(*Names have been changed to protect identities)
It was an especially balmy June night in Texas. We snake through the dark country roads, looking for any remnants of life. We turn left, we turn right, chasing the coattails of anticipation left behind by the first to arrive. The flashing porch lights – there! – over there! It is a silent signal, indicating we have arrived. Popping open the trunk, we schlep our bags into the welcoming glow of the kitchen, resplendent in familiar faces, smiles, and flowing alcohol. The cornucopia of red plastic cups brimming with drank paint the countertops and tables awash in a cool rainbow of decadence.
But, before we may dive in with the rest of the loyal subjects, we pay our homage to Red*, the self-appointed queen of the weekend. Bowing before her throne, we offer sacrifices of vodka and rum, easing her shakes and mollifying her wrath. It works! For now our lives are spared.
The festivities begin, and we are soon swept away in a frenzy of royal games. The Battle of Thumbs proved especially challenging, testing the intelligence, speed, and strength of the men. Red participated half-heartedly, darting her eyes to and fro over the brim of her sloshing cup. She was smug and condescending, and I worried that she was not pleased with our performance. Anxiety began to fill me, and I wondered if an explosion was imminent. But then I see her smile, and disaster is averted. For now…
We fight sleep until the candles are flickering stubs, and decide to turn in for the evening. And lo! Just as I’m getting comfortable, I hear a horrible commotion come from the living room. I look up to see Felicia* begging for mercy before Red scoops her up with her giant tongue and swallows her. EATEN ALIVE. Oh no. This is Felicia’s first trip to the Great River, and she fell asleep in the bed that Red had claimed. Her mistake is eternal. Red licks her lips and looks up, a sinister grin spreading across her face. She dares anyone to challenge her, to remark on the injustice, but everyone just cowers and looks away. We are powerless in the shadow of her wrath. Poor Felicia. She was never given a fair chance, really. But then my concern switches to Melinda*, the fair maiden who brought her. Surely Red’s perception of her will be most unfavorable now. She must offer extra sacrifices tomorrow. Yes, that is best. I will help her. We must hurry and sleep though, lest we rouse any more anger in her Highness. Woe! Woe to all!
The morning dawn light sprinkles in through the windows as Red rises with a hiss. She makes known her displeasure, and the whole house is awake to hear her grunts of foreboding. She cackles loud and growls long, and soon, no one is able to continue their slumber over the noise. Red is up – therefore, everyone must rise with her. She glides into the kitchen, her claws tapping on the cold stone floor. In a burst of fury, she sweeps her hand across the table, throwing cups, liquid, silverware, and trash onto the floor. Fools! Fools we are!!! How could we forget to clean up before bed?? Surely someone will pay for this. I watch her eyes turn a bright crimson, smoke ebbing out of her flared nostrils. I pray her anger will ease, looking for some way to soothe her.
I pop out of bed. “Your Highness! Good morning! Please, relax while I make you a Bloody Mary!” My request has the desired effect. She steps over the refuse and out onto the veranda, her tail gently swooshing against the door. I sigh, and wipe nervous beads of sweat from my brow. Bloody Mary in hand, she is calm and quiet. Like a baby.
The morning continues to be relatively calm. We pack up our coolers, lube up on sunscreen, and load up the carriages. At the river we tie strings to the cooler tubes and hop in for what turns out to be quite the unexpected adventure.
The day is hot and the water is cold. We are drunk on laughter and mead. If only we had known that would be our downfall. The rain gods have hidden their heads for quite some time, and the river was slow. Stagnant even, at some points. We did our best, pushing and pulling, but in the end, we stopped caring. We had our friends, our drink, our tubes…what more could we ask for?
Sensing our happiness, something stirred within Red to destroy it. How I wish I had paid more attention to her volatile moods. Perhaps then, crisis could have been averted.
It began with an innocent enough act. Red, in an odd display of benevolence, got out of her tube and pulled us along, her giant tail propelling us through the water. Had I not been laughing and tossing beers to and fro, I would have seen the growing irritation on her face, the grin that showed her fangs. Without warning, she hissed low and menacingly to LeeAnna*, “Do you even see how great and kind I am? Do you even acknowledge what I do for you and your minions?” Wide-eyed, LeeAnna turns and prostrates herself before Red, profusely uttering graciousness and respect. I tense in my tube and brace myself for something horrible. But Red seems appeased with LeeAnna’s proclamations. LeeAnna senses this too and turns back around to face her friends. That was her fatal mistake. Red unleashes a rage upon us that I have never seen. Her growl deafens the entire river and rumbles along the ground like an earthquake. My heart is pounding. With wide eyes, I see her breathe fire into the group, igniting the tubes instantly. With cries of pain, my friends jump into the life-saving river. Their agony ends as the water soothes their burning skin. But Red wasn’t through yet. With evil dancing in her eyes, she unhinges her jaw letting forth a horrendous screech, her breath coming forth like a decaying carcass. Nauseated by the stench, I watch in horror as she submerges her mouth, creating a powerful whirlpool. All in her path are sucked in without any hope for coming out alive. I hear my friends scream and claw to escape the deathly abyss that is her mouth. To no avail.
I hang my head in hopeless despair. Many a great man and woman were lost today.
And, just as if it had never happened, Red closes her mouth, hops back on the tube, and we carry on down the river. Our faces are white, mouths silent, laughing no more. I crack open a fresh beer and pour it into the river, for my homies.
We get to an exit point, and Red and her maidservant Zara* get out first. In an unusual act of defiance, Le’Eric* tells Red that we are not getting out, but continuing on downriver. Red gnashes her teeth and draws out her claws, but cannot reach us due to the throng of people in her way. She disappears into the forest, and I look at Le’Eric, hoping for some kind of guidance. He simply shrugs, and we carry on. I’m not sure if its because we feel we have nothing to lose anymore, or because we are tired of being dictated, but we rally around Le’Eric and his lofty ideas of not letting her destroy our lives simply because she fancies it.
Very soon, our river voyage comes to an end. We make our way back to the castle with trepidation, dreading what punishments await us there. Everyone was nervous, for we knew what she was capable of, and we knew how unpredictable her moods were.
As we pulled into the drive, groans of anguish were heard throughout the carriage. The castle. It was destroyed. Charred ashes blew in the breeze, as we crunched over the remains. I picked up a beam of wood, and it crumbled in my hands. Red and her maidservant were nowhere to be found. They had destroyed our home, and left us to fend for ourselves. We inspect further, crossing the damaged threshold, claw marks engraved into the burned stone. There, upon the altar, we see it. A mutilated lamb splayed like a sacrificial slap in the face. With its blood, Red had written upon the wall “YOU”. The message was clear – she was pissed. She would not stop until she had destroyed every last one of us – vanquishing our existence. And thus, the fight for my life begins.