Shorty #1: Red / by Nick Arneson

His red hair was getting weird, as his beard always grew in brown. His friends always accused him of dying it, but he never had. Up top was thick red hair, matted and curly, like the girl in that Disney movie, and his beard was dark brown with flecks of grey - a younger Chris Stapleton. He’d trimmed neither in 6 months, so his cave man aesthetic grew by the day. He was the type who could pull off rugged. 

Luckily he had been practicing martial arts since he was 3 and no one would make fun of his hair to his face. One large gentleman had made that mistake, and had actually reached out to touch his red curls - in a humorous attempt to impress his date. It didn’t go well and the guy ended up in traction with three broken fingers and an ego bruise that would likely never heal. Ironically, the girl ended up going home with Red.

Red was what they had always called him. He had become something of a local legend and hero. No one knew that Red secretly hated himself, as so often great men do. He had never been able to overcome his self doubt - when he looked in the mirror he saw a ridiculous image staring back at him and he couldn’t get past it. He had always taken the popular kid stance towards himself - if he doesn’t look good he can’t be worth anything. Unfortunately no one else took that stance with him, and so he was always surrounded by adoring fans - though he never came to appreciate it. He thought their silence was scorn, when really it was staggering appreciation. 

      He was from and has always lived in a small town. It wasn’t the kind of small town that you’re likely thinking of, an exurb of a metropolitan area somewhat connected to a big city with culture and vibe. This town was small and isolated - less than 2,000 people and in the middle of a wide open prairie. The interstate was the only thing that connected it to the world, and the interstate was the artery of commerce and culture that the town relied on. The internet had opened up the town a bit in the late 00’s, and strange pockets of trend had emerged in certain disparate circles around town. Kids at the park had started dying their hair blond like early Kanye, while also wearing ICP shirts and smoking large Bob Marley style spliffs. Chain wallets were paired with neon Hot Topic graphic tees, seemingly combining three decades of style faux pas into one look. Mullets had evolved to include shaved lines above the ears, and one kid had even pierced his right ear in an attempt to stay ahead. It was strange and unsettling. 

Red didn’t follow trends. He wore jeans, not tailored but appearing so. His t shirts were either white or black, and he had the kind of physique that was toned without looking intentional. When he picked something up, a woman almost always turned in his direction. 

Red didn’t want. He never had. He had always been fine just doing. He woke up and did. He found himself always in the moment - where ever he went, there he was. Nothing more or less. He was a hero in that sense, as this presence of mind also contributed to his deep level of empathy. He would pull his pickup over to the side of the road to help out any car broken down. He often gave whatever money he had to the homeless guy downtown, without a thought or care of what that money was originally intended for. 

His small home was sparse and neglected. He was seldom there, and when he was he was asleep, or playing his Rhodes electric piano that he had in his living room. He had been playing piano since he was three, and while he never performed, he was exceptional. The Rhodes had been his fathers, and Red had kept it in meticulous condition. His father had died when Red was 3, electrocuted on stage during a festival performance - a freak lighting strike had killed him and the bass player. It was a very Spinal Tap esque freak occurrence. Devastating, but cliche none the less. Red’s mother was present but afraid, and mostly spent her days hiding inside the family estate. Red’s old man had accumulated some cash over the years as a session player, and his mom lived off the royalties - though she had become a shut in and closet drunk. Wine spritzers had turned into vodka spritzers, which had turned into just vodka. She passed when he was 17, cirrhosis of the liver. 

Red worked, and he didn’t. He had always found a way to make ends meet, whether through manual labor or intellectual consultation. Lawyers came to him to help research material, and women came to him for manual labor. They would often sit on their front porch and watch him work, a sort of reverse dirt bagging that made him feel like he was giving back to the world. If it was hot, he would work shirtless, and the women would fein inattention while they drank lemonade on the porch. It was the basic intro to every adult film ever made, though it never materialized into anything worth the grotesque porn sites of the day. 

Red never came to realize his own worth, as he was killed in a freak accident during a routine day job. His handiness had been requested at a local farm, they needed some strong arms to remove some old trees to make way for a new structure. As he was looking off into space, being present but sullen, one of the trees had fallen the opposite direction as planned and had crushed him. He died immediately. Saw and felt nothing, only heard a shrill whooshing sound and suddenly he was drifting upwards and looking down. His soul slowly floated up and he saw the throngs of people crowding around his body, and felt the ripples of emotional energy spreading out from the scene. He finally realized that he was loved, and his soul lifted slowly into the ether glowing a little brighter with the knowledge that he really had made an impact. He’d been through enough lifetimes to finally know that he was done - his soul could now chill, the physical realm no longer his concern…. not that it ever really had been.