I struggled with the theme for this month’s contest/challenge. The “Red Wheelbarrow,” wasn’t something that was particularly inspiring to me. Stalling my creative energies for a few days, attempting to craft something that was centralized around the theme. Initially, coming up with the idea of a farmhand who is uncaught serial killer, who uses a red wheelbarrow to dispose of his victims. Realizing rather quickly, that I would break the word limit, or be forced to craft an unsatisfying ending. Taking the dark, violent atmosphere from that idea and shifting gears some to something grim and apocalyptic. Mixing it with some other elements of that story to create a piece of flash fiction, I titled Stained Red.
My father’s old black wheelbarrow was no longer the farm tool it once was. For years it had been filled various types of vegetables, hay, and manure. Now it was an instrument of horrible design, used to hull the corpses of those inflicted with a horrific virus. The infected were willing participants of experimental surgeries, that left bodies a mash of experimental surgical incisions. Even wrapped in thin black garbage bags, the cadavers leaked their bodily fluids pooling on the plastic shell. They were unintentionally leaving behind growing spots of dried blood that left sizeable spots of red on the black casing. With each hull of corpses, the patches of dried blood grew in both quantity and size. With one swift, strong lift, I deposited the bodies in the snow-covered trench. Hearing the snow crackle under the combined weight of the corpses. The almost endless winter was doing its best to hinder the decomposing process and the accompanying animals that fed on them.
The distinct sound of approaching footfalls audible in this frozen hellscape. Balancing out the old wheelbarrow on its small tire and rusting iron supports, before turning around. Their face obscured by wrap-around trapper hat, that revealed only their goggle covered eyes. Only a few of the scientists remaining here were bold enough to look upon the remnants of their failed research. A bright red cylindrical metal gas can visible in their right hand gripped between the fingers of heavy-duty black gloves. The figure was taking a stand a few steps away on my left side. Making a slight glance over at me in silence, that only served to amplify the empty tension between the two of us.
“Burn them,” the figure said, their voice being gargled and muffled to a point those were the only two words I understood. Setting the gas can onto the ground before walking away, leaving me to do the dirty work.
I was sighing some in annoyance, creating a small cloud of exhaled breath that was visible in the air. The distinct smell of petrol immediately hitting my nose while I lifted the gas can by the cold steel handle. My other hand was angling the gas-can to begin pouring the contents of the gas-can onto the trench while holding in a deep breath. I was doing my best not to inhale the fumes, listening to the gasoline weaving its way through the mass of wrapped cadavers. The noise was conjuring up memories of the babbling brooks and streams from my youth, creating vivid images of my father using the wheelbarrow to haul bushels of hay across the field. I could feel the smile spreading across my face at the thought.
The distinct aroma of gasoline whiffing itself into my nose shattering the picturesque memory, and forcing me to return to this grim reality. Hurling the empty fuel cannister across the trench, before taking one last look upon the covered up cadavers. Pondering some pseudo-religious sounding words to say aloud, that would act as improvised final rites for them regardless of their faith. I was fully aware the words would fall on deaf ears, but some things are sacred and traditional. Not wanting my words to become muffled, I pulled my facial covering down with three fingers. With one swift pull, I yanked the fabric down to my neck, enjoying the refreshing feeling of cold air rush over my unshaven face.
“No one asked for this plague to spread across this land, let alone be an unfortunate victim of the accompanying sickness. Your noble sacrifice in pursuing a cure for all of humanity will be etched into history for all to remember. Anything you left behind for your loved ones will be given to them when the time is right. God rest your souls, and may he have mercy on the survivors,” I said.
I turned and grabbed my father’s old wheelbarrow, now stained red with dried blood. Grabbing the warped wooden handles with one hand apiece, before, going a few short, quick pushes. Knowing this would have to be a quick goodbye to my father’s now bloodstained red wheelbarrow, and forcing the farm tool into the trench. Feeling some regret about destroying something my father bequeathed me, but understanding it was a bitter necessity of containing this infection. With only a few of us left untainted by the virus, it was only a matter of time before the search for a cure ended.
Taking an old, cheap, butane lighter out of my pocket, I rolled the spark wheel with care, having to repeat the motion a few times before, getting a small flame to appear. With the lighter now aflame, I hurled lighter into the trench, keeping a close eye on where it landed. Mere moments later, the corpses were beginning to burn. Watching some in awe, believing I had given a proper sendoff to my father’s now red wheelbarrow, and the dead. Turning around and beginning to stroll forward, doing my best to push the trickle of tears away. Becoming increasingly aware with each step I took, that this was indeed the end of the world.
Word count: 856 Critique Level: Full