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Sphinx's Jeopardy

Sam the Sphinx grimaced as the Creature-Human Relations Bureau agent approached his hotdog stand. Play it cool, Sammy. You can do this. You can absolutely pass as human.

"Hello," the agent said with a stiff smile.

Sam nodded as he handed a hotdog to a customer. My cover isn't necessarily blown. Maybe she just wants a hotdog. Act naturally.

"What types of mustard do you have today?"

A benign enough question. He swallowed hard. Yellow and spicy. Just say yellow and spicy.

"What is black and white and read all over?" Oh Hades, that did it. He'd totally blown his cover. Sam thrust a sweating bottle of water into her hands, hoping it would distract her so he could flee.

"Excuse me, sir. My name is Agent Ross, and I'm going to need to ask you a few questions." Her voice rang with authority.

When he turned back, though, she was staring over his shoulder, badge hanging limply in her grasp. Her eyes glinted with a strange light.

"What in the world?" She rushed over to the newspaper stand and stared slack-jawed at the headline.

Sam wasn't sure why the headline had her so excited, but then he saw the pixie hovering over her head. The pixie motioned toward the hidden sanctuary door beneath him and then disappeared inside.

Why had a pixie saved him from being busted for illegally trying to pass as human?

Sam gave an apologetic nod to the line of people waiting for hotdogs, deciding it was better not to talk. It would probably come out in riddles, which would only make things worse.

Sam followed the pixie into the sanctuary—a small bend in reality that allowed creatures to hide or relax away from humans. He breathed a sigh of relief and stretched his wings as his human projection faded.

"What asks but never answers?" Sam grimaced. He'd meant to ask what was going on.

The pixie had no trouble understanding him, though. He stroked his beard and chuckled. "You are a piece of work, friend. It's no wonder they didn't approve your assimilation paperwork."

Sam slumped. He'd passed the written test but failed the oral. Miserably. And he couldn't go home. Another hero had failed to answer a riddle, and Sam refused to eat him, making him an outcast. He'd been desperately trying to pass as human, but he was fighting a thousand years of speech patterns. He usually didn't bungle that badly, but he'd been terrified he'd been caught.

Yet he hadn't been, thanks to the pixie. "Can a tree ever become a fish?"

"What, a pixie can't just help a fellow creature out?" The pixie's smile faded. "You're right. I've got a problem needs fixing, and you're just the creature to help."

Sam figured as much. Pixie favors were never free. "When limited by height, with what else might one succeed?"

"Right. Brass tacks. Name's Boris. Until recently, I had an Oracle helping me sell fortunes to humans. Unfortunately, she ran into trouble with the Bureau. Now I'm making prophecies up, and people are mad they aren't true anymore. But I've been watching you for awhile. Your cryptic jibber jabber is exactly what I need."

"Is not variety the spice of life?" Sam asked defensively.

"That's what I'm saying! Look, all you have to do is say things in Sphinx. I'll write it down, then you go back to your cart. I'll make sure the agents stay off your scent."

"What do you get when you look a gift horse in the mouth?" He truly didn't want to work for the pixies, but Boris's expression made it clear he didn't have a choice.

"If you don't, I'll turn you into the Bureau. I'm sure that agent I bespelled is still hanging around. She was there on my tip in the first place."

Sam's stomach clenched. This pixie hadn't done him a favor after all. If Sam were to give in to his Sphinx nature, he'd eat the creature. But, no. He'd left all that behind him. What would a human do?

"Can anything stop a tornado?"

"I knew you'd see it my way. I'll drop by tomorrow for our first 'prophecy.'"

Sam left the sanctuary wondering if he could stomach eating one more Greek hero or if he could live with helping Boris lie to humans. It was a lose-lose situation. When he got back to his cart, Agent Ross was still there, looking confused. Could the day get any worse?

Sam hesitated. So far, the only evidence she had that he might not be human was the pixie's tip, right? If he could get her to nab Boris for false prophecy solicitation, maybe it'd get him off his back. He just had to tell her in a way that didn't raise suspicion. He cleared his throat, willing himself not to screw up. She looked up, a question forming on her lips.

Questions. He was good at questions. "What would an agent do if she found a pixie selling false prophecies and bespelling federal agents?"

Agent Ross's eyes went wide. "She'd arrest him immediately then buy hotdogs for her entire department. Why?"

Sam gestured for her to hide behind his cart. Boris had exited the sanctuary, focused on a tiny phone.

"Why did the chicken cross the road?" Sam called to the pixie.

Boris looked up, annoyed. "I don't need a prophecy until tomorrow. I've already got a sale lined up based on the…"

Before he could finish, Ross jumped up and shot her cuffing net at him. "You're under arrest."

Once she'd read Boris his creature rights, she thanked Sam profusely and hauled him off.

Sam may not have seen the last of the pixie, but true to her word, Ross visited his cart later with half her department.

"Put mustard on mine, would you?"

Sam smiled. "Yellow or spicy?"

He was confident he'd pass his next assimilation test as long as he answered in the form of a question.

About the Author
Sara Lundberg is a Kansas-grown author of the fantasy persuasion. The voices in her head have been whispering stories to her since she was little, and she finally started writing them down thanks to the encouragement of her eighth grade English teacher. Sara runs a fiction website called the Confabulator Café, has had a handful of short stories published in anthologies and magazines, and has won both honorable mention and third place in the Writers Weekly 24-hour short story contest. She's been known to try on many different genres—metaphysical to memoir, horror to haiku—but she's happiest making up stories about the fantastical things she is convinced are waiting for her just around the corner. Until she finds the right corner, she is content to write about those things instead. Follow her on Twitter @saraelwriter where she sometimes tweets about writing but more often retweets things that make her laugh. You can also find her on Facebook.
Background image by ESO/IDA/Danish 1.5 m/R.Gendler, J-E. Ovaldsen, C. Thöne, and C. Feron.
http://www.eso.org/public/images/etamosaicnm2/, CC BY 4.0, Link