Red River, by Carmen Peters
This story was inspired by On the Banks of the Red River, by Marcel Dzama (Canada) contemporary. Click here to view.
The leaves of the red maple are more vivid today. Occasionally ichor wells up on the leaves, and when it becomes too thick to bear the tree bends and the liquid falls and enters the sandy earth, where it hides from prying eyes. Blood sprinkles the riverbank like spring rain.
A young man, a boy really, struggles to reload his rifle. His fingers are slippery with fear and viscera. Around him are the bodies of fellow men and enemies. The air cracks with gunshots and shrieks.
A soldier who has been kind to the boy raises his own rifle and points its death-end at a descending creature, its body furred and winged, its eyes sharp and its teeth dark. The soldier twitches his trigger finger but he is too slow, and the bat-thing reaches him and that is that. The soldier falls to the ground and is no more. The creature turns to face the boy but the boy finds his wayward nerves and thunders his gun and the creature falls to the ground, a weeping kiss opening upon its chest. The sand of the riverbank drinks deep. Red rain falls unending.
Why this battle? Why pantomime a spring day in autumn? The boy doesn’t know: he just finds himself in the moment. Eyes, both living and dead, stare glassily at the ongoing fracas. All faces have become streaked with gore and grief. The body piles have grown high, and they are troublesome to trudge over.
A creature with the face of the boy’s father lunges at him, gibbering backwards poetry all the while. The boy runs the man through with his bayonet, and the man’s head comes off and flies up to join the bats and other denizens of the wild. Many heads are up there, and although the boy doesn’t recognize any others, he knows they belong to the past. That’s just how it is on the riverbank.
The boy’s fingers have been greased now, and he clicks and shoots with efficiency. The maples on the bank and the carp in the water are feasting. A head comes at him and he fires at it and it dissolves into gunpowder haze. This happens again and again. Time passes. The boy gets older. Spots and moles appear on his person. His vision blurs. He can’t feel anything but the wooden weight of his gun.
Eventually, things begin to peter out. The creatures move less quickly. The soldiers die more slowly. The boy who then became a man and who is now an elder can no longer lift his arms. He tries to look for the face of his father but his vision fails him. All that is, is red mist.
Everything, eventually, comes to a stop. The strings are cut. Lighting is fixed. The old man is a standing corpse, his veins full of suspended blood. The only moving objects are the red maples, as their leaves let loose spent life onto yearning ground.
Carmen Peters (she/they) is a writer and student living in Portland, Oregon. As a lover of horror and speculative fiction they aren't afraid to dive into the deep end, and as a sapphic trans woman she strives to express the magic of queerness. In their spare time they enjoy tarot, exploring strange nooks and crannies, and recalling nightmare fuel from her childhood. Their latest fiction can be read in Black Cat Magazine and in the upcoming Prismatic Dreams anthology from All Worlds Wayfarer. She can be found on Instagram @Carmen_Dreams_Ghosts.
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