Sea of Riddles

Here follows a short story inspired by a recent dream:


The sea was foggy, a cold blanket that obscured the horizon and made anything beyond her vision shrouded. It was morning, the sun was rising but the blanket refused to let more than a few rays escape. How she had got here, she did not know, standing in an opening much like a doorway high above a ship below. The wind tugged at her thin cerulean gown, bringing small drops of mists to touch her bare arms. Focusing from her feet onward her eyes followed a silver pathway, smooth and reflective like opaque glass, almost tinted with hint of blue as well. It draped like a rope bridge over a cavern, yet it was solid – one piece of material with no indication of interlocking pieces – connecting where her feet stood with the vessel that bobbed gently in the sea below.

She was alone, yet she felt as if someone was behind her or perhaps waiting for her on the other side. Stepping forward, her white slippers touched the glassy surface of the descending bridge, careful to step slow and lightly fearing she could slip or even cause the bridge to break. Instinctively her hand reached out for the railing, it too was cold and tainted with the wetness of the mist and the sea. Supporting some of her weight on the railing, she descended slowly, noticing the reflection of her feet and long gown in the smooth surface.

Nearing the pathway’s nadir, the point at which the bridge seemed to almost level out leading into a dark entryway for the ship in front, she drew her eyes away from the surface raising her head to look more around her. The wind tugged at her long hair, threatening to whip it in front of her face and clouding her vision. But there was no mistaking what she saw then. She stopped moving, her hand rigid on the railing, her breath caught in her throat. She wanted to turn away and return back up the slippery slope, but she couldn’t tear her eyes away.

The ship had rotating contraptions on either side of the bridge. They plunged beneath the fog into the water below rising again dripping, like paddle wheels of an old steam boat yet enclosed or cage-like and a pattern and movement almost like the track of a military tank. The splashing and dripping noises was almost like being within a waterfall. Inside these cages were bodies, or the remains of bodies. She could see some were merely bones, bits of flesh still hanging on with tattered strips of clothing. Others were in mid-decay, wrinkled skin from the ever-present water, then wisps of hair and sunken eyes. And then there were some that seemed only to have just arrived – she couldn’t tell if they were dead, though she thought she saw some of them struggling to free themselves – although that could have been from the movement of the wheels.

Her stomach threatened and she covered her mouth fighting back a heave as she ran forward into the dark entryway. She found herself in a dimly lit room, large with a floor as glassy as the bridge she’d ran from. It was like a ballroom with several pillars strategically and aesthetically placed. Several men lurked in the shadows of the pillars, dressed in fine suits and watching her wearily. In the center of the room was a small table, a doll sitting on its top and a slumped, hooded figure sitting next to it.

Pressing forward, she ignored the few people scattered in the room and approached the table.

“We’ll never get out,” whispered the hooded figure beside the table. “Many have tried, many have tried. You must do as she says,” he pointed a a fingering shaking slightly to the doll.

It was a porcelain doll, the mouth expressionless, the eyes vacant with thick black curls and a fine white and cream laced dress. The doll brought her some comfort and it’s features were soft enough to almost mimic happiness.

“The riddles. Always the riddles,” came the hooded man’s voice again. “You must solve the riddles.” Then he was gone – simply not there anymore. In his place was a small tool, like a pocketknife made of springy styrofoam. She picked it up and held it tightly in her hand. Then came another voice, a quiet melodic voice, like a child’s – but this time it was inside her head. She knew it came from the doll.

“You must succeed. I will help you,” it pleaded. “Place beneath, but up above,” it stated.

She blinked at the doll, not understanding.

“Place beneath, but up above.” Came the voice, more insistence this time. She knew it was the first riddle. And a vision almost filled her head of what she should do.

Laying flat on the cold stone floor, she looked up to the table holding the doll. Taking the object she had received from the hooded figure, she reach an arm slowly up toward the table. The object began to glow neon green, then starting to flash – slowly at first then quicker. She knew it was a timer, and it was telling her she was moving too slow. Her hand shaking she dropped the object to the surface of the table and pushed it beneath the frilly dress of the doll.

The object remained in full green glow, she held her breath afraid to move an inch, then the glow vanished. A pulse emitted from the object, deafening her ears like the pressure of climbing a mountain or rising in a plane.

“Three for one, two for four,” came the second riddle.

No time for rejoicing in the solving the first, she concentrated on the second task. Again like a vision came the answer, but this time it was even more jumbled. She set to work pressing on various spots on the object, now glowing bright red and starting to flash. Each time her finger pushed, small sections on the object rotated – some extended out, others moving to shape the object into something more than a rounded rectangle. Finally the pieces shifted so that three sections protruded in a rounded W from the rectangular shaft.

Without hesitation she began running past the doll, further into the chamber aware that the object was starting to flash quicker. Finally seeing a hallway to the left of her, she veered into it seeing several figure at the end – four figures as still as stone. They had their backs to her as she began sprinting. Touching the middle of the W, the object split in two and she flung them with a flick of each wrist sending them flying like shurikens. They arched out to the edges then curved back to slice through the cloaks they wore, each fragment taking two. Then the pieces glowed a solid red and exploded with no sound, sending a shock wave that knocked her back, her back and head hitting the floor hard enough to steal her breath and darken her vision.

Her breath returning to her, she pushed up on her elbows to see that the four figures were now a pile of stone, as if they had been nothing but statues before. And in her hand rested the object, back to its round rectangular form and without colored light. She returned to the table and the doll, walking this time to bring her breathing back to normal.

“Together, together we part.”

He was here, she had to find him in time. The vision was quick, but she already knew what it was. She snatch the doll up in one arm, cradling it like she would have were she a child again. Then she half jogged, half ran, behind each pillar tugging at the hooded cloaks to reveal the faces beneath, or grabbing the man by the arm and roughly turning him to face her.

The object seemed to glow black this time, pulsing faster as before. Now there were doors, doors that hadn’t been there before, so many doors to open and search lining the ballroom. With tears threatening to fall, she flung open door after door, searched hood and pillar, trying to find him. The object was flashing faster than she wanted it to, and in almost desperation she turned to go back to the table. But now there were hallways, not an open ballroom, mazes, and she dashed through them following her instinct.

This hallway ended, with a small table and the doll sitting on it, and crying she knelt before it. Touching the doll’s hand, she felt an arm wrap around her shoulder – he had found her, he was there beside her. The object grew to a solid black and she grabbed the doll under one arm and wrapped her other around his waist, burying her head in his cloak. The darkness exploded from the object, expanded to engulf everything.

Then her eyes opened to find him sleeping, safe, beside her. Glancing to the mirror by their bed she saw the reflection of the doll sitting on her dresser, its mouth now forming almost a smile as it faded from the mirror and her view.

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