“Redfield” – Fiction by Stephen Langlois

1906FireA mysterious name turns out to have a sinister history in “Redfield,” Stephen Langlois‘ chilling short story from our Spring 2016 issue. (And now, you can hear Stephen read this story & chat with Ilana Masad on The Other Stories podcast!)

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FIRST TIME SHE SAID IT—well, it hardly sounded like anything at all. She was aside me, asleep. Her eyes were doing that thing–that rapid movement thing–and her lips kinda pursed for a second before going all slack like she was struggling to tell someone something real important. The second time it was just two disconnected syllables. Third time there was words. There was definite words that third time.

“Red field,” she was saying and what it brought to mind was like a field of thick reddish grass like what you might see in a painting of some distant countryside somewhere. That, or it was like a field which had caught fire—ablaze is what they’d call it—radiating a deep red hue there in the twilight.

“Redfield,” she said again and that’s when I understood it was a name. A man’s most likely. For a second my brain even latched onto the idea of another lover—like how in movies they’re always accidentally confessing to secret affairs—but there was a kinda fearfulness in her voice that made me decide otherwise.

I was wide awake by this point. Had been really for hours. It was the medication I suppose. The doctor said if we was to keep upping the dosage it’d start interfering with my sleep cycle and he was right. It did.

“You know anybody goes by the name of Redfield?” I asked her in the morning.

“Redfield?” she said, thinking on it for a while. I liked that about her. She was what you’d call a deep-thinker. “No,” she said. “No Redfield.”

 

Next night, though, was the same damn thing. “Redfield,” she kept on saying and it was like she was unconsciously –or is it subconsciously?—trying to issue a warning about this individual. It was unsettling laying there in the dark, listening to that. It was like maybe this Redfield was out there, leaning against the chainlink between the yard and Riverside Park, looking up at the bedroom window, just kinda enjoying the fact that someone was up here uttering his name with what might be described as a sorta dread.

“Sure you don’t know anybody by the name of Redfield?” I asked her over coffee.

“I know Redfield,” her kid said, coming into the kitchen in search of breakfast. “I know about Redfield anyways. I had a whole dream about him last night. His name’s Redfield,” she told us, “and he lives in a field. A red field,” she said.

Though I knew I weren’t supposed to—not after what happened the previous time—I decided to skip my meds. I was getting sick of laying awake after working my ass off all day and come eleven o’clock that night I pretty much passed right out. Stayed that way, too, for a good two or three hours before waking up like I ain’t never been asleep in the first place. I’d been saying his name. I knew it somehow.

“Redfield,” I said—trying it out like for investigative purposes—and I admit I was a little spooked by how familiar it sounded coming outta my mouth. It was like probably I’d spoken his name quite a bit before that night. Like I was trying to speak to him directly almost, a prayer you might say of the unhallowed variety.

“Redfield,” said a voice, louder this time, and I figured it was my own before comprehending it was the woman aside me, still asleep. It weren’t too long before another voice could be heard from down the hall joining in—it was the kid’s—and I tell you it was almost like Redfield was there in the house now. It was like our late-night utterances really had somehow gone and conjured this man a body with all the fleshy weight that came along with it, the unrestrained limbs, the brain matter sparking with what it is they call cognition. I could picture Redfield peering around the doorways into each room, envisioning to himself what sorta devastation he might someday bring about to this otherwise unharmed space.

What I did the next day is when I got home from work I got onto the computer and typed in that name, hoping an article might pop up—like how it does on TV—explaining everything that was happening. What I got instead was a bunch of garbage—the census data for the town of Redfield, South Dakota, multiple ads for Redfield Revolution riflescopes—until it was I came upon a scan of an old newspaper clipping from the Rutland Herald.

What this clipping detailed was the morning of February 16th , 1906, upon which a fire began from some unknown source along Merchants Row—less than a mile from where I sat there at the computer—eventually making its way over to the Mead Building on the corner of Center Street and from there east to the Tuttle Printing Company Headquarters.

“Like a storm swept sea,” is how the Herald described it, “the heart of the business district was devastated by a fire which, before it had been subdued, destroyed property worth nearly $700,000. In its merciless pathway of destruction, seven of the largest mercantile structures were mown down like tinder amid the thunder of artillery in action.”

As for the photo of the Combination Cash Store included aside this clipping—well, it was pretty damn unsettling what with the way the building was so dark in color you couldn’t hardly see its actual shape and the flames so white they was basically some kinda hue you don’t normally see here in this world. That’s what I was thinking anyway when it was I come across these words:

“Charles E. Redfield, who resides at the corner of Willow and Edson Street, was seized with an epileptic fit yesterday morning in front of the Combination Cash Store. Mr. Redfield was removed to the depot and Dr. Heidel summoned. The fit, it is thought, was the result of excitement attending the fire.”

There he was. There was Redfield and if I was to say I weren’t all the more unsettled for it I’d be a goddamn liar–especially when next I came upon a clipping detailing the fire which on January 7th, took down the Berwick Hotel on the corner of Center and Wales not more than two blocks from where it was the 1906 fire originated.

The photo aside this clipping was like the other: The building in its ruination was like this darkened void and the flames like something slipping outta this void, sucked of all but the starkest of color, trying desperately to make itself whole again. For a second you couldn’t even recognize it—the fire, I mean—as a thing that could occur here the way it looked so contrary to how it is reality is otherwise configured.

“Missing and presumed dead 24 hours after the hotel-apartment house fire,” the Herald reported, “were five of its residents: Joseph Turmel, Miss Anna McGuirk, Albert Haughton, Jacqueline LaRose and Harold R. Redfield.”

 

That night we were all three of us chattering away, me being the first one to awaken and come to an awareness of it. “I remember Redfield. Donald Redfield,” she was saying from aside me in this deep sorta slur I’d only ever heard from her once or twice before. Truth is her eyes was still half-shut and I couldn’t say for sure whether she wasn’t still partially asleep.

“Lived next door to us when I was a kid and Redfield,” she said, “he’d spend most weekends working on this old go-kart of his. Acetone is what my dad said he was using on the bolts like to try to remove the rust and. Well,” she said, “what happened was he had the go-kart running this one time and a spark shot out and lit the acetone on fire. Lit Redfield on fire, too, and it was like he was just this creature made entirely out of fire. What I mean is he wasn’t flailing around like how you might expect. No,” she said, opening her eyes up fully now, “what he did was kinda shuffle up and down the driveway like he was a little confused is all. Confused,” she said, “to maybe find himself in his natural state. Like to be a man of fire was his true form, you know? Abby and me,” she said, “we saw it. We were out in the yard when it happened, though mom told us afterwards we didn’t see anything at all.”

“I saw him,” the kid was saying. “I had a whole other dream about him,” she told us as she climbed into the bed between us and I’ll admit I was thankful for that. I had real affection for that kid—even if she weren’t of my own blood—and I was thankful I suppose for the added security her body seemed to provide.

“I saw him,” she was saying, “just standing there in the middle of that field I was telling you guys about. He was saying how this was how it was before. How it was before all the buildings got built. How it was before all the people got born.”

 

Skipping my meds I guess was having the opposite effect. What I mean is now I couldn’t hardly keep my eyes open and the next day at work I fell asleep after lunch with my head on the table which ain’t exactly easy when you consider the sound of all that machinery around you.

As for what I dreamt about—well, it was the exact same field the kid had described: Tall, thick stalks of reddish grass far as the eye could see—and there was Redfield, standing there in the middle of it, looking sorta impatient actually like he’d been waiting on me for some time now. What he said to me was how he was the one who burned it all down when the old grass got too tall. He’d burn it down so the new grass could grow in its place and the new grass he explained was always redder than the last. This he told me in such a way it was like he didn’t expect me to fully understand it. Like maybe I was refusing to do so.

When one of the other guys was finally able to shake me awake he looked at me kinda funny and said, “Who the hell’s Albert Redfield?”

 

Wasn’t until that night I recalled Albert Redfield, a fella I came across when I was up at Waterbury in the mid-90s back before the feds pulled Medicaid funding and the place really started falling apart. Word was Albert Redfield had tried to light himself on fire after dousing himself with gasoline—self-immolation is what they call it—and ended up at the ER before getting sent our way. His arms was still pretty much all covered in bandages and on his hands he had to wear these special protective gloves like so as they didn’t swell up or get all infected.

“They said it was like a protest against Bosnia,” one of the guys I was in there with told us.

“Looks to me like a standard suicide attempt,” another one of the guys said, but truth is we never found out. Redfield didn’t hardly ever say nothing—aside from the same sorta meds we were all on he was taking these painkillers that left him pretty much knocked out—and it weren’t more than a month before they transferred him to some other place where I guess they could better treat him. Later heard he tried again—the self-immolation, I mean—though that ain’t really the issue here.

The issue is how exactly is it I could just forgot something like that? How is it you can spend every goddamn night blabbing your ass off about some guy named Redfield and not remember the guy you once knew went by that very same name? It was like some kinda amnesia was lifting. It was like Redfield had been there all along in our subconscious—or is it unconscious?—and we was just now becoming aware of his presence. Like Redfield almost had this all-powerful quality about him—god-like is what they call it—and was everywhere all at once. Like Redfield—all god-like—was constantly dying by one sorta fire or another, being reborn, dying, and being reborn all over again always all the time.

That was to be my last thought anyway before it was I pretty much blacked out. When I came to I figured because of the illumination of the bedroom window it must be morning—and then I perceived the woman aside me still asleep. Before I could think upon this further I found I had left the bed and was standing there now at the window.

What I saw was the softball field in Riverside Park all ablaze with flame there in the night. It was all ablaze and writhing in a sort of agony and lurching forward in a kind of confusion—the entirety of the flame, I mean—like some creature abruptly woken from an ancient slumber and uncertain you might say of its purpose.

Maybe a group of kids had snuck into the park like they sometimes did, built a bonfire down by the creek and let it get outta hand. Or was it maybe more along the lines of the Berwick Hotel, the destruction of which Alfred Koltonsk—Rutland City fire chief at the time—believed to be result of arson? Such questions ceased to matter really once it became clear the flames had somehow passed through the chainlink and into the backyard and were in fact all culled together below the bedroom window as if here now some purpose might be discovered. Only then did it occur to me to pick the cell phone up off the table aside that woman and dial 911.

“And what is your name, sir?” the operator asked me once I provided her the address and explained the nature of the emergency the best I could. “Sir?” she said. “What’s your name?” she was heard to say and I understood then there was only one name really which would suffice.

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profile picSTEPHEN LANGLOIS is a writer of the fantastic and absurd. His work has appeared in Glimmer Train, The Portland Review, Monkeybicycle,matchbook, Pacifica Literary Review, Necessary Fiction, Phantom Drift, Big Lucks, Profane, Storychord, and Gigantic Sequins, among others. He is also the recipient of a 2015 NYC Emerging Writers Fellowship from The Center for Fiction and hosts Brew: An Evening of Literary Works, a monthly reading series in Brooklyn. Visit him at www.stephenmlanglois.com or follow @stphnlanglois.

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