3LBE #15
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The Rubee

Laura Cooney

 

Do you see how nice it is when we agree?” The Rubee said to the woman hanging from the ceiling.

With the ball gag in her mouth, Rita was hardly in a position to answer. The slack in the ropes was definitely an improvement, however.

My wrists…throbbing. No more cutting in…

“The throbbing feels like healing, doesn’t it?”

The Rubee took the gag out of Rita’s mouth. He wanted to hear the acquiescence in her voice. Emotional nuance didn’t come through very well with telepathy.

Rita coughed and then spit up.

“Better, thas, better…”

The Rubee wiped the saliva off on her dress.

“Your dress feels nice. Is it silk?”

“Yes.” Rita nodded.

The Rubee smiled.

The pain left her. Rita pictured herself in a tank top and shorts, sticking her head in the freezer on a 95-degree day. She didn’t want to move from there.

“We are thirsty together,” Rita said.

Her voice blended together with The Rubee’s. They said the phrase over and over. Rita didn’t know which voice was hers and which his or what the fuck it meant.

“You see now that I don’t like hurting you,” The Rubee said. “When I hurt you, it’s because of the way you act. Your fate is in your hands.”

That’s awfully self-serving.

The ropes got tighter around her wrists. The talons of the Rubee dug deep into her calves.

“I didn’t mean that!” Rita cried.

“You disagreed with me.”

“No, I didn’t! I know it’s my fault, Rubee.”

The air was gone from the room and it became very hot. “Close,” as her mother liked to say. She imagined the walls moving in on her, could almost hear the sound of concrete slabs scraping the floor. Blood dripped from her nose as the caterpillars burrowed inside her nostrils.

“It’s easier to agree, isn’t it?” The Rubee said.

“I agree.”

The Rubee laughed. “When you agree, there is no pain. No one feels any hurt.”

“I don’t want to hurt you,” Rita said.

“I wish you really cared, Rita.”

The Rubee removed his talons from her and sat down on the couch. He stared up at Rita and watched the sweat and blood pour off her.

“There’s so many opinions in the world, Rita. So many different opinions. So many who disagree with me. The mere thought of it is exhausting.”

The Rubee propped his elbows up on his thighs and covered his face in his hands.

Rita screamed as burning green liquid went into her eyes. She had the most curious sensation of pins and needles in her head.

“Why do you make me hurt you?” The Rubee asked, sadly.

The little brown sparrows took their cue and flew in the window. They were such cute and obedient creatures. Their little beaks grabbed strands of Rita’s long black hair and pulled. Rita screamed.

“Not the hair,” The Rubee said. “I like the hair.”

The sparrows flew lower and began pulling soft blonde hair and bits of flesh from her arms.

“I LIKE SILK! SILK FEELS NICE!” Rita shouted.

The Rubee smiled. The sparrows flew out the window.

“Silk feels so nice and soft and smooth, doesn’t it?” The Rubee said. “I like silk too.”

“I love silk. I love silk. I love silk.”

“Are you making fun of me?” The Rubee asked.

“No. I love you, Rubee. You are so smart and powerful and strong.”

The Rubee smiled. “Now, you’re embarrassing me.”

“Cut me down,” Rita said. “Let’s go out on the town.”

The Rubee picked bits of flesh from his talons. His face was scrunched up, like one of those wrinkled dogs.

“Geez, I hate getting shit under my nails.”

“Rubee,” Rita said, forcing herself to smile. “How about sushi tonight?”

The Rubee nodded, smiling. He cut the ropes Rita hung from with the talons of his right hand. Rita collapsed onto the floor. She was tired and wanted to stay with her nose in the soft brown shag, inhaling the blood and rotted flesh.

But The Rubee was a sensitive creature and he’d be hurt if she remained lying prostrate on the carpet.

She raised herself up by her arms. She hoped the shakiness in her muscles wasn’t obvious or the Rubee would accuse her of being a “drama queen” and hang her out the window headfirst.

“I don’t know why I’m so sleepy,” she said, as she forced herself to stand and open her swollen eyes.

• • •

The Rubee ‘s talons sliced through the fresh raw fish so skillfully and fast and with such grace that Rita forgot her mortification. The Rubee took his eyes off the red tuna piece he worked on to look over at her and smile.

The sushi chef sat huddled on the floor, next to a huge karate trophy. His face was between his knees and his hands covered the top of his head like he was expecting something to fall down on him. A puddle of blood formed a crescent at his feet.

The chef let out a soft moan. Rita turned and stared at the little gold man on the top of the trophy who kicked at the air. She wished he’d come alive and bring down his golden foot into the bulging red eyes of the Rubee.

Too late to take the thought back! Too late!

“Is that really what you want, Rita?”

“I was just joking. Isn’t it funny how with sushi the fish has such a clean smell to it? You really have a way with sushi. Some might say you’re an artist.”

“Would you like to see that little man come to life?”

The sliced fish are like an artist’s palette, Rita thought. Beautiful shining pastels of orange and pink lay on the board beside white and silver bits of fish and the translucent orange beads of salmon roe. She wanted to grab the roe off the table and kneel down and say the rosary.

A little gold foot came down from above and set itself on the silvery top of the mackerel. The little man kept his right foot in the air as he spun around on the sushi.

The Rubee laughed.

“He’s very good, isn’t he, Rita?”

“He’s not as good as you are, Rubee.”

The little man leapt into the air, hovering by Rita’s throat like he was Peter Pan. He kicked out his foot and entered the delicate white flesh, digging in like a drill, spinning round and round until he formed a tracheotomy hole. When he took his foot out, the blood poured from the hole like soy sauce from a no-drip bottle.

Rita touched her neck. She used her thumb to plug the hole. Her green eyes were wide as she stared at the little man, hovering like a gnat in front of her face. She backed away, swatting the air. The gold man raised his arms up. His legs were spread apart in a split.

Rita collapsed on the floor. The Rubee dismissed the little man with a wave of his talon. He returned to his place on the top of the trophy.

“Rita, will you die? Are you going to die tonight, Rita?” The Rubee asked.

He crouched down beside her, watching the blood pour down her neck. Striped red and white like a peppermint candy or a barber pole. The Rubee told the neck to turn, and turn, and turn.

With all these unisex salons, you didn’t see many barber poles anymore. No, everything was sexless and sterile and bland. Where could you find a wooden Indian these days? A woman turning into a gorilla at a sideshow? A chicken with a chain around its foot playing the piano for twenty-five cents worth of feed?

The Rubee stopped up the bleeding hole with his talon. Rita would not die tonight.

• • •

The Rubee put his nose to Rita’s hair and sniffed the strawberry scent of her shampoo. Her hair was long and black and shined like a seal’s skin.

Wonderful, wonderful, The Rubee thought.

Rita sat up in bed and smiled at him. She held her arm out in front of her.

“Rubee, look at all the beautiful scars on my arm.”

She traced the scratches and scrapes, the burn marks and the blisters, the raised welts and the black and blue marks that made her look like a spoiled fruit.

“So lovely,” he said, taking her arm between his talons.

His talon pierced her forearm, a thin line of blood rose up slowly. Rita put her finger in the cut and spread it over her arm and on her lips. She put her mouth up to the Rubee’s and they kissed.

“So beautiful. So beautiful,” The Rubee said.

“I love all the colorings and the subtle shadings,” The Rubee said, looking down at her arm again. “Degrees of pinkness.”

Rita smiled and wiped the blood from her mouth.

“Look at this one here,” The Rubee said, touching a long narrow scratch that was bordered by raised white fragments of skin. “It’s a very light pink. It’s creamy, creamy, like cake frosting.”

Rita giggled. The Rubee liked how her eyes narrowed into slits when she laughed and her thick pink lips seemed to grow larger and softer.

“It’s like cake frosting,” Rita repeated.

The Rubee touched a large round bruise on her shoulder.

“Look at this one, Rita. This one is a bruised apple.”

Looking at Rita’s widening smile, her sleepy-eyed contentment, The Rubee felt the anger and hatred rising up in him.

“You’re a bad apple, Rita.”

The Rubee’s talons were around her throat. Rita closed her eyes, but he could still see her fear very clearly.

“Rubee, don’t,” she said softly.

The Rubee relaxed. Rita’s rising tension soothed him. He took his talons from her neck. He was obsessed with inflicting injury on that one area and it showed. The skin was too delicate and pretty to take that kind of punishment. He promised himself that from now on, he’d concentrate on her other areas.

Rita put her arms around him, buried her face in his shoulder, and cried.

“I love you so, so, much,” she said.

• • •

It was raining and it was night. A time that was especially fine for the Rubee. The puddles on the city street were shallow streams of darkness that could pull you down to the center of the earth if you walked too near them. Thin crooked trees lined the curb; the trees were surrounded on four sides by metal bars. Their branches became fingers in the darkness that could wiggle into your back pocket and remove your wallet. And that was the truth about petty larceny that the Rubee knew. And the metal fences around the trees didn’t do shit. And the trees were pissed about all the cigar shaped turds that were laid at their roots by the lap dogs of women in mink coats.

When they first met, Rita didn’t believe any of the things he told her about the strange powers of the night, the fantastical things that took place before everyone’s eyes. Not at first. Not when he cited Poe’s Purloined Letter as proof we can’t see what’s right in front of us. Not when a dove appeared suddenly in the sky and laid a red rose at her feet. She was touched, but she did not believe.

She didn’t believe until the alley cats gathered on her fire escape. There were about eighty or ninety of them, all sizes and colors, staring in from the darkness with glowing green cat eyes. Their plaintive mewling spoke to her free-floating guilt.

They terrified her. She didn’t know why. The iron grating over the window reassured her. Rita turned out the light even though she knew that cats could see in the dark.

Then the Rubee told her again that strange magic happened in the night and she could tell by his tone that he was angry she didn’t believe him. She didn’t believe until the iron bars bent and the cats came streaming in, all of them, yowling and jumping on top of her, biting and tearing at her skin, scratching her all over her body and peeing on her head.

The Rubee sat quietly in a plush blue chair and watched.

“Do you believe now?” he asked.

And when she screamed a fervent and agonized “YES!” the cats left the same way they came in, but this time silently.

Tonight they were going to a party. Rita used to like parties. Not anymore. Not since she’d been dating The Rubee.

But the parties were always dull. Sitting, smoking, talking, drinking. Nothings talking about nothing. The Rubee brings life to parties.

The Rubee was amused. “Rita, I’m not a life bringer. I’m a bringer of death.”

“Let’s not go to any boring old party, Rubee. I want to just have you all to myself.”

“You’re ashamed to be seen with me.”

“No, of course I’m not. I just can’t stand those people anymore. They’re assholes, Rubee. I don’t have to tell you that.”

The Rubee smiled. “But, my dear, that’s precisely WHY I want to go.”

A chill came over her. She smiled back at the Rubee.

“Are you sure, honey?”

“I am positive.”

• • •

Rita glanced nervously at Lance’s cigarette. The Rubee didn’t like smoking.

She knew if she told Lance to put it out, the Rubee would feel her fear all the way from the buffet table.

Lance nodded to her and took a sip of his scotch.

“Hey, Lance. How goes it?”

Lance pointed to his glass. “It’s gone!”

“I thought you quit.”

“Huh?” Lance looked down at his cigarette. “Not me, man. Ain’t no fascist health dictators gonna tell me what to do.”

“What about me?” The Rubee said as he came up behind Rita with a drink.

“What about you?” Lance asked.

He took a deep drag and then blew the smoke in the Rubee’s direction. Rita caressed the feathers on The Rubee’s arm. She shook her head at Lance and pretended to laugh.

“Who’s the weird looking dude?” Lance asked her.

Oh, stop it, Lance. This is my significant other.”

“Other what?” Lance said and grinned.

“I think you’d like to apologize to me,” The Rubee said.

“Don’t think so, man.”

Lance’s glass shattered, but the pieces remained floating in the air. He uncurled his hand from around the pieces and blinked.

“That is fucked,” he said.

The shards flew up to his eyes. Lance stared stupidly at them as they circled around his head.

“You doing this man?” he said.

“Would you like to apologize now?” The Rubee asked.

Lance laughed. “Nah, man.”

The shards formed two straight lines, each group hovering by a dark eye. Lance ducked, the lines of glass ducked with him, as if attached by an invisible cord.

“Neat trick,” said Lance.

“Rubee, I have a migraine. Can we please leave before I puke?” Rita asked.

“Shut-up,” said the Rubee.

Rita’s mouth stiffened. She felt a syrupy substance dripping from her numbed lips. The slowly hardening substance soldered together her lips. She hated when the Rubee did this to her.

The shards spun like pinwheels as they entered his eyes. Lance screamed as the fragments of glass penetrated his eyeballs and dug through to his brain. Blood dripped from the corners of his eyes. The screaming stopped. He looked liked a sad clown.

Lance’s lips quivered as he formed a smile.

Rita closed her eyes. She knew the Rubee was deeply insulted.

A long low moan sounded from The Rubee’s throat. It felt as deep and dank and mournful as a trip through the catacombs.

The sticky red floor vibrated like a subway car. The dishes and glasses shook and clinked on tables all round the room. Rita wrapped her arms around her chest and steadied herself.

The Rubee’s mouth opened wide and the sound that came forth was somewhere between a scream and a howl. It was a sonic invasion of sorrow and rage and shame. The plates fell as the tables tipped over and hit the floor. A crack formed in the red linoleum. The ceiling crumbled. The people in the room were covered in dust.

Rita looked over timidly at Lance. His eyeballs hung loose from his sockets, red and pulpy. Blood came out of his ears and his nose and his mouth. The mouth still managed to hold itself together with a smile. White plaster dust covered his face making him look ever more clown-like.

The Rubee’s screams were like lashes. People fell to the ground, crawling toward the exit. Lance spread his arms out wide, wobbling, but still standing and smiling. He reached out for Rita’s hand.

Rita swallowed and took her arms from her chest. She held her shaking hand out. Her fingers touched Lance’s.

The Rubee continued howling. The bonding between Rita’s lips broke and she opened her mouth and gulped air. The floor was full of long cracked openings. Black clawed hands came up out of the cracks and grabbed legs, torsos and arms of crawling partiers and pulled them into the abyss.

The Rubee grabbed Rita’s arm and pulled her away from Lance. “That’s it, we’re leaving.”

Rita glanced back at Lance, standing alone in the middle of the cracked floor. He looked like something you’d stumble across in a war movie. The guy in the battlefield with half a face who begged you to shoot him. She gave Lance a three-fingered salute and walked out the door with the Rubee.

“Well, that was a bust,” Rita said.

• • •

The Rubee wrapped a feathered arm around Rita’s bare back and shoulders. Rita relaxed into the warmth and looked up at the black sky and the half moon that was barely visible in the swirl of fog.

She felt strong and protected. She smiled, thinking of how weak and helpless they all were. That was her boyfriend who opened up the floor and tossed those idiots to the ground with the sheer force of his voice.

The Rubee smiled at Rita’s thoughts.

“We are thirsty together,” he said.

“What does that mean, Rubee?”

“Ah!”

The Rubee stopped by a thin, almost bare little tree incarcerated inside a little metal fence. He plucked a narrow pale green leaf from its branch. The last leaf on the tree. It stood naked while the Rubee cursed at it.

The Rubee held the leaf in his hand.

“Do you see what it tried to take?”

Rita stared at the leaf and shook her head.

“Did it steal your wallet, Rubee?”

“Not at all! Look!”

As Rita stared at the leaf it began changing slowly. It curled into a ball and hardened and then turned into red sparkly glass.

“Pretty.”

“Do you know what it is?”

Rita opened her mouth wide and made a sound that was halfway between a gasp and a laugh.

“It’s not a ruby, is it?”

“No! Dammit, woman. It’s something of yours. Something you own that’s more precious than a gem.”

“What is it, then?”

The Rubee rolled his eyes.

“This is your strength, Rita. This is yours. It’s more precious than a pearl.”

“But strength isn’t something you can touch, Rubee. It’s abstract.”

“God, why do you never believe what I tell you?”

The Rubee tossed the red stone into the alleyway.

“Rubee!”

The Rubee smiled. “See how well you get along without it.”

• • •

Rita pressed her face into the pillow. She couldn’t speak. She didn’t want to talk. Her chest felt heavy, waterlogged. There was burning along the bridge of her nose and at the bottom of her eyes. She felt it coming and then it came. The wet. Her nose dripped warm sticky water and tears flowed down her cheeks.

And all she could do was wonder: Why am I here? Why am I alive?

She imagined sticking a knife into her wrist and and slicing the skin to her elbow. But she was too tired to actually do it. So tired and weak, but unable to sleep.

The Rubee walked by the bed. He stopped and looked down at her.

“Hello, Rita.”

When she answered him, her voice was faint, barely a whisper. The Rubee did not even know that she spoke.

She wasn’t able to make herself talk louder. It was like there were reins around her throat, controlling the volume and inflection of her voice.

“Rita?”

It was a tiny fairy voice; it was a puff of smoke, floating silently in the air.

“Are you okay?”

And the “no” went unnoticed. The hurt remained unknown, even to her.

Whatever it was, was sweet and sticky and solid in her throat. It coated her speech and made her chest ache.

“No,” she repeated. The word was a goose feather that descended slowly and then fell to the floor.

The Rubee smiled. “Cat got your tongue?”

Oh, he knew. The bastard knew. He did this.

• • •

Rita fell asleep and dreamed. The dream was a formula plot. Seven disparate people brought together by seven disparate motives to a single location. Some didn’t get along, and others fell in love, and then danger hit, and in the danger each one was revealed.

And, oh yes, they were trapped. And, yes, there was no way of escape. Except for the attractive couple who were pure of heart and who just met and were madly in love. It was all preordained.

And you, middle-aged man with the bad toupee and the New York accent, who made your fortune by swindling old ladies, who argues incessantly with the others that are trapped with him. You are a racist and mean to your wife, and you must die. And the kindly old woman who knits and melts our hearts, you must die as well.

The good and the bad and the beautiful and the ugly — all must be dispatched by the sharp teeth of an unknown creature or by jungle natives or as a result of the negligence and greed of a fat cat businessman whose cutting of corners for a bigger piece of the pie ends up creating disasters in large transportation devices or in very big buildings.

Yeah, that’s the kind of dream Rita had.

When she woke up, she couldn’t remember what was the danger they were all trying so desperately to escape. She remembered valiantly getting her laundry done in spite of it, and she recalled a scene with two homely middle-aged men, both wearing bad toupees, falling in love and making out on the floor, which was made of wooden planks and all the while she was watching them, thinking, “I can’t believe those two old classy actors would slip each other the tongue like that. The studio must be paying them a bundle.”

• • •

“Rubee, do you love me?” Rita asked.

“I do feel something for you. I don’t know if it’s love.”

“It’s over for me, Rubee. I’m foggy and full in a bad way.”

“You miss the torture.”

“Would that help me, you think? If you cut me would that release the pressure?”

“Would you like me to cut you, Rita?”

“Yes, Rubee.”

The Rubee lifted up her nightgown and exposed her belly. He stuck in a talon just below her breasts and made a little hole. The quick hot prick of pain felt good. The sweet heavy clump drained out of her head.

“You like this, Rita?”

“Yes, Rubee.”

He sliced her down to the belly button. The air stung the wound and the blood flowed up and soothed the skin.

Rita put her hand on the cut. She rubbed back and forth very fast so that the pain would keep burning. Beneath her hand, something was forming. She thought it was a blister or a welt, but it kept growing and hardened into a cold round ball.

She lifted up her hand and saw the red jewel sitting in her wound.

“Rubee, look! My strength.”

The Rubee picked it off her belly and tossed it out the window.

“Rubee! Why did you do that?”

The Rubee shrugged. “It’s shit.”

Rita felt the pain creep up her neck. The light hurt her eyes.

The seven people from her dream were waiting when she passed out.

Wake up, they told her. Get the ruby.

The Rubee?

“No, the ruby, asshole!” The rude New York swindler said.

“Please dear,” the kindly old woman said.

Rita stared at the huge pink sock she was knitting.

“Okay.”

• • •

This might be the worst day of my life, Rita thought as she opened her eyes. She knew what she had to do, but how could she oppose the Rubee?

So she rubbed and rubbed and rubbed. Please form! Please form! she said.

She gave carpet burns to her skin, frantically rubbing, while the Rubee stood by, amused.

Amused, that is, until she formed the red ball. She picked it up off her belly as the Rubee moved toward her.

“Give it here, Rita,” he said.

“What do I do?” she asked, holding the red jewel in her hand.

“You don’t need it. I will give you strength.”

The Rubee held out his talons.

“Shall I drink this?” she asked. “Are we thirsty together?”

The Rubee shook his head. “No.”

She drank the cherry tasting liquid inside the red ball.

She drank and knew. And she knew what to do. The Rubee knew too. He backed away.

“We are thirsty together,” she said.

“Please, don’t,” the Rubee said.

Rita took the Rubee’s knife and sliced him from chest to pubis.

And seven people walked out of his body. Wet with blood and pus and saliva and shit, like babies born, ruddy, crying, hair plastered to their heads. She recognized them as the people from her dream.

The Rubee lay on the floor like discarded clothing, flat and lifeless except for the feathers, which resembled a boa.

“Come, Rita,” said the kindly old woman.

Rita shook her head. The handsome blonde hero nodded to her and smiled.

She kept on shaking her head as they approached.

They stopped and formed a circle around Rita.

The old woman took a knitting needle out of her purse and stabbed Rita in the eye.

Rita screamed and fell to the floor. She held her hand over her eye, crying.

The seven of them pulled her by the arms over to the discarded shell of the Rubee. The feathers and skin wrapped around her tightly. It felt like burning rubber on her body. And as the heat shrunk her body, she could feel the Rubee come to life.

She was thirsty, so thirsty in the burning pit that was the Rubee. And with the seven people from her dream around her, they spoke as one voice. The voice of the Rubee.

“We are thirsty together.”

Rita still didn’t know what it meant, but she knew what it felt like.

 

 

Laura Cooney was born and raised in Queens, New York and lived there until she developed a strange aversion for the letter R, at which point she moved to the Boston area. Her work has appeared in Gothic.net, Horrorfind.com, Lullaby Hearse and Bloodlust-UK. Laura wrote the Foreword and jacket copy to “Luck Was A Stranger,” a memoir written by her father, William R. Cooney. She shares space with her husband and fellow horror writer L. L. Soares, and their pet iguana, Lemmy.


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ISSUE #15

Summer 2005

FICTION