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Color Me Gray

by Elle Kim 12 months ago in Short Story
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True love comes in all colors

Original art by me.

“She’s a fucking Red, man. Don't you understand what that means?”

“What the hell is a ‘Red’?”

“You must’ve been living under a rock. Hard to believe a young guy like you don’t know…” He said, as he loaded a couple of 5-gallon gasoline cans in the back of his truck. “I appreciate this, son, but—if you want to make it around here, stay away from her and all the Reds.”

“None of that crap ever mattered in The Woods.”

“Well, you’re not in The Woods no more. Trust me on this.” He squeezed the clueless foreigner’s shoulder and put his phone in his truck, slamming the door. When he returned, he whispered, “They haven’t gotten that messenger you’re using yet but they will. When they do, they’ll mark you when they see you two have been talking. Delete it, clear the data. Find yourself a pretty Blue or a Green, if you know what’s good for you.”

“How do you know what people are? How do I know what I am?” the foreigner asked, looking down at his shirt where a badge would be had he had one.

“Your phone—when you showed me her picture, the facial recognition showed a red dot on the top right. The program can’t read the fact you two have been friendly because the messenger is still encrypted. You got lucky. It’s only a matter of time before they get that one too. Give me your phone,” he said. The foreigner ran to his truck and then handed his phone to the old man. The man held it in front of his face. When the device was finished scanning, he pointed to the small dot on the corner of the screen. “Hot damn... you’re a gray. You’re one of the last—all remaining grays eventually turn.”

“This is fucking insane. What the hell has the world come to?”

“Welcomed to the grid, kid. You literally have no idea, do you? Must be because you just left The Woods… ”

“So what happens now? What do I do? The fire destroyed what was left of The Woods. The laser from the sky… it must’ve been what started the fire.”

“Direct Energy Weapons,” the old man explained, shaking his head. “Look, it’s Blue for thousands of miles in all directions. The only option you have right now is to become Blue.” Shutting his tailgate, he turned to me. “I’ll scan you and send you credits, that’ll turn you Blue. If they catch you bein’ friendly with a Red… you won’t be able to do or buy anything until you get to Violet territory which is about fifteen hundred plus miles east. Careful—even if people want to help you, they won’t be able to because the system will automatically lock you out.”

The sun was beginning to set, turning the sky a bright orange. A flock of birds flew west, disrupting the eerie quietness of the country. The two men shook hands and wished each other luck. Armed with a stolen pickup from the burning forest town, a trunk full of gasoline cans and fuel bladders, and now a set of new rules to adhere by, the foreigner turned his ignition on and began his search for an abandoned house to spend the night.

“I’m starving,” he said to himself. Just then, he heard a ping on his phone. “Would you look at that, the old man sent me twenty credits. Perfect timing…”

The nearest store sold nothing to eat but trail mix and gum. He bought all five of the trail mix they had and a pack of gum, costing him almost three credits. It wouldn’t be enough to get to the Violets, but the foreigner was resourceful and certain he could help himself. Luckily, he still had plenty of rainwater left to last for days, if not weeks.

The sky had become a slate blue. Still, there was no sign of any abandoned homes he could occupy. Driving on the dark single road, on his way east where she would be, the street lights began to flicker until they went out completely. He would have to keep driving until dawn; it was too dark and too dangerous to go poking around unfamiliar places now. Glancing at the crumpled map in his hand, he headed for the highway less than a mile away.

This is depressing, he thought. No coffee, no radio, no one to talk to. And so, he began to hum “Blue Christmas" by Elvis Presley.

To get to the highway, he had to drive through a dismal neighborhood where chipped paint and overgrown lawns were a norm. There was nobody walking to their front doors carrying bags of groceries; there was not a single kid on a bicycle. All the streetlights were out. He knew there were people inside certain homes by the dim flicker of candlelights, but it was dead quiet, even with his windows down. What were they afraid of? He wondered.

Not a single crow was crowing. The world appeared to be ending and he had no idea why. Suddenly he realized just how alone he was. The only person he had left was her, and he didn’t even know how to find her nor reach her.

On the freeway, self-sustaining electric cars lined the shoulders—some abandoned. The city had sustained an EMP attack. The foreigner, chivalrous as he was, tried to help but was shooed away once the woman realized he was not from the service company. “Better for me anyway…” he muttered, walking back to his truck.

Along the highway headed east, all sorts of electric vehicles lined the shoulders, including police cars and ambulances. Their solar generators had become useless. Some vehicles remained dangerously stopped in the middle of the roads; multiple crashes that must've taken place hours ago lingered. Aside from the occasional bird chatter, it seemed sirens have been silenced too. Even the people in gas cars he drove past and which drove past him seemed out of reach.

With over a thousand miles still to go and nothing but his thoughts and the road to keep him company, he reached for his phone to read their last messages again. It had been two days since they last spoke—since she stopped responding.

“This picture of you is the only thing that’s getting me through right now,” he said, taking in every part of her as he gazed at the empty road then longingly back to her once more. He must’ve looked at that photo a hundred times since. “You’re all I got baby...”

They had been making plans to see each other and yet she never told him about the coloring system. What if she didn’t know about it either? he wondered. Was she in the Violets?

The foreigner knew that she was somewhere in Central Texas, near Austin. She had sent him some photos that he could reference when he got there. He had many miles to go but the closer he got, the more his confidence waned. Unless communications are re-established, a prospect that looked bleak, there was no guarantee he would be able to find her.

Like him, she was all alone. She told him that she had nobody and was living by herself. Both of her parents were dead and she had stopped speaking to everybody in North Carolina. They bonded over the fact that they couldn't relate to those around them—those with families and close friends. “We're orphans,” she said once. “We need each other.”

The foreigner himself was an only child with parents that have long gone. He lived a solitary and lonely life in The Woods, in a little ramshackle cabin he found and fixed up after his deployment, where he dreamed of a woman to spend the rest of his simple days with. It all started with her cute little garden gnome, he reminisced, remembering the photo.

Well into the night, he stopped at an old gas station after spotting its lights obscured behind evergreens. A worker and an elderly couple in an old Buick were trying to figure out how to bypass the unresponsive electric pump at #3. While preoccupied, the foreigner drove behind them and quietly snuck inside the store, taking bags of chips and bottled coffee with him. On the counter was a rubber siphon hose, which he picked up with his teeth. Unnoticed, he quickly got into his truck and drove off. With the thousands of miles left of Blue territory, the hose just might come in handy.

After nearly 24 hours without sleep, he pulled into a truck stop for a quick nap. He had no time to waste as his phone had stopped charging. The car charger must’ve been affected by the EMP, but luckily his phone still had plenty of charge. She still hadn't responded.

The roads from the west towards Central Texas had been virtually clear. The foreigner felt both lucky and yet increasingly isolated; while the lack of traffic made the trip faster, he started to think that the roads were empty not because of the war, but because everybody wanted to avoid him and didn’t have the guts to say so. More than ever, he wanted to be normal and in the know. What the hell is going on? he wondered, unsure of why society seemed to be collapsing.

Traffic increased in Austin. Although idle for rush hour, people seemed to be on the move. Aside from a couple of electric car crashes that had been moved to the shoulder, for the most part, things appeared normal. That was until he saw that same picture of her—wearing nothing but her heart-shaped locket—plastered on a gas station's graffitied stone wall.

His stomach twisted in knots upon seeing the words, “The first to turn the bitch in wins 20,000 credits.” On another, “TRAITOR” was in big, bold, red letters. Like a punch to the gut, on the last, "whore" was spraypainted in metallic silver over her face.

"Fuck! Was it my fault?" he agonized, his fists beating on his forehead.

He drove up to a shirtless man and asked if he knew what the posters were about, commenting that it was a generous prize. “The trick was caught bein’ flirty with a Blue on Red territory. They decrypted the messenger she used, now people wanna kick 'er out. Me and some guys are puttin’ our heads together and splittin’ the credits when we turn 'er in but we don’t got a car. Wanta join us? Could use a truck,” he said.

“Oh damn,” the foreigner remarked, trying to sound unfazed. “Well it depends man, what do you know?”

“She’s not farther than thirty mins from 'ere. Just 'bout,” he said, drawing a circle in the air. “I got a buddy with more info if you drive us 'round.”

“I’ll think about it, man. I wasn’t interested in the search but I might be. You around here?”

“Yeah, just under that bridge,” he said, pointing.

“Alright, I'll come find y’all,” the foreigner said, driving off.

Images of her flirting with other men and lying to him tormented him. Headed for the city's highest peak, he couldn't help but question if any of it was real. Was it all a game?

"She liked to walk along the river—a five-minute drive from her place," he recalled. "In the photo, there were a couple of turtles on the fallen log..."

Short Story

About the author

Elle Kim

Writing and books are my safe places. The adventure books I’ve read as a young girl are still my favorite!

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