Her mother had named her Hera, so many years ago. It was a name of bravery, her mother would tell her through the mirror as she brushed out her long red hair every night. A name of beauty and elegance. Most importantly, it was a name of power. No man could ever – would ever – dare to betray a woman named Hera. And of course, her mother had been right.
It was a fine a day as October could produce. The air was crisp and thrilling without being too nippy or mean. Through the trees above her she could see snatches of blue, the elevated crisp blue that only seemed to exist in autumn. Mostly, though, she only saw red. The trees she was forging a path through had rid themselves of every last bit of chlorophyll and there wasn’t a drop of green to be had. Some yellow, and some orange, but mostly red. Red all around, waving in the trees above her and crunching under her feet below. Hera was smelling red. She must have been. This light crunchy smell that tickled her sinuses must be the scent of red. Odd. She would have thought it smelled more like wood smoke.
Hera stopped at a tree and dug her nails into the bark. Pain. Pain was good. Pain would keep her mind sharp. Keep her from floating away like a red leaf on the wind. There should have been pain at her belly, but shock had taken all that away and all that was there was a full, cool numbness. She didn’t want cool and she didn’t want numb. She wanted hot. She wanted burning. There had been a flaming ember in her belly and it should still be sizzling. Hera forced a deep breath and kept walking, unaware of the bloody handprint she had left on the tree bark.
Behind her she could still hear cars on the highway. That meant nothing. Autumn air carried sounds for miles. If she turned around she wouldn’t see the glorified horse trail they all unironically called a highway, or the closed Dairy Queen. Maybe she would catch sight of its red sign, or its equally bright red roof. Hera had a feeling, though, that if she turned around the only red she would see would be from the leaves. Better to keep walking forward.
She hardly ever left the city, certainly not to come out to the suburbs. But that’s what these were. Suburbs. Not the wilds of northern Maine, or even the bland repetitive nothingness of Western Mass. This was east Mass, the little towns and hamlets all pushed up against one another. Sure, right now all she could see was trees and red leaves. But it wouldn’t be long until she found something. A backyard. Another road. A creek or a river or something she could follow that would lead to some little nothing town filled with people who claimed they lived in Boston even though Boston was thirty miles east. Liars, all of them. Everyone, liars. All the time, liars. Lie about this and lie about that, just nothing but lies and-
Hera slapped herself, relishing the sting. She was sitting. When had she sat down? Slowly, deliberately, grunting and yelling all the while, Hera got herself standing. She cursed the pain in her belly, completely forgetting that just a few minutes ago she had been wishing for it. It felt like her insides were burning, and she could picture the little red campfire someone had built there, the flame whipping one way and then another from an invisible wind, scorching whatever it could find. The pain would keep her sharp. She had to keep moving.
When she found the next road or backyard – and she would – she would find a way to get to a hospital. Anything that could identify her was back in the woods behind her, buried under leaves by now. Her ID. Her credit cards. The picture of her and her mother she had always kept. Gone, behind her. She needed a hospital, and she needed to go to one as a Jane Doe. If they found her before she could get surgery, before some over-stressed doctor with a secret morphine addiction could stitch her up well enough to run, it would be over. They’d smother her in her sleep. Put an air bubble in her IV line. Or, worst of all, handcuff her to the bed and read her her rights. No, thank you.
No one was going to put Hera in a cell. Hera Pauleen O’Malley, given a name of power as a baby and expected to use it. When you grow up in Southie and have fire-red hair and the last name of O’Malley, well, there’s lots of ways to get power but only one that had just sounded like fun. Like real power, none of this office politics bullshit. She had shown them what a woman named Hera could accomplish. Shown them she would live to her name. Graceful. Powerful. Never to be betrayed by a man.
Of course it had been Shirelle who had shot her. Shirelle to wait for the trunk to be open and the price to be set before she had whipped out a badge. Told her to freeze. And then shot a fire into her belly. Her mother had been right. No man would ever betray her.
The wall of red leaves began to thin, and Hera realized she could see a house. Cozy red brick with a playset in the backyard. Smoke spiraled up from the chimney. All she had to do was cross the yard and pound at the back door. Whoever was in that house would call 911 and soon those red emergency lights would be splashed everywhere and she would be taken to a hospital. Fixed up. Better than ever. Ready to find Shirelle and show her the power behind her name.
The leaves were red, and so were Hera’s hair and jacket and blood. It took the Costanos until the next morning to see the dead woman sitting at the tree line of their backyard.