by Rebekah Postupak
As quickly as she appeared, the woman in the red dress vanished into the woods.
I watched her go with a sigh. This was the sixth night in a row for that mysterious vanishing crimson-clothed woman, and I did not yet know quite what to make of her. Was she a ghost? A vision? A result of my having eaten (again) a shade too much mincemeat pie after supper?
The real estate agent, herself ironically sporting a raspberry-tinted shawl, had warned me, in her own vague way. “You’ll love it here,” she’d said. “The neighbors will leave you alone.”
Since my sweet little cottage at the edge of the woods was the only building on the fifty-acre lot, I’d taken her words as a joke. Now I wasn’t so sure.
The woman in the red dress hadn’t been the only person, either.
First there’d been the broad-shouldered man striding past, a fiercesome axe resting casually on one shoulder. I’d told myself the blood red-marked handle was merely décor. In any event it hadn’t mattered, as within moments he had disappeared into the trees. That had been at breakfast the day after my arrival.
A couple of hours later I’d seen an old woman, hunched over so far her bony chin nearly scratched her knees. She moved quickly for such an aged person, and in her hands she clutched a basket of sparkling vermillion fruit. Plums, probably, or apples; both were native to this part of the country, and in season. She was the only one of the passersby to appear to note my house, glancing across the lawn to where I stood at the window. Her feet hesitated, as though she were considering coming my way, but after a prolonged moment she too plunged into the shadows.
That very night I could have sworn I saw two children, holding hands and rushing weeping past. A string of tiny glowing stars trailed behind them, dropped methodically by one child’s free hand and laying an ethereal path. When I checked at first light, however, the grass betrayed no sign of their passing. In fact, it showed nothing at all but dew: cold and wet and, somehow, sad.
There had been others, too. Short, tall. Alone, or in small clusters. They carried baskets, or swords, or food, or drawstring purses, or stumbled by emptyhanded. I witnessed their journeys in sunlight and in moonlight, and cloaked in storm-black night.
It is the woman in red who haunts me.
Screaming, I have woken from a dozen rose-tinged nightmares. When I turn from tidying the den or sweeping the hall, more than once I have caught a flash of scarlet out of the corner of my eyes. Her carmine cloak lurks behind my doors. Garnet bubbles pop, mocking me, in dishsoap foam.
I moved here because it looked safe. Quiet.
But perhaps it is true, after all, what they say. Perhaps peace is only a fairytale, even for a gentle-hearted wolf like me.
Written today for the weekly flash contest #FinishThatThought, springing from the required opening sentence and incorporating the judge’s challenge to use at least four shades of red. This is one of my favorite weekly contests because you get FIVE HUNDRED WORDS. Clearly host Alissa Leonard is MUCH kinder than I.