The Riddle by Dan Morey

The Professor led the students into the campus glen where two janitors were having a picnic lunch with two nude girls (teaching assistants). Through the engineering building where one student was lost, squealing, in a turbine. Over a freeway where another student was lost, squealing, beneath the tires of a Volvo.

Into a fat friars' camp where fat friars shaved a tonsure in the Professor's hair and distributed burlap robes to the students. Across a rubble-strewn field containing mostly seagulls, baby seagulls, and seagull eggs in various states of cleavage. Into a cornfield of corn. Out of the cornfield into the shadow of a colossal silo. The students peered upward.

One said: "Colossal." Another said: "Rhodes." The Professor said: "Silence." The students fell silent. They were receptive, and displayed their receptivity by looking receptive. "Is this inquisitive?" said the Professor. "Are you giving me inquisitive?"

A student, Billy Brightwheel, said: "No, Professor. We're giving you receptive."

A seagull crashed into the silo and fell dead at their feet—its beak crushed, its tongue severed, its eyehole a socket of clotted blood. "They can't see the silo," said Dicky Fink, a student of sorts. "So they fly right into it." "You're thinking of glass," said Billy Brightwheel. "Windows are what birds generally fly into."

The students concurred, but when they looked again at the silo they saw that it was constructed of a translucent material, and that its interior was entirely free of fodder.

"Well," said Billy. "Ha," said Dicky Fink. "Ha and Ha." "Those who live in glass silos shouldn’t throw bones," said a disembodied voice. "What the?" "Who?" "Oh," said Libby Holstein. "It's Dummy." "Dummy." "Of course." Dummy came out from behind the Professor, and laughed woodenly. His forearm was inserted in the rump of a bearded puppet named Carwin. Dummy claimed that Carwin was the ventriloquist, not he, and that it was Carwin who made him talk.

"Carwin got you again," said Dummy. "You people," said the Professor. "You damnable people are no longer giving me receptive. You must try to concentrate. Intelligent human beings are not so easily distracted." A golf ball arced overhead and the Professor observed its trajectory. He said: "A nine iron with an inflated loft, I should think. Or possibly an antique niblick of some sort. In Scotland, you know, they still call a sand wedge—"

"Professor," said Billy Brightwheel. "We are receptive again." "Proceed, you silly bastard," said Dicky Fink. "We’re here to learn." "Did Dicky Fink just say ‘proceed’?" said someone. "Did Dicky Fink just say he was here to learn?" said someone else. "Ahem," said the Professor. "A ham yourself," said Dicky. "STUDENTS!" said the Professor. A collective gasp. Hands placed over hearts in an exaggerated manner. "Please, students," said the Professor. "You must pay attention. This is your final assignment. Your grades depend on it." He shadowed his face with a cowl and spoke solemnly:

"Written on the opposing side of this silo you will find a riddle. In order to pass the course, you must solve this riddle together. Good luck, and God save." He leaped into the underbrush and rolled away.

The students joined hands in a daisy chain and skipped merrily around the silo. On the other side there was an enormous message scrawled with Plum Passion lipstick. It was in Pig Latin.

"I'll translate," said Billy Brightwheel. Billy stared at the riddle. Dicky Fink kicked him a good one in the rear. Everyone laughed. "Very funny," said Billy. "If you're interested, the riddle is this: ‘What renowned work of literature has the same ending as the folktale we discussed during week six?’"

The students fell silent. Dicky Fink’s tongue lolled out and he began to drool. The Professor emerged from the underbrush covered in burrs. He said: "The Trap of the Twin Dragons, you idiots!" "Bruce Lee?" said Libby Holstein. "The story of the hero who discovers a mysterious portal," said the Professor. He tapped his shepherd's crook impatiently. "No? Nothing? Your tabulas are rasa? Very well then, I’ll elaborate: the hero spies a bound maiden writhing on the floor within the portal. He decides that he loves her, and that he will rescue her and marry her. He goes inside. He hears heavy, unmaidenly breathing. He feels hot, unmaidenly breath. Suddenly everything becomes very bright. The dome over his head has been drawn back, revealing itself to be the four leathery wings of twin dragons. The portal through which the hero had passed was the arch of their conjoined tails."

The Professor paused to pick burrs from his beard, and then continued:

"The dragons snarl and belch fire. They rip the maiden in two and digest her organs. A spleen falls at the feet of the hero. He picks it up, clutches it to his chest, and draws his broad sword."

Dicky Fink snickered at "broad sword." The Professor pushed on: "The hero gets behind the dragons and severs their tails with his sword. Blood erupts, and he escapes into the forest, still fondling the gory spleen. Vowing to remain faithful to the maiden, the hero returns to his native kingdom and grows rich manufacturing chastity belts. Many influential men offer him their daughters, but he refuses them all. He dies an old man, alone in bed with a pickled spleen."

The Professor scurried up an elm tree and disappeared. A girl student known as Dances with Disemboweled Deer on Head began to dance with a disemboweled deer on her head. "Ooogie, oogie, wah, wah," said Dances with Disemboweled Dear on Head. "Wah-ah-ah-ah-ah." "What the hell is this crap?" said Dicky Fink. "Is she horny or something?" "Shhh," said Libby Holstein. "She’s solving the riddle."

Dances with Disemboweled Deer on Head danced around the silo in a slow shuffle, shaking bean-filled gourds. Suddenly, there was a swift whooshing sound. Dances with Disemboweled Deer on Head collapsed. The students ambled over and found her sprawled on her back with her nose and cheeks squished out. The air was thick with the stink of fetid fodder. Dicky Fink approached the body and stopped short. His foot was stuck in something dense and moist, and when he pulled it out the sound was "thwuuck."

"There was fodder in there after all," said Dicky. "We just couldn't see it because it's invisible." "So she was killed by an avalanche of invisible fodder?" said Libby Holstein. "Of course," said Billy Brightwheel. "I should’ve known."

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, a student called Grand Oprah was cooling herself with an oriental fan. When her classmates entered she lifted a monocle to her eye and regarded them from grand heights. "We received our final assignment," said Billy Brightwheel. "Where were you?" "I've just returned from the tea room. Count Borscht was in rare form, and—" "Shut up," said Dicky Fink. "You're fat." Grand Oprah sniffed at him. The telephone rang and the Professor's voice came through the answering machine:

"First clue: March 1978. A Los Angeles punk trio called the Alley Cats enters a low-cost studio off Sunset Boulevard and records the song 'Nothing Means Nothing Anymore’." "Some clue," said Billy Brightwheel. The students slipped out of their burlap robes. Some tied lariats and some put saddles on their backs. The students with lariats mounted the students wearing saddles. They all went outside and roped a steer which they cooked and ate under the starry sky. When they came back inside there was a message on the answering machine. It was the Professor:

"Second clue: there is no second clue."

The students milled around, picking chunks of steer from their teeth with knitting needles. "Maybe we should just guess," said Dicky. "How about Huck McFinn?" "The Magic Mountie," said Dummy. Grand Oprah swept into the room, dislodging Libby Holstein from the mechanical bull with a flourish of her fan. "It's simple," she said. "We merely need to consult some celebrities." "What you talkin’ ‘bout?" said Libby Holstein. "Celebrities, you ninny. If anyone can figure out this nonsense, it's a movie star, and it just so happens that Count Borscht runs around with a lot of actresses." "I don't like celebrities," said Libby Holstein. "They’re gross." "Hold on," said Dicky Fink. "Does the Count know Natalie Portman?" "Yeah," said Billy Brightwheel. "Does he know Winona Ryder?"

Count Borscht, famed hairdresser to the stars, contacted his actress friends as a favor to Grand Oprah. The actresses liked Count Borscht very much, but they said they weren't going to some godforsaken ranch in the middle of the desert to canoodle with a bunch of star-struck college kids. The Count, knowing that actresses like to support social causes, told them it was a fundraiser for Gay Refugees of Red China. The Count often thought about gay refugees. Most of the actresses agreed to make an appearance, as did Matt Damon, who asked if there would be any gay refugees in attendance. Unfortunately, a few movie stars still refused to come, so Count Borscht had to promise them that Steven Spielberg would be there as well.

On the day of the party, the students were apprehensive. Would the celebrities show? They had sold a lot of cattle to Rancho Notorious in order to pay for the canap├ęs. Everything was ready, but no limousines were in sight. "Worry not, darlings," said Count Borscht, buttoning his spats. "Celebrities are always late." "Of course," said Grand Oprah. "Being on time is terribly unfashionable."

Four hours passed. The ice sculpture melted. Finally, a mauve Bentley pulled up and Matt Damon dismounted.

"I knew he'd be first," said Count Borscht. "The little queen." Grand Oprah sniggered behind her fan. "I don't see any gay refugees here," said Matt Damon. "All in good time," said the Count, whisking him away. Soon the other movie stars showed up and began to mingle. Jennifer Jason Leigh, Rachel Leigh Cook, Lee Majors and the ghost of Lee Remick lounged amongst the Turkish pillows. They drank pink champagne and talked shop:

"Woody Allen sent me a script." "He's a pervert. And he doesn't pay shit." "Marty Scorsese sent me a script." "Jesus, those eyebrows." "Francis Ford Coppola sent me a script." "Is he still alive?" "I haven’t seen him," said Lee Remick. "So he must be." But there was serious discussion, too:

"You'd think the Chinese would be in favor of gays. I mean, aren't they overpopulated as it is?" "It's tragic, if you ask me. All those poor queer Chinamen. Something really must be done. Where's Sting when you need him?" "Yeah. Where is Sting?"

Drew Barrymore mentioned Spielberg and a hush descended. The celebrities had not seen Steven Spielberg on the premises and they wanted answers. Count Borscht took them out to the woodshed and told them to peep through the window. Inside, mechanized figures of Harvey and Bob Weinstein and Steven Spielberg stood around a practice putting green smoking cigars.

"One million says you can't sink that again," said Harvey. "You're on, fatso!" said Spielberg. The movie stars, satisfied, allowed themselves to be ushered back to the party. Dummy and Carwin emerged from behind the shed, grinning. Dicky Fink corralled Natalie Portman in the corral.

"I heard you had to sit on George Lucas’ face to get that part in Star Wars," he said. Natalie Portman sipped her O’Doul’s. "And that you're a fucking drunk. Is that right, lush?" "Well," said Natalie Portman. "Perhaps that was true in the past, but now I have a new friend. His name is sobriety." "Fucking dipso," said Dicky. "But hey. Look at Count Fagula over there."

Count Borscht was chatting with Susan Sarandon. Dicky cleared his throat and spoke loudly: "Hey, Natalie Portman…" "Yes, Dicky?" "Why don't Russians get hemorrhoids?" "I don't know, Dicky. Why don't Russians get hemorrhoids?" "Because God wanted to make them perfect assholes! Ahahaha!"

Count Borscht removed a glove and slapped Dicky across the face, demanding satisfaction. They took ten paces and turned to face each other. Count Borscht drew an AK-47 from under his Van Dyke. Dicky whipped out a hand grenade. A moment of quivering tension. Suddenly two dead seagulls plummeted beak-first from the stratosphere, drilling simultaneously into the duelists' craniums.

Billy Brightwheel worked on the riddle. "I read somewhere," he said to Winona Ryder, "that your parents have written books about Aldous Huxley and the Alcotts." "Yeah," said Winona Ryder. "So?" "So we have this literary riddle, and I thought maybe you could—"

The Professor threw himself between them.

"Hello, hello," he said. "Ah, the lovely Miss Ryder." He looped arms with Winona Ryder and they strolled away. He turned back to Billy Brightwheel and said: "No outside help, you little fleeb." In desperation, Billy rounded up the students. "I’m desperate," he told them. "The only thing I can think to do is return to the silo. Maybe we’ll find the answer there."

Billy Brightwheel led the students and celebrities. Into a festering bog where they waded through puddles of gelatinous invertebrates. Through the valley of inexplicable stone monuments. Into a cave where primitive women in fur underpants threw dung at the wall. Quickly out of the cave. Through a dense rain forest where Sting was seen swinging by vines overhead. Across a rubble-strewn field containing mostly seagulls, baby seagulls, and seagull eggs in various states of cleavage. Into a cornfield of corn. Out of the cornfield into the shadow of a colossal silo.

"Don't say colossal," said Billy Brightwheel. "Colostomy," said Winona Ryder, drunkenly. The message on the translucent surface read: "You Forgot Your Burlap Robes." Dummy and Carwin were sent back to retrieve the robes. Billy Brightwheel paced, removing and replacing his glasses at regular intervals.

"Stop brooding," said Winona Ryder. "Let's dance." "Why not?" said Billy. They danced the Frugal Strudel. The silo hummed and vibrated, emitting a flash of white light. Winona Ryder glowed briefly, then turned into a frog. The message on the silo read: "No Dancing Without Burlap Robes."

Just then, a plague of baby seagulls invaded the clearing, pecking the students and celebrities until they expired. Billy Brightwheel and Grand Oprah survived, but a golf ball arced through the air and pinged Grand Oprah on the skull. She gurgled and dropped dead.

The Professor emerged from the woods brandishing a pitching wedge. Matt Damon carried his golf bag. "Mind if I play through?" said the Professor. Matt Damon handed him a four iron and teed the ball up on Grand Oprah's nose. The Professor took a running start, swung wildly, and sent Grand Oprah's monocle into the horizon.

"Professor!" said Billy Brightwheel, falling at his mentor's feet. "I can't solve the riddle! Tender is the Blight? Doctor Festus? I don't know! Please, please don't fail me."

The silo chute sprang open and invisible fodder sluiced out, burying everyone alive. Silence. A seagull screech.

The Riddle is an example of a short story by Dan Morey. Dan is a freelance journalist in Erie, PA. His creative work has appeared or is forthcoming in many publications, including Menacing Hedge, the Jet Fuel Review, Neutrons/Protons, Sein und Werden and Splitsider. Find him at