By Shyla Fairfax-Owen
Across the town line, parallel to the stream, and a quarter of an hour through the forest, in a small wooden house – that’s where her mother had been hiding. Ruby knew the route well, and had been secretly slinking through it for weeks. However, she had not once approached the door. Her grandmother had been quite stern on the matter. Ruby’s mother was gone, and Ruby was to leave it be.
The night it had happened – the night Ruby’s mother had disappeared – it had been just the two of them at home. Monsters had stormed their front door, but upstairs mother had hid her in the closet and told not to come out until grandma came for her. “No matter what you hear, no matter what you see, you stay right here and wait for grandma.” So she did. Even when she heard the riotous commotion, and was tempted to investigate. Even when mother crawled out the window, which Ruby could just barely see through the slits in the closet door.
The intruders hadn’t stayed for long, but it took grandma hours to come to her. Ruby explained that mother had gotten away. Days later, she heard grandma tell Uncle Joe that mother was hiding at the cottage until “it” blew over. Uncle Joe said she’d likely die first – and soon. That stirred Ruby. If her mother was dead, she’d like to see it with her own two eyes; but grandma had many rules. No crossing the town line, EVER. No playing near the stream. No entering the forest, especially at night. Ruby had to successively break each and every one to find mother. But finally, she did, and was very pleased with herself for it. See, Ruby had always been underestimated because of her small stature, young age, and sweet smile. But Ruby was a smart girl, with keen senses, and a precarious nature. Each night, while her keeper slept, Ruby would sneak out of the house, using the very same window as her mother had. Crouched behind a heavy tree trunk, Ruby would watch her mother inside of the cottage – preparing needles, injecting, drooling, and sleeping. Some nights, Ruby would be certain of her demise, but the next night she would find her very much alive, repeating the steps.
On this particular night, something was different. Ruby had been stomping through the forest as usual, when she heard a sound. It wasn’t any of the usual suspects: a cricket, a crow, or an owl. It was something heavier, angrier, and foul. Ruby tried to silence her trot, but no matter how she tried, she couldn’t avoid crunching twigs as she went. She stopped, and spun around, sure she had felt the shiver of someone’s breath down the back of her neck. But she could see no one. In fact, with the moon sinking behind the clouds, she could hardly see anything at all.
She breathed slowly, squeezed her eyes shut, and sprung them back open. Still, there was nothing. But in the distance came a howl that instantly spread goose bumps over her arms. Her chest heaved now, a result of her pounding heart. Of course, Ruby recognized the sensation not as fear, but as excitement. The same kind of excitement she’d experienced when she had been chased by a stray dog that she had to kick with all her might to slow down.
Ruby folded down to her knees and crawled cautiously across the dirt, grass, and rocks, until she found her special hiding tree. As she settled behind it, the noises became clearer, and closer. She heard feet pounding against the ground, stampeding towards her, and then they flew right by. The speed had blurred the culprits at first, but then Ruby saw exactly what they were. Wolves.
She watched intently as the three wolves approached the cottage. The biggest of them stood on its hind legs and crashed through her mother’s door. The wolves ploughed inside, and Ruby instinctively rose for a better view. She tried to keep her eyes on the rhythmic chaos inside of the house, but it was difficult from such distance. Capricious as she was, Ruby skipped her way up to the little house, knowing the wolves were preoccupied now, and squinted through the dirty windows. To her surprise, the beasts she had seen were men now. Well, two men and one woman. Ruby found it implausible that her eyes could have misled her so. But in that moment, they were definitely human; although more vicious than anyone she had known in her own seven years.
She watched the violence unfold, mesmerized by the ferocity before her. When the group had finished tearing Ruby’s mother apart, the woman turned her head slightly, as if catching a scent. Her eyes met Ruby’s, and she rose slowly from a crouched position over the bloody corpse, to a rueful standing posture. Ruby thought she should turn away – hide – but she couldn’t take her eyes off the woman. When the men whipped around to face what had stolen the attention of their companion, Ruby ducked beneath the window. Her mind was racing now. She wanted to feel sad for her mother, scared for herself; but she only felt that nagging pit of excitement deep inside of her.
What was left of the door creaked open softly, and the woman came gently towards Ruby. Ruby let her. Her eyes were soft, despite the blood smeared across her face. The men followed, just as gently. Ruby saw that the men had yellow eyes that were slowly giving way to waves of brown that seemed to liquescence their irises.
The woman knelt before her, smiling maternally, extending a hand. Ruby took it, and could suddenly feel inside of her a strong persuasion; a warmth that would never go away, as long as she stayed by her side.
Bio: Shyla Fairfax-Owen is a tech writer by day and a creative writer by night. Her interest in speculative fiction and dark narratives led her to pursue a master’s degree of Arts, for which she specialized in Gender and Horror. She has now begun the journey of submitting her work for publication, and hopes it continues to be a successful one.