The third installment of our annual Round Robin comes to us from GFWW President Jeff Bacot where he does a great job deepening the story and introducing us to the mysterious girl. Check back later this week for our favorite prolific author, C.A. Szarek’s, installment.
I ran till I thought my chest would explode. Asher gave chase yelling at me. The adrenaline from the burning and the stark vision of those shocks of crimson locks and those tiny green eyes peering out from the tiny blanket, made me run like a hunted gazelle in the throes of desperation with a lion snapping at his hindquarters. Faster, faster, faster.
There in the clearing, beyond the highway I could see the forest that led to Elder Mitchell’s place. Maybe redemption or relief or just some sense of justice for the deed just witnessed, came in the form of helping Elder Mitchell. His place seemed like an attractive sanctuary and respite from the nightmarish vision of an infant’s tender flesh, shamrock green eyes and flash of red hair… frying alive.
I reached the edge of the forest.
As I looked back at Asher breathing hard and giving a valiant chase, I saw the plume of light gray smoke billow up toward the daunting sky. The baby was burning. I heard a strange song in my head.
Red Skies At Night. I heard the strains of the ancient melody my Grammy once sang to me; a song from a generation lost long ago to time and hate. I wished longingly that I could have heard that song and the lyrics my Grammy knew so well, knew by heart, knew the meaning. Somehow I heard the music.
A red dawn awaits, I mused as I stared skyward at the dissipating smoke; from a world gone wrong because of a puzzling mistrust and misunderstanding of color.
I heard a collective nauseating gasp and the contented sigh of an entranced crowd of “reddist” onlookers, staring in dismayed splendor and horrified gratitude at a baking baby. Fright and bliss. Why?
Elder Thomas gazed out over the landscape of humanity and burning flesh. He raised his hands and arms slowly, palms up, eyes squeezed tightly, mouth pursed, nose flaring with the pride of power over the mass of sheep that watched the infanticide of carnage.
Asher caught up to me at the edge of the dark forest.
I turned and started to run again but paused. The thick trees and dense underbrush would not allow a dead sprint. I decided against the pointless fleeing from the burning flesh and my trusted brother. He breathlessly wobbled closer to me, weaving and panting with oxygen deprived lungs. Having been the second child, he always had trouble with movement, dexterity and coordination. I took pride in the fact that I was stronger and faster than he. But he is kin, my brother and I love him dearly. I dare not flaunt my prowess.
“Ezra, we have to go back.”
“No!” I roared. “Never. I will not be part of the “reddist” propaganda we have been force fed all our lives. I cannot bear witness to the elders’ prejudice, nonsense and lies anymore. They are trying to control us Asher, not make a point or help us. It’s “reddism” Asher, and I’m tired of it. It must stop.”
“Well…” Asher had both hands on his knees, panting. “I don’t…” he gasped again. “We have to… I…”
“No!” I interrupted, turned and ran into the forest but slowed when I heard the body thump of Asher’s collapse. I looked back at him lying face down in the dirt, leaves and brush.
“Asher. Asher what’s wrong?” I moved back out of the trees slowly and walked toward him.
“Get up Ash, we gotta go to Elder Mitchells.” I grabbed his arm and looked at his sallow ashen face. He struggled to breathe, coughed, then wheezed, then spat. His eyes had sunk back under his eyelids. His body trembled, twitched and then the tremors began. He shook more and more violently as I stood staring in helpless horror at my baby brother.
“Ash, c’mon. What’s wrong.”
He stared up at me for a second. His eyes peeled back into his skull again.
I looked back for help at the town crowd now beginning to dispel from the flesh burning feast for the eyes. The people were walking away quietly and quickly and I thought briefly of running back for help.
“Asher, please.” I shook him. “Get up. Please get up!” I gasped and tried to think but the sensory overload of this and the red flames I had just witnessed made my head spin and swirl in confused anxiety. I could feel the panicked tears beginning to stream down my cheeks. No crying. Nope, not allowed.
Too late. My mouth was wide open but my brain was closed for business.
I grabbed Asher, who was now lying on his back. I began to hug him tightly on the ground in panicked hysteria when I heard the soft, breezy voice.
“Is he ok?”
I looked up and let go of Asher and gazed around.
“I can help him.”
Again, I heard the voice but couldn’t find it. Where?
“He really needs help.”
Nothing. I froze.
“He’s not breathing.”
I felt a hand on my shoulder.
“It’s ok. I will help him.”
I turned around. It took a second of shock and awe to process what I saw. This time it was no dream and I was no specter. There she stood right in front of me. Real this time. Her.