Bewildering Stories

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Red Water

by Kevin Grover

The red water curled from the man in tiny streams, joining the pool at Flynn’s feet. He looked down in disgust and wonder as the fluid trickled down the pavement, staining everything it came into contact with. A street light cast a pool of light around them as Flynn bent down to get a better view. He reached out a finger and felt the warmth of the fluid. Looking away from the mess, he saw a shadowy figure vanish around the corner, leaving Flynn alone with Garret. Everyone else had retired for the night, Flynn wanting to join them.

“Brother Garret?” Flynn called uncertainly to Garret, who seemed to rest in red mess. He kept his voice low, afraid to disturb the populace. “Listen, you really shouldn’t be sleeping in the street like this.”

There was no response from Garret. How rude, Flynn thought. Garret stared at him without blinking, a silence about him that was unnatural. A wind picked up and blew a chill breeze down the street, but Garret didn’t seem to notice the cold. Flynn lent closer and stared deep into Garret’s emotionless eyes. Waving his hand in front of Garret’s vision, he tried to get a response, a blink at the very least. When that didn’t rouse him, he shook his shoulder gently until he rolled over onto his back, his limbs flopping out into the red water. What was up with the man?

“Look, I’m going to have to go home now, brother Garret. The night is growing old, and I have an early start in the morn.” He got to his feet, wiping his hands on his robe, staining it red. He cursed under his breath, annoyed that his best robe was now ruined if the stain was permanent. Perhaps it was wine? Troubled, he said, “Brother, I will bid you good night.”

Garret stared back in a way that seemed to say goodnight in return. Accepting that, Flynn strolled down the street towards home, looking forward to bed. As he walked, he tried to get the image of Garret from his mind. What if he was not right? There was a word they used to have for that and he searched his memory for it. Sick! What if he was sick? Wasn’t that something to do with creatures that could set up house in a person? He stopped, looked back at Garret who remained on his back, looking at the multitude of stars. That was it, Flynn decided. Garret, somehow, had become sick. How did you get sick? He had never come across this before. There was stuff in the archives about how it had wiped out an entire country before they had eliminated it forever.

“Germs,” Flynn said to himself, remembering what he had read with a flourish. He walked back to Garret, keeping his eyes open for lurking germs, aware of his echoing footsteps in this quiet night world. He would have to be careful, he realised, leaving the moment he saw the germs so they couldn’t attack him. They would be easy to recognise, since everyone on the island knew everyone else, and a strange looking face would be easy to spot. That was assuming Germs had faces. They might be some sort of animal that leapt on you and made you sick. With horror, Flynn wiped his hands on his robe again. The red stuff could be the Germs, his mind flashed at him. It might soak into his skin and make him sick. Too late now, the damage was done. There had to be some procedure to follow when you are sick. What did their ancestors do when such a thing happened, in those dirty days?

“Brother Garret, are you sick?” Flynn called. The response came on the wind as silence. The sick or the germs must stop you hearing and moving. There was nothing he could do, except try to move Garret and take him back to his house. Being a small man, Flynn realised he would need help to move Garret’s bulk. But sick and germs lurked, people would panic. They didn’t have to know what was wrong with Garret, he could tell them he was sleeping heavily. Someone would be able to help Garret.

“Don’t move anywhere, Garret; I’m going to get help. Try not to let any more germs get to you.”

Garret lay still as ever, perhaps counting the stars. The wind grew stronger, but it didn’t even cause a blink. He waited in the pool of street light for Flynn’s return, thoughts gone from his mind. There was only the wind and the cold, but that didn’t matter.

“What’s all this about?”

The Mayor was a tall man with a vulture’s face so sharp it cut you in half. He stood over Garret, looking down at him with Flynn. “Brother Garret,” he called out with suspicion. “It’s been an amusing joke, but now you have to get up and go home.”

Garret’s gaze remained fixed at the stars in response, looking rather peaceful. His expression, Flynn thought, was that of wonderment, like he had just seen an angel up there in space. Flynn looked up, trying to see what Garret saw. “It’s a clear night,” he said, his mind miles away.

The Mayor stabbed his face into Flynn’s. “This is more serious than I think you realise, brother.” He looked back down to Garret. “That red stuff you have all over your robe is not wine. It’s blood. Garret’s blood.”

Flynn looked down at his red stained robe. Blood was something inside the body, he mused, so why would it be outside like this? He leaned closer, inspected Garret’s head and saw the blood was pouring from under his hair. “His blood is escaping from his head,” he said. “We need to get it back in, right?”

The Mayor sighed, rubbing his long nose. “You don’t understand, brother. This is an act of murder. Garret is dead.”

Unable to think of words, Flynn stared at the Mayor, his mouth opening and closing in shock. Murder was a crime, something that hadn’t existed for centuries. No one died young in the middle of the street. You lived to be at least two hundred and died in your bed. Through centuries of eliminating the criminal genes, they had removed all crime from society along with those germs that made people sick. So without crime, Flynn realised, there were no procedures in place to deal with it. Chaos would spew forth and cripple their entire world. There was a strange feeling within Flynn that made him feel weak. He wondered what it was as he wiped beads of sweat from his brow. A panic feeling, he realised, his breathing becoming laboured. The alien feeling was a novelty to him, but quickly became unpleasant.

“We have to hide him,” the Mayor said with bitterness in his voice. “I don’t want people thinking crime has returned. You know what’ll happen.”

Flynn nodded in agreement. “If we ignore this, then the crime should go away. No one need ever know.”

They moved quickly, dragging Garret down the street, carefully avoiding spilling any of his blood. There was a garbage compactor they could put Garret in, just a mile or so away on the next block. Being late, no one else would be up and about to witness this, so the crime would be covered up neatly. Flynn was relieved the Mayor was here to take over in such a decisive manner. As they flung Garret into the compactor, it came to life and Garret vanished forever in a squelching then crunching sound. He felt sadness, knowing he would never see his friend again.

“People will miss him,” Flynn said, as they made their way back to the street to clear up the blood.

The Mayor shrugged. “We can say he left, tired of life here. We’ll delete his file, slowly erase him from people’s memory. Society must go on.”

They cleaned the blood up with torn of bits of their robes. It stained the pavement, but no one would have a clue what it was. The crime was covered over before dawn, and Flynn felt relieved. In the morning, they would wake and no more crime would exist, as it should be. People would miss Garret, but he would just fade into gossip as the person who left one day without word. They would ask him if he knew where Garret had gone, but he intended to just shrug and be as confused as everyone else.

“There’s just one more thing to worry about,” the Mayor said, his bulbous eyes fixed on Flynn. “You are the only witness to this. How do I know you won’t spread this around, Brother?”

Flynn shrunk away from the Mayor’s menacing stare. “You can count on me.”

“Yes, I do trust you, brother. You will go home and hide those blood stained robes and say no more of this.”

Nodding enthusiastically, Flynn said, “But there’s just one last problem.”

“Another problem?”

“All we’ve done is cover up this crime, but what about the person that did it? He could murder again.”

The Mayor frowned. “Did you see anyone?”

There was a figure, Flynn remembered. He had noticed someone hurrying away, but had thought nothing of it at the time. Perhaps that was the criminal? That meant he could still be around, watching them. The thought made him shiver and he looked nervously around at the night. “I think there was someone, Mayor, but you would have seen him, too.”

The Mayor shrugged. “I saw no one. Let’s just hope this person doesn’t do it again.”

“What if he does?” Flynn didn’t like the idea that a killer was walking among them, but what could they do? There were no laws or punishments, because there was no need for them. Had the day come when they would have to put in place laws and a police system? Just for one person? Before the elimination of the defective genes, there had been overcrowded prisons and overwhelmed police forces. As they walked down the street towards their domes, the thought nagged at Flynn’s mind. What would they do?

“If this happens again, we cover it over as best we can,” the Mayor said, thoughtfully. “The criminal will hopefully tire of it or just go away.”

That was enough to settle Flynn’s unease. If this happened again, the Mayor would deal with it. “I’m glad you happened to be strolling in the area,” he said.

The Mayor looked at him suspiciously, yet with cold calmness. “Quite,” he said.

Copyright © 2003 by Kevin Grover