When something is perfect, it sets itself up to be destroyed, and for everything gained, something is lost.
Since Dryden was young, his mother taught him about balance. While she weaves jewelry to sell at the marketplace, Dryden learns how every unspoiled gem begs to be damaged, just like the universe corrects every misfortune.
But with age and experience, Dryden begins to see the cracks in his mother’s innocent view of life. If she is wrong about balance, she might be wrong about the supposed beast in the woods. Dryden ventures into the forbidden, where a handsome hunter named Otto saves him from a deranged fox and seduces him. But like so much else, Otto has an unseen side, and if Dryden wants to regain his freedom and break Otto’s spell, he’ll have to answer three riddles in three days.
With the help of his mother’s stories and the fox who once threatened him, Dryden must beat the monster and restore balance to his world. But it will come at a cost.
“If I’m successful with these riddles, what happens? In real terms?” Dryden asked.
“You leave my house.”
“And the magic circle?”
“Sure. If you can run as fast as you can and make it over the line in time, you may leave once you are correct.”
Something niggled the back of Dryden’s mind. As fast as he could? He could run as fast as he wanted, but it still didn’t mean he could go free. “I have to run in order to leave?”
“It’s the safest way.”
“And you’re the judge on what’s correct?”
“More or less. These riddles have been around for centuries. Either you know the right answer, or you don’t.”
Dryden nodded. So long as riddles were not solely heresy from Otto or mixed-up mysteries, he could handle that. And he could run fast, too. He would want to run if he was able to leave this cabin again. Run and never look back. But the consequences of his actions still niggled at his mind. “If I lose and answer incorrectly, what happens next?”
“Then I will learn from you, like I have learned from the others.”
Dryden swallowed, thinking of the antlers on the wall and small bits of bone inside the bin. He knew the reality of what was being offered; every single discovery happened on the bodies of others. The fact that he was not the only person in this house, receiving these riddles, was no longer a shock, but an eerie reality. Maybe he could finally be the lucky one.
“Young Dryden. Do we have a deal?”
He nodded. He saw no other way out. “Yes. We have a deal.”
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Francis Gideon is a writer of m/m romance, but he also dabbles in mystery, fantasy, historical, and paranormal fiction. He has appeared in Gay Flash Fiction, Chelsea Station Poetry, and the Martinus Press anthology To Hell With Dante. He lives in Canada with his partner, reads too many comics books, and drinks too much coffee. Feel free to contact him, especially if you want to talk about horror movies, LGBT poetry, or NBC’s Hannibal. Find him at francisgideon.wordpress.com.