escape that one too.






It’s only now that I live in the city that I truly appreciate what a gorgeous place I grew up in. At the time, my family home just felt like a house, but it was all I’d ever known.

Growing up was like something out of The Railway Children – literally, my parents’ house was next to the steam train line where the movie was filmed. Their back garden actually backs onto the line, which meant that we would often be able to watch as the old steam engine passed the bottom of our garden.

No one uses it to travel from A to B; there are much faster, cheaper ways. It’s a tourist attraction, one that pulls in people from all over the globe. Living right next to it, we wouldn’t go on it all that often. Just once a year, as kids, when we would take a trip on the annual Santa Train at Christmas time. The man who played Santa actually looked a hell of a lot like Santa Claus, with his grey beard, his rounded belly and his jolly smile, so when he would take the train for fun on a fairly regular basis, if my brother and I were playing in the back garden when he passed, he would always give us a wave through the window. Of course, we were convinced that he was the real Santa Claus, which is probably why we were such well-behaved kids. Our parents really drummed into us that Santa Claus was always watching, which feels highly manipulative, but I have to admit it’s a stroke of genius.

My brother, Oliver, still lives with my parents in their three-bedroom detached house. It’s a conversion of a building that is believed to date back to the eighteenth century. It looks picture perfect. Aged, but not old. Traditional, but not old-fashioned. It has always been well kept, sitting in a garden full of various plants and flowers. It’s like something out of a romance movie. The kind of place you inherit (although in the movies they’re usually in need of a lot of work) before falling in love with the hunky next-door neighbour. The only person next door here is a retired doctor in his nineties, and I’m betting it’s been a long time since he made anyone say ‘ahh’.

Oliver is younger than me. I’m twenty-nine with thirty breathing down my neck. Oliver is twenty-three with the world at his feet. Well, that’s what my parents seem to think anyway.

Oliver is their most viable child, having breezed his way through his bachelor’s degree, his masters, and now he’s doing a fully funded PhD. I don’t think they are more proud of Oliver, or that they love him more than they love me or anything like that. I just feel as if it’s easier to be more conventionally proud of him, whereas I’m pushing thirty, with a kind of weird job, living my best spinster life. All of my old school friends are married with kids. You can’t blame people for measuring my success against the people I grew up with, even if it’s not really fair.

I decided, after my disastrous date last night, that a trip to see my family was what I needed. Real people who actually cared about me, with no ulterior motive, giving me the time of day. The four of us – me, Oliver and my parents – are currently sitting around the table in their spacious farmhouse kitchen, eating dinner. We’re having salmon in a sticky honey and lemon glaze, which is my absolute favourite. I know that Oliver isn’t a huge fan, so we don’t have it all that often on family dinner night.

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