I heard Eight in the shower on my way to the office. I estimated it would be about 12 minutes before she’d be done and had already set a timer above my desk for 14 minutes for me to solve this riddle and save Seven.
I sat at my desk and immediately plunged into work. I held my hand over the surface and with a flick of my fingers a holographic file slipped into the air and opened into a screen before me. It displayed pictures of owls and every article I had ever read concerning them. I scrolled through the file briefly before lifting my other hand and raising another screen, this one of Lewis Carrol’s Alice in Wonderland.
The man in the hood had known that Seven would be there and had been waiting for him. And he’d known that I was watching and he’d known my phone number to text me. And yet he was giving me riddles to solve to rescue Seven. What was his objective?
I scratched my head as I glanced over the owl page.
“Siri,” I ordered. “Pull up the text from 733 477 1514 .”
My phone was already synched with my office so in an instant another screen appeared with the riddle. I swiped at it and moved it to the center so I had a better view.
If you wan to see yur frien live
Solve this ryddle before sunrise
“Why is your reven like a wrting besk?”
I stared at the riddle for about a minute, rolling over the theories in my mind, until I narrowed it down to two possibilities. When the most obvious things have been ruled out, the only logical answer is what’s left–no matter how unreasonable it may sound.
Obvious thing number one: the answer to this riddle, or at least according to Lewis Carroll himself, was ‘Because it can produce a few notes, tho they are very flat; and it is never put with the wrong end in front.’ But that answer meant nothing to us here. And it didn’t explain why the riddle said “your” raven when the original riddle said “a” raven.
Which led to obvious thing number two: there were missing letters and added letters. This confirmed the previous theory that the original answer was irrelevant. Therefore, the real message must be in the letters. And upon a cursory glance at the ones that were missing and the ones that had been added, this message emerged:
“Today you die.”
I narrowed my eyes at the screen.
But again, too obvious. A child could have solved that. Something wasn’t right.
I squinted at the word “raven” and noted again that it was misspelled as “reven”. With a flick of my wrist, another file was pulled up on notes of Lewis Carrol’s answer to this riddle. Originally, he had intended the word “never” to be written as “nevar”, which was raven backwards. Was this another clue?
I looked at the owl screen then back at the riddle screen then stopped when I saw the number the man had texted me from. I reached up, flipped the screen with a twirl of my fingers, and the number was upside down. Upon closer reflection, the number itself spelled a phrase:
HIS ILL HEEL.
What did that mean? The heel. The owl. What if–
I leapt to my feet with my rifle in my hands and all the files vanished on cue. Either Eight had shot someone or someone had shot Eight. Either way, someone else was in the apartment. I slipped into the emergency exit that brought me into the hall then turned back around to surprise the intruder from behind. But once I was nearing my apartment door, I saw Two stumbling out and limping away.
What was he doing?
I rushed inside my apartment and to my shock, Eight was already in the doorway. She grabbed my rifle, ripped it off my sling, and aimed it at me.
“Get back!” she roared, huffing angrily.
I held my hands up in surrender, but it was too late. She fired one shot and it hit me square in the chest.
It would take me too long to explain exactly what happened next. You would need to understand exactly how distance bullets work and therefore what would happen when one was shot into me. Suffice it to say that when distance bullets were shot into other people, the distance bullet in me pushed them away. But when one was shot into me, to put it simply, everything inside of me malfunctioned.
It was as if my body and my mind were trying to separate themselves from one another and the result was a scattering of thoughts, desires, and emotions. I don’t remember anything that happened next or how much time elapsed.
The next memory I have is landing on Seven’s back in a forest and rolling down a hill with him.
We landed at the bottom and I was on my feet with his gun aimed at him.
“Get back!” I warned him.
Why was I about to shoot him again? What had he done? I couldn’t remember.
The next instant, Seven pulled out another gun I didn’t know he had and aimed it at me.
“Didn’t see that coming, did ya?” he laughed. “Can’t con a–”
I put a rejection in his chest before he could finish his sentence and he dropped to the ground.
On to the next thing, I thought as I ran through the trees. Wait. What next thing? Where was I going? What in the world was I doing?
I heard a gunshot behind me and ducked as I ran. Who had just shot Seven?
I kept running for several meters, trying desperately to remember where I was running to and what I was supposed to be doing.
Suddenly, I tripped over something and stumbled face first, rolling through leaves and twigs. When I scrambled to my feet, Seven’s gun was gone and the man in the hood was facing me.
“It’s you,” I breathed. “You’re the one who…” Why couldn’t I remember?
“Weren’t you supposed to be saving him?” the man asked me.
I blinked wildly as the information came back in spurts. Seven. The riddle. What had I done?
“Wait,” I blurted. “I’m here. I figured it out.”
The man in the hood folded his hands behind his back. “Go on. Humor me.”
I held my hand up to steady my thoughts as I forced myself to stay focused. “A raven is like a writing desk…it’s not about a raven or a desk. Lewis Carrol said they both produce notes. And you spelled raven with an ‘e’ instead of an ‘a’ so it looks like…Seven. Seven notes on a scale. The riddle is about Seven. And your number…it spells ‘his ill heel’. Seven’s weakness is his fear of pain. That’s his Achilles heel. You’re going to exploit his fear of pain.” I took a deep breath. “But I’m here to stop you.”
The man in the hood lowered his head and chuckled. “You’re adorable.”
I squinted at him in confusion.
“There’s no answer to that riddle.”
“But Carrol himself–”
“Gave an answer because his readers demanded one. But he himself said that the original riddle was never intended to have an answer.”
I stared blankly at the man.
“How did you not know that?”
The question was like a dagger to my chest. How had I missed that? Had I not read it somewhere? How had I overlooked that piece of information?
“So knowledgeable,” the man in the hood said. “And yet so useless.”
A rejection shot into my chest and I toppled to the ground, staring at the smoking gun in the man’s hand.
“The riddle wasn’t about Carrol or Seven,” he said as he approached me. “It was about you.” He knelt at my side and stared into my eyes as I felt the feeling of rejection course like poison through my blood. “It was about showing you that no matter how much knowledge you have, you will never have what it takes to handle life. Because you will never have what it takes to handle me.”
I swallowed as my body shook with the rejection. “Who…are you?”
He stared back at me, put his fingers over my eyelids, and everything went black.
Original artwork by Andrea Ng