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Crimson and Scarlet

Kate Murray

Kate Murray has recently completed her Masters in Creative Writing and is currently working as an illustrator and writer. Her first anthology of short stories ‘The Phantom Horse’ came out in December 2013 and she subsequently has had another anthology published by Raging Aardvark. “Love Just Is” looks at the truth of love, in all its guises from romantic to obsessive. She is currently working on an anthology of ghost stories which should be published at the end of October 2014 and is also writing her first novel. Kate runs two blogs, one is about her life as a writer ( and the other is a serialisation of a novel, “The Gone”; a disaster hits the world while Bitsy is on a flight from Italy. She lands to find that the world is completely altered and she must learn to survive in a place where everyone is not who they appear to be.

.The man walks down the alley the wind whipping his hair and clothes in a frenzy of autumn leaves and dust. It is surprisingly dark and the man is surprised. Surely it ought to be morning, he can’t be that late? “Must be overcast,” he says, his voice particularly tinny and foreign. He coughs to clear his throat and hurries on past the large windows which stare darkly. He reaches the doors and pushes the handle, surprised they have not opened automatically. The doors swing inward silently and he stumbles through, stopping just inside, adjacent to the reception desk.


          “They appear broken,” he says conversationally, but the two women just stare at the doors, not acknowledging his presence. They are wrong. The thought comes unbidden to his mind. They are all angles and sharp corners, almost caricatures of people. They do not move, just stare, as if someone has hit the pause button in a movie, yet he is able to move around. A shiver ripples up his back and the man considers reaching out to touch them, to break their stillness. Rationally he tells himself that there is no point. He knows where he is going. He has given many lectures in the cinema, an unusual venue but not the strangest.


          As he hurries past the desk he looks down. There is no sound, not even the soft shuffle and pat of his loafers on the tiled floor. Abstractly he notices he is missing one tassel; whilst the left bounces and waves joyfully its neighbour is absent. This simple observation makes the man feel vulnerable and suddenly afraid. Everything is wrong and the oddities scream through his mind. Taking a deep breath he continues on toward the double doors. This lecture is one he has given many times before. Trying not to run he powers on through the doors, their red velvet panels feeling somehow alive under his hands, and he wipes them on his trousers. Now inside the cinema he walks toward the screen, ignoring the soft sigh of the doors closing, as if they welcome his intrusion. A lectern is set up on the stage and he removes his lecture notes before placing his briefcase beside it. He straightens and looks out at the sloped chairs.


          Half way up the auditorium is a girl. The man glances at her as he shuffles his papers. She is sitting perfectly still. Her arms are resting on the crimson velvet upholstery and, although she is dressed in black and white, her very stillness makes her appear part of the chair. Her hair is black and straight and held back with a scarlet ribbon. In the completely red room the ribbon glows as it clashes. The man looks away, pretending to study his papers. Something is wrong with the child. The lecture is for university students yet she appears to be just out of school. He looks up to check her appearance and gives an audible gasp. She’s gone. Where? Quickly, and trying to appear unconcerned, he looks around the room. Nothing. Unless she has ducked behind the chair. Stepping down from the stage he winces as his feet stick to the carpet, making soft sucking sounds as he shifts his weight, the sound surprisingly loud as it appears to echo off the walls.


          A small cough comes from behind him. The man freezes and an involuntary sound escapes his lips. Slowly he turns. The child is standing so very close. She is barely five feet tall and is looking up at him with incredible cornflower blue eyes. Her red lips curve into a smile and she holds out a hand in greeting. The man doesn’t stop to think but reflexively grasps her hand to shake it. Any words he wants to say die on his lips. Her skin is cold and clammy, almost reptilian, and he can feel her texture crawl over his body, making him shiver and step back. But she does not release his hand. Instead he has to pull it from her grip. It feels sticky and he automatically has to look down. His palm is red. In shock he stares at the girl.


          Her pretty blouse is stained red from the wrists up and her hands appear as if they are dipped in paint. Yet the smell is sweet and metallic. He can taste it. He steps back holding his hand away from his body as if it has been contaminated.




           The girl smiles, drawing back her lips in a humourless grin. Her teeth appear pointed and she has eaten something the same colour as that on her arms. It has stained between her teeth.


           Without pause he whirls around and runs up the stairs of the auditorium, his feet making soft squelching noises as he sticks to the carpet. There is silence behind him. Halfway up he realises that he is on the wrong side of the building for the exit, but the toilets are in front of him. Pushing open the door he squints as the harsh light clicks on. In the huge wall mirror his doppelganger stares back, wide-eyed and pale. Moving to the sinks he runs the water and holds his hands under the spray. The red washes off staining the white porcelain pink. He looks in the mirror, noting his wide-eyed stare has gone and he appears more like himself. He is alone, but the door behind him is swinging. He turns spraying the white walls with a pale pink wash, which slowly drips from the tiles like melting wax. His hands braced on the table top behind him and with his back to the mirror he flinches as a small cold damp hand closes around his forearm.


            Breathing hard he feels compelled to look down and briefly meet the eyes of the child. The blue clashes with his brown, his fearful and hers amused and knowing.


           “Please,” he whispers. She leans forward and for a moment he thinks she will place a kiss on his arm but at the last second her mouth opens impossibly wide and she sets her teeth to his flesh, pausing before increasing the pressure and breaking the skin.


            Pain lances up his arm, hot and constant. Shaking his arm he pulls himself away from her, watching in horror as his flesh is ripped open. Screaming, he runs, feeling the blood drip steadily down his hand. Back in the pulsing red of the auditorium, his scream dies, but his mouth is open, gaping, silent. Fear has gripped him and he flees. Running out of the cinema he moves into the blackness beyond.


           Behind him the girl walks slowly from the picture house, smiling. She pauses to place a small piece of paper onto the reception desk, seemingly unworried that the women do not move. Slowly she skips outside, the frilly tops to her socks bouncing and her sleek hair jumping.


           Inside the lobby it appears that someone has said ‘action’ and, just like a clockwork toy, everyone begins to move and breathe. Noise fills the silence. A young woman walks up to the desk, checking out the flyers. She picks up the one left by the child, wrinkling her nose at the brown stain that runs along one side.


            “Where’s this?” she asks the nearest receptionist.


            “Oh goodness,” she exclaims. “That happened last year.” She takes the flyer and shows her companion who nods her agreement.


            “It’s a shame I missed it,” the student says.


            “It never happened,” one of the woman explains.


            “No,” confirms the other. “The professor had an accident. A car accident. He hit a child. There were no survivors.” She shakes her head, sadness filling her face but her eyes betraying the eagerness of the gossip.


            The student shrugs and replaces the flyer, wiping her hand down her jeans.

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