Today, we are proud to present the chilling winner of our Short Story Award for New Writers: “Red” by Katie Knoll. In the off-kilter, fairy-tale world of this story, certain girls in a small, matriarchal community begin to turn into deer at night. The other girls are instantly jealous; each wants nothing more than to undergo her own transformation. “Red” is a dark meditation on the nature of envy and desire. Don’t miss this uniquely haunting story.
“We want it to be all of us, or each of us wants it to be her alone.”
Before, we were blue. Bluer than robins’ eggs, bluer than the tiny veins in our wrists and some of our eyes. Even our skin was blue: palms, fingernails, elbows and knees. Our mothers weren’t as skilled before, and the dye from our clothes stuck to us. Then the dye ran out, and our skin over time unstained, and only our clothes were blue. Then the blue cloth and yarn and thread ran out too, after years, and our mothers carded, spun and pulled and wove, making cloth without color, until it all was ready. Today, our mothers make us a new color. Today, we become red.
The cart comes in early morning, when the sky is purple. It backs into the field our mothers share and opens like a mouth, and all the red comes out. Many of us have only heard stories of the dye mound, seen it in our dreams: the powder, finer than sand, red as the spices our fathers use to cook meat. A red hill, tall as our houses. Our fathers help our mothers haul the vats outside, fill and heat them. Soon the field is full of smell and steam. Our mothers bring the carts of undyed cloth and thread and yarn, roll back their sleeves, tie up their hair, set to work. They dip the fabric and churn the vats with heavy paddles.
We sit where they tell us to in the grass, away from the dye and the pots, watching their heads frizz in the pink steam, their arms turn red up to the elbows. We itch to help, do what our mothers do, but for now we must only watch. Wait a little longer. Red will be our color, our mothers have promised us. Red is what we’ll learn with, everything they know.
When we grow impatient, we walk circles around the dye mound. We lead the blind boy around and around to show him its size. Red as a berry, we whisper when he asks. Red as blood, as poppies, red as a cardinal’s feathers. Ours.