“Murders happen when it’s dark or cold or rainy, and if it’s all three, then you better watch out. That’s why nobody ever goes outside when it’s like that.”
“That’s not entirely true.” Ricky chuckled.
“Yes, it is! I’m going to be an even better detective than you are. Everybody knows that murders never happen when it’s sunny and warm.”
Ricky marveled at the six-year-old’s brain. Being in his forties and the head homicide detective of his city, he often wished he had been able to hold on to just a little bit of the magic and certainty that Seth took for granted.
“I’ve never seen red rain before.” Seth’s voice, full of wonder and excitement, broke through Ricky’s thoughts. “Look, Uncle Ricky, red rain! Red’s my favorite color! It’s like the sky is giving me a present. Do you think so, Uncle Ricky? Do you think the sky knows my favorite color is red and decided to change the color of the rain just for me?”
Ricky was instantly on high alert. They were taking a walk through the park on the way to get an ice cream cone. It was a sunny day. There was no sign of rain, red or otherwise.
“Look!” A red smear spread across his forehead where the first raindrop had hit.
Ricky knelt slowly down, as if his nephew was a scared puppy, until he was eye level with the child. He reached his hand out to beckon him to come closer, but jumped back in horror when another red raindrop splashed across Seth’s cheek. Then another on his forearm and another on the tip of his nose.
Seth laughed gleefully with every new drop that fell, unaware of Ricky’s stricken expression. “How come you aren’t getting rained on?”
Ricky’s eyes were trained on the sky. No trees littered his view of the cloudless expanse. No signs of rain registered in his keen mind.
By now, Seth’s dirty blond hair was matted with red and angry streaks covered all exposed skin and stained his clothes.
With great trepidation, Ricky pinched a piece of Seth’s hair, rubbing the red residue between thumb and forefinger, and bringing it to his nose to smell.
Blood. There was no doubt.
One chill breeze by itself and completely out of place in the balmy day blew past Ricky’s ear.
“We choose.” The voice came on the wind in a soft, otherworldly whisper of a child. It was not malevolent, exactly, but it sent a chill through Ricky’s entire body.
A pool had formed at Seth’s feet but did not stray from there. Seth hummed to himself as he splashed and played in his personal bloody puddle.
Ricky was nauseous with the macabre aspect hitting so close to his family. His normally stoic façade was nowhere to be found as his heart pounded in his chest and his hands turned clammy and shaky. His feet remained planted in place, unable to move. He feared that any move he made would be the wrong one.
Eerie shivers encased his spine, flitting up and down in a manner he hadn’t felt in years; not since the beginning of his career when he viewed his first few dead bodies and was convinced that evil lurked in every darkened shadow, in every abandoned hotel bar or under every flickering lightbulb.
“We choose.” The sepulchral whisper blew past his ear once again in an icy burst.
The color drained from Ricky’s face and his cheeks went numb when Seth’s tuneless humming took on a beat of its own and Seth’s voice changed just enough to be noticeable as he chanted.
“Our blood was shed and now it cries,
Buried underground beneath the lies.
It drops and drips and never dries,
Pouring out and blinding eyes.
A murder done; he still survives,
While we are dust, scattered like flies.
Six years is the length of all our lives.
No justice is done, for no one tries.
We choose the one to help us rise.
We’ve chosen the one to help us rise.”
Seth’s voice echoed in a pattern that sounded like more than one child were speaking at once. The longer he spoke, the more malicious the tone grew.
And then he was gone. He disappeared before Ricky’s eyes, the shock of which caused him to fall to his knees and let out a strangled little cry stemming from equal parts shock and worry.
For Seth, it was a matter of a blink. He didn’t know where the words to the song came from, but it seemed natural to him and he felt it with conviction, even as the words spilled from his blood-spattered lips.
He was just starting to wonder why Uncle Ricky looked so sick. Then he blinked and, after the briefest of milliseconds, he found himself surrounded by dense, lush trees illuminated by the fire of sunset, a full moon, and a thousand fireflies, blinking and dancing as if paying homage to the night.
The fireflies began to take on their own unique shapes. Their flitting back and forth dance took on distinct, intricately choreographed rhythms.
Seth’s young eyes missed nothing. With great delight, he took in the green, leafy dresses and flowery adornments of what turned out to be a gathering of glistening fairies.
The tempo changed. The fairies were flying around and dancing in haphazard, chaotic lines with an order known only to them. Their singing slowed, but did not cease and the light of a thousand fairies suddenly surrounded Seth where he stood. They circled around him until he stood behind a glowing curtain of light. He could see nothing but them, could feel nothing but the tiny, almost imperceptible vibrations of their airborne dance. His nose filled with the heady scent of honeysuckles that managed to push past the rustiness of blood that clogged his pores. All he could hear was their wordless, transcendent humming.
Then they stopped. The only buzzing in the air was silence.
“We’ve chosen the one to help us rise.” A thousand tiny voices sounded like a roar as they spoke as one and moved as a single body, lifting Seth into the air, higher and higher above the treetops, though he was aware of nothing but the sensation of floating.
“WE’VE CHOSEN THE ONE TO HELP US RISE.”
The volume and urgency grew louder with each repetition until they set Seth back on his feet and scattered, disappearing almost immediately without a trace.
Their presence was replaced by a centaur, majestic and beautiful. Her hair and tail were glowing so blonde they were nearly white. Her human half was clothed in a robe of white, the train of which draped demurely over her honey-colored horse flank.
“Welcome, Seth.” Her voice was deeper than Seth had expected, but it was kind and comforting like his mother’s, but more serious and graver, like his teacher when she was angry and trying not to show it. “You know why you’re here?”
“Did somebody die?” Seth asked in a choked whisper, sounding very much like a child.
“Yes.” The centaur answered quietly. “It’s been a dark time here, I’m afraid.”
“That’s what I hope you will be able to tell me. You see, Seth, when a child is killed, or in this case two children, even the ground and the trees and the air weep for them and demand a justice that no one can give. Life is not ours for the taking; the innocent life of a child even less so. Those still living cry for justice but seek retribution, and I fear a string of unnecessary death for they are wild in their grief and their bloodlust will not be satisfied.”
Seth still wasn’t sure what this had to do with him and said as much.
“Life is in the blood.” She continued. “And their blood has chosen you.” She stared down at him with a maternal protectiveness in her eyes and clutched her hands to her throat. “You have one chance at this, Seth. Find the murderer and bring him to justice and the children will live again, though their bodies have been scattered to the wind. The wind and sea will be merciful enough to return them. If you fail, they will be lost to us forever, and you with them, for their blood claims you as their own.”
Though Seth was only a young boy, he had spent his entire life hiding behind walls and banisters listening to Uncle Ricky’s stories when he was supposed to be in bed. He could sense the centaur’s desperation, even if he couldn’t fully grasp the meaning of every word.
He noticed a pool of water glimmering in the bright moonlight a few yards away and decided to wash off the blood. He was getting tired of the rusty smell and his clothes were getting crunchy and hard to move in.
His mind raced with the implications of all the centaur had said as he lowered himself slowly into the clear water, plugging his nose as he dipped his head beneath the surface.
He was expecting to have to scrub, but the blood flowed easily off him, leaving no trace that it had ever covered him from head to foot.
The pool, which had been quite still when he stepped into it, began to bubble and churn spinning into a whirlpool. He tried to get out, but the water held him like quicksand. His heart hammered in his chest and despite his manliest efforts not to cry, his eyes filled and a lump of emotion choked him as he scrambled to get as close to shore as he could.
As suddenly as it had begun, the water stilled, now even clearer than before. It looked like the cleanest of mirrors, but when Seth leaned forward to look, it was not his own face he saw.
Two children that looked to be his own age appeared in the reflection of the water. Seth felt an immediate kinship with them. They were laughing and running through an ordinary looking field, reveling in each other’s camaraderie.
The little girl was fair-haired and fair-skinned with sun-kissed cheeks and eyes so brown they were almost black and sparkling with fun. She was dressed in a white knee-length dress with light blue trimming and a braided chord of the same color wound around her head, holding a sapphire in place in the middle of her forehead.
Her playmate, a little boy, was her opposite in every way except for the pointed ears that were a defining characteristic of both. His hair was very brown with sunny highlights and hugged his head in soft ringlets. His skin was the color of oceanside sand soaking in the summer sun. His clothing was simple and unadorned, but his eyes were wise and bespoke nobility in his bloodline.
Seth wanted nothing more than to be running through that field with them. A heavy sorrow, heavier than any he had experienced in his young, relatively sheltered life, filled his stomach. He would have given anything, even his very favorite collection of superhero action figures that he had endlessly done chores to earn money for, to not have to see what was coming, but he couldn’t tear his eyes away.
He watched as a dark, bedraggled figure cloaked in tattered scraps of dirty cloth slunk up behind them. A large, out-of-place hump on his back made movement difficult and clumsy. Black wings grew out of his back and were even more tattered than his clothes, if that were possible. Heavy eyelids hooded yellowing, watery eyes deep-set in a blistering, bumpy face. Fangs dripping with clotted blood protruded over severely chapped and cracking lips.
Seth screamed for the children to run, hoping they could somehow hear him, though he knew they couldn’t. He was unashamed of his loud, desperate tears as he beat the water with his fists, causing nothing more than a ripple in the image.
Seth watched as the figure crept closer until he was so close behind them it was impossible for them not to notice, but they never turned around. The figure was large enough that when he opened his arms his wingspan could envelop both of them at once. He stood behind them like an ugly black curtain and extended his index finger on both hands, revealing long, filthy fingernails crusted with dirt, blood and something unidentifiable and yellow.
In one swift motion, the figure slit both children’s necks, catching them in his arms as they fell, prancing in delight and laughing the most malicious laugh Seth could ever imagine as blood poured from the wounds he had made, blanketing everything in red and casting a sinister pall on the beautiful day.
Seth screamed until his voice grew hoarse and his throat was raw and sore.
The hope he had been so filled with ebbed out of him and he plopped down so he was sitting submerged in water up to his neck. He was no match for a creature that could take out two people at once, no matter what age they were, without them ever knowing he was there. He wanted to go home to his uncle. He was tired of this fantasy land filled with unknown magic and unfamiliar creatures. This task he had been given was too much. He was but one child.
Another scene began to appear in the pool mirror.
The bodies of the children lay pale and unmoving in the waving grass, but the evil creature was nowhere to be seen.
Then, the most beautiful woman he had ever seen, more beautiful, even, than the centaur, began to walk across the field.
She was everything the murderer was not. Tall and stately, she walked with grace and poise. She was clothed in a gown of gold and blue that shimmered in the sun like the finest silk and her hair hung down past her waist in delicate waves that caressed her skin as it fell. Her entire being was sheltered by wings so white and magnificent that Seth left safe just looking at them.
A single tear traced its way down her marble cheek as she knelt beside the two bodies, running her fingers through their hair in a loving manner.
She bent over as if to kiss them, then hesitated, pursing her lips and blowing on their faces instead. As her breath covered their bodies, the children turned to dust and blew away on the wind.
“I did not kiss them, for they are young enough to make the choice themselves.”
The voice came from behind and Seth whirled around, finding himself face to face with the beautiful angel from the reflection.
“Come with me, Seth.” She whispered, holding her hand out. “Come with me and feel pain no more, for my kiss is powerful and sweet. I possess power over life and darkness and can make all your fears vanish.”
“Where did those kids go?” Seth asked. He wanted nothing more than to abandon his quest and follow this benevolent creature wherever she may lead, but he felt an obligation not only to the children, but to finding the truth. “Uncle Ricky said a crime is never solved until someone is either behind bars or dead.”
The angel laughed a tinkling, bell-like giggle. “Well, you’re in luck, for I am Death and my kiss will claim every mortal soul.”
A slice of terror trembled through Seth’s heart. “Then…then who was it that sliced their throats?”
“Life is clung to with all man’s might, but is nothing but a shadow who grants only pain and will send all to me in the end.” Death said coldly, a grimace of disgust marring her perfect features.
She quickly replaced the ugly look with an inviting smile as she beckoned again for Seth to come closer. “I can take you to them and they will become your forever playmates and friends. What fun times you shall have!”
Seth took a step forward, but something held him back. A vision of the centaur’s grief-filled eyes took over his mind. The words that he had spoken from his own lips echoed in his ears repetitively.
“No.” He could barely choke out the word. He cleared his throat and tried again. “No.”
“No?” Her eyebrows lifted in surprise.
“They want to live.” Seth said with conviction. “They told me. Life isn’t as bad as you say it is, even though it did look really scary.”
“Then why did he slit their throats?”
The question was unexpected, and Seth hesitated, but only for a moment. “Sometimes Life does things that no one understands, but that doesn’t mean you give up on it.” He nodded his head in final decision, his chin jutting out defiantly. “I will not go with you and I will find a way to bring them back.”
A giggle and a “Thank you” blew past his ears on the wind and the world around him began to fade away. He waved his arms wildly about, trying to hold on to something but all he could see or feel was blackness.
The same voice as before spoke once again. “We rise.” And he somehow knew, though he could see nothing, that his mission had been a success.
He blinked and Ricky was in front of him, still on his knees, a cry hot on his lips.
“Seth!” He exclaimed, leaping to his feet and crushing his nephew in a bear hug. “Are you all right? What happened?”
Seth looked exactly as he had when he left the house that morning. No blood stained his skin and clothes. No unearthly creatures were anywhere to be found. He was alive.
“I’m…fine.” Fine, yes, but very confused. “I don’t think I want to be a detective anymore. I think I’ll do something else when I grow up. Let’s go get ice cream.”
It was all he could think to do.