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Shades of Orange

Caroline M. Yoachim is happy to be back in the Pacific Northwest after three long, hot years in Texas. She is a Clarion West graduate, and her fiction has appeared in Asimov's, Fantasy Magazine, and Beneath Ceaseless Skies, among other places. For more about Caroline, check out her website at: carolineyoachim.com

War came to my village uninvited. Demons who thought they were gods dropped a monster in our midst. The monster was Ao, a giant sloth of a beast with skin the color of carrots and eyes like rusted metal. My village chose me to lead the fight, though I was a farmer, not a warrior. There was no other choice. All of us were farmers.
The road that wound among our homes was empty, and sunset painted the sky the color of mangoes and coral. Our fields, once green with tea and rice, were dead and dry, the entire countryside destroyed by Ao's wrath. In the window of my son's home, my granddaughter watched, her tiny three-fingered hands clinging to the sill. My son marched beside me. Born before the monster came, he held his axe with perfectly formed five-fingered hands. Time in our village was so clearly divided--there was life before Ao came, and life afterwards. Life, and death. We twenty who remained fought out of desperation.
Ao crawled into the road, a monster without claws or teeth, a monster that crept slowly, never pouncing, never charging. Saplings sprouted up with wild abandon everywhere the monster touched, then dried to dust, unable to sustain such growth. We could not flee, for the demons had spread their monsters all across the countryside. Each village faced its own monster, as we faced ours. I stood shoulder to shoulder with my neighbors, my sister, my son. We slashed at Ao with sickles and axes and knives. Our weapons did not wound it, and the monster would not leave.
I leapt at the beast and landed on its back. Ao made no move to avoid me, no move to dislodge me. My hands burned as though the monster's skin were made of glowing embers. My son rushed forward to help me. I shouted for him to stay back. The beast's poison scorched my arms, but still I clung ever tighter around its throat. I fought for my children, my grandchildren, my village.
Ao did not die as beasts do, but burst open, soaking the dusty road with vermillion blood. We hauled the toxic corpse away, and all the village rejoiced. Ao was defeated, the monster was no more. I was their hero, but I did not celebrate. My arms were numb from Ao's touch, and the earth was stained a million shades of orange where the monster fell.
Many years have passed. Our crops do not grow, and our babies are born with misshapen heads and missing limbs. Ao's blood is in the soil and in the water, in our village, and all across our country. The ghost of the monster haunts us still, though we are only farmers.
War came to my village uninvited. Demons who thought they were gods dropped a monster in our midst. But the demons are not gods. There are no gods. There is only the pain of our children, the never-ending reminder of a war we did not want.
The End
This story was first published on Monday, May 23rd, 2011

Author Comments

I wrote this story for a flash fiction writing challenge issued through Codex, an online writers group. The challenge provided several writing prompts, from which I selected: "Choose a color and make a list of things which are that color. Write a story featuring a few of these items." Around that time, I'd been reading about the effects of Agent Orange, and was particularly moved by images of children born in Vietnam with severe birth defects. This story was my attempt to depict the lingering horrors of exposure to the toxic chemical, using images in shades of orange.

- Caroline M Yoachim
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