So I had this idea today, that you take someone’s random tweet and use it as the first line of a short story. I haven’t written fiction in a while and have not written short fiction in particular in even longer (I’m thinking maybe since early in the last decade, horror of horrors) so this might turn out to be a complete hot mess. But practice makes perfect, and here goes. The tweet I chose was from Brian Ray, who’s a member of Paul McCartney’s band as well as an accomplished musician in his own right. And a very nice guy whom I’ve had the fortune to meet in real life. I don’t know why, then, the story turned out to be so dark. I’m actually having a really nice day. Anyway, first the tweet, and then the story.
I dreamt we were in a hallway and everything turned red. Not blood red, my dreams aren’t that morbid. But I looked at Ruby standing next to me and watched shades of persimmon, crimson and coral slither across the walls like oily tentacles, infecting the drab greens and browns of the drywall and the peeling old paintjob. Spilling out onto the floor, the rush of red seeped into the pile and coiled itself around the ashtray at the far end, in front of the window. I couldn’t be sure why this was happening now, or why this peculiar maroon plague had chosen to intrude upon my mind at that particular moment. Was there some unknown, buried, Freudian reason for it, or was it just my unconscious mind’s way of redecorating an otherwise boring scene? I mean, red is hardly my favorite color. Give me a deep royal blue or a fresh, citrus yellow.
Ruby didn’t seem to mind, or even notice. Long, toned legs strolled down the hallway on thin leather heels, oblivious to the changing colors swirling around her. “Room 444,” she whispered, her eyes flitting across the brass digits nailed to the doors that were mutating into burgundy as we passed them. She stopped at the last door on the left, swiped a keycard through the lock, and stepped through. I followed, my steps languid and halting as if someone had turned up the gravity a touch too high. Red continued churning in front of me. I wanted to be out of this hallway, somewhere safer, less vivid. I longed for the placid tones of builder’s beige.
Room 444 had no red in it. It was an executive suite with a raised queen bed done in blacks and browns. A wooden desk, or at least a plastic-that-looks-like-wooden desk, was shoved into one corner. There were no windows. Ruby was sitting on the bed, legs crossed, hands folded on her knee, facing me with the sense of calm that usually only comes at the behest of a large injection of horse tranquilizer. It could easily be mistaken for boredom, but that couldn’t be the case. We’d been looking forward to this for a long time. She’d planned every last detail. She’d told me through instant messages for weeks and weeks how excited she was. I had to disable all the sound and vibration alerts on my phone to keep my wife from finding out.
I wanted to say something suave and masculine, but I felt confidence drain out of my body like an accidental stream of urine down a pantleg. “Uh…” dribbled out from between my lips with the vitality of the world’s most timid prairie dog, any pretense at me taking charge of the situation vanishing as quickly as the sound of that single syllable in stale hotel room air.
“Well then,” Ruby said, and she leaned back on her palms, uncrossing her legs and tilting her head back, allowing her tantalizing ginger mane to tumble backwards. She was bored, I could tell now, and I wondered where the playful, seductive minx who’d lured me away from a loving wife of fifteen years had gone. In a way, it seemed just as well. I wasn’t in any condition to do anything. I couldn’t understand why I was so tired, why lifting a foot for a single step was like trying to wrench a fifteen hundred pound anvil from the floor. I lurched towards her and crumpled to my knees.
That’s when the red invaded again. Encroaching onto the safe blacks, browns and beiges of the executive suite in a gentle tide, lapping and retreating, moving further inwards with each wave. I felt a warmth slide up my insides as the red moved closer, parts of me turning fuzzy, feeling like one of those TV channels in the upper 800’s with no signal. My breathing sounded louder, harder. Air in my lungs was soup I had to push out with the muscles in my chest. Ruby did not react. Her eyes watched the popcorn ceiling above us as its hue too darkened from driven snow to Mouton Rothschild, the kind we’d shared together the night we met at that conference in Frisco.
My hand went to my side as the TV static spread over me, fuzzing the loudest at a spot just below my ribs. Gravity pulled on me now with the force of a thousand suns, and as I struggled to force a plea of help up through my throat, Ruby stood and let me see the white flash of the stainless steel blade hitherto concealed in her left hand. “Take that, you cheating son of a bitch,” she spat, and she placed a heel on my shoulder and shoved.
I was too numb to sense the tile floor meeting the edge of my spine. Too numb to notice the click of Ruby’s shoes as she made her exit and let the door close quietly behind her. And too numb to be truly aware of the warm pool that now spread out from beneath my body to meet the narrowing sea of vermilion that mixed with it, using swirls and splashes of what was left of my life to scrawl an eerie abstract design around what the police would undoubtedly find a few hours later, once the guy in the next room noticed the smell. They say red is the color of passion. Yet even passion has many different tones, and can drive different people to different ends.
I laid my head back down in the sticky warmth and watched all the reds come together. Shades I’d never seen and would never see again. Cerise, blush, dahlia, russet, titian, garnet.
But not blood red. My dreams aren’t that morbid.