Thin Red Lines – a short story

I came up with this short story around 2019. It’s inspired by King, Lovecraft, and Bruce Sterling’s Beyond the Coming Age of Networked Matter.

Jake’s voice is barely audible, “Thin. Red. Lines.” Peter isn’t sure whether Jake is speaking to him or to himself, “What’s that?” Jake’s voice is shaking as he speaks, “I… I see something I shouldn’t. Something nobody should ever see.” Peter, concerned, asks, “What do you mean?” Jake, “There is something… something behind. Something behind!” He almost screams the last word.

Meanwhile, birds on a tree branch outside chirp joyfully.

Peter’s confusion grows, so he asks, “What do you mean ‘behind’?” He looks at his friend’s face and sees nothing but terror. Jake continues in a haunted voice, “There’s something behind, behind all this.” Peter feels the situation is starting to spiral out of control. In a resolute voice, he commands, “Calm down.”

Jake’s voice is desperate, almost pleading as he whispers in a soft voice, “You don’t understand.” Peter, with a comforting smile, offers, “Try me.”

Jake says, “I think I’m going insane. I just… There is…” He trails off. Then he takes a breath and says to himself, “I need to calm down.”

It’s painful for Peter to see his friend like this. They’ve been close friends for a long time. He stands up, places a hand on Jake’s shoulder, and says, “Why don’t you sit down?” He pours a cup and hands it over, “Here, have a tea.”

Outside, the sky is blue with fluffy clouds of all shapes and sizes. A gentle breeze plays with the leaves on a tree.

Peter goes on, “Please explain what you mean. Maybe you’re just stressed? Just tell me what’s going on. You know you can talk to me. It’s a free therapy session.” He smiles.

Contrary to everything Jake chuckles, “You finally got your license?” Peter shakes his head, “Not yet. Go on, drink some tea.”

Jake takes a deep breath and says, “Alright, let me take a sip.” He sits down. His voice is somewhat steady now. He lifts the cup, takes a sip, and puts it down. Then he continues, “Alright. Okay… Most often, it happens in the morning. You know the usual routine… I go to the bathroom, start making breakfast in the kitchen, and then it hits me… Suddenly there it is… a thin red line!”

“It’s connected to me,” he adds.

He pauses and looks at Peter. Peter says nothing, face calm. He doesn’t understand a word Jake says.

Jake continues, “And.. when I focus even more… I can see thin red lines going far back, deep beneath this all, and then…” His voice is starting to shake again.

All of a sudden, Jake’s face changes. His eyes widen in fear and he exclaims in utter terror, “I can see THEM. I CAN SEE THEM!” He shouts, “I can see them NOW!!!”

Peter says nothing and doesn’t move a muscle – a mouse frozen in a snake’s gaze.

Jake starts to laugh hysterically.

He collects himself and shouts in anger: We’re mere marionettes! Puppets on strings! That’s all we are.”

Jake’s eyes are fixed on Peter now. He paces his words,  “And my hand goes, lifts the cup…” He moves in accordance, “just as the thin red line wants me to… drink the tea. Take one sip. Put it down on a table. “

“Good little puppet.” He adds almost playfully.

Peter opens his mouth as if to say something – no words come out.

Jake continues in a more serious tone: “They are behind this all. They are behind everything. Thin red lines are controlling all of us. I can see your thin red line too…” Jake trails off. His hand reaches for a pocket.

Jake smiles innocently. Peter realizes it’s a facade. There is nothing innocent about what’s going to happen next. Have his friend lost his mind?

Finally, Peter wakes up from his trance. In an alarmed voice, he says, “What are you doing?”

In a fake innocent voice, he asks, “What is it look like I’m doing?” Jake’s face deforms into a cruel twisted smile. His eyes are vicious. A shape appears in his hand.

“You have a gun?!”, Peter watches in horror as Jake raises the gun and points it at him.

Does Jake want to kill him?! Why? What’s happening?! He frantically looks for a way out. There is nowhere to go. He can’t move. He begs for his life.

Jake is unshaken by Peter’s pleas for mercy. An ugly misshapen smile on his face widens, “Thin red lines want me to.”

Birds outside take flight, disturbed by a sudden violent noise.


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