Speculative Fiction—an all-encompassing genre created to describe stories of science fiction, fantasy, alternate history, and other stories that have an element of “What if...” in them. A story in speculative fiction is one that adds an element of the unreal, or asks, what would become of our society if history took a different direction at some important event? Fiction with a little something extra thrown in.—William D. Richards
Renardo and his
brothers are up to their eyeballs in debt, with one last chance to save
their merchant business (and their gonads) from the moneylender. The
great city of Tebos is holding its Festival of
Song in three days’ time, and they have a wagonload of songbirds to
There’s just one
large, man-eating problem: the bored sphinx who guards the city’s gates,
and her deadly riddle game. Renardo doesn’t even want to be a merchant,
but somehow it falls to him to outwit the sphinx.
No pressure. All he has to do is come up with an unanswerable riddle.
A short story (4,000 words) for lovers of humorous fantasy.
“I’m not asking riddles any more,” said the sphinx.
“Really?” The merchant raised his face from the dirt hopefully.
“Really.” The sphinx
shifted her wings, which jiggled her bare breasts in a most interesting
fashion. She saw the merchant’s gaze drift and frowned. “You shall ask
The merchant’s eyes shot back to her face, alarmed. “Me?”
“All of you.” The
sphinx’s nod took in the waiting caravans and the line of delegates
behind her current victim, all toting their heavy riddle books under
their arms. “Union regs only say I shall test each
traveller and admit the worthy to the city. There’s no rule that says I
have to ask the riddles. A person could get tired of creating riddles
after a few centuries, you know.” She sniffed. “No one appreciates the
work that goes into a good riddle.”
The merchant had too
much on his mind to sympathise. Like just how big the sphinx was close
up—bigger than a horse. Bigger than two horses, maybe. Not to mention
the size of her teeth.
“Well?” said the sphinx, her snake-like tail twitching impatiently.
“Well what, your graciousness?”
“Are you going to ask me a riddle or shall I just eat you straight off?”
The merchant scrambled back in alarm. “Just a minute, your ladyship.”
He reached for his riddle book and she growled. “And that’s another thing. No more riddle books.”
“No more—?” The merchant cast an anguished glance at his well-thumbed copy of
Riddle Me This. His father had presented it to him before his
first journey to Tebos, and it had served him well ever since, though
there had been that tense patch when the sphinx had decided that riddles
were passé, and knock-knock jokes would introduce
a little levity into the proceedings.
“Tick tick tick,”
said the sphinx. “Time is money, you know.” She yawned, luscious,
bee-stung lips pulling back to reveal wicked canines. Sweat sprang out
on the merchant’s brow.
The sphinx flowed to
her feet as the merchant hesitated. He scrambled backwards as she paced
towards him, his eyes riveted on her face. “No, please. Just a minute,
your magnificence. Mercy. Just—just—give
me a second.”
His foot slipped and
for a moment he windmilled on the edge of the precipice that looked
down over Tebos. She waited, crouched down so they were nose to nose,
till he stopped gasping.
“Lovely view,” he said with a sickly smile.
“The riddle, merchant.”
“What’s … what, um
…” His brain had seized with terror. He rummaged desperately through the
echoing spaces inside his skull for a riddle. Any riddle.
Finlayson is a reformed wedding organist who now writes fantasy. She is
married and shares her Sydney home with three kids, a large collection
statues and one very stupid dog with a death wish.
Her other work includes the novel Twiceborn, an urban fantasy.