His mother would never leave the house. She said demons were everywhere and he believed her. She said only the color red could keep them safe, keep the demons away, and so every day she sent him to the hardware store to buy two gallons of red paint. Every day, he was forced to paint the fence that went all around their property without a break. Over and over, all day long, he painted. His skin and scalp were blistered by the sun, his lips peeling away from his face, burnt crispy and gray.
She said the demons would come sooner or later. They would take him away from her, eat him up like a little boy steak. But she knew they feared the color red, the redder the better, the fresher the paint, the safer they would be.
She knew when the time was drawing nearer. Insisted that he forget about school, stay home and paint the fence. Two gallons became four and four became six. There was no eating for him, no bathroom breaks, no sleeping. He would paint by the light of the moon. And still she would scream that it was not enough. Never, never enough.
“They’re coming!” she would scream. “Coming for you and coming for me!”
And they did come, looking exactly as she said they would. In smart suits and polished shoes, stepping out of a mini-van and talking about new places.
But it didn’t. They came over the fence, not afraid at all, and tried to snatch him up. He ran, crying, yelling, but his legs were small and they quickly caught him, carrying him back to their van as he screamed for his mother.
From the window of the van, through his burning tears, he watched her run out to the yard, shrieking his name, her bare feet stepping into the red.
She stopped, looked down and a look a sheer terror came into her eyes. She wailed in agony, falling to the ground, crawling like a crab away from the fence, backing away, away…
As the van began to move, the boy’s tears dried up and a faint smile touched his mouth. The outside of the fence was grimy, flaking and white.
But it’s true. Demons do hate red.