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The Unsubtle Sphinx

A. C. Spahn wanted to be an interstellar starship captain when she grew up. Since nobody was hiring, she became a writer instead. She enjoys training in martial arts, organizing messy rooms, and researching a hobby-of-the-month. When not commanding imaginary starships, she lives in Pennsylvania with her husband, son, and feline overlord. She is the author of the Endurance series of comedic sci-fi novellas and short stories appearing in Outposts of Beyond, Disturbed Digest, and other publications.
"I've figured out what you are," said Detective Derek Faraday.
Cara Watt, paranormal investigator, paused just outside the crime scene tape line. "I beg your pardon?"
"I know what kind of paranormal creature you are." Derek's triumphant grin brought a boyish gleam to his handsome features.
Cara planted her hands on her hips. "All right, what am I?"
"You're a siren. You help me on cases, but only because you're luring me to trust you before you strike and kill me."
"No," Cara said, chuckling, "I'm not a siren, Derek."
"I notice you didn't say you aren't planning to kill me."
Cara ducked under the crime scene tape. "If you thought I was going to kill you, you wouldn't keep calling for my help."
"Fair enough." Derek gestured to the building in the center of the taped-off area. "Help me with this one, then? I'm still getting used to the, er, colorful citizens in this town."
Together they rounded the building, a squat little sandwich shop with a purple awning and a ring of outdoor picnic tables. The entrance to the shop was a single glass door, leading to a cramped counter and two narrow indoor tables.
Blocking the door sat the reason for the crime scene tape. Cara pulled up short when they came within view. "Oh no. Not again."
It was a massive lion, haunches positioned before the doorway, tail tapping the asphalt. Its shoulders brushed the purple awning. It turned to face them as they approached, revealing a humanoid head atop the feline body. The features were feminine, with a haughty intellect behind the eyes.
"Sphinx?" Derek asked quietly. Cara nodded. "Am I right in guessing it's blocking the way into Santos' Subs because it has a riddle for us to answer?"
"Most likely. This is Axura. She shows up every couple weeks and gets in everybody's way."
"I can hear you," the sphinx said, her voice deep enough to jostle the nearby trees.
Slowly the detective and investigator approached. Axura swished her tail, raised her chin, and said, "What walks on four legs in the morning--"
"A human," said Cara and Derek together.
Axura huffed. "Fine. If you've heard that one before, I'll give you another. Answer me correctly, and I'll stop blocking this door:
Bender of light,
Enabler of sight,
Solid as a wall,
Except when I fall.
What am I?"
"Now wait a minute," said Derek, reaching for his badge. "On behalf of the owner of this establishment, I'm going to need you to move, riddle or no riddle. You can't justa--"
Axura growled. The sound rolled across the pavement and shuddered the windows in their frames. Derek went completely still.
"Answer," said Axura, "or I will eat you."
"Never argue with a sphinx," Cara whispered. "It won't end well. I have an answer to the riddle. Do you?"
Answer:
Derek waved for Cara to speak, his eyes still fixed on the enormous creature who hadn't quite ceased growling.
Cara stepped forward. "It's glass," she said. "It refracts light, is see-through, forms a solid barrier, but shatters when it falls over."
Axura's shoulders stiffened. "How did you know?"
"It might have helped if you weren't sitting right in front of a glass door," said Derek. Another growl silenced him.
Axura huffed again as she stood. She arched her back in a luxurious stretch against the shop awning as she slunk out into the open. "Go on in, then," she said. "I shall find another place to lurk." She paced away, tail swishing irritably and flicking leaves from trees.
"I'm guessing we'll see her again," Derek said.
Cara nodded. "Unfortunately, yes. Hopefully she doesn't realize riddles work best when the answer isn't hiding in plain sight."
Derek eyed the purple awning, which still clutched a few strands of fur. "Since we're here... can I buy you a sandwich?"
"No longer worried I'm plotting your demise?"
"If you are, I doubt you're planning to murder me with ham and cheese on sourdough. You'd go for something more subtle."
Cara laughed and hooked her arm through his. "You don't know me half as well as you think you do. It'd be ham and cheese on rye."
The End
This story was first published on Wednesday, November 29th, 2017


The Cara Watt stories were inspired by the two-minute mysteries by Donald J. Sobol, featuring Dr. Haledijan the sleuth solving various cases alongside the reader. My husband and I enjoyed reading Dr. Haledjian's adventures aloud together, and the pairing of the interactive mystery style with a paranormal setting seemed like a perfect fit.

- A C Spahn

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