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The First Riddle

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“Edward Nashton!” The voice from the head of the room called and the young lanky boy rose from his seat. He pushed his long dark hair out of his face and stood before his teacher, “Outstanding work Edward.”

The paper transferred hands and Nashton looked down at his ACT scores. English 36. Reading 36. Math 36. Science 36. Overall 36. His face broke into a wide smile and he couldn’t help but burst into a hysterical, amazed fit of laughter. The teacher smiled as well and told him to return to his seat.

He found his desk in a daze and dropped into the seat. “What did you get?!” He heard a few eager hisses but he didn’t understand them. Edward was lost in his own world.

The rest of the day was a blur for the boy, he could hardly remember passing from one class to another. Edward didn’t really have any friends. He was unquestionably headed for valedictorian. There were other students whose GPA’s were close but everyone knew that Edward Nashton was the smartest kid in his class, probably in the entire school. That would have been fine but he was arrogant and narcissistic about it and the other students had ostracized him for it. Nashton didn’t mind, he didn’t need friends, he had followers.

After school was over he sprinted out the door and headed home. He didn’t live far but he was at his front door much faster than he’d ever arrived before. His father was in between jobs again and his mother…well the streets of Gotham City were dangerous. After she died his father wasn’t the same anymore. He drank a lot and was angry more often than not, sometimes he even ventured toward abusive but Edward understood.

He wasn’t sure why he was so excited to show his father his test scores. Maybe he thought that his success might snap his dad back into happiness. Maybe he thought his father would be proud of him and Edward would see that everything was alright again. Whatever the case he threw open the door and found his father without much trouble.

The older man was sitting on the couch and drinking from a beer bottle. It was his fifth or sixth, Edward couldn’t tell, but he was definitely more than a little tipsy. “You’re home early,” his gruff tone may have been a warning but Edward ignored the sign.

“We got our scores back,” Edward’s eyes glinted and he didn’t seem to notice the haggard, intoxicated, weary man that sat before him. All the young boy could see was the father he thought he could remember, “Look!”

Edward thrust out the paper like a proud kindergartener bringing home a turkey he’d made from tracing his hand. “What is this?” Edward’s father stood and tore the paper from his son’s grasp. He looked it over and then looked at Edward.

The older man had been a good student in his school days but he had only managed to just make the top ten of his class. He’d ended up dropping out of college because of money problems and he felt jealous of his son with every perfect report card. Something about the perfect test scores broke him.

“How?” Edward’s father was in obvious disbelief but Edward mistook it for pride. The young boy beamed at his father but when his father’s face contorted in rage he knew something was wrong, “What did you do?!”

“I just took the test,” Edward’s eyes went wide as his father tossed the paper aside and grabbed his son by the throat and pushed him against the wall, “I swear!”

“You’re a liar!” the first fist didn’t land and ended up just skimming Edward’s face and the wall took the brunt of the force. This just made his father angrier though. He took another swing and this one connected with his son’s face. There was a resounding crack and blood poured from Edward’s nose, “You cheated you lying piece of garbage.”

The next punch landed on Edward’s right eye and he fell from his father’s clutches. He raised his arms in defense. “Please, I didn’t cheat,” the kick landed in his gut and he spluttered out a few coughs, “I thought you would be proud of me.”

“I didn’t raise a cheater!” Edward’s father grabbed ahold of the long hair of his only child and pulled him to his feet. The teenager screamed in pain and his hands went to his head. His father smashed the boy’s head against the wall, it cracked the dry wall, “You should get the grades you deserve!”

His father left the boy in a slowly expanding pool of blood. Edward could feel the warm liquid dripping down the right side of his face and dripping out of his left nostril. It was getting in his eyes but he didn’t really notice it. His feet failed him when he tried to stand and he just remained on the floor of the living room. I’m going to die here, he thought.
Edward didn’t return to school for the next few days. He was confined to his room until the black eye healed and his nose returned to a semi-normal appearance. He was allowed no visitors, which was fine because no one came to check on him anyway. Books were his only ally and he read four in the time he was out.

The day he returned was beautiful and sunny but he didn’t notice. He didn’t blame his father; in fact he was starting to think that maybe he had cheated. School would hold the answers. He would learn the truth, one way or another. Maybe if he could prove to his father that he hadn’t cheated.

Each subsequent day was similar. His teachers began to notice how reserved he was becoming and they called in his father. The old man made it perfectly clear that he would have a talk with his son to see what the problem was. The talk quickly degraded into more abuse and when Edward realized he had no other choice he ran away.

Two Years Later

Edward Nashton’s father woke up late on a Saturday morning. He could hear cars driving by and even a few birds singing their songs. It would be a good day, he thought, better than they had been in a long time. He thought that every day.

The older man groaned and stretched and sat up in his bed. He rubbed his eyes and blinked a few times. He climbed out of bed and opened the blinds. Light shone in brightly through the window and showered the room brilliantly. He turned around and started at the sight of his bedroom door.

In bright green paint and in huge letters was written: RIDDLE ME THIS! Edward Nashton’s father clutched at his chest like he was going to have a heart attack, but it passed. There was a sticky-note on the door handle and the older man walked over and picked it up.

It read in green ink: “When is a door not a door?”

The drunk crumpled up the piece of paper and tossed it in the waste paper basket to his left. He clutched the door handle and pulled it open. He stared down the hallway at another set of large green words: WHEN IT IS AJAR.

Edward’s father swallowed hard and walked back into this room. He fumbled through his closet until he found his safe. There was another sticky-note on the safe: “I keep you safe, I keep you fine. I make your hands sweat, and your heart grow cold, I visit the weak, but seldom the bold.” The older man struggled with the combination until he pulled open the safe. His gun was missing but in its place was the riddle’s answer in green paint: FEAR.

He tossed away the lock box and got to his feet. He pulled out some clothing and hurriedly threw it on. Then he went out into the kitchen. There were riddles on everything; the knives, the cabinets, the refrigerator, the stove, and even some of the food. Edward’s father pushed through the kitchen and to the front door. He picked up his hat and before putting it on he saw another riddle on it: “Riddle me, riddle me, what is that over the head and under the hat?” He decided not to wear a hat.

The older man ran out into the yard and scrambled with his keys until he found the right one to unlock his car. Once he was inside he sighed and relaxed a bit. He put his keys in the ignition and then saw the sticky-note on the steering wheel: “I am said to be bitter but actually am sweet; whatever you sow you also shall reap; an eye for your eyes, a tooth for your teeth; it’s never over until at last you’re asleep.”

Edward’s father crumpled the note and tossed it aside. His hand was shaking as he reached to start the car. He turned around and looked out his back windshield and at the end of the drive stood his son. It had been two years but he knew it was the boy.

Edward Nashton looked older than the last time the two had seen each other. He was clean shaven and his long hair was now much shorter and stylized. He was wearing jeans and a green tee-shirt with a purple question mark on the front of it. His hands were in his pockets.

His father began breathing even faster and his heart was racing. The older man was getting light headed and he was beginning to panic. He had no idea where he would go; he just knew that he had to get away.

The ignition roared and the bomb detonated. The car exploded in a spectacular display of fire and metal. Edward did not smile at his work, though everything had gone perfectly. He simply walked around the wreckage of the car and glanced at his father. It was impossible to tell that the corpse in the car had once been his father. It was difficult to tell there was a corpse at all.

Edward produced a can of green spray paint and in large letters on the pavement answered his riddle: REVENGE. He considered drawing question marks to accentuate the point but decided against it, his time was limited as it was. The eighteen year old glanced at his former home and wondered if there was anything worth taking. He contemplated burning it but he wanted the police to find all of the riddles. In the end he turned his back on the flaming wreckage and walked down the street, whistling as he went.

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