Read part I
“Riddle Man, Riddle Man, Riddle Man,” young Edward repeated to himself during his long walk home. Now made longer with the fresh scrape to his leg, thanks to Jimbo and the other guy. He didn’t catch his name, he would’ve bet his booth it was Skeeter or something. They didn’t trash his stand, didn’t take his money, didn’t kill him, not for lack of trying. The clown boss offered him a job instead. The Joker was a bad guy, that much he did know. Evil even, like his father, and he didn’t want to work for the likes of someone who was as bad as Edward Sr. “Riddle Man, Riddle Man, Riddle Man,” he said through his gritted teeth. He hated that he liked the name the Joker so easily gave him.
He limped through the tunnel that led back into the city. Rubbing at his leg, scratching dirt out of his hair still, thinking of a way to explain his roughed-up appearance to his mother, his father couldn’t give a shit, though he would’ve wanted some money.
Son of a bitch told me to get a job if I wanted to buy the things I wanted. I get a job. Now he wants it all for rent. Goddamn drunken, fat-pumpkin, slob, corn-on-a-cob, wife-beating bastard.
On the other side of the tunnel came the park, a pathway guided him to the city lights.
Young Edward was fourteen, but looked nine, poor boy shouldn’t have been alone this late at night in the park—no, the woods. So many bushes and trees that they drowned out the lampposts that were supposed to light up the path. A howl here and there, a hoot too. Did it scare little Eddie? Nah. The boy had been through enough hell at home to know true fear. To know evil. Like the Joker. Perhaps he would’ve preferred the woods to home, better with the wolves and owls than that monster.
When the leg started to feel better, his stomach growled. So, he picked up the pace to hurry home for dinner. But a green light halted his trek. Not from the lampposts, but from the woods. He scurried off the path to investigate this brilliant bright light that seemed to turn night to day the way the woods lit up.
A misstep sent him sliding down a steep hill, then tumbling through bushes before dropping into a trench. Now the other leg had achieved injury-status. He sat up and moaned, then he saw the source of this magical green light. Is that a meteor?
He couldn’t move, barely could sit up and rather than scream for help, he touched the green rock. He grabbed it, full on, and twisted and turned it in his palms over his lap. He marveled at its beauty and chuckled at his discovery. “Oh! What are you?”
It responded, well, sort-of. The rock immediately liquefied in his hands and some of it crawled around his fingers and crept up his arms. It was cold, and it tickled. Young Edward was still giggling at this point. Then, the green slime slithered up his neck. Some of it went into his ears, more scuttled across his cheeks and spilled into his eyes, a bit of it rushed into his nose, too. He tried to stop it from going in his mouth, but some of the slime held his wrists down. And as the slime pushed its way down his throat, young Edward passed out.
He opened his eyes the next morning in that same dirty ditch. Everything was green. And he felt as gooey as the slime he’d recently discovered. He waved his hands in front of his face and wiggled each of his fingers, then he stood and brushed himself off. He sighed, then smiled. “Well then. Breakfast.”
He walked up the hill almost as fast as he’d dropped. Stretching his legs out and clinging to the trees as if he were one with the nature. When he made it back to the path, he looked down at where he’d come from and snickered.
When he arrived home, his mother was just leaving for work. He didn’t see green anymore, but still felt slimy, and never better.
“Eddie? What are you—where are you—I thought you were asleep in your room?”
“Oh! I was asleep all right,” the boy tilted his head down but kept those eyes up at his beautiful mother.
She thought it was a joke and slapped his arm. “You look a mess, boy. Wash up before your father sees you.”
She grabbed her keys from the kitchen counter and her purse from the dining table. “How was work last night? Anyone beat your puzzle yet?”
“Puzzle Man,” he said.
“I am the Puzzle Man.”
“That’s right.” She smiled, kissed his cheek, then left for work.
A second after the door closed… “Eddie! Get your ass in here!” a voice roared from deeper in the home.
Young Edward proudly walked into the living room, with some hop in his step, some boldness in his shoulders, some swag in his bag.
“Yes,” he sang as he entered the living room. His father was laying in his favorite chair. Likely he slept there all night, by the dry slobber all over his face.
“Fetch me a beer, boy!”
Reclined in the chair in his drawers and a wife-beater too small for his belly—hmm, a new riddle just came to me, a fat wife beater—
“Hey, boy! You Deaf?”
“Yeah, what? Fetch me a damn beer, I said.”
The boy turned to fetch the beer, or a knife. Probably a knife. Yeah, he’ll have a knife for breakfast today.
“Wait, boy!” Edward Sr. stopped him. “Get over here.”
The boy turned around and walked to the edge of the recliner.
“You look like shit. What happened at work last night?”
“I fell. How about breakfast?” Young Edward asked.
“Yeah—yeah. Be quick about it and bring me the money you made last night while you’re at it.”
“As you wish,” young Edward murmured, then turned to the kitchen and went straight for the knife block. He grabbed the handle of the biggest blade and pulled it close to his face. In the reflection, he saw his innocence. Then, he saw his mouth open, but he hadn’t opened his mouth. It stretched as high and wide as his head and a thousand teeth, sharper than the blade he held in his hand, chomped and chomped. Surprised, he dropped the blade on the floor, and staggered back. “Whoa!” But it didn’t scare him, it intrigued him. Almost pleased him. Most importantly, it empowered him.
It’s not just a green slime. Not a meteor. It’s treasure. My salvation. My calling. My purpose. My—before he realized, he was back at the foot of the recliner, no knife, no beer, no breakfast, no money from last night. Just him in his dirty clothing with a new riddle brewing in his growing brain.
“Boy! Where’s my shit?” Edward Sr. dropped the chair to it’s original position and stood over his son.
“I’ve got a riddle for you, old man.”
Edward Sr. grew mad. He squeezed his fists and pulled back for a strike. “You little shit, I don’t have time for your Riddle—err—err—err.”
The boy didn’t let him finish. His hand was already deep into his father’s belly. When he pulled it out, each of his fingers were twice as long and as sharp as the blade he’d held in the kitchen. His father collapsed into the recliner and the boy looked at his monstrous fingers, blood dripping from them, but more covered the wife-beater, and the wife beater. Edward Sr. was gone.
The boy immediately regretted his decision and felt a sense of anger. Not because he killed his evil father, no, no, no, no, no. But because he couldn’t tell his new riddle. Perhaps, another time. This one’s too good to waste on a corpse.
With his elongated fingers, it took him ten minutes to dig a hole in the backyard. He buried his father’s body and all the booze in the house. Then, he showered. Before he went to his sorry excuse for a closet, he ventured into his father’s room, and looked at all the nice suits he hadn’t worn in years. Y’know, because of the belly.
He grabbed the one that felt the nicest and as he slipped into it, the brown suit turned green. At this point, nothing surprised him anymore. And he posed in front of the mirror. “Looking good, Riddle Man.”
When his mother came home, she didn’t ask any questions about the whereabouts of her husband. She’d prayed for years that he would just take off, just disappear off the face of the planet in the middle of the night or while she was at work—she didn’t care how.
“Well, don’t you look handsome for your shift, young man.”
“It’s my last day. Wanted to make it a good one.”
“Last day, huh? Well, knock ‘em dead sweetheart.”
He smiled and took that suggestion to heart. “I’ll be home for dinner.”
He walked with rhythm up the street, out the city and through the park.
“Riddle Man, Riddle Man, Riddle Man,” he said, but stopped and reminisced on what he did to his father. He liked it—loved it in fact and couldn’t wait to get that feeling back. His father’s last words were strong with him as he thought of the fat man lying dead in that chair. Riddle—er—er—er. Riddle er. Riddler. Riddler. “Yes. I like it. The Riddler!”
-M. Sydnor Jr. Copyright © 2019