This week I’m steering away from the real-life world of criminology and delving into fiction. I started writing a novel about 9 months ago and today I’m sharing what I think will remain as the first chapter. As always, all comments and feedback are welcome.. Enjoy..
The First Domino — Sometime in 1996
Charlene Dee scanned left, then right.
Her eyes strained as far down the road as she could manage. There was no sign of her daughter and it was on dusk. Around this time every afternoon, Ruby’s legs would furiously pedal the tattered pink bicycle into view. Her beaming smile threatened to stretch past both ears as she wobbled onto the dusty front yard. The shrill of the bell would twice fill the air and the faded plastic baubles, once brighter than a rainbow, whizzed around the spokes of each wheel. Only two wheels now. She graduated her training and the extra wheels were hastily removed just yesterday. She would leap off the bike, let it fall to the dirt, and race inside. Always in time for dinner.
Charlene briefly wondered whether Ruby had fallen off. Her daughter’s balance was not the best she had ever seen. She dismissed the thought and went inside.
Ruby groggily opened her eyes. A dark figure hovered. Her palms were stinging and badly grazed. She prodded at a pebble sized bulge protruding from her bottom lip. She could taste damp dirt lodged under her fingernails. She rubbed her left wrist and realised her charm bracelet was gone. The top of her head throbbed in several places. She reached to the back of her skull and felt a clump of blond curly hair come loose. The strands felt wet, glued together by a gooey substance. She started to feel nauseous. Her legs were scratched and itchy. Her tattered dress provided no protection from the gravel surface she’d been thrown on. Another excruciating throb. This one from her left hip. She tried to sit up but the left boot of the dark figure accelerated toward her face. She blacked out before the pain could attack.
Ruby came to. Her nose was crooked, and bloody. The pain waited until she was conscious. Then it came, and drove itself into every part of her body. She couldn’t stop trembling. She knew what had happened so far. But she had no idea what was to come. The dark figure hadn’t said a word. She decided to lay still and let her eyes work. But it was too dark and the figure was barely an outline. The roof was out of sight, and every trivial sound echoed.
Ruby was an intelligent girl but her maturity was overcome by her age-appropriate instinct. She started to panic.
‘Where am I? Mom?’
Ruby tried to get up again. The boot came again. This time it landed a foot lower. The wind was thumped from Ruby’s chest and she was pinned. Shards of gravel and wood shavings pierced her back and neck. She couldn’t move and struggled to breathe.
Her voice was timid. A wisp of air barely escaped her mouth.
Ruby froze. The figure bent down towards her face. Its chest beat rapidly. Short sharp breaths, each exhale sending a horrid odour shooting through her nostrils. She felt the rough scratch of fingernails scrape at her soft face as streams of tears trickled down the resulting grooves.
Her legs weren’t ready for the upward jolt. Her right hand was gripped tight and her arm yanked skyward. She winced as her elbow twisted and her arm wanted to escape its socket. Ruby was rag-dolled through the darkness. Every bump exacerbated the pain from fresh bruises. She still couldn’t see. She was eventually led through a small doorway and Ruby thought she would see freedom. Fresh air. Her mother. That this stranger had played a cruel prank but now it was time to go home.
She was wrong. Not for the first time Ruby was hurled toward the unforgiving floor, her right shoulder buckling underneath her body. Her right hand tingled before all feeling vanished. A loud click echoed, followed by another. Suddenly a small burst of light flickered around the room. The figure was no longer an outline. It wore a dark hood. The light moved closer to its face and the flame danced in hollow eyes. She craned her neck and every sinew and fibre stretched beyond its limit. Immense pain shot down her spine and consumed every vertebra, one after the other. The room was tiny. Decrepit office furniture was jammed against each wall. Despite the possibility of another boot, Ruby sat up and leaned back into a heavy, lopsided filing cabinet. The cold metal penetrated her flimsy cotton shirt and stung her back.
She noticed a second shadow leaning against the far wall just before the light vanished. Pitch black returned, and the light was replaced by the sound of methodical footsteps bouncing between the walls. One set moved toward the doorway. The slow creak of the rusty hinge squealed in Ruby’s eardrums. The smell of gasoline again infiltrated Ruby’s nose, but this time she felt a wave of liquid gush through her hair and run down her face. It came in waves and the foul taste engulfed her mouth and throat. She started to gurgle and the gasoline burnt her eyes. It dripped down her arms and ran down her legs. Her dress was soaked.
Her mother would be standing impatiently on the front lawn. She told Ruby that morning they were having spaghetti for dinner. Her favourite. She thought of her brother, glued to the television, playing video games with his friend. Her dad. He’d be home soon, itching to help Ruby with her forever stubborn maths homework.
The thought of her family led Ruby to a sudden feeling of peace. She stopped panicking. She ignored the flood of gasoline in and around her mouth. The gurgling was replaced with calm breaths. She sat up straight, folded her arms, and stared into the darkness, taking an educated guess at where the hollow, lifeless eyes were likely to be lurking. She waited.
As Ruby expected, the lighter was ignited and tossed toward the ground. Amid the searing heat and rising flames, the last thing the dark figures saw in the room that night was the wide-eyed, beaming smile, of eight-year old Ruby Dee.