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The Riddled Rainbow

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.

"Have you ever done this before?" panted Detective Faraday, trudging up the grassy hill. "We've been walking for hours."
Cara Watt, paranormal investigator, waited ahead. "We're searching for the end of a rainbow, a magical location. It takes more than walking to find it."
"Got any powers that could help?"
"You haven't figured out what I am by now?"
"You are a sandwich of bewilderment with a side of conundrum."
Cara laughed and resumed hiking. Overhead, a bright arc of color divided the sky. "There will be a series of magical tests leading to the rainbow's end. Once we defeat them, hopefully we'll find a clue that leads us to the Baron."
"Any idea what this Baron guy is?" Faraday asked. "He's been mixed up in too many crimes, all targeting paranormals. He has to be up to something."
"We'll figure it out." Cara crested the top of the hill and pulled up short. "...after a slight delay."
Faraday caught up. They stared across a sheer chasm sliced out of the foothills. Faraday whistled. "This has to be three stories deep."
"No way to climb down," Cara muttered. "This canyon wouldn't form naturally in this area. It's magical--the first test."
"Great," said Faraday. "What do we do?"
Cara pulled a gold coin from her purse. "This is the leprechaun coin we found, the one that sent us on this adventure. Maybe it can help." She held it over the edge of the canyon. Ignoring the detective's protest, she released it.
The coin stopped in midair five feet down. Landing on its edge, it began to roll, tracing an invisible path into the ravine. Left turn, right turn, right, right, left, left, right, right, left. It reached the bottom, spun around three times, and flopped on its side as if fatigued.
"There we go," said Cara, and hopped off the cliff. Faraday cried out in alarm. But Cara's feet landed on something solid, if invisible, and she began retracing the coin's path.
She made it down, then waited for Faraday to pick his way after her. Pocketing the coin, she grinned. "One test down."
"Remind me not to go on any more adventures with you. Do you hear running water?" Faraday pushed aside a jumble of shrubbery and inhaled sharply. "I think we found your second test."
Cara leaned past his shoulder. Ahead, a frothing river churned through the canyon. Lethal, jagged rocks poked through the foaming surface. Spray filled the air where the river ended in a broad waterfall, refracting miniature rainbows to match the one overhead.
Faraday cleared his throat. "Is the water supposed to be flowing up the rock face?"
"Magic." Cara squinted at the river, then pointed. "See those multicolored stepping stones? That's how we get across."
She started for the water. Faraday pulled her back. "If one of those turns, you'll fall."
"So? So then you die. That whitewater isn't in a forgiving mood."
"It's the second test, Derek. We just have to step on the rocks in the right order."
"And what order is that?"
Cara studied the stones. The one closest to their shore was a bright, sunrise orange. Beyond that, two lay within reach, a green and a yellow. "Rainbow order, of course. There's no red, so we start at orange." She hopped onto the stone. Faraday flinched, but it held. "Follow me," Cara called, hopping from rock to rock. Next came the yellow stone that looked laced with gold ore. There were no green rocks within reach, so Cara hopped to a blue-tinted stone, then used a lavender rock to leap across to the other side.
Faraday followed, timing each leap carefully. Once on land, he wiped mist from his forehead. "So, you're a gazelle, is that it?"
"Maybe." Cara took his hand. "Come on. One more test."
"Wait." Faraday frowned at the sky. "There are two moons up there."
Cara paused, looking up. "Huh."
The two stared at each other. "If we fail this last test, can we still get home?" asked Faraday.
Cara bit her lip. "Let's not find out."
They cut through thick brush until branches and leaves gave way to a small clearing. In the center, beams of vibrant light touched the grass, an array of red to violet. Cara's breath caught. "It's beautiful."
"That it is," said Faraday. "And I think I see our last test."
Beneath the rainbow's end, an engraved stone lay in the grass. Cara read the carving aloud.
"In common amongst the hues.
Third of the first step.
Most turns,
Then least.
First in the second.
Say you are its opposite."
"I guess we're going to die here," said Faraday.
Cara poked him. "Quiet. I think I have an idea."
"In common amongst the hues. That means something all the rainbow colors share."
"But that will be different in every language."
"The poem's in English. The answer probably is, too."
"A rainbow is a continuum. There aren't a finite number of colors."
"You're right. Maybe it's not every color, just the ones from the stepping stones."
"Orange, yellow, blue, purple. Or lavender. Or violet."
"All of which share one thing in common! The letter E. Each line of the poem is a letter in the password."
Faraday's eyes widened. "In that case, I think I know the rest."
"Third of the first step," said Faraday. "The first stepping stone was orange, and the third letter in orange is A. 'Most turns, then least' has to refer to the way the coin rolled when you tossed it into the ravine."
"Five rights, four lefts," said Cara. "R, then L. First in the second... the second stepping-stone was yellow. Y. E-A-R-L-Y."
"Say you are its opposite," read Faraday from the poem. "You want to do the honors?"
Cara beamed at him, then declared, "We're late."
"Yes," said a voice, "you are." The ground gave way beneath their feet, and they fell into blackness.
The End
This story was first published on Wednesday, May 9th, 2018

Author Comments

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 with a paranormal setting seemed like a perfect fit.

- A C Spahn
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