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Riddle Me This

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Author's note: This is my entry for CrazyWord's fairytale competition. My fairytale was: The Riddle.

The soft hum of the car, which had kept her asleep for most of the journey, was shattered by a screeching sound. Her weak body was thrown from her seat and she tumbled over the dashboard, hit the windscreen with her back and smashed it. Her body was already covered in bruises, and now there were pieces of glass sticking into her through her leather jacket. She groaned, the blindfold still tightly wrapped and covering her eyes.

People started running towards the car from their houses, including her mother and father. Everything in her body hurt. Through the small gap at the bottom of her blindfold she was able to tell that it was late afternoon.

“You’ve got three days, sweetheart. Then I’ll be back,” said the driver whose face she was still unable to see. All she could tell from his speech was that he was Irish. His accent was still very strong. She could tell from his tone that he hadn’t said ‘sweetheart’ in a lighthearted manner, either. Before she could start to scream, however, his boot slammed into the door, and then into her, and she tumbled yet again onto the asphalt street below.

The door swung shut above her, narrowly missing her head, and squealed past the frightened people and around the corner. She tried to move, but pain seized her every muscle and she cried out. Now their attention was back on her.

“Oh my god! Darling!” her mother cried out, rushing to her daughter’s side. “Oh, Molly, oh my god! Where have you been?” She began to untie the blindfold around her eyes.

“Who did this? Who the hell was that? Where did he take you?” she could hear her father yelling from further up the street, presumably there because he had chased the car as it made its getaway.

“I don’t know... I can’t feel anything,” Molly groaned from the street as a neighbour finally got through to the police and began rattling off details about the event. “My head hurts.”

“Give me the phone! Give me the phone, Doris,” her mother yelled. Molly closed her eyes and laid her head down onto the asphalt once again. Her head had begun to throb with pain. Darkness trickled from the tops of her closed eyelids, and quickly made its way down to the bottom. It took her only a millisecond to realize that the darkness was actually sleep.

She woke in an uncomfortable hospital bed, although, she remarked, it was more comfortable than the road. She had bandages covering forty-percent of her body, and her eyes felt heavy and groggy. The hospital was silent, and no one was waiting by her bed. Blue curtains surrounded her bed, and fell all the way down to the glistening white floor underneath.

She turned her head towards the digital clock on the little white table next to her bed. It read 4:00 am. She yawned and tried to turn onto her side, but a sharp pain shot through her nerves. Her back really, really hurt. She turned back into the position she had been in before and tried to fall asleep again, but suddenly someone was sitting in her room.

“Oh,” she said, “hello. Um... are you in the right room?” Molly realized that her throat hurt when she spoke and decided against using your voice as much as possible.

“Already forgotten me too?” said the strange man standing against the blue curtain. He spoke in a thick Irish accent. “Sorry. I didn’t mean to hit your head quite so hard. Boss told me I’d better let you know the rules again. It’s hardly fair to kill ya’ after the three days having not explained properly.”

“Explained what? Who the hell are you?” Molly pushed herself upright in her bed, her heart starting to pound faster.

“Here’s your riddle: Don’t think too much or it will be as such. I never was, am always to be. No one ever saw me, you never will,” the man looked at her with bright green eyes, almost as if he was looking inside her. Then he spoke again.

“Now, get solving love. You have three days starting from now,” and the man turned to walk out. He suddenly paused, and turned towards her once more. “I’d advise against letting the police know about this. We’ve got eyes on you at all times. And don’t even think about cheating, either. Cheating results in worse consequences than telling the authorities. You keep that in mind,” and with that he left her.

It took her a few seconds to realize what had just happened. But then she smashed the button next to her bed with her fist and screamed for a nurse. Her heart was beating so hard it was as if it was trying to escape from her chest. Soon enough, nurses flooded into her room and everything seemed to happen in slow motion.

Someone was checking the cardiac monitor; another nurse was asking her what happened, a third nurse was wrapping something around her arm. But all Molly was focused on was the hooded man who was casually strolling out of the hospital, the hood of his jacket covering his head, and his arms folded.

She spent the first day in silence. She was released from the hospital in the morning, as she had no broken bones and her wounds were able to heal on their own. The staff at the hospital had, however, advised their parents that Molly might act a little strangely for the next few days.They said that traumatising events like the one she had experienced had serious implications on her mental stability.

If things got really bad, then the staff had recommended her parents take her to a psychiatrist or a counsellor. Basically, the way Molly saw it, if she started rambling on to them about a ‘riddle’ she had been given three days to solve, they were to ignore her. So she spent the first day in her bed, staring at the wall, tears welled in her eyes and just on the cusp of breaking free and trickling down her cheeks.

She felt completely trapped. She couldn’t tell anyone. Even if she did tell the police, they weren’t going to believe her. And how was she going to tell her parents? She wasn’t even sure she had really seen the man anyway. All of it was far too strange to be true. She’d also discovered that she had been missing for 24 hours.

Some men in suits came to her house later that afternoon and questioned her about the event. They claimed they were policemen, but how was she supposed to know anymore? How could she know if they were telling the truth, or if they weren’t just there to make sure she hadn’t cheated on the riddle? She avoided answering as much as she could.

But that wasn’t exactly hard to do. She couldn’t remember anything about where she had been taken or what had been done to her. All she remembered was waking up in the car with a blindfold covering her eyes.

“Can you tell us about the man who drove you home, then?” a man wearing a tan brown suit and polished shoes asked.

“He’s Irish. That’s all I know about him. I couldn’t see his face,” she said, not looking at any of them, just staring at the wall.

“Nothing of his face at all?” he asked her a second time.

“...No,” she said slowly, her gazed fixed on a tiny spec on the wall. It was a mayfly, crawling its way to the ceiling, very slowly.

“Alright. Well, you have all of our numbers if you do remember anything. We’ll let you know if we find anything out. Try and get some rest, honey. You’ve been through a lot,” and with that, the three men exited her room and left her with her thoughts. She was polite enough to wait until they got in their car before she let her tears escape.

That night she found she couldn’t sleep. The fact that she could remember nothing about where she had been taken, let alone why, frustrated her in the extreme. Molly removed her covers and walked slowly to her bedroom window.

Her bedroom was on the second storey of the house, and looked straight out onto the street. She often opened the old window at night during summer because it regularly became stuffy in her room while she was sleeping. She lifted the heavy sill all the way to the top, her weakened arms burning with the effort. Resting her hands on the ledge of the window-frame, she looked down at her front yard.

All of a sudden her heart leaped into her chest as she realized a man was standing on her front lawn. He wore a hooded jacket, with the hood obscuring his face, and worn jeans. His mouth was visible underneath the hood, and the moonlight caught his teeth and made them shine. He was grinning up at her.

She screamed and slammed the window shut, backing away from it. She tripped and fell over her computer which was lying on the floor and her head hit the bed. Her iPhone had been balancing on the edge of her bed, and the impact from her head made it fall to the ground.

She picked it up immediately and began to dial the police. But she stopped herself before she pressed the green button. She knew it was pointless. She would already have enough explaining to do to her parents as soon as they came storming into her room to find out why she had screamed.

So Molly crawled back into her bed, and re-placed the covers over her cold body. She heard loud and fast footsteps coming up the stairs, and then the door swung open and her parents rushed in.

The next day, after she woke, Molly began to work at solving the riddle. She had decided overnight that even if the whole thing was some kind of cruel practical joke, there was no harm in trying anyway. If it did turn out to be real, then she would be glad she’d found the answer. Better safe than sorry, she put it.

“Don’t think too much, or it will be as such. I never was, am always to be. No one ever saw me, you never will,” she repeated the riddle slowly to herself over and over, hoping she had missed something the first forty times she’d said it, and that she would catch it soon enough. But nothing came to her.

Eleven o’clock that morning; that’s when she started to remember.

She remembered the fight she’d had with her parents three days ago. She remembered taking a walk to cool off. And about eight blocks from her house, when she decided to turn back, that’s when she saw the car. She remembered it speeding around the corner, a man jumping out right in front of her as the car squealed to a stop.

She remembered trying to run, but the man was fast. He had held a rag over her nose and mouth and that was where that memory ended. She slowly began to recollect the rest later.

She had been taken to some sort of warehouse, or big infrastructure. Someone removed her blindfold and the scarcely lit room almost blinded her. She wondered how long she’d been unconscious. Someone was standing in front of her.

She blinked repeatedly, desperately trying to clear the grogginess from them as the person came into focus.

He was an old man; he looked about 60, with a brown mustache that curled down to his chin, and almost no hair on top of his head. His eyes were withered and unnatural, a strange shade somewhere between brown and blue. His overall appearance was rather unkempt. And his choice of clothing was outdated and questionable.

He wore a long-sleeved green shirt that hugged him too tightly in many places, exposing his most undesirable features. It was tucked into a pair of long brown pants which had numerous stains covering them. He smiled at her madly, his jaw expanding far too wide to be natural. His teeth were yellowing and rotten.

“Oh, she’ll do nicely,” was all he said. Suddenly there was movement behind her, and her hands were being untied. There were two other people in the massive space, standing just out of view. Judging from the appearance of the man in front of her, she didn’t want to see them anyway.

“Who the hell are you? Let me go!” Molly got up to run as the man starting laughing. She felt heat on her leg and she tripped. One of the other men had hit her leg, hard. She screamed as she fell, and clutched her injured leg to her chest.

“Don’t try to run again, sweetheart. There’s really no point,” said the man who had hit her. He spoke with an intense Irish accent, and began hauling her up from the ground. He dragged her back to the disfigured man and dropped her in front of him. The man was still chuckling under his breath.

“Help! Help, please! What do you want?!” Molly started screaming, half due to the situation and half due to the throbbing pain in her leg. Suddenly she felt a jolt of electric pain run from her skull down her spine. The man had struck her in the head.

“Shut up! Do not address your superiors that way. This is Prince Albert III, son of His Royal Highness King Albert II. They are Royalty, and you will not speak to His Highness that way again!” the Irish man walked into view and she could see he was holding some sort of baton. He thrust it down on her back and she cried out.

“You’re lying,” she coughed, “I’ve never heard of you before.”

“Pretty, but stupid,” Albert remarked. “Of course, not many still alive know of me. My father and I went into hiding after our country was invaded over fifty years ago. Such tragic times; it was wiped from the globe entirely. I was only young when this happened, but I believe we called the country ‘Trevinskia’. And now, I’ve been searching for a bride ever since. I need to start anew, have some little princes and rule once more with my wife. That could be you.”

“What? You’re joking. This is a joke. Please, please tell me this is a joke,” Molly began to back away, and copped another blow to her other leg. She fell to her knees in pain.

“I assure you this is real. And I will have you for my wife. We will rule again together,” he began to walk forwards and she started to scream.

“No, get away! You’re insane!” she turned to the two other men. “Why do you follow him? He’s fucking crazy! Can't you see what a freak he is! What do you want?” Albert grabbed her hands and held her firmly. She spat in his face and stomped on his foot. He twisted away, wiped his face, and then turned back and laughed at her. She turned her head away; his breath was putrid.

“Your lips are so soft, my dear, and your hair so raven black. You shouldn't ruin such a perfect image with your vulgar tongue,” he smiled, and then ran his fingers through her hair. She winced and turned her head away, but she knew fighting him only resulted in more trouble for her.

He lifted her chin towards him, as if giving her a final inspection. Then he turned and walked away.

“Please, don’t make her riddle too hard, alright Gael. I really would like her to be the one,” Albert said, his voice thundering throughout the enormous room as he walked away, chuckling. Suddenly, the Irish man stepped in front of her again.

“Okay, sweetheart. Here are the rules. If you guess the riddle we present to you within three days, you’ll get to marry the Prince. On the other hand, if you fail, well... let’s give ya’ a demonstration, hmm?” Gael spoke quickly and concisely, and Molly struggled to take everything in. Something about a riddle, the prince, and not to fail? Suddenly she heard something being dragged towards them.

She turned her head towards the source of the sound. The other man, who she hadn’t realized had left until then, was dragging a young woman across the concrete floor. She was struggling and kicking, desperately trying to escape. Molly’s instinct was to run forward and untie the writhing body.

She gasped and ran forwards, but only got two steps before she felt pain rack through her lower back and she fell to the ground. Gael stepped over her and began to help the other man untie the young woman. Molly winced in pain.

After her face had been revealed, Molly saw how pretty she was. She was young and blonde, with stunning blue eyes, still shining through beneath the dirtied and tired face surrounding them. Her eyes were striking, but Molly could see they were full of fear.

The young girl began to scream obscenities at her captors, and struggled against the two men with all her might.

“This is my favorite part!” she heard Albert’s voice call out from about thirty meters away. "Its always fun when they don't guess it."

Molly tried to get to her feet, but Gael noticed and struck her on the head. Her vision started to swim, and all she could see was the young woman being loaded into some sort of device filled with water.

Molly could barely see the two men sprint from the contraption as another object began lowering itself from the ceiling. Gael picked her up and pulled her back from the device.

Her vision started to clear and she could see the young woman thrashing about in a box filled with water. The water level was up to the sides of her face, and completely covered her legs, chest and arms. She had been tied down with restraints inside the box. She was screaming.

The device kept lowering and lowering, and Molly closed her eyes as the device touched the water and the electric charge from it set the water alight. Through her tightly sealed eyelids she could still see the light dancing throughout the warehouse, and playing with the shadows.

She could hear the woman screaming.

Then everything stopped, and she removed her hands from her eyes and opened them. Albert was making his way to the body, and Gael was holding her arm. He turned her around to face him.

"Here’s your riddle sweetheart. I advise you to pay close attention to the first part, as we’d hate to see that happen to your pretty face as well. Here it is: Don’t think too much or it will be as such. I never was, am always to be. No one ever saw me, you never will,” and then he slipped a blindfold over her eyes and began to tie it.

"Why me?" Molly asked.

"Because, he wanted you," Gael responded.

She could still see through the small gap he had left at the bottom, and she observed the other man walking towards her with a baton. He suddenly pulled back his arm and swung at her; caught her in the stomach hard. She fell to her knees, and the next blow was to her shoulder. She cried out as he raised the baton above his head, and then struck her’s.

Molly stood in her room, contemplating her memories. Was it real? Was any of it actually real? Did it really happen? Before she could stop them, tears rolled from her eyes. She felt, once again, trapped.

If she solved the riddle, then she would live, but she’d have to marry a man roughly forty-three years older than her. If she didn’t solve the riddle, she would be killed. Now the tears were flowing freely, and she wasn't doing anything to stop them either.

Molly couldn’t understand why it had to be her. Or that young girl she’d seen at the warehouse. Or anyone at all, for that matter. That man, Gael, had said it was because he'd 'wanted her'. She curled into a ball and cried until night came.

Molly had a restless sleep. She dreamed of Albert’s face, circling around her. She dreamed of the horrible things he would do to her if she guessed the riddle correctly. She would belong to him if she did. He’d said something about starting a family, having little princes? Molly had tried her best to shut it from her mind during the day, but she couldn’t escape it in her dreams.

She slept for only two hours, and spent the rest of the night shivering, crying, and contemplating the riddle.

She thought that marrying Albert would have to be better than dying. Death was final, it was the end of life, and she had no idea what to expect on the other side. Besides, she didn’t want to put her family in that sort of position.

The sun rose on the third day, and Molly knew her time was running out quick. She had no idea what the answer to the riddle could be, and she didn’t want to die in that horrific contraption. In fact, she never wanted to see those men ever again. But she knew if she didn’t work out the answer, they would murder her.

She began to think. She pulled out her computer and began searching for answers. She looked up ‘Trevinskia’ on Google, but the search yielded nothing. She almost laughed at the realization that the men she had encountered were obviously insane.

And then her chest tightened. The fact that they were insane didn’t help her. If they were truly crazy, she’d have no hope of negotiation. They would kill her.

After two hours of research, Molly gave up. She couldn’t figure it out, and she knew she never would. She wasn’t sure she even wanted to figure it out.

But she sure as hell wasn’t going to play by their rules. There was no hope of solving the riddle, there seemed to be no answer. If she was going to die, she was going to die by her own hand.

She had changed her mind. Anything, even death, was better than being owned by Albert. Anything.

Molly’s parents had both gone to work, and her brother was at school. She knew what she had to do.

Molly plodded solemnly down the stairs to the kitchen, and took the biggest knife she could find. Tears fell unreservedly from her eyes; again, she had no intention of keeping them back. She walked back upstairs to the bathroom.

As she held the knife against her pale wrist, she thought how selfishly she was behaving. Leaving her family behind with no explanation was unthinkable. But there was no way she was going to die by the crazy men's hands.

She dug the blade into her skin, and cried out with the pain. But it didn’t hurt like normal pain. It was the pain of freedom.

For some reason, her mind drifted back to the mayfly that had been crawling up her wall two days prior. She remembered learning somewhere that mayflies only lived for 24 hours. They only get one day to achieve everything they need to on earth, and then they die. They are born, grow old and die all within twenty-four hours. They never get to see how the next day pans out.

Molly felt like a mayfly at that moment. Except that she had been given three days; a three day death sentence, whether she guessed the riddle or not.

She suddenly had a thought; I will never know what happens tomorrow.

And then she knew the answer.

As Molly sat in the bathtub on the third day, her wrists pumping blood out through the lacerations, she figured it all out. “Don’t think too much, or it will be as such. I never was, am always to be. No one ever saw me, you never will.” The riddle had been referring to her directly.

The answer to the riddle, she suddenly knew, was tomorrow.



Written by Natalo
Content is available under CC BY-SA

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