When something is perfect, it sets itself up to be destroyed, and for everything gained, something is lost.
Since Dryden was young, his mother taught him about balance. While she weaves jewelry to sell at the marketplace, Dryden learns how every unspoiled gem begs to be damaged, just like the universe corrects every misfortune.
But with age and experience, Dryden begins to see the cracks in his mother’s innocent view of life. If she is wrong about balance, she might be wrong about the supposed beast in the woods. Dryden ventures into the forbidden, where a handsome hunter named Otto saves him from a deranged fox and seduces him. But like so much else, Otto has an unseen side, and if Dryden wants to regain his freedom and break Otto’s spell, he’ll have to answer three riddles in three days.
With the help of his mother’s stories and the fox who once threatened him, Dryden must beat the monster and restore balance to his world. But it will come at a cost.
“I still don’t know if you’re lying,” Dryden said.
“That is true. You’d have to trust me. But I can tell you this: I like you more than the others. You’re smarter than them.”
Grains of sand fell away. Half an hour left. He’s just trying to trick you. Trying to bide time. Don’t fall for it.
“You know how many people have gotten this far?” Otto asked. “Not many.”
“But some have—and yet, they’re not here. So why should I believe you?”
“I understand how difficult this is for you. You have absolutely no logical reason to believe me. I’m not a puzzle like the kind I give you. But the heart is a tricky organ, isn’t it? It will lead you down all sorts of pathways you don’t understand. If you stay with me, Dryden, you will use your heart. If you escape, you’ve used your head.”
“One is always stronger than the other. One will always win. So you have to pick what beast inside you decide to feed.”
Dryden felt his chest restrict. There were too many options. Head or heart? Freedom or death? Was Otto a monster or misunderstood?
“How will I know what one you use?” Dryden asked. “Your head or your heart?”
Otto smiled. “See? Even right there. No one has ever asked me that before.”
Dryden broke their stare. He knew each one of these sentimental moments were manufactured. He and Otto were always going to be giving lines to one another, performing a play. None of it was ever real. If only this were math, Dryden thought, then I’d know the right answer and I could be free.
Francis Gideon is a writer of m/m romance, but he also dabbles in mystery, fantasy, historical, and paranormal fiction. He has appeared in Gay Flash Fiction, Chelsea Station Poetry, and the Martinus Press anthology To Hell With Dante. He lives in Canada with his partner, reads too many comics books, and drinks too much coffee. Feel free to contact him, especially if you want to talk about horror movies, LGBT poetry, or NBC’s Hannibal. Find him at francisgideon.wordpress.com.