A cottage by the woods awaited him. His father purchased it for him to give him a place to calm his mind from the stress of university. At his parents recommendation, he'd taken a year off. His first year was disasterous, with repeated failures. The professors were not as swayed as his teachers at his private school by his father's green bills and his mother's green stones. His father would use the year to search for a more understanding college for him to attend, one that grasps his worth beyond the red inked on white sheets. He was grateful to get away. He didn't get along with the other students in his class anyway. Too many people gazed at him with suspicious eyes after his ex-girlfriend disappeared. She had been quite popular. That's why he wanted her. But her thoughts were ordinary, and her ambitions empty. He grew bored of her quickly when her newness wore off. His father told him they would forget about her whenever they found some other ordinary, pretty girl to pretend to miss. He didn't know where she was now, but last he checked, she wasn't where he left her. He wanted to forget about her already, but no one else seemed to. She was all the town talked about. The local news was hungry for something to get more views. His father was right though. When he left, the local reporters were already shifting their attention to tornados and hurricanes, urging as always for bread, eggs, and milk as they pointed at charts they knew their viewers didn't understand. If he moved back, they'd have forgotten about her altogether. Though he wondered if he would be returning there. Aside from getting away from town for a while, his father had something else planned for his trip. His father struggled in the political realm in their current home, having lost three elections in a row to a younger, more charismatic man. His father was looking for somewhere new to sink his teeth into. For his year away, he was expected to learn as much about this area as he could. What were the beliefs of the people, what were their weaknesses, their fears, and most importantly, their treasures. The family needed to make money, as anyone did. If he played the game right, his father's success could become his own with little effort. People liked having kings decorated in crowns of paper ballots. That's what his father always told him. This town didn't show much promise on first glance. It was run down. The people had little money. For it to be profitable, he thought, most of the current residents needed to be pushed out after their votes were gathered up. At the very least, there was plenty of land and lumber to snatch. If they were lucky, there may be more to take underneath the earth. A tourist attraction was certainly needed otherwise. He unpacked his things and explored the town more thoroughly the next day. As expected, there was nothing special in town. The locals had many textile goods and decor they sold, and plenty of food, but without a historical backdrop to sell off of, he couldn't see this sort of thing gaining much money. The prices were well above what a supermarket could sell clothes and blankets for, the patterns easily replicable, and he doubted anyone outside this town would care about the quality or meaning behind anything on the items. Once these people were pushed out, it would be easy to take the designs and sell them on tourist merchandise though. He made a mental note to tell his father about that later. With nothing else to entertain himself, he turned his eyes to the women of the town. Many of them were older women, or far too young for him. He did not find a girl to take home in town. He found her by the river. She wore dusty clothes. Her hair dangled from her shoulders in two braids. She washed her clothes in the water. Black eyes locked with green. She moved away from the water, flecks of gold falling from her wet hands and clothes. He smiled at her and introduced himself. The next evening, he took her to dinner out of town at a place more expensive than anything around that small place. Within a week, he had her in his arms. In a month from then, she had moved in. He was always more charming than his father ever was. Three months after that, she bored him. Another month passed and the flecks of gold from the river were replaced with rosy reds, lavendar, and sea greens with yellow halos. The spots decorated her like a flowerbed in the forest, dark patches of black here and there like exposed soil. Still as a doe, she stayed in that cottage while he went into town. When he came home, he saw red and painted it on her skin again. One night, he brushed the colors across her deeper than before. The soft blue hues of hydrangeas blossomed on her lips beside the trail of scarlet sage flourished from her skull. He carried her to the water, to the well behind the cottage. Winter greeted him outside his door. Evening had brought on cold winds and light snow. The powder crunched under his heavy feet as she dangled in his cold arms. Her body was still warm, coating his sleeves in heat and red. The red burned through the white land, seeping down into the ground. As he walked with her to that dark place, the snow covered the spots scattered about. His own clothes hid well her color, as he had dressed in black polyester. Only his shoes were stained. As with the earth, the red slipped under. He could feel the warm dripping from his body keeping his cold feet warm and wet as the red slid down his shoelaces and through his black socks. He opened the door to the tiny shack that covered his well. The single lightbulb in the one room building flickered. It barely lit more than the doorway and part of the well. However, it was enough light for him to see the hole for the well wasn't large enough to drop her straight down. He contorted her body and pushed, but she would not fit in any way he arranged her. Frustrated, he left and returned with an ax. He only needed to cut a little to get her to go down. Her left arm was currently in his way. It separated from her in one clean swing, landing at his feet. She slowly slid down into the black hole. He would need to call his father about this at some point, but he doubted anyone would pin her missing on him. No one had known they were together anyway, and he could vanish himself from here with ease. He reached down to grab the arm and toss it in the hole with the rest of her. The warm hadn't faded yet. In fact, it was still very warm in spite of everything. The red illuminated the room more than the dim amber light above him. It was a mesmerizing color. He couldn't help but think it was so much brighter than the shade his last two girlfriends showed him when they bled out in his car and kitchen floor. Out of curiosity, he tasted the blood. A sweet, metallic flavor lingered on his tongue. Hungry and bored, he took the arm back with him to the cottage. He didn't know how he should prepare an arm, so he cooked it whole. The meat smelled horrid, but he was hungry and didn't mind. It would be a new experience, he told himself. He could laugh with his father about it later. He cut into the flesh and took a big bite. When he tried to swallow, something hard stuck in his throat. He coughed up the hard object. Out of his mouth fell a clump of gold. He cut through the rest of the arm, but didn't find any more. So, he took another piece and put it in his mouth. The hard rocks filled his mouth with each bite. Soon, his plate was filled with rocks and bones. He decided not to tell his father about this yet. He wanted to know if he could get more first. The next day, he went back to the well with a flashlight. Her body was still in good condition thanks to the snow. He pulled her back up, chopped her down into smaller pieces, and put her in his freezer. For that evenings's dinner, he ate her right hand and gained another plate of gold. He felt the house had become a little colder, so he put more wood on the fire that night. The house would not warm. When he went to sleep, he was awokened by the creaking of the mattress springs. He ignored it. The bed felt warmer. In the morning, he found her beside him, her parts arranged as if she had never been cut down, with her cleaned bones resting amongst the bruised and bloody limbs. He fell out of the bed and quickly rushed to get the ax. He cut her down into smaller pieces. Her torso, he split open down the middle, but he could not fullty cut through. Her head presented the same problems. He managed to leave big cuts, but couldn't crack open her skull any more than he already had when he killed her. Her body parts seemed to endlessly drip. His white sheets absorbed all of the red. Her parts were sealed up and put away in the freezer into new containers. He washed the sheets, but the red would not come out. As the blood had fully dyed the sheets, he put them back on the bed. If anyone asked, he thought, he could tell them he bought them that color. Someone in town asked about her, but he said he hadn't seen her. He ate part of her thigh that night, and added the gold to the pile. She didn't join him that night. He found her at his front door instead, arranged neatly once again. He cut her down more, but still could not cut through her torso or her head. Her remains were packed back into the freezer. He pushed the table in front of it until he was ready to get another piece, then pushed it back. This time, he ate one of her feet. The pile of gold was getting too big for the container he had it in. He told himself to buy a bigger one the next morning. The house grew ever colder. At dawn, he found a trail of red from his kitchen out the front door. He followed the scarlet trail outside and through the mounds of snow down to the river. Her body lie arranged at the body of the river, staining the water the same as his sheets. Her head floated on the surface, black eyes staring straight at him. He pulled her head out of the water by her hair. "Soon, you'll be nothing, and I can forget you too." He said to the woman's head. "I'll take it all. How strange. I thought there would be nothing worthwhile here. And then you came. You were worth more dead than alive. So it is." He gathered up all her parts and put them back away in the freezer. Excited by the gold he had collected, he finally called his father and told him everything. His father didn't believe him at first, but he convinced him to schedule time to visit him and see. He sent his father a package in the mail with some of the gold. In town, more people asked about the girl. He pretended he knew nothing. As he now saw the potential in the town, he put on the act of the terrified lover. He helped searched the woods for her and her old home. As he searched, he looked over the other women in town. Did they all have such a wonderful aftertaste, he wondered. He wanted to find out. While searching with the townspeople, he couldn't stay warm. He put on a second coat, but he stayed just as cold. He blamed the snowstorm that wouldn't leave. That night, he had another piece of her leg for dinner. It didn't satisfy him like before. He had a lot of gold to show for it, but he was still very hungry. He ate another piece, stacked the rocks higher, and remained as hungry as before. He went back into town and looked at the women out and about. Perhaps, he thought, he needed something new. Her flavor was boring him. Another woman might taste better. He couldn't lure anyone in right then. Instead, he took notes on the women he saw--who would be easy to seduce, to ambush, to keep quiet. He really wanted to know too, if they all bled gold. He turned in for the night, contemplating the pretty rubies that would decorate his kitchen floor and the gold on his plate beside the pretty, snow white bones. Morning came, and he found another trail of scarlet from his kitchen out the door. He sighed. Tonight, he planned on eating the rest of her and dumping the bones off a cliff. Ax in hand, he walked down to the river. The snow had already covered up most of the red she planted in the ground. Her body floated in the river, held together by moss and algae. "I'll be rid of you soon enough." He reached down to snatched her by her hair. With her right hand, she grabbed his ankle and pulled him into the water. His ax fell from his hand and landed straight down into his chest. His head hit hard against the rocks at the bottom of the river, cracking it open clean in half down the back. She rose from the water and craddled his dying body. The red that pooled out from his was murky like mud. His green eyes locked with her eyes of black. The flesh of her body chipped away in flecks of golden-silver and sheets like glass. They drifted into the water, shining in the sunlight. She matched with the sand already long drifting in the river, muscovite on milky quartz. Before she broke away into sparkling dust, she pulled the ax from his chest and reached inside of him. No gold lay within him, but he contained many crystals. Ice, glittering like the sun, melted in the sunlight. His heart was solid and clear like a diamond, and cold as the tundra. She pulled it out of him and let it melt away into the water. The rest of him began to melt with it. Their reds mixed with the glittering sands, and their white bones settled with the tumbling stones, indistinguishable from the marble and quartz that had long rested there. The man's father never heard from his son again, but intrigued by the story and the pretty golden stones, settled there in time. In the cottage, he found the son's container of golden rocks and kept them for himself. His wife had no idea of his intentions. She searched for her son in every shadow. Within a year, the man had become the mayor and had already confirmed his son's strange tale.
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