Monday, August 8, 2011

Wine Red

"Who shot that arrow in your throat?
Who missed the crimson apple?
It hung heavy on the tree above your head...

This chaos, this calamity--
This garden once was perfect.
Give your immortality to me,
I'll set you up against the stars."

I... I'm not really sure how to begin this.

Y'know, on other blogs, you often see entire paragraphs of conversation, perfectly recalled, without any sort of aid from a camera or tape recorder or anything. I used to wonder how people could have such eidetic memory over seemingly trivial things, but now I think I understand. Sometimes the words just get burned into your brain, to the point where the memory, the clarity of memory, begins to physically hurt. By writing it down, we hope to maybe stop that pain. To blur the memories, blot out what was said.

But it doesn't work. It only solidifies it, increases the permanence. I honestly don't think this will ever go away, but what choice do I have?


Michelle was asleep. She keeps weird hours as it is, due to nightmares and things, but last night she was actually asleep at a normal time for once. I was lying awake like I usually do, when I heard noises from the kitchen. Michelle was asleep, and no one else was home, so who could it be?

I crept past her and tiptoed out of my room and into the hallway. From the top of the stairs, I could see something moving from the dining room over to the couch in the living room, but all the lights were out, save for the streetlight out front, which wasn't really enough to give anything more than vague shadows.

Naturally, my pepper spray and pocketknife were both sitting uselessly in my purse, and I had stupidly left my recorder in the rec room downstairs. I should've gone back for a weapon. No, I shouldn't have left my room without a weapon. But it was too late - he could see me too.

"You gonna stand there all night, or are you gonna come and join me?" The intruder raised what looked like a teacup in the darkness. "I made enough for two."

That's what he said to me. It was the beginnings of a very bad night.

And I honestly don't know why I did what I did next. Maybe I should have gone back, but I didn't dare take my eyes of him for fear of... I'm not sure exactly what. Fear that he'd vanish if I looked away? Fear that he'd run up and attack me the moment my back was turned? That second one seems more likely, considering the aura of fear he produced - fear of both kinds: I knew that I was meant to fear him, but I also knew that he was afraid. I also should have called for Michelle, but... some part of me didn't want to wake her, as it's so rare that she sleeps even moderately soundly.

So instead of doing something smart, I did something rather reckless: I reached over and turned the lights on... and tried my damndest not to shrink back at what I saw.

Sneakers, camo pants, bandaged hands (why in the hell does he still have bandages, it's not even the same body anymore!), and the trademark red hoodie obscuring his face.

Morningstar wasn't kidding. Redlight's still around.

I froze, but this was more akin to shock than terror. Redlight is one of exactly two people whom I hate without reservation (and believe me, that's quite an accomplishment), but it's still... almost a perverse sort of honor to be visited by him. A well-known Xanatos Chessmaster wanted something from me? I haven't shat that many bricks since Maduin named me a Sage.

Though the Sage thing might have had something to do with it, come to think of it...

But all of that came to me upon hindsight only. Right at that moment, I had no idea why I was rooted to the spot, only that he was there, I was alone, and I absolutely could not wake Michelle. Don't ask me why I thought that last one, because I don't have an answer, even now. I can only say it must have been something deeply, deeply instinctive.

"I want you to leave my home," I said. "Now."

"What, no tea? No pleasantries? You wound me, 'Sage'." The title was a mockery. It was plain as day.

"Get out," I said.

"But I've come at such an opportune time!" he quipped, casually setting his cup aside on a coaster. "No witnesses, no hostages aside from your little friend upstairs, no one to bitch at you when you inevitably decide to do the smart thing..."

"Get out!" My voice reached a slightly higher pitch than I intended. Even in my sleep-muddled haze, I could tell what Redlight was doing. What he always does: setting up the conversation to give himself the psychological advantage. There are many ways to get what you want out of someone. Every word was calculated, and I was giving him exactly the responses he expected.

He was just staring at me. At least, I think he was. Not letting your target see your face is another psychological advantage, meant to make people hesitate and second-guess themselves. It was working.

"What do you want from me?" I asked weakly.

He picked up his teacup again and took a long sip, then put it down slowly with barely a sound when it landed. He was making me wait to hear his answer, yet another psychological advantage. He was letting me know that he was the one calling the shots here. I needed to wake up and get on my A-game, or I wouldn't survive the night.

Finally, he said, "I suppose I could hold you hostage. Abuse you, even. Or I could go to your friend who's so worried about the dimensional issues. Perhaps I could threaten your BFF's brother Lucien, or even threaten to put my little... spoilsport plan into action, infecting fifty innocents with a concoction of my own."

I remembered the syringes Redlight had given to Morningstar, but I'm not sure if "infect" is synonymous with "kill". With so many concoctions and contingency plans... just what has this guy been up to since he "died"?

But then he smiled. I couldn't see it, but I could hear it in his voice. "But with you, I don't need to. Because I need your help, 'healer'."

And for the first time... ever, as far as I know... Redlight pulled back his hood, and showed me what was underneath.

I just... describing what he looked like would be pointless, because there wasn't even a face left to describe, it was so mutilated. Tendrils of what looked like tree roots spewed out of every orifice. They pierced his skull in every direction, almost like they were growing out of his brain, then digging themselves back in. One eye was gone entirely, replaced with a root that looped back downward into the side of his neck. I couldn't see his nose, nor was any hair visible... I'm not even certain how he was speaking coherently, because one cheek was completely bisected by a root that appeared to be coming out of his throat...

It wasn't until I felt the glass of the coffee table hit my shins that I realized I had been walking forward, trying to get a better look. I clamped down the urge to jump backwards again when I realized that, because I couldn't look like I wasn't in control of myself. I couldn't.

"So, 'doctor of the mind'," That was the third time he mocked me, although this one was slightly less forceful, "care to get to work?"

I blanched. So much for control. "I'm not a frigging brain surgeon!"

"But you can feel this, don't tell me you can't!" He got up and walked towards me, and suddenly I was terrified. "Don't tell me that you don't know exactly what kind of pain I'm in!" I'm not sure when exactly he grabbed my wrist, but he did, and it hurt. Moreover, it felt wrong. It didn't feel like a hand on me, it felt like... something else. I also started to notice other little wrong things about him; his pants and hoodie hung loosely on his frame, but they also stuck out oddly in places, covering the protrusions from inside.

...I swear some of them were moving.

Redlight let me go, but he didn't sit back down. He was breathing heavily, and loudly, like the simple act of raising his voice cost him far more energy than it should have. "You can posture all you want," he said, "but we both know you're going to help me. And I won't even need to lift a finger to threaten you. Because that... is how you are."

It was my turn to make him wait for my answer; Redlight had allowed that as a show of good faith.

But... after what he did to Ava... there was just no way. 

I shook my head. "You've hurt too many people," I said, and braced myself for the fallout.

But he just looked at me, and, after a moment, he smiled. But it wasn't the kind of sly, slimy smile I expected from someone like Redlight. It was a rictus, forced, and though it was meant to express vulnerability, I don't think he meant to look quite like that.

It was then that I realized. God help me, but... Redlight is scared.

"Now now," he said, "I'm a reasonable man, and I don't expect to get something for nothing." He reached into the pocket of his hoodie and pulled out a small envelope. "In my hand I have a few things pertaining to your... charming young friend upstairs. It took some doing, but I remember her-" I looked up in surprise. "-and I can help her get what she wants."

I shook my head and scowled. "Michelle's not gonna kill anyone." Nonetheless, I made a grab for the envelope, but Redlight snatched it away.

"Who said anything about killing?" he said as he stuffed the envelope back in his pocket and sauntered back to sit down. He was back in control. "You said it yourself, healer: there are other ways."

"What do you know?" I asked.

He arched his fingers in a thoughtful position. "As I said, this is a trade."

"Not good enough." He needed me for something, I could see that. The longer I kept him talking, the longer I had time to think.

"Then let me ask you this," he said. "Let's say I've got, oh... two hundred-odd other host bodies out there, all people who work and play and live their lives... What happens when the infection reaches them too? What happens when it wants more?" He leaned forward onto his hands. "That's a proposition neither of us want to consider."

There was another long silence, only I had no control of the conversation during this one. Every second I waited to respond, his smirk only grew wider. I considered telling him to release his connection with all those people (howeverthefuck that would work, but I assume it does) and then I would see what, if anything, I could do, but I really had no way of knowing whether he would actually do it, regardless of anything he could say.

Finally, I said, "Again: what is it you think I can even do?"

"Please," Redlight said with a scowl. It twisted his face even further, and the roots seemed more prominent than ever. "Enough of this playing coy. If I don't get what I want from you, I'll get it from your gender-confused buddy across the river," It took me a moment to realize he was talking about Nick, and I couldn't help but growl, "but it will happen. You have each, in your own time, pursued a very obscure branch of study, and you, healer-Sage, have admitted to its practice on your blog, so stop pretending you don't know exactly what it is I need!"

"I'm nobody," I whispered.

"You keep insisting on that," Redlight snarled, standing up again. He was hunched over like someone very, very old, and he leaned on the table for support. "Yet I confess I had a secondary reason for choosing you." He seemed to find his composure again, and put his disfigured face right up in front of mine. Each place the roots pierced was bleeding like a perpetually open wound. "You're an elusive little critter, aren't you? Been rather lucky so far, against the man's... predatory habits. Someone who can pull that off can't exactly be nobody. And considering I wanted to do this outside of his gaze, else he'd probably rip me to pieces because of this... unwelcome virus hunting me down..." He gave me the rictus smile again and tapped his the side of his head. "Well, what's left of this rotting noggin thought of you." Redlight backed up and, very slowly, sat down once again. "So here I am, Mind Doctor," he said. "Fix me."

I thought of Nick. I thought of Kay and Lucien. I thought of Michelle and the envelope in Redlight's pocket. I thought of the hundreds of innocent people Redlight was willing to use to run from the Bleeding Tree's infection for as long as he could. And I thought of Morningstar and that silver briefcase of liquid death.

"I'll look," I said. "I have no idea what this is, so I can't promise anything. But I'll look."

Redlight just grunted and sat back, watching me carefully.

Slowly, well-aware of the unadulterated stupidity of what I was about to do, I sat down next to him (though as far away as I could reasonably get; I still saw the lumps under his hoodie twitching, though it could've just been a trick of the light), placed a hand as near to the mass of roots and decaying flesh as I could bear, and unfocused my eyes.

I almost couldn't understand it. I thought that by analyzing Redlight I could get some information out of him, but even now, hours and hours later, I can't make sense of half of what I saw. For example, I knew the roots were there, and I could see the spasms of pain they caused... but it was like the body itself didn't know they were there. There was no immune system reaction, not to the roots, and not to the wounds they caused.

The brain somehow still fired, even with all the places it was impaled, but the connections were... tainted, somehow. Something would go off, but the signal would hit the root and get... rerouted, somehow... and then back through the brain where it was supposed to go. I wasn't able to look at that for long, because I kept getting the sickening image of someone playing puppeteer with a corpse.

And then... the roots themselves.

They were at the very edge of itself, like staring at a scrap of fingernail and trying to describe what the person attached to them looks like, but I could still sort of tell: These roots are the kind that spread out for miles, deep beneath the forest. Sometimes it is the forest, and all the visible trees are actually part of the same organism. They penetrate deep, and where one is cut, another tree grows from it, one that will spread just as far as its parent, given time and space to grow.

But there's more to it than that. Trees, even single-organism forests, are passive. They bend in the wind, twine around obstacles, and turn their leaves to follow the sun as it traverses the sky. This... this thing... I don't honestly think it's really a tree. I can't even comprehend what it really is.

I didn't want to touch it, whatever it was. Every fiber of my being was telling me to get out, to run, but staying still was just so much easier... So... I did something...

I just wanted to see what it would do. Really. Because I told Redlight I would see if anything could be done. I never meant to do anything, it was just experimental.

I took a handful of white blood cells and pointed them in the direction of the roots, the infection, and impressed on them that the roots did not belong there.

The results were... catastrophic.

As soon as the immune system woke up even that little bit, the roots stopped playing passive and fought back with a vengeance. They came alive within Redlight's body, twisting, writhing, digging further and further. We both screamed, and Redlight shoved me to the ground and ran out the door.

I got up and ran after him - instinct, I guess. But when I got to the door, I stopped. Without even knowing why, I froze in my tracks. I knew without seeing that there was something terrible outside.

I opened the door anyway.

There, just across the boundary between my front lawn and my next-door neighbor's, is a young tree that hadn't been there before. It's only the size of a large-ish sapling, but it's twisted and gnarled as any thousand-year oak. The trunk splits at the bottom into two bases, and both are rooted fast to the ground. Of the three main limbs, the two longer ones reach out on either side, both bent upward in the middle. The shorter one reaches straight up, and splits off into many smaller branches. None of them bear leaves. Instead, a red hoodie hangs in tatters among the branches spearing through it, shreds of fabric already falling to the ground.

It... It looks like the warped silhouette of a running human.

I felt someone behind me, and whipped around, but it was only Michelle. She had heard the screams and came down to see what was happening.

And then the sun came up.


I tried to sleep this morning. I wanted to see if this would all be a nightmare when I woke up. But even though I was more tired than I had ever been in my life, all I could do was doze a bit. And, predictably, the tree was still there when I got up again.

I haven't gone out yet to get a closer look at it. I'm afraid that I'll be able to see a face where Redlight's head used to be.

But it's not as though Redlight's dead. Oh no, that would've been too easy. When I woke up, I found a voice mail on my cell phone from an unknown number (a pay phone, apparently). It was a harsh, raggedy voice, slightly deeper than the one I remembered, and sounding as though he had just run a mile. The message just said, "I'll deal with you later, mind doctor."

So if Redlight is alive, somewhere else, in some other body... then why can I still hear screaming?

I've spent most of this afternoon watching people walk right past it, like they don't even notice it's there. Unlike them, I haven't been able to stop staring at it.

...Goddammit, Once on this Island was my favorite play.


  1. Oh.
    Oh my god.
    Oh my god, Ryuu.
    You can't be alone right now. You need, fuck, someone, /anyone/ with you. He's /pissed/ and will most likely....
    Fucking hell, Kay, Nick, /anyone/. I'll come if I need to.

    This is far from good. For any of us.

  2. Val, do you need to come up here?

  3. Redlight really gets around. A Pity he did not kill you. I would have LOVED to see what dear Michelle would do if you DIED.

  4. Oh my god, Ryuu... You need to get out of there...

  5. From what I've read, anytime that Redlight even appears, the fallout is massive. Get out of there.


  6. Blaph, hallowed, dreamers, proxies, revenants, redlight, leeches, And now this.. demon trees.

    ..And the glossary keeps growing.

  7. Demon trees, try the damn forest of the damned in Dante's Inferno. I read that for college. First thing I thought of

    Freaking hell, between this and everything going on at my end, I am SO not sleeping tonight.


  8. Alora
    You had read it too? I thought that people didn't read classics anymore.

    You should not let this disturb you. Does not matter how terrifying it may be. We all need to be in our senses when real tests arrive.