The 5pm bus from San Jose, California pulled away from the dilapidated stop, dimly lit by the feeble streetlight above. A small figure stood, staring after her departing ride with a palpable, forlorn longing. She wore a red hoodie over torn jeans and a pair of red converse shoes, a backpack slung over her shoulder but no other luggage, even though she had the look of a weary traveller. The girl, perhaps in her late teens, resolutely shook her head as if to clear the cobwebs, her short red-tipped brunette hair bouncing about her face, before she strode off determinedly towards her destination, a run-down looking motel that had a flickering neon sign above the main doorway which labelled it as the Wayward Motel.
Ruby Rose had set out from her home in Oakland that morning, not even sparing a glance backwards as she passed the foreclosure sign, and hitchhiked her way down to the bustling city of San Jose. She’d been on the cramped, overly-humid coach bus all day long as it traveled down Interstate 5. The brunette girl had been unable to sleep during her trip, which was likely just as well, since there were several unsavory characters travelling with her. So far she’d kept what little money she’d brought with her secure. It wasn’t much, but hopefully enough for the eighteen-year-old to start on her quest.
And it began right here in the little coastal town of Santa Monica, just on the outskirts of Hollywood and Los Angeles.
Ruby allowed herself a small smile of remembrance at the vacations she and her family used to spend down here. Back when they were whole, happy… safe.
But none of that mattered now, the important thing was to establish herself there somehow, pick up a job and some lodging before she could start her search. It might take her some time, she knew that, but she was patient.
It had been two years. She could afford to wait just a little bit longer.
As Ruby walked into the motel, the bell on the door chimed softly. A bored-looking middle-aged women looked up, her eyebrows suddenly rising in interest at the young woman that entered.
“Well, hello there, missy,” she greeted her more amicably than the brunette expected. “What can I do for ya?”
“Hi there,” she began hesitantly, shyly looking down at the counter. Damnit, even on my Big Adventure I can’t get past my social anxiety. “Umm, I was… I was wondering if…”
Her silver eyes fell upon a small sign that rested on the surface of the checkin counter, as if it had fallen from where it was originally propped up against the tourist brochure stand. A smile crept across her face as she lifted it up and turned it around to face the other woman.
“Yep, sure are, part-time maid. Evening shift. You lookin’ for a job?”
“Yes, yes I am, actually,” Ruby grinned excitedly. “Um… does it come with, like, a room here, by any chance?”
“Hmm.” The woman eyed her curiously, seemingly making up her mind on the spot regarding the petite girl. “Well, we got a little room, not much really just a converted closet. Had another maid who used to live there, till she up and disappeared about six months ago. Haven’t cleaned it any, but if you want it, it’s yours. Won’t even charge ya.”
“Oh, that’s really awesome!” Ruby exclaimed. “I mean, yes, definitely! Um, do I need to fill out an application…?”
“Sure do, sweetie. My name’s Marge, by the way, I’m the evening manager so I’ll be supervising you during your shifts. Let’s get that form filled out, hmm?”
Four nights later, Ruby had come to the decision that free room was just barely worth the ignominious job she’d agreed to.
Setting aside the barely-past-minimum-wage earnings, she’d had to clean out an ungodly amount of rotting foods, shit-splattered toilets, and vomit-covered floors. More than she’d ever wanted to see in her lifetime, but she supposed it was to be expected for a cheap motel that rented rooms by the hour.
Oh yes, and let’s not forget the copious amounts of other, just as unsavory, bodily fluids.
“You know,” Ruby moaned to Marge towards the end of her shift as she rubbed her feet, converse shoes and socks sitting on the floor beneath her chair. “I think I get why the last girl skipped out.”
Marge barked out a quick laugh. “Yeah, it’s a dirty job. Gotta say, you lasted longer than I thought you would, I’m impressed with your drive, kid.”
Ruby shrugged her thin shoulders. “Well, I need the money right now.”
During the day she’d been going out, asking questions and searching through newspaper articles in the local library. She hadn’t gotten up the nerve yet to venture into Hollywood proper, but she supposed it was inevitable at some point.
“So what’s driving you, Ruby?”
“Huh?” The brunette looked up from where she’d been contemplating the intricacies of the blisters developing on her poor toes.
“I can tell you’re here for a reason.” The middle-aged woman gave her a kindly smile. “Most kids your age push on through here, or just come for a vacation. But you, you look like you’re searching for something.”
Ruby looked back down, frowning slightly as she pulled her socks over her feet, slipped her shoes back on, and began tying the laces. She’d already changed out of the sweaty teal-colored polo shirt with the motel logo on it, her very basic uniform, and had her red hoodie on once more.
She wasn’t sure if she really wanted to get into this right now, but in some small way, she felt a yearning to relieve herself of this burden to someone, anyone…
“Where’s your family, sweetie?” Marge pressed softly after Ruby had been silent for the span of a few minutes. “Don’t you have family somewhere?”
“Used to,” the brunette sighed, sitting back in her chair. It was a cheap plastic one like those in the lobby, set inside the small office behind the counter. Marge was ensconced comfortably in the office chair, though it looked to be vintage 1970’s, based upon the worn burgundy materiel.
Ruby closed her eyes wearily, resting her head against the wall behind her. “My mom passed away about ten years ago. Was pretty rough for me an’ my sister, my dad tried to cope, but… Our uncle would come over, but he’s a bit of an alcoholic. Heart in the right place and all that…”
She cleared her throat quietly. “My dad died a couple months ago. Drank himself to death, guess he used my uncle as a role model or something.”
The chair Marge was sitting in squeaked as she shifted in it. “And your sister?”
“She ran away two years ago, when she… Um, she found out that our mom wasn’t her mom. I mean…” Ruby sighed heavily. “My dad was married once before, and Yang, that’s my sister, she was from then. Her mom took off right after she was born, and then he remarried to my mom… Well, she didn’t take it too well when she figured that out, there was a lot of yelling…”
She reached up unobtrusively to wipe a stray tear away, blinking her eyes rapidly. “So I’m down here looking for her. We used to all vacation down here, and all I know about her mom is that she ran off to become an actress. Dunno what her name was or anything, maybe Yang knew… But I haven’t heard from her since. So, here I am.” She gave Marge a small, sad smile. “She’s the only family I got, really, since my uncle left for the east coast.”
Marge nodded slowly, her own brown eyes shining with unshed tears. “Well, I hope you find her, dear.”
“Thanks,” Ruby whispered back. “I hope so too.”
The manager let out a huff of air, rising to her feet and clasping Ruby’s shoulder on her way past.
The brunette was looking forward to becoming acquainted once again with her tiny but surprisingly comfortable bed, but her hopes were dashed by Marge’s next words.
“Ruby, did you finish room 313? The key is still here on your cart…”
“Oh, shoot!” she exclaimed, smacking herself in the forehead. “No, I’m sorry, 328 took so long, I swear I don’t wanna know how they even got all that on the ceiling, like a buncha monkeys stayed overnight…”
Marge gave a chuckle as she peered around the corner and into the room once more. “I wish I could let you skip it, but I’ve got someone coming in the morning who requested that room on the corner.”
“Yeah,” Ruby sighed, getting to her feet. “Okay if I just wear my hoodie?”
“I don’t think anyone will really care this late at night, sweetie.”
“Okay, thanks Marge. Be back in a bit.”
“Well, I’m off my shift in a half hour, so just drop the key behind the desk here, alright? I’ll see you tomorrow night.”
Ruby nodded as she grabbed her cart and pushed it ahead of her, heading for the elevator. It was a rickety affair that made her wonder, every time she rode it up or down, whether or not the motel owner bribed someone in the safety inspector’s office to just rubber-stamp the certificate hanging inside. There was just no way something that ancient was up to any sort of code.
Wearily, she trudged down the corridor on the third floor to the end. She gave a brief knock on the door to 313, calling out “Housekeeping!” as softly as possible so as not to wake any other guests.
When nobody answered, she used the key and eased the door open, taking a quick peek inside first. This was hard-earned experience, as the one and only time she’d not done so, the petite brunette had spent the rest of the evening desperately wishing for some sort of brain bleach.
Some things, once seen, cannot be unseen.
In any case, this particular room was deserted. It was in quite the state, the bed unmade with the stained sheets on the floor between it and the wall. The alarm clock on the small end table read 12:37, causing her to sigh at the lateness of the hour.
It seemed to be more dark than usual, even with the streetlights that filtered in through the windows. As she pushed the cart to the side and entered the room fully, she soon discovered why. A pair of lacy women’s underwear hung from the old stained-glass lamp sitting atop the dresser. She never knew why such a ramshackle motel had such pretty lamps, but they were plastic, not actual glass, and she supposed the floral patterns added a little bit of class.
Looking around with her hands on her hips, she surveyed the bottles and discarded clothing strewn across the floor, as well as several condom wrappers.
And the pièce-de-résistance, the absolute fucking cherry on top, was the set of handcuffs attached to the bottom of the bed frame.
“Great,” she sighed bitterly, eyeing the metal footboard critically. “I don’t suppose they bothered to leave a key… Well, at least there’s no shit on the ceiling, that’s a plus.”
Dimly, she wondered how her life had sunk so low that she considered this absence to be only a mild bonus.
Before she could turn to fetch a trash bag, however, she heard the door click shut behind her. With her heart in her throat, she whirled around to see a tall, rather good-looking man in a dark suit standing between her and the now-sealed door.
“O- Oh, um… excuse me, s- sir,” she stammered weakly. “I- I didn’t know the room was…”
“Be silent,” he commanded flatly in a harshly-accented voice, taking his coat off and draping it across the loveseat next to the door. “Stand still.”
Ruby’s mouth shut with an audible click . Inwardly she was screaming in panic, but somehow she couldn’t make any noise whatsoever. His dark irises bore into her as he loosened his tie and slowly approached, almost with a stalking motion, as she could only stand there, trembling.
Great, I’m trapped in a room with a creepy guy and all I can do is freeze up…
The stranger had a chiseled face and close-cropped dark hair, but it was those eyes of his that mesmerized her so. She found herself unable to look away from them as he came closer, until he loomed over her short stature. He paused, inhaling deeply, and some sort of foreign emotion flashed across his dark orbs.
And then the eyes were no longer in view, but only because he was now bent over her, seemingly sniffing at her neck now.
Eww, eww, eww, really really creepy… C’mon body, move dammit!
Her pep talk didn’t seem to help any, as she was still unable to break her involuntary motionless state. And then she felt something sharp graze the skin of her neck, like the tip of a knife.
“I want to show you something,” he whispered.
It was the last thing she remembered before the sharp pain in her neck, the sound of a muffled scream, and then blackness.