A Single Tear
It was a bleak, frigid January morning in the town of Maple, Maine. The wind danced slowly through the community’s surrounding maple trees, doing a cha-cha-slide to the right of one tree only to reenact the same movement to the left of the tree in front of it. As the wind swirled along through the nearly empty hamlet, population newly sixty-three, it touched against the Milly Moose statue standing tall and proud outside Hank’s General Store from which the salty, sweet smell of praline pecans and sea salt caramel wafted so liberally. In continuation of its dancing journey through the speck of a province, this breeze became a more aggressive dancer, turning into a full-fledged gust. This gust, in turn, grabbed a hold of the candy aroma emanating from Hank’s and pulled it all around the hamlet, swirling it this way and that the way blood swirls in water. Pretty soon, this mistral dragged the candy perfume into a junky red sedan, its red-painted armor covered in nicks and dents from the trunk to the hood. This was how Rachel Bloom Cunningham was yanked from the dulcet melody of her dream-filled nap on that early Friday morning.
Rachel, more commonly known to her associates as “Red,” opened her eyes to the sleepy sunrise on the valley thirty miles from the edge of town as soon as the smell attacked her nostrils. It occupied them as the Mongols would have occupied a village in their path of destruction. The sickly sweet odor went on up her nasal cavities, twisting and twirling around in them and seeming to infect every cubic inch of fresh air with its devilishly sugary scent.
Red hated it immediately just as she hated Maple. As she sat up in the driver’s seat, bumping her head against the roof of the car in doing so, Red thought of the hideously quaint style of the town, built to resemble, at least to her, a childish amusement park only attractive to the foolish little kids which made up so little of Maple’s population. From the painting of the general store with its clown-colored purple and red coat to the rusty and quite dilapidated merry-go-round and seahorse ride, each costing a dollar, that sat outside of the Lucky Greens Supermarket like two old-timers getting ready to croak. All any adult would see in this town is a steady place to live with understaffed stores and offices and many empty, rotting edifices that were likely to send you sprawling down to the basement with a couple of broken bones as souvenirs as soon as you set foot in the place. But to a child, the township of Maple, Maine was a full-blown wonderland filled with lush green fields abounding with gorgeous butterflies, friendlier than Mr. Rogers, an old-timey arcade on the creaking wooden wharf, and the county’s largest selection of maple-flavored and -themed goods and confections.
However, this whole place was nothing but a big sugar-coated lie, pun intended. Sure, it seemed cute from a youngster’s inexperienced perspective, but once you got older, oh, this town’s quiet but adorable nature seemed a whole lot less innocent. Here, you’d be lucky to get work as all the townsfolk were stingy about their jobs as understaffed as the town was. Each full-grown adult worked at least three jobs with some as many as nine positions to work. All of them were underpaid, but in a community of this size, it didn’t really matter as the most expensive things available were $500 dollars or less. If your customers made less, you had to sell for less, that’s how it was in Maple. Red knew better, though. In the real world, nobody cared if you couldn’t afford a water heater or if you had no money left over from paying rent to feed yourself. In addition, this town didn’t factor in crime or violence in a child’s life. Of course, there was a minute scuffle here and there, but Maple’s delinquency was in no way comparable to New York’s, Boston’s, Chicago’s, or even Bar Harbor’s. Nothing wrong or unusual or possibly detrimental to a child’s psyche happened here. In Red’s opinion, it made Maple’s citizens too soft and limp. They never knew what hardships the real world forced on you. They knew nothing of murder, arson, fraud, or anything else that wasn’t sunshine, lollipops, and rainbows. When the time came, they’d be like spaghetti: either too dry and used to their mundane, insignificant way of life to be flexible, snapping like twigs, or too wet and limp to do anything about the danger. That’s why it was the perfect place to loot.
Chase and Red had arrived at Maple at approximately 12:05 am earlier this morning. They parked the ancient, dinky sedan in front of the Founding Fathers Bank that stood as a sort of nexus in the town. Even with its crumbling, chalky exterior made of concrete covered in a spider-web-like pattern of cracks and crevices, this old building was the beating heart of Maple, storing all that its residents held dear and keeping their stupid hopes of eternal peace and love alive. From the parking space directly at the base of the money repository, Chase and Red had formed the plan. As Chase broke the brittle glass of the basement window, sneaking quickly and quietly up to the vault, avoiding detection from all prying eyes, Red would sit in the car. While Chase picked the lock into the gargantuan vault which housed Maple’s prized possessions, cash caches, and treasure troves, Red would wait for the signal. Then, after he had gathered the riches of this trifling town, Chase would sprint out the front lobby, race to the running sedan, climb in, throwing the money in the backseat, as Red would put the pedal to the medal, zipping down Main Street and out of Maple forever. They would ride out into the sunset, wild and free, in love and together forever.
“AHHHHHHH!” a child screamed out in the distance, breaking Red from her delightful reverie. Annoyed, Red glanced out the window to see a puny girl, no more than six or seven, breaking from her mother’s thin hand (the other one had just left the girl’s face) to dash across the bank’s muddy, wet lawn to the opposite end of the grass.
“YOU HIT ME!!!” the girl screamed, her beaded braids bouncing up and down in a fit rage. Her face contorted into a countenance of animosity and hatred as her tiny hands balled up into fists.
“That’s what you get when you don’t follow directions, Delilah,” her mother retorted cooly but sternly. “I told you to wait for me to get your stupid bear from my purse, which shouldn’t be in there anyway, after I got my money out. Now, my hard-earned cash is all over the ground, and it’s all your fault.”
“You should have never taken him away in the first pl-” the kid’s angry protest was cut off by the deafening screaming of the bank’s sirens. Red looked away from the angry juvenile to see her brave knight-in-shining-armor bust out of the bank’s heavy glass doors and scurry down the marble steps to hit the concrete, hard, landing with a smack so audible it must have been heard around the world. Chase picked himself back up and rushed across the lawn just as the little girl next to him had only a minute before.
BANG-BANG. The sound of bullets flying through the air soon accompanied the squishing and squashing sounds of Chase’s 60-yard-dash across the saturated plot. Chase’s sandy-brown hair flew up past him like the feathers of a bird in a torrential storm, fighting to stay in the air. It was adorable to Red, but to the security guards behind him, those dirty-blond locks were just part of a crook that was attempting to steal from their home’s Cave of Wonders so to speak, as much a part of them as their hearts, lungs, or brains.
Chase finally reached the sedan, his hand and moneybags banging against the passenger side door with a disconcerting clash. Red jumped despite seeing him coming. She instantly regretted and loved this job. She got to see her darling angel, his blue t-shirt waving behind him, showing his muscular torso underneath, being the hero of the story, a real-life Robin Hood who stole from the rich and gave to the poor, or, in other words, them. She could not help but see herself as the Maid Marian of the scenario, Robin Hood’s gorgeous love interest, while those mean, greedy guards were the Sheriff of Nottinghams, wanting all the money for themselves while not considering the less fortunate beings of the world such as Red and Chase. While Red did love to see her man in action, she felt absolute abhorrence at the danger he put himself in. Sure, he had good intentions, taking care of her and helping to pay for the lovely little house they and the eight children they would have in the future (although he never spoke of such things). However, he wasn’t helping anyone by putting himself in such unnecessary jeopardy. The thought of the devastation and torrents of loss that would descend upon her should he be killed churned Red’s stomach, almost causing her to vomit. Why must men be so careless and cute at the same time? she lamented.
Breaking this string of both lovely and ugly thoughts was the banging of Chase’s fists against the dented door of the sedan. Right, she had to unlock it for him! Chase was going to give her hell for this if and when they got out of this. With hands as shaky and rickety as a rotting rollercoaster, Red fumbled to opened the doors. She tried to push the right button, but each time for several whole minutes, her clumsy fingers continued to push the buttons to the left or right of the one needed to unlock the car. When her finger finally did reach its target, she pushed with all her might, breaking a nail in the process. But that didn’t matter; in saving Chase’s life, she’d be preserving her own. Without him, she’d be lost, likely to taking a voluntary trip to the bottom of the Atlantic.
As Chase snapped open the car door, chucking the bags of cash into the backseat, he yelled at her to “go, go, go!” as he put it. A sharp slap to the cheek, imitating the girl’s mother, who now seemed to be falling to the ground with her clothes newly red, got Red going. In no time, they were racing down Main Street, just as planned, Red’s cheek still burning from where Chase’s hand had made contact with her skin. Her cheek was probably as scarlet as her hair–the source of her name–by now, she fancied.
“What were you thinking, you big, dumb broad?! You had one job, one job! All you had to do was prepare the car and drive! But, even this proved to be too big a job for a witless wonder like you!” Chase roared.
“Jeez, I’m sorry, babe,” Red cried. “I just got kinda sleepy while I was waiting for you. You know I only got five hours of sleep this morning.”
“Five hours is plenty, moron. I ask so little of you and that’s all I get in return, so little! I shoulda listened to my old man, ‘Never send a woman to do a man’s job.’”
“Well, um, wait. Chase? Were there flowers on your shirt before?” inquired Red, whose eyes were half-filled with tears.
“What does my shirt have to do with anything?” Chase growled. Suddenly, a crimson bubble filled his mouth. It burst. Red screamed.
Chase’s eyes rolled back into his head, his eyes becoming tiny snowballs in their sockets, and he hit the side of the car window with a thump. Red pulled over immediately, the screech of the tires against the asphalt blending with her own expressions of terror to create a horrid, melancholy cacophony of dread. Her brilliant coppery hair fell into her eyes as she turned her head almost at the speed of sound to check her Mr. Right for signs of life. He lay very still, horribly still, against the car window, his skin the pale color of a fresh cadaver. All the veins in neck and face stood out, contrasting ominously with the blank whiteboard that was his flesh. Looking down at his shirt, she saw what she had mistaken to be a flower design to be rapidly spreading its scarlet petals across his chest. She ripped the darn piece of cloth off his body, and not for the first time either, knowing at once that this was critical. In the past, Chase had taken a hit or two, but nothing was as bad as this. Quite visible to the eye was the source of the flower’s growth: a bullet had decided to make itself a swimming pool in her poor baby’s chest cavity.
Holding in her own vomit and gritting her teeth for what was to come, Red knew what she had to do. She reached two of her long, gorgeous fingers down in this hole, feeling for a metal nugget she had become altogether too accustomed to. Stirring her index finger and thumb in there felt like sticking them up a sick giant’s nostrils. She shivered as she felt the blood swish and swirl around her fingers the way water will splash around stones in a creek. But this was for her beau, and as her motto stated, “For my beau, I must do.”
Finally, she had the glorious yet revolting sensation of something hard knocking against her fingers. Joyously, she reached in further, attempting to pull it out. Nope, that wasn’t a bullet.
After thirty minutes of pretending her fingers were tongs inside her now dead lover’s corpse, Red gave up, tears streaming in a waterfall down the cliff of her puffy, damp cheeks. Red threw herself onto the dashboard, sobbing in a hysterical wave of depression and despondence. As her head hit her hands, lying flatly on the steering wheel, she noticed her clothes. They were soaked through with Chase’s blood. Her small, tight fur coat was completely red with coagulating connective tissue. The fishnet tights adorning her legs fared no better, creating an odd pattern of diamonds and lines all over her attractive, muscular legs fit from years of running. Even the maroon tube top she had had underneath her jacket, matching its length almost exactly, appeared to be an infinite number of shades darker than its original color.
Upon this in-depth self-analysis, a dark epiphany came to Red in an unrelenting tsunami of melancholy reflections. Chase had picked out almost all of her clothes, from the beetle-black platform heels covering her feet to the kitty-cat hair tie that had been holding her ruby-rose locks at the beginning of the heist. Now snapped and on the back of the seat, the hot pink cats on the band seemed to be staring in a sneering smile at Red as she turned to look around. Suddenly, the band began to rise up from the headrest of the passenger seat by itself. Alarmed, Red jumped back like a vampire evading a cross, hitting her left elbow against the car door and issuing a wave of pain to shudder up her arm as she did so.
The wind swirled outside.
Startled and quaking with terror (while making a bloody mess all over the car simultaneously), Red peeked over the edge of the headrest, her body trembling with trepidation and angst. Looking back from the backseat of the car was the indignant little girl she had seen earlier. This time, however, she had a black teddy bear held lovingly in her arms, a purple necktie and a mahogany vest covering his soft, furry torso. Adorning the youngster’s own petite frame was a long-sleeve white dress shirt and a marvelous gold vest of her own with adorable gold coins hanging off it and sequins forming a perfect heart in the center. Complementing this expensive-looking top was a white ribbon with red lace trim made into a neat bow tie worthy of adding pizzazz to Bill Nye’s outfits. The girl also wore blue-black shorts and socks with straps wrapped securely around her surprisingly sinewy legs, making her look like a young aristocrat from the 1800s. Her polished ebony shoes gave her a bit of deceitful height (in reality, she had a seven-year-old’s stature), and, to top it all off, an olive-green dupatta sparkling with shards of various precious stones hid her hair from the world. Only a few rebellious braids had escaped its bear-hug on her head, each having a ruby bead at its end. The rest of the braids rattled under the headscarf as the girl moved her head, remaining invisible but still sounding their presence.
What really scared Red was the girl’s face. Her dark complexion was absolutely beautiful, it surface looking as smooth and soft as the sands of Fiji. The candy-apple lips that marked the entryway to her free-speaking mouth reminded Red of Snow White own’s lips that were as her mother wished, as red as blood. Glancing up from the mouth that conveyed no emotion whatsoever, Red scanned the girl’s face for any signs of fear, anger, sadness. She found none as the countenance which stared back at her own distinguished face belonged to a mall mannequin. Nothing, not the kid’s cheek muscles, not her nose, not even her eyes, betrayed what could be possibly running through this probably traumatized child’s chaotic mind. During this study of the girl’s face, Red was caught off guard not only by the girl’s lack of emotion but by her eyes. Those two round orbs were like pearls shining in the midst of the ocean’s twilight zones. Dazzling as they were, there was something most peculiar about them. The irises were entirely white. These platinum disks encircling her obsidian pupils seemed to entrance. Red could not bear to look at them any longer, but she couldn’t turn away. Those eyes held onto her, piercing her soul with their icy gaze. Red never felt more fear spread throughout her whole being than when she looked into those eyes.
“Wh-wh-who are you?” Red cried, the tears in her own eyes causing the words to come out mumbled and twisted. Then, she wished she hadn’t spoke for a being with eyes so inherently evil like these must have an equally horrific voice to match. Even though she had heard the girl speak before in an angry defiance of her presumed mother, the ghost of the memory of the girl’s voice had long since left her head.
The girl didn’t answer, only matching Red’s fearful inquiry with a doll’s stare. Then, she moved, causing Red to shrink back from the headrest and nearly shriek, grasping Red’s hair-tie in one hand and raising one hand up to the window. With a laggard but precise finger, she wrote the name “Delilah” on the car window in some currant liquid. At first, Red believed it to be paint, but she jumped back in horror upon the realization that it was blood. Dark, dripping blood. This brought back memories of all the horror movies she had ever seen, most with Chase whom she had been hysterically clinging to all through the films. But she couldn’t think about Chase right now. This was all too much, all too goddamn much. No, this was not the time for thinking of Chase who had left her in a splash of red to be alone with this inhuman thing in their car, which was now solely hers.
“Why are you here? What do you want with me?” choked Red in a gurgle of words that seemed to claw its way up her throat as a werewolf might claw its way up a mountain.
The girl, Delilah, stared intently back at Red, those eyes still grazing the depths of Red’s shallow being.
“How’d you get in here?”
The girl motioned toward the door, which had been unlocked during the heist.
“What, am I supposed to help you find your mom or something? Do I have to take you back to that godforsaken bank in that godforsaken town? Must I drag myself and you across that battle-worn lawn where the cops have probably swarmed like sharks to a dead carcass? Am I compelled to find your mom for you, who’s probably already talked to those bluebloods, describing me and Chase to the police? Does your little walnut brain even comprehend what that would mean for me?!”
“What the hell?! You seriously expect me to go for your mother in that stupid, insignificant, sugar-coated lie of town?”
Delilah shook her head.
“Well, then how else am I supposed to get to her?! I’m not saying I will either.”
The girl shook her head again.
“What do you mean ‘no’?” Then, it hit her. “You don’t want me to go back for your mom, do you?”
The girl nodded in assertion of this fact.
“You don’t want to go back for her? Kid, you just jumped in the back of a getaway car amid a bank heist, not caring about how worried your mom would be? And, let me guess, this is over that dumb bear of yours that the two of you were arguing about. Really, I shouldn’t be surprised. You’re like what, six? A childish thing for a child to do.”
The girl’s face changed for the first time since she had made her presence known in the backseat. A look of fury similar to the one she had expressed earlier that morning wrapped itself across her face. She took both of her hands and flashed all ten fingers and then four.
“You’re telling me that you are fourteen? Please, don’t pull my leg. I’ve had a hell of a day today, and it’s not even twelve yet. Not only have I got a dead body and a car that looks like the balloon from It exploded in here, but those idiot cops are most likely on the lookout for me. I’ve also got full bags of stolen money in the backseat of this horrid vehicle plus eighteen other charges from six other states that you’ve probably never heard of. Finally, let’s not forget that you’re here, making me a kidnapper, of a minor, too! Trust me, you’ve got no idea how bad this all looks, kid.
“You know what’d make my day right now? If you told me where I could drop you off so that I can get you out of my hair. I have enough problems of my own, including the death of my darling angel, and I can’t have you around. Frankly, you. Are. A. Liability.
“Now, please tell me where your mom can find you.”
Delilah turned to the window once more and started to write a “d” and an “e” in that exact order when Red took the hint. Dead. Of course she’s dead. Of course. After all, was today not her lucky day with all the challenges and encumbrances she could ever want thrown at her in such an unforgiving way?
“Fine. Is there somewhere close and convenient I can drop you off? Actually, wait, scratch that. Why should I care about your convenience? You clearly don’t care about mine.”
Wham! The thought hit Red’s brain like Wile E. Coyote hitting a brick wall. The Hangman’s Bridge. Of course. That was the perfect place to drop off this white-eyed brat. Isolated and at a high altitude, Hangman’s Bridge loomed over the ponderous Ossipee River, ideal for leaving the girl. A mere child, it would take the alluring Delilah hours to descend from the bridge’s highest point and to make it down to edge of the bridge. From there, who knows how long it’d take the girl to make it past the surrounding forest’s labyrinth of trees and hedges, tripping over the vexing rocks which make it their sole purpose to get in your way. After finding her way out of the woods, she would have to walk down the poorly beaten road down which so few cars traversed. From there, the girl with the evil eyes would have to make it to civilization, many hours from the bridge just for a car. It’d be days before the puny, wicked anklebiter would make it to a town, most likely Maple. She’d have to express a need for help, difficult for her based on Red’s observations of her demeanor. By then, the image of Red’s face and this car would have likely left her silly little mind. After all, she was child, probably still wetting the bed and scared of the monsters in the closet and under the bed.
Deep inside, Red knew that this was all a lie to herself. The child wouldn’t forget her or her car, this grisly scene of terror and loss. In addition, the child would probably die of exposure, starvation, dehydration, or an animal attack before she reached humanity again. Wretchedly troubled by these most disturbing thought, Red pushed them deep, deep down into the black hole that was now her being. There was no time for these awful thoughts now that Chase was dead. Like she’d told the girl, she had her own obstacles to deal with.
As the result of five hours of driving through the now misty wasteland of green called Maine, Red reached her destination. Carefully cracking open her door and surveying the clearing where she’d parked the car for signs of life, Red exited the bloodsoaked vehicle. She practically ripped open the back door and pulled the girl monstrously from the car. Red didn’t care that her claw-like fake nails jabbed deep into the girl’s vulnerable flesh. The look of pain on the girl’s face was quite evident now despite her best efforts to contain her emotions as she had before, but Red didn’t care or notice as she was too focused on ascending the steep hill leading up to the bridge. Climbing the mountain like the werewolf–words she had felt climb her throat earlier, Red huffed and puffed with the effort it took to lug both herself and and the child up of the hill, but this was far too important to ignore. The girl must be terminated. Gone were the plans of simply leaving her there. No, the problem must be solved by any means necessary, including murder. This girl’s world had completely obliterated hers, so as another does to one, one must do to the other.
Having reached the top of the hill and then having walked across the gargantuan bridge to its highest point (the bridge wasn’t exactly level), Red staggered across the road to the edge of the bridge. Named for the executioner of outlaws who used to hang his victims from this bridge in the late 1800s, this landmark of evil was about to serve a deadly purpose once again. Red could hear the rushing water beneath her feet. Now was the time! The hour was at hand! She raised the small girl high up above her head as an evil Rafiki would raise the innocent Simba. This was her time to sacrifice the idol of the world opposing hers to the gods of spite, treachery, and blood whom she found that she worshipped. The hour of reckoning was now!
She could feel the adrenaline pumping through her veins, urging her forward on this task at hand. Then, she felt a small pinch on one of her hands that soon turned into a greedy, monstrous bite. Red felt the blood pour down her left arm, and she saw that a hunk of flesh was now missing from her hand. In renewed horror, she saw that it had taken up new residence in the girl’s mouth.
Horrified, Red felt paralysis take hold of her body. She belonged to the girl now, victim to whatever tortuous whimsies occupied the girl’s mind. A tiny foot struck her face unforgivingly, breaking her nose and cracking teeth in the process. The foot’s twin assaulted her too, blinding her and unleashing a headache from hell unto Red. Breaking free from the scarlet-haired woman’s grasp, Delilah half-jumped, half-fell to the ground, rolling a few feet away from the shrieking scum. She was about to run far, far away when she got the peculiar urge to run forward (the opposite direction of her original plan) with her arms out in front of her. Complying with this urge, she felt swaths of fur between her hands and then nothingness. She guessed that which her hands had touched had fallen over the side of the structure, down into the raging river beneath them. The screams of her damned kidnapper resonated with Delilah though. Although she didn’t know it, the sounds of that red-haired crook would stay with her forever just as the blackness of her vision would. For although it was unknown to Red, Miss Delilah Isilo-Esibi was congenitally blind, her eyes neglecting their function since the day of her birth. The pearl irises that her captor hated and feared so much were clear markers of this.
If you’re wondering how she was able to write her name in blood on the car’s window, the answer is simple: she had felt liquid on her finger, was asked a question, and being a resourceful girl, reached out for the nearest material to write upon. Then, practicing as she had at school, she wrote her name in an eligible manner, a seemingly impossible task for someone like herself. When asked how she got in, the girl remembered where the door was.
Red was never seen again, and for her, Delilah shed not a single tear.