In your lover’s studio, everything is red—the chairs, the coverlets, the bedspread, the afghans, the doilies, the end tables, the lamps, the lampshades, the sofa. Red is how she likes it.
The easel itself is painted red, as is the canvas, and she always wears a red dress. To mention individual items is a pointless exercise, as it is impossible to distinguish shape from shape, item from item, form from form. It strains perception, and your eyes must make a profound adjustment coming into the room, and then readjust when you leave. It is similar to entering a room that is without light, pitch black, except that once your eyes adjust to the perpetual darkness, you come to accept the featureless quality of the darkened environment. Or else your eyes begin to detect faint shapes, indistinct contours, ghost images, a pained gray.
In your lover’s red studio, in contrast, you are constantly adjusting the range and scope of your vision, as though viewing the scene from the obverse end of a telescope. You are on a nonstop lookout for corners, edges—anything that would help you orient yourself and find your bearings, establishing your dimensions as a human being in reference to the proportion of the room. You look for the pendulum arc of a grandfather clock whose steady tick-tick cuts a swath of red from a far red paneled wall. You pray for a mouse to run across the red carpet, yet you are afraid the mouse may turn out to be a red species of its order. And then your mind begins to play its tricks. You begin to suspect that a red mouse has run across the red carpet, undetected by your vision. You conceive a flood of red mice swimming around your ankles, rising past the baseboards, emptying through the windows.
Like someone blind, you feel your way around the walls, patting with your palms until the texture of touch changes from velvet wallpaper to cotton curtain. You yank the curtains apart and stare out into space. Unfortunately, the object of your gaze turns out to be the featureless surface of the wall of an adjoining building whose bricks are unavoidably red. You begin to scream. The screaming continues until someone begins to rescue you. A hand curls around your shoulder. You look down at the red-gloved hand and notice that the fingernails, emerging where the fingertips should be, are painted a ghastly red. You scream even more loudly, but your screams are swallowed whole by a red shark swimming through a red sea of consciousness.
It takes all of your power to find a seat that itself is a monochrome red within a monotony of red.
To calm your nerves, your lover hands you a glass of wine. It doesn’t help that the liquid within the goblet is a deep, luxurious red.
As you reach out your hand, you feel the slightest brushstroke across your wrist, as thin as a knife’s edge. As you study your wrist, you notice a rivulet of blood begin to well out of a vein. Fortunately, the drops that fall from the widening wound are likewise red, so as not to stain the carpet.
Robert Conklin’s credits include stories published in Blue Moon Literary & Art Review and THAT Literary Review. He has also co-authored a college composition textbook to help emerging writers connect with their world. A native Ohioan, he enjoys the unpredictable moments of family life with his spouse, three Gen Z kids, four cats, and two ferrets. Find him on Twitter or Tumblr.
This is his first feature on The Fictional Café.
“Red Studio” is a short horror story that hypnotizes the reader with rich sensory details and imagery. I felt transported into the consciousness of the narrator, who happens to be imprisoned in a dreamlike dimension that takes the form of a lover’s red boudoir. Red, the color of passion and love–and also the color of blood and demons. The narrator is literally “seeing red” as we follow his descent into madness. This story was deliciously creepy from start to finish–I felt trapped alongside the narrator as he desperately tries to flee the hellscape and his faceless lover (or tormentor). At first, the story seems like it could blossom into something romantic, but instead plunges the reader headfirst into a nightmare. You are left with goosebumps and an imagination drowned out by the color red.
Thanks so much for your response! I was going for something Poe-esque. Glad it worked for you.
Dark and scary story! Too well written. Don’t miss it.
Thanks, Kathy! Glad you liked it.