Ruby

Flash fiction, exactly 1000 words.

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1. Ruby

I am lying on the floor, a mass of charred timbers, broken materials and glass, and a soup of soot and water. Then it hits me, the rancid stench of damp that causes my eyes to burn and my throat to itch. The room is a blackened mess. The odours have settled into the pores of the walls and the oily residue of soot scars them. Decay breeds in the peeling paintwork. Light grey-black outlines creep up the walls, reaching up to the black abyss of the sinking ceiling. Soot ghosting.

My mum always told me to not light candles in my bedroom – they discoloured the walls.

The furniture is melted, warped, like in a funhouse. Not real. Just illusions… just tricks and mirrors.

“Just tricks and mirrors, tricks and mirrors, tricks and mirrors,” I chant under my breath, as though saying it over and over again will mean that it will be true.

Everything around me is sinking, distorting, closing in on me. Suffocating me.

Slowly, I pull myself up, using the wall for support. I gasp and bite down on my bottom lip.

Breathe. Breathe. Breathe. My joints groan.

Hellllp

Wh-what was that? Seriously, what was that?

The sound, or words, if that is what they were, were croaky, as though someone has a hoarse throat. It makes the flesh on my face and hands creep. The hair stands on my tightened skin. The sweat on my skin turns to ice.

“Somebody there?” The voice again, strained, but not as garbled this time, “Hel – ”

The door swings open. My hand is on the handle. How did I get here?

I am on the landing. It is quiet and fairly dark. The naked light bulb hanging from the ceiling flickers.

“Can anyone hear me?” The voice goes up an octave, “Help!”

The voice is clearer this time. And Female… I know that voice. My eleven year old sister.

“Ruby! Ruby, where are you?”

“Anyone there? Oh God!”

“Yes, I’m here! Ruby!”

No answer.

She appears from her doorway next to my room. Her face is panic stricken.

“Vi!”

She reaches out to me and I for her. A wall of fire spontaneously appears, separating us. I flinch away but not before fire ants crawl up my hand, arm. Within seconds I smell smoke. It scratches at my throat. It tastes like chemical death.

And then I am attacked by the empowering heat. The walls rattle as flames erupt around us. The landing is consumed with flames and the screams of my dying sister. I cannot scream.

Heavy, black, lung-smothering smoke claws at my eyes but it is not enough to blind me; I still see my little sister’s pale skin melting like wax. She stares straight at me, screaming silently even as her pupils dilate and run down her face like tears. The all-consuming roar of the fire is deafening and I cover my face as a suction wind pulls me from every direction at once. Then… silence.

Slowly, slowly, I open my eyes. The room is dark, but moonlight creeps through the few pieces of fractured glass that are still in the window frame, casting an eerie glow on a small bed, its wooden frame damp and the bedsheets an unintelligible colour beneath the ash, and a short bookshelf, bowing under the weight of the sodden hardbacks.

I hear it before I see it. In the corner is a writhing body lying on a bed of splinters and ash, arising from it is a gasping sound, like a drowning girl trying to break the surface of a lake. The body is lying on its side, the legs tucked up and cycling in slow, pained movements.

Then no sound, no movement… nothing.

I take a step closer, hesitate, then drop to the floor by the small body. Ruby. My little sister. I reach out to touch her, stop, and then very tentatively touch her burnt scalp; the once beautiful blonde curls are now singed into bleeding tufts.

There is movement beneath my fingers. With a yelp, I leap up and crash into the wall. Blood pumps hard in my head.

It sits up, watching me through its ash eyes sunk inside a blackened skull. Its face and nose are scorched and flame-eroded beyond recognition. White teeth and blackened gums expose where its cheeks should have been.

It holds something. The thin fingers on one hand curl away to reveal a candle. The other, a deformed knob of burned flesh and bones, reaches out to me.

I am panting, kicking my legs to push it away and, at the same time also trying to stand. It crouches and tilts its head. Ruby who is not Ruby smiles.

Mum told you not to light candles.

 “No,” I whimper, pushing myself against the wall as if it will suck me up. Take me anywhere but here. Take me away from this nightmare.

Its lips split open and black blood trickles down its chin. Its face distorts and then the rest of my surroundings do as well.

You did this, you did this, you –

I blink. I am lying on the floor, a mass of charred timbers, broken materials and glass, and a soup of soot and water.

“Somebody there? Hel – ”

Ruby. Ruby needs me. The stench of damp is burning my throat. I part my lips but I cannot respond. The furniture is melted, warped, like in a funhouse. I try to stand, but my legs flail beneath me. Betraying me. The dark tendrils of soot ghosting creep up the walls like ivy. They grow before my very eyes, stretching out across the walls but now also seeping down to the floorboards. And sliver towards me. I blink to try and focus my vision, head. Sanity.

They pulse, then warp into a dark, skeletal hand.

You did this, you did this, you –

Everything is sinking, distorting, closing in on me. Suffocating me.

 But it is just tricks and mirrors… right?

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