Streaks of Scarlet

A Story in 100 Parts


They made the pact when she was 13 and he was 15, both old   /  enough to know better, but they knew nothing

except themselves. Entrenched in the middle of a dark copse, the leaves filtered the silver moonlight pouring in: shimmering slantlight dancing with the shadows. Their tongues gave up kissing to the gravity of their promise; their fear bled into gradual day. 



it’s okay, he whispers.  we can do it any time.  any day.  any way.



did you exist ever did you—Scarlet reaches for his hand, gone for so long now. But he left her a gift of slain sky, shredded narrower than her small 
despairing sighs.  



They must have collapsed on the moist ground, but the (lack of) hospital records contradicted the corpus delicti: blood and flesh / evidence they left on the forest floor.   



Though the queen has threatened beheading if Scarlet ever finds the prince, she has always been able to convince herself that opposition to violence and methodical revelation of truths will be enough to keep the blade away… 

Always, until today.



not true, not true, chants the prince. He is in 15 year-old form, laughing. Laughing. because you forget that you forgot, he whispers, but he’s wrong. She hasn’t forgotten anything.



Her appetite outrages him; he pummels her face and chest, pounding her with his right fist, raking the nails of his left hand down her breast. 

Nobody shapes their weapons like he.  



Rage taps on the window. The window taps on the door.  



She washes her hands in the river-blood. Wisps of her climb into the bus that runs back to the forest branching beyond the palace. She can’t find a single place to pray amidst this, his vast darkling forest. 



where are you going? she asks him, because he won’t come with her. He doesn’t answer—he never answers. His image enlarges until the excruciating weight of him crushes her. He leaves her fresh as freesias 

pressed between the pages of a forgotten photograph album.



He gets in his BMW with the dead again, and scores.



The prince’s girlfriend shot 

up in the passenger seat of his car. The girlfriend’s sister wanted to play. But when little Shannon had a brain hemorrhage, nobody bothered to call checkmate. They still play the corpse game: driving, always driving. Their plaster(ed), smiling faces never change / expressions.



don’t be afraid, he says to Scarlet, I can see you in the deathmirror.  



what does this mean? she asks him.



Greet the dead the way the dead greet you, she has learned

the hard way. He grabs her by the throat; he hides inside her  /  bones. She forgets what hands are for. a light will come, he promises her, you will be held up and you will be blessed; you will be raised above the most glorious of altars. 

It is then that she remembers: hands are for offering him needles.



O sand O silk O galactic black wild—she dances naked, breathless, on the web-spread surfaces of Zodiacal light. 

O exposed bruises, O love doubled into madness, madness into self murder 

flood of sunlight bouncing off dust particles, ions in the coronal plasma, forbidden spectral emission lines—

She reads pages of blank verse; her eyes skim the skies, registering the empty majestic light of heavenly bodies, most of which have already died; their light is an echo, a ghost chased by time.

She’s drowning in the cold



It’s not the same, the hike through the mountains this day as it was at 1 a.m. on November 22, 1999. What she remembers best is not that forcefuck 

against the concrete wall of darkness. What stays with her most of all is his cataclysmic act of banishment, delivered by the lips of another. The strong, unwanted man came 

later (just as her prince’s repentance did)…but “later” was far too late for her. He’d thrown her in the sepulchre, with the rest of the rotting bodies. In the morning, he realized 

his mistake. He ran, red hair framing the dread / funereal sky. He flung himself against the stone door. I’m sorry, he whispered, I was afraid. But I don’t want to be alone. I want 

to be with you. He laid her (body) on the grass under the shade of a Cercis tree. She was cold, so cold…but she was breathing. He laughed, he cried, he held her to him. Even then, 

he didn’t notice something was wrong. it’s alright, he told her, it’s okay. here we are, together again, and we’ll try…we’ll try to lead another life—a better life—and we’ll succeed. you’ll see. 

Which of them had cried then, a single tear dripping down a pale, frightened cheek? It didn’t matter. By the time he’d come back for her, he was too late. 

All those hours spent with rotting bodies—
—by then she thought she was dead again.



don’t move, he said to her, don’t dream, 
until I come back from the dead for you.

I will come back from the dead for you.



The palace grounds flash steep and white in sudden lightning: the plan of one endless disaster. She lies in his deathgarden, graveyard of discarded machines, soundlessly weeping, wondering, beseeching him: 

why do you always find me where I’m not? 



She climbs back onto the moat. Earth begins turning / toward the meteor showers of midsummer. The day is warm and the fire inside Scarlet has melted away the ice-ache of abandonment for now, brought her blood back to boiling 

rage. She turns to face the castle, bracing herself for a collision whose impact will surely be deadly. 

The corridors anticipate her; they empty, allowing darkness to flood in.



I am somewhat desperate to speak to you, she writes to him in a note, but doesn’t know where to send it. She raises her fist to bang on the door, then lowers it. I don’t know what I’m doing here, she says aloud. The wide, drooping brown eye of a wilted sunflower regards her




Language lives in alteration: here she is. Take two-measure words and press them together like lips to a wound. Love too much, love at all. He has two statues, Heaven and Hell; they are carved from identical jewels into identical forms. 


He chews on a butterfly’s ragged skin, watches the fish (curious): rippling emeralds with streaks of scarlet swimming lazily around. He snatches one up from the pond—his hands have always been quick—and places it on the cobblestone path that meanders through the massive garden adjacent to the deviltrees. He watches it drown in the abundance of oxygen. He keeps chewing.



From the prince’s own calligraphy we have on scrolls his thoughts
on pornography      and what makes a woman
a woman.


She listens to ancient trees stream upward to the cyanotic sky; the bloodriver to the east goes plundering past. She moves into a space wrought more by silence than song. He told her once that he sees external wounds as internal healing. Impossible with him to be innocent.   



The Queen feeds her son the poison Hatred, calls it Wisdom. the wisdom to know what, Mother? he asks her sleepily. the wisdom to know the difference, she replies. In her voice a pause hovers, wicked. 

the difference between what, Mother?  He peers at her through the slits of his mostly-closed eyes. For a moment, she wears the face of Atropos. the wisdom to know when to shut up and eat your butterflies.



Nights like these, the edges blur into eternity, into a single red scream that begins with the heart’s first beat and continues after the last breath expires, leaving the body 

with only the fact of itself: a discarded skin-sac, rotting meat. 


he sleeps and she sleeps; they dream the same dream:

(don’t move.)
(don’t dream.)
(don’t even breathe

until I come back from the dead for you.)
But to live in his palace?
(I will come back from the dead for you.)



Michelle Greenblatt

Michelle Greenblatt (August 21, 1982 - October 19, 2015) was the Poetry Editor for Unlikely Stories: Episode IV and previously served as Co-Editor of Poetry for the now-defunct AND PER SE AND. She was published in literary journals such as Poetry Magazine, Sugar Mule, Free Verse, Altered Scale, Sawbuck, Hamilton Stone Review, Moria, Shampoo, Coconut Poetry, BlazeVOX, X-stream, Counterexample Poetics, Word for/ Word, and Otoliths. Her solo books are brain : storm, (anabasis Press, 2006; Unlikely Books, 2017) and ASHES AND SEEDS (Unlikely Books, 2014). Collaborative books include Ghazals 1-59 and Other Poems with Sheila E. Murphy (Unlikely Books, 2017), Dark Hope with Vernon Frazer (Argotist E-Books, 2011; expanded as Definitions of Obscurity, Unlikely Books, 2016), and jump beast with Jukka-Pekka Kervinian (cPress, 2011). She lived in South Florida with her beloved, Kyle.

You can learn more at our memorial issue.


Edited for Unlikely by Jonathan Penton, Editor-in-Chief
Last revised on Thursday, June 18, 2020 - 21:04