Remembering Rue: Part Two
They stepped off the boat and Rue clutched her arms as a chill wind blew toward them. Rubbing her forearms, the young Krawk wished that she didn’t have a threadbare short-sleeved dress as her only clothes. Maybe Ruth would have something warmer once they got to her house.
Ruth seemed to be more used to the cold. She stepped off the cobblestones near the dock and didn’t flinch as her loafers crunched through the snow. Rue followed her mother, stepping carefully to avoid the wet puddles of slush and keeping to the drier snow.
Happy Valley wasn’t as crowded as Neopia Central had been, but it still had a fairly large population. Most of the pets here were painted Christmas or had long, thick fur or feathers. Rue didn’t see many Hissis, Techos, or Krawks like herself—scales wouldn’t do much good here. She stayed close to Ruth’s side and looked around at the laughing people, many of whom seemed to be drinking hot cocoa or borovan. She looked up and saw, silhouetted against the mountain, a clockwork ski lift heading upwards, its lines stretching toward the sky and disappearing over the peak. The seats were empty now, and they did not move. Rue looked and saw that several lines were tangled and hung loose, looped hopelessly. Her eyes fell downward to see a seat that had fallen from the lift and lay half-buried in the snow, the back smashed against the mountainside.
And she remembered.
It was like a glimpse into her past; nothing more. But it was one she remembered vividly.
Rue stood in front of the lift. Now it was up and running, the lines stark against the darkening sky.
A young boy, who she did not know, yanked on Rue’s arm. He had pale green scales and bright, dark eyes that looked up at her eagerly. “Rue! Rue! Let’s ride the lift!”
Rue sighed, half-shutting her eyes so that the boy wouldn’t see her roll them. In her unoccupied hand, she held a frayed rope attached to a wooden sled.
“Please?” the boy begged.
“We’ve already been up tons of times,” Rue groaned.
“Just one more time? Please?”
“It’s getting dark, Stacey. Mom will want us home.”
“Aw,” the boy sighed. He looked toward the ground, a tear welling up in his eye.
“Fine,” Rue hissed. “Just don’t cry, okay?” She dragged the boy and the sled toward the lift. There was no way she was going to walk a screaming, crying five-year-old through the street.
“Hooray!” Stacey cried, throwing up his arms in the air and running toward the lift. A Lenny stood there, pushing some buttons.
“Can we go on?” Stacey asked the man.
“The last people just got off,” the Lenny answered.
“Please? Just one more time!”
“Fine,” the Lenny sighed, but he grinned down at the boy. “But really, if you ride too much on that sled, you might wear it out.”
“No way!” Stacey laughed, walking toward an empty seat and dragging Rue along after him.
“Okay,” the Lenny said, “but this is the last time, do you hear me? No matter how cute you look with your front teeth missing, I am not going to cave into you one more time. Got it?”
“Got it!” Stacey giggled, grinning back at the man.
“Rue! Rue!” a voice shouted, and this time it wasn’t Stacey’s. Rue’s vision cleared and Ruth stood in front of her, holding her by the shoulders and shaking her gently.
“What?” Rue mumbled.
“What happened? You just spaced out and stood there, and you wouldn’t listen to me until I grabbed you. What’s gotten into you?”
“I remembered,” Rue answered.
“R-r-remembered what?” Ruth stuttered.
“I was taking a boy to a lift,” Rue recalled. “His name was Stacey.”
Ruth went so pale that her crimson face looked pale pink. She stared at Rue, her arms dropping down to her sides.
“Who is he?” Rue asked. “And why is the lift broken?”
Ruth didn’t answer her questions. She only whispered, “Did you—did you go on the lift?”
Rue mutely shook her head.
Ruth looked more relieved, but still slightly shaken. She turned away from her daughter and began to walk briskly up the snow-covered road.
“Mom?” Rue called, the word sounding unfamiliar on her tongue. “What’s going on?”
Ruth didn’t even turn around. She only called back, “Hurry up!”
The Purple Krawk quickened her pace and hurried after her mother, but always a few fet behind her because of Ruth’s quick steps. The two veered off the main road and onto a winding side road, then past an alley and onto a little lane called Doglefox Street. There wasn’t as big a crowd here; only half a dozen pets milling around, all wearing rather ragged clothing. They entered a shop selling cloth, and an elderly Kougra sitting at the front desk smiled at Ruth. Ruth gave her a quick smile and led her daughter through the back door and up a flight of stairs.
“This is our flat,” Ruth announced, coming up the stairs and opening a small door. “We rent it from Ms. Pin—the woman downstairs—and we have two bedrooms, a bathroom, and a kitchen. The Thompsons have the other four rooms.”
The two stepped inside, and Ruth immediately strode toward her room, slamming the door shut behind her. Rue examined the flat: the entrance room doubled as the kitchen, and four doors on the longest wall led to the other rooms. But Ruth had said that there were only four rooms in their flat. So what was the extra door for? Rue doubted that the builders had just happened to build a room with two doors leading to the same room.
The door on the far left was the one that Ruth had disappeared into, and the one that Rue presumed led to her mother’s room. Rue found that the room next to Ruth’s bedroom led to the bathroom by opening that door. The Purple Krawk reached her hand toward the third doorknob and turned it.
The door opened into a small, cramped, cluttered room. Someone—Ruth, Rue guessed—had painted the words ‘Ruth Mary Grace the Second’ in black paint on the wall facing the door. Someone else had crossed out ‘Ruth’ and written in pencil ‘Rue’.
A bed was shoved into the corner. It was small and creaked when Rue sat down on it, with a fairly flat feather pillow and a patched quilt drawn over the straw-filled mattress. Papers and books littered the floor—a tiny wooden bookcase lay face-down on the ground with books littered all around it. As Rue looked at it, she had a faint recollection of someone—herself—slamming the door as Ruth shouted and kicking the bookcase over in frustration. It wasn’t as strong a memory as that of taking Stacey to the lift, but it was still a memory, and she held onto it.
It was odd, looking around the room. Most of the books and papers contained diagrams and notes on plants. There was also a tall stack opposite the door of books on magic and witchcraft. It was like looking at someone else’s room, because she couldn’t remember any of these hobbies and interests, yet they had been hers.
Rue picked up one of the books on witchcraft and examined it. Apparently she’d been more interested in the witches themselves than in the actually theory of doing magic. Flipping through an encyclopedia of general potions and spells, she found herself almost annoyed at the vagueness and uncertainty of the writer—obviously she’d never been a witch and had just written down whatever she’d heard and a bunch of nonsense words. There were several notes written in the same handwriting as the person who’d written ‘Rue’ on the wall—most of them were sharp comments about the writing at the author’s expense. Rue grinned a little, reading some of them.
There were no windows in the room, so she didn’t notice the time passing as she leaned against the wall, one elbow resting on the bookcase and the other leafing through the pages of a book. They were obviously very well-read; the pages were dog-eared and ripped and covered in notes at the margin.
She might have spent the entire day reading had her stomach not informed her that it was now well past lunchtime. Rue stuck a folded pamphlet on Sakhmet gardening conditions into the book she was reading—Sophie and Edna: A Comparison of Witchcraft In Different Regions of the Haunted Woods—and opened her door, stepping out into the kitchen and looking out the small, dirty window that was on the wall opposite her room. The sun was sinking low in the sky.
Rue stepped past the table and three empty chairs that stood in the center of the little room and began rummaging through the cupboards. Ruth was apparently still in her room; either that or she had gone out. The cupboards contained only a half-eaten loaf of bread and a knife. Rue cut herself a slice and bit into it. It wasn’t bad-tasting, but it was very stale.
Only when she was halfway through her second slice of bread did she remember the fourth door. Rue finished her lunch—or was it dinner now?—and opened the rightmost door.
It could have been her own room’s twin. There was a bed of similar design and a quilt that looked as if it had been made of the same scraps of cloth as her quilt. But instead of books and papers littering the floor, there were toys.
They were secondhand toys, Rue could tell. The plushies were stained and patched and the wooden toys were chipped and scuffed.
She turned her head away from the floor and looked up at the wall. Written there in black paint were the words ‘Eustace Jean Grace’.
The name ‘Eustace’ was crossed out.
Below it was written ‘Stacey’.
To be continued...