Red was off school for a week. Not that he needed it, since he spent most of his days at home anyway.
It was autumn, when the trees had just finished their journey of turning yellow and red and all the colours in between, starting to dry and fray in the outer corners, gradually rotting. Snow was on its way, in fact some flakes had fallen just the night before, but melted away on the still slightly warm ground. The grass was in a shade of pale yellow, as if painted by the same colour-palette as for a moth. The sky was dark, but still in a shade of blue. Red liked the coloured leaves and he was sad it had to go away. He hated winter. Hated it. Quite frankly, he hated white overall. He felt nauseous just thinking about it, because it was just wrong. These last few days had been hell for him, knowing he had to go through the same thing as every other year before. His favourite thing being taken away and replaced by disgusting white was like witnessing a friend die and he’d do anything to get it back. It was so bad that just seeing the snow had made him so upset his brain couldn’t even function for the whole five hours it lasted. Autumn was his favourite time of the year, and red was such an amazing colour. Hence his nickname. The colour red was just soothing. In fact, it was the only thing that could really calm him, especially when he felt like this.
The world could look so pretty when it was dying.
The air was cold. A thunderstorm had struck the town, lighting up the sky every other second, exposing the coloured trees and bathing Red’s bedroom in a pale light. The rain was shattering loudly against the metal roof and against the windows. Red woke up with his knees pulled to his chin, arms wrapped around his legs, staring into the darkness. He was still for a moment, an uneasy feeling starting to build up. Then the thunder struck again and he sat up quickly. The watch on his bedside table showed 3:44 AM. He looked out the window, framed by his perfectly red curtains, and saw his own reflection, morphed and blurry. The lightning and thunder struck at the same time, showing his startled reflection. The loud, rumbling sound slowly died down, faded out until it had vanished completely. He nodded.
“Cool,” he said.
He liked bad weather. He liked the dark. Not as much as red, but he still enjoyed it. He liked being not easily seen, for some reason, as if he had something to be ashamed of. Some strange comfort in going by unnoticed. He was this semi-adult, full-on-awkward and way-too-cool-for-this sort of guy, so it really just was in his nature. But for some reason he now felt all but content. Something was not right. Something was wrong. Maybe something out there, but he didn’t know what.
Was it the way the heavy rain was washing away all the last hints of autumn? Ripping out the very last remaining red-coloured leaves and turning them into mush on the ground that soon would be covered in god-awful white?
Anxiety was tying itself in a knot in his chest, several knots, building itself out and using up all the small space there was inside his ribcage. He didn’t understand why. It was dark; he should still feel safe. Why would something like that just change? Instead of soothing him it felt as if it was damaging him, tearing at his insides. It was a chaos in his head and he started to feel dizzy. He thought for sure he’d die if he didn’t fix what was so awfully wrong.
Ridden with worry, he stood up and put on some clothes and went downstairs. He should have been getting on with his routine, like measuring up his cereals and showering with an exact amount of soap, really just his silly everyday rituals that his head told him he needed to do or he’d go nuts. But something was not right. It felt eerie. He knocked on the wall along the staircase, three times like he always did, but it was still wrong. Something was missing. And he felt like eyes were coming out of the walls, judging him. Or as if someone was following him. But when he turned back—which he did several times while trying to just make his way down the creaking stairs—there was nothing. Just obscure silhouettes in the pitch black, but nothing abnormal. The one thing he once loved so much was now betraying him. A stab in the back. Doesn’t a true friend stab you in the front, after all?
Once he reached the end of the stairs, and the last creaking sound from the last step had rung out, the house was quiet. Chilly, silent and still. But something was still wrong. Despite the stillness, his body was in absolute rebellion. He heard nothing but the rain and his pulse, which was gradually beating harder, so hard he could swear he felt his ribs shift with each pound. The frustration rose inside him, like flames so hot he felt as if he was boiling.
Then the thunder struck again with the light flashing through the room, and he jumped at the surprise. He realized he was standing there furious in the hall in the middle of the night. He was just getting himself worked up! All for nothing. Nothing at all to worry about. Just paranoia, of course.
But suddenly he heard a slow, wheezy breath behind him. His blood ran cold. When he turned around, his eyes could just barely make out all the contours of a big, white face staring back at him. It was twisting and twitching its head around, quickly and inhuman. It grinned at him, and it was the most morbid thing Red had ever seen. It was as if it was mocking him. It looked like the smile was cut right into the flesh, almost severing its head in half, and from the wound a white, milky substance had been spilling out, dripping on the floor. And the eyes, big black holes, nothing in them but still showing so much. Welling over with things he couldn’t even put into words.
Red felt lost in a trance when looking at the creature, trembling in fear and unable to move. He came to his senses and stumbled backwards, then turned around and ran out the door. Only in a T-shirt and sweat pants he ran down the muddy path, the rain streaming down his face as his hair fell in streaks over his grey eyes. The adrenaline was pumping out into his arteries, and he wanted to run but he didn’t know where to. His breathing was already so fast it felt as if he was punched in the chest with each breath he took. As the lightning struck once more, something shimmered in the grass and caught his attention. A hedge trimmer, thrown aside in the mud. He picked it up, shaking with fear. He heard the front door swing open. He looked back and saw the creature moving quickly towards him. He didn't have time to think twice. It was right in front of him. He rose the giant scissors and plunged a blade into its neck, a now tar-like, white substance shooting like a fountain from it. The grin pried open and a sound was emitted, as high-pitched as if you were to squeeze the air out of a balloon, and the thing fell to its knees and then tipped over headfirst into the mud.
Red was breathing heavily, shakily, more slowly, but still in shock. That thing couldn’t have been real. It wasn’t even human. Was he going insane for real? His head felt like it was going to explode. But something felt… different, now. He snatched the hedge trimmer back, staring down at the dead body. It wasn’t moving, just lying there, its former grin now deformed into a frown, those hollow eyes staring off into the distance. Defeated. As the rain fell on top of it, the cadaver started leaking out the same white substance, until it looked as if nothing was left of the thing but a big, grainy puddle.
Red wanted to run back inside and call someone for help, maybe run to the neighbours, but he was scared there would be more of those unknown things in there. Maybe hiding behind the curtains in his bedroom, or lurking in the darkness under his bed. Just waiting for him to return so they could snatch his leg to them and drag him in underneath. And still, something was… different. So different. He was scared—well, honestly, he was terrified—but the knots of anxiety seemed to be untying themselves. Could this possibly be a good thing? He shook his head, shuddering. His body was going numb from the cold and his arms were aching. The air smelled like iron.
He heard the gravel crush behind him, and as he turned, he stared right into the face of another creature. Startled, he fell backwards and landed in the wet grass, the monster leaning down over him. Red rolled over and got up on his feet, and kicked the creature down. And it felt good. Yeah, now he was really sure of it. It felt good to defeat that horribly coloured thing. He watched as the creature lie on its stomach and flail its arms around in attempt to grab Red and stop him, but it was too late. Red didn’t want it to be alive. It shrieked before he stomped it one last time, the sound feeling like needles pressing into Red’s eardrums. The noise apparently also caught the attention of two other ones, coming out of a neighbour’s house. But when they saw them they didn’t come running for Red, no, instead they were running away from him. And Red knew he had to run after them. And he didn’t stop until he had them out of the way as well.
Only then could he feel completely at ease.
Suddenly fearless, he went back to the house and closed the door. He sat down on the stairs, exhausted but feeling okay. It was okay now, and he knew it. The anxiety was finally gone and he felt comfortable inside. As if he had actually done something good.
He leaned against the door and must have fallen asleep because when he opened his eyes again the rain had stopped. A good night’s sleep to regenerate. And he didn’t feel afraid anymore. He yawned, then stood up and looked over the mess in front of him. He knew he had to clean it up. Expecting to see some unknown, disgusting white mess over his garden, his eyes widened when he realized that was not the fact. And then he just stared.
“Oh,” he said, simply.
There had never been any monsters. They didn’t exist. They were all in his head. And he knew immediately it was all because of his obsession. His mind playing a trick on him because of his hate. He suddenly remembered his medicine, which he had put beside his alarm clock to remember to take them in the morning when he turned it off. Part of his ritual. Part of his sanity. He was woken up by the thunder and had forgotten. Of course. A silly mistake, whatever. But it couldn’t just be as easy as that. So instead of white goo covering the grass, there was a dark red liquid, his shoes splattered with the same colour. A hedge trimmer thrown aside. His neighbour’s door was open, and no one was home. And no one would ever be home. Red’s garden was covered in human corpses and blood.
He was pretty much stunned. This was why he loved the dark, not being easily seen, and he knew this was why he rarely went to school. Stuff like this happened. He always knew it would end like this. He was just too obsessive. Too bored with things. Too-cool-for-this sort of guy.
He sat down on the cement steps and looked up at the sky. He sighed. It wasn’t as chilly outside anymore. It was lighter now; the dark clouds had left the town but still showed no signs of a sun. The trees weren’t in red or in any other lovely colour, but it was okay. The scent of rain lingered in the air, mixed with a strong smell of iron, hints of something rotting. The grass was in a shade of pale yellow, as if painted by the same colour-palette as for a moth, although stained with red splatter in various places so that it seemed like the painter had gotten bored and decided to flick his pencil into the yellow. Cool. He decided to leave it there. It felt better. Things actually felt right again, like things were how they were supposed to be again.
Because the world could look so pretty when it was dying.