Wednesday, November 18, 2015

The Girl & The Rubik's Cube

Part 1: A New Romance

I’m kind of an awkward guy when it comes to women. Always have been. I’ve never been the type capable of approaching a girl in a bar and striking up a conversation. It’s just not the type of person I am, the “womanizer”. I wouldn’t say I’m ugly, but I’m certainly not Brad Pitt either. Women rarely approach me, and I’m usually too self-conscious to approach women. Maybe it’s because I believe girls don’t want the nerdy type with a meaningless job that spends his Saturday nights playing video games in his pajamas. Most everyone here in Manhattan spends their time meeting other people and absorbing the culture of the city. Not me.
But I do have one talent that always seems to attract girls’ attention. I can solve a Rubik’s Cube.
A lot of people associate the ability to solve a Rubik’s Cube with intellect, but that’s not exactly the case. It really just means I have far too much time on hands. Anyone can solve one. All it takes is memorizing a series of algorithms, wasting a few hours and having half a brain. It’s easy to do when you don’t have much of a social life. And it’s my way of demonstrating my potential value, someone who stands apart from other men.
I keep one with me all the time. It’s snuggled in my bag along with my iPad and my laptop. It sounds strange, I know, but it works. When I’m on the subway and I see a pretty girl, I pull out the cube. I leave it in my bag already mixed up, and then I go to work on it. 
Once I’m done and the cube is solved, without fail, the girl approaches me. “How did you do that?” or “Is that a trick?” or “I’ve never seen anyone do that before!” 
And there’s my opening. 
And that’s exactly how I met Morgan.
It was on the 1 train headed uptown. The subway was pretty packed. Through the crowd I noticed her sitting down towards the back of the car. She wore thick, black hipster glasses that acted as a magnifying glass for her dark brown eyes. Her short brunette hair was tied in a ponytail with a lone strand partially covering the right side of her face. She seemed deeply focused on the book she was reading on her kindle.
I love a girl who reads. 
I worked my way through the subway car towards her. She was just my type, sort of dorky, but dark and mysterious. As I made my way closer to her I took notice to her slender form and chiseled jawline. She sat with her legs crossed, wearing a plaid skirt and black opaque tights and a pair of low-top converse. Her t-shirt was a picture of GIR from ‘Invader Zim’, one of my favorite shows.
She noticed me moving towards her and looked up from her kindle. We briefly made eye contact. Unimpressed by me, she buried her eyes in her book and went about her business.
I stood close to her, pretending like I had no interest, trying to be natural. After a minute I reached into my bag and took out the Rubik’s Cube. Without moving her head her eyes immediately turned and noticed the cube in my hands, watching me fiddle with it. She was curious.
I went to work on the bottom layer, making sure the pretty dorky girl had an unobstructed view and was paying attention. When I was done with the middle layer, she had lowered her book and turned more towards me, paying closer attention to what I was doing. Finally the top layer, which takes the most series of algorithms. But I’ve practiced with the cube enough and greased it up where I can move each side rapidly with quick flicks of my fingers, and while following the steps, it looks like I have elevated hand-eye coordination. At this point I don’t even need to look at the cube anymore in order to solve it.
And then with one last turn of the upper layer, the cube was solved. I held it in front of me and admired it, all the colors aligned, subtly showing off.
Without saying a word, she snatched the cube from my hand and studied it. “Bet you can’t do that again if I mix it up.” she said, looking at me with seemingly unimpressed, apathetic eyes.
“Be my guest!”
“Cover your eyes so I know you won’t cheat.”
“I’ll do you one better and turn around.”  
I spun half a circle and waited for her to finish mixing the cube. I felt a tap on my arm and spun back. “Here. I mixed it really well.”
That doesn't matter, I thought. “I can tell,” I played along. “I’ll do my best.”
Another 45 seconds, another solved cube, and one intrigued, pretty girl.
She grabbed the cube from me again and studied it. “So what are you, some sort of genius?”
“I’m some sort of something, I guess,” I responded, trying to act casual. Inside, my heart was racing.
“No, there’s some sort of trick, isn’t there?”
“Well, to be honest, yes and no. It’s not exactly a ‘trick’, but more like recognizing certain patterns and knowing what to do when those patterns present themselves.”
She looked up at me and gave me a sort of devilish half-smile as the subway screeched and began to slow down approaching 125th and Broadway. “This is my stop,” she said, handing the cube back over to me. She uncrossed her legs and packed her kindle into her messenger back, then looked back at me. “You wouldn’t happen to be getting off too, would you?”
“Actually, my stop was 116th.”
She stood up from her seat and flung her bag over her shoulder. “So, you stayed just to keep talking to me? Good to know.” Flirting already.
The doors opened and we exited the subway together. “Well, you did demand that I solve it again for you.” I wanted her to think like she was still in control of the situation.
“That I did.” We were walking through the subway station towards the exit. “Are you in any rush? I know a great restaurant around here. Ever been to ‘Toast’?” Of course I had, I’d been to that place so many times. Their cajun catfish sandwich was the best food on the upper west side. “We can grab a drink and you can tell me more about these ‘patterns’ in the cube.”
I agreed to join her and we sat at the restaurant drinking cocktails and discussing the cube, amongst other things. She spoke with such scrupulous precision and intellect. I got to know her a bit. She was 7 years younger than I at 22, grew up in Southampton Long Island and was living in the city while she pursued her masters in electrical engineering.
As much as I was interested in her, she was just as interested in me, but not in the conventional way. She was more interested in discovering the similarities in our personalities. Like she wanted to justify her emotions by finding someone like-minded.  
“Do you ever watch the way other people communicate and pity them for having exaggerated enthusiasm over the most trite things?”
Every time I validated her thoughts, her body language had an extra bounce to it and her eyes would widen slightly. “I think that just means you’re the type of person who doesn't live on empty encouragement. You value the things that truly matter.”
“I wish we could solve people as easily as you solve that Rubik’s Cube.”
“Everything has a pattern to it. Even people.”
“You’re getting in over your head,” she warned and leaned forward. “If it’s that easy, why don’t you solve me?”
I took the challenge head-on. “I’m watching those dark eyes of yours when you talk. Every time you think they go down and to the left. That means you’re a kinesthetic person. You’re someone who lives in their feelings.”
“Oh my god...that’s totally true.”  
I taught Morgan how to read different eye movements and what they meant. The eye goes to one of seven different positions when someone thinks: each position means the person is accessing a different part of their brain.
“How do you know all this?”
“It’s just something I’ve observed in people. If you pay attention you can pick up on certain things. I can tell from your body language that you have a somewhat troubled past that you’re trying to shelter.”
She was looking at me differently as our conversation progressed. I was more than just some dude on the subway to her now. “I’ve only known you for an hour and already it’s as if you know more about me than anyone I’ve ever met.”
“The only reason I’m still here is because I like what I see in you.”
She blushed like a little girl, smiled and looked down and to the right. *Internal dialogue*, I thought to myself of her eye position. *She’s assessing her feelings towards me*.
“You know, I don’t live far from here.” I had her on the hook. “Let’s head to my place. You can start teaching me how to solve a Rubik’s Cube.”  
Not a chance I was saying no to that invitation. 
I paid the bill and we walked two blocks to her place. She lived in a 2 bedroom apartment with a roommate who was away for some educational program for six months. Essentially, she was living by herself.
The apartment was small and moderately unorganized. The wood floors squeaked with every step as I walked through the living room and observed my surroundings. 
“This way!” Morgan said playfully as she led me to her bedroom. She immediately plunked her bag down on the Ikea desk and sat in the chair. “Now, give me that cube again.”
I felt uneasy about the room. The curtains were drawn and she replaced the lightbulbs in the overhead light with dim bulbs that had a slight purple tint. It made the walls seem much darker than they actually were and I felt as though they were caving in on me. “Oh, right, the cube.” I rummaged through my bag and handed the cube to her and she immediately began mixing it up while sitting at her desk.
“Here, now show me where to start.” I grabbed a pen and wrote down the list of algorithms for visual aide. She pointed at the first algorithm: Ri, Di, R, D. “What’s the ‘i’ mean?”
“Inverted. So this reads as: Right Inverted, Down Inverted, Right, Down.”
“Mmmhmmm,” she nodded.
I focused on the cube. “So, we start with the bottom layer. Take note of the middle pieces on every side. They never move, and they’re always….” I stopped mid-sentence when I felt her hand land on my thigh and slowly start moving towards my crotch. It was unexpected, and I was flustered. “Uh…”
“Keep going. Tell me what to do. Tell me how to solve it.” She continued moving her hand up my leg. 
“Um. Well, the center colors are always in the same order. White is always opposite of yellow, blue is opposite of green, and red is always…” her hand had reached my belt buckled and she began undoing my pants.
“I told you not to stop.”
I was starting to sweat. “’s, uh, always opposite of orangeeeeee……” She reached into my pants and pulled out my penis, immediately starting to jerk me off.
“Keep going.”
“You start with any color....any color…you want...” She moved forward and took me in her mouth, sucking and moving back and forth. I lost complete focus on the cube and lowered it, dropping it on the floor. My eyes rolled into the back of my head in pleasure as she continued sucking. In all my attempts at picking up girls with a Rubik’s Cube, I mostly just got a few numbers, maybe a date or two and a goodnight kiss. Nothing like this.
She stopped and stood up, moving into my neck and licking it as I embraced her in my arms. She guided me towards her bed and shoved me down, pulling off her tights and mounting herself on top of me.
“I want you to choke me,” she said and she leaned in to kiss me. It was sort of a strange request, but I was hypnotized enough to do whatever she asked. I moved my hands around her throat, letting them grasp but not squeeze. “Don’t hold back.”
“I’m not,” I said.
She kept kissing me. “Choke me harder.” I squeezed slightly. “Harder. I want to struggle to breath.” I squeezed harder and felt a small pop in her throat. “That’s it.” She lowered herself onto me, letting me penetrate her. “Don’t stop. Tighter!” I squeezed more and she started moaning as she ripped open my button down shirt and violently dug her nails into my chest. The sharp pain from her nails cause me to release her throat.
“FUCKING CHOKE ME!” she screamed, moving her body back and forth on top of me.
I clamped my hands around her throat again as I noticed, from the corner of my eye, a knife in her hand. Where did that come from? What was she doing? It was a small pocket knife with a red handle and a two inch, dull blade, certainly not the ideal weapon for causing any harm to me. My attention became fixed on the knife, concerned with what she was planning. I slowly began to push her off of me, but she wasn’t having it, throwing both fists onto my chest and forcing me back down as she continued to ride me more intensely.
“It won’t hurt,” she said. I held my breath and looked up at her, watching as she dug the knife into her forearm and cut herself, the knife moving across her skin like a slug leaving a trail of blood behind it. She twisted her arm and a few drops of blood landed lightly on my face.
The drops of blood were warm, the sensation was oddly arousing. I was so caught in the moment that I hardly recognized the figure taking shape in the corner of the room. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw the shape of a small, ghastly form through darkness of the purple tint. Its eyes were dark and shiny, the glow of two large pupils staring at us. I could vaguely make out two horns atop its head. I turned my head to look more directly at the figure, and with a quick blink of my eyes, it was gone.
She rubbed the blood onto my face with her index finger like moisturizer. “Taste it,” she said, sticking her finger into my mouth. “I want to taste yours next.”
I looked back at Morgan, surprised to see her eyes dark and glowing like the figure I had seen in the corner.
“I never met someone like you,” she said as we lay naked in her bed. “I feel like I can be open and honest about myself. Express all of my deepest secrets.” I never met anyone like her either. Most people don’t acknowledge me, just observe that I’m occupying space in their way and move about their business. Morgan saw something in me. Though I only knew her for a few hours, she made me feel like I mattered, like I was important and special. In all my attempts to socialize, even on a purely non-romantic level, I had grown deeply skeptical of the human capability to make a connection with others. And I had all but given up on the idea that someone would ever connect with me.
“You can,” I assured her. “What’s something you’ve never told anyone?”
She cuddled under my arm as she contemplated the question. “Remember when you said I had a troubled past?” I nodded. “I have certain...triggers.”
“Like what?”
“My father, I haven’t talked to him in years. He was...abusive to me as a child.” I turned to my side, giving her all of my attention, stroking her dark hair for comfort. ‘My father was always physically violent. I think he blamed me for my mother leaving.”
“I’m sorry you had to live a childhood like that.”
She nudged closer to me. “On my twelfth birthday he had given me a Rubik’s Cube. He seemed more fascinated with it than I was and became obsessed with solving it. Of course, he wasn’t able to, but the more time he spent on it, the more frustrated he became. And the more frustrated he became, the more pleasure I got from it. He caught me smirking at him and unleashed all his frustration on me. It was the worst that he had ever harmed me.” Her eyes filled with tears. “After that, CPS came and took me away. I haven’t seen him since.”
I put my arm around her, placing my hand lightly on her cheek. “He won’t hurt you again.”  
We had been dating for about a month. Morgan thought very highly of me, but when she learned about my life, she was surprised that I led a very boring lifestyle; I go to work, I come home and play video games, go to sleep, and repeat.
“It’s a shame for you to waste that incredible brain of yours on such mundane activities,” she told me yesterday. “Haven’t you ever felt like you were meant for something more meaningful? Like you were meant to take advantage of your skills?”
“Yes, but I’m not the kind of guy that likes taking risks. I like order and routine. It’s comforting.”
“I wasn’t part of your routine a month ago.”
“No, but a welcomed addition.”
‘Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.’
“Isn’t that Einstein?”
She shrugged. “Doesn’t make it any less true.” I had no legitimate response, because she was right. How am I supposed to tell the girl I’m dating that I’m actually a coward, too afraid to take any risks? “It’s about time we change this ‘routine’ of yours,” she continued.
“Yeah, how?”
“...You can, save me...”  
We slept together at my apartment last night. She introduced ropes into the bedroom. Our sex life was becoming increasingly more violent and nothing like I had ever experienced before. It was...thrilling. I felt like I had purpose.
I awoke this morning and she was gone, a note left in my kitchen. It read:
Significance awaits. You’re the right man for the job. Together, our actions will inspire others.
Ri, Di, R, D
It all begins downtown with a toast!
Looks like directions. A puzzle. I love puzzles.

Part 2: Ri, Di, R, D

Ri, Di, R, D.
It’s the first algorithm used to complete the bottom layer of the Rubik’s Cube. Morgan had left the algorithm as directions in her note.
It all begins downtown with a toast! 
Naturally, she was referring to the restaurant we had our first drinks at after we met on the subway, Toast. But Toast is uptown, right near 125th Street. Perhaps the directions would lead me downtown somewhere…
I exited my apartment this morning and walked over to Toast. I stood in front of the building looking at the sign, holding the note, trying to determine how to interpret the directions.
I decided to treat the building as though it were the cube, and the moves of the algorithm would be the turns I needed to take on the blocks that surrounded the building. It seemed like a natural solution. I started in the lower left, on the corner of Broadway and La Salle Street.
First, Ri - Right Inverted. Left turn. I moved west one block to La Salle and Claremont Avenue.
Di - Down Inverted. I moved north one block to Claremont and Tiemann Place.
R - Right. East one block to Tiemann Place and Broadway.
D - Down. South, Broadway and La Salle. I was right back where I started. 
Dead end.
I walked back towards Claremont, passing by Pisticci Cafe, glancing back and forth at the note and the surrounding areas. A man stopped and offered his help. “Hey, need some directions?”
I looked like a damn tourist. “Uh, no thanks, I think I got it.”
He shrugged moved on. 
I tried the same directions from a different corner and I still wound up going in a complete circle. I was on the wrong track. And what was I supposed to be looking for anyway?
The first algorithm of the cube is repeated numerous times until the piece you’re rotating is finally in the correct position. I decided to repeat the steps a few times, but just wound up walking in circles around Toast.
Then it dawned on me. If you repeat the same series of moves on a Rubik’s Cube over and over, you’ll eventually return to your starting position. For example, if you turn one side clockwise four times, the side ends up where it was four moves ago. The same will apply to even the most complex algorithms, repeat them enough times, you’re right back where you started.
Morgan wasn’t giving me directions. She was giving me a four-block circumference to search. She wants me to repeat the moves until I find what she’s hidden. But then why would she write ”It all begins downtown…” if this algorithm wouldn’t actually take me downtown? I was uptown. Way uptown.
When I walked past Toast for the sixth time and found nothing, I finally stood and studied the restaurant, hoping something would pop-out at me, but I got nothing.
Cold, I decided to go inside for some coffee, sit down and collect my thoughts. The place was empty aside from the employees, and I was quickly seated at a table in the middle of the room. Although it was deserted at this time of day, in the evenings, it’s always packed, regardless of what day of the week it is.
Toast is a cozy little restaurant with an open floor plan. The kitchen was located in the back and the only thing that separates it from the seating area is a counter with a cash register on it. My favorite aspect of this restaurant is the exposed red brick on the right side, creating a dark, industrial-style environment.
“Would you like a menu?” the waitress asked.
“Sure.” Maybe some breakfast would do me some good. I never had breakfast there before, so it was worth trying. 
French toast. Eggwich. Italian sausage. I studied the menu, trying to find something that would hit the spot.
“Do you know what you would like to order?”
“Yes, I’ll have the egg omlette,” I said closing the menu and handing it back to the waitress. As she grabbed the menu from my hands, I noticed the words “GO DOWNTOWN” on the cover. Go downtown? What’s this? Underneath the words was an address I couldn’t quite see from the angle I was holding the menu, so I squeezed it, trying to get a better view before the waitress could take it away.
“I’m sorry, but what’s this “GO DOWNTOWN” mean?” I asked, pointing at the words on the cover.
“That’s our other location.”
Another location? I had no idea there was another Toast. “Where is it located?”
“It’s off 105th Street and Broadway.”
I had been in that neighborhood so many times. How had I not noticed this?
“I hate to be rude, but cancel my order,” I said, running out of the restaurant.
It didn’t take me long to find what Morgan had left for me. Outside the downtown Toast location there was a red picket fence on the street for outdoor dining. Stuck to the front side of the fence was manilla envelope with my name written on the top right corner. Morgan was clever, the algorithm she included in her note was essentially meaningless, just a way to try and trick me. I was supposed to end up in the same spot I started, as the algorithm would have you do when it's repeated. 
Inside the envelope, there was a picture of Morgan. She was naked on her bed, posing on all fours, giving the camera a seductive pose. Her eyes had been colored in with black magic marker.
On the opposite side of the picture was a message.
You can spin your 3x3 all day, but a big, black 2x2 is what you really should spin.
Underneath, another message was left in blood:
There was no mistaking this one. I was headed to The Alamo.

Part 3: Bring It Home

The Astor Place Cube, officially named “The Alamo”, is a large, black metal cube located in the East Village of Manhattan that’s mounted on its axis, standing 8 feet tall. I’ve never personally been to the location, but I’ve seen pictures of the cube online, and there was even a documentary on a man that lived inside the cube. The documentary turned out to be fake, but it was still interesting to watch.
I first learned of the cube when a few pranksters placed panels along the sides to give the statue an appearance of a Rubik’s Cube.
A standard Rubik’s Cube is 3 pieces by 3 pieces (3x3). The Astor Place Cube had unsymmetrical protrusions and indents on each side that made it look as though it were 2x2, although it has not officially been labeled as such. Regardless, clearly this was the cube Morgan was referring to in her note. The large statue spun. It took great effort for one person, but with two people the cube would spin quite effortlessly.
I started making my way to the East Village. I had to take a crosstown bus to get there, one of the most annoying things about New York. Sure, you can go north to south easily by taking the subway, but moving from east to west was a challenge. There really aren’t many ways of crossing the island unless you take the bus or a cab. Being cheap, I took the bus. I hate the bus.
Once I was on the east side, I hopped on the 6 train headed downtown from the 125th Street stop. It’s a bit of a ride downtown to where Alamo was located. I took the time to think about the events of the day thus far. I was on the hunt for...something. What was it, exactly? Morgan had gone out of her way to do something unique and special for me, but a scavenger hunt that’s taking me all over New York City? It seems a bit extravagant. Clearly she wanted to send me a message. Aside from the questions I had, one thing was certain, I was flattered and thoroughly enjoying myself. The alternative to searching the city for naked pictures a pretty girl had left me to find was sitting at home all day, eating cold pizza in my underwear. I wish I had friends I could share this with. ”Dude, this hot 22 year old chic is leaving naked pictures of herself all across the city for me to find!” I’d be the envy of all the men, they’d buy me a beer and pat me on the back like I had accomplished some sort of tremendous feat, then we’d spend the night getting drunk, laughing, telling stories of all the girls we’ve scored with. I’d be the alpha male, the one calling the shots, the dominant, fearless leader.
Wouldn’t that be something? If only…
BRING IT HOME. Her blood. Her beautiful blood. I had tasted it many times after that first night. It acted like an aphrodisiac to me. Home? Was this the last piece of the puzzle for me to solve?
The subway reached my stop: Astor Place and E 8th Street. The station was crowded and I struggled to find a path through everyone. I wasn’t in any rush, time was not of the essence. I was just excited, anxious. The people walking slowly were prolonging the next clue.
Seriously? It’s New York people. We walk fast, talk fast, and have short attention spans. Get out of the way.
I reached the exit and began ascending the stairs. I could see the bright glow of the sun shining through the opening of the subway entrance. A brisk, cold breeze swept through the station causing my pea coat could to flap behind me. I could taste the air of the city as I continued ascending. Once I reached street level, my mouth dropped in complete shock.
The cube was gone.
I recognized the area from the pictures I had seen online. I was definitely in the right place. Where the hell does an 8 foot steel cube that weighed thousands of pounds disappear to?
In the cube’s usual resting place was a busy construction zone. Red cones surrounded the street, men in hard hats walking around, an oversized crane on the sidewalk. But no cube. I circled the area wondering if perhaps the construction zone was blocking my view. But there was nothing.
I approached a construction worker that was directing traffic. “Uh, excuse me, where is ‘The Alamo’?”
“‘Alamo’? You’re in the wrong state, kid.”
“No, no. Not the place in Texas. The cube statue. It used to be right over there,” I pointed.
“Oh, that thing? They moved it,” he waved some commuter cars by, hardly paying attention to me.
“Well, where did they move it to?”
“I don’t know.”
“Could you find out?”
“Kid, I’m trying to work here.”
“It’s being repaired,” a woman walking by chimed in. “They removed it last October to make room for the construction going on here.”
“Do you know if it’s on display anywhere?”
“It’s not, sorry.”
I started panicking. “Where is it being kept??”
“You really had your heart set on seeing it, huh?”
“I uh...yeah. I came all the way from out of town to see it.”
“That’s too bad. No one knows where it’s being kept.” I was defeated. Clearly I misinterpreted Morgan’s clue. “But you know, the artist, Tony Rosenthall, he made a lot of these.”
“He did?”
“Yeah, four of them. You can always visit one of the other ones.”
“Let’s see, there’s the one in Michigan, one in Ohio, and the last one is...I think, yeah it’s in Miami.”
My heart sank in my chest. If Morgan was referring to any of the cubes Rosenthall made, there was no possible way I’d be able to visit all of them. They were located thousands of miles apart.
I thanked the woman and walked away hanging my head. I was wrong. The Alamo was not the 2x2 cube mentioned in the note. Morgan must have meant something else.
This is the portion of the note that didn’t match with the location of the cube. Home? Her apartment? My Apartment? Maybe she left me something in either one?
I had to collect my thoughts and have a firm plan to approach the next step. I entered the Starbucks across the street, ordered coffee and a muffin, found a table and opened up my laptop to do some research.
I tried finding out where the cube was being kept, figuring if it was in a warehouse somewhere close by I might be able to get in and see it. The only information I came across was articles and videos of the cube being lifted from its spot last October.
Eventually I found myself on the artists website, Tony Rosenthall. The Alamo was his most famous work, but he was known for his abstract geometric sculptures. One page of his website was devoted to his outdoor cubes. The woman on the street was right, there were other cubes located in Michigan, Ohio, and Florida. The page gave information on each cube and their locations, but there was one thing the woman had left out.
There was a fifth cube. The “Southampton Cube”. It was located and named after the town Rosenthall spent the rest of his days and eventually passed away in. The website did not provide an address or location for the cube, but it couldn’t be a coincidence that the cube was in Southampton, and Morgan was from Southampton.
BRING IT HOME. Morgan wasn’t telling me to go to our apartments. She was telling me to go to her hometown.

Two and half hours on the Long Island Railroad is more than enough time to remind me how much I hate the Long Island Railroad. Despite my attempts to avoid the LIRR, I had no other way of traveling all the way out to Southampton. A little more research online and I discovered that the Southampton Cube was located at Rosenthall’s home which was roughly a mile away from the Southampton train station.
Before embarking on my trip I stopped at my apartment and dressed in black. Black khaki pants, black sneakers, black hoodie. I wasn’t exactly sure where the cube was located on the property, but one thing was certain, I would be trespassing. I’m no master of espionage. I needed to do what I can to remain undetected.
The day had been long, and by the time I arrived in Southampton it had turned pitch black outside. Eastern Long Island is fairly desolate and densely populated with mostly empty fields stretching for miles. Today I had gone from the busy streets of Manhattan to being practically in the middle of nowhere. There weren’t even any street lights out here. I had to use the flashlight app on my phone to light the way.
I walked the endless mile to Rosenthall’s home, taking a shortcut through a cornfield on the way. The darkness and corn stalks made visibility difficult, I had to rely on the GPS on my phone to make sure I was walking the correct way. I have no idea why people devote their lives to growing this stuff. It was creepy, and I kept seeing flashes of the dark figure from Morgan’s room through the corn.
Finally, I reached Rosenthall’s home. It was a large two story colonial that had significant signs of aging. The white siding on the house was a light shade of green in some areas and brown in others. The wooden front porch was deteriorating and a few planks of wood had fallen off and were stacked in front it. The time was just after 11:00pm and the house was all dark except for one room upstairs that had a light on. Someone was home, I just needed to make sure no one saw me.
I walked in between the right side of the house and the dilapidated detached garage towards the backyard, deciding that a large cube sculpture would likely be in an outdoor area. While passing the garage, I peeked through the window and shined the light from my phone. Inside were loads of materials and unfinished sculptures Rosenthall had never finished. Had I not been trespassing, I would have enjoyed the art, but I couldn’t linger and risk being caught. I moved swiftly into the backyard and froze when a motion sensor light went off and a dog inside began barking. It sounded like a small dog and not something intimidating, but his barking could alert someone to my presence. I ducked behind a large shrubbery, my heart pounding from adrenaline.
The dog continued barking when a light from downstairs was turned on. I started to panic. Had I been caught? Should I make a run for it?
I could vaguely see a silhouette walking in front of the light then out of view. I held my breath, nervously watching the back door and hoping it wouldn’t open. Then the dog stopped barking, and the vague silhouette moved back across the room and turned the light off. Looks like I was in the clear. Phew.
From my vantage point I spotted the cube. It was close to the end of the yard by a wooden fence that served as a boundary for the property and the woods behind it. The cube was sitting atop a concrete slab, hardly a suitable resting place for a piece of art. It seemed so bland and boring without a vibrant city surrounding it.
I made sure the coast was clear and made my way over to the cube, being careful not to set off the motion sensor light once again.
The cube was cold to the touch, but I wasted no time. As soon as I reach it I followed Morgan’s instructions and started spinning it. It made a loud sound of metal scraping across metal as I pushed it and almost immediately the dog inside started barking again. I didn’t have much time and had to work fast. I pushed with all my might, applying every ounce of strength I had to spin the cube.
How long was I supposed to spin this thing for? What was I looking for? After two complete spins, the downstairs light flicked on and I could hear people inside talking to each other. They were on to me.
And suddenly, at the completion of the third spin the cube stopped as though something was caught in its tracks. The abrupt stop caused my head to smash right into the lower corner of the cube, knocking me to ground. I was dazed, but I looked up at the bottom of the cube. A small door had opened and a large ziploc bag had fallen out. Inside was another manila envelope with the words “Main Street” written on it.
It was the next clue.
Before I could open the bag, the back door of the house had opened and an elderly lady had exited the house. In her hands, she held a shotgun, and she was looking right at me.
“Get off my property before I shoot!”
I immediately sprung to my feet and hopped over the wooden fence into the woods that surrounded the house, escaping with my next clue in hand and a massive headache.

I ran for about ten minutes through the woods before reaching a winery. I ran for another ten minutes after that through the winery to a main road. I don’t think I ever ran so fast in my life. By the time I reached the main road, I was completely fatigued. There wasn’t a soul in sight, so I decided to sit on the side of the road for a bit to catch my breath and figure out where I was using the GPS on my phone.
Before doing that, I opened the ziploc bag and the manila envelope. There were two different items inside. The first was a series of tiles, ten in all, every one of them slightly curved inward and varying in size. Each one was colored with a different side of a Rubik’s Cube and had a different word printed on it. I looked at the tiles individually and read the word printed on each one:
Green - be
Orange - utopia
White - death
Orange - own
Red - we
Green - will
Orange - in
Yellow - swift
Red - together
Orange - our
The other thing inside was a note. There was an algorithm written on it and nothing else:
U, F, Bi, L2, U2, L2, Fi, B, U2, L2, U
I didn’t recognize the algorithm, it wasn’t one I used to solve the cube. I studied the tiles more. Why were they all different sizes? Why were there more orange pieces than the other colors? Why was blue missing?
There was a message here I needed to decrypt. Maybe the smaller ones go first?
Then I figured it out. Not the message in the tiles, but why they were all different sizes and curved inward.
They weren’t tiles. They were fingernails.

Part 4: Crossing The T’s

I’ve held a human liver in my hands before. Also a human heart, even a human brain. It was at the Bodies Exhibition in South Street Seaport six years ago. At the end of the exhibit, they gave you the option to hold preserved human organs. For obvious reasons, some people declined the offer, but I held all of them. I was curious.
Holding these fingernails gave me a much more sinister feeling. The organs I held at the exhibit had a story behind them; a reasonable explanation that was accepted by society. These fingernails, at the moment, had no story. They belonged to a man; too large to be Morgan’s. But that’s all I knew. Where did they come from? Who did they belong to?
The words written on them had some sort of message. I needed to figure out the order of the fingernails.
I was still in Southampton, in the middle of nowhere. I couldn’t see anything but farm fields around me, but the road I had found myself on after running from Rosenthall’s house luckily had street lights. It wasn’t the best workplace, but I propped myself underneath the closest street light and went to work.
First I organized the fingernails by color, separating them into five groups. I took inventory. There was 1 yellow, 1 white, 2 green, 2 red, and 4 orange.
How do I decode this? I thought. For the first time in the series of clues Morgan had left me, I was stumped, and I had no idea where I needed to start.
Two words in particular kept grabbing my attention. Death. Utopia. I shivered at the thought of what the message could be. Together, our death will be utopia. But that couldn’t be the message. I was still leaving out other words.
I turned my attention to the other pieces of the puzzle. The algorithm, and the address she wrote on the front of the envelope. Main Street. I had passed by Main Street in Southampton on my way to Rosenthall’s house earlier. It was a long road with a lot of small shops that were closed for the night. I needed to do something on Main Street, but where was I supposed to start? There were so many buildings and stores on the road, wandering around aimlessly hoping I would stumble on the next piece of the puzzle was foolish.
U, F, Bi, L2, U2, L2, Fi, B, U2, L2, U
The algorithm was one I had never seen before. Was it directions? If they were, what was the starting point? It didn’t make sense. If they were directions, Morgan would have left me with something I was familiar with like the first puzzle piece she gave me. I took out my phone and entered the algorithm into a search engine. Nothing significant came up. What the hell was this? How does this relate to the message on the fingernails?
From my bag, I took out my Rubik’s Cube. I hadn’t touched it all day, but I was surprised to see that the cube was solved. I always leave it unsolved in my bag. Since the time we met I was able to teach Morgan how to solve it. She doesn’t do it quite as fast as I do, but she gets the job done. She must have solved it and put it back in my bag. Why would she do that? She knows I prefer to keep the cube unsolved.
For a few minutes I exchanged glances at the cube and the algorithm written on the note. Back and forth between the two, trying to solve it. What does it mean?
That’s when I remembered a conversation I had with Morgan after she solved the cube for the first time. I had taken the cube from her hands and input an algorithm I memorized that created a pattern on the cube. I input F, L, F, Ui, R, U, F2, L2, Ui, Li, B, Di, Bi, L2, U and created a cube within a cube pattern and handed it back to her.
“In a fixed enclosure there is a finite amount of space. Within that space, only the right objects create a comfortable, flowing environment,” I took the cube back from her and held it in front of me. “This cube only has room for one other cube within it.” I put the cube down on the desk in front of Morgan. “My life, much like the cube, only has room for one other person.” I knelt down in front of her and held her hand gently. “That person is you.”
I had taught Morgan the cube, and then showed the possibility of creating a pattern within the cube. She was fascinated. “I’m falling for you,” she said.
“I’m falling for you too.”
The algorithm she wrote on this piece of paper was a pattern. Once I had figured it out, I rushed and input the turns, making sure I followed each one, careful not to screw up the pattern.
With the last turn of the upper layer, the pattern came into focus. Each side of the cube was covered in a cross.
The symbol sparked a blueprint in my head. The fingernails, they needed to be arranged in a cross following the color pattern on the center pieces of a solve Rubik’s Cube. That’s why there were four orange pieces, orange was the stem. And that’s also why blue was missing, to indicate the middle pieces. Blue is opposite of green. Green was the middle.
I arranged all of the pieces and made sense of the words.
                                                        Together we
                                           Death / will           be / swift
                                                        in             our
                                                        own       utopia
Death will be swift.
Together we will be in our own utopia.
My fears became a reality. Death? DEATH?? Was she implying that we should kill each other in some sort of dramatic ‘Romeo And Juliet’ moment?
I looked back at the envelope. How does Main Street correspond to all this? I thought of the cross pattern on the cube. It served as a blueprint for the order of the fingernails, but leaving the color blue out of the mix was an indicator of where the pieces should have gone. The symbol only facilitated the placement of the fingernails. Was there more to the cross?
I searched for churches in Southampton on my phone. A cross is typically a symbol used for religion, and Morgan had left me with two crosses in the clue. There must be a reason why.
It was a longshot. Morgan and I had never fully discussed religion together. She told me her father was very involved in the church once.
“What is your opinion of religion?” Morgan had asked me immediately after she mentioned that her father took religion very seriously.
“My opinion is...everyone should keep it to themselves.”
“Don’t be vague, I want details. Tell me, what do you think?”
“Honestly? This is a topic I try to avoid.”
She cocked her head to the right and squinted her eyes at me through her glasses. “Why?”
“Well, typically when I give people my opinion, they don’t like me afterwards.”
Her eyes moved up and to the right. I made a mental note, visual memory. She’s recalling a part of her past. “Isn’t that their problem?” she responded.
“Mostly. But I’d rather just avoid the confrontation.”
She thought for a moment, then spoke with purpose and sincerity. “You’re so smart. You’re constantly filling that head of yours with knowledge, immersing yourself in books and history.” She stopped briefly, letting what she had just said sink into me. “What good is all that knowledge if you don’t put it to use? You can show off all that stuff you memorize, but it doesn’t mean you understand the world.”
Morgan was somehow always able to motivate me; break me out of my shell and let my true colors shine. I stood up and looked her in the eyes. “Terrorists.”
“Terrorists. That’s my opinion of religion. And not just the Muslims. I think of every religion as a terrorist organization.”
She seemed pleased, but not completely satisfied. “And how did you draw that conclusion?”
I grabbed my phone and looked up the exact definition of terrorism and read it out loud. “Terrorism. The use of violence and threats to intimidate or coerce, especially for political and religious purposes.”
“Ok.” She wanted me to make my point.
“What could possibly be more terrorist than telling someone ‘believe this, or burn for eternity’?”
She smiled. “That’s more like it.”
Our conversation on religion had ended there. And now I was staring at an address on my phone for the First Presbyterian Church of Southampton. 2 South Main Street.
Main Street. It couldn’t be a coincidence.
I stood outside in the freezing cold on the sidewalk looking at a large white church with two wooden doors that looked like they belonged on an old castle from the middle ages. Atop the building was a tower clock. It displayed the time as 1:45am. I sure could use a cup of coffee, I thought.
Despite my views on religion, there were lots of aspects I appreciated. Lent, for example, was a practice I believed was a journey of spiritual growth teaching the value of self-discipline.
I also really liked the architecture of churches. The First Presbyterian Church was no different, and I stood in front of the building admiring the beautiful view.
The street was empty; although I could tell that during the day it must be a bustling atmosphere with traffic being blocked by pedestrians walking from shop to shop. Right now, everyone was home in their comfortable beds, and I was out here trying to figure out what the hell this church has to do with Morgan. What was she trying to tell me?
I walked up the concrete steps to the two wooden doors and gave them a tug. Locked. Probably for the best. Something tells me walking through the front door of a church at 1:45 in the morning would raise a few eyebrows. I really had no desire to go inside, and I wasn’t about to break into a church. I walked back down the steps and approached a window, but all of them were placed far too high for me to get a look through them. The foundation of the building was a grey stone that had just enough protrusions that I could plant my foot on one of the stones. I hoisted myself up and grabbed the ledge of the window, only to immediately have my fingers slip on a piece of paper that sat on the windowsill.
After I caught my balance with both feet firmly supporting my weight, I looked at the ground at the paper that I had pulled off the windowsill with me. And staring right back at me was a picture of Morgan. She was much younger in the picture, probably not even a teenager yet.
The picture was taken right outside the church I stood in front of. An older man held her hand and smiled at the camera while Morgan frowned, clearly unhappy with the situation.
Was that her father?
I flipped the picture over to find a message written on the back.
You’re nearing the end, and your reward. Show him. Show him you can solve the cube.
Below the message was an address in Southampton. The final stop of my journey.

Part 5: The Pieces Fit

I had to walk three miles in the bitter cold to get to the address. But I had made it. The long day of traveling and solving puzzles was about to come to an end.
The address was a private home that was in no relative proximity of another house. Whatever Morgan had waiting for me inside, no one was around to see it. She had carefully orchestrated all the clues to lead me here. This must have been her childhood home.
Her father was...inside? I had to solve a Rubik’s Cube for him? Seems a bit...strange to me.
The house was a small brown ranch that looked run-down. From the street, I could see that no lights were on inside. But on the front door was another note.
It didn’t feel right to walk into a house in the middle of nowhere, not knowing what was waiting for me on the other side. But I wasn’t about to turn back because of nerves. I put in a lot of effort to get here. No sense in turning away now.
The door was indeed open. It creaked as I let it swing on its own momentum from a slight push I gave it.
There was darkness all around me. I had no clue what I was walking into. My heart was racing as I tried to make sense of my purpose here. Was I supposed to wait for her to come find me?
I grabbed my phone and accessed the flashlight app I had installed, turning on the light that’s used as a flash for the camera was a way to light my surroundings. In my immediate path was a living room of medium size. An old two-seat couch faced forward at an old television set with a tube in the back. I turned the light around the room and found an arrow drawn on the wall in magic marker. It pointed straight ahead.
Cautiously, I walked through the living room, my sneakers skidding across the floor making a squeaking noise with every step. The house was outdated, and I could feel some of the panels on the wood floors dipping just slightly as I put my weight on them.
The arrow led me into a small kitchen. It looked like nothing had been updated since the 1960’s and the cabinets all looked as though they had been painted over far too many times. Next to the counter was an old dark brown table that sat four people. On the table was an iPod with headphones resting on top of a note.
Set the mood? What mood? What the hell is all of this? Assuming Morgan was downstairs, she owed me quite an explanation for everything that occurred today. The iPod was an older model with a click wheel and it felt heavy in my hands. I ignored the request to play whatever was loaded on it and opened the basement door with the iPod in one hand, and my phone shining a light in the other.
There was a faint glow of red light coming from the basement. Looking down the stairs in the darkness of the main floor, I start to second guess myself. I stood in the kitchen trying to decide if I should see what’s down there, or just count my blessings and forget this whole thing before something bad happened to me.
“It’s ok,” her voice traveled up the stairs and hit my ears like a soft massage. It had been silent until that point and the sound caught me off guard, but the familiarity of it was warming. “Come to me.”
I took one step down the stairs, hypnotized by the lure of Morgan. Then another step. And another. With each step more of the basement came into view under the ceiling. The red light was shining brighter.
And then I saw her. We made eye contact. Morgan was lying on a bed, completely naked aside from black nylon stockings. She smiled at me. “You’re finally here.” I smiled back at her, a wave of relief coming over me. I took another step, exposing more of the basement into my line of sight. Next to the bed Morgan was lying on, an unsolved Rubik’s Cube was mounted on a metal pipe with a circular base. Attached to the cube was a series of thick strings running towards the ceiling. From where I stood I couldn’t see what the strings were attached to, but I stared at the cube for a few seconds trying to make sense of the contraption.
“You’re forgetting something,” Morgan said. I took my eyes off the cube and looked back at her. She pointed to her ear, lightly tapping it with her index finger, indicating I needed to put the iPod on.
Fine. What harm could the iPod really do to me? I put the headphones in my ears and pressed play on the iPod.
I immediately recognized the song. It was “Closer” by Nine Inch Nails, the familiar tempo automatically giving me visions of a heart beating from the music video.
The music certainly set a mood and put me at ease. I descended the rest of the stairs into the basement and looked back at Morgan.
Hovering directly above her was something that made me step back in horror. No part of the puzzles leading up to this indicated anything towards what I was looking at. I hadn’t expected anything like was...the man in the picture...her father. He was hanging from the ceiling, his body supported by a series of belts and ropes. His body laid parallel to the basement floor, his arms outstretched as though he were perched on a crucifix. There was a gag in his mouth and his head was tilted backwards, exposing his throat to a large saw that hung immobile below it.
The strings from the cube below were all attached to the saw.
Instantly I rushed over to the cube. Morgan stayed on the bed, posing seductively. I had to solve the cube. It was the only way to stop this whole thing.
Morgan’s father was hardly awake, his eyes half closed and blinking heavily. His helpless eyes followed me as I crossed the room.
With one turn of the cube, the strings pulled the saw closer to his throat.
I stepped back. Morgan wanted me to kill her father by solving the Rubik’s Cube. And she wanted him to watch me solve it. It was the object that plagued him when Morgan was a child. He was unable to solve it, and unleashed all his pent up aggression on Morgan for it. Now he has to watch another man do what he couldn’t, and then pay the ultimate price for his mistreatment of Morgan.
At that moment I felt something rise up inside me. Without realizing, I began breathing heavily, inhaling deeply and exhaling with a low growl. My mindset began to change. I wasn’t some shy, pathetic, friendless loser anymore. The room spun in circles around me, but I was in complete control. I could see every individual particle and manipulate it however I wanted.
Suddenly I was watching myself from a distance, admiring the beauty, the madness. My face was evil. My eyes were pitch black, staring at the room and the man in front of me with hatred. 
Everything from the day all came together and made sense. This was Morgan's gift to me. To feed my ego and help me recognize my potential. To make me a living God. I am all knowing, all powerful, omnipotent. A gift to the world. Nothing could stop my wrath. I can kill, I can fuck, and I can do it as much as I want, however I want. I don’t have to hold back anymore. I can unleash everything, prove to the world and to myself how magnificent I am.
Obey me.
The music continued to pulse in my ears and I went back to work on the cube, making the necessary moves to solve the puzzle. With every move, the saw moved closer onto the man’s throat. 
The sharp blades were pressed up against his skin and with one last turn of the upper layer, a lever dropped from the ceiling and the saw was jerked sideways, slicing the man’s throat. A waterfall of blood immediately began pouring from the large wound, all of it falling directly below him.
Directly onto Morgan.
The life was draining from the man and falling from the ceiling. And below him Morgan was rubbing the blood all over her naked body, moaning in pleasure.
And I stood there admiring my work.
I walked over to the bed, lowered my head and let the blood soak in my hair as though I were in a shower.
How maddening! How beautiful! My Morgan…
“Fuck me now!” she yelled at me.
I grabbed her by her hair and yanked her towards me. “You’ll do as you’re told.”
We laid there for a long time, looking up at the corpse of her father, still covered in his blood. Her arm was draped across my chest and our legs were intertwined with each other.
“You have to promise me something,” she said.
I had achieved a relaxation I had never felt before. Daylight had begun shining through the basement windows, I had been up for almost a full 24 hours. And I had just killed a man and spent hours fucking his daughter. “What’s that?” I asked.
“You have to promise you’ll never leave me.”
“I won’t.”
“No, promise. I’ve given you something I can never give to anyone else. I’ve shared my most personal and deepest desires with you. We’re in this together now.”
How could I ever imagine being without her after a night of utopia? I kissed her passionately. “I promise.”

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The Fourth Domain - Finale

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