The Red

by Andrew Black

Down along the river bank, in the shadow of the shiny towers of glass and stone, three young girls giggled and frolicked in the cool shade.  Crimson, barefoot and shameless, splashed along the shallow bank, her toes kicking up little eddies of mud and sand.  Scarlet, studious and cautious, walked carefully through the thick weeds, her every move calculated and precise.  Rose, the leader of the trio and brave to a fault, strolled half-in and half-out of the water as the mood pleased her.

At a crook in the river, the girls came upon a fallen oak tree.  Scarlet wisely stepped around it, Crimson capriciously crawled beneath it, and Rose impulsively grabbed the great gnarled roots and climbed atop it.  From her perch, the girl had a commanding view of the river beyond and she saw far ahead a small island with a curious gray stone in its center.  She didn’t know what the obelisk was or why it was there, but it didn’t look natural, and her curiosity was piqued.

The girls reached the shore closest to the island, but how to get out to it?  It was in the deepest part of the river where the current ran fast and strong.

“We can swim,” Crimson suggested despite the danger.  She was more than ready to strip out of her clothing and leap into the water.

“No,” Rose replied as she surveyed the island, just out of her reach.

“We should go home,” Scarlet offered and turned to begin the long walk back.

“No,” Rose answered again, more firmly this time.  “We will get to that island.  Surely among the three of us, we can think of a way?”

The girls sat on the river bank and thought about their dilemma.  Crimson quickly lost interest and began swirling her toes in the water.  Scarlet soon decided a plan was hopeless and gave up, spending her time studying some fossils she’d found on the way.  Only Rose put all her effort into coming up with an idea.

“I can’t think of a way,” Scarlet sullenly announced.

“I’m bored,” Crimson declared with a yawn.

“I have an idea,” Rose replied to her companions with a grin.  She pointed to a maple tree that hung over the river, stretching all the way to the island.  “We’ll climb the tree one by one and shimmy over to the island.  The branch will dip as we get to the end, and we’ll be safely there.”

“But how do we get back?” Scarlet asked while Crimson, already half-way up the tree, giggled and began inching her way out over the water.

Rose smiled at her friend and shrugged her shoulders.  She gripped the rough bark of the tree and followed Crimson onto the sturdy branch that spanned the river.  Scarlet sighed at her friends climbed up after them.

Crimson squealed in equal parts delight and fear as she crawled out over the swiftly flowing water.  She held the branch in both hands, her ankles locked, and she went hand over hand, further and further from the shore.  She almost dipped into the water, and the tips of her long hair were soaked, but she made it to the island, grinning and dancing about in joy.

Scarlet went next at Rose’s insistence.  The cautious girl first tried walking the tree limb, but her quivering balance nearly dropped her in the drink.  She used Crimson’s method, her supple legs curling about the branch and her hands pulling her along upside down until she reached the land in the middle of the water.

Rose was last to make the journey.  She scrambled across, nimble as a monkey, but half-way to the island the tree limb began to groan and crack.  The girls called out a warning to her, but she could not hear them over the rushing of the water below.  The limb snapped, dropping the girl into the river.  She clung to the branch and her friends pulled hard on the other end, fighting the current to bring her safely to the island.  She crawled out of the water, soaked and cold, but she smiled at Crimson and Scarlet and thanked them for their rescue.

After wringing out her wet clothes, Rose began her search for the gray stone.  Crimson followed, giggling as the tall grass tickled her bare toes.  Scarlet looked at the shore, so far away now, and wondered how they would ever get back.  She turned and followed her friends reluctantly.

In the center of the island, in a small clearing among the brush and trees, the gray obelisk stood, casting a shadow like a sundial.  Rose walked up to the stone and touched it, feeling the smooth rock beneath her fingers.  It was a monument of some kind, with names carved in lists down the flat side.  At the top was an emblem, a bird soaring free.  The girl read some of the names, but though they seemed familiar, she did not recognize them.  Scarlet looked at the massive stone and hung her head low.  She knew what the marker meant.

“It’s those who died in the war,” she said quietly.  “The people who were killed when the dead rose and began eating the living. This island was a sanctuary, and the names on this stone were the survivors who held fast against the undead horde.”

Crimson gasped.  “So many,” she cried, tears flowing freely down her rosy cheeks.  “So many people.”

Rose nodded stoically.  “They died, and some of them stayed dead.  But the rest did not, and were put down again by those who remained.  It was a savage time, when all mankind was on the brink of extinction.  But now, the plague is no more, and we live free because of the bravery of men and women like these.”  She touched the stone again, tracing a finger over the names.

“No, that’s not true,” Scarlet whispered.  “We are not free, Rose.  We did not win.  We simply don’t remember.  Come here, look.”

Rose joined her friend on the other side of the gray obelisk, Crimson following behind.  There on the stone were three names she did recognize: her own, Crimson’s and Scarlet’s.  “How can this be?” she cried in alarm.

Crimson sobbed as she read her own name.  “Does this mean we’re dead?” she asked through her tears.

“Yes,” Scarlet replied and sat down in the tall grass.  “And we have been for a long time.  We simply don’t remember because…”

“Because why?” Rose asked angrily as the girl became silent.  “Why would we not remember?”

Scarlet looked at her with sad eyes, and with a whisper she answered, “Because we choose not to.”

The secret revealed, the three ghost girls faded from view.  Far away, an eagle cried as it soared through the empty concrete canyons of the silent, desolate city, the builders and inhabitants gone forever from the world they once thought they ruled.

The End

Author’s Notes: I wrote this short story as a sort of surreal fairy tale.  The characters are meant to be interpreted as pieces of a single whole (thus the naming convention).  The story was rejected because the characters were very one dimensional, which I think it true but also the point of the story.  It’s not meant to be especially deep or developed, as fairy tales rarely are.

In any case, this was more or less an experiment, and not representative of my usual narrative style.

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