This post is a continuation of the first 10 pages posted by the Phoenix. Visit them here.
This story contains elements of domestic abuse, violence, and murder. Discretion is advised.
She nearly jumped. The floor lamp that flickered to life startled her. It stood tall and proud, like an inflammatory I that lit up the room with its golden glow, and it gave Rue pause. Guilt was something she had not been expecting.
So, then, there was no reason to start feeling it now. Harvey would understand if he knew the full extent of what she was dealing with, wouldn’t he? Still, Rue averted her gaze from it, creeping across the carpet carefully, as if he were somewhere nearby.
It still smelled like lavender and soap, wreathing in and out of her nose as she pressed her palm against the gaudy wallpaper, feeling the roughness of it sink in against her palm. The curtains were drawn, a deep velvet, but Rue knew what the view outside was like from every room. The lake and the mountains. The remoteness and emptiness of where they were. It was beautiful, but it was cold, like so many things here were.
Her eyes found the slightly pulled out dresser drawer like they had tripped over something, and she found herself sighing in relief. It was still there. Rue lowered herself to her knees in front of it, grimacing past the feeling of the rough fibers of the carpet digging into her skin. Tugging out the dresser drawer proved a slight challenge for her state, though she had already done this once before. She had to twist and pull on it like tearing at sinews, but, at last, it tore free. Darkness unfolded before her eyes like a sweet flower, and she scrambled to tug out the drawer beneath it. The feeling of excitement swam feverishly over her skin. This could really work.
One of many quirks of the Rousure came in its architecture: gaudy, emulating grander hotels like the Hay-Adams or the Jefferson, but individual rooms were packaged with secrecies that very little guests knew about. One came in the form of the built in dressers that were fixated to the opposite walls of each room: when the drawers from both sides were removed, a guest could feasibly crawl from one room to the other.
That was exactly what Rue did. It proved to be an uncomfortable fit, but the cold metal of her coffin-like passageway grounded her with its cold teeth that nipped at her palms, and she crawled onto the rough carpet on the other side with little problem.
Crawling into the neighboring room, 1008, it was as if she had stepped into a parallel world. The room was a mirror of the last, only opposite, flipped and slightly disorienting to Rue as she found her footing. 1008 stood as empty as most of the Rousure’s rooms: stagnant, as if the heartbeat of the hotel couldn’t reach here to pump and circulate guests through. She ran the palm of her hand across a layer of dust as she scanned the walls and floorboards, finding herself growing hawkish and on edge. She knew she had hidden the jewelry in here. Now, it was just to make sure it was still here, and Harvey would never be the wiser.
Rue didn’t like holding stress in the way she held her shoulders close to herself, high up and stiff, so she tried to steady herself as she padded toward the side-table to the right. Crouching down, her fingers found the familiar curve in the wood that she had used before, brushing over the soft grain as she tugged the drawer free. Her eyes had become well-adjusted to the darkness, but, for a moment, she thought she had gone blind.
It wasn’t there.
The drawer stood empty, bitter and mocking, and she found the air whistling in and out of her lungs to be growing difficult to hang on to. No. No, no, nonono. Desperation began to creep and crawl up her throat like some thick, strangling spider, and Rue flipped the drawer over to look at its backside, shaking. A note had been taped to it with the same green tape Harvey and Rue had accidentally bought last year to wrap Christmas presents with.
I know you better than you know yourself. You know better than to hide things from me.
The shortness of it struck against her like flint striking against a rock, sparking her anger into the makings of a forest fire, but it was tampered with the soot of panic, and Rue found herself lurching to her feet with blurred desperation. This couldn’t be true. If Harvey knew, then why did he talk to her like that last night? Was he tricking her? Dimly, Rue felt like the moorings of her mind had been slashed with the sharp curves of that H written in his dainty handwriting, and it was difficult to stay standing. Her breath came out in gasping, heaving bouts of air that she was terrified would end up stopping, and her vision had begun to grow unfocused and blurry. Rue couldn’t tell if this was a panic attack, her illness, or a mix of both, but she had to get out of 1008.
Rue shook her head with a surprising violence, causing the pearls around her neck to swing like a tightening set of chains. She staggered toward the door on shaking heels, balancing on the dresser, the wall, and then the doorframe, peeling it open to step into the hallway with a palpable gasp of relief. It died on her lips a second after it had come to fruition, and a cacophony of noises and sounds slammed into her with the force to lay her back flat against the wall beside her.
It was like the Rousure had been painted over with a holographic film of vibrancy that was distortedly beautiful and overwhelming, at the same time. The chandeliers in the hallway seemed to burn with a nauseating intensity over her head, and the gray wash of the morning had turned into a golden day, making the Rousure glossy and shimmer in a way that bore into the back of eyelids like blades of light pulling and tugging on her optic nerve. Rue gripped the edge of the closing door hard enough to turn her knuckles white. It was difficult to stand up.
Her gaze was unfocused, but the distant, musical ring of the elevator hitting the floor cut through her like the way the wind shears through steep cliffs, resonating throughout some emptiness in her that felt all encompassing. She had never felt this disoriented and terrified. Her head felt stiff and gargantuan on top of her neck, and she had to struggle to lift it up, vaguely disgusted by the sweat that kept her platinum bangs plastered to her forehead.
Voices reached her, first jubilant and soft, as if she were listening to them through clumps of cotton or clouds that wreathed around her ears. Then they got louder. People and faces, dozens of them, wrapped in an opalescent decadence, moved in and around the hallway in glorious silhouettes in front of her. They were guests, but there was something abjectly horrifying in their glossy beauty: their eyes were too big, their features too sharp, and, when one turned to look at her, she felt a scream lodge in her throat. Jewelry blossomed on them like golden stars and white moons that made her eyes water. Rue felt close to collapsing, and her weak grip slipped off of the doorknob. She grimaced as her knees crumpled, only dimly aware of if she had scratched her heels on the way down.
Cotton clogged the inside of her throat and mouth, and her head pounded, pounded, pounded, or, perhaps, it was her racing heart. Rue felt entirely disconnected from her own form. A dark, slithering figure pressed through the bright existence of the Rousure that she remembered, the one that she had grown up in, and cold, painful fingers dug into her cheeks, heavy and biting. Her mother’s severe, pale face stared down at her.
“What have you done, Rue? What have you done to my Rousure?”
She gagged, ripping herself away from Nisha’s grip, and Rue felt such blinding and exclamatory pain that she thought that the specter of her own mother had torn the skin off of her cheeks. A disorganized lightness existed inside her that mirrored the light beyond her, but it made her thoughts disconnect and float like falling stars, very rarely connecting to create something coherent, and terror and desperation and sickness made her limbs tingle. She was somewhere beyond herself. Dimly, Rue felt the elevator shaft rumble. Somewhere far away, she sensed someone entering the floor. They came towards her in the shape of an exclamation point, raising her up until she felt like she could pluck the sun from the sky if she simply held out her hand.
“Is this something else you were hiding from me?”
Rue had to peer at Harvey through the thorns of a crushing headache. “Why did you come looking for me?” Even to herself, her words sounded slurred, and, for a brief moment, she had forgotten to be on edge around him.
“We had a meeting at noon. You were 5 minutes late. You’re never late to anything,” he said, visibly upset. It disquieted her. Harvey shook his head in exasperation, but tried to force a glass of water on her all the same. It slid, cool and calming, down the back of her throat, and she breathed a sigh of relief. Rue leaned her head back against the armchair of her office, turning to where Harvey sat beside her, and remembered. She pressed her lips together into a thin line, half-expecting him to berate her at this very moment.
He didn’t. Not yet. “Have you gone to the doctor yet?”
“No,” Rue said, clearing her throat to speak more coherently. “Why are you pretending like you didn’t know what I was doing up there?”
Something in his expression changed, and the I showed up again. “Is that what this is about? You panicked because you found it...didn’t you?” The shock in his tone struck her, and Rue watched as concern and betrayal warred on his face with an odd feeling settling in the pit of her stomach. Even at each other’s throats, they still felt the same. “You crawled through the drawers, didn’t you? That’s a bit desperate, even for you, Rue.”
The gentle inflection on her name made her grin rather than shrink. It was too easy to forget that he was a detective. Somber, she reached forward to put her hand on top of his, giving it a squeeze that she likely needed more than he did.
“Don’t do that,” Harvey said. “It’s manipulative, especially because you technically committed a crime. And I, a law enforcement officer, should--.”
“You just said should, not would, Harvey.”
He sighed, moving his hand away to rub it over his features. She noticed how exhausted he looked, and, for a moment, he didn’t speak. Rue watched him with reserved exhaustion.
Harvey shook his head, making a soft sound in his throat. “I don’t like seeing you like this. Sick and hurt. It reminds me too much of--”
“The roles were reversed, then,” Rue murmured, staring at him with gentle, round eyes. The memory of it flashed before her with perfect clarity. The moose’s dark, encircling eyes...the horrific sound of tires screeching over pavement and the blinding flash of golden headlights. The sound of metal scraping and yawning, and glass breaking and shattering, often haunted her dreams. She remembered it had boomed so loud in her ears that it had felt like she herself was made of the steel frame being ripped apart. She swallowed against the grief of it.
“You saved my life,” Harvey murmured, giving her a demure look. “You may not like what I have to say next, but remember this. You’re my closest ally and friend.”
“And you, mine,” Rue said, feeling a sweet rush in her chest that made her feel like she was glowing when she looked at him. “Be gentle, Harvey, but continue.”
He cleared his throat, and continued. “I was planning on speaking to you on this at our noon meeting, but...it doesn’t appear to me that you’re in the best state of mind to be making rational decisions, Rue.”
She smiled softly, and shrugged. “That’s a fair assessment.”
“I’m serious,” he said, maybe a little too sharply. “I think it's the hotel. This...this isn’t good for you. You need to take a step back. Actually, you need to take many.”
That soft, sweet feeling of adoration vanished. Rue bristled at the notion of taking a step back. “What?” The word dropped out of her mouth like the pit of a venomous fruit, and she felt a sick stab of satisfaction as Harvey recoiled, though it was immediately tempered with the blade of guilt. “How dare you ask me of that, Harvey! You know what this hotel means to me: me, and my family.”
“You’re ill, Rue. How much good can you be to the Rousure really, in declining health?” Harvey’s words slapped her in the face, and, when she tried to get up, an icepick driving into her skull, dark and coiled, forced her back down. She refused his helping hand with a raised hand, glaring.
“This is all about your mother,” Harvey said, flatly. “You’re more than she ever was, Rue. Why are you still trying to make things up to her, even now? It wasn’t your fault.”
“Don’t use that against me,” she hissed. “I have to keep the Rousure going: for her.”
“No. You keep it going to try and be the perfect daughter she always wanted you to be, but the woman is gone, Rue. I’m not!” Harvey admonished, pleading. “I’m still here, and, unlike her, who prioritized this hotel and its success over you, I don’t do that. I’m telling you as a friend...it is eating you alive. You have to forgive her.”
“Forgive her? Who are you to tell me what to do about my own mother?” Her blood was curdling into venom. “You mean well, Harvey, but listen to yourself! You have no idea what it was like!” She hadn’t meant to raise her voice, but it was climbing in fury despite herself, and the pounding in her head reached a furious crescendo that bled into her eyes. “End of discussion. I am not getting rid of the Rousure, and I’m going to make it better than she ever was.”
“Unbelievable,” Harvey scoffed, incredulous. She felt the biting sting of his absence before he had ever left: but the detachment in his gaze made him already feel far removed, and when he left her to her thoughts, Rue felt something cold and icy lodged itself in between her ribs. She dug her nails into the palms of her hand, and gritted her teeth, furious. It was the cold, steady type of fury that nourishes a festering wound, rather than douses it all at once.
Rue’s anger was nearly blinding. It was deep-seated, and had wound itself around her bones. Nisha Rousure had launched the Rousure Hotel to new, exalted heights, earning the love and favor of the town of Moorwich, even despite the reputation it had begun getting as a place where mysterious deaths and disappearances had an aptitude for happening: all at the expense of Rue. Don’t bother me. I’m working. Fix yourself some dinner. You’re old enough. Or, sometimes, Don’t stress me out further, Rue. I had a rough day at work today. Just go to bed. I don’t want to hear it. Dismissive, cruel, unforgiving, and unreachable: Nisha had been dark, cold, exact, and precise, and seemed to see her own imperfections in her bubbly and strange daughter. That was what Harvey had thought, at least, but Rue felt differently. The Rousure had been the only child her mother had ever wanted. Rue had only ever been an afterthought.
When Harvey had first found Rue, shaking and close to vomiting at the police station because of the death-shrouded hotel she had inherited, and her first case, he had become a crutch that she had needed for the last 15 years. A young, hopeful detective then, he still had that spark bouncing around somewhere behind his eyes, but Rue didn’t see it as much anymore. She worried that she was part of the reason why, but she brushed the thought to the cobwebs of her mind as soon as it had occurred. She had her own reasons for doing things, and if Harvey didn’t understand, then he’d have to find it within himself to forgive her later rather than expect some sort of explanation.
Rue forced herself to her feet, unsupported, feeling the blood in her ears and a tight band around her head pound in painful synchronicity. Her vision swam with lights, distorted and imperfect, and Rue let out an unhinged laugh that bubbled from somewhere deep within her chest. I’ll never let Nisha win. I’ll make the Rousure better than she could have ever imagined.
Rue sat behind the front desk of the Rousure with unusually unkempt hair. Her neck felt bare without the cold, heavy weight of the pearls, but she didn’t feel motivated to put them on: instead, she had opted for a darker, more severe look that was reminiscent of her mother, or funeral clothes. She was near manic and feverish, trying to peer through a veil of distortion and brightness. Today, the Rousure was mostly empty, and the water had been turned off for some repairs to the worn pipe system. Not even a single breath stirred the air of the lobby, and the lake and mountain beyond were cloaked in the gray shadow of a cold, bitter day. The only sound that permeated the air was the soft ticking of the grandfather clock behind her. Unknowingly, she began to rap her nails on the desk, quickly, and in a messy and disjointed rhythm.
The silence settled under her skin like shards of glass while Rue’s mind was cloaked and woven with blinding and reeling thoughts. On such a cold, gray day, the few remaining guests the Rousure had were cozied up in their rooms, quiet and demure. That was good for her: she had to begin planning some sort of event...maybe a ball, a costumed masquerade for the town...anything to breathe life into the slowly crumbling Rousure. Rue would be the one pioneering all of it.
Sitting behind the front desk wasn’t doing her any good. Though she usually wouldn’t think of leaving her post, glamorizations and visions of a Rousure bursting at the seams with golden and silver guests wrapped in beautiful gowns like pigs dressed for the slaughter lulled her out from its confines. She had to steady herself on the wall as she rose to her feet, and turned her eyes toward the elevator doors, peering at her like two large, golden eyes. No one would come to the front desk anyways.
The walk through the elevator lobby was familiar, though a bit wobbly, and she reached those brassy doors, some residents’ pearly gates, with a few stumbles. Instead of going to the 10th Floor, though, Rue hit the 14th Floor, planning on going up to the observation deck. She got as far as stepping into the inside of the elevator.
It did not move, nor did the elevator doors close. Rue’s first feeling was bright, bleary confusion. First the pipes had to be repaired, and now the elevators? The elevators did not break often. Rue was by her lonesome in the Rousure lobby, save for the maintenance pair Todd and Dustin somewhere in the nearby basement, and she staggered back toward the front desk with the intention of leaving one of her famous hot pink sticky notes for them to look at it, despite her vague delirium. How can I host a ball if the elevator isn’t working? Rue’s face pulled into a pout, and she struggled to hold one of the black pens in her hand.
But when she noticed her office door cracked open from the corner of her eye, she paused.
Darkness yawned beyond the crack of the door, but the opaqueness of it sent an unusual sense of chills down her spine, cutting through the bright dreamstate she had been waltzing through. Rue felt suddenly alienated by its intensity. For a moment, she only looked at it, the same way a rabbit would stare down a snake that was poised to strike. She was (mostly) certain she had left her office door locked and closed, and felt her throat constrict. Panic began to wrap its sinews around her, tightening its grip. It was happening again. The cold and dark was back.
Then, doubts. She imagined Harvey was here with her, and managed to let out a sharp breath. Perhaps she had left it open. Perhaps Mindy had to run inside and grab something before her shift had ended. Rue walked toward her office door, wobbly, and slammed it shut with a surprising jolt of fear racing up her spine. When she heard the sound of something clattering on the other side, something inside her snapped, and her golden, joyful delirium had been replaced by something dark, cold, and strangling. Rue flung the door open with a violent intensity, scrambling for the light switch in the same way she did in Room 1012.
Selene sat in her office chair, swiveling around in it the same way Rue herself often did.
She was dead, so Rue knew she was hallucinating in the same way she had done on the 10th Floor days before: but that fact alone seemed far removed from what she was seeing. The pale-skinned, dark-haired woman looked at her with a bone-chilling smile. It felt like a block of ice had seeped down her throat and dropped into her stomach, pushing her through the ground to six feet under. Rue stumbled back instinctually, reaching her hand up to her throat to clutch the pearls that were no longer there, or, maybe, she was reaching for air. It felt like it had been ripped from her lungs harsh enough to cause her to bleed.
No, Selene was wearing the pearls, she saw, though dimly. A full-body feeling of shadowy dread spiraled deep into Rue’s bones, as if the apparition were pressing her full body against her, cold and oppressive. Blinking fast, Rue winced as Selene’s eyes flickered to life, emitting a golden glow that reminded Rue of the elevator buttons of the Rousure, the lamps, or its empty, hollow accessories.
Rue rubbed her eyes, but Selene didn’t fade away like an apparition. On the contrary, the tall, lithe woman rose to her feet, moving past Rue’s shiny desk that smelled like lemons and wood and home. This time, she didn’t stay to learn what would happen if Selene got close enough. Rue pelted out of her office like a spooked cat, still on uneasy footing, streaking down the lobby and toward the grand, front doors that now looked more like the doors to a cell than ones she could walk out of.
The air that moved in and out of her lungs and throat felt like it had been set on fire, but panic sent her into a frenzy. Rue collided into the doors with a horrifying thud, pressing and slamming her palms into the bulletproof glass with growing fervor and hysteria. She felt close to throwing up, and desperation raced through her veins to the point where sensibility was far beyond her reaches.
The doors suddenly gave under her weight, opening up back toward her. She would have fallen backwards if not for Harvey catching her. His face looked the same way it had when she had glimpsed it swimming through vapor: unfocused, unclear, unfamiliar.
“It’s a pull, not a push, Rue.”
That wasn’t Harvey’s voice she heard. It was her own, reflected back to her from some dark orifice of the Rousure’s blackened, beating heart. Rue was gagging, but on what, she couldn’t tell: it may have just been panic. A cold, biting hand grabbed the back of her neck, forcing her to swivel her head around. Bone-chilling cold pumped into her veins, and Nisha’s pale, severe face and dark, lacquered eyes mocked her. Her tongue was as dark and black as a whip, and it slashed Rue as Nisha spit in her face.
“I knew you could never do it. Look at this place! Falling apart, just like you,” Nisha cooed, gripping her by the chin to force her to meet her eyes. It was just like when she was a child again, and Rue felt small and slimy underneath her mother’s unkind gaze. “Even that detective of yours thinks you can’t handle this, and he’s right! You think a ball can fix this? A silly little dance? You insolent child! You don’t belong here! How dare you bring my hotel into desolation!”
At that, something brittle inside Rue’s chest snapped, and she slapped Nisha across the face as anger, hot and fiery, blasted through the ice in her veins that Nisha’s touch inspired. Nisha recoiled, and Rue didn’t deny herself the grin and satisfaction that seeing the brittle, skeletal form of the dead woman stumble. Rue rose to her own feet, grinning, but it lacked all kinds of kindness.
“You stupid woman!” Rue said, barking out a maniacal, distraught laugh as she scoured the lobby for something, anything. Her eyes found it, hungry and seeking. It was a bright and golden fire iron, resting by the marble fireplace that often burned in the hotel lobby. Now, it was filled only with ashes. Rue staggered toward it, picking it up in her hand, and the comfortable weight of it resting in her palm sent a thrill rushing down her spine. Bile burned in the back of her throat. No more.
Nisha turned to face her, snarling and wicked. Whatever softening Rue had hoped death would have on Nisha, she realized her mistake: if anything, Nisha had become more foul as she lay in the cold and dark earth, and the stench of it hit her nose, mixed with the lavender and soap from Selene. Rue felt like she was splitting. Holding the fire iron in her hand, she felt a brief moment of hesitation. Did she really want to kill her mother? Could I?
“You’re spineless,” Nisha hissed, and Rue’s resolve hardened. “You don’t have what it takes to run a hotel, let alone do anything with that thing in your hand! You’re a coward, Rue: you always have been. You never face anything head on!”
Rue felt something move outside of herself, and she ran forward, suddenly seeing things in a more startling clarity than she ever had before. Her mother’s pale, high cheek-boned face, the tilt of her mocking smile in her thin lips, dark, greedy eyes...the golden fire iron burned in her grip, as hot and bright as a star, and Rue sent it plunging through Nisha’s chest, where she imagined her heart used to be, putting all her weight behind it as it split and cut through bone with a crack that she could feel travel up the iron.
A throaty, animalistic howl shattered Rue’s thoughts, and the sight of hot, sticky scarlet blood weeping onto the floor made her stumble backward, scarcely breathing. Todd clutched at his chest, sputtering and gagging, and Rue felt entirely numbed by shock. Nisha’s ghostly apparition was gone. Todd crumpled to his knees, and the shock of it reverberated up into her legs, but she held on steady to the fire iron. Blood bubbled and spurted out of his mouth as he coughed, reaching for her with his large, stubby fingers. Grief and rage tore through her chest like a ragged ravine, marked there by the blade of her mother’s hand, and Rue gritted her teeth against the hot tears that had begun to stream down her cheeks. She was delirious.
“Todd? Is everything alright?” She heard Dustin’s voice call, that trusted, long-time Dustin who had always brought her a cup of coffee with foam in the shape of a heart on her birthday. Rue had to choke back the sobbing screams that threatened to pour out of her mouth, and she felt the weight of them crash into the back of her gritted teeth. Something clattered to the floor, and Dustin was there, frantically sliding to the ground beside Todd. They were twins.
“R-Rue? What happened? Did you see--” When Dustin turned to look at her and caught sight of the bloodied iron in her hand, his face went pale with fear. She decided that she would make sure that he never felt it.
Rue brought her arm back, and slammed the iron into Dustin’s head with all of her body weight poured into it, close to relishing the splintering crack that cut through her chest like a whirlwind. It only meant that he didn’t suffer. Rue was sputtering and sobbing, close to delirious, and she wasn’t sure if the sounds she was making were screams, sobs, apologies, curses, or all of them wrapped into one. Everything was burning too bright. She felt like she was on fire. The colors and textures of the veined marble floor, the gaudy pillars, and the light glinting off the sconces like jagged teeth aimed toward her, cutting into her eyes with stabbing points of life. Her thoughts raced around each other like a forest fire, unable to connect and create a coherent thought, and Rue’s breathing was ragged and heavy. She couldn’t let Harvey see this. She couldn’t.
Rue dropped the iron with a sickening clatter, barely looking at the crimson blood that stained her manicured hands, and took off down the hallway, ripping open the door in the lobby that was labeled DEEP SINK with an animalistic ferocity. She didn’t turn on the light this time. Crashing into the room and greedily rushing inside with open palms, she found the gasoline canister easily. It was what they used to help light the large fireplace in the lobby, and the stench of it cut through the sticky, metallic taste of blood in her mouth. She didn’t know whose it was.
Rue tore open a drawer in the room, rummaging her shaking hands through it with ragged breaths. When her sticky hand found the familiar box of matches, she felt relief flow through her veins. Wasting no time, and barely thinking, Rue moved on the deep-seated flame of panic that coursed through her veins, making her heartbeat pound painfully in her chest. It felt like it was going to burst past her ribs.
Rue began dousing the lobby with gasoline, barely sparing a thought to the residents on higher floors: the bloodied and crumpled bodies of Todd and Dustin were the only things she could see. No one was at the glass doors, and Rue made sure to splash gasoline on the lush curtains, in the fireplace, and gave it one last, large, and spinning arc across the room, breathless from sobbing. The cries had begun to scathe their way up her throat, raw and burning, wracking her body entirely with their weight so that there was barely enough room for air to enter her lungs. She hadn’t meant to kill them. She didn’t want to lose the Rousure, but Nisha had made it feel like that it had never, and never could be, hers at all. Harvey was all she had left. Maybe Harvey was all she had ever had, to begin with.
The first lit match fell too easily from her hands, burning bright and gold and full of promise, and Rue began lighting as many as she could, giving life to those little, tiny hungry flames that would devour everything that she had ever hated and loved. When the flames had begun to burn orange and scarlet and began to scale toward the ceiling, Rue fled through the hotel doors, swallowing against the fresh air that barrelled into her lungs. She almost fell on the ground outside, nearly skinning her knees, and turned to look back one, last time.
The lobby’s glass doors and windows, staring at her like eyes in the mournful face of the Rousure, glowed. Flames leapt tall and high toward the arched ceilings, and Rue, for the first time in her life, felt like she was truly hurting the memory of her mother. It almost felt good. Almost.
Rue gagged against the urge to vomit, running the back of her hand across her face to wipe the dripping snot away from her nose. Gasping for air against her heaving sobs, Rue fumbled into her car and turned on the ignition, ripping out of the parking lot at too high of a speed. The Rousure burned in her rearview, haunting and beautiful, and she stepped on the gas pedal even harder. The evergreen trees began to blur around the sides of her car, becoming as green and indistinct as the sea that pounded the rocky shores of Moorwich. Her vision began to blur but, this time, it was obscured purely by tears.
When the other car rammed into her as she sped through a stop sign, crashing into the driver’s side with a sickening screech, Harvey burned through her mind like a shooting star: then, the taste of blood bubbling into her mouth, and the yawning cry of metal screeching and breaking. The windshield had shattered with a musical sound like rain, cutting small rivulets of blood across her face and arms that stung against the fresh air. Something had lodged itself into her side, but the agony of it hadn’t reached her yet. She coughed and sputtered against the blood pooling into her stomach that tried to get out through her mouth. Everything was suddenly quieter than it had been in a long time, and Rue almost felt peace.
She imagined she could smell the sweet scent of smoke carried by the forest winds, and not even the other driver was moving. Everything was quiet, except for the soft rustling of the evergreen trees that hugged the side of the roadway, jostled by a gentle breeze. The night was sweet and silent. Rue listened to it, beginning to feel her eyelids want to close. Her strength was draining, and it could be a while before anyone found them. The fire at the Rousure took priority. She was sure it had been reported by now. The flames were probably high and bright, and she imagined she could feel the warmth of them slipping over her skin. The thought of it almost made her smile.
A pair of golden headlights roving across her strewn body barely reached her. A car coming this quickly was strange, unless it was just some other Moorwich resident, out on a peaceful night drive. Rue’s gaze was blearly and fading, and she just managed to see a tall figure, shaped in the form of an I or salvation, step into the light.