Red

Snap. She kept walking as she looked at the camera guy quizzically through her thick black-framed glasses, wondering why the stranger had just taken her picture.

“I take people’s pictures when they aren’t paying attention,” he explained, “to try to capture their character.” He walked backwards a few steps to stay in front of her. His sudden attention caught her off guard. She fell. She had tripped at the edge of the pavement and onto the grassy high school campus hill. The photographer laughed as he helped her up.

“Another candid I missed.”

“What?”

“You falling… It would’ve been a great candid.”

She didn’t know what “candid” meant but from the context she gathered it was somehow special or different.

She wobbled as he propped her to her feet and for a moment he thought she might actually fall again. His smile turned into another laugh.

It wasn’t a mean laugh, though. He had the kind of warmth that a guy with understanding had. He understood that he affected her, and took it as the compliment it was. His laugh would’ve hurt her normally sensitive feelings if she didn’t get an overwhelming feeling of safety in his presence.

She noticed this and smiled inside, just enough on the outside for him to see.

Just then a bright red blur appeared in her vision.

“Tyler!” A pretty girl with outrageously red hair and a huge white smile had come

up behind the camera guy and slapped her hands onto his shoulders. He looked back over his shoulder, wide eyed, then relieved, as she peered over him, both laughing at the spook she’d given him. The two were so good-looking together. Candid, Shelly thought, still not knowing its exact meaning. After a quick survey of the intimacy of their body language, her heart sank a little.

“Hey, babe,” Tyler said and kissed Celine. Shelly heard a strange noise followed by blaring thunder. Dark purple clouds rushed overhead and before she could make out what was falling from the sky, drips of red paint splattered onto her glasses. She took them off and expected to see a blurry campus and Tyler’s and Celine’s blurry figures, but the high school was gone and she saw with the clarity of having never needed glasses in her life that she was in a red room. The walls were red, the carpet was red, the ceiling was painted indigo and a white ceiling fan was fanning away above her, squeaking with each rotation.

As she marveled at the clarity of the spinning ceiling fan, the light bulbs ticked off one by one, but the room remained well lit. The indigo ceiling began to moisten and drops of indigo-colored water started to fall from it. Her body was cold and she felt wet but when she looked down her clothes were dry and the red carpet was covered in water.

She looked around and no longer saw red walls but an ocean in which she was struggling to stay afloat. She looked up at what should’ve been the sky and saw instead a giant camera lens. SNAP. It was loud and it echoed, snap… snap… snap.

RIIIIIIING

She woke up with a start and saw someone in a white gown and no hair in a bed next to her, facing the window. All motion and color ceased.

Shelly, panting and looking down at herself now, saw that she was in an identical white bed and gown. She looked back up at the girl, who was now looking at Shelly with sunken eyes that she recognized belonged to Celine. Only now there was no outrageous red hair. There was no bright, youthful smile. Shelly half expected to wake up again but instead Celine looked directly at her and asked with a shocking familiarity, “Same dream?”