So for the next 4 weeks, I’m going to post the first 4 chapters of a novel I’ve been working on for a few years. It’s been stop-start, especially with Uni studies, but now that I’ve finished studying, I have no excuse! I’m about 75% finished. With a working title ‘dancing with devils’, this is a murder mystery/crime fiction type thing. As always, any comments are welcome 🙂
The First Domino — July 1996
Charlene Dee scanned left, then right.
She strained her eyes. She wanted them to reach as far down the road as she could manage. It was on dusk and there was no sign of her daughter. Every afternoon, Ruby would pedal her rusty pink bicycle up the street and into the relieved view of her mother. Her beaming smile would stretch ear to ear, and as she wobbled over the gutter and onto the grass, the shrill of the tinny bell would fill the air while the faded plastic baubles noisily whizzed around the spokes. She would leap from her bicycle, let the frame crash to the ground, and race inside the house. Always in time for dinner.
Maybe she’s fallen off?
Her daughter was many things, but Charlene admitted graceful was not one of them. She reluctantly retreated inside the house to check on dinner.
Ruby opened her eyes and it was dark. Almost pitch black. She prodded a foreign bulge protruding from her lip. It didn’t hurt, but the dirt lodged under her fingernails left her tastebuds in distress. She tried to spit it out but the dirt was the least of her worries. She rubbed her left wrist. Her heart sink as she realised her charm bracelet was missing. Not just any charm bracelet, but her pride and joy, and it had been ever since her mother and father gave it to her when she turned six. In the six years since, she had only amassed a grand total of four beads. Cheap beads. But those beads were more precious than anything she had ever owned. A cat, a violin, a love heart, and a question mark. Those were Ruby’s four precious beads.
Her head throbbed, and moving her hand to the back of her skull only resulted in a fistful of curly hair. The wet strands of hair felt as though they were glued together. Ruby opened her fist and let her hair fall to the ground. Unbeknownst to her, the hair she had only previously known as being blonde, was now dark red. Her legs were scratched and itchy, and her flimsy cotton dress, now horribly torn, provided no protection from the unforgiving surface she was thrust upon.
As another excruciating throb attacked her, this time down her left side at the juncture of her spine, ribs, and hip, a dark figure loomed above. Even in the dark she could sense movement and make out a vague outline. Ruby tried to sit up but a left boot accelerated toward her face and didn’t stop. She blacked out before the pain could assault her again.
Ruby came to. Her nose was crooked, sore, and bloody. Her left eye was shut and decided to stay that way despite Ruby’s attempts to open it. The pain waited until she was conscious. Then it hit hard and fast, and drove itself into every nerve, muscle, bone, joint, and fibre in that tiny frame. She could only tremble violently as she desperately tried to figure out what was happening. The dark figure so far had not uttered a word. She called upon her one good eye to give her answers. It tried hard to find anything; a slither of light, a shape, movement, but to no avail. Even the figure itself, which stood only a metre away was barely an outline. The roof, the walls, and the floor were out of sight. Ruby was trapped inside a dark, terrifying void.
‘Where am I? Who are you?’
Ruby started to get up. The boot came again, but this time it landed a foot lower. The wind was thumped from Ruby’s chest and the pain pinned her to the ground. Shards of gravel and wood shavings pierced her back and neck. She struggled to breathe. Her body froze, pretending it was elsewhere, hoping the pain would get bored and leave. She stubbornly tried to call out again, but a wisp of air barely escaped her lips. The dark figure bent down towards her. Its chest beat rapidly and the silence in the room was only broken by short sharp growly breaths, each exhale shooting a horrid odour through her nostrils. A rough fingernail slowly scraped hard down her right cheek and the young girl’s tears trickled down the resulting groove.
Her right wrist was suddenly gripped tight, and her whole body catapulted off the ground. She cried out in pain as her elbow jerked one way and then the other, while her arm tried to escape its socket. Ruby was rag-dolled through the darkness. Every bump aroused the lingering pain that lay patiently within every bruise, laceration, and scratch on her body. She was dragged through a small doorway and Ruby thought maybe she would see freedom. Fresh air. Her mother. That this had all been a cruel prank but now it was time to go home.
Not for the first time, Ruby was hurled toward the unforgiving floor, her right shoulder buckling underneath her body. Her hand tingled before all feeling vanished and it had now become as useful as her left eye. A loud click echoed through the darkness, followed by a second click. The room exploded with light. Ruby’s good eye instinctively closed at the unexpected luminosity of the space she was in. She forced it open. The figure was no longer an outline, but wore a dark hood. The source of light hovered closer to the hood and the flame danced in its hollow eyes.
Ruby craned her neck, straining every last sinew and fibre beyond its limit, hoping to sneak a glimpse of the dark figure. Immense pain shot down her spine and consumed every vertebra, one after the next. The room was tiny. Decrepit office furniture was jammed against each wall. Ruby risked another boot to her delicate frame and sat up. She waited for it. Nothing. She slumped against a heavy, lopsided filing cabinet. The cold metal penetrated her faded purple short-sleeved shirt, emblazoned with a unicorn and a phrase about being magic and beautiful.
Just as Ruby spotted a second figure leaning against the far wall of the room, the light evaporated, replaced by the echo of footsteps. The creak of a rusty hinge squealed in her eardrums, then shouting. The two figures were outside the door and she could hear them. They were arguing, yelling, maybe fighting. She thought this might be a handy distraction. As her hope started to rise ever so slightly, she heard a distant door slam, and one of the figures returned.
The smell of gasoline infiltrated Ruby’s nose, and she felt a wave of liquid gush through her hair and run down her face. The foul taste engulfed her throat and she started to gurgle. The gasoline burnt her eyes as it continued to run down her face, her arms, and down her legs.
Ruby thought of her mother, no doubt standing impatiently on the driveway. She knew she was late for dinner. Charlene had told Ruby that morning they were having spaghetti for dinner. Ruby’s favourite. Then she thought of her brother, glued to the television, playing video games with his friend. Her dad would be home soon too, itching to help Ruby with her homework. The thought of her family gave Ruby a feeling of peace and the panic started to dissipate. She remembered her charm bracelet was gone. And the beads. Her cat, Delilah, the violin she always wanted to play, the love heart from her parents, and the question mark. Ruby never stopped asking questions.
She ignored the engulfing odour of gasoline and calmly spat out the liquid in her mouth. The gurgling was replaced with steady breathing. She sat up straight, folded her arms, and stared into the darkness, trying to guess where the hollow, lifeless eyes were likely to be lurking. She waited.
The lighter sparked into life again and the flame was tossed in her direction. Amid the searing heat and rising flames, the last thing the dark figure saw in the room that night, was the wide-eyed, beaming smile, of 12-year old Ruby Dee.
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