Didn’t Bleed Red will be serialised on Tapas and elsewhere, but you’ll get to see it here first, about a month before anyone else. The schedule is one scene a week for the first few weeks, then up to two a week once I have a sufficient buffer in place. If I get far enough ahead, I may even go to three times a week as the action ramps up.
Complicated patterns in red henna ran up the dark skin of the young woman’s arms. They disappeared into the sleeves of her top, but were echoed by further lines sneaking out of her collar and teasing at her neck. Baggy cargo pants were rolled up to mid calf, showing similar body decorations on the front and back of her shins, even disappearing into the flat plimsolls she wore. Her hair was cropped very short, little more than a black skull cap. A serene expression distracted from the way her eyes studied everything.
She walked through the confused jumble of peoples in the market, calm amongst the bustle. Taller than the average, but not enough to stand over everyone else. Another foreigner displaced by the invasion, coping with the trauma in her own way. That was the impression anyone intrigued enough to give her closer scrutiny would have come away with. Her dancing eyes caught sight of something that interested her, and she cut across the flow of shoppers and browsers to stand before one of the stalls and study its wares.
The plastic mannequin was moulded in white, with printed highlights in pastel shades of pink and blue. The oversized head had big brown eyes and a wide, manically beaming mouth, but the nose was little more than a small check mark. Lacking packaging, it was impossible to know which manga or anime had birthed her without consulting a deep otaku. The joints of the limbs moved, and the figure was mounted on a stand so it could be posed in almost any position.
The woman moved the arms and legs of the figure, posing it in a fighting stance. Holding it up, she asked the man behind the stall, “How much is the figure? Do you have the box for it?”
Her Cantonese was clear and precise, but she delivered it with an odd flatness. A lack of accent of any kind, that made it sound almost machine like. The stallholder stared at her for a moment, blinking with confusion. “One hundred dollars.” he pronounced eventually.
The woman reached into a pocket of her cargo shorts. She appeared to be sorting through the contents by touch, until she plucked out exactly the right note. “Here you are. Did you say that you had a box?”
“The box for that one was damaged in the wave. My warehouse wasn’t high enough to avoid it. But I didn’t get swamped as badly as some. I was lucky. Here, I should knock the price down because there’s no box.” He handed twenty five dollars back, almost surprised at himself.
“Thank you very much.” The woman gave a little bow, put the money into one zipped pocket, and the figurine into another, stepped back into the flow of people, and disappeared.
The stallholder shrugged. It wasn’t the strangest thing he had seen in the last few months. Perhaps the oddest customer interaction for a few days, though.
The woman’s journey through the market continued, as she headed toward the smells of food. She moved more fluidly now, with more purpose, slipping through gaps in the foot traffic with ease. Without giving the impression that she was hurrying, she outpaced the other pedestrians easily. The four men following her couldn’t match her pace without barging people out of the way.
They lost her at a junction. Left, right, and straight ahead there were food carts. Their only hope was that she had stopped to eat, and that would allow them to locate her again. Gathering together, they scanned all the possible directions, until a break in the crowd revealed her.
She was eating a fish kebab at a stall mere metres away. For a moment, she looked up, and they were sure she stared straight at them. But then her attention went back to the food, and they berated themselves silently for their fears.
Kebab finished, the woman cleaned her hands and mouth with a towel hanging from the end of the food cart. She gave a bow to the proprietor, who returned the gesture with the sort of smile reserved for regular customers, and set off once more. Her shadows followed.
They tailed her more closely this time, not wanting to lose her again. She led them through the crowd, her pace sedate again now she had eaten. They reached the edge of the market, and the crush of shoppers abated. Then she turned left, toward the waterfront. She lifted a wooden barrier, shifting it enough to get around the end, and walked into a debris strewn alleyway.
After the noise and press of the crowd, this narrow space was silent and empty. Silt and sand was packed up against the bottoms of the walls, darker veins running through the dull gold. Further down the alley, a bundle of larger boxes, cars, and even a dinghy, were stacked up where the wave had deposited them. They blocked the alley, forming a dead end. The woman studied the barrier, arms hanging down by her sides.
“You seem to have got yourself trapped in here with us. We’ll take all of your money now.” The leader of the four thieves said, loud enough for the alley, but without any echoes to tell folks outside what was happening.
“Why would I give you any money?” the woman asked.
That was the cue for two flick knives to be deployed, the distinctive snap of the blades being revealed clear in the relative silence. There was a metallic tapping, as another of the gang drew the bar that he used as a club, and beat it against the ground. “You don’t want to get hurt.” their leader said.
“Neither do you.” The woman turned to face them, and their bravado faltered.
The cap of short hair had spread, extending down to cover her face with a mask. Her eyes were indicated by paler sections, and her mouth and nostrils had slits across them. The near featureless face had an expression, however minimalist, of anger. The red marks on her limbs had morphed from henna tattoos to a skin suit with a glossy finish that hinted at armour. Slowly, taunting them, she shifted into the fighting stance she had posed the figurine in earlier.
“You can leave now, if you want. I would rather not destroy more of my clothes.” she said.