In the blink of an eye, Fred’s world lost all its color. The mid-30s man was headed to the parking lot. He stepped outside just in time to see all the cars shift colors to shades of grey. The steady trickle of shoppers traveling to and from the parking lot all lost their color; Fred froze in his tracks.
Fred learned about his gift at a young age. A bright orange tabby named Mr. Carrot taught him everything he needed to know. One morning Fred found Mr. Carrot sleeping in a sunbeam that should have given his fur a fire-like appearance. Instead, Mr. Carrot resembled a black cat that got into a tub of flour; he was covered with whites, blacks, and greys. Fred was worried but Mr. Carrot seemed fine, he was happy and playful as always. Until later that evening when Mr. Carrot got out and wandered onto a busy road.
Fred quickly learned the pattern after that. Anyone he saw devoid of color was doomed, and not strictly because of health reasons. Right now that applied to everyone he laid eyes on. He glanced up into the sky and noticed it was grey too except for giant black holes floating high above the city. It was hard to tell against the grey sky, but the holes appeared to be raining white objects onto the city.
Suddenly, Fred caught a flash of color in the corner of his eye. A woman in a vibrant red skirt with a pink blouse walked past him and into the mall. No one else seemed to notice the holes in the sky and Fred shrugged. It wouldn’t be the first time he noticed something others could not. He decided to follow the woman that still had color.
He lost sight of the woman for a moment as she turned the corner. When Fred followed her he was surprised to see her talking to another woman who also seemed to still be in color. It was harder to tell with the new woman; she had smooth alabaster skin and wore a long flowing black dress. Her straight, long hair was bright white and two bone-white horns spiraled out of the top of her head. Unlike the holes in the sky; the other shoppers definitely noticed the horned woman. Black and white strangers widened their path to avoid getting too close to her. Fred got close enough to eavesdrop and pretended to admire a mannequin wearing a tracksuit.
“Are you serious?” the woman in red asked. The horned woman nodded.
“It doesn’t matter to me, but I’m in a good enough mood to give you the courtesy. What’s your answer?” A woman shrieked in the distance and Fred thought he heard the sound of shattering glass. He immediately dismissed it as an accident to keep his attention on the pair of women. He noticed the woman in red looked up toward the scream, but the pale woman didn’t move.
“Yes please,” the woman in red said. “I’ll take the escape route you offered.”
“Escape?” Fred wondered. He turned his head slightly and managed to catch a glimpse of the woman in red sinking into a hole in the ground. Once she disappeared the hole closed as if it were never there and the woman in black started to wander off.
More screams drew Fred’s attention. He whirled around to see half a dozen colorless shoppers running from several bone-white skeletons. The word ‘escape’ suddenly crystallized Fred’s mind. He turned back around and was glad to see the woman walking at a leisurely pace admiring the clothing shops.
“Nothing to lose,” Fred mumbled to himself and approached the woman. Once he was close enough to touch, he was surprised at how tall she was. Even without counting the horns she was taller than Fred. “Excuse me,” he said with all his courage. He reached up to tap her shoulder but his hand passed through her like a ghost.
“What?” She said as she turned around.
“Um. I don’t know what’s going on,” Fred used his thumb to gesture at the crowd running the opposite way down the hall. “But, I saw you help a woman escape a bit ago. Can you help me escape too? Please?”
The woman smiled and Fred instantly felt at ease; it was as if she exuded an aura of warmth around her. A vague nostalgia filled Fred. It reminded him of a childhood spent at the park playing in the warm sun. He was convinced a smile like that meant only one thing. Fred started to look forward to going to the park again the next chance he got wherever she sent him to.
“Help you?” she asked with a giggle. “There’s Zero chance of that happening.” The woman maintained her warm smile but Fred felt a bony hand touch his shoulder.