The Moon’s Crimson Valleys by R. I. Károly

Image by kie-ker from Pixabay

Clara used to say the weirdest things. To any other, they would seem silly, outlandish even. But to Bill, they always seemed special. To him, she was perfection.

He saw her stand out from the crowd, seeing things so very differently than others. He felt she saw a little more, chose to look a little deeper. And she would always find the hidden beauty in everything and everyone. Even, and especially, in him.

When Bill proposed, he presented her with a diamond ring well past what he could afford. But she was worth it, he thought. Seeing her eyes sparkle with wonder already made it worthwhile.

“Oh, Bill, it’s lovely!” For a moment she seemed transfixed by the glittering jewel. Then she broke the spell to look at him earnestly. “But are you sure? It’s… so much.”

Bill smiled at her with mounting joy. The look on her face alone made him want to propose all over again. Even in her happiest moment she was thinking of none other than him! How could he give her anything less?

“You deserve it a thousand times over, my dear!” He slipped the ring on her finger. “If I could, I would give you the moon.”

“But you have, all the same,” she giggled, teary-eyed. “Beautifully carved with tiny crimson valleys. So very like the real thing.”

And so, with her acceptance, Bill had found himself the happiest man on earth. His heart swelled, and thus, he could love her even more. Yet her answer, beautifully strange as it ever was, had left him wondering for a long time.

He tried to guess the meaning behind her words, this impossible poetry only she could compose, and it busied his mind at especially odd hours. He would find himself suddenly awake in the middle of the night, staring at the pearlescent white moon, wondering about its valleys. And when he would turn away, restless to escape its light, he would find it staring at him again, refracted million-fold in the cuts of the diamond.

Thinking it silly, he didn’t want to ask, and had held off as long as he could bear it. But finally, after his countless nights of scrutiny had yielded no appropriate answer.


The operation had taken sixteen hours. Bill paced frantically outside the door, telling himself over and over that she would be alright. The doctor had assured them that, although it was a delicate procedure, they had the best surgeon on staff. Everything was going to be all right. Their lives would soon be back to normal.

In his worry, Bill had felt the pangs of remorse. Were anything to happen to her, it would be his fault. He replayed their conversation in his mind, reassuring himself that this was right. That this was necessary. The memory of her finding out the truth still made his heart ache.

“What are you saying, Bill?” At first she was only incredulous.

“I’m saying it’s not… normal.” He tried to be as kind as he could. He knew her shock would be even greater than his. He could already feel her tense up, retreating into her cocoon. But he had to make her listen. She had to believe him. “What you are seeing… it’s wrong.”

“Wrong? How could it be wrong?” And now a quiver in her voice. Bill sighed.

“The splatters. The red,” he shook his head. “There is no such thing. The world is not carved with crimson.”

He saw the jolt in her body at the use of her own expression. She looked at him for a moment, then her eyes drifted, staring into nothing. She was silent for a long time. Bill tried to give her space, but when he couldn’t take it anymore, he went on.

“But it’s all right,” he reached for her hand. She jerked it back, as if startling awake from a dream. Bill smiled down at her, and gently took it again. “We’ll figure it out. This condition, whatever it is. We’ll find the best doctor there is, and get you fixed.”

“Fixed?” The edge of her mouth tipped upward, in an almost-smile.

“Yes!” He sighed in relief. He was finally getting through to her! “We’ll deal with it. Together. And then we can have our happily-ever-after, just like we’ve always wanted.”

“Bill…” she whispered, as a tear rolled down her cheek. He wiped it away with a caressing thumb, then held her face up to his.

“We can do this, Clara. I love you! Nothing will change that.”

He bent over her trembling form to place a kiss on her lips.


The room was dark when they let him in to see her. Her head was heavily bandaged, forbidding even the dimmest light to reach her eyes.

“Clara,” he called to her softly, before taking her hand. “I’m here.”

The doctor told them that the bandages could come off in a few days. Her sight would be weak at first, discerning only blurry forms and colors, but soon her eyes would begin to focus, and then…

“And then she will see normally?” Bill interrupted. He turned to her with an excited grin. “Do you hear that, Clara? Clara! What’s wrong?”

Tears seeped through her bandages, lips quivering. She shook her head slightly, and squeezed his hand in response.

“Oh dear,” Bill kissed her hand before letting it go. “I’m so sorry, I must have squeezed too hard. It’s just,” he told the doctor. “I am so relieved. How can I help?”

“Well, first and foremost, she needs a lot of rest…”

Bill had written up every piece of information that had left the doctor’s lips. He was determined to take care of her in the best possible way. After all, it was his worried urging that brought her here. Poor thing, she had never even noticed there was a problem. The crimson valleys had always been part of her life. But now, she will finally be all right.


When they took off her bandages, Bill was there to reassure her, and promised to guide her gently through her recovery. In his hands, she would be safe.

“I’m… afraid,” she said, before opening her eyes. “What if it’s…”

She trailed off, not sure what to name her apprehension. Bill quickly rushed in to help.

“It’ll be fine. Trust me. The world will be exactly the same. Only…”

“Without,” she whispered.

“Right,” he nodded. “Ready?”

He squeezed her hand in excitement. She let out a tremulous breath, then opened her eyes.

At first, she was silent in her inspection of the differences. From under furrowed brows, her eyes darted over the room. Then, with a sharp inhale, she squeezed her eyes shut again. Bill felt her body begin to shiver.

“It’s okay,” he put his arm around her. “Let’s try again. Ready?”

She was reluctant at first, but Bill was determined to see it through. It would work. It had to. He had advised her to breathe through the fear, and to try and withstand the urge to close her eyes. It was the only way she could get better.

She soon gave in to Bill’s encouragement, and under his guidance she tried again and again, until he felt it wasn’t a problem anymore.

It took time, but slowly she started to move through the world again. For fear of overstimulation, she thought it would be better to stay in the house for a while. Bill consented, and her days were spent getting reacquainted with her once familiar surroundings. And Bill was always there, one step behind her to help with the process.


One morning, Bill woke up to her sitting in bed, a faraway look on her face.

“Clara?” He looked up at her, rubbing sleep from his eyes. “What is it?”

“Bill!” she turned to him with a radiant smile. Bill could not believe his eyes. It has been so long since he’s seen her smile like that. He sat up next to her.

“I’m sorry,” she said. “I didn’t mean to wake you. It’s just… I think I’ve figured it out!”

Bill looked at her confused, not sure what she was talking about.

“I had a dream,” taking his hand, she went on.

She told him of her dream. She was traveling in a spaceship, and had to choose a new planet to land on. She had a list of possible destinations and their attributes. She tried to choose one as similar to her home planet as she could. Something that would feel like home, even though it wasn’t.

“So that’s what I want to try,” she finished excitedly.

“I don’t…” Bill shook his head, still half-filled with his own dreams. “What do you mean?”

“I mean,” she faltered a bit, trying to explain. “I want to try role-playing. To imagine that I am this traveler, and I have found a new world,” she gestured around them. “That is almost exactly like my home.”

“But,” Bill frowned. Suddenly he felt very awake. “This is your home. You want to pretend that it’s not?”

“No, that’s not what I…” The smile was gone. She released his hand, to tuck away a loose strand of hair. “I mean…”

“Clara,” Bill turned to her to caress her face, and looked into her now-healed eyes. They were as beautiful as ever.

“This is silly,” he told her with a smile. “Playing pretend, like a child. You don’t need that. We’ve been doing so well lately. I’ve felt so proud of our progress.”

“You’re right,” she said after a pause. “It is silly. I’m sorry. I guess sometimes it’s still a little overwhelming.”

“It’s okay,” he said. Bill embraced her, a warm tear smearing on his shoulder. “I’m here for you.”


With renewed determination, they went back to the original plan. Bill was unsure at first, given the slight setback, but as the days passed, she seemed to find herself in a better place.

She asked to do things on her own, small mundane tasks that would permit failure. Bill allowed it, and she set to work with a determined expression. He found it all immensely endearing, and made sure to compliment her on her small achievements.

He wanted her to know how proud he was, but somehow he seemed to get the opposite effect. Sometimes she would withdraw into herself, as if not believing his words. Then he would reassure her again and again, until she would smile. Until it would be a win for them.

Very soon after, she had another wish. She wanted to do things by herself, without his presence. Bill didn’t feel comfortable with this just yet, but he had to admit that this would be the next obvious step. So again, he stepped back to allow her this freedom, but he made sure to stay just outside the door, in case something was wrong.

At times, when she would take too long, he would peek in to see what she was doing. And every time he would feel a strange fear gripping him at the sight. He would find her as if in a trance, staring, her hands moving slowly over whatever object was in her vicinity. He couldn’t explain what seemed so wrong about the scene, but he knew he didn’t like it. The worst was when she would trace her own skin, as if seeking something that was no longer there. He couldn’t take it long, and had to make his presence known to her. Then she would wake from her bizarre daydream, and seeing him would burst into tears. He would rush in to hug her, despite her shaking protests, and would hold her firmly until she would calm down.

And so, Bill made a note to be near her as much as possible, allowing her only short times away for her experiments. She seemed so much happier, and much more collected when he was around. Sometimes her old self seemed to shine through.


With this arrangement, Bill let himself get confident again. Each day, she seemed to be doing better, and they gradually settled back into their old ways. Slowly, he allowed himself to be happy again. And his bride, the constant companion to this happiness, learned to be the same. Then, one day, something happened.

Bill had an errand to run, and despite his misgivings, he let her convince him to leave her home alone.

“I’ll only unload the dishwasher, and then I’ll rest,” she told him with an earnest look. “I promise.”

Bill looked at her, then around him, trying to find a reason not to leave.

“Please,” she smiled, pulling him closer. “I’ll be fine.”

Bill was still not convinced, but let her usher him out the door. He would hurry, he promised, and not be away for a second longer than necessary. Something about her expression didn’t sit right with him. As if she was hiding something.

When he arrived home, he called out to her, but no answer came. With growing apprehension, he went looking. He found her standing next to the kitchen island, leaning over an open box.

“Clara?” he said softly.

“Bill,” she whipped her head around, a startled look on her face. “Sorry, I didn’t hear you.” She quickly started to stuff something back in the box.

“What’s going on?” He stepped closer.

“No, stay back!” she sounded alarmed, and in her attempt to quickly close the box, she accidentally pushed it off the counter. A red-white material spilled out onto the floor.

“No,” she wailed. “You’re not meant to see!”

She threw herself on the box, hurriedly stuffing its content back. But as she moved, Bill noticed dark smudges on her clothes and the box. The island counter was also smeared with a red substance. Bill felt his chest tighten.

“Clara, is that blood?” He stepped closer again. “Are you okay? What happened?”

“Please, Bill,” her voice quivered, tears rolling down her face. “You’re not meant to see. It’s bad luck.”

“Don’t be silly,” with a drumming heart, he kneeled down beside her. As he looked her over, he found a cut on her palm, still oozing blood. He grabbed a towel to bandage it, then looked her over again. It seemed to be the only wound. He breathed a sigh of relief.

“What happened, Clara?” he asked her again, this time more collected. The emergency was over. She only looked back at him, still shaking slightly.

“Your hand, Clara!” he could feel irritation taking the place of worry. He knew something like this would happen. Why, oh why did she insist so much on being alone, when she could not cope?! “What happened to your hand?”

She looked down as if in a daze.

“I… I think,” she stuttered. “I must have cut it. While opening the box.”

Bill looked over to the box, the blood already seeped into the cardboard. And the red-white material inside. Then it clicked.

“Is that your wedding dress?” Suddenly, he felt calm.

She nodded, tears filling in her eyes again.

“It’s beautiful,” she whispered. “Just like in my dreams.”

“Oh, honey. I’m so sorry. We’ll get it fixed somehow.”

“Fixed?” She looked at him confused. “But… It’s perfect!”

“I know,” he placed a reassuring hand on her shoulder. “We’ll find a place to clean it.”

“Clean it? I…” She looked at the box. Then down at her bandaged hand. “The blood…”

“Yeah, I know it’s usually hard to get out, but we’ll figure it out. I’m sure there’s a way to make it right.”

She raised her eyes to him, a look of wonder on her face. Her eyes searched his face, then a smile split her own.

“Yes,” she sighed, relief slumping her tense shoulders. “We can make it right again.”

“That’s right! ” He beamed down at her, happy with the happy ending. “And don’t worry, I’ll take care of everything. And I promise not to look!”


Bill woke in a sweat; the image of bloody wedding dresses still vivid against the surrounding darkness. He let his breath out in a long exhale, the grip of the nightmare easing slightly. For a few moments, he lay motionless, breathing slowly. Then he reached his hand over to an empty place beside him. Cold. He sat bolt upright.

“Clara?”, he called to the darkness. No answer came.

With a feeling of familiar apprehension, he stumbled through the room and out into the hall. The house lay silent around him, shrouded in darkness. Only the moonlight, falling through the windows, shone stark against the black.

As he looked into each room, his uneasiness grew. Why did she have to go wandering in the middle of the night?

The kitchen was empty, so was the bathroom. Bill slowly made his way to her last possible hiding place, the living room. He stopped in the doorway and looked in. She was there, standing before the window, her form awash in the light of the full moon.

“There you are!” He sighed in relief. “What happened, Clara? Why did you get up?”

She did not answer, but continued to stare out into the night.

“Clara? Did you hear what I just said?” Worry subsiding, Bill felt a pang of irritation. Why was she ignoring him?

“Clara!” He called more firmly.

Still, she did not answer, but moved her hand to rest on the silver image in the sky, as if she were caressing the moon through the windowpane. Bill felt unsure how to proceed. Something was definitely wrong. Maybe she was sleepwalking? She hadn’t done that before, but with all the things lately, who knew? He stood in the door, pondering his next move. Should he go in and grab her, or wait for her to come to her senses on her own? He had to do something.

“Clara?” He tried again, more softly this time. He stepped into the room, his bare foot landing in a lukewarm puddle. He looked down, and in the pool of light saw a trail of blackness running to her feet. Bill felt his body tense. Was that…?

“Clara, what’s going on?” he asked, slowly moving closer, careful not to frighten her. “Did you hurt yourself?”

He reached her side and looked at her. She stared out the window, a faraway look on her face. The same familiar look that always made Bill so uneasy. But this time, it was accompanied by a small smile. Looking at it made a shiver run down his spine.

Bill opened his mouth to address her again, but she spoke before he could say anything.

“This is wrong, Bill,” her voice seemed alien to his ears. Dark smudges strained the glass, as she wiped her hand over the white image. “This is not how the world should be.”

She turned to him with furrowed brows, eyes searching his pallid face. As if looking for something that wasn’t there. Then she smiled again.

“But I understand now. I know how to make it right again.”

She raised her hand. The diamond ring glinted once in the interrupted light, then the flash of the spattered blade filled his vision.

Clara watched as his feet buckled underneath him, his eyes grown wide under the crimson streams of the half-righted world. Then she raised her hand again.

– The End –

R. I. Károly is a Hungarian author currently based in Germany. She lives with her loving husband and small son, fostering a shared passion for stories. Inspired by a lifelong love of books, she began writing during her teenage years, exploring both poetry and prose in both Hungarian and English. This is her first published short story.