Ruby in the Mist

Posted: April 3, 2019 in Uncategorized

This was one of my first short stories. I wrote it to match the cover we had made for the first WPaD Creepies anthology. The poem at the start of the book also matches this story:

Beneath the Bed

Something lurks beneath the bed
They say it’s all inside my head
But they haven’t seen its icy stare
Or felt its hot breath on their hair

The mirror reflects two glowing eyes
If I stare long enough they grow in size
If my breathing takes a pause
I hear the clitter-scratch of razor claws

I set my slippers on the floor
Ready to bolt toward the door
Suddenly the tile’s quicksand
My leg feels the scrape of a bony hand

I wake – a scream rips from my throat
My bed’s an island, my room a moat
In the inky depths it swims below
Waiting to gnaw on foot or toe

The door swings wide – the light could blind
I struggle against the straps that bind
Me tightly to this bed each night
To stop me from my panicked flight

Just another night in the loony bin
That’s what they call this place I’m in
The only way I’ll ever be free
Is to make peace with the beast in me

Ruby in the Mist

I know it sounds cliché but it was Halloween night when my neighbor Roy told me his story about the girl in the mist. We were sitting at my kitchen table having a few cold beers, talking about things that go bump in the night and other topics appropriate for that particular eve. We eventually reached the subject of local folklore. Our little town had ghost stories aplenty.
Honeymoon Bay was formed in the late 1800s by pioneers, mostly loggers and later mill workers as the town grew and industry gained a foothold. During the mid-twentieth century, a sawmill dominated the tiny village. The reason I included this somewhat dry bit of trivia is that it has relevance to the story that follows.
At one time, the main road through town was nothing more than a narrow dirt path through the forest. It was there on that main road that Roy claimed to have seen the little girl on more than one occasion.
“She’s always running,” he explained, pausing to take a deep drag from his cigarette, one of many that he had bummed from me over the course of the evening. As I watched my tobacco supply dwindle I once again considered the wisdom of just quitting the habit altogether. Definitely on my to-do list, but not that night.
Roy looked directly into my eyes. “I don’t know what she’s running from but I don’t like it,” he said. “She scares the fuck outta me. She has this… this darkness about her even though you can tell she’s shit-scared. I don’t wanna see what’s chasing her to make her that afraid.”
“Where does she go?” I leaned forward to help myself to one of my own smokes from the package that seemed to have migrated over next to Roy’s elbow.
“I don’t know. She just kinda vanishes, y’know? Like into thin air or something. It’s like she comes straight at me, all lookin’ like she’s screamin’ or something. She passes right through me, I think, then I turn to see where she went and she’s gone.”
“I see. And you want me to see if I can sense anything?”
“Um, yeah.”
I crushed my smoke into the overflowing ashtray before taking a deep breath, then rubbing my palms together, mostly for dramatic effect; it didn’t actually do anything besides set the mood. I had a few beers under my belt so I thought it would be fun to play up the mystic act a little.
“Give me your hand. But don’t get any funny ideas, ya perv.”
Roy laughed nervously. We had known each other for more than five years, ever since I moved into the little house next to the park, one street over from where Roy lived. I knew he was attracted to me but he knew he wasn’t my type and that it was never going to happen. He passed me his left hand and I grasped it firmly before closing my eyes.
A kaleidoscope of images flashed through my mind’s eye, like book pages rapidly flipped. I saw Roy as a boy; then as a teenager, standing next to his mother’s deathbed; then older, masturbating to a photo of a woman I hoped wasn’t me. Finally I saw the object of my search and slowed the flipping of the pages until I arrived at the scene.
Roy stood at the side of the main road. It was night and he was most likely walking home from the local pub. Watching through his eyes, I saw the apparition. It was a little girl, maybe eight or nine years old, wearing what appeared to be an old-fashioned dress. She came running out of a thick mist, which hadn’t been present a moment ago. Her face was unclear in the darkness; all I could make out were the two dark shadows where her eyes were and her gaping mouth, stretched wide in a silent scream. She ran as if the Devil himself was chasing her. She looked over her shoulder, presumably at whatever pursued her and lost her footing, nearly falling. She managed to recover in the nick of time and continued to run full speed past Roy, so close that she did almost appear to pass through him. It was easy to see where he got that impression.
I whirled, watching through my own mind’s eye now, trying to keep sight of her to watch where she went next. To my surprise, she made a sharp right turn up the street on the opposite side of the park from where I lived. She stopped at the first house and began pounding her fists frantically on the door. When nobody answered, she ran to the next house, then the next, hammering on one door after another but finding none who would answer. When the little girl reached the last house on the street, once again finding her knock to be futile she turned abruptly and ran into the park, vanishing in the center of the basketball court.
I released Roy’s hand and opened my eyes. He released a shuddering sigh.
“Phew!” he whistled softly, “Did you see that shit?”
“Yes. Did you see the rest of it? Where she went?”
“No! You saw?”
“I did.”
“Where does she go?”
I described to Roy what I had seen; the girl’s panicked attempts to find a door with someone behind it, finishing with her disappearance in the center of the basketball court.
He rubbed his grizzled chin thoughtfully with one hand as the other reached once again for my cigarette pack.
“Well,” he began after lighting up, “That’s a funny thing there. That court was actually built over top of the foundation of the old schoolhouse.”
“Really? The school was originally in that spot?” That was interesting. I got up and grabbed two more cans of Budweiser out of the fridge and handed one to Roy while he continued.
“Yup. One of those old one-room schools that doubled as a church on Sundays. When the town got bigger, the church got its own building and they built that school up behind the community hall. The old one sat abandoned for years. Rumor has it some kid died playing in there so they tore it down because it was unsafe or something.”
The gears were turning in my mind; filling my head with questions I didn’t dare voice. I wanted to investigate further but had to do it alone.
I stifled a false yawn.
“Well, this really has been a fun night and what a fascinating story! But I think I’m ready to turn in. Doing the psychic thing really takes a lot out of me.”
“Gotcha!” Roy reached toward my almost-empty cigarette package one more time. “Mind if I have one for the road?”
“Sure, take the rest of the pack so you have a couple for later. Next time you’re buying.”
I let Roy out the front door and waited until he had turned the corner toward his own street. I turned off all the lights in the house to make it appear as if I had gone to bed, then put on my shoes and grabbed my winter jacket to guard against the frosty October night. I checked the clock on my way out the door and saw that ironically, it was nearly midnight. This night was turning out to be one cliché after another. As a practicing psychic, I was well aware that the veil between this world and the next was at its thinnest near midnight on All Hallow’s Eve. The timing couldn’t have been more ideal. I slipped quietly out my front door, which faced the park and the basketball court Roy and I had just finished discussing.
A delicate mist floated just above ground level, transforming the picturesque park into an eerie wasteland, the brightly painted playground equipment into ancient skeletal ruins. The eerie mood didn’t faze me in the least. Eerie was my business.
I sat quietly on a nearby picnic table, facing the basketball court. I closed my eyes to shut out all distractions and waited for an impression to come. There was nothing at first. Then I heard something. It was a rhythmic thumping sound, faint at first, then rising to a more distinct beat. Another sound began to accompany the pounding; a high-pitched wail that I soon recognized as a child’s voice. A few words became discernible in between the mournful wails:
“Help! Help me! Somebody! Heeelllp!”
Goosebumps prickled the flesh of my arms in spite of the heavy jacket that covered them.
In my mind’s eye, I was no longer sitting in the park beside the basketball court. I was inside the room from which the noise originated. It was an old building; dust-covered and draped in cobwebs. A shaft of daylight shone through the broken pane of a small window, set high in the wall of the building. The rest of the windows were securely boarded up, keeping the rest of the room in shadows. Seats similar to church pews had once been arranged in two neat rows but many of them were now overturned and shoved helter-skelter against the walls.
I jumped and turned toward the sound and found myself facing the front door of the building. The door and the walls surrounding it were covered in rust-covered stains, some of which could distinctly be identified as handprints. On closer inspection I noticed that some of the marks were redder, fresher. Some of them were still wet. It looked as though the prints had not been made all at once but been added to over a period of… hours? Days? Weeks? It was impossible to tell.
“HELLLP ME! PLEASE!” The girl’s wail tore through me like a dagger. It sounded like she was right in front of me. I homed in on the sound of her voice and struggled to maintain my focus in the midst of the heart-wrenching scene.
The space in front of the door shimmered for a moment, then a human form took shape. I watched as a little girl with long dark hair appeared, translucent at first, then solidifying just as if she was real and not merely an apparition.
She paced back and forth in front of the door with uneven, lurching steps, pounding the palms of her hands against the bloodstained wood. One of her ankles was broken; twisted at a grotesque angle yet she continued to walk on it, half lifting, half dragging the injured limb. Her hands were red, covered in blood both fresh and old from being beaten to a raw pulp from her relentless attacks on the door and the wood that framed it.
I put up mental shields to protect myself emotionally from the devastating spectacle I was witnessing – a tactic taught to me by my mentor, a well-respected police psychic.
The girl’s frantic but fruitless struggle to escape was tragic but I knew there was nothing I could do except watch. My clairvoyant abilities allowed me to witness past events but I was helpless to intervene as much as I wished I could have. God knows I wanted to help her but I was a mere observer, bearing witness to an event that had never before been seen by anyone except for the child who had experienced it.
The little girl lurched and pounded, her hands reduced to little more than bloody claws and her desperate wails heard by no one. I flinched when she changed her routine and began beating her head – her face – against the door, either in frustration or because her hands were simply too sore and raw to strike another blow.
Suddenly she froze. She whirled around and faced me, covering the distance between us in an instant until we were only inches apart. I recoiled from the sight of her purple-bruised face, blackened eyes and inky, dilated pupils. She glared at me with a seething rage that I felt to the core of my being in spite of my mental shields.
“WHY WON’T YOU HELP ME?” she shrieked.
My eyes flew open and immediately I was back in the park, still sitting atop the picnic table facing the nets. Pulse racing and hands shaking, I wished I hadn’t given Roy the last of my smokes. I took several long, slow cleansing breaths to clear my aura of the intense emotional energy I had just absorbed.
She had seen me.
That had never happened before. I was an observer, not a medium. Channeling spirits was not part of my routine and as far as I knew, not an ability I possessed. Never before had any of the apparitions I observed ever interacted with me as I watched.
She had seen me, and she had spoken to me as though I had been right there in that room with her. I’d also gotten a glimpse of her name. The initials were R.T. but I couldn’t quite get what they represented. Renee Tucker was the closest I could come up with but I knew that wasn’t it. Close, but not quite right.
* * *
The plight of the little girl intrigued me but for some reason I didn’t try to get any more impressions of her. In fact, I avoided the main road and the park at night and even refused to look out of the front windows of my house after dark. Sometimes when I was asleep, I heard her pounding and wailing in my dreams, then that horrible bruised face with the blackened eyes would appear, launching me back into wakefulness with a scream caught in my throat. Over time, the dreams faded and I began to make peace with what I had seen and it seemed my life would return to normal. That was, until I learned the rest of the story.
I was browsing through a box of used books at a local garage sale when a title caught my eye: A History of Honeymoon Bay. It was spiral-bound, with a simple cover; a self-published work written by a local woman named Edith Watts. Edith had died several years previously at the tender age of 96 if I recalled her obituary correctly. She was born and raised in Honeymoon Bay and had probably known more about the town’s history than anyone alive. I had no idea she’d actually recorded all of that knowledge in a book. I paid the asking price of fifty cents for my new treasure with the intention of doing some light reading and learning a bit about the town I called home.
I was less than halfway through the book when a particular chapter practically leapt from the page. It was a story about a little boy and girl – brother and sister – who were chased by a cougar. The little boy was just six and his sister eight years old. Their names were Kenneth and Ruby Thatcher. Renee Tucker… Ruby Thatcher. I had been so close! I read on, a knot growing in my gut in anticipation of what I thought was to come.
It happened in the mid-1930’s when most of the road was still a dirt path. The children were picking berries some distance from the village when a mountain lion leapt onto the path with the intention of making a child its next meal.
The children fled for their lives, toward the safety of the village. Being older, the girl ran faster than her brother and in her panic she left him behind. She ran and ran, screaming at the top of her voice, but never made it home. Somewhere near the town site she vanished without a trace. As it turned out, the boy managed to make it home alive several hours later, having hidden in some bushes while the cat pursued his sister. Three weeks passed and everyone gave Ruby up for dead, assuming that she had been carried off and eaten by the deadly predator.
It was around this time that some local boys decided to claim the old schoolhouse as their clubhouse. They pried the boards off of one of the windows and climbed inside, unprepared for what waited within.
Ruby Thatcher was still alive, but just barely. She was starved and dehydrated. Her hands were reduced to blood-crusted claws, flesh worn to the bone in places from relentlessly clawing at the door. Her ankle was shattered, with bones protruding through the flesh.
After inspecting the scene, the townspeople managed to piece together what had happened. Ruby had gained entrance to the old schoolhouse by climbing a tree next to the building and squeezing through the tiny window near the peak of the building. She must have believed she would be safe from the cougar once inside and in her panic, jumped from the window down to the floor without considering the height of the drop or how she would get back out of the building. She broke her ankle when she landed, then discovered that she was trapped.
Terrified and in horrific pain, she must have beaten on the heavy wooden door day and night, screaming for help until her voice was no more. The only explanation they could come up with as to why no one had heard her was that the noise from the nearby sawmill – which ran day and night at that time – must have drowned out her cries. Nobody was looking for her because they had already mourned her loss, assuming she had become cougar bait three weeks earlier.
Ruby survived but was never the same as she was before the ordeal. Her family decided she needed special care and sent her away to Riverview Hospital, a mental institution in Vancouver.
I gasped aloud when I read the name of the person the author had interviewed to get the full story. Kenneth Thatcher – Ruby’s little brother. As of the writing of the book, both he and his sister were still alive. The publication date was 1998 – not all that long ago. It was possible he might still be alive, in his mid-eighties.
I didn’t know why I felt compelled to look him up. I needed to know if he was still alive. I wanted to know how the story ended – what had become of Ruby?
After a brief search, I found him, or at least a name I thought was his. Kenneth J Thatcher lived in Victoria, just a two-hour drive from where I was. I called him and sure enough, he was the same Kenneth who had once fled from a cougar with his sister Ruby. I explained that I was researching the story for an article and was hoping for an opportunity to interview him. To my surprise, he was happy to oblige and invited me to come for a visit the next day.
On the drive to Victoria, I couldn’t get Ruby out of my mind. Did she ever recover and lead a normal life? How did she die? Did I dare ask Kenneth any of those questions?
Kenneth lived in a senior citizens’ assisted living facility located across the street from one of the local hospitals. It was a nice place – not exactly a rest home but an apartment complex, which allowed residents to have full independence while still having help nearby if they needed it. He was an amicable man and I liked him immediately.
As Kenneth heated the kettle to make some tea, I explained to him that I was also a psychic and that a quick reading could speed up the interview and help me understand the details of his story more clearly.
“Well, sure, if you want to,” he laughed good-naturedly, “But I have all the time in the world, so no need to rush if you want to stay and chat.”
I sensed that he didn’t get many visitors and welcomed the company. I smiled to reassure him.
“Of course. I’d love to stay and chat.”
Once he was comfortably seated across the small kitchen table, I offered my hand to him.
“May I?” I asked.
He shrugged. “Sure, why not?”
I closed my eyes and allowed the book-page images to flash past but not for long. The scene I was searching for was right at the beginning of the book, when he was only six years old.
Through Kenneth’s eyes I saw Ruby, smiling and talking as she filled her pail with blackberries from the heavily laden vines.
“Stop dawdling, Kenny! It’s going to be dark soon and you haven’t even half filled your pail. Mine is almost full.”
“I can’t go fast!” Kenny whined, “The thorns hurt my fingers.”
Ruby gave him an exasperated sigh. “Your slowness will be the death of you one day.” She froze the moment she finished the sentence. “Run,” she whispered.
“What?” Kenny said loudly, “I din’ hear you.”
Ruby grabbed his arm roughly and thrust him toward the path leading home. “RUN!” she screamed.
Kenny chanced a quick look backward as he began to run and saw his sister fling her berry bucket at a large yellow cat. The pail made a ‘BONG’ noise as it bounced off the animal’s head. Kenny ran.
He ran as fast as his little legs could carry him but his sister soon ran past and disappeared down the trail ahead of him. He wanted to call out to her to wait, but he was breathless from fear and exertion. He couldn’t keep up the pace much longer. His legs felt weak and he had already begun to slow. He dove as far as he could into the blackberry thicket that lined the trail. Maybe he could hide in there and it wouldn’t see him. His skin stung as the sharp thorns ripped and tore. He was convinced that teeth and claws were shredding him as the cat devoured him alive. He wet his pants and curled up into a tiny ball, sobbing and waiting for the end.
The end didn’t come. After a while he cautiously opened his eyes and saw nothing but blackberry bushes and heard nothing but the usual late-summer sounds – birds chirping and insects buzzing. It would be sunset soon and already the forest was beginning to darken. He didn’t want to be out there in the dark so he untangled himself from the prickly vines and ran the rest of the way back to the village. He was covered in scratches and caked in blood but otherwise unhurt.
That was when he learned that his sister hadn’t made it home.
I released his hand. “Thank you for allowing me to do that,” I said, “I saw it all – the cat, and your escape.”
“Really?” he asked, seeming surprised. “You actually saw it? You’re the real deal, then, aren’t you?”
“I suppose so,” I replied, “Can I ask you, what happened to your sister?”
“Well,” he paused for a sip of tea. “I suppose it’s just as easy for you to ask her yourself as have me tell it to you. Given that little talent of yours.”
“Wait – you mean she’s still alive?”
“Still alive and kicking at 88. That’s why I picked this place to live. No one in his right mind would want to live across from a damn hospital unless he had a good reason.” He stood. “Would you like to meet her?”
We left the apartment complex and its cheery garden surroundings and crossed the street to the hospital. We passed the main entrance and followed a path that led away from the main building to another wing set away toward the rear. It was surrounded by a fence, and Kenneth entered a code on the keypad to open the gate. He entered a code once again to gain entry to the building. The woman at the front nursing station waved hello to him and buzzed us in through a set of security doors. After winding through a maze of hallways we reached another nursing station, received another greeting from the orderly at the desk and were buzzed through another set of doors.
“Here at Ferndale,” Kenneth explained, “They are equipped to provide long-term care for people who need it. Their primary focus is on therapy and rehabilitation but for some people, the only treatment is… maintenance. Like my sister.” He shook his head sadly. “There are some who just never make it back.”
We reached another set of doors, which were unlocked, and Kenneth held one open for me. “She’s been getting weaker lately,” he explained. “It’s her heart, you know. You may think I’m a ghoul, but it will be a blessing when she finally does pass on. She has suffered so much and continues to suffer each day, I’m sure.” We paused outside a room numbered 312. Beside the heavy-looking metal door was yet another keypad to enter a code. “Are you ready?” he asked, finger poised over the keys.
“If you want, you may touch her and do your… thing. She can tell you her story better than I can.” He punched in the code once more and we entered the room.
Ruby lay in a hospital bed, situated next to the barred window and adjusted so that she was almost sitting upright and could see outside. The first thing I noticed was the leather restraints she wore around her wrists. The second thing I noticed was the stump of her right leg. The broken ankle. I wondered if the untended injury had become infected and turned gangrene.
Kenneth greeted her with a kiss on her cheek. “Hi Ruby,” he said softly, “How are you feeling today?”
“Who are you?” she asked him.
“It’s me, Kenny,” he said patiently, “I’m your brother.
“No you’re not. Kenny died.”
He crossed the room back to where I stood, lingering near the door. “This is what it’s like every time I see her. Has been ever since… well, ever. I keep hoping that one day she’ll snap out of it and realize that I’m alive; so that she can die knowing I survived.”
He turned to me. “I don’t suppose you can… communicate with her somehow? Pass her a message, maybe – tell her that I’m alive and that I’m here?”
I shook my head sadly. “I’m sorry, but no. My abilities don’t work that way. I can receive information but not give it.”
He nodded toward Ruby. “Well, go on, then. This is what you came here for.”
I tentatively approached the bed, then hesitated before reaching for Ruby’s hand. I looked back at Kenneth for confirmation. He nodded.
“Go ahead,” he urged, “It can’t do any harm at this point. Each day she lives could be her last. If you want the full story, you’d best get it from her while you have the chance.”
Ruby appeared to be dozing lightly, as if tired from her brief conversation with her brother.
“Hello Ruby,” I said softly, “You don’t know me but I’d like to hold your hand for a moment, if you don’t mind.” Ruby’s eyelids flickered but didn’t open.
Ruby’s hands were those of an old woman – twisted and arthritic – but I could still see the scars on the tips of her misshapen fingers where the flesh had never fully grown back. Her eyelids flickered once more as I slid her cold, gnarled hand into my own. She responded to my touch by grasping my hand with a surprising amount of strength. I slowed my breathing, closed my eyes and allowed the visions to flow. The book-page images flew past, taking me almost immediately to the point in time I sought.
Ruby scolded her brother for not being a faster berry picker. She felt frustrated at his whining but didn’t want to return home without two full pails of berries. After telling him that his slowness would be the death of him, she saw movement out of the corner of her eye. It was a large tawny-colored cat – a mountain lion or puma, as her grandfather sometimes called them. For one heart-stopping second she met its gaze; she was close enough to see the fine black streaks outlining its yellow eyes like the makeup worn by fancy ladies.
After shoving Kenny toward the trail and screaming at him to run, she did the only thing she could think of – throw the pail at the animal. The children had been taught to throw the fruit if they encountered a bear while picking because the bear would almost always prefer to eat the berries than chase a person. The cougar was not interested in berries but being stuck in the face with the pail might have startled it enough to interrupt its attack, giving Ruby a head start when she ran.
She heard heavy footfalls on the trail; to me, it seemed as if she was hearing the sound of her own feet but Ruby was convinced it was the cougar she heard and ran even harder. She overtook Kenny and passed him on the trail without giving him a second thought as her instinct for self-preservation took over. By the time she did remember him she had reached the village. She looked over her shoulder to see if either Kenny or the cat was behind her and stumbled, nearly falling to the ground.
Ruby ran to the first house she saw and pounded on the door, screaming for help. When nobody answered she ran to the next, then the next. Nobody was home; the men were working at the sawmill and it was harvest time, so the women were in the fields and gardens. The constant screech of the sawmill in the background drowned out her cries for help.
Ruby thought she saw movement at the edge of the forest and was certain it was the cougar, coming to eat her. She needed to find safety, fast. She spied the old schoolhouse and the large maple tree beside it, which she had climbed dozens of times just for fun. As she climbed, she remembered that cats were also good climbers.
Her sanctuary had become a trap.
There was a small window near the peak of the schoolhouse roof. The glass was already partly broken. If she broke the rest of it, she could squeeze through into the safety of the schoolhouse. She inched along the narrowing branch until she could reach the glass with her feet and kicked in the remaining pane. Then she lowered herself into the window feet first, slid through and dropped.
And dropped.
If she had seen how far it was down to the floor she might have thought twice about jumping but because she went in feet first she didn’t see the perilous height until it was too late.
She felt her ankle turn sideways just before a fiery pain shot up her leg, causing her to crumple to the floor. She slipped into unconsciousness from a combination of shock and exhaustion.
When she woke, it was dark. Her ankle throbbed and she was unable to stand on it. A weak sliver of moonlight shone through the broken window from which she had fallen, giving her enough light to get her bearings. She could hear the ever-present roar of the sawmill in the background and remembered that she was in the schoolhouse and safe from the cougar. She had managed to outrun the deadly predator… and her brother.
“Kenny!” She cried his name aloud when she realized that the lion must have gotten him. It was her fault for leaving him behind to save her own skin.
She had killed Kenny!
Ruby hobbled to one of the dust-covered pews, where she curled up and sobbed herself to sleep from the pain of her injury and grief for her little brother.
When she awoke it was light outside and that was when Ruby realized that she was trapped. She pounded and pounded and screamed and screamed while the sawmill screamed back at her twice as loud.
I flipped past the next three gruesome weeks because I already knew what happened next and had no desire to witness it again. I slowed the scenes and watched a shaft of daylight fill the schoolhouse, then the faces of several different people. After that, I was back in the schoolhouse again, experiencing through Ruby’s eyes as she staggered back and forth, hammering and clawing at the door with her bloodied hands.
That was odd.
I must have accidentally gone back instead of forward. That had never happened before. I pushed ahead again and once again saw bright light, people’s faces, then the schoolhouse. Once again I pushed forward with the same result. It was like watching a reel-to-reel film spliced into a continuous loop.
As I watched the loop, I began to see glimpses of things that did not belong in the schoolhouse or in the village where Ruby lived. A white room. Her leg a bloody stump swathed in bandages. Sterile steel objects; people dressed all in white; the pinprick of a hypodermic needle; an object shoved into her mouth, followed by jolts of electricity; restraints, much like the ones she wore now. And pain. Lots of pain. I began to understand.
In her mind, Ruby had never left the schoolhouse. A child’s life destroyed – spent in institutions subjected to all manner of brutal ‘therapies’. None of the torturous procedures she endured did anything to bring that innocent child back from the madness that had become her reality; they only served to fuel the rage that continued to build inside her. She was restrained to prevent her from acting out her frantic attempts to escape the schoolhouse again and again, day after day for what remained of her tragic life.
It was no wonder Kenneth would see her death as a blessing.
I had seen enough. I opened my eyes and released my grip on Ruby’s hand to break the connection but she refused to let go. Her bony hand held mine in an ironclad grip. Suddenly her head snapped in my direction and she glared at me, pupils dilated to the same ink-black I had seen in my first vision of her.
“WHY DIDN’T YOU HELP ME?” she screamed.
I struggled to pull my hand away from hers, looking frantically at Kenneth for help.
“Ruby, look at me!” Kenneth placed his own face between hers and mine. “You have to let go.”
“Kenny?” she whimpered, “Is it really you?”
“Yes Ruby, I’m here. You have to let go.”
“I didn’t kill Kenny?” she whispered.
“No, my dear, you didn’t. You saved me. Please remember that.” Kenneth’s voice broke as he spoke.
Ruby was silent but maintained her rock-solid grip on me. Kenneth had to use both of his hands to pry her fingers loose from mine. I stumbled backward, finally free and eager to put some distance between Ruby and me.
I watched as Kenneth leaned forward and kissed his sister tenderly on the cheek, then stood and closed her eyelids. It was only then that I realized she was no longer alive, and that he had pried her still-clenched dead fingers from my hand.
“There will be no Code Blue here today,” he said quietly, “‘Do Not Resuscitate.’ That is what I requested, as her guardian and next of kin.” He looked at me, his pale blue eyes brimming with tears. “She saw me. Even if it was just for a few seconds, she knew I was alive. My Ruby is at peace now.”
* * *
As I read that last sentence I wrote, it seems prudent to end the story there, with the end of Ruby’s life. After all, there isn’t much else to tell. My doctor told me it would be therapeutic to write it down. He thinks it will stop the dreams. I’ve given up trying to explain to him that they are not dreams. It’s real, all of it.
She’s still with me, you see. Ruby. Maybe that was why she clung so hard to me at the moment of her death. Maybe she wasn’t ready to leave just yet. She’s not at peace like Kenneth said. She is still very disturbed. After all, she was batshit-crazy right up until the moment she died.
She comes to me at night.
Sometimes she lies in wait beneath the bed; waiting for me to place my feet on the floor. As soon as I do, a bloodied, skeletal hand will snake out and grab my ankle, sending me screaming toward the door, where I pound and pound until someone hears me and comes to my rescue. As long as I stay on the bed and remain awake, she leaves me alone. But sooner or later we all have to sleep. When I fall asleep, she takes over. Time after time I woke to find myself lying before my bedroom door, bruised and bloodied from Ruby throwing me against it.
I voluntarily committed myself to this place to prevent her from killing me. Sooner or later I was bound to wake up with more than just black eyes and a concussion… or not wake up at all.
The doctors call it sleepwalking and of course they have a lot of medical jargon to explain the how and why of it, but I know the truth.
Ruby is inside me and has no intention of leaving.
Now they restrain and medicate me every night, but I get no rest. In my mind at night, I am Ruby and each night the scene inside the schoolhouse replays over and over until the drugs wear off and I awaken. I feel her terror; I feel her pain; I experience her descent into madness each night. It is torture beyond description.
There is a solution, I believe.
I have a secret.
For the past several months I have been tonguing my meds and stashing them in a small hole I made in the side of my mattress. I tell them I prefer to make my own bed because it helps to alleviate my night terrors, and they’re happy to oblige.
I think I have enough now, for a nice potent, no-returnsies overdose. It had better be enough. If I take them now, I should be good and gone before lights-out time. That’s when they come and bind me to my bed so I don’t hurt myself in my sleep. It has to be tonight. I can’t take another night of this.
I’ve come to the conclusion that the only way I’ll ever be free is to set Ruby free.
I just hope nobody else happens to be nearby when Ruby leaves me.

Copyright © 2012 Mandy White

  1. Reblogged this on West Coast Review and commented:
    Add this to your library.

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