RED • by Terry Ibele

I sit on my porch overlooking the erupting volcano and think to myself, Crap.

Jimmy comes out from the kitchen with a tray carrying my typical afternoon muse. Scotch on ice. How quaint.

Of all the afternoons I sit up here, puffing away at a cigar, waiting for that damned volcano to do something interesting, it had to be today.

“Exciting location,” the real estate agent had said. “You’ll be the talk of all your friends. An eruption every decade guaranteed!”

I bid Jimmy away and hear the whirr of his wheels across the mahogany floor. His robotic arm opens the door and he rolls back into the kitchen.

“You have been waiting a long time, sir,” he calls back in his monotone voice through the screen door. His spark of conversation surprises me, but I don’t reply. I just sit watching the smoke rise out of the crater. It’s the most luxurious catastrophe anyone I know can afford.

I have been waiting a long time and now everything’s ruined. The decorations, the bar, the little tea sandwiches, everything was ready for tomorrow. My guests would arrive by airship dressed in flannel top hats and sparkly cocktail dresses, ready to join me in this glorious liberation from our ageless bodies. Oh how it would’ve been all the rave, much more exquisite than the party that was swallowed by an earthquake last season. What would my father think of me?

I close my eyes and envision the ceiling caving in over the appetizer table and lava spewing down the grand staircase, drowning everyone in blazing flames. I look across the room to see my father’s proud smile as he suffocates in ash. All this was for him. I open my eyes and sigh. It would’ve been featured in all the newspapers.

I bring the glass to my lips and the amber liquid burns my throat. My father is obsessively fascinated with volcanoes, expensive curiosities. It was the only way he dreamed of going out, but his coal empire went under when I was just a child and he could never afford one. He’s nearly a half millennium old now and still holds onto his hopeless fantasy. I built my fortune for him, for this damned volcano. It’s too late now, he’d never be able to get here in time. What a complete failure.

“Jimmy,” I call. “Bring the telephone.”

I stare at the clouds of smoke rising up and exploding like beach balloons as I hear the sound of the door again, followed by my mechanical servant’s wheels.

“The telephone,” Jimmy’s voicebox says, so hollow and impersonal. I wish I had opted for the more expensive model, the Janet 3000XX with latex skin in high heels and a red dress. Her voice was much sexier. “Let me serve you,” she said so smoothly in the demonstration. At the time I couldn’t make the monthly payments. I would’ve needed an extra line of credit, but this goddamn house was already killing me. Instead, here I am sitting, my world about to end in smoke and magma with a clunky heap of tin for company. “Damn it all,” I mutter under my breath. “And damn you, Jimmy.”

“Sorry, sir, what was that?” he replies, a hint of question in his voice.

“Nothing,” I say and grab the receiver from the silver platter he holds out. I put my finger in the rotary dial and place my call. It’s an expensive antique from ages past, even before my father was born. Its long black curling cord stretches from my hand to the kitchen, suspended and bouncing in the air, holding the kitchen door open a crack.

Ring… Ring… Ring…

I cough. Volcanic dust fills the air and I look to the ajar door, banging against the cord.

“Hello?” comes a woman’s voice from the receiver. “Hello? Who’s this?”

“Sorry, ma,” I say. “I was thinking about the kitchen getting dirty, I don’t know why. It’s all going to be over in a few minutes anyway.”

“Oh dear,” she replies. “It’s happening now, isn’t it? But your party tomorrow… Oh dear, would you like me to get your father?”

“No, please don’t,” I say, my voice chokes at the end. “He’d just be disappointed. I couldn’t bear hearing his voice.” I pause and she doesn’t say anything. “Ma,” I say. “Tell me something nice, but be quick.” I puff on my cigar and blow a ring of smoke into Jimmy’s face. It spreads over his flat metal features and into his wire mesh voicebox. One of his light bulb eyes sizzles and blows out with a crack. “Damned economy model,” I say.

“When you were a boy,” her sweet voice says into my ear. “You made a house out of cardboard boxes, high up on Lastman’s Hill overlooking the gorge. You got them from the furniture store across the street, had everything planned out so perfectly… wanted to make your father proud. You put all those little boxes right on the edge of the gorge, then made some mud pies and had little cups filled with lake water. It took you the whole day till the sun was setting, and when all your friends came by—”

-crackle crackle-

“Ma? You’re breaking up!”

-crackle crackle-

I look through glossy eyes to the kitchen door. It’s banging against the frame, fraying the cord. It snaps. The line goes dead. I drop the phone and hear an explosion.

The smoke is billowing towards me now and the first seven stories of my house are crumbling fast. A rock zooms by my head as I hear Jimmy ask if I’d like a sandwich.

“Yes, Jimmy. Yes, I would.”

For all his fascination, my father never visited. “For you, papa,” I say and raise my glass one last time.

The lava spews into the air and I look to Jimmy’s dull tin body as he leaves for the kitchen, but all I see is red.

Terry Ibele is from Ontario, Canada where he’s a market analyst by day and an aspiring writer by night. He’s a huge science fiction and fantasy enthusiast and is currently working on his own fantasy novel.

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