Ruby by Joanna Nguyen
This story is one of the November Writing Challenge entries chosen to be a featured story.
Ruby grabbed the radio with both hands and slammed it against the table, yet it still rolled out only waves of jumbled static and words, sentences that she couldn’t understand.
“Why would the Committee give us a piece of junk to tell us where to hunt a monster!” She snarled and stood up, kicking it off the table, accidentally knocking off her lamp and camera along with it.
She was only able to transcribe the word “bridge,” as if that would help her find it. There were plenty of bridges where they lived, it was ridiculous. Ruby paced around her room as she chewed on her fingernails, which were already bitten down to the skin. She grabbed the fallen objects and placed them back on the table, but the camera fell to pieces in her hands.
It was broken.
She was surprised it even lasted that long. Ruby frowned as she threw it into the basket beside the table, which was already filled to the brim with other broken objects. Mostly knicknacks she found along in the forest, broken pieces and parts that she could reuse.
“Standing here won’t help me find it,” Ruby muttered as she grabbed her satchel from the chair. She quickly glanced into the contents of it, making sure that everything was there: herbs in case she obtained injuries, a compass for navigation, and her journal and pencil to keep track of the monsters she’s slain. She dumped her tea into the sink, watching the contents of it stain the sides of it, coating the white into brown, as she dropped the cup in shortly after. She grabbed her keys and opened the door.
Sunlight blinded her as streams of light moved slowly through the leaves, hugging her in waves of warmness. The castle could be seen from her house, a washed out gray in the distance, a silhouette. If you stared at it for too long, it might disappear. She pulled her hood over her head and began walking.
Ruby despised the kingdom. They gave everyone like her a title, a knight. They threw around the word carelessly, giving every monster hunter the same title. Even those who did nothing but buy their way through it, earning their place on the high seats of royalty. Even though they threw out the old King and Queen, this new foundation was just as bad. It was for justice, they claimed. Everything was for justice. For the people. Yet, where were they when the people needed them? When her family needed them?
Ruby’s thoughts were interrupted as a sickenly sweet smell invaded her senses. Her nose scrunched up as soon as she passed the elk tree, which normally instigated the area for monsters. The timepiece in her pocket vibrated, alerting her that there were active monsters in her area. A timepiece was given to every “knight,” but this one was from her mother, a family heirloom.
Ruby had simply guessed what bridge it was since the radio usually only announced those that were close to her area. As she ventured deeper into the forest, the mist began to gather around thickly, obscuring her vision even more than it already was. She listened to the forest — to the birds, the rustle of leaves, the quiet tap of her boots — then she heard it.
A quiet hum of a song, almost too quiet for anyone to hear if they weren’t looking for anything. It sounded almost affectionate, as if it was a mother humming her child to sleep. It was a lullaby she was all too familiar with.
She trekked her way through the forest, nearing a lake she was unfamiliar with. The mist was thickest in the air here, but near the water, there were only slithers of it. As Ruby’s eyes trailed their way through the landscape, she caught sight of a woman. Ruby stiffened upon eye contact, unable to move.
The woman continued to sing. Her voice was louder now, clearer in Ruby’s ears. It was a song her mother used to sing her to sleep. All she could do was continue staring at the woman, drawn to her voice. The water lapped up her ankles, to her knees, as Ruby ventured in deeper into the lake.
As she reached the rock the woman was sitting on, she grabbed Ruby’s chin and lifted it up gently, like a caress in the wind.
“You are vulnerable, my child,” she whispered, bringing her other hand over Ruby’s eyes. “Sleep.”
Ruby’s knees buckled the moment her vision was engulfed in darkness, and water filled her entire being.