“What is this place?” My voice echoed through the hall.
“This,” a deep, gurgled voice said beside my ear, “is the painting’s castle.”
I jerked my head around reflexively, but no one was there.
“Who was that?!” I asked, “Show yourself!”
No one answered.
I stood for a long time before deciding to move on and when I turned to continue forward, a menacing face assaulted my sight and nearly scared the soul from my body. They reason I didn’t jump and scream like a girl being my brain didn’t have enough time to process what the fuck was just in front of me. It was gone as fast as it appeared, the only thing left was the heart-stopping fear and my chest being abused from the inside. My legs were frozen stiff but gradual started to come back under me as the fear subsided. I waited an even longer time before deciding to move on, looking in all directions to avoid another horrible surprise. I took one reluctant step forward, then another, and as I took more steps everything started returning to equilibrium. I came across a long, spiraling staircase that ascended into darkness, a green ray of light shot down and circled me. It smelled like fresh lime. It moved from around me and floated toward the stairs and paused, as if motioning me to follow. When I did, the ray of light switched back and forth between various shades of green, which was surprising because everything else reflected the rainbow. As I ascended the stairs the temperature got warmer and cozier, it was as if the air cradled me in its arms and began rocking me to sleep. The ray of light sparkled with a shine that would put a diamond to shame, the smell of fresh lime became more pronounced as it graced my nostrils and elicited a feeling of euphoria through my entire body. Before I knew it the ray of light enveloped me and lifted me from the ground like a magic carpet, my body involuntarily spread, and I couldn’t move. It felt like being strapped to an examination table except the warm air and euphoric smell of lime kept me at ease.
The darkness itself seemed to change as well, going from pitch black to the darkest of green. As the ray of light lifted me higher, strange and horrible shapes revealed themselves. Long, stained teeth protruding from large, furry mouths with savage grins and saliva drooping from them; colorful but menacing eyes focusing on me from every direction, large, almost alien irises with bottomless pupils leading to nothingness struck fear into my very soul, countering the euphoric lime smell and cozy air. The monsters faded into the darkness and the light carried me even higher still, another, and stronger, ray of light shone from the castle roof as I came within reach of it. When the light released me and I looked outside, there was a man standing there.
“So,” he said in a deep, throaty voice, “you have come for the creator.”
“I. . .guess?” I replied as I took three reluctant steps forward.
“Do not be afraid, Cameron.” He said, “I will bring you no harm.”
“How did you know my name?”
“I know all tings within this painting,” he replied, “including the location of the creator.”
“You mean the guy that painted this thing?”
“Who else would I mean?” The man replied.
“Just checking,” I cleared my throat, “Anyway, what is all this?”
“This would be the deadly castle within the deadly painting,” he started, “conceived by the creator when he was only fifteen years of age. Outcast from his peers for his dark and unpleasant thoughts and views, he locked himself in his room and produced this terrible masterpiece, not knowing his true power and capabilities.”
“So,” I looked at him questioningly, “because he was socially awkward, he decided to paint something horrible to express his feelings, not knowing it would entrap anyone who looked at it long enough?”
“Al least he didn’t decide to shoot up a school.” I said to myself.
“So, where is the ‘creator’ as you call him?”
“Step forward and I’ll show you.”
I walked to where he was and saw the forest from above, the green light shined above the trees in the night with little white particles sprinkled throughout the sky. Upon closer examination, I saw the rainbow engulfing the world as if it were a dome, the colors changed from red to yellow to orange to purple to violet to blue. I heard snarling and growling in the distant along with gut-retching screams, the forest looked pitch black and radiated a dark and terrible aura.
“The creator is not in that forest, Cameron,” the man said, “nor is he in this castle.”
“Then where is he?”
“For me to answer a question of yours, you must solve a riddle of mine.”
“Riddles?” I sighed, “I suck at those.”
“Oh, come now,” the man said, “have some faith in yourself, this one won’t be difficult.”
I sighed again, “Alright then, what’s the riddle?”
“You will answer three riddles,” the man said, “each harder than the last. The first one will be easy, I promise.”
“Alright then, let’s hear it.”
The man cleared his throat, “The more you take, the more you leave behind. What am I?”
I thought about it for a full ten seconds before it hit me, “footsteps!”
“See?” You’re not so bad.” The man said, “Now the next, can you name three consecutive days without naming the days of the week?”
“Hmm,” I thought for a bit and, surprisingly, it hit me again, “Yesterday, today, and tomorrow!”
“Ha Ha Ha,” the man said, “getting the hang of it, are we? Alright, last one,” he cleared hit throat, “Only one color, but not one size. Stuck at the bottom, yet easily flies. Present in sun, but not in rain. Doing no harm and feeling no pain. What is it?”
“Fuck.” My mind went blank.
“Take as much time as you need,” the man walked to the other side of the balcony and stood, looking out at the green lit sky.
I thought and I thought, and I thought, and I thought but nothing came to mind. Only one color, but not one size. I looked to the green sky and then the forest, as if those were going to give me a clue. Stuck at the bottom, yet easily flies. I paced back and forth and tried to think of something, anything but nothing. Present in sun but not in rain. My head was starting to throb, my brain wasn’t used to expending this much energy; I’d never heard that riddle in my life, and the only thing I could think of was ashes. Wait a minute, ashes were present regardless of sun or rain, so that couldn’t be the answer. Doing no harm and feeling no pain.
“Dammit!” I scratched my head in frustration, “why is this riddle so hard?”
“Would you like a hint?”
“I get hints?” I asked, “Sure, I’ll take anything at this moment.”
“The answer is something that travels with you no matter what.” The man said, “go over the riddle again and add that fact in, what do you get?”
I went over the riddle and a memory came to mind. I was five years old and my father was telling me a bedtime story, it was about how monsters eat little boys that don’t go to sleep. . . or something like that, it was unclear. Anyway, after he told me the story, tucked me in, and closed the door something fell in my closet. Nearly scared my heart out of my chest. Then, the closet creeped open ever so slowly; first, a pitch-black snout appeared followed with stained yellow teeth with off-pink gums. The creature breathed and thick, black smoke came from its mouth and traveled around the room like a ghost. It swirled around the ceiling and changed shapes; first it was a man, then a woman, then a dog, then turned back into a phantom. It didn’t appear to see or sense me, but I wasn’t stupid enough to test the theory. It traveled down the wall and made its way to the creatures’ mouth and went back inside. It moved less like a phantom and more like a shadow—
It hit me, “. . . shadow, that’s the answer.”
“Pardon?” The man said, “have figured it out?”
“The answer is shadow,” I said with more confidence, “it’s a shadow!”
“Prove it,” the mand said.
“Only one color but not one size,” I started, “shadows only come in black but change sizes depending on the time of day and angle of certain twists and turns.” I continued, “stuck at the bottom but easily flies; shadows are usually on the ground but their also on the ceiling sometimes too.”