Cherry Red (Mature)

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You stare at a thin crimson curtain across a doorway. You taste an oily gag in your mouth and have a sudden urge to wretch. Your nostrils flare. You thrash in the chair, but the restrictive, coarse rope has no give. Your arms, wrists, and ankles burn and chafe as you struggle. Cold sweat drips down your temples.

You study the wood-paneled room and a tinge of familiarity tickles the back of your brain. Yellowed-newspaper coats a window, giving the room a sickly amber hue. You see a flimsy fold-up table surrounded by three threadbare chairs. No sounds. You are in the middle of nowhere.

You the subtle scent of mildew, and then the stench of rot. Something meaty has spoiled behind those crimson curtains. You wiggle in your seat to loosen the bindings. The floor squeaks below you - and then you hear the footsteps. Each heavy step strains the support beams under the floor.

The tickle in the brain becomes a scratching. Your synapses fire in this new shape. 1898. Another time. Another shape. You shake your head. You need to be here. Now.

"This has got to be a new one for you, right?" 

A man in Levis and a yellow and green button up stands in front of those curtains. He flashes crooked grin obscured by a mustache and his brown hair is long and stringy. It is either grease or sweat running down from the hairline. He pries off his trucker cap and mops up sweat from his forehead as he squats down in front of you. 

"... course you seem to come back a lil' bit different, just not different enough."

The scratching intensifies. The cycles still feel hazy, but a glimpse of your whole self sometimes flashes through. Skipped frames.

Flecks of spittle splash your cheek. "I don't know what it is about you and me, going back and forth like this." He wipes some sweat from his brow, looking back at the crimson curtains.

"Lord, this has gotta be the seventh time you've taken that same sort of shape. The red hair always gives you away."

Your love of red gave you away. Women in particular. You find their sweetness reminds you of that artificial cherry flavor. You swim in it - in them.

He scratches his chin and sharp fingernails draw blood. He bends down close to your neck and sniffs, taking in long drags through his nose. He steps back, disappointed. "Hrm. Can't smell much of the sweetness on you." His eyes narrow. "You're not going soft, are you? Pain and sorrow ain't tasty no more?"

The floor creaks as he paces.

"Makes a guy think, though. How many times are we gonna play this game?" He sighs. "I suppose that's how it goes. I heard some of us ended up in a pact to end the cycle all together. We're a dying breed, you and me."

He tosses a knife into the air, catching it with confidence. 

The scratching is now a knife thrusting into your mind. GABE found you.

He flicks open the blade. The glint of the knife brings you back to 1898, the only time you ever took the body of a man... with red hair of course. He had a family... at least until you pried the sweetness from them. Three kids and a fat wife later you were on the run. A week later the Pinkertons cuffed you and dragged you back to Boston. You waited there for your hanging, but then GABE cornered you in the cell in the body of one of the guards. You remember that cherry red sweetness from that family ripped from your body... and the feel of a cold blade across the throat. Then nothing.

You want to tell GABE that there is none of the sweetness in you, not even a little. You hadn't managed to harvest it yet. You only had this body for a week. You were still fighting for control. You could never hunt until you broke the shape. You weren't sloppy like the others.

But... the red hair. You've been sloppy all along. That's why GABE keeps finding you. Each time floods back. You take the cherry red for yourself and GABE takes it from you.

"No sense in breakin' tradition now." He draws the curtain. He steps to the side and gestures to the wooden shelves in the dark. You make out seven white orbs. You squint into the darkness. Human skulls - each one topped with a scalp of red hair.

"What do ya know," he laughs, "turns out we're on number eight."

He grabs your chin with his thick fingers. He forces your mouth open and purses his lips, meeting yours.

You feel the little sweetness in your stomach boil and rise out your throat. A painful burning sensation follows. Cherry red wriggles from your mouth to his. It is agony.

You think about that girl at the rest stop...

How good her fear would have tasted...

How sweet it would have been when you pried the sweetness from her...

How red her hair was.

At first the highways of America showed so much promise for you and your kind. Rest stops were a cup where the cherry red drip-dropped. Now you know they have doomed you over and over. It's been a song and dance between you, a killer, and your killer. As soon as GABE takes all your cherry red he'll kill you. Then it is back to the void.

You remember 1952. That had been a nice long run. All the fear and the pain had tasted so sweet. Was it was the looming threat of the communists? Had everyone had grown soft in an era of plenty? You gorged yourself on so much pain and sorrow that you stopped killing for a while. It bored you. You had your fill.

You recall GABE's shape at that time... a policeman. You couldn't breath in the trunk of his shiny police car. He drained the cherry red from you then. You were a woman then, too.

A lawman, you think. Always a lawman.

You'll get cherry red soon enough.  

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