“And with the world safe again, the dinosaurs decided to spend the day at the beach, building enormous sandcastles. The end.” Isaac closed the book.
Charlie sat up. “Wait. Are there any pictures?”
Thumbing through the last few pages, Isaac found a picture of a stegosaurus in sunglasses carrying a shovel and pail. He held it up for Charlie to see. “I wish they had pictures of the sandcastles. If they’re made by dinosaurs, I imagine they’re big enough for people.”
“That would be neat. Will we see dinosaurs at the beach?” Charlie leaned back into his pillow with a sigh. “I hope so.”
“Probably not,” Isaac said. “But we can make sandcastles.”
“That’ll be fun,” Charlie said softly. He snuggled into his pillow and his eyes drooped closed.
The next day, they left for the beach. They checked into their hotel, and then drove out to see the sand and the waves. Unfortunately, there were no dinosaurs. But, before long, there were sandcastles.
It was their first vacation in years. They spent most of the time at the beach. Charlie had a collection of seashells that he found buried in the sand. Marianne was collecting rocks with holes in them and strange pieces of driftwood.
In the evening, Marianne and Charlie explored all of the channels the hotel television had to offer. They watched shows about cooking or about surviving in the wild or dangerous storms. Every time a commercial came on, they changed the channel to find something new.
Isaac found the abrupt shifts in topic hard to follow. On the third night, he volunteered to make a run for snacks so that he could get away from the television for a little while. Marianne and Charlie cheered.
“I want salt water taffy, please,” Charlie said.
“Salt and vinegar chips for me,” Marianne said. “Thanks, dear.”
When Isaac slipped out the door, they’d already returned to their documentary about pretzels. He walked to a nearby convenience store and spent some time browsing the aisles. He bought the taffy and the chips, and then threw in a nice bag of pretzels. He had a lovely conversation with the elderly shopkeeper about bird watching. She gifted him with maps of the area, and marked the best locations for finding various birds. Finally, he turned to trudge back to the hotel room.
He got off the elevator at their floor and turned right and stopped. There was a sphinx blocking the hallway. It had the head of a human, the body of a lion, and the wings of an eagle. It was definitely a sphinx.
“Hello,” the sphinx said.
“Hello,” Isaac said, feeling a little nervous. “How can I help you?”
The sphinx smiled. “Answer me these riddles three.”
“Of course.” What else?
“First. Where are we?”
What an odd riddle. He pulled out a map from the elderly shop keeper and showed their position on the map relative to the ocean and various other landmarks. The sphinx leaned in and nodded, looking intently at the map.
Finally the sphinx leaned back. “Very good. Second. When are we?”
Isaac pulled out the receipt from the store and pointed out the time and date stamp. The sphinx nodded.
“Final question. Do you have any food to share?” The sphinx raised an eyebrow.
Isaac handed the sphinx his bag of pretzels. This was all so very strange. The riddles weren’t really riddles at all. “Are you lost?” he asked.
“Not any more,” the sphinx said. “I just made a wrong turn somewhere. And somewhen. Thank you for your assistance and the pretzels.” And then the sphinx disappeared.
Isaac clutched his bag a little tighter and continued down the hallway to their room. He let himself in and sat down on the bed. Marianne and Charlie looked up from their show about earthquakes with a grin as he passed out their treats.
“That took a long time.” Charlie unwrapped a peppermint taffy.
Marianne popped open her bag of chips. “You should have bought something for yourself. Didn’t you see anything you liked?” A commercial came on and they changed the channel.
“Look, it’s a show about sea otters. Let’s watch that,” Charlie said.
“I bought pretzels, but I gave them away to a hungry sphinx,” Isaac said. “It was one of her riddles.”
“What?” Charlie looked back at Isaac.
“I gave away my pretzels.”
“You can have some of my candy,” Charlie said, holding out his bag.
Marianne held out her bag of chips, still looking at the television. “Have some.”
“Thank you,” Isaac said. He looked up at the screen. The otters were cute. This wasn’t so bad. It was nice to sit here with his family and relax after a long day at the beach.
A commercial came on. “Time to change the channel!” Charlie handed the remote to Marianne. “Your turn.”
She clicked and stopped on a show about the history of chocolate. Isaac sighed. Maybe it was a good thing they didn’t go on vacation very often. Maybe next time he would book a room with no television. At least he wasn’t lost in time and space.
It was Grak’s turn to travel to the surface to check the position of the stars. He grumbled low in his throat at the thought. But, there was no sense in putting it off. He grabbed the bag with all the notebooks and started up the path.
Hours later, he had finally finished his observations. His eyes were watering and his head ached. Why did the stars have to be so bright? It was unnatural. He shoved the last notebook into the bag and scratched behind his horns, claws catching for a moment in his fur. It was time to go home.
He hurried back into the cave and slipped through the door at the back. He leaned against it for a moment and then slid down to sit back against it with a sigh. He kept his eyes closed for a long moment, until the headache was mostly eased.
When he opened his eyes again in the familiar darkness, he was face to face with a tiny human carrying a light brighter than the stars. Ouch. He growled in pain.
The human dropped the light, and it went out. How considerate. Humans really were delightful. The last human he’d met, centuries ago, had known so many interesting riddles. Perhaps it was a human custom?
“Do you know any riddles?” he asked.
“I…I think so,” the human said hesitantly.
“Excellent. Have you heard this one? There are three gems on a table. You take two away. How many gems do you have now?”
There was a long pause. “Two?”
Grak smiled. “That’s right! Your turn.”
“How far can a deer run into a forest?”
Grak thought for a moment. “Only halfway. Then he’s running out again. Clever. Here’s a classic. Poor people have it. Rich people need it. If you eat it you’ll die. What is it?”
The human began muttering quietly to himself. “Nothing. It’s nothing,” he finally said. “I guess it’s my turn again. What can you hold in your right hand, but not your left?”
Hmmmmm. Good one. “Your left hand. My turn. Many have heard me, but no one has seen me. I will not speak back until spoken to. Who am I?”
The human shuffled, then paced. He suddenly stopped and turned. “An echo.” He smiled. “I have the perfect riddle. Never resting, never still. Moving silently from hill to hill. It does not walk, run or trot. All is cool where it is not. What is it?”
Grak thought for a while. He considered all the riddles he’d ever heard or told. He thought about the world above and the world below. “I don’t know. What is it?”
“It’s the sun,” the human said.
The sun. He’d heard of its horrors. It was bright enough to strike anyone blind who dared to look upon it. He shivered.
“So, I win then?” the human asked. “You couldn’t answer it.”
“It wasn’t really a contest, but you did tell me a riddle I couldn’t answer.” Ah, humans. Apparently they were as competitive as ever.
“Then I can leave and you won’t eat me, right?”
“What?” Grak looked around. Oh. He was sitting in front of the door, wasn’t he? How embarrassing. “Yes, of course. You can go now.” He stood up and shuffled out of the way.
The human darted forward and tugged on the door. Grak reached around him and pulled it open. The human looked up warily. “Thank you,” he said.
“You are welcome to come again,” Grak said hopefully. “I’d love to trade more riddles.”
The human shook his head and gripped the straps of his pack tightly. He stepped quickly around the door and started running. Grak squinted and watched him go for a moment, before closing the door.
It was sad that he’d probably not see the interesting human again. But Grak cheered up when he thought about the new riddles he had to tell. He picked up his bag and hurried down the path towards home.