Red

Olivia Waters Year 13, Wakatipu High School

Red dirt rises between the man's toes.

Rich, it fills the grey cracks of his joints, lapping up moisture like a scarlet tongue.

His feet land heavy against the earth, and it pushes itself against him with equal ferocity; a florid parasite.

He runs half a mile.

When he finally stops, ankle down, he's the same colour as the ground.

He sways, sallow skin coated with a thick paste of sweat and dust. Cardinal veins of sand run down his legs.

A thousand red rivers dart between the coarse forests of his hair and the pale, flaking mountains of his skin.

He tilts his head backwards, trembling. A wave of vertigo pulsates between his eyes.

In a haze, the world is reduced to colour.

The blue of the sky, nearly turquoise, like the water of some tropical forest pool, warm and rich in minerals.

Below that, violently maroon hills, mesas cutting against the sky like stubby, brick red apartment blocks.

He hears a dull thud. Dirt slides between his fingers, as arid and clumpy as milk powder.

Much better. Vaguely, he recalled some reason for his desperate flight, some impetus that prevented him from lying against the nice, soft earth until now.

What was it again? He tries to blink dust out of his eyes, but they refuse to open.

The earth feels marshy, plush, rising to meet his tired body. Any dregs of fight leave him. He sees red for a moment, and then, nothing at all.

Delilah stands on the veranda.

Afternoon shadows draped themselves like opaque cats over the hills, turning them from cherry to faded orange.

Pillars and steppes frame the skyline, crumbling, slowly, back into the ground.

Temporary monoliths. Columns of rock shaped like a vase, created by some strange, inexperienced potter.

Stone made of coloured rings, like burnt orange peel, wrapped around a misshapen obelisk.

Prickly, mauve sagebrush dots the plains. Their lilac leaves splay outwards, dim and frayed against the feverish earth.

An inky tail of shade curls around them.

The stillness disturbs her, the immensity of it all beating an uneven rhythm in her mind.

She stares, but try as she might, the terrain doesn't warp or buckle under her gaze.

Despite the pounding of her head, her eyes don't swim, even for a moment.

The hills stand, unmovable, forcing themselves into her vision like some gross divine approximation.

She stares down at her hands. They too are still, chalky and angular against the dark wood.

The air feels thick around her, the particles weighted, like molasses.

She drags it into her lungs, honey filling her nose, her mouth.

All at once, she feels trivial.

The desert, some suffocating ancient deity, cocooning her with its full weight.

She grasps the railing with all her strength, the air pounding down against her shoulders like a shuddering beast.

The desert throttles her, and she stays still, terrified to move, to fight against the inertia of the plains.

A faint, raspy call echoes out amongst the sage. A cactus wren, her voice buzzing, like a tiny, broken lawnmower. "Tek, tek, tek."

After a moment, the load lightens minutely, and Delilah lifts her head.

That's when she sees him.

On the horizon, the shadow from the third closest steppe creeping towards his prone form.

A man, lying in the red dirt.

The desert hammers against her. Her tongue pushes aside the air, paste cloying her throat.

"Shit."

She manages. The sun sinks, ever lower.

The sanguine flush of the ground fades, vermillion turning to ash.

Weight forgotten, Delilah runs for the house.

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