Death Isn't Black

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Commercial Fiction  |  No Houses
Reagan Undergang can see how people will die. No one would believe Ray if he told them about the colors; no one ever has. When Ray meets an odd girl, he trusts her enough to tell her his secret, but will it throw him back into the world of psychologists and wary looks?

Submitted: May 12, 2016

A A A | A A A

Submitted: May 12, 2016



No colors anymore, I want them to turn black.

-Paint it Black, The Rolling Stones


Death Isn’t Black


Chapter I: Discovery

Everyone likes rainbows. I think they mean something to people. They’re the hope after the storm, the good out of the bad, all of the colors living in happy harmony. That’s what they are to most people, anyway. I hate rainbows. It’s not that I’m a depressing person or anything (well, I may be, but that’s beside the point), I hate rainbows because of what they mean to me. They mean death.

Now, I know that’s an incredibly weird and slightly melancholy  thing to say, but hear me out. You know those little awareness ribbons? Each color represents some horrible disease, or rather, hope against that disease. But what if the hope was gone? What if the color didn’t represent a fightable thing, but a certain doom?

This is what I’ve seen for as long as I can remember. Around every person is a color, kind of like an aurora borealis. The color tells how that person will die.

I didn’t always know what the colors meant, I just knew they were there. I told my parents about them when I was small. At first, they thought I just had an overactive imagination, but as I got older and kept talking about the colors, my parents got concerned. They took me to a psychiatrist who diagnosed me with a severe need for attention. For a good while I was taken to the shrink’s every week to learn how “lying was wrong” and “there are better ways to cope with loneliness”. The only thing I really learned was to keep my mouth shut.

I figured out what the colors meant in middle school. The important and powerful people of the school board decided that we needed to learn about how wrong bullying was. The best way to do this, of course, was by writing an essay about the “adverse effects of bullying”. I was doing research in the computer lab with the rest of my class, when I found this one web page. It had the stories of these kids who were tormented so badly that they killed themselves. Super depressing stuff. Then I noticed their pictures.

Most people would get a bit melancholy looking at the pictures of all these suicide victims, but I had entirely different reasons for being disturbed. Each and every one of the kids had a ghostly purple glow. The similarities existed down to the shade. Those who hanged were indigo. Those who poisoned themselves were plum. Those that blasted their brains out were violet.

And thus, I had the first color of my morbid rainbow. Many would follow. Red for blood loss or blood related deaths, green for poison and foreign objects, blue for asphyxiation, yellow for electrocution… The list goes on for far too long.

I forgot my lesson of silence for the first time that day. I was stupid, and I was scared, scared of the colors. I guess you could say I had a bit of a mental breakdown. I was sent to the nurse’s office for a panic attack. When my parents came to pick me up, they found me curled up in a ball, rocking back and forth, screaming about colors and dead children. It was the first time I would see that look in their eyes, that awful look of fear and pity. That look is the only thing I hate more than rainbows.

My negligence of my lesson would prove to have a great effect. While the other kids were enjoying their prepubescence by being stupid and reprehensible to society, I was thrown into a world of doctors, diagnoses, and medications. Every doctor had something different to say. According to one, I had bipolar disorder. According to another, I had autism. I had anxiety disorder, I had delusional disorder, I had a drug addiction, I had schizophrenia. Only I knew the truth. All I had were too many colors, and too many medications.

The psychiatrists once again inadvertently taught me to keep my mouth shut about the colors. Now that I knew the color’s meaning as well, I had a new lesson: Don’t get attached to anyone.

I had every intention of keeping my lessons, my rules. But, as a wise man once said, rules are made to be broken. I broke my rules when I was seventeen. When I met her.


Chapter II: Hello


A high school cafeteria may easily be the most segregated place since 1960s America. Everyone thinks that the John Hughes-esque clique system is a myth, but-- despite the protests of every high school principal ever-- it’s actually pretty accurate. The jocks sit at one table, the popular girls (or, as I silently call them, the MegaBitches) sit at another. The theatre kids literally burst into song like it’s High School Musical, and one can find a plethora of vibrant and unnatural hair colors at the emo table.

My table holds the loners. In order to sit at the loner table, three de facto rules must be followed. 1. Loners sit in silence. Talking to anyone is a fruitless task that will result in monosyllable answers and annoyed looks. 2. Eye contact is only forgivable if it is the accidental product of staring into space. 3. A buffer of two chairs or more must be observed at all times. Anything less is a horrendous violation of personable space that is punishable by thirty minutes of pure awkwardness.

The downside of these rules, was that only those who sat at the table knew them. From time to time, someone would come and ask to sit by one of us, being of the impression that we were “lonely”. These aliens were often female, and, after a day or so of trying to make contact, would see the hopelessness of their task and leave, returning the system to equilibrium.

It was one of these aliens who approached me now, as I was the most seats away from another person, and therefore, in her mind, the loneliest.

“May I sit here?” she asked, her hand already clasping the back of the seat next to mind.

I gave the only socially acceptable answer. That is to say, I nodded, once.

“You’re Reagan Undergang, right? We have English together”.

“I go by Ray, actually,” I replied.

“Oh, sorry, Ray. I’m Elwyn  Cinnabar, but you, good sir, may call me by my alias: Elle”.

At this, she stuck out her hand. Not wanting to be rude, I shook it, but all the while, I was wondering what kind of freak I had attracted.

She looked normal enough. She wore jeans and a Ghostbusters T-shirt. Her hair was ash blonde, and her eyes were gray-blue. Actually, she was kind of cute. Cute as in puppy-licking-a-

kitty-cute, that is. Not I’m-lowkey-into-her-cute.

She was vermillion. She would bleed to death in a vehicular incident.

“Not into the shakespearean?” she asked, seeing my wary look.

“Umm, no. Well, yeah. I mean… er, that’s not shakespearean,” I stuttered.

“Oh?” she asked, tilting her head. Her earrings dangled when she did this, and I noticed they were shaped like little ghosts.

“It sounds kind of british to me,” I mumbled.

“And I take it you’re a language expert?” She joked.

“No, I’m just familiar with Shakespeare,” I said.

“Ooh, really? Quote something for me,” she demanded.

“What? No!”

“Oh come on,” she pouted, “I won’t judge if you’re awful”.

“Listen,” I began. “I don’t know you. I don’t mean to be rude, but you don’t need to talk to me. I’m fine.”

Elle bit her lip, and shifted from side to side.

“Okay,” she said, “that’s fair. But I actually came over here for my own selfish purposes.”

“Which are?”

Elle, hesitated a moment, then started speaking rapidly.

“Well, my girls just dumped me. Apparently Claire’s boyfriend has a ‘social disease’, and Claire doesn’t. The bastard has the nerve to say I gave it to him for God-knows-what-reason. So now Claire’s out a boyfriend, and she hates my guts. I tried telling her I didn’t screw her guy, but she, along with the rest of the girls, thinks that just because he’s the damn football captain-”

She saw the look on my face, and stopped short.

“Okay,” she said. “Basically, girl drama happened, and I really need a friend right now. You looked approachable.”

I snorted. Me? Approachable?

“You’re toying with me, aren’t you?” I asked.

“No!” she defended herself.

We stared at each other for a moment. I’m no psychologist, but she looked like she was telling the truth. She looked like something else, too. She looked lonely.

“Hey,” she said. “I know I’m really forward and obnoxious. I’m also super-stubborn, so that means you’re stuck with me, whether you like it or not.”

“Really?” I asked sarcastically.


“Is this how you usually make friends? You pick a person, tell a little too much about yourself,  and don’t take no for an answer?”

“Recommended by nine out of ten doctors,” she said.

“Well damn. I’ve been doing it wrong.”


Chapter III: A Bad Pun


I’m the type of person who likes to work alone on group projects. They’re easy enough to squirm out of; I let the teacher finish their spiel, they say to get into groups, then I raise my hand and ask to work alone. They almost always say yes, maybe partially because of the words “severe social anxiety” blaring on my medical record. This being the case, I never knew that it was common to exchange numbers amongst a group.

This was why I was spending my Saturday afternoon staring at Elle Cinnabar’s number.

“Get in touch with me this weekend and we’ll get to work on the project,” she had said.

But how was I supposed to get in touch with her? Did I call? Text? Did I call that day or wait until Sunday? What if she was busy? What if she didn’t respond? How long would I have to wait before trying again?  Would it be weird if I texted twice?

“I don’t see you use that thing very often.”

I jumped and jerked my head up. I hadn’t noticed my mom was standing in the doorway. She was, of course, indicating the phone in my lap.

She was silver. Silver was my favorite color--it meant death by old age. In fact, both of my parents were silver, something I was always grateful for.

“Talking to a girl?” Mom asked.

“Wondering if I should,” I said.

She raised her eyebrows and looked at me over her glasses.

“Ooh,” she drawled. “Is she cute?”

“What?” I screeched. “Oh my God, Mom, No! It’s not like that. Elle’s a girl in my English class; we’re working on a project together.”

“Oh, okay, then,” she said, still talking in that sing-song voice all mothers adopt when prying into their child’s love life. Or, in my case, misinterpreted-platonic-friendship-life.

“She is cute, though, isn’t she?”


My face flushed and I threw a pillow at the door. Mom put her hands up in surrender and took her leave. She still had on that annoying smirk that made me get unreasonably defensive.

Before I had time to recover from my embarrassment, my phone buzzed. It took me a moment, but I realized that my phone wasn’t having an electronic seizure; I had a message from Elle.

“Speak of the devil,” I muttered whilst unlocking the screen.


 I smiled a bit and wrote back:



I suddenly found myself making an effort to breathe. I didn’t think I’d have to meet Elle face-to-face. I hated the angry shade of vermillion that surrounded her. Despite that, I wrote:





I sat in the parking lot waiting for Elle. I could have gone in on my own, of course, but there was something about being alone amongst strangers that was unsettling to me. Maybe “social anxiety” wasn’t too far off the mark.

I knew Elle’s car to be hers the moment I saw it. It was a dark grey volkswagen bug, an older model and obviously well-used. Elle had painted the fenders purple with what appeared to be acrylic paint. The rear was decorated with several bumper stickers, the majority of them  being cartoon ghosts. The driver’s side had a massive scratch.

I got out of my car and watched Elle do the same. When seen together, the scratch on her car and her vermillion glow screamed at me. My mind kept echoing the words, “she’ll die in a car, she’ll die in a car” over and over again, like some sick broken record. I was smacked by a horrible realization: Elle had driven here because of me; I could have murdered her. I felt heat rush from the back of my head down my neck. The world began to look fuzzy.

Elle noticed me watching her and came to greet me.

“How now, noble Ray?” She asked in a less-than-genuine British accent. “Happy and prosperous be thy day?”

“Hey, Elle,” I said. My voice sounded distant. “I’m good, thanks.”

Elle scanned me over and her eyebrows furrowed.

“You sure?” she asked. “You look like you’re gonna be sick.”

“Yeah, I’m fine,” I lied. “It’s just that the name of this place is cringe-worthy.”

I gestured towards the store front. The lettering over the door identified the coffee shop as:


“Oh, c’mon,” laughed Elle, “it’s not that bad.”

She began walking forward and waved her hand for me to follow. I untensed my fingers (which I hadn’t noticed I’d clenched in the first place) and pulled myself together. As I followed, I kept my eyes down to the ground, away from the vermillion glow.



Chapter IV: Indigo

Being a coffee shop, Déjà Brew was, of course, filled with the earthy smell of coffee. The neutral colors and dim lighting should have made the place look depressing, in theory, but the unknown designers and decorators--having a better eye for aesthetic than I--knew how to use these elements to create a vintage look.

To the advantage of my mental state, there weren’t many people. The majority of the noise in the room came from the news anchors on the T.V. behind a bar-style counter. Elle sat us down at the bar, close to the front windows. Upon seeing her, the smiled and came to meet us. It was clear Elle was a regular.

“Elle! Como esta, niña?” he  asked.

Obviously, he was a native Spanish speaker. He spoke with a lisp inherent to a castilian spanish accent. I immediately liked him; he was silver.

“Hey, Jorge,” said Elle, “I’m good, thanks.”

“I see you bring friend,” he said in broken English. “Is very handsome, no?”

I flushed a bit and Elle laughed.

“Yeah, this is Ray,” she said. “And Ray, this is Jorge.”

Jorge reached out his hand and I shook it.

“It’s a pleasure to meet you, sir,” I said.

“You are nice young man,” Jorge said. He pointed an accusing finger at me and added, “You take care of Elle, ok? She is niña loca, yes?”

Elle laughed again and spoke, “I can take care of myself, Jorge.”

She glanced at me and gave me a mischievous smile, “But I’m sure Ray’ll step up if needed. He’s a real gentleman, the kind of guy who texts in full sentences and proper grammar.”

“You aren’t supposed to do that?” I asked.

“Nah,” said Elle, “it’s just a text. It’s supposed to be quick, Shakespeare. I’m not that bad at spelling.”

“It would explain your English grade,” I said.

Elle staged a pout and Jorge laughed.

“You are no nice, Señor,” he said. “But, Elle is no nice, either, eh?”

Elle gasped and put her hand to her chest.

“Jorge! Not you, too!”

Jorge laughed again and put his hands up.

“Ok, ok,” he said, “I take the order now. Same as always, niña?”

“You know it,” Elle said.

“And for you, Señor Ray?” he asked.

“I’d like a cappuccino, please,” I said, a little embarrassed at being called “Señor”.

Jorge served our drinks and, as promised, I paid. Despite having put nothing in, Elle twirled a stir stick around in her cup. In fact, it seemed that Jorge hadn’t put anything in either.

“Black?” I asked.

“As my soul,” said Elle.

I raised an eyebrow and Elle quit fiddling with her stir stick.

“What?” she asked.

“Elle, that joke was so bad, I could literally slap you right now.”

Elle gasped and put on a pseudo-southern accent almost as bad as her british.

“Why, Mr. Undergang! Surely an upstanding gentleman such as yourself wouldn’t lay hands on a lady!”

I smiled and shook my head as I pulled out my papers. Elle definitely didn’t have a future in voice acting.

“Hey, do you have the project outline?” she asked. “I lost mine.”

“Seriously, Elle?”

“What?” she asked.

“Elle, we just got it yesterday.”

“And I lost it yesterday,” she said.

I gave her an annoyed look that I didn’t mean and slid the paper over. On it was our assignment: “Pick any author, analyze their writing style, and relate it to their life events, time period, or state of mind”.

“That’s pretty damn vague,” said Elle.

“It means we can go in a lot of different directions,” I said. “There’s a lot of potential.”

“You sound like an English teacher,” Elle said.

I shrugged and Elle kept looking over the paper.

“Okay,” she started. “Maybe we could do Shakespeare?”

“Well, we could,” I hesitated, “but Shakespeare’s popular. I bet you five groups will pick him.”

“Not even for the sake of the inside joke?” mock-pouted Elle.

“If you really want to…” I trailed off, Elle’s satire going over my head.

“No, no, you’re right,” she said. “You pick one. I don’t know many un-clichéd authors.”

“I like Steinbeck, but he’s common, as well,” I thought out loud.

Elle snorted a bit.

“Oh, no one’s going to pick him. I’m pretty sure everyone hates him after having to read Grapes of Wrath last year.”

“Really? People didn’t like that book?” I asked.

“Ew, no,” said Elle, “You did?”

“How could I not?” I asked.

“I dunno,” Elle said, “it’s annoying. He barely describes anything and half the time you don’t know what’s going on.”

“Well, yeah,” I argued, “that’s the beauty of it. He says so much with so little. Steinbeck wanted to show the way real people think. He wanted to make the characters relatable, and he wanted the reader to create his own character. If he said just a few guiding words, the reader is left to make their own picture, their own-”

I saw the look on Elle’s face and stopped short. For once, she was quiet, and I couldn’t tell what she was thinking.

“Wow,” she said. “I think we should do Steinbeck.”

“Okay,” I said.

Elle was still staring at me with that weird look on her face. I couldn’t tell if I was turning red or white.

“You should be an English teacher,” she said.

“I’m… not good with people,” I mumbled.

I turned away, and a picture on the television screen caught my eye. It showed a man in a white jumpsuit--a death row inmate. He was caucasian man with black, curly hair and a thick beard. His eyes were large and dark brown in color, almost black. Unlike most prison pictures, he didn’t look angry. He looked sad.

The news anchors had identified him as Ronald Hunlad. He had killed a 14-year-old girl. One of those internet catfish things. He had lost his plead of insanity and would be sent to the electric chair in four days. That’s what the news anchors said, anyways. They were wrong.

Ronald Hunlad wasn’t yellow. He was indigo. He would hang himself.

“Disturbing, isn’t it?” asked Elle.

I jumped a bit. I had forgotten where I was, and that Elle was there.

“Yeah,” I said.

“That poor girl.” Elle bit her lip and cast her eyes downward.

“And I guess it must be awful for him, too,” she added.

“What do you mean?” I asked.

“I know I shouldn’t pity him. He’s a terrible person, and he did a terrible thing, but it must be awful knowing how you’re going to die like that. Knowing when you’re going to die.”

Did he know, yet? Had he already decided to hang himself? Or did he still think he was going to the electric chair?

Elle made a bit of a choking noise, and I saw the look on her face. Her eyes were closed and her eyebrows tightly knitted. Her jaw was set tight. She almost looked to be in pain. I had seen that look, long ago, in a hospital room. It was the look of someone who was disturbed and concerned for another person’s mental state. It was not a look that should have belonged to Elle, never to Elle.

“Don’t worry,” I said, taking Elle’s shoulder nearest to me, “He’ll go out on his own terms.”

Elle gave me a suspicious glance. Her eyes spoke a question: How can you be so certain?

On the T.V., the screen changed back to the news anchors. They began a much happier story about a group of stray dogs that had been donated to the local hospital as therapy animals. One anchor was silver. The other was mottled red and green.



Chapter V: Shadows and Sheep

It was about 7:00 when Elle and I left the coffee shop. The sun was setting, and it matched the color surrounding Elle almost perfectly. We were tailed by alien shadows, elongated figures that watched everything and silently repeated every action in their world.

The cars in the parking lot almost looked animated, the way the faced and reflected the sun.

I walked Elle to her car. I saw the scratch again, and I tried not to let my mind go into overdrive with possible scenarios ending in Elle’s demise. I instead distracted myself with the purple fenders.

“You know you aren’t supposed to use acrylic paint on a car, right?” I asked.

“Yeah,” Elle shrugged, “She’s such a clunker, I figured it wouldn’t hurt if I ruined the paint job as well.”

“Is it really safe to drive?” I asked.

“I guess,” Elle said. “She’ll clunk out eventually, but I think she has a while to go.”

“How’d you get the scratch?” I asked.

“Oh, that,” huffed Elle. “Some idiot couldn’t stay in their own damn lane in one of those traffic circles, so it was either let them hit me, or scratch the guard rail. I figured the rail would have a lesser chance of cussing me out.”

“Were you okay?”

“Yeah. I was a bit upset about scratching the car, at first, but I got a new bumper sticker to make up for it. Retail therapy and all that,” she joked.

Please tell me those aren’t all the result of accidents,” I said.

“No,” she smirked. “I just have a passion for ghosts.”

“I was going to ask you about that,” I said. “The T-shirts, the earrings, the shadowy figure that follows you around…”

Elle chuckled and shook her head.

“Yeah, I just really like them. I like the way they’re depicted in all these different art styles, and I enjoy the stories about them, real ones included.”

“So you watch a lot of those ghost hunter shows, I take it?”

“Oh, yeah, I love them!”

“Really?” I laughed. “Those things are so fake.”

“What? No, they’re totally legit!” she replied.

“They’re just a bunch of guys misinterpreting houses settling and pants swishing,” I said.

“Nuh-unh, they’re ghosts talking,” said Elle.

I squinted at Elle and she smirked at me. I couldn’t tell if she was being serious or not.

“Okay, Elle, whatever you say,” I sighed. “I’ll see you Monday.”

“See you, Ray,” she replied, opening her car door.

As I turned to walk to my car, the sun reflected off the scratch, catching my eye once more.



“Drive safely, okay?”

“Yeah, sure.”


I was in a field with a sheep. I had no clue how I got there, nor why the sheep was there, but there we were. The sheep trotted over to me and started pawing at me. I figured he wanted to be pet. I scratched the sheep behind the ears, and he bleated. Well, actually, it was more of a buzz than a bleat. I quit petting the sheep and it started pawing again. *cough-cough* acid trip.

Buzzzzzt, buzzzzzt, buzzzzzt,” it said.

I woke up with a start. My phone was vibrating on the floor, where I had tossed it the previous night.

“What the hell?” I yawned, referring both to my odd dream and the fact that someone was calling me on a Sunday morning.

I sat up a little too quickly, and I got a head rush. After collecting myself enough to pick up my phone from the floor, it had stopped buzzing. For some odd reason, I had a missed call from Elle, as well as several texts:



I rubbed my eyes and texted Elle back:



I tried to keep myself from worrying as I got dressed. After all, if Elle had a real emergency, she would have called me instead of texting me, right? Then again, it was really odd for her to demand me to come over first thing in the morning. Of course, Elle did all sorts of really odd things. It was probably nothing.

I hoped it was nothing.


Chapter VI: Group Therapy

I was fighting a nervous breakdown when I knocked on Elle’s door. It didn’t help that the first thing I heard was a dog barking. A large dog. Either that, or puberty hit Elle’s dog hard. Never having had one myself, I didn’t even know if I liked dogs. More importantly, I didn’t know if dogs liked me.

Elle opened the door and pulled me inside before I could say anything. A black and silver streak whizzed toward me, and--without really knowing what had happened--I fell to the ground. Two fuzzy paws were on my chest and a big tongue was lapping my face. I had met Elle’s dog.

He was silver. Well, the color surrounding him was silver, that is. The dog, himself, was black.

“Oh, God, not again!” groaned Elle. “Casper! Casper, settle! Get off!”

Elle struggled to pull the large dog off of me as he wriggled in delight. Eventually, Elle got him to calm down enough for me to stand up again. Casper stared at me with his tongue hanging out in a doggy smile. His hindquarters and tail swung from side to side as he stepped in place with his back feet. He barked at me, but not in an aggressive way. It was an odd, half-volume bark. It sounded friendly.

Boof!” he said.

“Hello, yourself,” I said, a little winded.

“Sorry about him,” apologized Elle. “Casper means well, he just forgets how big he is.”

“Yeah, he’s… he’s big,” I said. “What is he? He looks like a schnauzer.”

“That’s cause he is one,” said Elle.

“I thought schnauzers were small?” I said.

“He’s a giant schnauzer. You didn’t know about them?”

“I don’t see many dogs,” I explained.

“Well, giants are, obviously, bigger than standards, but they’re usually smaller than Casper. Casper’s just a big beastie, ain'tcha boy?”


Casper suddenly froze in place and whipped around. He skidded for a moment on the hard floor, then bolted to a woman who had just entered the hallway: Elle’s mom.

She was maroon.

“Well, hello!” she said cheerfully. “I see you met Casper.”

“Mom, this is Ray,” said Elle, “and before you say anything to embarrass him, he is not my boyfriend.”

I tried to ignore the feeling of my face heating up as I extended my hand.

“It’s a pleasure to meet you Miss--”

“Call me Heidi,” she interjected.

“Miss Heidi.”

“What a polite young man!” she gushed. “If you don’t take him, Elle, I just might.”

“Oh my God, Mom! That’s so wrong!” Elle said as she cringed.

Boof!” said Casper, pushing his head into my hand. Apparently he wanted to take me, as well.

“Okay Casper, let Ray go,” commanded Elle.

“We’re going up to my room now,” she said to her mom. “Bye!”

“Okay,” she replied, “tell me if you need anything.”

Elle pulled me into her room, shut the door, and sat on her bed. She crossed her arms over her chest and stared at me. I waited for her to say something, but she didn’t comply. We sat there--me shifting from foot to foot, her staring--for several seconds.

“Did I do something?” I asked at last.

“You tell me,” she said. “Yesterday. The death row convict. How did you know?”


Elle tilted her head and scanned me over. She got up and started typing on a laptop open on a silver-painted wooden desk. She motioned me over; she had pulled up a video on the local news website released that morning. She hit play and a female reporter started speaking.

“At 2:00 A.M. last night, police officials found death row inmate Ronald Hunlad dead in his cell. Hunlad had tied his bedsheets around his neck and hanged himself from his bunk. We have with us today Offic--”

Elle paused the video and turned to me.

“You knew,” she said.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” I said.

“You said he would go out on his own terms. You knew.”

“Elle, that’s nonsense. I don’t know what I meant by that, I--”

“No,” interrupted Elle, “you knew. You were so certain. I could see it on your face. You knew something”--she gestured towards the screen showing the same picture of Hunald from yesterday--“You knew this.”

I took a breath to speak, then let it out again. What could I say?

“How did you know?” Elle repeated.

“You wouldn’t believe me,” I breathed.

That wasn’t my real reason for not telling her. It wasn’t my only reason, anyway. I didn’t want Elle to think I was crazy. She was my friend, the only friend I had known for a long time. Now that I had her, I didn’t think I could bear going back to that lonely place. There was another place I didn’t want to go back to either. Namely, the mental ward.

“Try me,” Elle said.

I shook my head and squeezed my eyes shut. I couldn’t take Elle’s piercing stare. I hadn’t noticed before how unsettling grey-blue eyes could be.

“How about this: If I don’t believe you, I drop it. We never talk about it again; it never happened. Okay?”

“Promise?” I asked.


I took a deep breath. Elle wouldn’t throw me to the doctors, I told myself.

“I see how people will die,” I said. I spoke slowly and my voice cracked. I was finding it difficult to talk past the lump in my throat.

“Everyone has this… this color around them. Each one means something different. A different way to...”

I trailed off, not sure how to finish my sentence. I took another breath to say more, but I stayed silent. I couldn’t find the courage to speak, and I didn’t know if there even was anything else to say. I opened my eyes. Elle was still staring at me. It was a gentler stare, but I still couldn’t analyze it. I hoped it wasn’t pity.

I could feel myself begin to shake. I should have kept my mouth shut. Why hadn’t I kept my mouth shut? I felt heat flash down my neck.

“Please don’t send me back, Elle,” I begged, holding back tears.

I choked a bit. I would not let myself cry in front of Elle. I didn’t let myself cry in front of anybody. Crying did nothing but worry people and evoke pity, two things I hated to do.

“Send you back where, Ray?” she asked.

I studied Elle again. Her voice sounded normal. She asked the question genuinely, not the way a psychiatrist asks. They ask every question as though they were asking a child a simple addition problem. That is to say, they sound like they already know the answer, they just want to hear it from their student.

I shook my head. If she didn’t know, I certainly wasn’t going to tell her.

“Do you see yours?” she asked.

“My what?”

“Your color.”

“Oh,” I said. “No.”

Elle nodded slowly.

“That’s good,” she said.

“You don’t believe me, do you?” I asked.

I’d been asked the question before. If I truly had this power, how could I not see my own color? Didn’t I think it convenient to my story?

“I believe you,” Elle said. “The world is full of weird things. I’ve seen one.”


“I saw my dad’s ghost,” she said. “I was seven. It was raining, and I was afraid of thunderstorms, and Mom was asleep. I was terrified, but I didn’t want to wake up Mom because ever since Dad had gone she seemed so tired, and… and I saw him, and… I wasn’t scared anymore. I guess it’s why I like ghosts so much.”

Elle laughed, and I found myself getting annoyed with her.

“C’mon, Elle, be serious,” I scolded.

“I am!” said Elle, unabashed. “I’m telling you Ray, I saw my dad that night!”

I looked Elle in the eye. I didn’t know how to tell a liar from the rest of the population, and I didn’t know if I believed in ghosts, but Elle looked like she truly believed the words she was saying. Who was I to say if she had really seen her dad? It was clear she believed me, I figured it was my duty as her friend to return the favor.

“Did he look like the ghosts in movies?” I asked. “Transparent and silver and stuff?”

Elle looked to my right as she thought for a moment.

“Transparent,” she said, “but not really silver. He didn’t glow or anything. He was kind of… dim? It was like someone turned his color saturation down, like in a picture correction. He looked… happy.”

Elle’s mouth smiled, but her eyes looked more like she was about to cry. Her smile faded as her mouth followed suit.

“He hanged himself, too,” she said.

My automatic response was to say “I’m sorry”, but I stopped myself. She’d probably heard that since she was seven.

“What color is it?” she asked, looking back at me.

“Indigo,” I said.

She smiled and nodded. The smile was slightly sad, but genuine, nonetheless.

“That’s a pretty color,” she said.

“Yeah,” I said.

I wasn’t sure whether I believed indigo was a pretty color or not, the morbid meaning I superimposed on colors had ruined my ability to see them objectively, but I was glad I had somehow managed to comfort Elle.

“Ray?” She began, but her voice cracked, and she didn’t finish.

I let her take a breath and try again.

“Ray, do you think I could have… could have saved him?”

“There was nothing you could do,” I said.

Elle suddenly glared at me. I had the feeling she had heard the words too many times before.

“You’re just saying that.”

“No,” I said. “I know. There was nothing you could do.”

I wrestled with different words in my head for a moment before continuing.

“I’ve tried before. To warn people, that is. To change it. No matter what I did, what I said, the colors didn’t change. They never do. So I know, Elle. There’s nothing you could have done. You can’t change a made up mind.”

Elle nodded and knit her brow.

“Can I ask you to tell me someone’s color? Just one person, and I’ll never ask again, I swear.”

I braced myself. I didn’t want to tell Elle how she would die. I knew she would live in fear for the rest of her life if I did. Despite this, I said:


“Can you tell me my mom’s?” she asked.

Elle must have seen how taken aback I was, because she added:

“I don’t want to lose another parent unexpectedly, Ray”--her voice cracked and a tear rolled into her nasolabial crease--“I want to know, to… to… prepare myself? I guess?”

I wondered how long Elle had been keeping this in. How long had she lived in constant fear of losing her mother? I had a choice. I could either lie and take this burden away from her, or tell her the truth and give her maroon.

“She’s silver,” I lied. “Old age.”

Elle stared at me a moment, letting the information sink in. Suddenly she threw her arms around me and started crying into my shoulder.

“Thank-you,” she said.



Chapter VII: The Fair Sex

I sat at the lunch table waiting for Elle. We had presented our project on Steinbeck that morning. Elle had done most of the talking, but I had helped on parts where she hadn’t really understood what I was trying to say. With Elle’s charisma and my ability to sound smart (and only slightly geeky) about Steinbeck, I thought we rocked it.

“Ray!” squealed Elle, not attempting in the slightest to make her arrival subtle.

“What’s got you so excited?” I asked.

“Look!” she said, shoving her phone in my face.

“Elle, stay still; I can’t read it while you’re… doing whatever it is you’re doing.”

Elle was rocking side to side in what I could only assume to be a poor attempt at dancing.

“Then stop trying to be polite and take the phone, you dork!” she said.

I did so and looked over the screen. On it was a transcript of Elle’s current (and less than satisfactory) English grade.

“Ummm… You’re above a fail grade?” I guessed.

“No!” she scoffed. “Well, yes. But look at our project grade!”

I did so. We had gotten a 95%.

“Nice!” I said. “What’d we get docked on?”

“Who cares, Shakespeare? We got an A!” shouted Elle.

I laughed at Elle’s enthusiasm and watched her dance for a moment longer. Then she tried to pull me into a standing position.

“Woah, what are you doing?” I asked, shaking her off.

“Making you celebrate with me,” said Elle, grabbing my arm again.

“What? No! Elle, there are people,” I whispered, shaking her off again.

Elle put her hands on her hips and huffed.

“What am I going to do with you?” she asked.

She plopped down and held up her hand. I gave her a quizzical look. She groaned.

“C’mon, if you won’t dance you have to at least do a celebratory high-five.”

“Oh,” I said.

I complied and Elle made a fist. She held it there a moment and raised her eyebrows at me.

“Now you’re supposed to fist-bump me,” she stage whispered in a New-York accent. It was about as bad as the rest of her accents were.

“What? No, that’s weird.”

“C’mon,” prompted Elle.

I sighed and obeyed once more. Elle made a jellyfish with her hand. I didn’t.

“Okay, we’ll work on it,” she shrugged.

“Oh, hey,” I said, “I almost forgot. I got you something.”

“Oh, goody-gumdrops!” said Elle.

“ ‘Goody-gumdrops’?”

“I said it, I regret it, and I am suppressing the memory of it as we speak,” she said. “Just give me whatever it is, already.”

“Rude! Maybe I shouldn’t give this to you,” I said, handing her a black box, anyways.

Elle opened the box, and I was delighted to see her face light up as she discovered what was inside. I had gotten her a bracelet with the Pac-Man ghosts on it. Each one repeated three times, and a pac-pellet served as a buffer between each ghost.

“Oh my God, Ray! Thank-you, this is adorable!” beamed Elle.

“I’m glad you like it,” I said.

“You know, these guys are really interesting. People think they move randomly, but they’re actually programmed to move in a certain way. The pink one tries to get in front, the orange one switches between chasing and wandering off, the red one chases and gets faster after a while, and the blue one switches between strategies. It’s pretty cool for such a simple-seeming game.”

“You do your research,” I said.

“I try,” said Elle. “What’s this for?”

“To celebrate your newfound ability of not failing English assignments,” I quipped.

“Shut up,” said Elle, hitting my arm. “You had no clue we were getting our grade back today.”

Elle froze and slowly turned towards me, wide-eyed.

“Unless you can tell the future as well and you’re not telling me,” she said.

I laughed. Elle never failed to impress me with her ability to stay straight-faced while telling a joke.

“Okay, it’s just… Just a thank-you,” I said.


“Not sending me away in a straight jacket and a little white van,” I joked.

Elle chuckled.

“You’re quite welcome,” she said, “but I’ll have to remember that that’s an option.”

Despite hiding my feelings behind bad jokes and sarcasm (an ability I believe every pubescent human possesses), I could tell Elle understood what I meant.

“Speaking of that,” she said, “I wanted to ask you. What’s black?”

“Well, Elle,” I said, slowly, “You know how when you turn off lights, it gets really dark, and then you see--”

Elle interrupted me with a stage gag.

“Ray, you know what I mean. I imagine it has to be the worst way to go, black being the color of death and all that.”

“Actually,” I said, “black never shows up. Either I haven’t seen it, yet, or it’s the one color that doesn’t mean anything.”

Elle tilted her head in thought.

“That’s odd,” she said.

“Yeah, it is.”

I had thought a lot about this before. When one thinks of death, they see black horses drawing a black hearse, people at a funeral dressed in black, the grim reaper in a black cloak. Black was supposedly the color of death, yet black seemed to be the one color death was not. It was strange.

My thoughts were interrupted by an obnoxious, high pitched voice.

“Hey, Elle!” said the offender. “How ya been, sweetie? I’ve missed you!”

The girl was an unnatural shade of orange (her skin, that is, not her color--that was Brunswick green: a heroine overdose). Her hair was perfectly straightened and styled, and probably full of split ends. She wore too much eye shadow, eyeliner flirting with the border between modern makeup and Ancient Egyptian kohl, and lipstick so red it may have been stolen from a hooker. Her shorts showed too much of her butt and her shirt showed too much of her shoulders, and she chewed her gum a little too loudly. She was a MegaBitch.

“Hey, Dillon. I’m good, thanks.”

Elle was trying to be polite, but Elle wasn’t one to hide her emotions. She was clearly irked by this “Dillon” ’s presence. I realized that this may have been one of the girls who Elle had been friends with a couple of weeks earlier. The concept was strange to me. Elle was such an awesome person, but this girl was… well, not.

“You should come over and sit with us,” Dillon said. “We’ve all missed you.”

“I have a spot, thanks,” said Elle, gesturing towards me.

Somehow, Dillon still managed to completely ignore my presence.

“You don’t really want to be over here with these freaks, do you?” she asked.

I raised an eyebrow and turned towards Elle. I wasn’t upset--one can expect a fish to swim--but Elle was. Her face was bright red, and she was glaring at Dillon with a look that could kill. She had clenched her fists and her lip was slightly upturned.

Dillon managed to be oblivious to this, and I wondered if she was legally blind.

“Claire would just cuss me out again,” said Elle.

I doubted Elle gave a damn what Claire said to her, but Dillon didn’t share this sentiment.

“Oh, I think Claire misses you, too, she just doesn’t want to admit it.”

“I’m good, thanks,” said Elle.

Dillon shrugged.

“Okay,” she said. “Suit yourself. I just wanted to let you know, I’m having a party Friday night. You should be there.”

“We’ll see,” said Elle, in a tone that lead me to believe that they would definitely not see.

“Alright,” said Dillon, annoyed at being pushed aside.

She lingered for a moment longer, then strutted back to her kind. Thankfully, they were congregated on the opposite side of the cafeteria.

“Why do you think she wants you back all of a sudden?” I asked.

“Honestly? Dillon loves to stir up drama. I bet she just wanted to see if she could get Claire and I to go at it. It’s not a party until you get a video of a drunken cat fight,” Elle said, rolling her eyes.

“I don’t get it,” I said. “How were you friends with her? With any of them?”

Elle shrugged.

“Oh, I’ve known those girls since elementary. They didn’t used to be like that. No one was back then, I guess. As time went on, they got bitchier, and I… Well, I like to think that I didn’t. By then the pecking order was kind of set, and I just hung with them a while. Honestly, I’m glad to be rid of them.”

“People change,” I said.

Elle nodded. Neither of us cared about the girls enough to waste any more words on them. I watched Elle as she ripped the peel off of an orange. I hoped she and Claire never did get in a fight.

Poor Claire wouldn’t stand a chance.



Chapter VIII: Blackout

I awoke that Saturday morning without any help from a buzzing dream sheep. I tried to go back to sleep again, but apparently my brain had decided that it was time to stay awake, even if I was tired. With nothing better to do, I went to get a bowl of cereal from the kitchen.

To my surprise, my Mom and Dad were sitting at the table. Usually, they would eat while sitting on the couch. Some B-movie from the hallmark channel would play on the T.V., and Mom and Dad would sit there, making fun of it. Oftentimes, I’d sit down with them and join in. If they weren’t doing that, they would find something else to laugh at--my parents were the type of people who loved laughing and joking around. Being quiet simply wasn’t in their nature.

There was no laughter that morning. When I entered the room, my parents quit talking and turned to face me. They had been whispering. Mom’s eyes were red and slightly puffy. Something was horribly wrong.

“What’s going on?” I asked.

Mom opened her mouth to speak, then shook her head and put her hand to her mouth. Dad put his hand on her shoulder, but he kept his eyes on me.

“Ray, something’s happened,” he started. “It’s about your friend, Elle.”

I felt the blood leave my face. Breathing had suddenly become difficult.

“Her car broke down last night. She was walking along the road, and some of her friends offered her a ride home”--Dad didn’t seem to want to finish what he was saying. He started talking faster and he switched over to simple clauses--“There was alcohol. There was an accident. The other girls are in the hospital. Elle…”

Dad paused and took a deep breath. I knew what he was going to say next. I didn’t need him to say it out loud, I didn’t want him to say it out loud, but he did anyway.

“Elle didn’t make it.”

I heard a sound like someone being strangled. It took me several moments to recognize the source as myself. Mom got up and embraced me. She was crying again.

“I’m so sorry, Ray,” she said.

I pulled away roughly. I tensed my fingers into claws and dug into my hair near my temples. It should have hurt, but I didn’t feel a thing.

“It’s my fault,” I said.

“No, Ray, there’s nothing you could have done,” said Mom.

She began to look wary. She was remembering another child who dug his nails into his hair, a scared middle school boy in a nurse’s office.

“It’s my fault,” I repeated. “I knew!”

“Ray…” she quavered.

“I should have warned her!” I shouted. “I should have tried harder! I knew! I knew and I let her die! I murdered her!”

I could feel my heart pounding in my chest. I was crying now, hot, angry tears. I gasped as I shouted. I was close to hyperventilating, but I couldn’t make myself calm down. I had killed her… I had murdered her…

“Reagan, no,” cautioned my father. “Not this again.”

He looked tired and annoyed. Mom looked scared, terrified even. I was glad there wasn’t mirror. I don’t even want to know how I looked. Insane, probably.

“Dad, you don’t understand, it’s my fault--”


“I could have said something--”

“You didn’t know, yo--”

“I did! I knew!”

“That’s impossible!”

“It’s the truth! I knew! I knew how she’d die!”

“How, Reagan?” screamed dad. “How could you have known?”

“I saw it!” I cried. “She was vermillion! I saw it!”

I was shaking uncontrollably. Without knowing it, I gnashed my teeth and began nodding my head, back and forth. Dad seized me by the wrists and pulled my hands away from my head.

“Reagan,” he said very softly, as if he were talking to a wounded animal. “Reagan, listen to me. We’re taking you to the hospital.”

“No!” I screamed.

I tried to pull away, but Dad held tightly. I thrashed and screamed.

“No! No! Please, let me go! Let me go! Don’t make me go back there!”

My Mom rushed forward and tried to take my shoulder.

“Ray, please, calm down!’ she begged.

“No!” I screamed again. “I’m not going back!”

I broke loose and ran. I threw open the front door and kept running, not bothering to close it behind me. I heard my mom calling after me. I didn’t care; I had to get out of there, I had to escape. I tripped over a crack in the sidewalk and hit the pavement, hard.

I could hear my heartbeat and my breathing as I lay on the ground. They were far too fast. A dull pain spread over my head, which I had been unfortunate enough to hit as I fell. A ringing began in my ears and gradually got louder as everything faded.

In a few seconds, everything was black.



Chapter IX: Chemically Restrained

I woke up without any clue where I was. My head hurt, and I couldn’t see or hear very well. I wasn’t in my own bed, that much was certain. The sheets were white. They were too thin to be warm and they smelled of antiseptic. I vaguely realized that I wasn’t in my own clothes, either. I was in a purple linen gown.

I saw my arms, and I had to think about them for a moment. Why were they so scratched up? Why did the right one have a tube coming out of it? Or was it my left arm?

I didn’t know it at the time, but the tube was connected to an IV. The IV was filled with a powerful tranquilizer.

I wondered where Elle was and what she was doing. Maybe she knew what had happened to me. I’d call her later and ask her to remind me what my name was. It didn’t even strike me that this was an odd piece of information to forget.

I tried to view my surroundings for a while, but everything kept slipping out of focus. The only things I could really make out were my arms. It was exhausting trying to figure shapes through the blur. I figured I would take a quick nap.

I would call Elle when I woke up.



Chapter X: Vermillion

When the sun set, it would glow the same color Elle had. Because of this, it hurt me to look at a sunset, but at the same time, I could never look away. The nurses thought little of my frequent staring out the window, they said it was normal for someone who had been in the hospital as long as I had. I did it even when the sun wasn’t setting; it was much better staring at the wall, anyways.

There were only four colors in a psych ward. Most things were white. It was supposedly a clean color, a calm color. To me, it was the color of dying from an irregular temperature. The second color was the blue-green of some of the nurse’s scrubs (drug induced asphyxiation), and the third was purple. Purple was what the psych patients and floor nurses wore. I supposed the other floors of the hospital were color coded, too. I didn’t know any of them, but that was fine with me. I had enough colors. The last color in the psych ward was black. This color didn’t occur naturally, I saw it whenever I closed my eyes.

“Reagan, you have a visitor.”

The voice belonged to my psychiatrist. While I saw her everyday, I still hadn’t managed to learn her name. I didn’t care; I hated her.

“Who is it?” I asked.

“Who do you think?”

I rolled my eyes. I had never known a psychiatrist to give a straight answer. They always made me work for every scrap of information.

“I don’t know,” I said. “My mom?”

“No,” she said.

I shrugged. I was done guessing. She’d either tell me or she wouldn’t.

She sighed. I suppose she knew I was a lost cause.

“Come in, Miss Cinnabar,” she said.

I whipped my head around. The only visitors I had gotten were my parents. I hadn’t even known anyone else was allowed to visit me, much less Elle’s mother.

“Hi, Ray,” she said. “How are you holding up?”

“I’m doing a lot better, thanks,” I lied. “It doesn’t much matter how I feel, though. You were her mother.”

Miss Heidi shuddered a bit at my use of the past tense. I knew it was insensitive of me, but I felt that it was stupid to keep talking about Elle like she was alive. She wasn’t “passed over”. She hadn’t “left” or “been taken from us”. Elle was dead, and that was that.

“That’s not true,” said Miss Heidi. “Elle cared about you so much. You were her friend. Of course it matters how you feel.”

“It doesn’t change anything,” I said.

“I’d have to disagree,” she said.

I shrugged. She could believe whatever she wished. It was best for me just to keep my mouth shut.

“I’m so sorry you ended up here,” she said.

“It’s not so bad. They have a lot of pudding.”

Miss Heidi cracked a smile that didn’t quite reach her eyes. Her eyes were the same as Elle’s--grey-blue. They also seemed to have the same ability to see right through me.

“What’s bothering you, Ray?” she asked.

Aside from the fact that I had killed her daughter? That I had lost my only friend? I opened my mouth to say something scathing, but then I remembered the question I had asked my psychiatrist on a daily basis. She always refused to answer.

“Miss Heidi,” I said, “do you know who was driving the car?”

“You know you’re not allowed to ask that, Reagan.”

I had somehow forgotten that the psychiatrist was watching. She always watched when I talked to people. She took notes in her little black book.

I shrugged again. It didn’t matter too much, I knew enough. The only drunken girls who could be mistakenly identified as Elle’s “friends” were currently wasting their senior year getting high and amassing popularity.

I would find out at a later date that Dillon had driven Elle to her death. On that same day, I would get suspended for attacking her. I would also derive great satisfaction from ripping out one of her earrings.

I wouldn’t, however, get any other answers. I would never know why Elle had gotten into that car full of people she hated. I would never know how much pain she was in before she died. I would never know if she was scared.

Miss Heidi gave me an apologetic smile. Her face contorted as she teared up. She knew who had killed Elle. One of the people who had killed Elle, that was. The other was sitting right in front of her.

The psychiatrist noticed Miss Heidi’s distress and stood up.

“I think it’s time for Ms. Cinnabar to go, now. Say goodbye, Reagan.”

Miss Heidi’s brows furrowed as she stared at the psychiatrist. It seemed to me that she wanted to stay and talk longer, but the psychiatrist was intimidating. No matter who she talked to or what she said, the message was clear: Obey me.

Miss Heidi stood up and gave me a hug.

“Goodbye, Ray,” she said. “Hang in there, okay?”

“I’ll try,” I said.

Miss Heidi took one last look at me, then turned to exit the room.

“Miss Heidi?” I said.

The psychiatrist glared at me, but Miss Heidi turned back, anyways.

“Yes, Ray?”

“Be careful around heights.”

She raised an eyebrow, and I had to look away; she reminded me so much of Elle.

“Sure, Ray,” she said.

I watched her from the corner of my eye as she left the room. I wondered if Elle thought maroon was a pretty color.

I jerked my head to the side, trying to expel the unwelcome thought from my head like a drop of water.

I took a deep breath and turned back to the window. The sun was almost set now. It was just a sliver, a small flash of vermillion against the magenta sky. In a few minutes, it would be gone, and the sky would turn black. I wished the vermillion in my head would disappear with it, but it couldn’t be so.

Elle’s vermillion could never fade to black for one simple reason: Death isn’t black.

© Copyright 2020 Morgana Minuit. All rights reserved.

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