Painted Red

By Claire Dever

Beep. Beep. Beep.

There was noise in my ears. I wanted it to stop. How do I make it stop? I need it to stop. Find it, find it, find it.
No, don’t move. That hurts too much. Where am I? It smells like disinfectant. It smells like stale lemons. I think there’s someone next to me. They’re not talking and their breathing is inaudible, but I feel it. It’s in my gut, right where the stabbing pain is. Why am I in pain?

Beep. Beep. Beep.

Things are coming back to me. I remember her, but only a little bit. Strawberry-blonde hair, green skin. No, not green skin. Pale skin. Green background. Grass? Grass with yellow. Flowers. A field of flowers. Who is she?
The pain is getting worse. I can’t breathe without it hurting. I should go to the hospital. I would, but I can’t open my eyes. They’re glued shut. The smell is getting unbearable and the beeping is breaking open my ears. Any more of this and I might go crazy.

Beep. Beep. Beep.

Could someone stop the beeping? Please. I can’t think with it in my head.I remember her smell. She smells like trees and stubbornness. Amber. Her name is Amber. She has small, white teeth and a black dress. She’s holding flowers to her nose. I know she’s smiling because her eyes are crinkled. Why is she smiling? Me– she’s smiling because of me. I can feel it.

Beep. Beep. Beep.

I’m bleeding. My blood smells like pennies. The noise is getting louder, the beeping faster. People are running. I can hear the slap of their shoes on the ground. The person next to me isn’t moving. They’re still. They don’t care. Who are they? Who am I?
Slow down. Thinking too much hurts. It hurts a lot. Start from the beginning.
I think I’m seventeen. My mother calls me Jack. I hate that name. It reminds me of my father. My father. He always called me Jack when he unbuckled his belt.
This is for your own good, Jack. He would say. Take it like a man.
I call myself Theodore, I think. Maybe Ted. I like the name Ted, I don’t remember why.
I woke up early that morning. Amber and I drove separate cars to the field. She brought a friend, but they weren’t there the whole time. Maybe they left early.
I can hear someone’s voices. I think I’m underwater. I can only make out a few, bubbly words.

Alive. Beep. Fall. Beep. Terrible. Beep. Who? Beep. Stab. Beep. Blood.

My head hurts. I want to rub it, maybe feel if it’s bleeding. I can’t move my hand much, maybe only an inch or so. Why?
No. Go back. Keep thinking.
My car is red. I chose that color for a reason. I can’t remember why. It’s on the tip of my tongue.
My mother is dead. That I know for sure, as sure as the pain. Her funeral was on a sunny day. There were birds around. I was the only one that didn’t cry. My eyes were as dry as my mouth. My palms were sweaty.
Father died right after Mother. A month. No–two. They said it was soon, weirdly soon. Who is ‘they?’ Aunt. Aunt Ruby.
Aunt Ruby wanted me to live with her. She lived in Idaho. Over a thousand miles away. I refused. There was a fight, a big one. She died four days after Father. How? They died so close together. Something must have happened. Someone must have been after them.

Beep. Beep. Beep. Cough.

The person next to me coughed: a hacking, evil sound. He sounded and smelled like a smoker. His breath stunk of nicotine and mint. He was silent.
Amber. The word blinked through my mind like morse code- Amberamberamberamberamber. What happened to her? Where is she?
She was already at the field when I got there. I remember police sirens, red on yellow, screaming. I fell.
Her friend was a man. His face is fuzzy. I only remember a splatter of red and a swirl of blonde hair. He had white teeth. I saw them on the ground. Three molars. Two canines. One incisor. Three, two, one, a countdown to something. But what? My mind remained blank.

Beep. Beep. Beep.

I’m growing wary of the man beside me. He could be dangerous. When he moves, I can hear the soft clang of his belt. He could kill me, that I know. He could strangle me and I wouldn’t be able to stop him.
I hate the man next to me. I hate him. He watches, not moving. I don’t know how long I’ve been awake but it’s enough for me to know that he’s been here longer. I want to kill him– I want to bash his skull in with a hammer. I want to see his brains painted on the walls. I want him to stop breathing and coughing and watching.
Hammer.
Hammer.
Hammer.
There was a hammer with me. I could feel the sticky sweat growing on the sides where my hand was. I wasn’t nervous. I was calm, excited, maybe. The heat pressed on the back of my neck. Why did I wear all black?
Amber saw me with a smile but her body language said that she was scared. I returned the smile, said something about a lost dog. She relaxed. Her friend, boyfriend maybe, didn’t. He was angry. He saw the hammer.

Beep. Beep. Beepbeepbeepbeep.

The noise got faster, louder. I want it to stop. I need it to stop.

Beephurrybeepbloodbeepshockbeepcomabeepwakeupbeepbeepbeep.

Her boyfriend dropped. Amber was screaming. He was moaning. His blood sprayed the flowers like paint, beautiful paint. A dull rage burned through me, becoming bigger and bigger as the hammer rained down, down, down. It was my arm.
My eyes could open. I tried to move my arm. It was sore. A clanging sound echoed throughout the bright white room. It was a hospital room. I was on a bed, a thin sheet covering from my abdomen. I went to uncover my chest, but my arm couldn’t move. Handcuffs. I was handcuffed to the bed. The man next to me was big, beefy with a blue uniform, a police officer. I stared at his gun. I craved to shoot him but my hand was strapped down.

Beep. Beep. Beep.

The sound went back to normal. It was a heart monitor.
Focus. Remember Amber. Amber, sweet smelling Amber. Her blood didn’t smell like pennies. It smelled like dirt and rain and a butterfly knife rammed into my side.
A struggle, a terrible struggle. I saw red when she stabbed me. Her shrill voice made me want to claw out her throat, see her die.
The pressure of the knife in my side staggered me. I fell to the ground. Something sharp. A rock? Hit on the back of the head.
Nurse at my side. Needle in my arm. I don’t want it. Arms are heavy.
Police sirens becoming louder. Need to get out. Need to get out now.
World turning black. Turn the lights back on.
Amber ran to the car.
What car? Where am I?
Blood on my truck. Red blood, red truck.
Beeping slowing down. Thank God.
Sunflowers painted red. Blood red. I always hated the color yellow.
My eyelids are glued together. My arms are heavy.

Beep. Beep. Beep.

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